I love space sims like Elite, but Junkcraft Armada seems to be doing something unique with it, adding complexity and roleplaying to the genre that was only just touched on in games that came before it. Obviously, I wanted to talk to the creator and hear his insights.
Q: Do you mind introducing yourself, MysticRiver?
A: I am a single developer doing everything, from business to development. I want to see how much a single person can do and how far I can get.
Q: What is Junkcraft Armada, in a nutshell?
A: It is a physics-driven rogue type game about space exploration, fighting, trading and building. You build your ship as you travel, and you build your crew. It has been in development for about a year now and I’m looking to publish it in Steam Early Access once I have a larger part of the game working. At this moment there are a lot of basic things to finish before that so I may be able to start the Early Access early next year.
Q: Does it have any clear (or not!) inspirations?
A: Lots! When I was a child I played Sundog Frozen Legacy and that really amazed me. As well, there’s Elite, Starflight, Alternate Reality and the recent Mass Effect , FTL, Dwarf Fortress, SPAZ, Captain Forever, etc. plus many other games and also movies like Star Trek and also NASA and technology news. I wanted to make a game like this in the 80′s but I didn’t have all the tools at that time. I tried to make a game at that time but I couldn’t finish it, ran out of memory and couldn’t add all the assets/things I wanted, but now technology has evolved and I don’t have much of those limits now so I can really make what I wanted at that time plus more.
Q: You have some very interesting ideas at play here, like the oxygen and temperature systems, unique crew members, etc. Do you mind explaining these quickly? Are you going for emergent play and different adventures every time with these sorts of things? Do you have any other systems to accommodate this?
A: Many games try to make things super simple but I am going a little bit in the opposite direction, I want to make it hard to survive in space, so logically temperature, oxygen and other resources are important. Players will sometimes have no place to stop and gather more resources since you may be in the middle of nowhere, so planning is very important.
About crew members, I am now adding the injury/disease system so it will be more detailed than just healing someone and everything will be fine. Crew members can loose limbs, organs, get permanent disabilities and other things, but if you are able for example to buy a bio-printer you may be able to print a missing arm or damaged organs, so that is part of the sick-bay module I am modeling now. In a few weeks I will share more on diseases but basically this will allow crew members to get infected if they are not using space-suits when going to some places, so decontamination units may come to the game pretty soon, otherwise all crew members may get infected and die. Also, bio-weapons will be available but banned in most star systems. This will force the player to make hard decisions and see each crew member differently not just like a pawn in chess where all the pawns look the same. Also I don’t think having a large number of crew members will really help. I want the ship to be limited to about 10 to 15 crew members so the player can easily get attached to them - having too many will make it difficult to the player to get attached to any since you can easily replace them by using another one from the pool.
About the adventure, there is a main story arc to the game but how the player reachs the end will be very different from play-to-play depending on the play-style. Your main ship is comprised of modules and you can add a limited number of modules so the player will have to carefully decide what to add to the ship. Also, each module has space for different systems and space is limited. For example, the warp generator module has space for different sub-systems enhancements. Some may decrease the warp charge time, yet others will enhance the speed you can warp but the player will have to decide what to add. There will be a lot of trade-offs to think about.
As well, I am adding several random events with consequences over the play session. One example can be a distress signal from a merchant ship - if you save that ship the crew members of that ship will remember you, and if you’re lucky you may encounter them again and they may even help you many months later in another quest or you may encounter them many times for different quests. Even the bad guys that escaped will remember you so future events will move around those memories, so each crew member from either side has some meaningful memory that will affect future outcomes of the gameplay. The player may also not encounter those people again but that’s how life works isn’t it?
Q: It started with a two-week challenge and you expanded it from there. Why the challenge? Why did you keep going with it afterwards?
A: I was working on one game for quite a long time and I felt a little bit tired of it, so I was looking to sit down and refresh my mind somehow and utilize all the new knowledge I got from that project. I saw Double Fine studios had these Amnesia Fortnight event so they can get new ideas for games with prototypes during a short period, and I decided that I will have my own to keep a fresh look and use what I have learned in the past few years. So my challenge was simple: do something new in two weeks and see how it goes. The first thing that came to my mind was the game that I couldn’t finish in the 80′s, and I felt maybe this is the time and I felt that this had a good future.
This game has been in my mind for many years but never got to the point where I could make it. I wanted to see many remakes of those old games but for some it is not happening so I decided that it is time now to make them the way I wanted to play them at that time with current technology. I am not so sure if many people like me are wondering about those games but even if there aren’t many I will still make it. That’s what indie development is about - making things that you want.
Q: Have you learned anything making games during the development of this game?
A: Lots of things, like time management and trying to simplify things to be re-usable in many places. I think making a game this large requires a lot of iterations and the previous two games I wrote since I started gave me the tools and experience I was lacking. I feel pretty confident about this game now and I’m looking forward to having an alpha release and get feedback. I really would like to know what people think about it. I do not have much time to spend on marketing or other business activities as I am focusing on development now so I just hope people enjoy my game and use word of mouth to help me.
As well, I limited my resources until recently to fit my game into the Xbox 360 memory and cores, but I found that I couldn’t add more content to it with the limited memory I had on the console and still run at 60 FPS, so I had to make a hard decision - either have about half of the game in Xbox 360 or have what I wanted leaving the Xbox 360 version behind. Without thinking too much about it I decided to move forward and release on PC only. This game is becoming what I envisioned and I don’t want to make any cuts to it, so a medium PC should be able to run it if you have at least 1GB memory and a 256MB graphic card at least with at least 2 cores. With Xbox I had less than 400 MB to fit everything and it started to get tight. I may be able to optimize it later for the Xbox 360 if the time allows.
Q: Do you have any funny stories of your adventures in Junkcraft Armada?
A: Funny stories? I have lots, but one that recently made me laugh a lot was a sprite issue that happened by mistake. I was testing my crew members fighting against robots and then one of my crew members dies and the sprite I saw was a crew member cut in half, the top half of the body in one side and the bottom side on the other. The first thing I thought was “wow, that was a massacre!” I didn’t want to see my crew members cut in half , but that was funny. Later in the day I fixed the issue and now it is showing properly.
Initially I was against warp engines. Simply said I wanted the trip from one system to another to take months/years, but I ended up with a bigger issue - it required me to travel 12000 years if I wanted to go from one side of the universe to the other, so I added wormholes. Still, I had to travel for so many years that it didn’t make sense, so I either had to add cryogenic/stasis pods for those long trips or add warp engines. Technology is evolving exponentially so if I let a ship to travel for 100 years by the time I reach the other side the universe will be totally different from technology point of view, so I had to compress the time to a more believable era, so after two weeks of trying any rational approach I gave up and added warp engines to compensate. The main story arc of the game is time-bound so this was the only solution I could really consider.
This game started as a simple 2D space game. You build your ship with modules obtained from the enemies you defeat, so basically from junk left from other ships. After many weeks trying to find a name for the game, I decided that junk+spacecraft equals Junkcraft and I later decided that I want to have crew and added the Armada part, so basically it was just a ship made of junk but the game evolved into more after that.
Q: Do you have any parting thoughts? Thanks!
A: Thanks for your interest in this game. It is taking a lot of effort to make and I hope lots of people will play it. I am publishing as many pictures as I can about the development of the game and how it evolves. I do not have the luxury of time and resources to let people know about this game when it is finished so I like to share as much as I can as I go with it. If I get any input from people I take it and see how I can make Junkcraft Armada better.
IndieDB page: http://www.indiedb.com/games/junkcraft-armada
Dev blog: http://mysticrivergames.blogspot.ca/