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Interview: Die Zukunft der SteamWorld - Im Gespräch mit Image & Form

PortableGaming-Redaktion, am 22.10.2016, Seite 2 von 2

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Editorial note: This interview was held at gamescom 2016 on August 17, 2016.

Planet3DS: Let's talk about your released game!

Brjánn Sigurgeirsson, Image & Form: Yeah, we released SteamWorld Heist in December last year on the 3DS and it was a pain. When we made SteamWorld Dig we worked on it for eight months and we thought: “eight months is a very long time!“ When Dig was finished we decided that we not longer gonna work this long on one game again. Right after Dig we started making two small games that would be in production for four months each. We divided up the team so we had two games in parallel. And we thought that's a good way to go. But then Dig became popular and on the end of every review it said "I can't wait to see what this studio does next.“ We came up with two small games… I was getting nervous about that. Then we've had a lot of lunch-hour discussions at work where we sit and discussed game ideas and then the idea of [SteamWorld] Heist came up. Someone was playing XCOM very much at that time, so he said: “What if we did like a 2D XCOM-ish game?“ But then someone said that doesn't work because how are you going to show the shots? And someone else said: “Yeah, but we could do blablabla“ and suddenly there was all this talk about the idea. I came back from Tokyo Game Show in 2013 and they said: "Listen boss, we have an idea for a game" and they presented Heist. I thought: "It's marvelous, it's very very different from Dig. So how long is it gonna take to make?". And they said: "It probably gonna take ten months to make this game" and I replied "Oh no. Ok, let's do it!" It ended up taking 22 months to make the game. It's very expensive and we released Heist fortunately with very good receptions for the game. So we sold a few copies for the 3DS that was very good because we were broke again. This spring we worked on DLC and we also did the porting to Steam and PS4 and Vita.

Planet3DS: You did a very good job!

Sigurgeirsson: Thank you, I'm happy you say that!

Planet3DS: Our colleagues from PlanetVita reviewed your game a few weeks ago and we got some response from you on Twitter: "Pflichtkauf is the word of the week here at the office!".

Sigurgeirsson: This is the most beautiful I know. It means you must buy it, right? Obviously we are very pleased with that.

Planet3DS: We work for Planet3DS…

Sigurgeirsson: (laughing) Good choice!

Planet3DS: …and our colleagues for PlanetVita. I think there are more good games for 3DS than the Vita.

Sigurgeirsson: I feel sorry for the Vita. I like it then I hold it and I play it.

Planet3DS: It's like the great PSP in better.

Sigurgeirsson: Exactly, the resolution is great and interestingly the button placement is so much better on the 3DS.

Planet3DS: Do you think so?

Sigurgeirsson: Well, my fingers are very big. (laughs)

Planet3DS: The graphics on the Vita are great but there is no First Party-Support.

Sigurgeirsson: Sony closed the doors, they buried the Vita.

Planet3DS: I wonder if they release another handheld. Maybe this will be your last game on the Vita?

Sigurgeirsson: Yeah. The Vita is not quite through right now but it's going to be the first platform closing with our games on it. But anyway, so what we've been doing since then is obviously porting SteamWorld Heist to all other platforms but also we've been thinking about what to do next.

Planet3DS: What are your plans for the future? That's the main question!

Sigurgeirsson: We have some plans! Now this is going to be a long answer, so bear with me and you're going to be so disappointed. So when we worked on SteamWorld Heist we set ten months and worked on it for 22. In September 2014 I was totally sure that SteamWorld Heist would come out Spring 2015. I was positive, there was no doubt! So we announced it in September 2014 and even had banners on our site saying “Spring 2015.“ And then it was like: “Oh, sorry everyone, it's Summer 2015. Oh, sorry everyone, it's FALL 2015.“ At the end we were wondering whether we'd be able to put it out in 2015.

Planet3DS: But I think it's worth waiting for a quality game. Certainly better than releasing a game that isn't finished.

Sigurgeirsson: Exactly! It's so important, right? A rushed game is gonna be bad forever and a delayed game is gonna be good eventually.

Planet3DS: What was the reason for the delays exactly?

Sigurgeirsson: I'll tell you why. It's an important story! We were so intrigued by rogue-like games – you know, that harsh punishment. You die and then you start from the beginning. So we were going to have that and we were going to have perma-death in the game meaning that if you die, you would have to start from the beginning but your characters would also be dead. But it would be a story-driven game.

Planet3DS: Yeah, so like XCOM. People can die and you can retrieve them but otherwise… It's very hard.

Sigurgeirsson: That's right, it's very hard and also very harsh. Every time a character died I just knew the game is going to be so much harder now because I don't have that character anymore. We were going into that direction and trying to make it interesting but every time we had an external tester or we were playing it ourselves we always felt it was very hard. Okay, maybe if we balanced the game it wouldn't be so harsh but we could see it in the testers when they died, saying: “Ugh, really?“ So we ran in that direction for a very long time until we said: “This is not working. We have to change direction. We have to make it kinder.“

Planet3DS: How long did it take until you changed your direction?

