Hey bro: Cape Town’s Free Lives talks about Steam, Game Jams, and how Broforce got its name

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Cape Town-based game developer, Free Lives, reached a serious milestone back in July: its first major title, Broforce, was given the green light on Valve Software’s digital content portal, Steam. The Green Light programme lets game developers submit concept games and playable demos. Steam’s users then get to vote on the idea, and if successful a developer is given the opportunity to have their game as a featured title on Steam.

We reached out to Free Lives to learn a bit more about the team behind Broforce. As expected, the six creative Capetonians enjoy the lighter side of life.

“Free Lives is a team of teenage anthropomorphic turtles,” writes Shaz Strauss, office manager at game developer. “[The team members are] led by their anthropomorphic, beard-wielding, rat sensei, Evan Greenwood.”

The Ninja Turtles theme continues when she explains that the team is busy honing and perfecting the art of game jam jitsu, which comes in handy when battling bills, pants, petty criminals, evil overlords and alien invaders.

Other members of the crew include artist Jarred Lunt, programmer Ruan Rothmann, animator Duncan Greenwood, and junior coder Richard Pieterse.

“They met in the storm sewers of Cape Town”, Shaz says, “where they bonded over a love for dank accommodations, consuming copious amounts of pizza and remaining isolated from society-at-large.”

That last part sounds pretty familiar. It’s how most people imagine game developers, right? Well, at least the part about pizza and isolation from society.

It was in April 2012 that the group got together, and made Broforce a full-time project. The game was actually an award-winning entry in a Ludum Dare contest, a sort of hackathon for accelerated game development – something the team seems to excel at. In January this year it entered and won the Ouya Create Game Jam, for a title called “Strange Happenings on Murder Island“.

But Broforce is its first full-time project, and one the team members have been able to put their hearts into.

And that name? Jarred and Evan came up with “Rambro” while competing to bro-ify nouns. At some point Rambo came up, and the obvious answer was to call him “Rambro”. It was also, as Shaz says, a ” blindingly appealing game idea”.

The team turned that idea into a game jam title, but the only problem was that another game had used “Rambros” as its name.

“As a result our game was renamed Broforce.


Rambro isn’t the only hero in the game, which uses 80s and 90s action hero stereotypes as its protagonists. Try out the web player and you’ll be treated to parodies (pabrodies?), such as The Brominator (The Terminator); B.A. Broracus (B.A. Baracus, from The A-Team); Brommando (Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando); Bro Hard (Bruce Willis in Die Hard); and Robrocrop (Robocop).

What started out as a game jam idea turned into something more serious, and Broforce has since received the Green Light from Steam’s community.

“There were high fives and plenty of celebratory tequilas! Its a great feeling,” says Shaz.

That’s not  all there is to it, though. Free Lives still has to finish working on Broforce; the fact that it’s been green-lit just means that it’s guaranteed a spot in the Steam store.

“We still have a lot of work ahead of us. Valve has sent us the preliminary paperwork to get started on,” according to the team. In the mean time, a pre-order page has gone up and there are hopes that a beta client will be available by November this year.

“Unfortunately Gabe [Newell, the founder of Valve Software] didn’t fly out to personally congratulate us with a preview copy of Half Life 3 as I was expecting, I think that only happens when we actually launch the game.”

As for the game’s launch, that’s planned for 2014. After that, Free Lives has plans to get the game on as many platforms as it can. While mobile devices are not quite a certainty – Broforce is a bit resource-intensive – Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, with their huge audiences, are a given. Standalone Mac and Linux ports are a certainty, too. With Steam’s presence on those platforms, and Newell pronouncing Linux as the next big thing for PC gaming, it only makes sense.

What about life after Broforce? In the middle of development, it’s difficult to say.

“It’s really hard to guess at this stage. Hopefully once Broforce is released we’ll have an opportunity to explore, and prototype ideas, and something will emerge out of that.”

Since Broforce was the product of a game jam contest, it’s only poetic that the next Free Lives project is likely to enjoy similar beginnings.

“We made a game prototype for the 7 Day FPS called Deathsmashers, which we really like, but we still have to see if other people think it’s as cool as we do.”

Free Lives is the developer of Broforce, which is on track for a 2014 release. Try it out for free, online, or pre-order it for $15 (around R150) today.

Christo van Gemert

Christo van Gemert

Eleven years ago Christo started writing about technology for one of South Africa's (then) leading computer magazines. His first review? A Samsung LCD monitor. Hey, it was hot news, back then. Nowadays he gets more excited about photography, cars, game consoles, and faster internet connections. He's sort of an Apple fan, but will take any opportunity to remind you about his Windows-powered home theatre PC and desire to own a vanilla Android tablet.   Currently uses: Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display, Apple iPhone 5, Microsoft Laser Mouse 6000, Audiofly AF78 Earphones, Xbox 360, Nikon D50.