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Posted October 1, 2015 by Peter in EGX
 
 

EGX: Interview with Brjann Sigurgeirsson (SteamWorld Heist)

SteamWorld Heist logo
SteamWorld Heist logo

Robot pirates in space – come on, tell me you’re not interested already? Much like SteamWorld Dig (summarised as “robot cowboy miners”), there is something about SteamWorld Heist that appeals to both the child and adult in me. The child likes being able to use “robot” as a prefix to everything; the adult likes a background lore that never ruins a good mystery with an unnecessary answer. So when given the chance to speak to Brjann Sigurgeirsson at EGX, CEO of developer Image & Form and presumably the man who knows the series’ lore, I leapt at the opportunity.

He was at the Nintendo display, guiding people through the demo of SteamWorld Heist on the 3DS. This will be the first version of the game to be shortly released as a “thank you” to the community. “Nintendo players were being so lovely towards us [with SteamWorld Dig]. So very early on I went out and promised it was going to be on the 3DS,” he explained. Brjann did specifically say that communities on all the platforms Dig had been released for were positive, but “the Nintendo community is just very, very kind to us [so] we wanted to make a statement – they took care of us with Dig, we owe it to them to give to them first.”

The SteamWorld series is linked by setting more than genre – SteamWorld Tower Defence is pretty self explanatory, followed by platformer SteamWorld Dig, and now being joined by a tactical shooter in SteamWorld Heist. Viewed side on, your crew of robotic rapscallions get into turn based combat with rival crews across steam powered spacecraft.
SteamWorld Heist screen
Combat is broken into moving and shooting, with the shooting itself done by judging angles to fire in a manner I’ve seen compared to the Worms series. There are a lot of nuances, even in the demo – your three crew members each use a different weapon, letting you feel the strength and weakness of pistols, sub-machine guns and shotguns; hitting enemies in different areas affects how much damage they take – my lucky headshots making the first few fights easier than later ones where winging a leg just took off a token amounts of health; and thanks to Captain Piper’s pistol having a laser to line up shots, you also got to appreciate the value of a well-placed ricochet, bouncing bullets off of walls and ceilings.

There is also something about seeing near-miss shots take off character’s hats, and – in a moment of experimentation – having one of my team run back to collect their hat and put it back on mid-combat. (“A robot without a hat is like a dwarf without a beard,” Brjann explains, completely deadpan. “It is the worst thing that can happen. It is unthinkable.”)

I mention the implied lore in Dig, and ask how much Heist might expand or fill it in. “In SteamWorld Heist, it’s more of the same. There are people referencing the past in this game as well, the characters are referencing it, without being in your face about it.” However, Brjann suggests that the game will again pose questions as well as answers. “We have room for another game between Dig and Heist, [...] because there’s got to be a reason why these steam driven robots have been forced to go out into space, right? Why is that?”

SteamWorld Heist screen

Another evil robot hat, sent to oblivion…

Once again, as a player I’m being left with a question, Brjann happy to leave the audience’s imagination to fill in blanks. Not that everything is teased. “As you progress in the game, more of it is revealed – what is this faction? Why are they so aggressive over this? I think it’s very interesting, we’ve deliberately kept it [vague].” He gives the example of how characters in blockbuster movies seem to intuitively know things as being the wrong way to go. “I really like it when it’s understated.”

Dig was well received and seems to evoke fond reactions from players, but it wasn’t a perfect game; when Games Fiends reviewed the Xbox One version earlier this year the biggest concern was about replayability. I put this to Brjann, who is surprisingly frank on the subject.

“I think people had two gripes with Dig; one was that it was on the short side, and the other was [...] where was the replay value?” We compare completion times for Dig – I finished in a little under eight hours, while Brjann says his first run took around nine… although I am surprised when he tells me that speedrunners have gotten it down to under half an hour now.
SteamWorld Heist screen
“You won’t be able to finish it [Heist] faster than 11 or 12 hours. I’m a very slow player myself, so for me it’s going to be like 15, 16 hours.” This is what Brjann hopes is a sweet spot, with the game not resorting to some form of grind to pad the length. “It can’t be short, we do not want to hear that again. But at the same time we don’t want to overstay our welcome.”

As for replayability, that is also being addressed, albeit enigmatically. “For the replayability, [Dig had] only one difficulty setting, [and Heist] comes with four settings,” each one raising the challenge of the fights. But raising the difficulty of the same content is a fairly simple approach, and Brjann hints the main draw to replay lies elsewhere. “We’re experimenting with two or three different New Game+ features. I’m not going to spoil what [they are], but that was one of our concerns when we started.”

Progressing from one game the other has helped the team. “We’re just so much better prepared with SteamWorld Heist than Dig. SteamWorld Dig we didn’t know if it was… bad, mediocre or good. [...] We were just so close to the screen that when we were done with it we were like ‘let’s hope they don’t hate it.’” Instead, that game became quite popular, and Brjann acknowledges this popularity as a foundation to build on. “We can’t lose that credibility, the fondness has to stay for the universe.”

SteamWorld Heist is due for release on “everything” – 3DS, Wii U, PC, Mac, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and mobiles – with staggered releases beginning later this year.


Peter

 
Peter can be described as an old, hairy gamer, a survivor of the console wars of the 1990s, and a part-time MMO addict. He has an especial fondness for retro gaming and observing the progressions in long running gaming series. When scandalously not caught gaming, he can also be found reading comics and fantasy fiction, or practising terrible photography.