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Last week I sat down with Brjánn Sigurgeirsson – CEO of Swedish indie developer Image & Form – to discuss Steamworld Dig and gain exclusive information about the studio’s new project.
When I speak to Sigurgeirsson, the studio’s home city of Gothenburg is experiencing a rather damp winter afternoon and night-time is drawing in. Such miserable weather can be enough to be put a dampener on anyone’s sprits – “Gothenburg is a wet dream for rain lovers” – but he’s in a good mood, with the studio currently enjoying the successful launch of their most recent game on Steam.
They’re also a studio that’s pretty busy at the moment. “Quite a few things are happening,” Sigurgeirsson says once we get going; “these last few days, we’ve been responding to a few Game of the Year awards and trying to keep up with that. We were hoping to be on the shortlist for IGN, to be on their top 10 games of the year. We didn’t make that list, but we think we’re on the shortlist for handheld and indie games, which is good enough for us.”
With success comes recognition of course, so it’s no surprise that many people are wondering what’s coming next from the developer.
“When we finished Dig in June this year, we were looking forward to releasing in August on 3DS. We didn’t dare start development of the next game immediately – everyone had to pitch in with the release plans,” he explains.
“You won’t believe me, but we actually had very little planned even just a week before launch. We didn’t really know what to do; it was my task to launch the game, but I had trouble sleeping the whole summer because I was so ill-prepared for it. I really didn’t have any idea it would be as successful as it was. We’d had our noses so close to the screen the whole time in development that we didn’t know if it was a good game. And when we realised that it was a fabulous game, that people thought it was amazing, we thought: great!”
If he comes across as pleased with himself, then he has every right to be. So far on both platforms combined, Dig has been very successful – though Sigurgeirsson isn’t willing to share the exact sales numbers right now. He’s surprisingly modest and self-deprecating though, for a guy who’s just seen his studio go from being relatively unknown to an indie heavyweight almost overnight.
In the developer’s offices, some tastefully framed artwork adorns the walls – character art from Steamworld Dig and Anthill, one of their previous games on iOS. Other than that and a mural on one wall, there’s very little to indicate that you’re in anything other than just a regular office. But I have to wonder: does he ever feel like the success is going to his head?
“We’ve been very lucky,” he tells me. “People seem to think that we’re being very professional but really it’s more that a lot of things just happened to come together! We’ve been counting our blessings; I thought it would sort of ease down. So we just had to take a break from everything and try to be a little bit more prepared [when] we got the ok from Steam to have a version of the game on their platform.”
Sigurgeirsson isn’t ready to share the name of their new game, which is currently in the early stages of development. “If you know what we’re like then it will probably change,” he says, before giving a characteristically warm chuckle.
He is willing to share that it’s due to be another game set in the Steamworld universe. It’s not Steamworld Dig 2, though. “What we have ahead of us is 3 more games in the Steamworld series, for sure,” he tells me. “The thing that we’re working on right now is not Steamworld Dig at all; it won’t be a digging game. It will be in the Steamworld universe and the characters will be recognizable, [but] it will be totally different type of game.
“People who are hoping for a Dig sequel will have to wait, but [that too] will be bigger than the first game was, in all directions.”
If they weren’t before, then now the developer is certainly forward-thinking and rather ambitious. But if the next game in the series isn’t a sequel to Dig, what is it? Sigurgeirsson is surprisingly open on the studio’s plans – at least, as far as can be expected from a team enjoying such tremendous success and an increased profile. “When we started developing [the next game], what we kept doing for a month and a half was actually a prequel to Dig. But when we started working on the Steam version of Dig, the guys in the office came up with a really brilliant new idea: not a sequel, not Steamworld Dig 2, but perhaps the game that comes after, or the game after that. And so we looked at it and we just thought: God, that’s so brilliant. It’s so grand!”
Their plan is to complete their current project before moving on to Dig 2 and then later returning to the prequel that they’d previously started, he tells me.
I ask him what he means when he says the new game is grand. “The scale of the game is just so good that as soon as we had finished porting Dig to Steam, we immediately started focusing on that,” he replies.
With the talk about scale, people are obviously going to ask: is it an open-world game? “That’s a good question,” Sigurgeirsson says and it’s clear from looking at him and from the slight pause which follows that he’s choosing his words carefully.
