Slam Bolt Scrappers: The Strange Rise of Fire Hose Games

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Slam Bolt Scrappers: The Strange Rise of Fire Hose Games

“They call me the creative director, but most of the time I just surf the internet and watch Kevin Butler videos.” Eitan Glinert is a lively character with a quick tongue and a big smile, and the self-proclaimed “Fire Chief” of Cambridge-based developer Fire Hose Games. As we speak, Glinert’s team is days from releasing its first game, the PlayStation Network exclusive building-and-brawling party game Slam Bolt Scrappers, available now on the PlayStation Store as part of the annual Spring Fever celebration. The excitement level is high – three celebratory stuffed pizzas are on the way.

In speaking with Glinert, we quickly learn that Slam Bolt Scrappers’ chaotic building-and-brawling gameplay didn’t develop in a vacuum. And, for that matter, neither did Glinert. He was the first graduate student of MIT’s GAMBIT Game Lab, where he researched video game user interfaces and ways to make games as accessible to as many people as possible. “When I first started, it was kind of ghetto,” he recalls. “We were in the back of this lab called the Education Arcade, we didn’t even have our own space. We occupied this back lab table and we wouldn’t leave! We were working on a game back there, at all hours, but the staff was nice about it. Eventually we got our own lab.”

Slam Bolt Scrappers - SBS_Early_Aesthetic_Gameplay

A lab wasn’t all he got — MIT supported and encouraged Glinert’s passion for game design. “MIT has this awesome attitude where they say, ‘What’s your stupid idea? Let’s help you do that!’” Glinert’s stupid idea, it turned out, wasn’t so stupid after all. “I started talking to MIT about starting a game studio. Instead of laughing me out of the room, they said, ‘okay, let’s see how we can make that happen.’”

Founding Fire Hose Games became a quest that would take Glinert, his dream, and a small but growing team from a cramped HQ festooned with acid-waste-pipes — a room that, in an astonishing coincidence, sheltered the original creators of Ms. Pac Man some 25 years earlier — to a cozy but charming office in downtown Cambridge. By this point, Glinert’s team had begun work on what would eventually become Slam Bolt Scrappers. It was a development cycle that would include a full year of gameplay prototyping and six radically different game prototypes — almost unheard of for a tiny startup game studio with next to no funding.

Slam Bolt Scrappers - Concept WallSlam Bolt Scrappers - Concept_Wall

“Most of our early worries came from the endless prototyping, money issues, and a real concern about ballooning scope,” Glinert remembers. In one early prototype of Slam Bolt Scrappers, the plan was to create a different building mechanic for every single level in the game — a monumental task. “We had a level where you patched up a dam; in another level you built a spiderweb bridge from chains so that this crazy centipede train could cross it.” One level configuration, however, stuck; it proved to be a hit at the office even during off-hours. Fire Hose Games had found their core mechanic, and hastily finished it in the weeks leading up to PAX East 2010, where they revealed it to a crowded video game community. Their persistence had paid off: The press paid attention, with several sites naming Slam Bolt Scrappers as one of the best games of the show.

Meanwhile, Glinert’s MIT graduate research into video game UI design actually proved useful for the rapidly gelling Slam Bolt Scrappers, which Glinert says was designed with accessibility as a core goal. Case in point: the Beverage Mode. “You can play the game with just one hand, and use the other hand for multi-tasking — say, drinking a beverage or eating a sandwich,” Glinert says with a wide grin. “It also lets you dual-wield characters if you’re really hardcore.”

Slam Bolt Scrappers - SBS_Level_Design_B

Sid Shuman, PSB: Your first game design experience was with a free educational game called Immune Attack for the Federation of American Scientists. How did you land that job?

Eitan Glinert: At the time, I was in the bio-tech industry but I was looking for a new job. I was contacted for an interview, and I didn’t even know what the interview was for, I was going in blind. In the interview, the interviewer asks me, “listen, do you play any video games?” I think this is a trick question — obviously, she’s trying to figure out if I’m going to waste time on the job. So I say, “No, I hate video games.” Her face goes from a smile to a frown and she says, “oh, because we want somebody who plays video games a lot. You need to know them to make them.”

I could not backpedal fast enough! At the time, I was playing Final Fantasy X again. I ended up getting the job in the end, but probably because I backpedaled like a maniac.

