Riverman Media And The Trials And Risks Of ‘Pizza vs. Skeleton’s’ Development

Like sweat and weights, the two men behind Riverman Media complement each other. Jake is an idea man and a talented art dude. Paul is a designer and a programmer who figures out how to translate Jake’s off-the-wall ideas into familiar game structures. Together, these guys have released several games, but none as complex, trying, or as absolutely bent as their next.

In our interview complement to our regular show this week, we talked with Riverman about this project, which is called Pizza vs. Skeletons. One of the most fascinating things we discovered is just how well Jake and Paul Stevens mesh. They’re brothers and business partners, and a tic to the other’s toe. Audio just below:


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“Paul and I really have a back and forth," Jake told us. “I’m kinda like the crazy idea guy and I don’t think very practically. Paul’s always the rational one who tries to pick gameplay element out of the ideas I throw out."

Jake let us in on a great story. At the beginning of the development of Pizza, Jake had a flash of inspiration that spilled into an e-mail. He wanted players to be able to ski, scuba dive, and even rescue puppies as a 10-foot-tall pizza. Paul? Shocked and presumably overwhelmed by the strangeness, took awhile to respond.

Jake says he’s more concerned about what sounds fun. He’s not concerned about interesting decisions or anything else initially — he just wants people to be intrigued by his scenarios.

“At the beginning, Jake had a bunch of ideas that were not really related to each other in anyway," Paul told us, chiming in. “They were just completely separate things you could be doing as a pizza. Most of them had nothing to do with skeletons — in fact, only one or two of them did." This is where the fun begins.

Paul explained that he takes Jake’s ideas and then brainstorms different angles. One of the first things that he had to do was remove the theme and ask what was fun about the idea of controlling a gigantic circular character. From there, he was able to lay out what could and couldn’t work, what should and shouldn’t be emphasized.

Objectives had to be molded, too. In the puppy saving levels, for example, the game’s camera and its technology prohibited a lot of traditional systems and functionality. So, Paul devised levels with two different phases: the first is rolling to the right and absorbing puppies, and the second is rolling back to the left and taking them back home.

Solid game design hasn’t been the only thing on Riverman’s mind. Pizza‘s development has stretched over a year. Most of the duo’s games take around a month. It’s scary.

“By far the most work of any of our games went into this one," Jake said. The premise has been evolving for over a year, and a lot of prototyping work had to be done. This was a full-time project, but also a particularly challenging one, which is part of the reason why Riverman decided to do it.

“We were pretty scared about it at first, and we still are," Paul said. “It was a year-long investment and our previous games were closer to a month or a month-and-a-half with the thinking that we could make small titles with high quality — you know, there’s some luck in which ones get seen and which ones don’t — they did pretty well for the time it took to make them."

“But to invest twelve times that amount on one game was really scary to us, and still is and probably will still be until the day it actually comes out and see if anyone likes it."

Pizza is due out later this month on February 16, and we’ll have some hands-on coverage later this week. To avoid anything other than modest scrutiny, we’ve held back on what we’ve seen, but it does look good. We’re thinking the risk paid off. And we’re also of a mind that this is a studio-changing product. Riverman is evolving alongside the work.

“When you’re a small studio, you have an inclination to do things that are safe," Jake said. “You want to do things that you think will appeal to a lot of people, that will impress a lot of people."

“We’ve been doing this for seven years now and I would say slowly we’re peeling away that inclination and getting more and more towards the game we really want to make and the games we really want to play. Even if they are a little more risky, even if the audience is smaller, they’re more close to what we want to look at and enjoy," Jake said.

Our audio interview includes a lot more from these two dudes, so feel free to give it a listen. Topics other than these include pizza customization, Riverman’s desire to break out and possibly do titles on other platforms, and Eli’s battle with bread.

We’ll be back with you next week in another “bonus" podcast.