I say to him that he seems to be trying hard not to give too much away, and he laughs. “Sorry about that! It’s just that I have a tendency to promise too much [and] you disappoint everybody if you don’t deliver.”
So what can he tell me? “What we want to do is to create much more of a ‘community’ game in the Steamworld series, meaning that people will play it for many more hours and discuss different strategies. No-one will complete this game in a day or two; they’ll be playing hopefully for weeks, and then we’ll add more stuff to it.”
Explaining a bit more about what he means, he tells me: “You can buy Dig and you can finish it in maybe one sitting, in a single day. And then when you’re done with it, it’s interesting to talk to people about how you solved certain things. But a game you can discuss while you’re playing it is just so much more interesting.”
When he mentions community aspects, does he mean multiplayer?
There’s that trademark laugh again before he responds: “Maybe! I would love to just be able to give a simple answer. I think the game that we’re working on now would lend itself wonderfully to co-op play, but we’re very aware of how much more development time it would take to perfect that. If we can manage it then we will make a bigger game and then we will be able to have multiplayer.”
So it’s certainly a possibility then. If it does happen, what form will it take?
“If we can get multiplayer in there, it won’t be versus play; it will be co-op. If we could get that in, it would be tremendous but it [would have to] be excellent, the best game of the year.”
He goes on: “What we’re looking at now is a single-player game that lends itself excellently to people discussing various strategies, how they tackle things and how different people solve things across different playthroughs. There will be so
many ways to tackle every scene in the game… it will be very open to discussion.”
Does that mean random generation? After all, roguelikes are currently experiencing something of a comeback at the moment, with Path of Exile, FTL and Rogue Legacy – among others – working to make the genre a favorite in the indie scene.
Once again, Sigurgeirsson laughs and it’s clear that he’s enjoying my attempts to tease more information out of him. “Yes, there will be a lot of random generation: it will be a core feature of the game. Also, it will be random in more than one way. You’ll understand it when you see it, because the premise that we have is that we want people to ask themselves: how will I succeed in the game this time? The conditions of the game will be different every time.”
I mention Fez and how the game’s challenge extends beyond the platforming and into wider areas with the amount of secrets and riddles to be solved. Is that, I wonder, something which the team is considering?
“I don’t think, at least at this stage, that we’ll have that wider level of meta-discussions going on about the game; but I really think it will be perceived as a grand game, with a lot of new takes on how a game like this can be played.”
There’s yet more laughter as he pleads: “Can you please stop asking me about this now?”
It’s clear that he’s becoming wary of how much information he’s giving out about the upcoming title, so I ask him what platforms they’re currently hoping to release on and when they think the game will be finished.
“We’re kind of looking at everything really. One thing we try to be very clear about with ourselves is how wonderfully the Nintendo community – and the company itself – has treated us. We were really nobodies before Nintendo lifted us up. So we’re never going to forget what they’ve done for us and the 3DS is one of the platforms that we want to launch on from day one; and then obviously Steam, if they’ll have us again, and [after that] we’ll look at what the other platforms are doing.”
He has to think for a moment before discussing the hoped-for development timeframe and I’m reminded of what he said earlier about promising too much and not being able to deliver. “Realistically, I think we’re looking at a release in October 2014. If we count 8 months and take into account Swedish vacations, we’ll be done maybe next September,” he says cautiously.
“With Dig, it took us about 8 calendar months. We’re aiming to have a much grander game [this time], but developed in the same time frame; we’re very careful to make sure that we’re doing everything right, from the very start of development.
“We don’t want to make a game that is smaller than Steamworld Dig, and we don’t want to make a game that is the same. We want to make something great.”
Later that evening, as I listen back to the interview recording and read through my notes, I’m struck by just how ambitious Image & Form are being with their new title. With any creative team that’s tasted success, there’s pressure to follow up on it. For many, the temptation is to take the easy route and play it safe, but that’s a temptation that Brjánn Sigurgeirsson and his team are certainly resisting.
Whether or not they are able to deliver on those ambitions and strike gold a second time is something that we won’t know for certain until their next game is released; but for now they’re thinking big. That’s something to be applauded in an industry where so many follow-ups are just more of the same with a different number next to the title.
Atmospheric platform-puzzler Knytt Underground is coming to Nintendo’s delightful-but-struggling Wii U console on the 19th December, publisher Ripstone has announced.
