Mediatonic’s Joe Walsh talks us through plans for season two and beyond as the UK developer works hard to build on its biggest success.
By David Teraoka.
When a team at UK developer Mediatonic was tasked with creating a new IP, they originally experimented with ideas such as a space-based life simulation game or mobile dungeon crawler. Embracing the challenge of making an accessible multiplayer games, they eventually settled on what would become one of the biggest games of 2020.
Fall Guys is based around a cartoonish game show along the lines of Takeshi’s Castle or Total Wipeout. It’s ostensibly a battle royale, except there’s no battle. Players – depicted as brightly coloured Beans – don’t kill each other, they just race to beat each other through wacky obstacle courses or survive bizarre mini-games and over-the-top team-based sports.
For lead designer Joe Walsh, this concept has been at the heart of the project from the beginning: “Where we started before Fall Guys was just like, ‘Let's give people that feeling of being on a giant obstacle course with 59 other similarly useless people and see where it goes from there.’”
And the people love it. According to Walsh, 88 billion minutes of time has been spent playing the game’s first online season, “which equates to about 17 million years of Fall Guys.” The game recently rocketed to the top of Twitch after its October 8 update release. Four new mini-games have been added so far. Two of the games, barrier-climber Wall Guys and ring-jumper Hoopsie Legends, feature new moveable platforms.
“We wanted to add a new way for players to work together while also being against each other,” Walsh explains. “I think that's why a lot of people see Seesaw as probably one of the quintessential Fall Guys levels. It strikes a perfect balance between working together and not working together too much because you've got to screw everybody over at the end. I'm really excited to see what it brings because it's so funny watching people build a roof across a wall, and then dismantle it and start winding each other up while they're doing it. It just sums up that amount of Fall Guys chaos pretty perfectly.”
The Bean Ethos
Designing blocks for Beans to battle over took more time than Mediatonic thought. Initially, Wall Guys was meant to be included in the August 4th launch, but according to Walsh there were a few bugs to work out.
"If you're grabbing something, someone else is grabbing it from the other end, and you both pull, you’ve both got network latency, how does the game figure out which way that block should move? And for a long time, the block just literally pinged off into orbit and sent everybody flying. Eventually, we had to cut the level from launch because we just couldn't figure it out."
In addition to Wall Guys and Hoopsie Legends, Egg Siege and Knight Fever round out the first major content patch arrival. The latter includes a medieval theme and matching pan-flute theme remix, which gives the update a celebratory "Ren-faire" vibe for Walsh. In Knight Fever, Fall Guys adorned with knightly armor and dragon heads charge across drawbridges to collect eggs. The update honours Mediatonic's UK heritage in both history and television comedy.
"I think the British do slapstick comedy very well – Monty Python being a classic example,” says Walsh. “It's nice to think that we're trying to draw some of that British humor over into Fall Guys as well.”
One show he spoke specifically of as inspiration is Raven, a children's television show where 12-year-olds compete in a Scottish high-fantasy game show.
“There's lots of very dated special effects in it, but they have to go and compete on these obstacle courses that look incredibly scary,” says Walsh. “But you can also kind of see that the swinging axes are made out of foam and things like that, and it's not actually that threatening. And there's real love to that aesthetic of clumsy teenagers trying to compete in this thing that looks scary, but actually isn't.
"And then Richard Gere in the film First Knight as well. There's a great scene where he has to do this gauntlet obstacle course, and there are a lot of really funny, really emotive obstacles, like swinging sides and drawbridges and stuff. It just seemed like we could make great levels… and there are so many costumes that we can do for medieval. There are so many good opportunities."
Fun and funny while falling
The Beans, distinctive as they are, do seem quite impractical. But for Mediatonic, the titular Fall Guy needs to be precise in its silly futility. Walsh says one of the aspects his team spent the single most amount of time on was getting that character to feel right and look right – something that ties into a key pillar of the game’s appeal.
“A big thing that I think separates Fall Guys from other multiplayer games is that Fall Guys is fun to fail,” he says. “You're laughing as you bonk off the screen, and that is in big part down to the characters themselves."
Every time a player is falling, slipping or leaping, the animations and physics have been meticulously handcrafted by the team to make sure they're as comical as possible. This was another core process of the game’s development.
“Was this version funnier or less funny than the last version of it?” says Walsh of a regular mantra the team used. “And we would just keep iterating until we had the perfect amount of wobbliness, the perfect amount of sloppiness for the characters.” The balancing act is between keeping frustration at bay while also not allowing precise movement. “So it's been a constant battle to find that sweet spot – essentially, between Mario and QWOP."
Player expression is critical to why the community loves Fall Guys, giving them multiple ways to express their own individual style as they compete. At first, this centred around costumes and colours, but now there are nameplates like Goalie, for example, which signals if a player wants to be a defensive-oriented Bean.
“One of the things that we've talked about is making sure that players can communicate their persona and their style of playing through the level,” says Walsh. “What type of player are you? Are you a player that's going to help other people build the wall, or you're just going to stand on top of a moving block, refuse to help and have yourself be guided to the finish line by other players?"
Player-focused features also come in the form of new gameplay modes like Gauntlet Showdown. Walsh continues: "We always wanted the ability to run different shows at once, because variety is kind of the spice of life in Fall Guys. [Gauntlet Showdown] is all the races that people know and love for those people who just want a dash towards the finish line. And we're trialing that out for a week to see what the response is like. But down the line, there's really nothing too crazy. If people want to do Fall Ball 2/7, or Seesaw Saturdays or things like that... I think we're totally open to doing those types of things now. Because we can just run them for a weekend or run them for special events and see what sticks, what doesn't. We really want to start taking the community's suggestions on that.
“Gauntlets Only is hopefully a classic example of us saying we are listening when you guys say, ‘We hate team modes.’ We want to make sure that those people are listened to in some way."
The future of Fall Guys
Mediatonic wants the community to know there will be plenty more to come. The rounds that have been added to season two are not the only new game types on the way.
“Fall Guys is not going to be a game where we just dump a bunch of stuff for two months and then disappear,” Walsh says. “We want to make sure that people know that season two is an ever-evolving thing. And we've got some really exciting ideas for things that are going to drop during this season...
Mediatonic has heard a lot of feedback regarding a lack of new levels or significant changes, and it’s on the way. “If people want more levels, more stuff, we can say that it's coming. We're growing the team and each season is going to be better and better than the one before it. So keep your eyes peeled, because we've got really exciting plans for the next few seasons, too."
As for what might happen in December, when the next season is due? Walsh is keeping fairly tight-lipped – if only because the team hadn’t locked down what it wants to do yet.
“But we kind of know the theme,” he teases. “It doesn't take a genius to guess what type of theme we might be doing at that time of year. But we've got really, really exciting obstacles, some really stupid new levels in the pipeline that we've been playing today.”