Fall Guys is a phenomenon that doesn’t come around often. After launching straight to PlayStation Plus last Summer, it quickly became one of the most popular games in the world.
Offering quintessential dumb fun, Fall Guys is showing no signs of slowing down. After recently being acquired by Epic Games, Mediatonic is keen for fans to know that the developer is stronger than ever.
I recently got the opportunity to speak to Joe Walsh, the Franchise Design Lead on Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout. It was Walsh that came up with the initial pitch for Fall Guys, which led us to discuss all things from the concept’s origins to where the game is headed next.
Where did the idea for Fall Guys come from?
Considering the circumstances that Fall Guys was pitched under, it’s a miracle that it even got made. Around the same time as Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds was becoming popular, game studios were starting to see battle royale games as a genre to avoid.
‘Our creative director basically told the design team: “Nobody pitch me battle royale games – everyone is going to be making them, the market is going to be saturated”.’ Walsh tells me. ‘Although Fall Guys is technically a battle royale in some ways, it was something we were all excited about. It felt different and refreshing enough to pursue and I’m very glad we did it.’
If you’ve seen any of Fall Guys then you’ll know the concept shares a striking resemblance to the Japanese game show ‘Takeshi’s Castle’. However, the team had broader gameplay goals in mind when coming up with the concept of Fall Guys:
‘I’d always loved Takeshi’s Castle, but really the genesis of the idea was making experiences for people that felt collaborative – like it was like you versus some sort of system,’ says Walsh. ‘We started thinking about swinging axes and obstacles and how Takeshi’s Castle is kind of a universal system. Within about 10 seconds it all just snowballed into being like, “Oh my God, no one’s ever made this game before’.
‘That’s always the scariest part is when you have an idea you’re excited about, and then you spend a day just Googling things like ‘Takeshi’s Castle games’ or ‘Knockout Physics Games’. We basically got to the end of the day and I was like, ‘No one’s done it. Oh my god, we have to start tomorrow!’.’
A year out from launch, Mediatonic has grown a lot
Over a year on from launch day, the team at Mediatonic has grown massively. The team of just 40 people last year has now grown to the size of 300 people. It’s made things much easier for the team to get a proper content plan in place, rather than having to constantly put out fires.
‘It feels a lot less rushed than it was before,’ remarks Walsh. ‘When we released Fall Guys, we suddenly realised that we had Season 2 to release just two or three months afterwards. And we really didn’t have any idea what Season 3 was going to be, let alone Season 4.
‘The analogy that people use a lot is Wallace and Gromit laying the track out in front of you, and that is what it felt like. Every day was just some new disaster that would happen – the game would crash or we’d have that cheating problem – whereas now we’re able to be a little bit more on top of things.’
The Epic acquisition was huge for the team
Part of why Mediatonic has managed to grow so much is thanks to its acquisition by Epic Games. The titan game publisher hoovered up the studio back in March. As such, Walsh explains that this has opened up plenty of doors for the studio:
‘One of the big changes now is that we’re part of the Epic family, and that gives us access to resources, data, and conversations with Fornite or the Rocket League teams. It’s amazing to go and ask them how on earth the Rocket League physics work so well or how Fortnite is able to release such massive content updates so regularly. We were just guessing at that stuff before. But now we’re able to actually sit down and have a conversation with an advisor. That’s been really special for us.’
When a small team like Mediatonic gets picked up by a big publisher like Epic, public perception can often be that the team will lose creative control of its work. Walsh assures me that the relationship between Mediatonic and Epic is completely collaborative.
‘A lot of people think as well that we’re suddenly going to be told what to do, but we have full creative control over our game still. We’re all part of the same network. If you have questions you can go and message the lead designer on Fortnite and ask them things. It’s a really great position to be in as a designer.’
How does Fall Guys Keep up the momentum?
With such a huge audience, and an ever expanding team, Mediatonic has been challenged with keeping up with the demand for new content. At the same time, it recognises that creativity is something that needs to be nurtured, not demanded.
‘There are only so many spinning balls you can make for people to jump over,’ Walsh explains. ‘It’s really about fostering creativity within the team, not squeezing the creative juice out of everybody every single day. You have to pace yourself and you have to give people space and time to go away and come up with ideas. Building that culture within the team has been something that we’ve really had to focus on.’
At the same time, everyone at Mediatonic seems to understand exactly what makes Fall Guys so great: ‘Everybody knows Fall Guys has to be accessible, it has to be humorous, and it has to be ridiculous. Those pillars permeate every single decision we make as a company, whether it’s which collaborations are we going to do, which levels are going to be made, or what features we will design.’