The goal of the game, Immune Attack, was to educate students about the functions of the human immune system. The job was a ton of fun, but what’s really interesting about it is who was on the team. I was working in Washington, D.C. with the Federation of American Scientists, and we were working remotely with the University of Southern California — including a couple of students who were brand new, one of whom was Jenova Chen. He went on to help create flOw and Flower for PSN. And we had Vincent Diamante as our sound guy, and he went on to be the sound guy on Flower! We were all really young and we didn’t know what we were doing, though I bet Jenova and Vincent had a much better idea than I did.

Slam Bolt Scrappers - SBS_Level_Design

PSB: Hearing you talk about accessibility and user interfaces reminds me a lot of Jenova Chen and thatgamecompany

E.G.: They go to the extreme, right? They try to make games with only Sixaxis controls and maybe a button. I don’t want to speak for Jenova too much, but I’m fairly certain that his design philosophy is coming more from an experiential standpoint. You know, “how can we make people feel like they are the wind?” For us with Slam Bolt Scrappers it was, “we want to make a party game that includes everyone; how can we make a control scheme that will support that?” Our game was much more mechanics-driven.

PSB: A lot of gamers think they can make games. Do you have any words of wisdom about what it’s like in the real world of game studio startups?

Eitan Glinert: There are so many of them. Prototyping is one of the biggest things. Take the time to make it good — I think the Valve model of “it’ll be done when it’s done” is pretty smart. Rushing a game out that’s half-finished is not a good way to do it.

Slam Bolt Scrappers - First Team + Pipes 2

PSB: What was it liked when you founded Fire Hose Games? Did you live on instant ramen?

E.G.: It was scary. This isn’t even just video games, it’s startups in general. If you do a startup, be prepared to live on nothing. I didn’t get paid forever making this game. There’s no money associated with this — we’re hoping that people who see this will go and buy the game, and then maybe we’ll get some. You’re doing this out of passion, not for money. Anyone who creates this kind of startup does so because they have this creative itch that needs to be scratched. They want to make games that nobody else is willing to make, and that’s why they’re willing to put themselves out on a limb.

Slam Bolt Scrappers - First Office 2Slam Bolt Scrappers - First Office 1

PSB: Slam Bolt Scrappers puts a big focus on multiplayer. What are Fire Hose Games’ favorite multiplayer games?

E.G.: Anything four-player with couch play, where you sit around and scream at each other — that’s what we love. One game we’ve been playing a ton is the PSN game TerRover. You have this little tank rover, and it has these ridiculous controls — you can jump in bizarre ways. The most awesome part of TerRover is the four-player race mode because these races are unbelievable silly. If you die, you respawn in funny places. And if you’re really good at the game, which we are, you can fly. LittleBigPlanet 2 (LINK) is also our kind of game, though we’re kind of jerks about it: we grab each other and drag each other around.

Slam Bolt Scrappers - armBossCharacterSheetSlam Bolt Scrappers - bomagCharacterSheet

PSB: Are you thinking about concepts for what you’d like to do after Slam Bolt Scrappers? Having you considered extending into a different genre?

E.G.: Oh, you’d better believe it. Slam Bolt Scrappers is a weird name, right? We want to explore the Slam Bolt universe and do new things with it. There are a couple of prototypes we’re working on already for new games that could fit into this world. We’re not quite ready to talk about it yet, but you’d better believe we’re working on it and you’d better believe we’re looking at PSN as a home for them.

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6 Author Replies

  • Great stuff, Sid. Demo was fun, but the price of admission for some PSN games seems a bit high. Stuff should be $5-$10 to really entice a purchase.

    Now lets get moving on the White Knight Chronicles 2 info already.

    WHAT is the hold up? It was announced over a week ago on the EU Blog.

    A lot of people are waiting for information on a domestic release.

  • I played the demo, and loved it. Bought it right after finishing the demo. It was totally worth $15. So much epic concept art in this post!

  • Played the demo, really loved the puzzle aspect and building bigger and bigger guns. Didn’t love the generic punching of those weird flying things to get puzzle pieces, could totally do without that.

    Hope you guys get a lot of sells! I’ll pick it up when its on sale in a few months.

  • Please dont take this the wrong way but i think these smaller PSN games are better suited to mobile platforms like NGP, PSP, Sony Experia Play and that unannounced Sony Tablet.

    For PS3, i’d much prefer full blu-ray developers to get into the habit of also releasing their games on PSN. At the very least all ‘Greatest Hits’ games should be on the store’.

    I bought my PS3 for big budget nextgen gaming, not casual retro-arcade games i play on my cellphone.

    • Interesting suggestion. We wanted to bring SBS to PSN because we felt that the couch multiplayer was really critical to the title, and nothing beats sitting around your PS3 and TV for that kind of experience. However we certainly aren’t against considering those platforms for future games and versions!

