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An Interview With… Image & Form Part 1 (SteamWorld Heist, Collection & Quest)


In 2010, the Sweden based Image & Form had released their first ever SteamWorld title, SteamWorld Tower Defense. Fast forward 6 years to September 2016 and there are now three titles in the SteamWorld series, with Heist still set to release on both the Wii U and the PlayStation 4, but there’s also a collection coming as well! A collection which features Heist and the beautifully remastered SteamWorld Dig and comes with the DLC for SteamWorld Heist. But the thing about these games that stands out the most, isn’t the world its established, or the things the developers can get away with, but the fact it is a series that has come leaps and bounds in a small number of years and really knows how to switch things up, including genre! So it’s only natural that us gamers would want to know more about the series and its game, so I did something about and reached out to an expert on the games. Image result for steamworld heist

The expert I spoke to, was Brjánn Sigurgeirsson, Image & Form’s CEO, someone who should know a great deal about the games and he did not disappoint. I gave Brjánn a huge list of questions and in return he gave me his answers in great length and now I have taken half of his responses so that I can share them here with you. As for the rest of his answers, I guess you will have to come back another time for those when we post Part 2 of our interview. I would have loved to have posted it all in the one place, but honestly, all that information in one place, it would have broken the internet, so trust me when I say its better this way. This is Part 1 of my interview with Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Brjann_ImageForm_hires.jpg

   Creating the Characters of SteamWorld (Captain Piper Faraday):

Miketendo64:SteamWorld is a series no stranger to interesting characters, for example we have Captain Piper Faraday. She’s a smuggler and an occasional pirate. When coming up with these characters, how much time does it take to come up with each one and where do the names come from?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:I’ll let our writer Peter Broqvist answer that one, since he knows a lot more about how this works:

Peter Brogvist: “How long does it take to come up with the characters? It would be nice to say that we had a set process for character creation but coming up with each and every cowbot was really just as unique as the character itself. Some characters started out as quick drawings that evolved over the course of finding the art style. More than a few ideas ended up being scrapped. A lot of the characters were first though about in terms of mechanics: We need a “tank”, what would that look like? The ones that ended up in the final game are an amalgam of different ideas, bits and pieces that we all liked. Their personalities grew out of the way they looked or moved, or what they would be needed for, as well as where they’d fit into the universe.

As for where does the naming come from? Once we’d decided on a female captain she was called Cat Faraday, after Katharine Hepburn, but we really wanted names that sounded more mechanical or had some sort of connection to metal. We engaged in some brainstorming during lunch and the name Piper was thrown out there. Seabrass was scrawled next to the initial design of the character and it just stuck.”

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: “…thanks Peter!”

Miketendo64:Yes thank you Peter.”

 

SteamWorld Sales:

Miketendo64:Given as how SteamWorld Heist is also due to release very soon on the Wii U (September for Europe & October for North America,) how much do you think the game’s sales will be affected, what with SteamWorld Collection releasing around the same time?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:That’s a very good question, and something I was concerned about before agreeing to release the physical SteamWorld Collection. I decided to do quite a bit of research, and it’s fair to say that while there are a lot of “overlappers,” people either rather buy physical or digital. Far from all 3DS or Wii U owners have eShop accounts. I also did some quiet polling when I was at Gamescom a couple of weeks ago, and of all Nintendo gamers I talked to there, most of them seemed to prefer physical. 

That may be very Nintendoesque – many Nintendo gamers are collectors, and they’re very partisan. I’m positive that there are many more Nintendo-themed tattoos in the world than, say, PlayStation equivalents. I think we’ll even see double-dip customers that already own the digital versions of our games but want to “collect” them as well. After all, the physical release is for all practical purposes a limited release – it’s not going to sit on your store shelf forever. The digital version will stay on the shop for much longer. 

Miketendo64:Very true. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can think of five Nintendo gamers I know personally who solely purchase physical versions, purely because they do want to collect the game with its associated box.”

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“There are so many things we couldn’t use on the 3DS:

Miketendo64:When SteamWorld Heist released on 3DS last year, reviewers spoke very highly of the game and fan reaction was quite positive. How do you think the console version will fare given as how we’ve had almost a year to familiarize ourselves with Heist?”

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:One important thing about how we think: we try to keep our games consistent across platforms, and the reason for it is a sense of fairness. It would be dangerous for us if people believe that the first platform is going to be less refined than the rest – we’d end up with first-platform fiascos every time!

So gameplay-wise, you know what you’ll get if you’ve played the 3DS version. However, the graphics will simply blow your mind, because there is amazing attention to detail. There are so many things we couldn’t use on the 3DS, partly due to its weak processor but also the low resolution – a lot of the details would have been lost anyway. Heist really outdoes Dig in terms of 3DS-to-Wii U wow factor. 

And since I’m talking about that, I have a favourite “wow factor” story. When we made the HD version of SteamWorld Dig, our art director was playtesting in our small meeting room. I looked at the TV and loved the details and vibrant colors of the game, but something about the dialogue scenes caught my attention: 

“Tobias, there’s something wrong with their eyes.”

