Nintendo eShop developer discussion: Image & Form reveals SteamWorld Heist
In August 2013, Swedish developer Image & Form released the unique platform mining adventure SteamWorld Dig in Nintendo eShop on Nintendo 3DS. Set in a Wild West world powered by steam-driven technology, its compelling combination of exploration and action also got the high definition treatment recently with the launch of SteamWorld Dig for Wii U.
Now the team has revealed a brand new title on the way to Nintendo 3DS: SteamWorld Heist. We sat down with Image & Form CEO Brjánn Sigurgeirsson and lead designer Olle Håkansson to find out more about this enterprising new adventure.
Nintendo of Europe: The name of your new game is SteamWorld Heist, so the first question has to be: why “Heist” and not “Dig 2”?
Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Well, let’s explain that. SteamWorld is the franchise, because we are going to make more games in the SteamWorld universe, so that’s the name of the universe or the world. And then, each game will have its own suffix: SteamWorld Dig, SteamWorld Heist…
Olle Håkansson: We also have SteamWorld Tower Defense.
BS: Right, the first effort. So Heist is… we can’t really call it Dig, because there’s no digging whatsoever.
NoE: That would be misleading!
BS: But there’s a lot of heisting! (laughs) Heist is set a good number of years after Dig, and it’s quite obvious that there’s been at least one game between Dig and Heist. We’re sort of doing a Star Wars-style jump in time, where we’re releasing the future before we go back.
It’s a space game; a game about space exploration where you play a rogue steam-driven captain of a ship, who’s basically just trying to survive from day to day by raiding other ships. And there’s a lot of other factions that you don’t really sympathise with, so it makes the heisting justifiable. They’re bad, so it’s OK! Or maybe they weren’t bad from the beginning, but they turned bad when you started raiding them!
NoE: You’re a space pirate then, basically.
OH: Exactly. And the goal of the game is to recruit more space pirates and get a better crew, upgrade your ship, and survive. There’ll be a continuous storyline to it as well. We have a pretty good idea about the game right now. Some other space games have practically infinite content, and we’re going a little for that too with randomised levels; we already had randomisation in the levels in Dig, but it wasn’t that noticeable. We’re going to make it much better and more noticeable this time around.
NoE: So there’ll be more emergent things that appear and surprise you.
OH: Right. I was really happy with the second world in SteamWorld Dig, where the emergent stuff really came together: explosive barrels floating here and there, acid pools, it was crazy fun. I really love that stuff, I had so much fun making it.
NoE: You’re the captain of your ship, and you build up your crew. Do you also build and upgrade your ship?
BS: Exactly right. There’s this core gameplay that we should talk about! The core mechanic of the game is when you board another ship – then it turns into a turn-based game, where you move your guys and the opponents will move theirs, in turn-based combat. And we’ve come up with some really neat ideas to reinvent that genre a little bit, we feel.
NoE: In terms of a genre, you describe SteamWorld Dig as a platform mining adventure. What three words would you use to sum up the genre of SteamWorld Heist? Choose them carefully!
BS: I would say… turn-based combat, in space… with space exploration, and roguelike elements…
OH: And survival… we haven’t really got the genre figured out yet! (laughs)
Editor’s note: Roguelike refers to a particular style of role-playing game that commonly features turn-based gameplay, randomly generated environments, and a large amount of freedom available to the player when choosing where to go and what to do.
NoE: Those are all fantastic words though.
BS: I think this is a cliché, but saying that this is a game we’ve wanted to make for a long time would really sum it up. Because I think it’s a game that will appeal to a lot of different players. It’ll have a lot of sweet things in it.
OH: And we’ll figure out what genre it belongs to later I guess! (laughs)
BS: I would say that where Dig was more in the Metroid and Castlevania style of exploration, this is more of a roguelike.
NoE: As you explore the galaxy, you board other ships and it becomes turn-based combat. Are there any ship battles before that point where you grind your opponents down?
OH: We would really, really love that! (To Brjánn) And you want to pay for that, don’t you? (laughs)
BS: Let me just get my wallet! (laughs) A few more million!
OH: We’re thinking of a few systems in the game like that though. It has some simple space combat: you can mount a big missile launcher or something similarly steampunk-y that shoots other ships as they come by, or something like that. But we’re not going for space strategy, because the in-game strategy will be more about docking, and boarding, and… what’s it called? Swashbuckling?
BS: Swashbuckling! Action!
OH: You run around on your ship, and your crewmates will run around too. Then you can use the space map to find a mission, say for example a heist mission, and then you dock with the other ship seamlessly, in real-time. Then you’re on the enemy ship, and you’ll see these “swag bags” to collect.
NoE: Swag bags!
OH: People in the office said, “We have to get rid of the swag bags! It sounds ridiculous!”, but I said, “No no, we have to keep them!”
NoE: You’re intergalactic space pirates: of course you’d go after swag bags!
OH: Right! And one of the key features of the game is the free aiming system. As far as I know, there are no other turn-based strategy games that do this. You have to aim really carefully before you fire, but you can also bounce shots off the walls, so that’s a really good way of getting those enemies in cover.
After a few rounds of combat, the alarm will go off and more enemies will spawn, so you have to be really quick, grab as much loot as you can and get back to your own ship. The problem is that the enemies can get onto your ship as well, so you have to reach an undocking console and use that; if you can’t make it in time, you’ll be overrun.
Then, after you’ve finished a mission and earned some money, you can go to the bar – the space bar! (laughs) And you can recruit new teammates there, each with different skills, and you can switch between them in combat as well. We’re working really hard to make the combat interesting in its own right, with explosive barrels, chandeliers you can shoot down and fun stuff like that.
NoE: Real Wild West saloon-type stuff.
OH: Exactly. And we’re developing a special physics engine; you wear a hat, and you’ll be able to shoot your enemies’ hats off. It’s a core feature! It’s not in there yet, but I’ve said right from the beginning, “This is the most important feature in the game! You have to be able to shoot off hats!”
But really we’re very happy with the game so far. When you start to develop a game like this, and you’ve never seen anything like it before, it’s a bit scary until you get to the point where you can really tell that it’s something fun, and then you can really believe in it. But I think we’re at that point now.
BS: One thing to mention as well is that if you’ve played Dig, you know that because you’re steam-driven, water is so important. And you have to find water and coal out in space as well; if you don’t, you’re in trouble. It’s sort of the same with your ship as it was with Rusty in Dig.
NoE: For those people who really get attached to their crew, can you lose your crew members? Obviously you have warriors, but are your researchers safe at least?
BS: No, they’re not. Nobody’s really safe, because even if you’re being very defensive in your game and not attacking, other ships might attack you and you’ll have to defend against them. The important thing is to keep the captain alive; if you can do that, the game keeps going.
OH: On that note, we know already that enemies will be able to board your ship as well as you boarding them. And we’re thinking of making it so that they can destroy things on your ship, so you really have to be careful about balancing attack and defence.
BS: It’s going to be fabulous. And like Olle said before, the thing that we were most worried about when we were done with Dig was the length of the game. We would have loved to have just put more content in there, but we just ran out of money. So we want to make sure that doesn’t happen again. When you’re done with this game, you’re going to be satisfied.
NoE: Thanks to you both for your time!
SteamWorld Heist will be available from Nintendo eShop on Nintendo 3DS in 2015.