Sigurgeirsson: If you're a studio of three people you can just ask: “All right, were gonna change direction. Everybody on board? Okay, now we're running in this direction.“ If there's twenty or eighteen people, as we are, it's not like a 100-person or 200-person studio because if you're running in a wrong direction with a game like that it's going to cost millions. You realise that and go: “Well, we're running in the wrong direction but it doesn't matter, we have to finish our game.“ We just had to change and it extended the production so much. But I'm very proud that we actually dared to do this. It's two years of your life – you could actually have two kids in that time if you worked on it! It's a very long time. But everyone was on board and that sort of made it such a longer game to make. In the end we are very, very happy with the results.

Planet3DS: Good job and a good decision!

Sigurgeirsson: Did you notice how I dodged your question? It was “let's talk about the future“ but instead we talked about this.

Planet3DS: Yeah, right!

Sigurgeirsson: So now we're getting to it. The main thing I'm going to say is: Yes, I will tell you about what we're working on when we are ready to. The reason is that I don't want to disappoint you by telling you it's going to be this and it's definitely coming then – that's the lesson we learned from Heist.

Planet3DS: But you're working on something! So we're gonna hear from it in three years, four years…?

Sigurgeirsson: (laughs) No, no, much sooner than that! We realised it's bad for business to take too long.

Planet3DS: But sometimes it just takes time to improve something so it's not wrong to do so. People have to understand that.

Sigurgeirsson: Exactly. It takes time and money and I think I want to be a game developer who, when I retire, can look back and see it was all good. Everything we did was good.

Planet3DS: There were way too much developers who don't care about quality and release their games way too early to make as much profit as possible – that's not the way it should be.

Sigurgeirsson: Yeah, you're right about that. We can always slam those, right? It's very easy to do that but I think either you're in the business to make quality or to make money. If you can make both: Fantastic for you! But you have to go to work every day and if it says in your business firm “We're in it for the money. We're going to make quick money the whole time,“ after a few years you find that you want to do something else.

Planet3DS: A more idealistic way.

Sigurgeirsson: Yeah, but I think it's easy to be an idealist but it's also about who you are, about what you stand for.

Planet3DS: I think the best way is to be idealistic and make a lot of money at the same time. It's a difficult way but…

Sigurgeirsson: I think that's why only a few people succeeded in doing that because it's so hard. But it doesn't matter. If my kids asked me what I do I'd say: “I make good games.“ It's something nice to be able to tell people unlike having it go “I make games.“ - “Oh, are they good?“ - “No, they suck, actually. But look at the money I'm making!“ I'd rather be a poor idealist… Okay, a RICH idealist but yeah, definitely not the other way around.

Planet3DS: There are examples of big games making a lot of money while still keeping up an idealistic approach like CD Projekt Red with The Witcher 3. It's a huge game! But it's better to do something like this rather than, say, EA – speaking from a purely personal perspective.

Sigurgeirsson: When I look at what EA is doing, for example take a look at FIFA - it's a new installment every year and I love it! I'm sorry but I do!

Planet3DS: I enjoy it too because I love football, so I need the new teams and players and the like, but when you see the quality of the games there's not much improvement. Still I obviously need it because of the new players, new kits…

Sigurgeirsson: (laughs) Exactly! It's like the hats in SteamWorld Heist!

Planet3DS: …and stadiums they add and so on.

Sigurgeirsson: It's like it has become a part of life! But my point is that maybe we don't see it exactly the same way. My vision is only to make as good games as possible. They have so many employees that they need to maximise their revenue. Maybe they already have superbrilliant plans for FIFA but they're keeping it to small improvements every year. It's a marvelous business. EA started small, too, at one point. But I think it doesn't matter. The CEO of Image & Form and the CEO of EA, I think we can justify what we do in our own ways. They are making incredible games. And did you hear about their indie initiative? EA is releasing a Swedish game called Fe - it's a good friend of mine who's making that game. So EA's not bad by default, they're actually trying to encourage some smaller efforts as well. But enough about EA! Still it's such an important discussion: Why are you making games? I'm in it to one day look back and say: This is why I live. This is what I did. If I hadn't been around maybe these games wouldn't have been made. It's like… have you ever wondered what would've happened if Mozart lived twenty years longer or what if he had died earlier, like if he slipped on a banana peel when he was five years young? I think we owe it to ourselves to always do our best at whatever we do, not half-ass, only the best. Sorry, I'm not out to score easy points but it is a philosophy. Luckily I share it with the people in the office because they are brilliant. The Image & Form people are fantastic people! Just imagine: You sit there for two years, look at the game on Monday and then on Friday – what has changed? What is new in this game in five days? Yeah, this character moves better, more story has been written… Okay, see you on Monday! How can you keep up the motivation to do it for two years?

Planet3DS: And surely you are happy that Nintendo is showing off [the SteamWorld Collection for Wii U] at their booth, right?

Sigurgeirsson: Yeah, let's talk about it!

Planet3DS: It's very good advertisement for you that they're showing it there with many people playing it. Tell us something about it.

