Throughout the last decade or so, esports has grown to be a global phenomenon. With this recent surge in the genre of competition, smaller sects of the platform have emerged as a niche but supported side of the fact. Games like League of Legends, CS:GO, Overwatch, etc. will always dominate the space, but there has always been room for indie games in esports.
More recently, games like Rivals of Aether, inspired by the Super Smash Bros. series of games, have emerged at full-fledged Smash tournaments with brackets of their own. Other indies like Lethal League have branched the side of traditional sports and the FGC in a wild but entertaining competitive space.
Games like these have proven that there is an opportunity for more games to find their spot in esports. And the next could come from party-to-ranked multiplayer experience: Ponpu.
“We started as a party game with the dream of making it multiplayer.”
The game is developed by Argentinian-Canadian studio, Purple Tree, who is currently known for creating mobile and online games based on Cartoon Network shows like Adventure Time, Regular Show and Steven’s Universe. Going beyond that, the team decided to take those experiences and use the polish known with Cartoon Network assets and apply it to a hyper-stylized world. Inevitably creating an original party game, Ponpu, as only their second entry on the PC/console platform.
But as time passed, the mere idea of a casual party game gave life to a whole new beast.
“We started as a party game with the dream of making it multiplayer. The feedback from the fans and the support of Zordix publishing division make it possible for [it] to come true.” Pablo Cerrutti, co-founder and Art Director at developer Purple Tree Studio explains.
As a smaller studio, the ambitions of an indie developer are usually confined to the publisher’s leniency and budgeting. As Cerrutti states, the relationship between Purple Tree and Zordix allowed for this to evolve from just a simple couch-coop game to a competitively-driven opportunity.
Just from a glimpse of the gameplay above, one can understand it’s “Bomberman” roots. Bomberman has been a staple in many a party game but giving it a ranked twist was Purple Tree’s goal from the get-go.
“…multiplayer was always on the table. The original plan was to add it after launch, but during the last months [of] progress and the vision of the head of Zordix Publishing, we are hard-working on having a multi-platform online multiplayer launch.” Cerrutti says.
“We can say that we started with a similar structure as other [indies].”
With that brought to light, one could ask, how is a ladder system even possible within an indie game? Thankfully Cerrutti was able to go into detail about it thanks to the widely accessible Unity engine.
“We are developing the game in Unity and using Photon as our primary tool for the multiplayer. We can say that we started with a similar structure as other [indies].”
While Triple-A games can create dedicated multiplayer servers, it’s a cost-heavy production for an indie studio like Purple Tree. Unity with Photon, however, allows for a team of three like Purple Tree to have a fully integrated, low latency, cross-platform compatible multiplayer experience at the fraction of the cost.
“…we like the single-player a lot and we think that our players will love it as much as the multiplayer.”
On top of that, while Photon on a base level allows for any type of online multiplayer, it also provides a matchmaking API that can handle creating a ranking system on the fly and match players based on their rank. This is something that is at the forefront of development for Ponpu according to Cerrutti and easily allows it to be a front runner as an esport.
Both offline and online ranked multiplayer have been mentioned, but single-player is being worked on as well.
“For us single player was an addition, especially to add more depth to the game. Right now, we like the single-player a lot and we think that our players will love it as much as the multiplayer.”
“We think it has potential to become an esport…”
While games like Overwatch have decided to bundle their campaign in an upcoming sequel, it is satisfying to see a studio put so much dedication into an IP by including both casual and ranked multiplayer on top of a multi-level campaign.
For the amount of work that has gone into the sheer size of content as well as the unique art style Purple Tree has given Ponpu, the game is sure to find an audience. With ranked multiplayer coming directly at launch thanks to Zordix Publishing, an esport is an inevitability as a distinct format on the platform with the Bomberman-style.
As it is with anything, the players shape an esport. And Cerrutti and the rest of Purple Tree is behind them.
“We think it has potential to become an esport and we will grow the game along with our players.”
Ponpu will be available in Fall 2020 on Steam, Playstation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch.
Images Courtesy of Purple Tree Studio and Zordix
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