Sean Murray and Grant Duncan are patient men. They have waited a long time. Not just to start up their own studio with friends Ryan Doyle and David Ream - the friendly sounding and reassuringly friendly Hello Games. Not just to get people in front of their first game - Joe Danger, a charming mixture of platforming, trial biking and seventies hand-organs. And not just for a publisher to help them settle on a distribution mechanism for their dream game.
On top of all that, they've had to wait a very, very long time for me to give up trying to complete this one level of theirs in less than 30 seconds, getting all the coins and without breaking my combo. In fact they are still waiting, because I didn't manage it, and they should be very wary about bringing playable code back to the Eurogamer office. Because I will do it. I actually will. And they will have to watch and smile and be polite to me while I'm doing it. I'm not even joking.
It's tempting to bundle Joe Danger into the same box as a lot of retro remakes - and it would fit very nicely in there, too, with its SEGA blue skies, Sonic the Hedgehog level design and pinball attitude to high scores and reward - but it's also dashingly contemporary in other respects. There's a level editor that's about as hard to use as air, where you can pause the game mid-jump and insert something to land on. There are friends leaderboards while you play. And there are solid lessons learned while building up a collective CV that includes stints at Criterion, Kuju and Sumo Digital.
And while Joe Danger is a game made by people who love their gaming past - while I play, Murray tells me a story about his co-op obsession with Ruff 'n' Tumble on the Amiga and how sad he was when his brother went to uni, "an empty joystick where he used to be" - the lessons it takes from the past belie the simplicity of the colourful graphics, boost bars and collectables.
"I joke that it's like a love letter to us when we were kids," says Murray, his choice of phrase probably increasing our Google PageRank for all the wrong things in the process. "This is a game I would have got excited about. And still would now! You know when you would get one game and it had to last all year. We wanted to create something like that, even though it's only a download title... Download games have that thing that games had that I remember, which was replayability. They won't provide 30 hours of content, but they will provide 30 hours of replayability."
Murray isn't explicitly stating that Joe Danger will provide 30 hours of replayability, of course, but it's already managed about an hour and a half from me, largely off the back of one level. Not a bad start.
For the most part in Joe Danger you proceed through left-to-right 2D tracks, many of which have three planes of depth that you can navigate between at junctions. You collect coins and D-A-N-G-E-R letters and hunt for secrets, all the while trying to avoid whacking your head on hurdles, impaling yourself on spikes or landing in a shark pit.
At the end, you're rated and awarded stars based on several criteria - whether you beat a certain time (no), whether you got all the pickups (yes!), if you strung a continuous combo together (nearly), and others depending on the stage. For your efforts you're rewarded with stars, which you can use to buy access to new levels.
The emphasis changes to keep things fresh. "For me [at the high end] it's Sonic but with the combo," says Murray. "You'll cane through a level like that and hit all the targets, and you're doing it without knowing you're doing it, and then get all the rewards. You slowly build up this repertoire, and any one of them on their own isn't hard, but when you come to doing them all together it's quite an intense experience. You feel like you've been through something when you finish a level."
Grant Duncan elaborates. "Some of the levels are more platformy than others," he says. "A lot of the stadium levels are just about blazing through and getting high scores and doing tricks, whereas some of these you need to know your way around."
Initially, of course, that variety is compartmentalised for your pleasure, with easy levels that tutor you while you play, each representing its own specific challenge - a coin dash here, a boss race there. Later levels start to combine the disciplines until the variety of challenges is rich and unpredictable from task to task, and there will be finely tuned targets for everything from the lowliest tutorial upwards.
There are constants, of course. One is the instant-restart button. It's one of the game's most important controls once you start eyeing up those goals, allowing you to zone in on its charms without interruption and turning the old "one more go" cliché on its head. Games like Trials HD and Joe Danger aren't about whether you choose to have another go; another go has already begun, so they're about whether you choose to stop.
Another constant is your short-term and muscle memories, which shoulder a heavier burden than usual. A lot of levels demand a good working knowledge of their perils and personalities, but you also need to remember quite a few controls - moving back and forward, leaning in the saddle, moving in and out of the screen at junctions, hopping, double-hopping, crouching, and performing tricks in midair, which contribute to your boost bar... which is controlled with another button.
While the game's language barrier may be thicker than some, though, it's an exciting dialect to master, and it looks and sounds great when your thumbs are fluent. There are also retro references galore to go with the 21st century 16-bit aesthetic - Mario switch-palace coin-dash start buttons, Tony Hawk letter-collection, green hills and more blue skies than you can shake a hedgehog at.
Hello Games has just announced plans to bring Joe Danger to PS3, and the chaps are inevitably a bit worried about the reaction on the internet now that Xbox 360 doesn't figure, even though they were open from the start about the likelihood of its appearing on "one of" PC, PSN and XBLA.
From our conversations though, you sense that for such a small team the absence of a 360 version is more to do with their need to focus on one project than any kind of partiality. Over lunch we talk about their worry that people will kick them to bits on comment threads for having to pick one lane and stick to it. So please don't kick them to bits on the comments thread.
One thing the platform announcement does mean, of course, is that it will be more tempting than ever to compare Joe Danger to Trials HD. "2D bikes! But on PS3!" To do so though would be slightly erroneous. There are flashes of Trials in here, but there are also vast, 40-foot searchlights of Sonic the Hedgehog, Tony Hawk and definitely Sidhe Interactive's lovely and under-loved GripShift.
If Joe Danger inhabits the same genre as last year's Xbox Live stunner from RedLynx, that's because between them their contemporaries have made sure that the instant-restart racing platformer is now a regular and brilliant fixture on the gaming calendar - something that it's now hard to deny and something that, on the evidence so far, Joe Danger should only reinforce.
Joe Danger is due out for PS3 in spring 2010.