Sigurgeirsson: You guys are like me so we can agree that Nintendo is a fine company, right? If you only look at the money, Nintendo has no real incentive to advertise our games. Compare our games to all their first-party titles. But I think it ties well into Nintendo's overall philosophy. They want to show good efforts. Releasing games on mobile is very easy because Apple puts up no resistance. It usually goes: “Hi, I have a game. There!“ With Nintendo it's different. They will ask us politely during development: “Okay, what direction are you going in? When are you showing us the game and is it okay if we have some input?“ And we tell them yeah, you can have input but maybe we're not gonna listen to it 100% to which they say: “No, that's not the intention! We want to make sure that the quality of stuff coming to our systems is consistent.“ So with the SteamWorld Collection they gave us a call in April or May: “We have this brand called Nintendo Selects and it has always been reserved for very good Nintendo first-party games – that's why they call it Nintendo Selects, sort of like a seal of quality. And now we want to make SteamWorld Collection part of that.“ The guy I was talking to was German so I thought I misunderstood what he said because this was… this was sort of impossible. So I thought I will play along in this conversation and pretend that I have to ask him what he was saying but that's what he meant: “Yes, we want to put the Nintendo Selects brand on SteamWorld Collection.“ - “Isn't that reseverd for first-party titles and kinda like the best of the best, too?“ - “Yeah, and we wanna have SteamWorld Collection on it.“ I obviously said: “Yes, but do we have to pay for it?“ and they replied “No, we pay you.“ It's a very nice deal, they have been very kind. But it is for Europe, Nintendo of Europe is doing this. Nintendo of America doesn't – they don't do this Nintendo Selects thing. There's no real counterpart there [referring to the eShop Selects brand which SteamWorld Collection falls under in Europe (Editor's note)]. So we had another publisher, the British publisher called Rising Star Games… They had been sending me an e-mail every two weeks sort of perstering me: “Can we do a PS4 collection of SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist?“ And I said yeah, maybe someday. [After the Nintendo deal] I called that guy asking: “So do you want to do this PS4 thing?“ - “Yes, let's do it!“ - “Okay, but can you do one more thing? Can you do the SteamWorld Collection for Wii U in America?“ - “On Wii U?“ - “Yeah, it's a package deal: You do Wii U and PS4.“ - “Good, but why only America?“ - “Because Nintendo is doing it in Europe.“ - “That's very good for us, too, because Nintendo is going to publish our advertisement.“ So it's this thing again: If you decide that you're going to do quality, in the end it's going to be good for you, it's going to pay off.

Planet3DS: So there's a lot of players who will find out about SteamWorld because it's being released on Nintendo Selects. Many people maybe don't know it at the moment but will find it in the future.

Sigurgeirsson: Exactly! You have a big point. I mean, I always thought a Nintendo gamer is a Nintendo gamer and every Nintendo gamer is always on the eShop looking for games. And it is so untrue! It's so false! Only a section of Nintendo gamers are there. A lot of them are collectors as well. They want to fill up their collection at home.

Planet3DS: I only buy my retail games from Nintendo. Steam, Uplay and the like are all digital but with Nintendo… Retail!

Sigurgeirsson: Nintendo gamers, they're something else. They get Mario tattoos and stuff…

Planet3DS: Idealistic!

Sigurgeirsson: Very idealistic! Very, very partisan, too. It's like: “I play Nintendo games.“ - “So you're a gamer?“ - “I'm a NINTENDO gamer.“ I'm very much looking forward to this coming. It's coming out on September 30th and only on Wii U.

Planet3DS: I think some of our readers would like it on 3DS. Maybe in the future sometime?

Sigurgeirsson: The thing is this: The 3DS was the birth of Image & Form. When we released SteamWorld Dig on the 3DS, Nintendo carried us. Before, we were just a game developer. Nobody asked me to sit in interviews like this before SteamWorld Dig. We got a little bit of fame with the game and the 3DS crowd and people were so kind. The players were kind, the press was kind. At one point I was just sort of overwhelmed by this kindness that I went out and promised that our next game, which was SteamWorld Heist, was going to come out on 3DS first. And then, two years after that, we've been talking about it: “What platform should we work on first?“ - “Isn't it obvious that we should bring it to the 3DS first?“ - “Yeah but is it something we really want to do?“ And then someone read some speculation on NeoGAF about what platform the next SteamWorld would be coming to and someone pasted-in text, saying “This is what the CEO said two years ago, he better […] stick to it!“ I was like, they remember that? I don't remember that! (laughs) So there was no discussion. As long as the 3DS is a viable platform we will always have a relation to it.

Planet3DS: Of course! But I think we're running out of time!

Sigurgeirsson: Oh no, where did the time go? But yeah, the next game is a SteamWorld game and it's a game that's gonna make people happy.

Planet3DS: Maybe a new tower defense game?

Sigurgeirsson: (laughs) I can't talk about it yet. But it's always a pleasure talking to you guys.

Planet3DS: Likewise! Thank you very much for your time!

This interview has been conducted by Nicola Hahn [501.legion] and Alexander Schneider [Gardevoir ex] for

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