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Happy Hour Hero and Making Your First Game in VR: An Interview With Flomp Studios

Happy Hour Hero
Image: Flomp Studios

Over the years, we’ve had a lot of people write for GameSpew. Many of them have gone on to have successful careers in games media, and others have left the industry behind to be successful in other fields. One of our old contributors, though, has recently taken a new direction, and it’s one we couldn’t be more excited about.

Claire Miller, who wrote for us back in 2015 and 2016, has recently formed Flomp Studio with her partner Jake — and their first game, a VR bartending simulator called Happy Hour Hero, is out today. On their website, Claire describes herself as being in charge of narrative, art and marketing, while Jake is “the maths whiz” in charge of programming, mechanic design and sound.

While Claire hasn’t been part of GameSpew for eight years, it’s still important to note our connection. See it as a disclaimer, if you will. But more than anything, we’re just proud to see someone we’ve briefly worked with go on to something new, something exciting and, given that Flomp Studios is in its infancy, something we hope to see grow in the coming years.

On creating Flomp: “We’d talked about it for ages, but life always got in the way.”

Naturally, we couldn’t wait to talk to Claire and Jake about how Flomp came about, and we fired some questions over to them. “We’d talked about it for ages, but life always got in the way,” Claire says. Isn’t it always the way? Despite coming from different angles — “we have particular interests in specific elements, myself in narrative, and Jake in how stuff works,” Claire explained — they’d both been keen to work in the industry.

That’s not easy though, as the recent pattern of layoffs, buyouts and closures can attest to. “The industry seems to be becoming increasingly difficult to get a foot in the door,” Claire noted, “especially when you need to have made something before you can even apply for a lot of roles. So we thought… why not just make something ourselves?”

Happy Hour Hero
Image: Flomp Studios

And so, Flomp Studios was born — a name inspired by their gorgeous cat, Foggy. It’s not a full-time venture – at least not yet. We suppose they’ll see how things go, but it’s naturally the dream. (Don’t we all want our side hustles to turn into full-time jobs? That’s how GameSpew started, after all.) Jake has been working on Happy Hour Hero for around the last year, with it taking up his evenings after he gets home from his full-time job.

We’ll have a full review of Happy Hour Hero soon but we’ve had great fun with it: it’s a fully-fledged bartending simulator, with all the actions you’d expect: pouring, mixing, fitting in new beer kegs and, if you’re feeling daring enough, even pulling off a few bar tricks by flipping bottles and catching them. There were many smashes and spillages as we tried, but we had a blast, and we’ve been seriously impressed by just how well everything works.

“I think there’s a tonne of untapped creative space in VR… I just wanted to be a part of VR’s formative years.”

That may sound like the most basic of things to ask for in a video game, but when it comes to VR, it’s often not the case. We’ve played many games where movements and actions just don’t have the desired effect — and even though Happy Hour Hero is designed to be tough, everything works just as it should. That’s testament to Jake’s hard work — he’s worked on this first game largely by himself, with Claire coming on board to help with marketing, although future projects will be more of a joint venture.

We asked why he’d chosen a VR game to be his first project. “Apparently I have a flaw where I make things hard for myself for no good reason!” he jokes. “In all seriousness, I think there’s a tonne of untapped creative space in VR and new experiences to be made, and I just wanted to be a part of VR’s formative years.”

Happy Hour Hero
Image: Flomp Studios

That’s a valiant answer, and we’d love for Happy Hour Hero to make enough of a splash to be remembered as part of VR’s formative development. Jake did acknowledge the difficulties he’s faced though: getting even the simplest thing right in VR can be a challenge. “It took over a month just to get the bottles to behave like bottles,” he says. “In a ‘flat’ game, you’d click a button and the character will grab the bottle and you’d click again to put it down. In VR, the player has to reach out, ‘grab’, and lift it themselves, which has broader implications.”