Accessibility is something that Mediatonic wants to focus on more
While Fall Guys’s success is largely down to how accessible it is from a mainstream audience, there’s still room for improvement. Mediatonic recently added a Duos ‘duos’ function to the game which keeps players in the game for longer. While a great addition, Fall Guys still lacks granular features like colourblind settings or customisable controls.
Walsh told me that it’s ‘frustrating’ that the game isn’t as accessible as it could be when it comes to features like those. However, he clarified that it’s something that’s definitely on the team’s backlog and something that they’d like to get to soon. It may come alongside or soon after the upcoming Nintendo Switch and Xbox release date.
Keeping up with the times
When it comes to coming up with new ideas for the game, Mediatonic certainly seems to be keeping up to date with what’s popular. I asked Walsh whether there was any unreleased content he could speak about, which turned our conversation towards the recent Netflix hit ‘Squid Game’. The show deals with heavy topics in comparison to something like Fall Guys, but the game show games share a striking resemblance to the family friendly video game.
‘There are a bunch of round ideas in Squid Game that we either said were too hard or we didn’t think would work,’ says Walsh. ‘I would love to just try them now, having watched that show and seeing how amazing it is. Something like ‘Red Light, Green Light’ feels like it could live within Fall Guys quite nicely. So tomorrow when I get back to the studio, I’m gonna start evangelising us to try some sort of ‘What’s The Time Mr Wolf’ mode. I think that would be a fun one to see.’
Walsh also tells me about an obscure Star Wars game show called ‘Jedi Trials’. The Disney+ series, hosted by the actor who played Jar Jar Binks, sees teenagers complete obstacle courses and challenges in pursuit of becoming a Jedi. ‘Basically nobody knows about this show, but it’s the closest anybody’s got to a Star Wars obstacle course thing. I think if I could do anything in the world, I think it’d probably be trying to make Fall Guys do stupid Jedi balancing obstacle courses.’
We’ve seen Star Wars crossovers in Fortnite before. Is a Fall Guys crossover too much of a Force Leap to make? Either way, Fall Guys is showing no signs of slowing down with new content seasons planned well in advance.
Fall Guys IRL
Fall Guys was a prominent feature at the recent UK games event, EGX. Hosted by Virgin Media, the Fall Guys booth was easily the biggest and most extravagant attraction there. A real-life Fall Mountain had been created with attendees challenged to outrun some uphill conveyor belts to achieve a coveted crown.
This was all surrounded by a bunch of booths all set up to play Fall Guys. With the main theme blasting throughout the convention centre, it was a celebration of everything that Mediatonic has achieved in the last 12 months. For the team that works on the game, that means a huge deal.
“It’s surreal because Fall Guys has essentially come full circle. We were inspired by game shows, and then we built a game about game shows, and now the rounds in our show are being remade in front of our very eyes.
‘Also, because we’ve been in lockdown, I’ve never seen anybody play the game in the flesh before. Seeing these 30 odd stations playing Fall Guys blows me away, because there’s so many amazing games here! For anybody to sit down and choose to spend an hour of their time on a couch playing a game that they could play at home is always surreal.’
Not just a one trick pony
The challenge a studio faces when it hits a strike is that it doesn’t want to become a one trick pony. I was curious to know how Mediatonic would feel about being known as ‘the people who make Fall Guys’ and how the studio manages this newfound fame.
‘A lot of the company are working on Fall Guys to try and fulfil the dream, but we are also working on new projects. It’s important to us as a studio that we still have our own company culture and that we’re still having to be creative.’
As such, the studio still runs regular game jams internally to come up with new madcap ideas for projects. Although, as Walsh jests, the idea for Fall Guys arrived during a random meeting on a Tuesday afternoon. Clearly, the people at Mediatonic don’t require much help in nurturing its creativity.
‘A lot of the DNA of Fall Guys is something that will continue in any other games that we make. Mediatonic is a colourful, friendly, accessible, and fun studio to work in and I think that will permeate through to our future projects.’
About that sequel…
Lastly, I couldn’t let Walsh go without asking the question on everyone’s brain. Will we ever see a sequel to Hatoful Boyfriend?
‘You’d have to ask Tim Sweeney about that,’ he laughs with me. ‘I don’t know of any current plans but you never know what he might have up his sleeve.’
If Sweeney ever gets some time away from that Epic vs Apple lawsuit, I’m sure he’ll reply to our emails.
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[Featured Image Credit: Mediatonic/Virgin Media/Epic Games]