On the surface, UFO 50 might appear as like any other microgame collection; something akin to WarioWare, Rhythm Heaven, or even the never-to-be-publicly-released retro party collection Multibowl. But UFO 50 isn't stuffed with fleeting minigames. It's packed with 50 fully realized games. So many, that the developers behind it insist it will take over a hundred hours to complete them all.
"It's a big logistical challenge to do 50 games," says Spelunky creator Derek Yu, arguably the biggest name on the collaborative project. With five developers working together on the experimental collection, Yu and company have their work cut out for them. Maybe too much work. But that's where the sharing kicks in.
Just as how friends used to share game collections with each other—of the pirated shareware variety at least—Yu and co-developers Jon Perry (Time Baron), Eirik Suhrke (Spelunky), Paul Hugans (Spunk and Moxie), and Ojiro Fumoto (Downwell) share not just their ideas with each other on their individual games for the collection, but their programming, their systems, and more. Even given the nature of 50 games being crammed into a single collection, working online with one another doesn't have to be so isolating. As the saying goes, sharing is caring.
I'm playing UFO 50 at Day of the Devs, Double Fine's annual independent games showcase that's free for the public to attend and is almost too full of exciting games to uncover, with around 90 games in total on display during the one-day event. I'm demoing just a small sliver of UFO 50's total offerings—and since I'm here with my colleague Matt Kim, we're solely diving into the collection's two-player games. On screen, this is indicated by measly little dots below the pixelated thumbnails. One dot for single; two for dual.
First up we tried a game that would be best described as Pong, but with samurai. Or even dodgeball with katanas. Matt and I faced off against each other, neck and neck the entire time as we slashed a ball at one another. He won by a single point. Next, we tested out a futuristic golf game that pinned us against each other again. Unlike this year's Golf Story, this game took me a few tries over par to wrap my head around. The golf course wasn't top down; but all horizontal, like a side-scroller. Matt was far better than me at this game, by, pun intended, a long shot. Lastly, we played a Streets of Rage-like beat 'em up. This was the only game I beat Matt at, even though we were technically playing co-op. I'm measuring this by who died first.
Triumphant and glowing, this was merely a small sample size we bounced through, proving the honest breadth of experiences available in UFO 50. With more promised in the way of RPGs, point-and-click adventures, platformers, racing games, and much more, it's easy to see the alarming variety of UFO 50. It's almost like happening upon a long lost console of sorts. Or alternatively, one of those pirated shareware cartridges or CDs, which according to one of its creators, is precisely the intention. "I had a lot of fond memories growing up of 100-in-one shareware CDs," says Yu. "You know, just going to a friend's house and playing their game collection."
Yu is the only one here at Day of the Devs repping the game, though in spirit I imagine he's joined by his UFO 50 combatants. As for how this ragtag group of indie developers found each other, Yu tells me their stories. He tells me how he's known Perry the longest, since second grade. They used to make games together when they were younger, before venturing off to their separate paths in life. Eventually, they found each other again, and the idea of making a game bubbled back up. Yu also worked with Suhrke in the past, who composed Spelunky and is composing Spelunky 2 too. As for Hugans and Fumoto, they were pals forged within the active independent gaming community. For the fivesome, eventually just making a 50-game collection together seemed almost like fate.
"This was a project that in a way was tailored to the team," says Yu. "It seemed like an easy game to collaborate on over the internet. I think it really had a lot to do with the team and just the development style that we wanted to pursue because if you do like a single commercial game, [that's] a big undertaking. And this is too, but in a way it's broken up in a lot of little pieces which makes it just very easy to collaborate online with this."
The initial ideas for UFO 50's many, many games stems from a brainstorming session held between Yu, Suhrke, and Perry. At the start, there was way more than the still-astronomical 50 game ideas, but the team decided to pare it down to a concise 50. UFO 50 was then theorized, almost like a more together game jam. To speed up development, they share everything they can with one another, such as an underlying system for platformers specifically. But unlike a game jam, for this particular game collection, cohesion is everything. Everything must feel like it fits somehow. And remarkably, it does.
Yu's not only waist-deep in the depths of UFO 50 though, which was announced earlier this year. He also recently announced another game: Spelunky 2, the sequel to the much-adored indie classic. Yu affirms that he's just as involved with the sequel as he was with the original, satiating worries from some fans that it wouldn't be, as Spike Lee might call, a Derek Yu joint.
For the time being, Yu's able to balance his time efficiently between the two projects. As he indicates to me, they scratch "different itches." Spelunky 2 is building off the original game, whereas UFO 50 is a bunch of smaller-scale, experimental games. Creatively, they couldn't be more different. But together, neither come as a surprise when considering the work of Derek Yu.