Jon from Shigeru Reviews interviews Image & Form; topics include SteamWorld Heist and the Nintendo Fan Community!

Shigeru Reviews recently did an interview (Q&A session) with Image & Form. Here it is for you to enjoy.

SteamWorld Dig was an interesting take on the metroidvania genre. What was the genesis of this game, that is, how did it come to be in its final state?

It was actually a chain of events that made SteamWorld Dig what it became. First, before SteamWorld Dig we were a mobile developers with mixed success. We’d made a few iOS games with Anthill (//itunes.apple.com/en/app/anthill/id414658364?mt=8) being the standout hit among them. But at the time in 2012 – aeons ago, in game dev history – we suspected that the App Store was becoming a dangerous basket to keep all our eggs in. It was getting very congested, and a reality where F2P games would be in majority was lurking around the corner. We didn’t want to make F2P games – we wanted to focus on gameplay, not monetization. (Recently it’s become increasingly obvious (//www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2015-02-04-if-we-look-at-casual-games-in-2015-whats-out-there-is-mostly-crap) that F2P exploits human weaknesses pretty much the way gambling does, which means we’re *definitely* not up for it.)

So in the fall of 2012 we started on a new game, and we called it SteamWorld Dig very early on. It was set in SteamWorld, and it was a digging game. As you can tell from the company name, we’re not very good at naming things. 😉 But one thing we’re good at is playing games, and SteamWorld Dig certainly is inspired by some other computer games. We’re impressed with the learn-as-you-go-along upgrade systems of Metroid and others. And there are elements from other mining (or digging) games, such as Dig Dug and Miner Dig Deep.

But the biggest inspiration was our own predecessor to SteamWorld Dig, a game called SteamWorld Tower Defense. It’s a mostly harmless tower-defense game we made for the Nintendo DSiWare Store back in 2010. It had a charming twist to it: the robots were the good guys and the pesky enemies were human. That twist made us return to SteamWorld, and we spent quite a few lunch breaks discussing SteamWorld before starting on SteamWorld Dig. We couldn’t help but wonder WHY the robots were upstanding folk running gold mines, and the humans were such greedy, aggressive lowlives. How had that come about, what was really the story here? So we decided to make another game in the series and give away a bigger slice of the background. The premise of SteamWorld Dig was interesting, because it built on the mining track established in SWTD, and we love games about mining.

(And at least I love mining itself – there’s something inherently wonderful about looking for and unearthing hidden treasure. I haven’t told my wife, but I’d secretly love to take her on a vacation on a historical beach somewhere with one of those metal detectors, hoping to dig up some old Viking or Roman treasure. I’ll operate the detector, she’ll operate the shovel. Just as secretly, she’ll not want to come.)

We discussed how we could mix mining with other great gameplay mechanics, and voilà! All this lunch-break thinking also means that we have *a lot* of different, yet-to-be-made ideas that fit SteamWorld as a universe. The gameplay of the next SteamWorld game, SteamWorld Heist, will be nothing like Dig, but the art style is instantly recognizable.

Were there any features in SteamWorld Dig that had to be cut for any reasons that you wish could have been put in the game?

Yes, towards the end of the production we came under some pretty severe financial constraints – we were quickly going broke. Anthill wasn’t making much money for us anymore, and we had to be done with Dig by the end of June 2013; we would have run out of money if we had continued over summer. In Sweden, summer works like this: *everyone* goes on vacation in July, and we had to send the game for a time-consuming lotcheck process. The most economic way to do it was to let vacation and lotcheck coincide – and then pray that the game would sail smoothly through inspection.

It did, but that also meant that we had to race to finish the game by the end of June. And there were a couple of worlds that we didn’t have time to finish. It was sad in every way, but we couldn’t have finished it otherwise – we would have gone bust. In retrospect we may have benefited from including them, but we had no idea whether the game would be successful or not. It would have been ballsy to include the extra content and hoped for the best, but at the same time it would have been reckless beyond description. A lot of us have families, and it would have been harsh.

How have you found the Nintendo fan community response to the game? Do you feel that The Nintendo fan community is supportive of the indie scene?

The community response to SteamWorld Dig was a lot better than anything we had dreamed of. I’m not sure we could have had the same success if we had gone day-one on another platform. Part of it is the die-hard perspective: the Nintendo community are fans of their platform in a similar way to Mac users back in the day – even at times when nothing indicated that Macintoshes were better than PCs, both in terms of hardware and OS, the Mac fans would still be staunch advocates of the platform. Another part of it is the relatively small number of games available for the 3DS, because the 3DS as a platform isn’t mainstream. For example, you can’t use Unity to port to the 3DS. You have to develop for it separately due to the dual screens, the low resolution and the comparatively weak hardware specs.

