We are big fans of SteamWorld Dig here at The Vita Lounge, so we were rather quite excited when SteamWorld Heist was announced in late 2014, offering us a new game in the SteamWorld universe albeit with different game play mechanics.
We managed to catch up with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, the CEO of Image & Form and asked him a few questions on the series, and where it could be headed next.
First of all, SteamWorld Dig released on other platforms first, what was the main push to bring it to PlayStation Platforms, and most importantly, Vita?
Both PlayStation 4 and Vita were important to us. You of all people know how it is: We released Dig on 3DS first, and I told my family about it. No reaction. We released on Steam after that. The same blank stares. Then I told them we’d released on PlayStation, and suddenly my mom stopped nagging me about getting a real job. In a word, PlayStation is legit. For many people it’s synonymous with video games. And for us it was quite exciting – here was this brand new PlayStation console, that was even simple to port to!
With Vita there was another important thing as well. A month prior to releasing Dig on PlayStation 4 and Vita, I was doing some research to form an opinion on what we could expect from the platform in terms of sales, community and so on. I accidentally came across an article on IGN that was published some time in the first quarter of 2013, that is, the article was about a year old at the time. Can’t find it now, but the gist of it: it was time for Sony to face the facts, that Vita was a failure, and perhaps they just ought to kill it.
I thought it was very interesting, because it felt that all kinds of things had happened in the span of a year, and my feeling was that Vita was both fresh and rife with good games. I met with Sony reps who confirmed that it had been a do-or-die situation – and they weren’t about to let it die. Luckily it coincided with what may later be termed The Indie Revolution: so many small developers were tired of wasting time and money making mobile games and decided to approach the traditional platform owners, who welcomed them with open arms.
How was the initial reception to the release, did you get a lot of feedback from Vita owners about that specific version of the game?
We got very positive reactions, both long before the release and afterwards. It wasn’t hard to see why – Dig looks absolutely gorgeous and plays like a dream on Vita. I think also our decision to make it a cross-buy game helped. For all purposes, that was an easy decision – the PS4 and Vita versions are quite similar, and I don’t think we would have gained much from trying to sell it twice. Instead we were greeted as good and generous guys giving away a version of the game for free, and I think it may have tipped the purchasing scale in our favour for a few people.
The game hit PlayStation Plus in November 2014, was this any easy decision to make? Would you recommend other developers to allow their games onto the service?
This was also a simple decision – at the time. We released Dig on PSN in March 2014 and had sold the game for eight months by the time it hit PS Plus. I was a bit surprised, because by then we had sold a *lot* of copies and here was this opportunity to perhaps make more money in one fell swoop than we could during the rest of the game’s lifecycle. It felt very generous. But it obviously and radically changes how your game sells afterwards.
I would definitely recommend developers to take it into consideration, but it’s good to weigh it carefully. First, it closes certain doors – there are other platform owners that cannot offer similar deals after you’ve been featured on PS Plus. Second, your PSN sales will flatline for a long time afterwards. I would say it’s a great idea if you can have your game featured towards the end of its lifespan. Try to determine when that is, try to get it featured then. Also try to figure out how much you would make without a PS Plus deal, and act accordingly. PS Plus will give you a lot of downloads, so it makes sense to include some sort of DLC if you can. Even with that, it’s quite possible the people who download via PS Plus aren’t the spending type. In any case, PS Plus will give you a fair share of exposure, which can be used wisely.
I also remember reading a forum comment when we were about to release on PlayStation. One guy soberly stated that “Nah, I’ll wait for it to come out on PS Plus, it’ll be there in less than six months.” I was surprised and thought it was overly clairvoyant, because I had no indication Sony would ever want it on the service. It turned out he was wrong – it took eight months – but with the above paragraph as our lesson, I can assure that guy and others we won’t jump the gun as quickly with our coming games. For example, we don’t expect SteamWorld Heist on PS Plus within at least a year after release on PlayStation.
You announced SteamWorld Heist in September 2014, how was the initial reaction from fans?
SO VERY POSITIVE! And we almost flubbed the ball – when we sent out the press release, two journalists missed that it was under embargo. It was like trying to contain a forest fire – it went up on those two prominent sites, was taken down immediately, then the fire ensued on Twitter and got taken down there as well. We had the embargo set in the evening in order to accommodate for American sites, and sat until well after midnight making sure the release went as smoothly as possible. And as you’d expect, we got a lot of comments about Vita. We’re glad that we can say for sure that Heist is coming to Vita – with Dig we didn’t even know we’d release it on other platforms than the 3DS. But we’re in a different spot now, having ported to all kinds of platforms.
Where is the game at the moment in terms of development?
Heist is nearing the end of production, but there’s still a lot that has to be implemented. Over the Easter weekend we had an office-wide (what a big word, there’s still only 16 of us) bring-it-home-and-play session, and it was very exciting. Not to our loved ones, I suspect, but still.
