Product | Date published: 2.18.2021

Launching Sackboy: A Big Adventure Under a “New Normal”

How Sumo Digital delivered the platformer's multiplayer feature while moving to a remote workforce
Launching Sackboy: A Big Adventure Under a “New Normal”

Last year during this time we were gearing up to finalize Sackboy: A Big Adventure all in the office. Wow what a distant memory that feels like! Then, just a little after that, our world, and development process, got turned upside down. Working from home became a “new normal” and most certainly became a period of major adjustment for the project. In just a few days we went from a bustling office environment to essentially making the game via remote video calls with team members working from home, and bringing along an influx of new teammates of kids, cats, and dogs. After we’d overcome the initial hurdle of moving a 250+ team to remote setups we knew there were some key areas we needed to focus on to make Sackboy’s latest adventure truly epic. One of those being the creation of the music for the title and also local and online multiplayer development.

Finalizing Multiplayer Remotely

Playing with friends has always been a key pillar for the project and we didn’t want to lose the momentum we’d built up in the office and the logistics of how we collaborate as a team and how we share information across the project all changed overnight. It was no longer possible for us to use the couch co-op test spaces or sit side-by-side making adjustments based on team multiplayer playthroughs. We definitely felt the impact of not being able to walk across to a colleague’s desk or grab a quick round of feedback on a multiplayer balancing pass. In truth, not a lot about how we actually create game content changed, but we did need to quickly adopt different methods of communicating, reviewing, and testing.

It’s always been important to us that Sackboy: A Big Adventure feels as fun with four players as it does in single player. As a lot of multiplayer balancing is in the fine details we didn’t want to risk missing out on the subtle changes needed for the game to work for the full range of players.

When we’re in the studio we can create controlled environments to simulate good and bad internet connections and make tweaks to the game to handle these different conditions. When we’re all playing from home, we’re using varying internet provider connections making it challenging to consistently re-create the same conditions. The knock on is that finding, fixing and checking glitches in online play, which can be tricky enough when in the studio, becomes ten times harder when working from home. We’ve had to look at ways to compensate for not being able to access our controlled setups and had to factor in the impact of individual network conditions on team-wide online development. We utilised screen sharing setups and put additional effort into analysing gameplay footage, with QA playing a huge role in helping us create alternative solutions for evaluating online experiences. 

The team wanted to ensure we got an online experience out mid-December so that players could enjoy that element of the game during the holiday season. It was so important to us to build upon the amazing response we had from the release and ensure everyone got the opportunity to play with their friends and family while gaming at home. We’ve certainly enjoyed seeing all the footage of online playthroughs, nothing quite beats seeing people enjoying the game in the real world. 

Moving Forward

It’s clear that remote working likely isn’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future, so as a team we will be looking at how we can continue to adapt and support each other. We’ll be making changes to our infrastructure to help improve distributed development and will continue to invest in software that is focused on encouraging remote collaboration. But the biggest takeaway for us was how much the small things we do for each other matter; so this year we’ll be making more time for virtual tea breaks, hosting more quizzes and celebrating the small wins as a team.  

*Online multiplayer available via patch v. 1.03. Requires internet, account for PSN & PS Plus subscription. PS Plus is an ongoing subscription with recurring fees until cancelled. Age restrictions apply. Full terms: playstation.com/legal/ps-plus-usage-terms.