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Human Fall Flat Interview With Tomas Sakalauskas, CEO Of No Brakes Games

A few months ago while browsing the Xbox Game Pass library I came across Human Fall Flat, and it seemed like one of the few games I can download and play some fun non-competitive multiplayer in with my nephew – believe me, finding a simple game to play with teens and kids which isn’t Minecraft is a shockingly difficult task. I put it on, we ran around for a few hours, and it never left my mind. The ease of which I could explore the levels and share the experience with a younger family was remarkable, even when it really shouldn’t be, and the simple physics mechanics kept feeling ingenious, betraying their seeming simplicity.

So when I was offered to interview Tomas Sakalauskas, CEO of No Brakes Games and creator of Human Fall Flat, I couldn’t resist. The absurdist slapstick comedy, the inventive physics puzzles, and the concept behind Human Fall Flat was too good not to find out more about. I was more than happy to sit down with the man himself in an online call, and I had a short list of questions he answered for me down below, including what he thinks the Human Flat Fall characters taste like. I only ask the hard-hitting questions, you see. True journalism.

First of all, thank you so much for making Human Fall Flat easily accessible on Xbox Game Pass. What has your experience with Human Fall Flat being available on a service like Game Pass been like?

[Tomas Sakalauskas] I think it’s really great because there are more players. Also, Microsoft seems to be quite happy with the performance of the game there. So far we have not noticed any drawbacks in terms of sales on other platforms. So it’s a win-win, I think.

That’s really good to hear. How does an idea like Human Fall Flat come around? In the beginning did you plan to make a goofy physics platformer, or did it just happen over the course of development?

[TS] It happened over the course of development. I started prototyping physics-based controls, trying to have independent control of each arm. Initially, I was able to have really fine control on that: I was using sticks on the controller to move each arm independently and D-pads could work, but that would be really messy controls. So we had to rework this control scheme. Then when I got the character more or less right, I started building initial puzzles. The idea was to make something like Portal meets Limbo. So we have physics interaction, but the world is 3D. But the puzzles are clever and well placed and you cannot just bypass them. But then I gave it to my son to playtest, and he did everything possible not to solve puzzles, but to parkour or walk around, and I watched him laugh. And I said; “Okay, this is the game I’m going for, not really watertight puzzles or anything like that.” Later playtesting with actual players and playtesters, I tried to keep that same spirit. So if someone tried to do something in the game then either I would make it unattractive to try if it would be too difficult to implement, or I would make sure that it works as expected by the player.

The game launched in Early Access, what was that experience like? Did you get more or less attention than you wanted?

[TS] Well, it wasn’t Early Access as such, I launched on Itch.io and I was selling the prototype. For me, it was a small game. No one knew it and people were playing and it was really great because I could get some feedback. Then suddenly some bigger streamers found the game, and in the comments of their YouTube videos I was reading, like; ‘if the game was available on Steam, I would buy it. But I’m not buying from the developer’s site,’ and things like that, and I thought, ‘well, I have the game available but it’s not on Steam, and I’m losing sales and everything.’ Yeah, but I took that time to polish the game quite a lot because it was difficult for people to find and buy. So I got just the really interested players in, and I got valuable feedback from that. So, it worked as Early Access, but it was not Early Access on Steam. So it had no big appearance before the actual Steam launch.

The game has been a massive success since then, did you expect this? What do you attribute that success to?

[TS] I expected it to be a successful game and it was quite successful early on in terms of what I expected success to be. Of course, I could not imagine it would be such a wild trip. I think it boils down to listening to community feedback a lot. From game mechanics, how puzzles are made, watching those playthroughs and everything. And then working on split-screen co-op. Then multiplayer – multiplayer was actually when the game exploded and became quite big. Before that it was smaller, 10k to 100k copies, and crossing one million was done with multiplayer, I think. Finally, we implemented the workshop based on, again, community requests that gave a second wind to the game. So I think it’s mostly working with the community and listening to what players really want, also trying to stay true to those players, not building paid DLCs or anything. If you supported the game, ever, you have it and you play it and everything that I or partners did later on was just to enrich that experience. And focusing on getting more players instead of trying to sell to existing ones. I think showing respect to players is what matters.

You mentioned the Steam Workshop, I was actually wondering if it was possible or ever in the plan to try and bring those Steam Workshop levels into the console versions of the game, maybe on Xbox because I know that we’ve seen Bethesda do that with Skyrim.

[TS] We are running competitions to select the best levels and make sure that they run correctly on consoles and everything, and then including them with the base game as DLC. Just exporting Workshop content to consoles could be tricky because of hardware requirements, and also the architecture of the workshop. You make it with Unity and compile it with Unity for a specific platform. With the current infrastructure, it would be difficult. Of course, something could be done about it, but that means rewriting all the Workshop as it is.

Yeah. That’s understandable. Was there ever a fear that the physics engine wouldn’t cooperate, or that levels would become unplayable?

[TS] Well, there were a lot of workarounds around [the] physics engine where it resisted cooperation, some mechanics were cut because of that. Some things got simplified, for example, when we started porting to consoles because consoles simply didn’t have enough CPU to run the physics to the fidelity we initially planned. For example, in the level where you have the sailboat, initially, the sailboat had a sail with cloth dynamics and based on how much you pull on the sail, it was catching the wind, billowing in the wind, and generating power. But that was simply too much for consoles to handle, so it was replaced with a much simpler system where the sail was rigged to the boom, so we only had that angle. So yeah, there were tricky parts with the engine but usually you find one way or another to work around it. If the colliders are not working, then you place extra colliders that are hidden just to help support the weight of the objects on them. Sometimes adding extra links to objects, like chains so players can hang on them. So yeah, it’s working with each and every level to make sure that physics works as expected.