  • game is too pricey… i enjoyed the demo but dont feel its worth 15$ I’ll buy it when it goes on sale.

  • I hate this new blog by the way!

  • I personally love the variety of games on PS3. It’s good to have Triple A titles and casual games on the same device…

    …but… I would like it if more PSN titles like this worked cross-platform. I’d be much more likely to pay $15 for a game like this if I knew that it would eventually work on PlayStation Suite for my future Xperia Play or NGP.

    As it stands, $15 is still a little expensive. Perhaps if there were a one hour trial on PS Plus I’d be more willing to take the plunge and buy

    Sorry to spam the comments, but is SCE planning on doing any fundraising for Japanese earthquake relief through the PS Store and on this Blog? I’ve spoken to a few people who think it would be a really good idea

    Japan Relief Fund on PSN Store idea on Blog.Share

  • Really love these blog entries. Good to see the faces behind the games and their passion. Just picked this game up last night.

  • It’s cool to see developers in the early stages of game developement. At the begining you have nothing and after a few weeks your project shapes up to be something great, like a butterfly effect. These videos are inspiring, and I’m glad things worked out for you guys. From this video it seems you all worked overtime to get it finished =D

    • A few weeks?!?! Try over a year! We started SBS in September 2008. We figured out the final design (the one that is in the game now) in January 2010. All I can say is THANK GOD FOR CAFFEINE.

      It’s really tough though! Good game design takes a really long time to do well. You have to iterate, and iterate, and then iterate some more.

      And if you really like the video give props to Rey Gutierrez, that was all him. THE MAN IS A CAMERA GOD. This is the first video I’ve ever been in where I don’t look like a complete drooling moron.

  • Don’t get me wrong, I like the style and the gameplay of this game, and my friends rave about it. But I won’t pay $15 for this game without online multiplayer. I get most of my full-blown blu-ray PS3 retail games for $15 or so. Online multiplayer would have made it probably worth $15. Don’t be sad, though. You’ll get $7.50-$9.99 of my money when it goes on sale.

  • I’ll have to check this game out! It’s always cool to see what developers go through in order to make games.

    • Quite a tale, isn’t it? I have a ton of respect for game developers, particularly those that launch a startup studio.

  • Ok I’m hooked im checking this out! It looks like tons of fun, probably may even get it

  • I have to admit that I didn’t care to follow this game before its release. I tried the demo on Tuesday and found that I really enjoyed it. It’s not that the mechanics are new but the combination of them creates a wonderful fresh experience. Several times I went to the PS Store with the intent on buying it but I didn’t. I think my main criticism of the game is the aesthetics. The environment and character designs are so generic and uninspired that it just completely turns me off. It reminds me of the game Pain and other early XBLA and PSN games that lack unique art direction. It is all subjective so having said that I’ve already praised the game to my friends and told them to try the demo. I have enough to play at the moment but at some point I know I’ll buy the game when it goes on sale.

  • Downloaded the demo, played it and loved it so I purchased it right after. You guys seriously crammed sooo much content into this game it’s GREAT! The gameplay is just so crazy but never gets TOO CRAZY, Especially when playing with Mega Blocks (Note: Not the wanna-be Lego’s) looking forward to dragging (Literally) my friends to my place to play some Slam Bolt Scrappers! I look forward to seeing more games based around the Slam Bolt Universe from you folks at Fire Hose games and glad to hear PSN will be the home for these titles.

    • Hooray! Mega Blocks is pretty much the best level ever, which is why it’s the last thing you unlock (well… almost :) ). That plus beverage mode with a St. Patty’s day beer is what I’m planning on doing tonight.

  • @ Sid

    Well thanks for the non-informative update :)

    I really don’t get Sony’s internal promotion and marketing for first-party games; especially JRPGs. You’d think that they would give these games their chance to shine, given that a considerable cross-section of Playstation users were weaned on the genre. Instead its all about FPSes, multi-platform titles and over-priced PSN wares (sorry, but anything over $10 for a downloadable title is asking too much).

    Its also rather confusing that one hand (SCEA) seems to be utterly oblivious to what the other (SCEE) is doing. The irony is that you even provide a link to the European Blog at the top of this site >_> How could you have NO information on a title which has been localized and will be released in your sister territory in just over a month? C’mon.

    Back to this game… I’ll give it a shot, when it comes on + at a signifigant discount or for free.

