Kickstarter: Impact Winter Interview

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Posted October 22, 2014 by John Clark in Video Games

About two weeks ago, indie studio Mojo Bones released a Kickstarter for their upcoming PC survival game, Impact Winter. WTN sat down with lead designer Stuart Ryall to discuss the upcoming game, design philosophy, and the risks and rewards of Kickstarter development.

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We The Nerdy: So to start off, I’d love to hear directly from you: What is Impact Winter all about? What made you decide to start this project?

Stuart Ryall: Impact Winter is a survival game first and foremost. You play as Jacob Solomon, leader of a team of survivors, as you deal with living in the aftermath of a catastrophic asteroid collision which has buried the Earth under constant snowfall. We have lots of familiar elements—that survival/RPG fans will hopefully enjoy—but the mixture of these individual elements combine to make something unique. For example: You’re tasked with surviving for 30 days, but you have a team of four other survivors to provide for. This adds an adventure element to proceedings, where you have to deal with relationships and tough choices that extend beyond your own survival. We also have a very open game world where every player is striving towards the same goal, but how they get there—and what they encounter along the way—will be completely unique.

WTN: It sounds like you’re taking some inspiration from another popular survival game, Don’t Starve, though the addition of taking care of other survivors certainly puts a twist on things. Was that an influence for you, or is it mostly coincidental?

SR: The thing I love about Don’t Starve is how literal the premise is. There’s no set-up or explanation; it really is a case of trying not to starve. I also love that the world is not explained to you; you have to figure it out for yourself, experimenting to see what works. These are the two elements that have carried over into Impact Winter for sure: trying to survive for 30 days, and the idea of figuring out how you do that by exploring the world and dealing with what the game throws at you.

WTN: So how would you say that the addition of other survivors mixes up the formula? To what extent are they dependent on you? Do they remain entirely at your camp, or do they assist you in gathering resources and surviving?

SR: In terms of their day-to-day behavior, [the other survivors] remain in the Church (your base), but they play a big part in your journey to survive. Each team member has a unique skill and is also governed by the same stat engine as you (hunger, thirst, morale, energy, and health). Your job is to provide the supplies and be decision-maker. This might come in the form of food/drink or items to keep away boredom. The more healthy a team member is, the more useful they are re: their skills. For example: Keep Christophe’s morale high—and provide the right electrical items—and you’ll have a large selection of Ako-Light upgrades available (Ako-Light is your robotic companion, by the way).

What makes things a lot more interesting is when peoples’ ‘wants and needs’ start clashing. If all member are hungry and food is limited, you might be the one who has to decide who eats, or if a member’s morale gets seriously low, it might result in them going missing or refusing to work. Do you go after them? It’s definitely not a micro-management game—as these are NPC characters that will eat, sleep, and drink by themselves—but their moods and stats will make each play through unique and offer a different dynamic to solo survival gameplay. As a leader, you’ll have to make tough choices, but at the same time, if you keep well-stocked on supplies (and morale is running high), the team will be a serious asset throughout your 30 days.

 

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WTN: So, obviously, replay value is a big part of games like this; the emphasis on experimentation and learning means that Impact Winter needs to stay fresh through multiple playthroughs. What kind of elements are you including to ensure that players remain entertained during the earliest parts of learning the game, when they’re likely going to be failing frequently?

SR: Replay value is one of Impact Winter‘s big strengths, and a lot of that comes from our Story Events system—where the game will randomly give you mission-like objectives and scenarios to deal with. A team member getting ill and needing to find a cure before it spreads; a unique item that’s needed to repair a contraption that Maggie recently built, an argument breaking out in your camp; wild animals attacking the Church when your away on an expedition; a roaming stranger offering to show you a secret location whilst out exploring. These are just a few examples of the Story Events that could occur at any time. We also have the ability to trigger these events based on the stat engine, so some will be a direct consequence of your actions and choices.

This area of the game is very much inspired by our love for the Oregon Trail. When you care for your team, the outcome to these events feels a lot more important. Difficulty wise, the game will have a linear curve. We don’t want players to be too overwhelmed when they begin a new game. But naturally, as you start to wander further from the Church—and your team becomes more self-sufficient through crafting, upgrades and supplies—the game will become more hostile. Also, as the game progresses, stats will differ across the various team members, giving them different moods and dilemmas to deal with.

WTN: Since your team members mostly stay at the Church, but you’ll be wandering increasingly further as you grow stronger, is there a concern as to having to leave the rest of your group behind for increasingly long periods of time? Will adventuring further out put them in increased danger?

SR: Yes, longer journeys come with more risk (for you and the team), but that’s where your team’s skills can help. Maggie is a mechanic, and if you find the right Junk items, she’ll be able to craft upgrades for the Church, which will make it a more productive environment. You’ll be able to build defenses, power generators, leisure items, and more. All of these things will help your team survive longer when your away. Wendy has Well-Being skills, so she’ll be able to create recipes to make any food you find more effective. Again, this will help the keep the team’s hunger at bay.

You’ll always be able to see your teams stats via Ako-Light, and he will also alert you to any emergencies back at base, so you’ll have some help in that regard. But really, it’s a gradual process of venturing further out, increasing your resources, and staying on top of any potential dilemmas that arise.

WTN: Now, the ‘Kickstarter’ model has been coming under fire a little bit lately due to failed games not reimbursing the money donators spent. There’s a responsibility of those donating to Kickstarter projects to understand that they’re investing, not preordering, but there’s also a responsibility  from the developers to do everything that they can to ensure that their product is released. Does Mojo Bones have a solid plan in place for the development of Impact Winter?

SR: I think two things are key when evaluating a Kickstarter project: experience and planning. From an experience standpoint, we have a team made of people that have been working in the industry since the late 90’s. It doesn’t mean that things can’t go wrong (they often do in game development), but it does give you the experience necessary to be able to deal with those problems if/when they arise (and sometimes foresee them). Planning is a major part of any project too: without it—Kickstarter or not—it’s very hard to make an idea work. Because we’re a small team, we have a very ‘agile’ way of working, which means we can implement ideas and test them quickly, but there always has to be an overall plan in place for what you’re trying to achieve.

Ultimately, Kickstarter is like any pitching process: You have to convince your audience that your idea/product is a good investment, and we put a lot of time into the details of our Impact Winter pitch for that very reason. Finally, we are also putting our own financial investment into the project too.

 

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WTN: It’s good to hear that you have a plan in place. Now, another fascinating part of Kickstarter is the existence of stretch goals, being able to make use of any funding beyond the minimum asked. Does Mojo Bones have any stretch goes planned, or are there any things you’d like to do if you’re able to get the time and money to do so?

SR: Our single stretch goal covers all console versions; Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U. If we hit our initial target, we plan to add extra stretch goals that bridge the gap between our main target and the console stretch, but we wanted to list our two biggest milestones first.

WTN: Do you have any plans to continue development if the game doesn’t meet its Kickstarter goal, or is the studio dependent on those funds?

SR: It’s something we’ll look into when the time is right. Of course, our priority at the moment is the Kickstarter, but as time moves on, we’ll be looking at other avenues available to us. Funding is an important part of the process, but Kickstarter is also about building a fan-base. We’ve had a lot of great feedback from the pitch, and we’re constantly pushing for more coverage.

WTN: We really appreciate all the information you’ve shared with us. To wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to say about the project that you haven’t already? Any last notes or the sort?

SR: Thanks for your time too! I’d also like to say a big thank you to everyone that supports our work (Impact Winter and otherwise) and ask anyone with questions to get in touch with via info@mojobones.co.uk or our Twitter and Facebook.


About the Author

John Clark