Finn “Tiyuri” Brice has had a busy couple of days. On Thursday, the website for his next game, Starbound, took the internet by storm. On Saturday afternoon, Brice and the team at Chucklefish fielded roughly a thousand (okay, maybe not that many, but a lot) fan questions via the Starbound IRC channel. It’s a wonder how Brice was able to find the time to answer a few of our questions.
Hit the break to check out our interview!
PikiGeek: Alright, firstly, thanks again for taking time out to answer our questions.
Finn Brice: No problem.
PG: The biggest news, to us at least, is Starbound’s projected release. Summer 2012 seems like an ambitious release date. What little early speculation we’ve seen on the internet all seemed to think Starbound’s release was still pretty far off in the future. Is it safe to say that the game is further along in development than we thought?
FB: All of the major elements are there. Multiplayer works, and the game has actually been in development for quite some time now. That said, we’re still not 100% solid on the release, it could be later (or even sooner). We just want to make sure everything is super polished before we put anything out. Judging release schedules is notoriously difficult!
PG: Of course. Plus, the gaming community are notorious for getting cranky if you happen to miss and/or push back an announced release date.
FB: I think as long as you stay honest and transparent the gaming community can be very understanding though. I mean, no one likes to be made a promise and then be kept in the dark once that promise isn’t delivered. Not that we’re promising any release date yet of course!
PG: One of my favorite things about many sandbox titles is that they really don’t hold your hand, that players are free to make progress at their own pace . Usually there’s a basic “here’s how to do stuff” and then you’re pretty much on your own. I know you guys have expressed that you want to “give players a purpose… rather than just being a sandbox”.
Do you think you think it’s going to be tough developing a balance that will please fans from both camps? Those who just want to explore and build and those who want a more purposeful experience?
FB: I think structured gameplay definitely has a place in sandbox games, as long as it doesn’t compromise the player’s freedom. The trick is to make that structured gameplay optional and ensure that the sandbox gameplay is equally engrossing. I think this is something games like Skyrim pull off exceptionally well. You can stray from the main quest and never look back if you desire. Skyrim’s take on open world play was certainly an inspiration for us.
PG: How is the experience insofar as being the lead designer on Starbound? I mean, I know that you’ve mentioned that you set out to make your “dream game”. Have you had any conflicts regarding thingsyou really want or that you envision in your “dream game” and the practicality of actually putting everything into the game?
FB: Being lead designer has been wonderful, especially given the absolutely amazing people I work with and the super supportive community. Believe it or not there hasn’t really been anything so far that I’ve wanted to put in, but couldn’t. This is in large part down to our programmers who are just incredible at what they do.
PG: Switching now to Starbound’s gameplay; I know that as they traverse the universe, players will be spending a good amount of time on the space station. How customizable will it be? Will we be able to expand upon it once we’ve set up a home base?
FB: The space station in Starbound is really the hub from which the rest of the game is accessible. Through research and construction you’ll be able to fit it with all sorts of great facilities. From drop-ship construction to a monster lab. Players will also be able to form a crew to run the station by finding friendly NPCs in their travels. These NPCs will each have specific knowledge that defines just what your facilities can produce. We’re also looking into adding additional functionality to the space station after release.
PG: Speaking of the NPCS, we’ve heard that some of them will be around to give you quests, but will there also be “less important” NPCs that show up later in the game to inhabit cities or towns that players have built?
FB: NPCs are a super important part of the game and the player will be able to interact with all of them. But some are definitely more needy than others. We want the player’s homeworld to be full of life. Once the player (or a multiplayer server) gets a big homeworld up and running, it really turns into a bit of a management game. The NPCs make sure there’s always something to do and always new rewards to find. Some of the quests they send you on are really rather elaborate!
PG: Can you elaborate a little more on the missions that will be in the game? Maybe give us an example? A lot of people see the words “mission” and “sandbox” together and think “Oh no, fetch quests!”
FB: There are two types of missions in the game. We’ve got story missions which take place in pre-generated environments and drive the narrative. The focus on these missions is a really tight gameplay experience, scripted events and platforming that rivals the old classics. Then we have procedurally generated quests. These quests can occur within any planet. We decided early on that quests need to be interesting and really make use of the game’s engine.
One of the quests the team has been discussing recently has the player stumbling upon a friendly NPC with a broken robotic leg, the NPC can’t move until his leg is fixed and an acid rain storm is coming! The player’s only option is to build a shelter over the NPC and maintain it as the acid rain eats away at the shelter. The problem is, the planet’s monsters are also looking for shelter and your new structure looks very inviting!
PG: Oh wow, sort of like a “defend the castle” type of scenario.