So yes, I’m sure that the Nintendo fan community supports and embraces indies. Partly because they’re starved for content, but also because they appreciate the effort. There’s no point in making bad games for the 3DS. The community has very high standards.

How did you find the development process on Wii U, was it like other consoles or harder/easier to program for?

It was harder in the sense that we had to come up with clever use for the gamepad – it couldn’t just be an HD reflection of the lower screen of the 3DS, which we used for the map and inventory. Otherwise it was more or less like the others. We already had the HD version in place on PC/Mac/Linux and PlayStation 4/Vita when we started making the Wii U version.

SteamWorld Heist looks to do for turn based strategy, what SteamWorld Dig did for the metroidvania genre. How did you come to decide on this genre for the game? Were there other ideas that were ultimately rejected or was this an evolution of ideas?

After Dig we actually started on its prequel, but thought it was too small a game to follow up Dig. We needed to do something bigger, so we didn’t exactly reject the prequel but decided to keep it for later. After Dig we also started on a totally unrelated iOS game because we had a great idea. We shelved that as well in the fall of 2013 when it was clear that we could release Dig directly to Steam without standing in line for Greenlight.

Getting this entry ticket to Steam felt very good, because it meant that we could postpone the decision on the next SteamWorld game a little. It was while we were making the HD (Steam) version that some of us (me not included) got together at yet another famous lunch break to come up with the seed for Heist. Our lead designer Olle Hakansson secretly fleshed out the idea for a while and then presented it to me. I loved it, and my only condition for it was that it be set in SteamWorld, because I liked the idea of using the same franchise as an umbrella for a wide variety of game genres. I believe Heist was conceived through a desire to try our hands at turn-based strategy. Olle and a few others are fans of XCOM; I’m confident that chess will never be surpassed by any other game.

So we’re not worried that Heist is very different from Dig. On the contrary, we want to set many kinds of games in the universe. Similarly, we have no problems messing with the SteamWorld chronology; if SteamWorld Tower Defense was the first SteamWorld game, then Dig is the third, and Heist is the fifth or sixth. That means that later we’ll make games that occur before Heist.

Will SteamWorld Heist expand on SteamWorld Dig in any way or is this a completely unrelated story set in the same world?

Heist is set in SteamWorld and follows the timeline, but several hundred years must have passed for the events in Heist to take place. Some things in Heist flirt with the past, but I’m sure you’ll be able to play and enjoy Heist maximally without having played Dig. I’m not sure, however, what would work as a good comparison. For example, Star Wars and Aliens use the same characters throughout, whereas SteamWorld doesn’t.

How have you enjoyed working on SteamWorld Heist? Has it been a fun experience, do you enjoy making a turn based strategy game?

Yes, we’ve enjoyed it very much – but making a turn-based combat strategy game easy to play is really quite difficult! Video games that employ turn-based strategy are often burdened with a heavy interface: buttons, settings and choices everywhere. I think we’ll succeed in keeping it simple and promoting the core gameplay, but now we understand better why turn-based combat games work the way they do. 🙂

The way we make games is also far from streamlined. A triple-A studio CEO (or better yet, CFO) would gasp in horror when seeing how we make games. At the outset we have an idea about what the game will be, and then we try very many different things. For the longest time Heist was a roguelike – or roguelite – game that would reward good play and be harshly punitive if you were sloppy. We’ve changed that, because dying – and losing your progress – was so heart-breaking.

Do you feel the inde scene is still healthy for new developers?

Not for all, but it all depends on the studio and the games. If you make great games, you deserve to be healthy on any scene, platform or market.

What advice would you give to new indie devs out there?

Since it’s hard to follow up games that get lukewarm attention, try to make your first games as good as possible. For that you need a great team, and perhaps financial and marketing backing in the form of a publisher so that you can focus on what you do best. No publisher will love your game as much as you do, so you may feel that you’re giving away parts of the proceeds to someone who isn’t trying as hard as you would. But it might be the best possibility anyway, because they will also ensure that you make a great game. And don’t – DON’T – make me-too games. There’s enough shovelware and match-three clones out there as it is. At any cost, make something original.

Do you have anything to say to the fans of your work?

As always, thank you for carrying us. We make money only from our games, so we are very grateful that you’re buying them and not pirating. It enables us to keep making great games. But support doesn’t only come in the form of hard cash. We get tons of satisfied shout-outs via Twitter and Facebook, and that counts for a lot both in terms of recommendations and encouragement. Happy gaming, and don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone by trying new kinds of games.

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and good luck with the game

Source: Shigeru Reviews

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