No additional content has been announced so we presume it will be identical to the versions already available on other platforms. Unfortunately the price has yet to be announced, but we don’t see it being too different from the existing price point of £6.99/$9.99 that it currently retails for on PC via Steam.
Knytt Underground is a 2D side-scrolling game in the vein of Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night; taking place in a huge continuous game world with a presentation that should be familiar to anyone who’s played Limbo – all black silhouetted landscapes with minimal audio cues – the player is challenged to discover the secrets of the world and its fate.
Kim Berkley reviewed the game for IGM, giving it a score of 76%. “Whether the entire game is some deep, dark metaphor, or simply a silly parody is left up to the player”, Kim wrote last month. “[But] Nifflas’ chooses to duck out for tea instead, leaving players to ponder whether there even is an answer, or if the creator was just messing with them after all.”
Do you pine for the golden days of the Atari 2600 and the original Nintendo Entertainment System? If retro gaming is your calling, check out Lecker Klecker’s upcoming debut release, King Voxel. Harkening back to the days of Adventure and Legend of Zelda, this nostalgic PC tribute to 8-bit questing is a call to arms for fans of ye olden days.
The premise is as straightforward adventure as you can get. King Voxel’s kingdom of Voxelot is overrun with fearsome foes, and his beloved queen has been kidnapped by the evil Lord Hellion. With sword drawn, and crown stubbornly glued to his head, it is up to King Voxel to conquer his enemies, take back his realm, and rescue his monarch-in-distress.
The gameplay follows the traditional pattern; King Voxel progresses one quest at a time, sometimes searching for specific items, other times simply going all-out on his enemies until only the king himself is left standing. In between quests, shops can be visited in order to purchase new items and equipment, and according to the official site a fortune teller will eventually be added in as a hint-giver to aid progress. In addition to the generic up-down-left-right movement, the game also features dynamic camera controls, which greatly reduce navigational frustration.
What stands out the most about this voxel-based take on 8-bit fantasy is the world generator. With a fully randomized experience, no two playthroughs will be the same, and the questing capacity dial is turned up to infinity. No more post-game depression, -the adventure never has to end. On the other hand, this could be bad news for the King and Queen; the lack of closure implies that the kingdom will never truly be completely free of invaders. Such is the life of a virtual ruler.
Along with infinite quests (and thus, infinite treasures to be found!), King Voxel also features a wealth of monstrous enemies for your vanquishing pleasure. The designs are every bit as colorfully trippy as the baddies of yore. One moment you might find yourself facing a giant jumping spider, the next a disembodied skull of doom. Of course, any king worth his mettle must be ready for anything – even psychedelic-pink pig monsters.
Luckily, King Voxel also seems to incorporate the healthy sense of humor so often missing from more gritty modern adventure games. Between the neon-bright cartoonish graphics and odd cast of characters, trying for a deadly serious tone would have been suicide. Instead, Lecker Klecker tossed in quite a bit of content ‘just for fun,’ including drolly anachronistic collectibles (such as a pair of sunglass or a saxophone), a casino, and the Voxelot Royal Art Museum, which features random images (submitted by the backers as well as the developer) and serves no grander purpose than players’ amusement.
At its core, King Voxel is a labor of love – the respect and admiration for old-school adventure gaming is evident in the magical atmosphere (which owes its beauty in no small part to Mike O.K.’s epic-fantastical soundtrack) and the attention to detail that appears to be going into every voxel. If you, too, are a warrior poet at heart, check out the official site to learn more, or visit the Steam Greenlight page to show your support. No specific release date has been announced as of yet, though currently the developer is looking at an early 2014 release. In the meantime, be sure to check out the free alpha demo available on the Indiegogo page.
Recently I was able to chat with Arcen Games lead programmer and designer, Chris Park, about Skyward Collapse’s first major expansion, Nihon no Mura. Released last May, Skyward Collapse is a turn-based strategy game which tasks players with creating and maintaining the world of Luminith. With Nihon no Mura, Arcen Games is adding in a Japanese faction to compliment the existing Norse and Greek factions. The expansion will also introduce Hamlets into the game, furthering the level of strategic planning that players will have to take into consideration.
Nihon no Mura is due out later this month, and will be available for $2.99.
Indie service wars, platform confessionals, a day in the life of a programmer and more in today’s Developer Links.