PG: Now seems like an excellent time for a game with serious, old-school platforming, with the success of games like Rayman: Origins and Braid.
FB: I miss old-school platforming a great deal, but I also love games with some serious depth. This is my attempt to combine them.
PG: What about the building aspect? Once players have settled down on a planet, are they free to be as creative with their buildings as they choose?
FB: Very much so, one thing we wanted to do with the homeworld is take all the elements that the game usually procedurally generates and let the player control them. For example, planets have very unique weather patterns, but the player can build a weather machine on their homeworld and control them. We really want players to be able to say “this is <i>my</i> planet!” and really impress their friends.
PG: It really seems like customization in Starbound is going be almost limitless.
FB: That’s what we are hoping to achieve.
PG: Is it safe for us to assume that we’ll be seeing a unique day and night cycle for each planet?
FB: That’s right, some planets might even be eternally dark or eternally light.
PG: Would we also be correct in guessing that there will be different things for players to worry about depending on what time of day it is on the planet?
FB: Oh yes, our procedural generation feeds into the monsters that inhabit planets. Some are purely nocturnal whilst others might fall asleep at night. There are also events that only occur during the night.
PG: Reading over the chat log from earlier in the day, there is obviously going to be quite a variety when it comes to weapons and armor, being procedurally generated. Is it the same for Mechs and other vehicles that players will be able to build?
FB: We’re trying to throw that level of depth into everything in the game, Mechs and vehicles included. Some of the gamers in our chat channel suggested hover bikes, so those are going in too!
PG: Might I add that I agree with their sentiment regarding hover boards? But back to the player-built cities for a bit- Say I get bored and choose to abandon my home planet. Will the city that I’ve built continue to evolve while I’m gone?
FB: We’re looking at ways in which we can have the homeworld persist. It’s definitely a big technical hurdle, so no promises yet! But we really like the idea of the world going downhill without the player around to protect it. If it gets bad enough perhaps the world will actually become hostile towards the player. Or dominated by an invading force without protection.
The great thing is we plan to support the game for a very long time post release, so if we don’t manage to squeeze one of these very technical features in by release, we’ll simply add it later.
PG: About the continued support- Now, we know it’s early, but are there any specifics? Besides the obvious patches to fix bugs and other technical issues.
FB: I’m hoping to set up a team that will work on adding additional content post-release for a long, long time. The great thing about adding content to Starbound is that any content that you add feeds straight into the procedural generation system and becomes exponentially larger. For example, I can add a handful of gun art now and the total number of gun skins increases by thousands.
PG: Switching gears now, do you have any opinion on the new trend that’s popped up with Indie developers turning to Kickstarter to jump start games?
FB: I think Kickstarter is great, it’s so difficult for a team without funding to get into game development, even if they have an absolutely wonderful idea and lots of talent. Anything that helps people get into the industry by removing the money barrier is definitely worth supporting.
PG: Is Kickstarter something you could see Chucklefish utilizing in the future? It seems like an excellent way to gauge fan interest.
FB: It’s actually something we discussed early on and decided against, purely because this particular project is so large in scope we weren’t sure we would be able to give donators an accurate release date. We’re very much in the “release it when it’s perfect” camp. However, with future projects we’ll definitely look at Kickstarter again. I think going with Kickstarter should definitely be examined on a project by project basis.
All that said, we’ve received quite a few emails from people interested in donating some money to the project in return for having an NPC named after them, or even visually appearing in the game as an NPC. We’re still trying to gauge interest in a scheme like this. If it’s something the community would really like to do, they should let us know.
PG: Alright, one last question and then you can get some sleep! I’m sure the last 48 hours or so have certainly been busy. Are there any trends in the industry at large that you hope to avoid in Starbound? As in, things that would only get put into game over your dead body?
FB: My biggest pet hate right now is free to play games with micro-transactions. The majority of free to play games (though I admit, not all of them!) tend to advertise themselves as a really good deal. “Free!! Woo!!” But to actually get the same level of content out of the game as a traditional commercial title, you’re actually required to pay an absurd amount more.
Also, DRM. But I don’t think I even need to mention what the issue is there.
PG: Well, that’s about it. Unless there’s anything you’d like to add?
FB: I’d just like to thank everyone for supporting us, it’s been amazing and we’re going to work as hard as we can to make sure the game lives up to expectation. I’d also like to add that I’m always easy to contact. I’m around in the Starbound chat channel whilst working for much of the day (GMT) and I’ll respond to any emails and tweets I receive.
Also, watch out for an intelligent, sentient race of penguins. They’re trouble.
PG: Thanks again for answering our questions, Tiy.
FB: No problem!
You can check out our earlier article for even more information on the upcoming Starbound.