“Oh yeah, what’s that?”

“There’s some… disturbance.”

“Haha. Look closely.”

And there were tiny, tiny COGS working behind the eyes of the characters in the dialogue scenes. It was jaw-dropping: only someone who looked as hard as I did would have noticed, and yet it was there. 

I told Tobias that I thought he was amazing, but then he told me that those cog animations were also present in the 3DS version, it almost made me want to hit him instead – it was completely impossible to see this on the 3DS.

 

Version Differences (Wii U & PS4):

MyNameIsBob: “With Nintendo publishing SteamWorld Collection for Europe, will the European Wii U version be getting any extra content than the North America and what is the difference between Wii U & PlayStation 4 versions?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:I’m actually not sure what Nintendo and Rising Star Games will include in their respective boxes – that may sound weird, but we’ve been very busy with other things! 

The Wii U and PS4 versions are pretty similar, we want to keep our games that way. It could be infuriating to know that others are getting a better version of a game that you like simply because it’s on another platform. I’d say the main difference is what makes the consoles different: the Wii U has the GamePad, but the PS4 is more powerful

The extra screen of the GamePad actually relieves the game of having to call up the map and/or the inventory as an overlay, which I think is a real bonus (if you play off-TV on the Wii U, that is, only on the GamePad, you would naturally have to call up the map on top of the game screen there as well.) You could argue that the GamePad makes the Wii U version of SteamWorld Heist the best version yet: it has the marvellous, detailed HD graphics and the extra screen. Because we made the game with the 3DS always in mind, we have a natural reason to make the extra screen do a lot of work for us. 

 SteamWorld Collection Release Dates:

Miketendo:Being so SteamWorld Collection is to be released as a Nintendo eShop Selects title for Europe, will the game be getting a different release date to the NA versions of the game and the European PS4 version?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:The European and AU/NZ Wii U version of SteamWorld Collection, which is distributed by Nintendo, is set to hit the shelves September 30. Fortunately September 30 also works in the Americas, where Rising Star Games is publishing the Wii U version for us. The PS4 version will hit stores a few days later, in the first half of October. Rising Star Games takes care of the PS4 version of SteamWorld Collection worldwide.

Miketendo: “You say the PS4 release will be in the first half of October, could you be a little more specific?”

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:I think the PS4 versions are actually coming out on October 11, which is my birthday! I can’t think of a better present that many thousand copies of SteamWorld Collection!”

 

Samus Aran would be a Welcome Addition to SteamWorld:

Mike Scorpio:If you could add a third-party character to the game in true Steamworld style, who would it be and why?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:There are so many characters we’d like to include! But a lot of us are Metroid fans, so why not Samus Aran? But then again, that’s a first-party character… we’d run the risk of being sued.

I guess having one of Zoink’s characters would be fun, because we’re such close friends. We’d just have to robotize one of them. Perhaps Ray from Stick It to the Man?”

Miketendo64: “That would be something to see, but even if you can’t have Samus, at least you have your in-game references.”

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Well on that note, there are more than 300 references of some kind or other in SteamWorld Heist. Yep, you read that right – the game is literally crawling with references to other games, movies, books, poems, historical events… you name it! It’s some kind of disease we have, we giggle each time we add a cultural reference. Every text regarding a weapon, utility or hat is likely to reference something else. It’s a game littered with small Easter eggs, if you like.

Miketendo64: “See you say that and now it makes me want to find as many as a can. Ha!”

 

Nothing is Off Limits when it comes to SteamWorld:

Miketendo64:When it comes to SteamWorld, nothing seems to be off limits. We’ve seen the genre change, the flow change and the rules change, but is there anything you wouldn’t want to do with the series? For example would you do a SteamWorld Racing game, or is that an element you don’t want to explore?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:I think you answered it in that first sentence: nothing is really off limits when it comes to SteamWorld; since the heroes are steam-driven robots, we can even make ultra-violent games without needing to be nasty – just look at SteamWorld Heist, which – if it were a battle among humans – easily could have turned into something very gory. 

A parenthesis on the topic of gore: last year at Gamescom in Cologne I stopped by Konami’s booth, where they showed a trailer for the latest (then still unreleased) Metal Gear Solid game. I immediately thought the violence was both extremely graphic and gratuitous. I asked one of the Konami guys why that was – would they have lost very much by toning it down a bit? I thought it was just cold, nasty and terrifying. He explained that with the advance in computer tech in general – and graphics cards in particular – photorealistic games such as Metal Gear couldn’t “conceal” the violence anymore. It would have been very strange with pixelated blood flow, etc. He had a point, but while he explained I experienced this sensation of relief that we don’t make games like Metal Gear or Mortal Kombat. Not only is the violence more graphic, but it becomes its own selling point. We don’t have to. Our stories and plots can be grim and call for violence, but since our games are cartoonish in presentation, we don’t have to go all in. Violence in SteamWorld is necessary to overcome foes, but I don’t think it’ll give people nightmares or make them jaded. 

