An Interview With… Image & Form Part 2 (SteamWorld The Series)


Image & Form are best known for their SteamWorld series, but as a company that was founded in 1997, it might just surprise you to know they have worked on plenty of other games that aren’t SteamWorld related. But being so next year is a big year for the company behind SteamWorld Heist, (releasing on Wii U and PlayStation 4 very soon,) what with it being their 20th anniversary, I wanted to know just how they intended to celebrate the occasion.

 

Of course that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to ask them, I had a huge list of questions. So huge in fact that what was intended to be a single interview had to be split into two and this is Part 2 of my Interview with Brjánn Sigurgeirsson and if you read Part 1, you might have saw the whole, “Part 2 will be packed with goodness. There will be passion, roleplay, talk of SteamWorld Go and even Gamescom 2016!Well Part 2 does have all of that and more, so with no further ado, let’s dive right in and pick up where we left off:

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Celebrating 2 Decades of Awesomeness!:

Miketendo64:Next year will be Image & Form’s 20th anniversary. How do you intend to celebrate such an event? Throw a celebratory Steam Shower? (Baby shower with less baby, but more steam and plenty of party.) And how does feel to hit such a milestone in the coming months?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Yes, it’s amazing – this little company (that I started to avoid having to grow up and get a real job) actually has become my life. There will be gallons and gallons of beer, that’s all I know for sure at this point. It’s also fun to look back: when we celebrated 10 years, we had just become a full-time game studio. During the first ten years we took on any creative project that was thrown at us. Then in 2007 we started making games for hire and I realized we needed to ramp up a bit. 

These days it’s very different. I remember googling my own name (come on, I know you’ve done it too) at some point back in the mid-00s, and the result was depressing. My life was going nowhere fast. Then Anthill came about in 2011 and I got my first interview opportunities. That’s just five years ago. I was very nervous and eager to please at the time, but these days I’m more used to it. Now it’s actually harder to be careful what I say than getting opportunities to say it.

Miketendo64:I get what you mean.  When we interviewed Justin Fernandes of 13AM Games, he wanted to talk about to talk about Pirate Pop Plus, but at the time he couldn’t, so he had to be careful with what he did say.”

 

“We’re Gamers; we love video games:”

Miketendo64:Whenever I see a video of you talking about the SteamWorld series, you always speak with so much passion for the games and what you do. What is it about the games and your work that you love so much?

 

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:There are a number of things to be said about that. First, we’re gamers; we love video games. We’ll always be “naturally passionate” about games. Second, although it’s serious business, our days are quite playful and experimental. It’s definitely a lot easier to be excited about what you do if you know that every day is going to be different, and that there is a tiny bit of progress every day. 

And finally, we actually get to make video games – and get paid to do it! I can’t think of any job that would compare to that. In comparison, everything else sucks. But the flip side is that we only get to make video games as long as people want to buy our games, which means that we have to take it seriously. The everyday motivation is to make a game that’s better than the previous one. Our unique selling point as a studio is that we have the capacity to make games that are just as good as Nintendo’s own games. The day we make a mediocre game, our moment in the sun will have passed. Life’s too short to make mediocre games, and that’s explains much of our passion.

Miketendo64:Too right.” 

SteamWorld GO Won’t be Happening any time soon, but SteamWorld Heist is Headed to the App Store:

Miketendo64:Mobile games are huge at the moment, and given you were behind Anthill, which released back in 2011, would you ever make another game for the mobile market? (SteamWorld GO perhaps?)

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:SteamWorld Go is of course in the works! ;D Nope, but SteamWorld Heist is definitely coming to the App Store very soon, which I think will be a lot of fun. It looks absolutely stunning. 

A few years back we only made mobile games, and then got out when it got impossibly crowded. For a while there it seemed that quality wasn’t the major selling point, it was more about putting your games out for free, hoping enough people snatched it up and then getting them to buy IAP. That’s a great business model if you know how to do it effectively and fairly – and many publishers have done that well. 

But there was also an occasion at GDC in San Francisco back in 2012 that was a real eye-opener for me, or game changer if you like. I felt that I had to get on top of this F2P stuff, and so I hurried back from a meeting to catch a lecture given by some guy that was obviously in the know.

I got there a few minutes late and entered the huge lecture hall through one of the side doors – the one that was closest to the stage. I huddled into the semi-dark as discreetly as I could, as to not interfere with the ongoing lecture. The room was packed and I was looking for an empty seat. As I scanned the room it suddenly struck me: I was one of the very, very few that was wearing a T-shirt, all the others wore jackets. 

