How Human: Fall Flat rose up to become a smash hit

'I decided if it was down to these ethics I should be selling drugs instead of making free-to-play games.' 

Its name invites calamity, a certain misfortune, and I absolutely adore it for its blunt simplicity. Human: Fall Flat. That, there, is slapstick served up with a certain eastern European dryness. It's perhaps little wonder, then, that this comic puzzler has done so well in the 18 months or so since its release, having recently racked up some two million sales. Fall flat? It's done just about anything but.

And the single developer behind it, No Brakes Games' Tomas Sakalauskas, must feel like he's soaring right now. Having come from well over a decade working in IT, Sakalauskas decided to turn his hand to making games - a passion of his since he was some nine years old - but those first few years threatened to see his own particular dream fall flat.

"I was doing mobile games initially," he tells me over Skype. "And that almost caused me to close the studio after spending two years on a free-to-play racing title - I needed another two years to finish the project and I ran out of cash."

But mobile, the common thinking can go, is where the money is, surely? "Well, with mobile the problem is premium games were already dead when I started making them," explains Sakalauskas. "Everything went free-to-play and I'd learnt a lot about game design and other interesting topics - but that was all redundant in the mobile space, because I should have studied psychology, analytics and so on.

"Which I did, then I realised what kind of job that is. I decided if it was down to these ethics I should be selling drugs instead of making free-to-play games. I didn't want to go that way - essentially you're trying to say 'look, this is free' but actually it's not. It just doesn't feel right. I wanted to make premium games, which is why I went to PC."

To get there, though, Sakalauskas had to make some tough decisions. "I had to let the team go and relocate to another project - I wasn't ready to return to 'real' programming and decided to keep playing as far as my finances allowed. That's how I fell into Human: Fall Flat. This was my last shot at gaming."

The idea for Human: Fall Flat came, at first, via a prototype Sakalauskas had been commissioned to make for Intel's RealSense camera - a high-end Kinect, effectively, for the PC market. From there, the idea flourished beyond the limitations of the RealSense camera until, eventually, it found its home as a more traditional game - a slapstick action game with physics-enabled comedy powering its puzzles.

"Its innovation comes in terms of controls and character animation," says Sakalauskas. "There are no games exactly in that direction - there are games that are similar, like Gang Beasts, and initially I was really afraid of that game. The original idea here though was making Portal, maybe with a bit of Limbo - so a puzzle game, nothing like Gang Beasts apart from the animation style. It was about open-ended puzzles too - and working with the feedback on playtesting. It's community driven design, basically."

It's that community that's kept Human: Fall Flat alive - and, more importantly, allowed it to flourish. The success began when the game was picked up by prominent streamers, drawn to its comedy, so what began as a prototype on itch.io soon turned into a full release on Steam a mere nine months down the line. Since then, online multiplayer and console versions have been released, including a Switch version which has enjoyed phenomenal success in Japan - despite a proper translation still not being in place.

All that, and No Brakes Games still only has the one full-time employee; Sakalauskas himself (though it must be noted that publisher Curve Digital has certainly put its weight behind the game). "Human: Fall Flat was released 18 months ago, and I still can't move away from it for a day - but I have ideas that are on hold, and I'd like to do more," says Sakalauskas.

Surely those 18 months - and that not insignificant success - has impacted Sakalauskas' life somehow? "It hasn't changed a lot, but I was now sure that I could keep working on games," Sakalauskas tells me (from, I should point out, an apartment in Tenerife where he's gone to dodge the bleak winter back home). "I still haven't set up a studio - so essentially I'm waking up looking at feedback, emails, then going to bed. There's no dramatic changes so far.

"Currently I have no plan how to move to the next project - I've got some ideas but I need to make a contingency plan for Human: Fall Flat, as the community wants more of it. I should be delivering this but I have to find a way to do it - as a one-man studio I can't cater to a community I have now, there are too many fans who want different things from the game and I'm just one person sitting here." Just one human, then, though after his achievements over the past couple of years Sakalauskas is surely standing tall.

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About the author

Martin Robinson

Martin Robinson

Features and Reviews Editor

Martin is Eurogamer's features and reviews editor. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.

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