Steam is king in service wars, Humble Store a sleeping giant, indies say (Joystiq)
“Twenty-one randomly selected indie developers walk into a digital room and ponder the question, “Which online distribution system has been the most effective for your games?” If this were the set-up to a joke, the punchline would probably be, “Facebook.” But for many indie developers, the question of which platform to publish their games on is a very serious one, with potentially dire consequences. Pared down, platform success is all about accessibility, upload and support, and in terms of those factors, there’s a clear, unsurprising favorite: Steam. But maybe not for long.”
Indie platform confessional: PSN, XBLA, eShop, ‘all of the above’ (Joystiq)
“The internet is kind of like a classic confessional – except it’s not a box, it’s a lot brighter and everyone can hear what you have to say. Still, we asked a handful of independent developers for their thoughts on what exactly makes a platform effective, and they spilled it all, dissecting the pros and cons of the most popular, current models of distribution. Today, we feature answers from SpyParty’s Chris Hecker, Retro City Rampage’s Brian Provinciano, Ska Studios’ James Silva, Thomas Was Alone’s Mike Bithell, and others. This group of developers had specific thoughts about Sony’s PlayStation Network, Microsoft’s Xbox Live Indie Games and Arcade services, the Nintendo eShop, and the dream of having it all.”
An Interview with Indie Developer Alistair Aitcheson (IndieGames.com)
“Alistair Aitcheson, one of the few developers that have properly endangered my iPad with his 2-players/1-iPad offerings and a genuinely talented crafter of games, discusses his creations and provides us with some handy tips for the aspiring game developer.”
From XNA to MonoGame (Gamasutra)
“A reprint from the May 2013 issue of Gamaustra’s sister publication Game Developer magazine, this article explains how you can transition your XNA projects to MonoGame.”
BattleBlock Theater Game Updates (The Behemoth)
“If you haven’t done so already, be sure to download the update for BattleBlock Theater on Xbox LIVE. We’ve updated a couple areas in the game.”
Design with the Devs: BattleBlock FF Selection (The Behemoth)
“Since opening night, players everywhere have embraced the BattleBlock Community Theater as the best place in the whole world to share your thoughts and dreams, so long as your thoughts and dreams looked exactly like BattleBlock Theater levels. Otherwise, you may just want to start a journal blog.”
Dungeon lovers dx (Auntie Pixelante)
“”Rooms 59-60 – These rooms comprise the interior of the temple proper. Its vast space is dominated by a stepped dais at the west end on which stands a golden statue of a two-headed serpent, the ancient god Sin.” The above is an excerpt from the computer game HELLFIRE WARRIOR. or, rather, it’s an excerpt from the book that comes with the game. if your digital avatar is standing in room 59 or 60, you might decide to look up the room’s description in the book. the “paragraph book” represents a strategy in digital game storytelling that rose out of the dungeons & dragons pen & paper role-playing tradition: when you set your playing pieces on the square on the map that represents the next room in the dungeon, the dungeon master – a live human emcee – will tell you what your characters see in that room. computers have always been good at displaying squares – when their graphic economy didn’t leave much room for visually describing the contents of one of those squares, game authors like jon freeman, joyce lane and jeff johnson – the writers of hellfire warrior’s “book of lore” – borrowed an idea from the game experiences that inspired theirs.”
A Day in the Life of a Programmer (Gaslamp Games)
“The programming team codenamed our current milestone El Dorado after the mythical city that doesn’t really exist. Most of the stuff that we have been doing towards El Dorado… well, it isn’t ready yet. Also, a lot of it is systems which are transparent to the user (networking, refactoring, serialization, etc.) It’s all important, but it’s not glamorous. We should, however, have a few interesting things to show next week. We (well, mainly Micah) wrote up some of the work that we did on our threading and messaging system, and submitted it to an academic conference; I am pleased to report that HotPAR ’13 (the Usenix Hot Topics in Parallelism conference) decided to accept our paper, which will be presented at some point in June. I should figure out when that is…”
Going solo from a successful indie team and multiple articles on animation in today’s Developer Links.
Going Independent (Asher Vollmer)
“This Monday, after the most introspective conference of my life, I left my job at thatgamecompany. I’ve chosen to become an independent game developer.”