And I realized that business people were the stars of this particular segment of the gaming industry – not game developers. The industry was going in a completely new direction, and that train was leaving the station. The ones who could grasp and mold their games to this new formula would make a lot of money. I found a seat and sat down… and subsequently failed miserably to understand one iota of what the guy was talking about. Now I’m not a particularly dumb guy, but this was just weird science. There were simply so many acronyms to keep track of, and so little talk about what the games were about!

Going back from GDC that year I had a long talk with the rest of the team and explained how important it was for us to understand and start making F2P games if we were to survive in the mobile games market. Fortunately someone else was sober enough to point out that we’re game developers, not business people – perhaps it was time to look elsewhere. And so we became the first small studio that I knew of at the time that deliberately started looking past mobile and towards consoles. 

What we learned when we moved out of mobile was that it’s possible to make a steady income from releasing our games for all platforms, rather than betting on one single platform. A lot of trickles can make something that resembles a torrent. And for me personally, the consummate confirmation junkie, being in the press for more than 72 hours after release was a dream. With SteamWorld Dig releasing for so many platforms over such a long time, suddenly Image & Form was attracting a bit of fame.

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Talking Gamescom 2016

Miketendo64: Now you recently attended Gamescom 2016. How did you find the event and be honest, did you play the playable of demo of Heist during the event?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: “Haha! Yes, actually for about ten minutes or so – AFTER I had finished instructing the demonstrators! As I said before (in Part 1,) I can get “stuck” in any of our games – or any other game that I think is really good. Obviously I can relate to our games in a different way than I can with others. There will be some little detail that I know one of the artists put a lot of love into, or some little particle effect or animation that I’ve never noticed before. You can imagine my exhilaration when this happens, that our own games can still surprise me. It’s a sweet feeling of mystery and richness, like going through a bag of candies and always discovering something you haven’t tried before.

I thought Gamescom was good for us. I had lots of good meetings at the expo, but I also had a surprisingly good time with people from the gaming industry during off-time – and I’m not talking about going out drinking, which is somehow changing from an excitement into a scheduled chore. I guess even the most exciting things can get old with time! 

The best memory was not from the expo itself: I had a couple of hours off Saturday afternoon, so me and Dave Proctor from 13am Games (the clever people behind Runbow) walked up to the top of the cathedral in Cologne, the Dom. That was quite nice, but after that we just strolled through town, had coffees, talked about everything except work and were very relaxed. It was marvellous. Usually these things are work, drink, work, drink, work… and a lot of walking. 

The one thing that makes Gamescom hard is, ironically, the noise. It’s not the people, although there are SO many visitors every day! – but the sound volume. It’s near-unbearable. I tend to spend as much of my time as possible in the business area. It’s like a quiet oasis in comparison to the public halls.

 

SteamWorld Roleplay:

Miketendo64:Let’s do a little roleplay. You’re you and I’m someone who has never played SteamWorld or heard anything about it. How would you describe SteamWorld to me to make me go out and play it?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Haha, also a very good question – because this is the one question I must be able to answer! At first, I would actually say that it’s awesome (!). I would talk about the awards it’s picked up, and then tell you what it is: Steam-driven pirate robots in space. With hats. And it’s so good Nintendo themselves would’ve been proud to have made it. (At least that’s what they’re telling us.)

Miketendo64: “Nintendo endorsed, good to know.” (Laughs)

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Then I would go on and tell you about the atmosphere, humor and personality, how the core gameplay mechanisms work, the ricochets, the upgrading, and about the music – that the game in fact features a real-life band that in real life pretends to be steam-driven robots, and that tours the various bars in the game as themselves, or rather, their steam-driven alter egos. I love how complicated that last bit gets!

And lastly, if you weren’t hooked yet, I’d tell you that turn-based gaming can actually be for everyone, not just die-hards, and that this is the perfect entry point. Easy to pick up, fun to master, and really worth its asking price.

Secretly I’m sometimes quite jealous of other developers, like for example our friends at Shin’en. Look at my text above: three paragraphs to explain what the game is. If asked about Fast Racing Neo, they would answer “It’s a racing game, and it’s fast.” Ha!

 

Miketendo64: “Yeah that does pretty much say it all.”5.jpg

 Best SteamWorld Moment:

BadBoyz: “Looking back on everything you’ve done SteamWorld related, what moment means the most to you?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:My best SteamWorld “moment” was a week during spring 2013 – a week that actually started badly. We had tested SteamWorld Dig on a number of people and the game simply wasn’t fun enough. We had invested (by our standards) very much money in the game, and it would have to sell rather well for us if we were to be able to continue. In short SteamWorld Dig was a gamble, and at the start of the week we’re talking about, it didn’t look like the gamble was going to pay off.

