Exclusive: Image & Form ‘SteamWorld Heist’ Interview
The new game in the SteamWorld saga has finally been unveiled by our friends at Image & Form. We are so pleased that Brjann Sigurgeirsson, CEO of Image & Form, took some time to chat with us about the new game in the growing SteamWorld franchise. Without further ado, we dig into the gritty details of Image & Form’s next SteamWorld game!
Pure Nintendo: We are very excited that Image & Form has decided to share some really special, super-secret news with us! Image & Form are developing a new SteamWorld game! Could you tell us a little about the new game?
Image & Form: Most certainly! You could say that it’s a game about space adventures and survival. As the robot captain of a steam-driven spaceship, you recruit a team of ragtag robots to explore and scavenge the remains of a destroyed world. You board enemy ships and command your crew in a unique variety of turn-based combat. It’s a 2D rogue-like featuring steam-driven robot pirates – in space! Now how cool is that!
PN: Has Image & Form settled on a name for the next SteamWorld installment?
I&F: The working title is SteamWorld Heist, and we’re pretty much set on the name. We’ve discussed it at length, and “Heist” describes the core gameplay very well.
PN: Is the SteamWorld Heist a direct sequel to Dig or more of a stand-alone experience?
I&F: It’s not a direct sequel to Dig. I believe there’s ample space between Dig and Heist for at least one very meaty game. There’s so much more of the story to be told.
Directly after Dig, we actually started on the prequel – which we’ll release later, I hope. It tells the story of the enigmatic Uncle Joe. But just two months into developing that game we had to stop in order to port Dig to PC/Mac/Linux. It was a big assignment, since the 3DS was pretty far from HD and we wanted to add tons of new animations. During that time, our fabulous Håkansson brothers (Olle and Björn) came up with the idea for this new game. Probably over a beer. The scope of it was so much larger… it felt like a more appropriate follow-up to the success of Dig.
PN: So is there more story to tell before Dig and even between Dig and Heist?
I&F: Yes, there is. The Dig sequel will fill in the gap immediately after Dig that leads up to Heist. And the prequel will explain a bit more of why steam-driven robots are the heroes while humanity has been reduced to dynamite-wielding, booze-swilling cave dwellers. It’s actually quite a bit more plausible than you might think!
PN: What is the players objective in Heist?
I&F: The objective will be to explore, survive and find out what the heck is going on. Pretty much as with Dig! :) Our official elevator pitch is this, “SteamWorld Heist is a game about space adventures and survival. Recruit a team of ragtag robots to explore and scavenge the remains of a destroyed world. Board enemy ships and command your crew in a unique variety of turn-based combat.”
PN: Is Rusty, the main protagonist from the first game, making a return or will we be playing as a new character?
I&F: He might, in some form… and then again, he might not. I’ll try not to spoil that one. ;) Let people speculate. He’s a true-blue hero in any case. The captain, who we’ve tentatively named Piper, is the player character. A wonderfully gritty cowbotesse!
PN: Will many of the characters from the original be reoccurring in Heist?
I&F: No, most of them are dead – or rather defunct! – by the time the Heist story kicks in. SteamWorld Heist will be set quite a bit into the future, if you’d agree to call the age of Dig “the present”. Some quite severe things have happened in between, and our friendly cowbots and their “descendants” have been forced out into space. Figuring out how to build spaceships takes a few hundred years if you’re steam-driven robots with limited intelligence.
PN: Is this player character, ‘Piper’, in Heist related to any of the characters in Dig or past SteamWorld games?
I&F: Haha, what a great question! In a sense, all steam-driven robots are related to each other, since they come in new versions the whole time. The features of a newer robot likely draws on older technology. We haven’t spent very much time thinking about how they relate, but one of the best jokes of Dig was that Rusty’s *uncle* was found dead – or rather, defunct. I figure that the family aspect is a mentorship type of deal – older robots teach newer (“younger”) robots what they know, and off they go. Pretty much the way we humans function in a family.
In any case, I think I can assure you there is no sex involved.
