Drifter is an open world sandbox space trading game inspired by Elite/Privateer and Starflight. We caught up with Colin Walsh from Celcius Game Studios to find out more!
Hi Colin, thanks for taking the time to talk to us! Can you tell us a little bit about your studio?
Celsius Game Studios is located in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, on the east coast of Canada. We’re fairly small, just two people, with myself doing the business stuff and most of the programming and design work on Drifter and Sven Bergström is doing the art and modelling. Up until 2012 it had been just me working on things having released a couple of games on iOS before I successfully brought Drifter to Kickstarter and I was able to bring Sven on board to help make Drifter as awesome as possible.
We are talking to you today about your upcoming title, Drifter. Can you tell us what it is about?
Drifter is an open world sandbox space trading game. Basically the idea is you’re a lone spaceship captain attempting to make living flying between the stars. It has a procedurally generated galaxy with tens of thousands of star systems that you can explore and it features a soundtrack by Danny Baranowsky, a name some of your readers may be familiar with. The game has a lot of things people come to expect in these kinds of games which I get into a bit more detail below but one thing I’m attempting to do with Drifter is to try and make it more approachable than most space games tend to be.
Don’t get me wrong, I love hardcore space games, but a lot of them tend to be super intimidating and I feel like that ends up turning a lot of people away who might otherwise want to get into these games. Also of course there are people, myself included, that just don’t have a lot of time these days to dedicate to familiarizing themselves with a bunch of complicated systems and just want to jump in and start shooting some space pirates.
So with Drifter I’m basically trying to capture the feeling one might get from playing one of these more super hardcore space sims but in the process I’m attempting to eliminate some of that intimidating complexity while still trying to maintain deep gameplay that a dedicated player can eventually get into. Interestingly enough I feel like this may be a good reason why I feel like Drifter is a good fit for the Vita because it’s something you can pick up and play as you see fit.
For those that grew up in the 80s and 90s, there is some very obvious inspiration for Drifter. Can you explain these to those that are not so familiar?
Well, as you said, the primary inspirations for Drifter were some of the space games I grew up playing. Probably the biggest influence was Frontier: Elite II, created by one of the originators of the space trading genre, David Braben. It featured a massive galaxy with accurately simulated star systems and planets you could land on. It was actually pretty sparse, mostly being an open-ended sandbox with no real goals, but I used to spend hours and hours flying my ship between star systems trying to maximize my profits in an attempt to get a better ship… so I could haul more goods to make more profits!
Next up is Privateer, which was a space trading game set in the Wing Commander universe created by Chris Roberts. Privateer in some ways was a less complicated game than Frontier, but it was still very enjoyable. It also had a fully realized story arc which you could complete, which is something I’m hoping to include in Drifter as well.
The third big influence was Starflight which was a top down 2D space role-playing adventure game that I originally played on the Sega Genesis. Partly because of this I’m trying to include RPG elements in Drifter and I’m hoping to eventually have planetary landings similar to what Starflight featured. Also, interestingly, Drifter was originally going to be a top down 2D game much like Starflight, except with 3D graphics, but one day I decided to pull the camera back to see what it looked like and I enjoyed the feeling of “being there” so much that I ran with it, and that’s why Drifter is 2.5D!
There are a few other minor influences but those are the Big Three, so to speak.
What sort of gameplay mechanics can gamers expect to see in Drifter?
As I said before it features the sorts of things people come to expect from these kinds of games. You’ll be able to trade goods between stock markets in various star systems, there’s mining, there will be procedurally generated missions, you’ll be able to hunt pirates for bounties, you can even become a pirate yourself. Also there’s going to be crafting and exploration mechanics which I think should be pretty interesting. Additionally there will be a standing system that will effect and be effected by your interactions with the various factions in the game. So as an example, if you’re doing a lot of space piracy you might be unwelcome in systems controlled by the local government but you might be able to dock at a pirate base and get access to special missions and items that are only available there.
Finally there are a few things I’ve already mentioned like the story missions and planetary landings that probably won’t make it into version 1.0 but I’m very likely going to release them later as free DLC.
Once you’ve hit that 1.0 version, do you plan to continue supporting and adding to the game? What about the PSN versions?
The plan is to keep supporting the game past 1.0 on all platforms.
The game has a variety of ships to choose from. Do you have a current favourite? Do you plan on adding more as you progress through development?
My current favourite is the starting ship, the Shrike, which features prominently in the game’s promotional materials. It may not be the best ship in the game but I like it a lot. We’ve already got 13 ships in the game and the plan is to have around 20 in when 1.0 is released.
Can you tell us anything about the game that isn’t already known?
The development has been pretty open so I’m not sure there’s really anything that’s much of a secret at this point!
Do you plan online modes at all to add to the lifespan? A game like this is crying out for the ability to play with others!
I haven’t completely ruled out online play but it would definitely be a complicated undertaking and something that would come after the 1.0 release of the game. Even then it may not take the form of a full shared space with other players but instead maybe things players do in the game may affect things for all players, like the markets and items shared across the galaxy between all players.
What made you want to bring the game to the Vita? Are you managing the port yourself?
It always just seemed to be a natural fit for the Vita. Interestingly enough I had approached Sony at first just before the PS4 came out specifically about bringing the game to the Vita before the idea of also bringing it to PS4 was suggested!
I am managing the port myself, and the game is written in my own engine, probably because there’s something wrong with me… haha. Other than that it’s actually been fairly straightforward and I’d say the initial attempt to get it up and running maybe took less than a week.
Is development of the Vita version progressing well? Have you had to make any compromises to the game to get it onto the handheld?
The game is running fairly well on Vita! The port is functional and all that’s missing is the sound and music but I suspect it shouldn’t take very long to get that working. The HUD is currently causing a weird slowdown that I’m hoping I’ll be able to eliminate by the time the game launches because other than that it’s been running at around 60fps. That said I haven’t had to make any compromises as of yet to get the game running on Vita!
What games have impressed you the most on the Vita?
I’d say my favourite games on the Vita so far have been Nuclear Throne, Hotline Miami and WipEout 2048 with WipEout probably being the most impressive from a technical standpoint. Also I have to say it’s really amazing being able to play PSOne games on the Vita and I was finally able to go back and play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night which is a surprisingly good fit for Vita.
When do you think that gamers might be able to get their hands on Drifter?
Because Drifter is such a big game and we’re fairly small I’ve always said “when it’s done”. That said I’m currently trying to get Drifter 1.0 done by the spring. As soon as 1.0 hits we’ll be pushing to get the game through certification for PS4 and Vita as soon as we can. I’ve never done console cert before but assuming it goes well I’m hoping the game will be available on PSN by the summer.
Finally, which is your favourite Vita model, OLED or Slim?
This is actually kind of tough to answer. I own an OLED Vita which I quite like a lot but I think I prefer the industrial design of the Slim Vita. I feel like if they combined the screen of the first gen Vita with the body of the Slim one it would basically be perfect.
We would like to thank Colin for his time with this interview! Celcius Game Studios hope to release Drifter by the Summer, and we will bring you more news as we have it! Do you like the look of Drifter?
This interview first appeared in our March issue of The Vita Lounge Magazine. Stay tuned to our magazine for more exclusive and magazine first content soon!