Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Tobi Saulnier, CEO (1stPlayable, a 1PXL studio) who lets us know why you got to play Pickleball: Smash on Switch, PS4/5 and Xbox this Fall.
About PickleBall: Smash:
Pickleball: Smash arrives this November for PlayStation®5, PlayStation®4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC via Steam. Get ready to serve, dink, and smash your way to victory in the exciting world of pickleball! Can you handle the heat?
Experience the excitement of America’s fastest-growing sport on video game consoles for the first time! Hone your skills in single-player, or challenge your friends in local multiplayer fun, where every match is a test of skill, strategy, and agility. Compete across multiple venues, jump into challenging minigames, and upgrade your player’s stats to increase speed, accuracy, power, and more. Plus get even closer into the action with delightfully smooth motion controls, only on Nintendo Switch!
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was this game born?
Tobi Saulnier: Our game’s inception came out of a combination of inspiration and community enthusiasm. We had some friends from outside the game industry who were absolutely obsessed with the sport. At first it seemed funny, the name being such an easy thing to tease about. But then I started to get curious about the growing wave as more friends became fervent Pickleball enthusiasts. It was becoming less a punchline and more of a phenomenon.
While brainstorming game concepts, the idea of creating a Pickleball game just seemed like a perfect match for the moment. Then I attended a Pickleball tournament, and that’s where the magic happened. I had my ears talked off by passionate fans, all young players, who were completely devoted to the sport. Their energy and enthusiasm were palpable and contagious, and it made us want to bottle that energy and share it. That’s when the journey to create our Pickleball Smash game truly began.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What is your role in the game?
Saulnier: Having become a passionate Pickleball enthusiast, my role primarily involved ensuring the overall success of production and staying true to the vision. Our passion centered around making the game fun and approachable while delivering against the pickleball experience that everyone loves so much in real life!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What has development been like?
Saulnier: Development was intense but helped by our early prototyping phase. We were able to establish a clear vision for the game and approach early on. Once we had a final plan, the intensity primarily stemmed from the challenge of balancing new creative inspirations with staying on schedule for the holidays. We are extremely happy with the result, and hope fans are, as well. Oh, and we’re already filled with ideas for next time!
Old School Gamer Magazine: How is designing a Pickleball game different than designing a tennis game?
Saulnier: Pickleball is often likened to a fusion of tennis and table tennis, but it’s more than just a handful of rule variations. The key difference in design lies in capturing the intimate court size, the unique pace of the ball, and the style of hitting the ball with your paddle. Our design task was not just about capturing the spirit and personality of Pickleball, but also about keeping it accessible to those for whom it’s a new sport.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes this game special?
Saulnier: Our game is designed to be a family-oriented experience, bringing together generations through a sport that has grown through its passionate grassroots community. It’s about bringing people together, even when family members may have quite different experience and abilities in both video gaming and Pickleball-playing. We also wanted for people to have fun with the immersive aspects to the game – that’s why we enabled them to put their own spin on their character’s design and we certainly hope they enjoy the fantastical court locations that bring the them beyond their normal, everyday courts to places such as atop mountains or surfside on a beach, amongst others.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Saulnier: Mario Tennis Aces was a constant presence in our consoles during development, inspiring us with its entertaining and accessible take on tennis, even if we didn’t have Nintendo’s rich vault of characters, and certainly not its heralded development resources. In addition, we drew inspiration from games like Rock Band, which excelled in creating a multigenerational connection. Much like Rock Band, we aimed to ensure that players with widely different abilities could come together, play side by side, and share their passions, making it a truly inclusive and family-oriented gaming experience. In this way, we strove to make our video game version of pickleball approachable, much the same way getting into the live sport is so approachable.
Another thing both those games do well is provide a competitive and challenging option for gamers who want the challenge of advancement in gaming, and that’s where the tournament mode came into play. This mode provides a deeper layer of gameplay for those seeking a more competitive challenge. And then there’s the outfits and hair styles: Pickleball enthusiasts are a passionate and diverse community and there is no “one” Pickleball look! We love seeing the characters everyone is creating. It’s fantastic!
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Saulnier: We have the usual set of blooper reels from development, and of course fun stories about collecting some animation footage on a court that probably looked like we were doing some sort of weird workout. There were some entertaining conversations with fans who were so patient with my learning curve with the game – knowing nothing about differences between indoor and outdoor balls, nor that the top woman player was 15 years old. Or family members who reacted when finally someone was taking them seriously regarding the sport!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What were the major lessons learned?
Saulnier: OMG we learned so much about Pickleball! We were fully immersed in the world of Pickleball, from its rules and lingo to the personalities and stars within the community.
On a more serious note, one of the major lessons learned from this adventure was the importance of staying focused on the fans. Pickleball has very little representation in video games, so we kept the focus on understanding what makes fans devoted to this sport and representing the sport in an authentic but fun way with the appropriate sense of playfulness.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Saulnier: Older gameplay mechanics are always something to be aware of as they establish player intuition and expectations that players carry with them into the new game. However, game design should also allow for innovation and creativity. It’s essential to carefully select which established mechanics to retain and when it’s appropriate to challenge conventions. Playtesting plays a crucial role in striking that right balance that stays true to the sport in an authentic way, while also delivering it in a way that brings friends and families together for fun and enjoyment through their gaming console.
Old School Gamer Magazine: The marketplace is crowded. How do you think you stand out?
Saulnier: The marketplace is crowded but never has enough choices that are truly cross demographic. We aim to bridge the generation gap, providing a space where grandparents can genuinely enjoy playing with kids and feel like active contributors to the play session. Additionally, for Pickleball enthusiasts, our game offers a more relaxed and enjoyable way to play, making it a perfect choice for leisure and sharing their passion with family and friends. It can also serve as a delightful way to continue enjoying the sport, even while recovering from the occasional ankle sprain or frustrating gap in real-life tournaments.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How have your previous experiences in industry helped this game?
Saulnier: At our studio, we’ve developed numerous games that appeal to casual players while offering elements that will challenge those seeking competitive gameplay, and this expertise played a pivotal role in creating a Pickleball game that balances accessibility and depth, a game that offers both casual entertainment and competitive engagement.
My journey as a mom and a studio founder has also influenced our game development philosophy about the importance of creating shared experiences. We believe in the power of gaming to unite generations and provide joy to families and friends. This focus on shared experience guided us in making a game that can bring people together around the joy of Pickleball, aiming to bridge experience gaps and create a space where families and friends can come together to share the excitement about this emerging sport.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want this game to ultimately be remembered?
Saulnier: I hope this game will be remembered not for being the first to market but for the shared experiences it has created. Ultimately, I want it to be a source of fond memories for players, a game that brings families and friends together and becomes a part of their cherished moments. Nothing is better than hearing from players many years later about how they enjoyed time spent with a game. In particular, I hope to hear from some Pickleball players about adventures playing with family or friends on the virtual court!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Saulnier: Stay tuned …
Old School Gamer Magazine: Anything else you’d like to add?
Saulnier: Anyone out there with a family member who can’t stop playing or talking about Pickleball, or who is just Pickleball-curious: join the game, discover what makes it so special, and have some fun together!