INTERVIEW: The Past, Present, and Future of Splitgate with 1047 Games’ Kevin Pett
It’s no secret that Splitgate is one of the most popular games around right now. What was once perceived as a gimmicky first-person shooter with only a few hundred players has, in the last two weeks, become a genuine phenomenon in the FPS community, surpassing 75,000 players in that span of time. To say it’s become a sleeper hit would be an understatement.
Though its “official” release (the game has been and will be in beta until then) was recently pushed back to give the team time to increase server capacity and stabilize, players are still flocking to the game in droves, despite the downtime. Before the news of 1047 Games’ delaying of the game and increase in funding broke, I sat down with Kevin “Endo” Pett, the developer’s social media coordinator and self-proclaimed company ambassador—who works closely with the development team every day—to discuss where Splitgate came from, where it is now, and where it’s headed in the next few weeks and beyond.
Kevin Pett has been involved with Splitgate “since day one back in 2019.” He started out making videos about the game on YouTube, including guides on how to improve play as well as speculation on the game’s console release, before approaching 1047 Games co-founder and CEO Ian Proulx with a plan to increase the game’s visibility on social media. Pett told Proulx that the game’s “social media was good, but could be so much better,” and he took the reins officially.
One of the most refreshing aspects of Splitgate’s social media presence has been its commitment to transparency when it comes to issues and communication with fans. Pett gives credit to “the value of transparency to Ian and the rest of the team.” He says, “Transparency is a nice ideal to have, but it’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to living up to that standard—and the Splitgate team lives it.” Pett and his team of community managers are in constant communication with the game’s followers and fans across all social channels, fostering a community or honesty and openness that is refreshing in an industry that is often shrouded in secrecy and withholding information from others.
When it comes to the story of the game itself, Pett and I started at the beginning. On Splitgate’s website, a blurb about the game’s creation reads:
“1047 Games was founded by Ian Proulx and Nicholas Bagamian in their dorm rooms at Stanford (the company was named after the address of their dorm). What started as two computer science majors putting portals into an FPS for a project demo, has now turned into a 25-person game development studio. Through their flagship game, Splitgate, 1047 Games aims to bring back the glory days of PvP shooters. It’s easy to see why IGN described Splitgate as ‘Halo meets Portal,’ specifically referencing its Halo 2 and Halo 3 style gameplay.”
I asked where the idea of a portal shooter came from, and Pett said that Ian had the idea while playing Portal and Portal 2 nearly a decade ago and wondered why the mechanics hadn’t been used in an FPS title yet. “Portal 2 came out 10 years ago and that idea has never been executed to my knowledge,” said Pett—Ian and Nick aimed to change that. Once they realized they might have something while developing the demo at Stamford, they gathered a team of artists, level designers, engineers, and were off to the races.
Creating an innovative FPS isn’t the only thing that makes 1047 Games unique; the studio does not have a central space, meaning everyone on the team contributes from home. According to Pett, “From the word ‘go,’ 1047 Games has been a collaborative effort internationally. We have people working remotely and contributing from their own homes.” This led to minimal disruptions during the ongoing (at time of writing) COVID-19 pandemic—not something the team was prepared for, but the setup ensured that development could go on while the rest of the world seemed to stop.
Pett also brought attention to the fact that “Splitgate is being coded and engineered by four individuals … four people are doing our coding, engine work, and backend optimization.” The fact that such a small team has been able to keep the game up and running while its player base grew more than 160 times over is nothing short of a miracle, and the entire team has rallied around them. Pett gave props to Olly Freeman, the team’s backend engineer, “Our backend engineer is a superstar … we couldn’t be where we are without him, so huge shoutout to Olly.” I think I speak for the entire player base when I echo those sentiments!
As for the actual gameplay, Pett says Splitgate’s comparisons to other titles exists for a reason. “For marketing purposes, we do lean on the ‘Halo meets Portal’ aspect. The entire core of the team are huge classic Halo fans. It’s clear that we had a lot of influence artistically, mechanically, and gameplay wise, but it’s not a one to one copy by any means.”
The games does feel similar to older Halo titles in motion, but it also feels unique and carves out its own lane. The game is punchy and tactile in a way that older FPS titles rarely were, and it is much more straightforward mechanically than many modern shooters—and that’s by design.
“There’s another influence [for Splitgate] that’s less obvious, and that’s Rocket League.”