You mentioned cut mechanics. Can you give us any other examples?

[TS] That was such a long time ago… There were certain things that did not work as expected. Well, of course, I wanted to have more ropes and things like that. With the ropes, what could be achieved was quite limiting with the way that I approach physics in the game. So yeah, I wanted to add ropes, cut them, tie them. But collisions with the ropes, pulling them over something proved to be difficult, they don’t work with thin objects, for example. So where I have ropes, the geometry around them is really tweaked to support them.

So why is it called Human Fall Flat when they are almost definitely not humans?

[TS] Well, initially I planned the game with a little bit of storytelling, but as mentioned before, after playtesting and seeing that it’s very nonlinear, storytelling was too difficult to continue with. So it started as a regular guy who worked in construction, and he had no special superpowers. So it was just a human basically. And “Fall Flat” was an attempt to make a distinguishable name, because being a small indie developer, to push a brand titled “Human,” it would be impossible for it to stand out in Google searches. So Fall Flat was a better brand, but I already had an audience who knew the game as “Human.” So I made a mix of the two, so it became Human Fall Flat. So it was an evolution, as with almost everything in this game.

I’ve looked at like Rockstar Games recently, like GTA Online and Red Dead Redemption 2, and I think a lot of the fun and humour that people get from returning to these games over and over again, is the slapstick physics. With that in mind, how come more games haven’t run with these physics in the same way that Human Fall Flat has? Do you have any theories on that?

[TS] Well, physics can be a bit unpredictable at times. So it’s difficult to make really big triple-A productions relying on just physics because it could go totally sideways. And you can find out in the middle of the production cycle that it would be expensive to change it at the engine level in order to do something. I’ve been making more prototypes, physics-based, and yeah, some ideas had to be discarded, because somewhere in the process you find out that it’s too difficult to get the result that you want. I think it’s too risky for big games to do it. And for smaller games, it involves a lot of engineering. Sometimes developers, especially those less experienced, without engineering backgrounds, might struggle to come up with systems that utilise physics to the extent required to make a fun physics-based game. But of course, there are physics games that are running, Landfall, for example, is utilising physics in all of their games and yeah, it’s totally doable, but it takes a lot of energy to do.

Another really successful game recently reminded me a lot of Human Fall Flat was Fall Guys. How did you feel when you saw that game blow up?

[TS] It’s a good game. So it’s nice to see other people succeed with a somehow similar concept, so the subject is not dead yet. We can still make games in that area and the market is there. Yeah, I did not play a lot of Fall Guys myself, so it’s difficult to comment, but I know my kid played with their friends. So yeah, congratulations on that.

Excellent. So have you, yourself, a human, ever fallen flat?

[TS] Me, myself?

Yes.

[TS] Oh, in both literal and figurative ways. Yes.

Do you have any fun fall flat stories?

[TS] Well, I don’t know, usually falling flat in real life is less fun than in game.

So true.

[TS] So yeah, I’m into extreme sports, like surfing, windsurfing, and things like that. So falling flat is a normal experience there. Also I’ve fallen flat in a professional sense. Because before Human Fall Flat, I ran out of budget for my gaming studio. So yeah, there are lots of mishaps, here and there, throughout life. I think it’s in everyone’s life.

Yeah, but just like in the game, we get up again, huh?

[TS] Yeah.

Okay, a more serious question, do you think we’re going to get crossplay in the future?

[TS] There are no specific plans for that. Because the way that the session is set up, it’s using peer to peer. So it would be extremely difficult to ensure that across different platforms,

Okay, fair enough. Is there anything about the next big game update that you can tell us?

[TS] Nothing really that big, there are lots of small and incremental things. This is what we did over the last five years, just adding, adding, and adding things. So we are still continuing to support the game and add new content in it, do more workshop competitions, and get creator content, bring it to different platforms and so on.

So I actually never noticed this myself, but I was talking to some colleagues earlier and they told me that the music in Human Fall Flat is actually quite sad and melancholic. I’ve never noticed this probably because I’m harassing my friends whenever I play. What was the decision behind that?

[TS] Well, it was part of the comedy to make a contrast. Even the voiceover is done in a quite serious voice. So it was to give the impression of a serious world and then hit the player with comedy. Also, I wrote that music myself, and I used to compose mostly rock music, so going with piano and symphonic instruments was the closest to non-heavy music that I could possibly compose myself.

Wow, you’re turning out to be an incredible multi-talent, we should have made this interview about extreme sports and music composition. Okay, so tell me a secret about the game that you’ve never told anyone else.

[TS] I don’t know, it’s been so long that there are not too many secrets left, I guess… Nothing in particular on my mind, sorry!

Okay, that’s fine. What is the most ridiculous concept for a level that you’ve had yet?

[TS] Well, all the ridiculous concepts made it into the game, levels as a whole were not discarded. So I would have come up with something more ridiculous than what is in the game, I would have done it already.

Okay. That’s good to know. So, big question, what do you think the characters in the Human Fall Flat taste like? I think they would taste like tofu.

[TS] Marshmallow.

Ah, good one. Finally, is there anything else you think I or others should know about yourself or the game?

[TS] We have a studio here in Tenerife, where it’s sunny and nice. We also opened another one back in my hometown, and they’re working on a couple of games – undisclosed yet. But hopefully, something will be revealed next year or late this year. We’re working actively on physics-based stuff.

Excellent. I am looking forward to seeing more in the future.

Next: The Yakuza Remastered Collection Is Now Available Via Xbox Game Pass

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TheGamer Guides Editor.
Am I supposed to write this in the third-person? Do you know how awkward it is talking about yourself like you’re someone else? No one would ever believe someone else has this many nice things to say about me.

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