Mobile “just too scary” for indies, says Spelunky dev (Games Industry)
“Derek Yu notes even great games can tank on iOS and Android, welcomes growing competition on PCs, consoles”
GDC13 Summary: Animation Bootcamp Part 4/6 (Wolfire Games)
“Animating the 3rd Assassin. Jonathan Cooper, Animation Director, Ubisoft Montreal. Jonathan has been animating games for 13 years, including lead roles on Mass Effect 1 & 2, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and Assassin’s Creed 3, and recently won the DICE award for “Outstanding Achievement in Animation”.”
Designing a game to behave in ways for which it was not designed (#AltDevBlogADay)
“I’d like to start this article by pointing out that it is merely a documenting of my own personal experience and thoughts that led from it, and in no way is a treatise on what I think everyone should do. Please take it with a grain of salt.”
Island Snapshot (The Witness)
“It’s been a while since the previous post, so here’s a new island snapshot.”
Exploring video game animation with a film industry veteran (Gamasutra)
“”Nowadays the skills and crew required to make a game and a movie are virtually identical… I’ve witnessed the blurring between the two media which has been occurring gradually over the years.” Lionel Gallat, known online as “Seith,” has been working on animated movies for over 15 years now, putting his mark on films like The Prince Of Egypt, The Road to Eldorado, SharkTale and Flushed Away.”
An Inviting Mini-World: How Nintendo Made Animal Crossing (Gamasutra)
“Chances are that if you know somebody with a Nintendo 3DS right now, you know somebody who’s playing Animal Crossing: New Leaf. The game was already a smash hit in its home territory, where since its release in November, it’s sold 4 million copies. Nintendo revealed via its Facebook page that five days after it hit the U.S. market, it had already shifted 200,000 units.”
Raptr Q&A with The Behemoth (The Behemoth)
“We’ll be chatting with the Raptr community about all of our games.”
Developer Links has plenty of focus on what came out of this year’s GDC, as well as discussions on Kickstarter and crunching to make a game.
Developers should ‘think like a fan,’ be transparent when pitching on Kickstarter, says Double Fine producer (Polygon)
“Indie developers looking to launch projects for crowdfunding on Kickstarter should “think like a fan,” altering their mindset and tailoring pitches to best inform their gaming audience, according to Double Fine Productions producer Greg Rice.”
Mark of the Ninja creator: Innovation no excuse for crunch (Gamasutra)
“Jamie Cheng, founder of Klei Entertainment, creator of the XBLA games Shank and Mark of the Ninja had strong words for any game maker who might claim that working extensive overtime is an intrinsic part of making ‘art’.”
Food, firing, and freedom (Games Industry)
“Other Ocean, 17-bit, and Capy Games give tips for creating positive studio cultures without breaking the bank”
Nintendo’s indies guy tells you how to get your games approved (IndieGames.com)
“If you want to get your indie game onto Nintendo’s platforms — the Wii U and 3DS — you’ll want to talk to Dan Adelman, who works as the company’s liaison with indies. While his title is “business development manager,” he’s best known as the man who helped World of Goo and the Bit.Trip series, among many others, land on the WiiWare service for the original Wii. He joined Nintendo in 2005 to help build that service; Since then, the company has transitioned to new platforms, and offers a much better shop on them, called the eShop.”
Exploring game design through technology (Wolfire Games)
“This is a blog post adaption of my GDC 2013 Indie Soapbox talk, I hope you like it! I will link to the GDC vault video of it if it becomes publicly available.”
Gameplay – Espionage (Purple Orange Games)
“Espionage, much like diplomacy, feels completely underdeveloped in 4X games and almost non-existent in strategy games overall.”
I Want to Make Video Games, But I Don’t Know How to Program, And I Don’t Have Any Money (Indie Game Insider)
“You have that hungry look on your face. You know, the kind you get when you haven’t eaten for a while. Only this time it’s a hunger to make games. Being a game developer, I can understand the passion that you may possess to create a game can be killed by the lack of patience it takes to learn to program. You have an idea, and you want to make a game now!”
Initial thoughts about my first GDC (Positech Games)
“So here I am, post-GDC, from my point-of-view (I was only there for two days), reflecting on what I thought of my first ever trip there. I made a deliberate decision to only spend two days there, to attend the indie talks, meet some people, and then combine the trip with a short holiday, so I’m in a hotel room typing this up.”