PN: Dig focused quite a bit on upgrading Rusty to enable players to do more as they explored the deeper portions of the mines. Will there be aspects in Heist that focus on building or modifying spaceships in the same sort of fashion players saw in Dig?
I&F: There sure will, but it won’t be limited to the ship – you will also upgrade the individual robots throughout the game. There will be quite a few of them, and hopefully we’ll also be able to equip them with a bit of personality.
PN: Will we be seeing a return to Tumbleton, somewhere new, or will players experience different locales in Heist?
I&F: Tumbleton probably is no more. :) Most likely we won’t be stopping by there. Heist will take place in a number of locations, since space travel is essential to the game.
PN: Is the game still centered around robots or automatons like the original SteamWorld Dig?
I&F: Yes, it’s still your trusted cowbots at center stage. They have evolved a bit, and so has every other possible enemy. It’ll be a rough ride.
PN: Does Image & Form plan on deviating from the original SteamWorld Dig art style?
I&F: No, not really. We’re relying as always on Tobias Nilsson, our frightfully fantastic art director, and his vision. Since we’re still in SteamWorld, he wanted to keep it – more or less. There are so many new elements however, you’re destined to think that even the art style has evolved a bit. But it’s really the same. I love the looks of both Dig and Heist.
PN: Is Image & Form looking to extend the length of the new SteamWorld game or will it be about the same playtime as Dig?
I&F: No, it will be definitely be longer… much longer! And that’s a bit ironic, since many of us are fans of pretty short games. But the one gripe reviewers and players had with Dig was the length – or rather, the shortness. Some people thought it was perfect, because they were happy with it and wanted more. Still, it’s what we’ve heard for our last three titles (SteamWorld Tower Defense, Anthill, SteamWorld Dig) – the original releases have been on the short side. We’ve listened and will try to accommodate.
PN: One of our favorite things about SteamWorld was the opportunity to explore by digging our own paths to reach the goal. Will the new SteamWorld Dig remain heavily focused on exploration or are there other elements that Image & Form are looking to add?
I&F: Exploration will very much be at the center of things. With all our games we really want to put the player in the driving seat. Even though it’s story-driven with a defined start and end, Heist is just like Dig – it allows for plenty of side missions, and the player sets the pace.
PN: Is there anything different that Image & Form is trying to use or incorporate in Heist?
I&F: Literally tons of things! We’ve never made a game like this one before. And I have to commend the team on this, because they’re such an extremely creative and daring bunch. We run into obstacles, and at times we’re unsure of how to proceed. We try different things, and at the core is always the question of what will be most entertaining, most fun – never what’s the easiest thing to produce.
PN: The name Heist seems to imply that there will be some looting involved in the next SteamWorld adventure. Will this be the case and players will be taking the roll of an outlaw?
I&F: Yes, our heroes have become outlaws by necessity – or let’s say, they’ve had to adapt to someone else’s set of rules. Looting is at the core of the game, and you raid other ships to get by. But don’t worry, the cowbots never steal from nice people. Only bad guys. ;)
PN: Is digging for treasure making a return or will there be other ways to get money? Maybe deep sea diving?
I&F: Yes, maybe? ;D No, I think the answers above put this question a bit out of place. Money will be heisted, but don’t worry – you’re (almost) always stealing from bad guys.
But deep sea diving… hm, there must be another game there… ;)
PN: We feel like SteamWorld Dig could have really benefited from multiplayer. Two players either work at the same area or venturing off one their own to explore more of the mine to combine their treasure. Will we see any co-op play in this next installment of the SteamWorld franchise?
I&F: We’ve discussed it in detail. It boils down to weighing – by our standards – enormous amounts of dev time (and cash) versus getting the wonder of multiplayer in there. We’ve estimated that getting multiplayer to work fabulously would add another 50% to the dev time. But we are discussing other kinds of multiplayer elements. And the operative word there is “discussing”. It will be a marvelous single-player game in any case.
PN: Here comes one of the most obvious questions ever. What platforms are Image & Form hoping to release the new SteamWorld Heist game for?