As a player, this is just stuff we do; unless we’re technically-minded or have a knowledge of development ourselves, we’re unlikely to think of everything that goes into making that one simple action work. And it turns out a lot has to go into every tiny action in VR. “They get to choose if they pour a drink with the bottle, throw it away, spin it around, place it back down, fill it back up, smash it… you have to account for everything and design things to be more procedural rather than relying on tightly scripted behaviours.”

“It took over a month just to get the bottles to behave like bottles.”

Outside of the technicalities that go into accounting for all of the various movements a player can make in VR, Jake says a surprising obstacle turned out to be leaderboards. “They look simple on face value, but underneath you have to be very careful with them,” he explains. “How do you validate a player’s identity? How do you stop a player cheating or impersonating another player by the same username? How do you handle players that want to change their username, or delete their high scores? How do you handle players having persistent data if they update or reinstall the game? What if the player tries to use profanity in their username?”

Yeah, that’s a lot of stuff that we would never think about – and it seems like Jake didn’t consider all the logic that goes into a leaderboard until he was in the middle of doing it. He managed it, though: you’ll find leaderboards for Happy Hour Hero’s various modes, so you can not only challenge your own high score but you can try to beat people from around the world, with scores being given for how many drinks you successfully manage to serve, amongst other things.

Happy Hour Hero
Image: Flomp Studios

There have been quite a lot of challenges involved in bringing Happy Hour Hero to life, then, but Jake seems to have pulled it off with aplomb. What’s particularly noble of Claire and Jake’s vision for Flomp is their desire to create games that are, first and foremost, fun. Their website lays out their basic philosophy, of which the key step is “create casual, affordable, and most importantly fun games”. There’s other stuff too, like art and messaging being more important than money, having as little a carbon footprint as possible and a promise never to include microtransactions or “other predatory models”.

Honestly, that’s all stuff that we can really get behind as gamers, and Happy Hour Hero is a great first example of all of those tenets. We can attest to its funness, and its low cost: it’s just £3.99/$4.99 on Steam or the Meta Quest store. (Sorry, PlayStation fans: there are no plans to bring the game to PSVR 2 yet. “A lot of the decision-making power is on Sony as the platform holder,” Jake says. “But if there’s demand for it we can certainly look into it.”)

Flomp’s ethos is to “create casual, affordable, and most importantly fun games”

We asked about Happy Hour Hero’s inspirations and, somewhat weirdly, Jake said Guitar Hero. But it makes sense. “I love the ‘flow state’ those games put you in, and our ‘Happy Hour’ system is designed to work similarly to star power,” Jake explains. “You save up this sort of currency to get a bonus – and when you use it you lose that bonus until you’ve saved up again. It’s great for saving your run in a pinch.”

It wasn’t the only inspiration: when it comes to Happy Hour Hero’s visuals – which are bright, bold and blocky – Jake was inspired by multiple games from across a range of genres, although Hi-Fi Rush was a big one – a game he was playing as the idea for Happy Hour Hero was originally coming together. We’ll now be paying close attention to see if we can spot any other artistic influences in there, too.

When it comes to Flomp Studio’s next project, we tried to get some information, but Claire was understandably tight-lipped. “I can tell you it definitely won’t be in VR,” she laughed. “We’re still in the very early concept stages, but we’re keen on having a mix of genres: some casual, space-thirty-minuters and some with more of a narrative-driven message to deliver. But above all, they all have to actually be fun.”

Well, we’re certainly excited for whatever Claire and Jake make next. We love their direction and they have a good, strong ethos to build from. And if Jake can tackle VR for his first project, we have a feeling a ‘flat’ game is going to be a walk in the park for him.

Happy Hour Hero is available today on Steam VR and Meta Quest 2 and 3. It costs just £3.99/$4.99.

Editor in chief // Kim's been into video games since playing Dizzy on her brother's Commodore 64 as a nipper. She'll give just about anything a go, but she's got a particular soft spot for indie adventures. If she's not gaming, she'll be building Lego, reading a thriller, watching something spooky or... asleep. She does love to sleep.