The story starts at the 2011 Penny Arcade Expo.
At PAX, as it’s known, the Philly team behind Final Form Games — brothers Mike Ambrogi Primo and Tim Ambrogi Saxon and developer Halsted Larsson (who recently left the company) — spent three days in Seattle showing off their PC game Jamestown, a multiplayer “neoclassical cooperative shoot-em-up” set on 17th-century British colonial Mars, at the biggest video game expo in North America.
The booth was completely free, their prize for being chosen as one of the “PAX10,” an indie game honor. That’s where they met Nick Suttner, a Sony account manager and the company’s unofficial indie game evangelist. Suttner was interested in Jamestown.
Back then, Sony had just started reaching out to indie game developers. Developer kits, industrial-strength PlayStations that you can plug into your computer and run live code on, were costly and barricaded by tough security measures. Suttner was excited enough about Jamestown that he got Final Form Games a PlayStation3 developer kit, but the team eventually decided it wasn’t the right time to pursue a PlayStation remake and shelved the project.
Now, three-and-a-half years later, in the thick of Sony’s aggressive indie game push, Final Form just launched Jamestown+ on PlayStation 4 last night as part of a spring PS4 indie promotion. Jamestown+ is one of eight games getting front-page play on PS4’s game network this season. This week only, you can get the game for $10.79 (it’s normally $11.99). Jamestown+ is the second Philly-built indie game to get released on PS4 (Cipher Prime’s Splice was the first).
The big turning point for Final Form, Primo told us, was the launch of PS4 in November 2013. That launch created an opportunity for the studio to really make a splash with a new release of Jamestown. If you launch a game toward the end of the life of a console (i.e., PS3), Primo explained, you get the benefit of lots of people owning it. But it also means that gamers are second-guessing their purchases for it because they’re already looking to the next console release.
When they heard about PS4’s upcoming release, Primo, now 35, told his brother, 33, “I don’t think the iron is ever going to get any hotter for PS4.”
So they got to work.
They called up Suttner, who was (phew!) still interested, and he got them a PS4 developer kit. Jamestown was good and all, but the Final Form team wanted to make it the best it could be. They didn’t want it to be just a PC game remade for PS4. They set out to build, as Primo put it, the “extended, remastered, director’s cut, Criterion Collection” of Jamestown.
They upped the number of levels from five to seven. They tripled the number of weapons players could use. They remastered the audio for surround sound. The whole process took just more than a year, with a team of about seven doing the bulk of the work out of Old City’s Philly Game Forge dev collective, where Final Form is headquartered.
The final push came at the end of 2014, after Sony flew Final Form out to Las Vegas for the PlayStation Experience Conference and told them that if they could have their game ready by spring, they could be part of the indie game promotion they were planning. It was a no-brainer. They hustled.
Working with Sony was surprisingly easy. It was nothing like the horror stories you hear about working with a big company, where you get hit with aggressive contracts and don’t get to set your own price, Primo said. Instead, Sony was completely hands off, almost “terrifyingly” so.
“We were geared up for, ‘Oh yeah, this is gonna be ugly,'” he said. But they were proven wrong: “With Sony, it’s exactly what you want,” said Primo, who believes that the company is responding to the pressures of indie platforms like Steam.
Sony takes a cut of every sale of the game. Primo said he couldn’t disclose how much but that it’s “eminently reasonable.”
Next up for the team is a marketing push and working on translating copy for the game for a European release. After that, their future is dependent on how well Jamestown+ does on PS4.
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