  • Eitan Glinert, I really enjoy the game. I hope it becomes a massive success for Fire Hose Games. I would like to see future titles from you guys on the PSN. Also is there ANYWAY I could get a T-Shirt with some of that concept art on it? So willing to drop $20 on that wicked stuff.

    • Awesome! You can buy the shirt I’m wearing (the red one with the towers) on our website,, under store. Thanks for the support!

      If a lot of people like our stuff then we will definitely be putting more merch up. In particular I’m hoping for plushies, I think those would look great.

  • When i played the demo last night, i was a bit confused how to play so i stopped playing the demo. i did go through the tutorial but got stuck on 1 about building the structure.

    • The trick to remember is that you want to build really big squares of the same color. Multicolor squares don’t help. Rotate blocks with L2 + R2 so that they fit together to make those big squares. You’ll also see a phantom block shadow in your tower indicating where your block will fall if you hit Circle. I hope this helps!

  • Great demo, worth the $15 for a 4 player couch game. The overall experience reminded me of Super Smash Brothers. You could’ve named it “Super Smash Tetris.” Choosing your player, their color and hat, moving the pointer around, all felt very Wii like (in a good way). I was pleasantly surprised to see the account names come up – all games need to do this (I’m looking at you Castle Crashers). 4 skill levels also appreciated as I play alot with my sons. You guys really should’ve given some accolades to SSB in the interview. BTW, I hate tetris, but this made it fun, thanks.

  • Really an awesome studio bio! Unfortunately at $15 the game just seems to be missing a few.features id expect like trophies and online co-op. Passing on the game this time. Unbelievably excited to see their next project though. These guys really seem like a team I would love to work with and give me money too.

  • Looks nice. might give it a peek when i return to PSN very soon. I’m currently scoping out current and new games and this has caught my interest. I’m very picky when it comes to PS3 games and dont let other gamers comments reflect my decision. Test the demo out first and will see.

  • I just bought it and it’s a good game, though I really don’t see why there couldn’t be an online multiplayer option. Couch multiplayer/co-op is always fun, but there are plenty of times where you’re playing video games alone.

    Any plans to patch it in? It would easily make this game a lot better.

  • just tried the demo! awesome game!
    it’s like Puzzle Fighter with awesome sauce! :D
    hope we will see trophies and online co-op added as free updates in the future! :D

    going to buy it later tonight (:

  • I wasn’t to sure about what to think when I first saw this game…after playing the demo…ITS A MUST BUY :D
    Seriously awesome game! I haven’t purchased it yet, simply because I don’t have any funds in my PSN wallet!
    I will get it ASAP. Can’t wait to have some friends over and play it! It’s EXTREMELY unique and innovative!

    PS:Would it be possible to see a SBS game on the NGP? *Crosses fingers
    Awesome job Fire hose!

    • We’re getting a lot of requests for SBS on the NGP! We don’t know if it is in the cards yet but we’ll see what we can do.

  • game received a sour review from IGN :/
    hope online multiplayer will be added..

  • @24, can’t spell ignorance without IGN.

  • @19 I’ve got the game and it does have trophies

    @24 Yeah he said it “was too complex.” I’m not sure what is so complex about stacking colored blocks. And in the multiplayer mode you can decide what blocks you want to play with. I personally think the review is off.

  • Really enjoy the video and all the concept work for it, also love to see you guys on here responding to comments. Anyways hope your already drawing up fun concepts for another psn title :D For the future though, I honestly think you’d pick up a lot more impulse buys with a $9.99 price tag. Not to say any one game is better then another game or such, however psn does offer a lot of high quality downloadable titles for $9.99 or even under, it occasionally makes the $14.99 buys hard to do on a whim if there’s other titles that we still haven’t picked up yet but are cheaper.

  • bought the game :D
    while IGN hasn’t been fair, i think there were valid points.
    it does get kinda messy and hard to see the blocks you have
    and please online multiplayer!

    -off to enjoy the game

  • Quite amazing how things can happend… I played the demo yestarday and it was really fun to play, I think I might even pick it up! You guys did a real amazing job, keep it up. (and indeed think about $9,99)

  • the game is ridiculously fun, and very well executed. extremely ambitious, but never gets unnecessarily complicated. the live musicians really adds a unique flavor, just like Monkey Island 2 Special Edition did.

    two dings: $15 and not even a couple of gold trophies??? background environment looks like placeholder textures and has a lot of aliasing shimmer. no free SPU to do some MSAA upscale to 1080p?

    can’t wait to see title updates and what’s coming next from firehose!

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