With a name like Shark Punch and a team of ex-Rocket Pack founders recently freed up after being acquired by Disney in 2011, we were curious what was happening over at the game studio. So after firing off an open-ended email we were over at their Hakaniemi, Headquarters the same day to check out their first title, The Masterplan, which is being released as a Steam early-access on September 15 after quickly getting through Greenlight - PC game distributor Steam's democratic voting process for getting indie games onto their platform.
There's no punching sharks in this game, but The Masterplan is still a unique concept, like what you might call a "tactical puzzler" where you really have control to create your own stories through your actions.
Sitting down in their office and opening up a Club Mate, Shark Punch CEO Jiri Kupiainen shows off one of the more basic levels where your team of three holds up a convenience store. With the top-down view you've got a good overview of the store, and you've got an idea of a few spots to grab cash. Most notably you know there's a locked storage room where there's a safe, secondly you see the cash register, and third you've got a dimmed side room where their might be some more cash or valuables.
"One of the biggest things we’re trying to do from a creative standpoint is bring the experience of a good movie heist into games," Kupiainen explains. "Everyone has the master plan and is doing their part, and then somebody fucks up. Somebody calls the cops and you try to grab everything you can and get out of there."
In his first go-though, Kupiainen plays it as a seasoned pro, staging out his men through the store to not raise suspicion from the other customers or owner. Then as the manager goes into the bathroom he sends one of his thugs in there and pulls out his gun. Rather than blazing away, the manager holds up his hands, and Jiri sends another guy in there to knock him out.
All these people entering the bathroom momentarily raises the suspicion of the store's customers, but they brush it off after a few seconds. Now that they've gotten the storage room key from the manger, they're able to grab the safe's cash and get out of there just as the knocked-out body is discovered. It wasn't all the cash he could have gotten, but he played it cool and safe.
After realizing he played the game too well, "Now," Jiri says, "I'm going to play this like most people do when they first start," and enters the store, staggers out his men, and sends the order for them all to pull out their guns. Everyone in the store raises their hands and one of the thugs is ordered to go for the cash register.
A big dynamic of the game is to pause it pretty often (which instead of a full-stop really just slows down the gameplay) so you can give multiple orders at once. But after maybe taking too much time ordering the hostages around the store's manager gets's freaked out and pulls out a shotgun from behind the counter.
It's soon a blood bath in the store with cartoon bloody bodies of Kupiainen's men and NPCs all over the place. The cops are soon inside the door and another master thief goes down. Soon Kupiainen's last man is scrambling to the side room, where he sees some cash he can quickly grab, as well as a side door. Running outside he's getting shot at, and it's clear that he's not going to make it to the getaway van on the other side of the screen.
"Can you steal the cop car?" I ask.
"I don't even know!" Kupiainen replies as he does so, and "successfully" escapes with one man alive.
It sounds like a bloody game - and it can be - but the dynamic is that you're really pushed to take the non-violent path. What they're going for is more about intimidation you see in most bank robbery movies where if you point a gun at someone, you can get them to do what you want. Additionally you lose half your cash for every person you kill, so that's another motivation to keep the body count low.
"A lot of female players that tried it the first time were more aware [of the nonviolent routes]," adds Harri Manninen from the Biz Dev and operations side. "I don't know how much has to do with gender or gamer assumptions, but still cool to see."
Now that they've been cleared though Greenlight, the question of when to publish your early-access game is sort of a philosophical question. Obviously you need the right amount of polished content to put in front of Steam's audience, but if you're looking to get the most out of an early-access audience, then you still need to leave some open hypotheses on the table.
Shark Punch's plan is to give players a good 1.5 - 2 hours of content from the beginning, and then plan on adding new content - whether it be new levels or gameplay feature once every two to three weeks. On the board they've got a deathmatch mode, a co-op mode, and a recently completed multiplayer mode created with plenty of beer and Club Mates during the most recent Ludum Dare. Coming from Rocket Pack, they'll also be including a level editor with the early-access version for users to create their own content to share.
In the final release, lightly penciled in for early 2015, they'll be launching the proper campaign mode.
Shark Punch is currently hiring a Full Stack engineer and Game Developer, which you can find out more about on their jobs page.