It’s a comparison you probably never could have guessed from playing the game, but Pett explains it in a way that makes you view Splitgate in a new light. “It [Rocket League] is straightforward. It knows what it is and executes it perfectly. It’s simple on the surface which makes it easy to pick up but there’s so much more to it than there first appears. Splitgate has that similar philosophy of knowing exactly what it is.”
Like how Rocket League combines driving with playing soccer, Splitgate combines familiar FPS gameplay with the physics-altering portal mechanic. “You can learn how to shoot a portal here and a portal there and walk through it … everyone learns that in the tutorial. But when combined with FPS gameplay, it’s so much deeper—but it’s still just one mechanic.” That simplicity with a twist is one of Splitgate’s biggest strengths. Pett and the 1047 Games team believe that “good gameplay is good gameplay, and game developers should humble themselves upon learning that from others.”
Pett also mentions that Splitgate has a “sporty vibe” that’s influenced (in part) by Rocket League as well. The game’s crowd noises, flashy victory and defeat screens, and announcer are all sports-like “on purpose” according to Pett. The announcer, especially, is deliberate. “We weren’t looking for a Halo announcer, we wanted someone that that sounds sporty, almost like a WWE announcer … we found our voice and it adds a really great element to the game.”
For a game still in beta (at time of writing), Splitgate features a surprisingly large number of modes. Some are familiar, while others are more unique to the game. Pett says the team wanted to include “recognizable game modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, King of the Hill, and Oddball,” as well as “modes that fit less of a mold” like Takedown—a mode that Pett says was partially inspired by one in Diabotical. Takedown, in particular, “has grown into an iconic game mode for Splitgate,” according to Pett. “It keeps the game all about the fundamentals while still making it fun and exciting.”
When it comes to some of the zanier game modes—the Teabag Confirmed mode, in which players teabag defeated opponents to earn points, comes to mind—Pett says to “expect those kind of game modes to stick around and for us to add on top of it.” He explains, “Splitgate is, above all, meant to be fun. Everyone has memories of playing wacky custom games with friends in games like Halo 3, and we wanted to capture that.”
While the game makes the space to let loose and get a little crazy, it also is built and ready for the esports scene. “Esports has always been on the back of our minds,” says Pett, “people always say that they can’t wait to see the potential of esports in this game.” Based on the tournament that took place after our interview—which Pett also did commentary for—the game is ready for it.
“Splitgate resonates with so many different people. It’s a tight, optimized shooter game with a visually interesting mechanic with the portals, which makes it an instantly fascinating spectator esport.” Having the game be as much fun to watch as it is to play is important to the team, and bodes well for the title’s future in the ever-growing esports scene; Pett says, “It’s watchable and mostly understandable … people can get a little crazy with the portals [laughs].”
For a game that prides itself so much on the fundamentals and offers such a solid core experience this early in its lifespan, it’s hard not to get excited about what the future holds. With multiplayer games recently having the tendency to go bigger and try to engage players more, certain titles can end up losing sight of what’s important to players: playing the game. Having an interesting world and lore and cast of characters is important, but many players boot up their favorite multiplayer FPS games to play, and Splitgate is going to stick to its strengths in that regard.
“Our number one priority with Splitgate is to stick to our roots, the things that make Splitgate fun and successful right now,” says Pett. “Portals flip the first person arena shooter genre on its head while keeping that core gameplay intact … it makes it interesting and fresh.”
However, Pett didn’t rule out expanding the Splitgate world further in the future. “We [the 1047 Games team] have a philosophy of ‘never say never’ when it comes to new features, as long as it doesn’t violate our first priority of staying fundamentally sound.” And while he couldn’t reveal much, Pett did say that “the potential future of this game is limitless.” He said that, while he “isn’t the official lore guy,” he and the rest of the team are “keeping our cards close to our chest for now … we can’t wait to share what might be going on with that [the game world].” In a game that features maps in Atlantis, ancient runes, a futuristic stadium, and more, it’s hard to not be at least a little interested in what that might mean.
As for the game itself, Pett says that there is much to look forward to in the next few months. “First, players can expect our servers to work [laughs]. Those are our priority at the moment … you can also expect new maps, new weapons, new cosmetic items, and new game modes—a waterfall of content.”
Pett says the team is “prioritizing features our players are asking for.” He explained, “Bottom line: we listen to our community. I read everybody’s replies: ‘add slide, add a finishing play of the game camera’ and so on. We make our decisions on what features to add next based on feedback.”
Splitgate will officially launch on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC in August 2021.