I did an email interview with Paul, one of the creators of Frozen Synapse from Mode7Games (Links to the right of the website). Below you can view the Q and A, please be sure to post your thoughts below and check out http://www.frozensynapse.com/ for information on the game as well as the mode 7Games Podcast available at: http://www.mode7games.com/blog/
Damnit Slam: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with me, I know you all are very busy on the game and being our first interview is huge!
Paul: Thanks, and no worries – always nice to talk about the game.
Damnit Slam: For some reason I always like to ask people, what was your gaming childhood like, what sort of games did you grow up playing and what systems were your favorite?
Paul: My Dad was an IT teacher at a fairly prestigious boarding school in Scotland, so one of my first memories of computers was going into the big computer lab there and playing really oldschool games on 186 PC’s and a BBC Micro!
When I was a bit older I think the first proper console I ever got was a Game Gear. I really liked Mickey Mouse: Castle of Illusion (which I think is probably one of the only decent Game Gear games)…
That’s probably going back a bit too far to be sensible! I think the games that were most influential on Mode 7 were probably classic PC games like Wing Commander and basically Bullfrog’s entire output: Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate etc.
D: Frozen Synapse has had an unusual development, where the players are paying for an early version, and essentially helping to fund the rest of the game’s development. Do you see this type of game creation as “a way of the future”?
P: I think it’s the way of the present, to be honest with you: a lot of people are doing this. It’s a good way of doing more feature-rich games – you can get a version out that has a good amount of content and polish, that people are willing to pay for, and then you can use that funding and feedback to finish the game in the most appropriate way. It’s important to get it right – we always said that we wanted to release a version that we felt was worth the cost in and of itself, without the promise of future content.
It is a difficult thing to get right, but if done well it can be good for everyone. Players get to shape the development of the game and support companies they like in a very practical way just by buying a product; the companies get that important initial fan base and a bit of cash flow.
D: Can you discuss the artistic design of FS. Was it meant to be minimalistic from the start, or perhaps something that was placeholder and because part of the games look and feel as development progressed?
P: We did have some slightly different graphics at the concept stage – I’d say it was a bit more 2D and a bit more sort-of “satellite imaging from a movie” in nature; but after our second round of concepting we basically stuck to this specific style.
I think there was some resistance to the kind of iconic glowy thing we ended up with – by that I just mean resistance from US, not the community! Eventually we just went, “Screw it, this is what’s best for this game” and went down that route. I’m very pleased with what we ended up with.
D: When listening to the Mode7games podcast it is very apparent that you all look at other games, trends, and not only discuss them, but analyze them to determine where the industry is going. How critical is playing current games to the development process?
P: For designers, it’s totally, absolutely, thoroughly vital. You need to know what mechanics and features people are putting into their games because those are the things that shape players’ expectations. Ian plays a lot of games; he’s definitely someone who browses other games quickly to suss them out, and I think that behaviour is perfect for a designer.
Equally, aesthetically, I think it helps to be aware of what’s going on and aware of the standards you need to hit, but ultimately that’s more about finding a strong and hopefully unique style.
Personally, I don’t play games as much as I would like – I tend to stick to one game very rigidly for a while as well.
D: Are there any major features missing from the current beta release of FS?
P: The public beta is feature complete…we actually have an optional update out right now that should be the final release candidate.
D: Are DLC or expansion packs something being discussed for post release content?
Yes, definitely. There are a lot of things we want to do with the game and features that we would like to experiment with – what we do depends almost exclusively on the game’s performance at launch but I would expect that there will be DLC in some form.
D: During the beta, it seemed many players wanted steam integration in the game. Is doing that, from the developer perspective something that is easy to integrate into a work-in-progress?
P: Yeah, we haven’t really had much difficulty integrating with Steam so far. We’d like to look into further Steam stuff if we have a chance.
D: Lekon would like to know about weapon and gadget selection. Will there be weapon specific selection or class based selection in the final game and how many classes or weapons will be available?
P: There won’t be weapon selection, just as there isn’t weapon selection in chess! That seems like a glib answer but it’s not – the units in FS are more “pieces” than little soldier men with backpacks; that’s key to how the game functions and it’s why the gameplay is so tight.
That said, we are definitely talking about other units. We did have a conversation which started, “What if we had 20 different unit classes…” – that’s not to get people’s hopes up that we’re actually going to DO that, but we do talk about these things. There is scope for other units.
D: biosc1 wanted me to specifically mention that the game needs an auto-update feature. He would also like to know a little behind the scenes, was there some idea that was scrapped during development that sounded good, but just didn’t work?
P: There won’t be auto-updating in the near future – obviously we’re hoping there won’t be much need for post-launch updating immediately and secondly the game’s total download is way less than individual updates for many games. I know it’s frustrating to have to redownload sometimes but the problems we’ve had with auto-updaters in the past mean it’s just a lot safer to go for a full download.
There were loads of ideas that were scrapped! We had this thing for a long time called “Endplays” which were basically 1-turn matches – Ian got a bit obsessed with them for a while and then sent them packing to the game design graveyard! That’s really how iteration works.
P: Oh, we also had this sort of weird territory-capturing campaign meta game that got aborted really early on – you do end up going down a lot of blind alleys.
D: When it comes to release do you have a time frame for release where goals are set and met along the way, or is FS a when it is done it is done approach?
P: It’s been “done-when-it’s-done” at the start, and absolutely hardcore working-every-weekend crunch to deadlines at the end; we’d like a bit more of a balance next time but that’s just the way things turned out.
D: Finally, I want to say thank you very much for your time, and good luck with the rest of the development process.
P: No problem, thanks for supporting the game for such a long time – we really appreciate it.