I&F: We’ll do what we’ve done with Dig, that is, we’ll release on as many platforms as possible according to a staggered schedule. The order is still to be determined.
PN: You made mention of a prequel and sequel in some of the initial questions! So are you hinting at many more SteamWorld games to come in the future?
Yes, and there’s no real reason to backtrack on that. You could say that in our heads there are at least five clear SteamWorld titles so far:
1. SteamWorld Tower Defense (released on Nintendo DSiWare Store 2010)
2. SteamWorld ??? (the prequel to Dig – not released yet)
3. SteamWorld Dig (released on Nintendo 3DS in 2013, and subsequently on many other devices)
4. SteamWorld ??? (the sequel to Dig – not released yet)
5. SteamWorld Heist (coming spring 2015)
We decided on this strange release order simply because we were itching to make Heist. The prequel felt a bit on the small side, and the sequel felt too obvious immediately after Dig. We wanted to deliver a surprise.
While we had some time with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, we thought we would ask a few questions about their recent port of SteamWorld Dig to the Wii U.
PN: What compelled Image & Form to bring SteamWorld Dig to the Wii U?
I&F: It was pretty much a no-brainer. We had been so busy after the initial release with new game design and porting Dig to other platforms. We thought it would be a sort of home-coming, bringing it to the Wii U a year after its initial release on 3DS. Full circle, if you like.
PN: Players love cutscenes and SteamWorld Dig on 3DS didn’t really have a lot of cut-scenes. This didn’t change much with the Wii U version. Why is that?
I&F: We wanted to stay true to form. SteamWorld Dig is a good game in itself, and cut-scenes wouldn’t add to the storytelling. We like how the story is told very simply via dialogues between the game characters, and we’ve deliberately kept hinting at the story. There’s so much more to tell, and we want to keep it for the sequel, which we’ll start working on some time next year, if everything works out.
PN: Was it hard to take the original version of SteamWorld Dig and port it to the Wii U?
I&F: That would have taken a long time, but luckily we had the “middle steps” of making an HD PC version, which we released on Steam and other PC/Mac/Linux outlets in December last year. Having both the HD version ready and the great-working division between screens from the 3DS made it quite simple. Also, since we use our own tech, we’re not depending on (great, but still) middleware such as Unity, where certain functions may or may not work well on all platforms. I had a colleague at a development studio nearby chewing his fingernails over some Unity feature “not being implemented yet” for the Wii U version, and the submission date was creeping up on them. So by our standards, it wasn’t that hard.
PN: About how much work went into the Wii U port of SteamWorld Dig?
I&F: My initial guess was about two man months, but obviously we’ve spent more than that. If you count dev, testing, submission, administration, PR and marketing, I’d say we’ve spent somewhere around 5 man months in total.
PN: How does Nintendo Wii U and 3DS fit into the plans/future of Image & Form and your games?
I&F: In a sense, you could say that Nintendo “made” us – we had been around for a long time and were absolute nobodies. If the bold and wildly intelligent Ed Valiente and his team at Nintendo of Europe hadn’t decided to make SteamWorld Dig a poster title in their quest to come across as more indie-friendly, we may have flown under the radar – getting nice reviews and the odd player telling his/her friends about the game, but with an economic failure as a result.
Every person I’ve met so far at the respective platform owner is remarkable in his/her way, and we feel friendly with all of them. But obviously Nintendo has put us on the map. We’d be crazy to not include Nintendo in all our future plans.
PN: Thanks for speaking to us about the Wii U version of the original SteamWorld Dig briefly and giving us a spectacular peek into what Image & Form is working on in the next steampunk adventure! We are looking forward to the hearing more about the SteamWorld Heist!
I&F: And we love you. This will be the third installment in the series, which pretty much qualifies for a franchise. We’re so engrossed in SteamWorld, I can almost guarantee that Heist won’t be the last. But the main thing is that Heist will propel us forward as a developer, and prove that we’re not a one-hit wonder. We’re here to stay.