While you initially targeted the game for Spring 2015, you recently delayed the game to any point in 2015, was this a difficult decision?
Yes, having to let people down is per definition a letdown, also for the one handing out the disappointment. And definitely no, we needed the extra time. Which was pretty much everyone’s reaction – “take the extra time and deliver a great game” – and the negative ones were more endearing than sour, like “Oh noooo! I need it NOW!”
Sometimes things don’t progress as quickly as you’d hoped. We’ve developed Heist since January 2014, and in the beginning I was hoping we could have it done by, say, December 2014. That way, I reasoned, we’d be a Game of the Year contender two years in a row. Well, by September it was obvious that we COULD have it out by year-end, but that if we did it would by no means contend for any awards at all. It just wasn’t ready. So after that I was hoping for February and then March, and we thought it’d be ready by then. But “Spring 2015” turned out to be unrealistic as well. A game is simply ready when it is.
I really need to learn to shut my trap in matters like this one. Nobody benefits from us talking release dates or periods before we know for sure. Until then it’s anybody’s guess.
You recently brought a demo of the game to GDC, PAX East and EGX Rezzed, what was the reaction from people who tried the game?
It was unanimously positive! At GDC in San Francisco I shared a hotel suite with my friend Klaus Lyngeled of Zoink Games, who showed their upcoming hilarious “hackventure”, Zombie Vikings. We only met the press there, and it was very gratifying to read their reactions afterwards.
At PAX East in Boston SteamWorld Heist won a Best in Show award, which felt huge. Since we only had two stations there, the reactions from bystanders were equally important. The demo was balanced quite well, so those who tried it weren’t guaranteed success. There were a lot of baited breaths and people shouting out suggestions while others were playing. Great fun!
I didn’t get to go to Rezzed, but our community manager Julius did. It was his first time at a fair, and what a baptism! Narrow space, noisy and crowded. A perfect game show.
SteamWorld Dig was more of a Metroidvania game while SteamWorld Heist is headed in a totally different direction, has the transition to a totally different genre been an easy one?
Well, I guess you could say that both Dig and Heist are Metroidvanian games, as they share that sweet upgrade loop. For a long while we were experimenting with Heist as more of a roguelike – or roguelite, if you like – but the punishment for dying was simply very harsh. You could die without being very sloppy, and the cost for it – either having to start over or losing a character for good – was steep. So we rethought it and now it feels much, much sweeter.
Otherwise, and apart from the 2D side perspective, it’s hard to imagine how the games could be more different. Dig was a mining game, and Heist is turn-based combat, tactics and strategy. And that’s an important thing about SteamWorld as a franchise: we use the world to tie together wildly different games – games that we want to make and play ourselves. It’s fascinating to do so, because you get to insert all the things you like and/or found lacking in similar games.
SteamWorld Heist’s soundtrack is coming from the steampunk influenced band Steam Powered Giraffe, how did that collaboration come about?
It was actually a big coincidence. There’s this company called IndieBox, who rang us up and asked if we wanted them to make a collector’s edition of SteamWorld Dig with lots of extra goodies. They run a PC/Mac/Linux subscription service, and will send you a new indie game every month. When we initially discussed what would go into the box, their CEO James Morgan mentioned that he’d talk to a band that could be right up our alley.
And the next morning he sent a new e-mail saying that he’d talked SPG into making a bonus track for the Collector’s Edition of Dig. I immediately thought their music was great, and was amazed to see what they were: a band masquerading as steampunk robots, singing songs about robotic everyday life. It was too good to be true, so I asked them if they had time to meet at E3 last year, which was then just around the corner. They drove up from San Diego, and it turned out that they had played the crap out of SteamWorld Dig before James called them. After that, it was no big issue getting to terms.
When can we expect to start hearing some of the soundtrack?
You can actually sample it already – when we announced that SPG would be making the original soundtrack for the game, they recorded a video for one of the songs, “Prepare for boarding”. You can find it here
With two genres under your belt, what can we see next from your team?
Yes, what could it possibly be? 🙂 We’ve actually made quite a few other games as well – the first game in the SteamWorld series (only available on Nintendo 3DS these days) is a role-reversal tower defence game called SteamWorld Tower Defence, And we’ve made a brilliant top-down castle defence line-drawing strategy game called Anthill for iOS and Android. Hell, we even made a Mexican whack-a-mole dance game for mobiles! 🙂 I guess what we do best is mixing and matching different game genres. It’s very, very interesting.
Are you tempted to try a new franchise or is the SteamWorld series your main project for the foreseeable future?
I think it’s pretty safe to say that also the game after Heist will be set in SteamWorld. And perhaps the game after that… unless we get a radically different idea for a new game franchise. We’re pretty prone to exploring new things.
We’d like to thank Brjann for his time and wish himself and his team the best of luck with SteamWorld Heist, which is out later this year!
This article first appeared in The Vita Lounge Magazine Issue Two. Look out for more exclusive content in the magazine soon!