So we didn’t produce anything for a whole week, but instead just chased that elusive “fun factor”. And it worked – when we resumed development we managed to make a very good game. Yep, we ran out of money and had to stop short, but SteamWorld Dig is really good. I was very proud that the team could do it – because it wasn’t a case of pulling it out of a hat – and I was proud of myself for believing so hard in the game.”

 

Rusty’s Hex Heroes Cameo:

Miketendo64: “Now Rusty is set to have a cameo appearance in Hex Heroes, how did the cameo happen? Did you approach Prismatic Games, or did they approach you?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:Prismatic approached us. We have in fact been approached by a few developers. Again, Runbow is an example, but also Mr Way Cool himself, Jools Watsham, who included Rusty and a number of other great indie characters in Mutant Mudds Super Challenge. 

As for Hex Heroes, Mario Castaneda had made an earlier game called The Bridge that I thought looked VERY tasty, so saying yes to him was quite simple. Since he was responsible for the art in that game, I have faith in him to turn Hex Heroes into something very nice.

 

The Pursuit for a New Slogan:

Miketendo64:At the end of your last Engine Room video, you requested a new slogan. Did you get many replies or are you still currently stuck with ‘You’ve Just been Steamed?’

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Yeah, we got a number of replies on that! We’ll see what we do with it, but I’m sure there’s something better among the replies than our lame-ass “slogan”. My colleague Julius is the one who gets to sift through all that, and rightfully so – he’s usually the one that comes up with these community engagement things. To rephrase, he gets to clean up his own “messes.’

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 SteamWorld the Comic Book Series:

Miketendo64:If you had the opportunity to do something else with SteamWorld, say a comic, a manga, or even an animated series (webisodes) to be posted on your website, or on YouTube, would you do it?”

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Yes, I would do it – all of it! Quite a few of our artists like to draw comics, and we could potentially come up with something good. The problem is that we’re stretched so thin all the time making games, which IS our core focus. There’s now 18 of us and very pretty efficient, but as we grow bigger we tend to get more ambitious, and with more people you naturally lose efficiency, so… it’s really a Catch 22! We’ll never escape this game-development ferret wheel!

 

SteamWorld Fun Facts:

Miketendo64: “Lastly, as far as SteamWorld the series goes, is there anything you feel fans do not know about the series, but should?

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson:There are tons of things. And conversely, there are things that we don’t want the fans to know about the series (yet,) since we’re planning to expand the universe lore with every game. Let’s see, here are a few fun facts: 

– Our writers have included more than 300 (three hundred) references to other games, music, art, historic facts, etc in SteamWorld Heist. 

– When we released SteamWorld Dig we were completely broke, and had in fact borrowed very much money. Anything less than Dig being a success would have meant going bust and no more games. Ironically, we apparently didn’t learn, but ended up spending very much more on SteamWorld Heist. 

– SteamWorld Heist also contains more than 100 guns, and in fact contains more guns than the latest version of Battlefield. 

– Some of the very little money we had left after submitting SteamWorld Dig we spent on a brand-new 3DS XL. We loaded Dig onto it, bought a nice box, wrapped it up and sent the package to Markus “Notch” Persson, since we’d heard he actually played 3DS games. We were excitedly hoping for some huge tweet from him, which would make our day. But there was nothing, not a peep. But then, when we released the Steam versions four months later, suddenly he appeared and told the world he loved SteamWorld Dig!

– Together with Xenoblade 3D and Monster Hunter 4, SteamWorld Heist was the highest-scoring new 3DS game of 2015. No wonder our friends at Nintendo wish they were at our level – we’re less than 20 people, how many worked on Xenoblade? Sure, it’s more complex, but Heist is apparently just as good. Period.  

Lastly, check out our blog (http://www.imageform.se/blog) if you’re interested in all things SteamWorld. For example, there you can learn how robots are “born.” Not many people know that! 5.jpg.png

 

Speaking with Brjánn, we certainly did get to learn a lot more about a series a ton of us are really starting to love and we are grateful for game to Brjánn for giving our questions the time and attention he did. So thank you Brjánn and thank you to all of you at Image & Form. Thanks to your SteamWorld Collection, SteamWorld Dig has never looked more amazing and being able to own a physical copy of a SteamWorld title is a gift in itself. Here’s Brjánn with the final say, a message to the fans:

 

 

Play games – and play MORE games, that is, make sure to play a greater variety of games. Also make sure to seek out GOOD games. Life’s too short for bad wine and mediocre games.

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