As for the elements that we want to or can explore, it’s really a matter of us being able to come up with something interesting and unique. We wouldn’t, for example, simply release a SteamWorld Kart game – Mario Kart does “fun racing” well, there are tons of other “serious racing” games. I don’t think we should make me-too games. Unless we can come up with our own twists, we prefer to just play certain games and enjoy them that way.”

Miketendo64: “Well when you say it like that, it makes a lot of sense.”

Approaching a new Game:

Miketendo64:When approaching a new SteamWorld Game, what is your process?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:All our game ideas are usually conceived during lunch breaks. That’s when many of us come together and talk about stuff. I should feel guilty about this since everyone’s by definition not at work while having lunch, but we don’t always toss around game ideas; a lot of lunch hour discussions revolve around politics, pop culture and what have you. But yes, that’s where they’re most often “born.” What we do then is just throw the ideas around without any real effort – it’s not like we’re trying to come up with new games, it’s just a relaxed forum for discussion. 

As you’ve probably noticed, our games aren’t just different from each other in genre; they’re genre mashups, which makes them interesting on a quite other level as well. We try to not just nail core gameplay mechanisms, but also strive to make our games a bit more than one-trick ponies. Anthill is a line-drawing real-time strategy castle-defense game, SteamWorld Dig is a mining platformer, and SteamWorld Heist is a turn-based combat strategy shooter.

When an idea “sticks” we draft a game design document. It’s very rough at the outset. Then our artists discuss what it should look like, while our programmers and designers talk about what needs to be done. When in development we often run in the wrong direction, because typically our games haven’t really been done before. We experiment, backtrack and try new things if stuff doesn’t work. Very much of the game comes together at the end!

Miketendo64:So it’s a case of never say never. Good to know.”

 

A Lasting Impression:

Miketendo64:When developing each title, how much time would you say you personally play the game during its development and do you still play it after it has released?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Yes, great question. Everyone naturally plays the game constantly during development to make sure new features do what they’re supposed to. We make sure everyone tests extensively and not a small group. It’s a good way to get a hands-on feeling for where the game is heading. 

I’d say I’ve probably logged a 200-300 hours of spare time testing during development. Back in the old days, when we made work-for-hire games, I’d test during development and never look at them again once they were finished. Those games simply weren’t very interesting. But with our latest three games – Anthill, SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist – it’s a very different story. 

In fact, let me tell you about an incident at Frankfurt airport in 2014. I was early for my flight to Kuwait – they have a budding developer community, and I had been asked to lecture at an annual game fair that was shifting its focus from being a tournament and cosplay competition to at least encouraging local game development. Parenthetically, Image & Form is the first-ever developer or publisher to lecture in Kuwait. You should’ve witnessed the rock star treatment, I was Kojima for a week! 

Like I said, I was early and I didn’t have Wi-Fi. So I browsed my iPhone for pastimes that didn’t require a network connection, and Anthill doesn’t. I fired up the game, and to my surprise I saw that I hadn’t maxed out a few of the levels. I sat by myself and tried hard to get the maximum number of stars on all levels. When I was done I looked up – and noticed to my surprise that I was very much alone in the waiting area. I rushed over to the gate, and was told that the gate was now in fact closed. I yelled in panic that I had to get on board the plane, that I was expected to deliver a very important lecture (in a panic you throw anything that might stick) in Kuwait. They budged and let me on. After I’d stopped breathing heavily I was quite relieved, and realized we’d made a game that could still capture me completely three years after it was released!

Talking Weapons and Hats:

Miketendo64:Heist has a ton of weapons and hats to collect. Which weapons are your favourite to use when playing and if you had to choose, which is your favourite hat?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Oooh… let’s see. My favourite gun would be the most powerful grenade launcher to use somewhere in the Royalist world, where it lights up more than a few diesel-soaked patches. The explosions are tremendous! About the favourite hat… that one’s quite hard, you have to remember that every hat has its own history and quite some thinking/writing behind it. I actually think my favourite would be any of the “rare hats” that I’ve picked up most recently, because I always get so excited about the prospect of adding it to my collection. Since we’re flirting quite a bit with the indie community, and because Jools Watsham or Renegade Kid (and now Atooi) is a close personal friend, I’d say I really covet the hairdo and glasses of Max from Mutant Mudds.

 

The Next SteamWorld Game will “make a Lot of People Happy:”

Miketendo64:If we can, let’s talk about SteamWorld Quest for a moment. Following the “leak,” is there anything you can tell us regarding Quest?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Well, we’ve decided to talk about the next SteamWorld game when we’re ready to show something, and so far nothing is set in stone. All I can say at the moment is that the next game is also a SteamWorld game, and that it’ll make a lot of people happy.2016-09-10-1

Sadly that is all we have to share in this instalment of our interview with Brjánn, but do not fret, Part 2 will be out sooner than you think  (tomorrow in fact) and it is just jam-packed with so much goodness! There will be passion, roleplay, talk of SteamWorld Go and even Gamescom 2016 comes up. If you love SteamWorld and the team behind it, you will not want to miss it!

 

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