Leviathyn Talks To SteamWorld Dig Devs Image & Form

Within a week, SteamWorld Dig will see release on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita. The game’s brand of randomly generated steampunk mining adventure garnered much critical praise with its original release on Steam, and subsequently on Nintendo 3DS.

Naturally, at Leviathyn we leapt at the opportunity to pick-axe the brain of Brjann Sigurgeirsson, the CEO and Founder of Image & Form- the small, independent team we have to thank for SteamWorld Dig.

1. SteamWorld Dig releases next week on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita, and we’re all very excited indeed! How does it feel to have your first title coming for home consoles?

Glad that you’re excited, although I suspect we are slightly more so! It feels fantastic, and a sign of us becoming really legit.

When I’ve talked to non-gamer friends about our game being very successful on the Nintendo 3DS and Steam, they nod like they have a clue as to what I’m talking about. And now that I mention that it’s coming to PlayStation, all of a sudden they think we’re bigshots… It’s a testament to how ubiquitous the platform is, I guess.

steamworld dig

2. How have you found working with the PlayStation 4 architecture in comparison to PC? Any significant problems you faced technically in the control systems or programming?

No, we haven’t really had any problems. The biggest challenge has been understanding all the guidelines and the submission process, where to find info, whom to ask for what, and so on.

Luckily the PS4 more or less is a PC on steroids, so the technical part of the port hasn’t been too nasty. I believe it was actually quite straightforward. Just the other day Sony Europe told us that SteamWorld Dig is the first game for the PS4 that has passed through submission on its first try. So maybe it’s just that our guys are that little bit better!

3. That’s awesome that you got through registration first time! Considering that indie developer support is a big bone of contention between Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, what do you think of PlayStation 4’s indie support in general? Where do you think the indie game sector is headed in the future? Is there much potential on home consoles?

Sony has been very helpful in getting us set up, as it’s not particularly easy to deal with the submission procedures of Nintendo or Sony – I suspect that Microsoft isn’t that easy either. Since we’re pretty small we have to juggle the submissions amongst us, and so it’s great to be met with a lot of patience.

Yes, I firmly believe that we’ll see a lot more indie games on the traiditional console platforms in 2014. Getting exposure and good sales on mobile – where many indie studios cut their teeth- is becoming increasingly difficult, and there aren’t that many avenues to walk down.

Many indies bet on Steam, but the waiting list is long. The ocean is definitely more blue on the traditional platforms. There is also tremendous potential there – the consumers are loyal and prepared to pay if the games are good enough.

steamworld dig

4. You mentioned that developing for PlayStation 4 wasn’t too much hassle after PC; but how about developing for PlayStation Vita after Nintendo 3DS?

There are so many differences between the two, although they both excel at delivering on their basic promise: to facilitate immersive game experiences. With the Vita, it’s sweet to know that everyone can expect full HD at 60 fps. But like I said above, our programmers are a cut above the rest – they actually squeezed 60 fps out of the 3DS as well, which I think is more of a feat! SteamWorld Dig runs on the Vita at native resolution. It looks… stunning. Obviously the Nintendo 3DS runs at a lower resolution, so the Vita is superior there.

5. There are several sidescrolling mining games in popular demand right now, like the seminal Spelunky and PlayStation 4’s own Super Motherload. What games inspired SteamWorld Dig and what did you borrow from them?

SteamWorld Dig certainly also is inspired by some other computer games, but perhaps not Spelunky or Super Motherload. We’ve been looking more at classic games like Metroid, Dig Dug and Miner Dig Deep. We are very impressed with the learn-as-you-go-along upgrade systems of Metroid and others. The digging elements from other mining (or digging) games such as Miner Dig Deep are very compelling, and you just itch to dig out a bit more of the world. Mining is exciting, there’s something inherently wonderful about looking for and unearthing hidden treasure.

But the biggest inspiration was our own predecessor to SteamWorld Dig, a game called SteamWorld Tower Defense. It’s a mostly harmless tower-defense game we made for the Nintendo DSiWare Store back in 2010. It had a charming twist to it: the robots were the good guys and the pesky enemies were human.

steamworld dig

That twist made us return to SteamWorld. We couldn’t help but wonder WHY the robots were upstanding folk running gold mines, and the humans were such greedy, aggressive lowlives. How had that come about? What was really the story here? So we wanted to make another game in the series and give away a bigger slice of the background. The premise of SteamWorld Dig was interesting, because it built on the mining track established in SWTD, and we love games about mining.

6. What do you think SteamWorld Dig uniquely brings to the mining-Metroidvania table?

Wow, is there such a table? I thought that SteamWorld Dig was exactly that – a fresh mining angle on Metroidvania-type gameplay! Sort of a one-seater table if you like!

I think we never intended for the game to be categorized or compared to others, and apparently it lives on its own merits. But in short, most people are hooked on the addictive dig-and-upgrade cycle, where bits and pieces of the bigger picture fall into place during the course of the game.

7. In hindsight, that was a foolish question… Slightly more on-topic, that classic genre which gave birth to randomly generated hard-core adventuring, the rogue-like, has inspired many games to date, including elements of SteamWorld Dig. What’s your favourite roguelike?! (Mine’s probably Tales of Maj’Eyal! Or Dwarf Fortress, though that feels a lot like a genre of its own.)

You may be surprised that you can run a game studio without having a favorite roguelike, but hey, that’s me! I play rather a lot of strategy games myself. Therefore I passed this one onto Olle Håkansson, our lead designer, who thinks Dwarf Fortress is a great choice – although his personal favorite is Zangband.

steamworld dig

8. SteamWorld Dig makes great use of randomised worlds and levels. With upcoming games like Daylight and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor featuring randomised elements, how do you see procedural generation being used in the future?

I think it’s going to be a key feature for replayability in the future. I remember seeing desctructible environments in Half-Life II and thinking that it would be the wave of the future. But really randomization is just as big a part of it, and something that is way easier for smaller developers to work with.

Replayability is key for all titles that don’t feature a strong linear story with enough content to keep the gamer occupied during the game, not to mention satisfied after finishing. Multiple endings, randomized locations for items and caves (as in Steamworld Dig) and persistent user alterations – when you affect the game, the changes remain – are fairly simple but very effective means to prolong a game without too much work.

With that said, gamers can play SteamWorld Dig and look forever for alternate endings – the game actually ends in the same way any way you do it! Since the game very much opens up for a sequel at the end, we decided that we would have to bring the players to the same point of exit and “re-entry”.

9. What do you think the Western style and narrative brought to SteamWorld Dig? Are there any specific Western works of fiction which inspired you?

Well, the Western style was very natural to the SteamWorld universe, since a condition for the game is that time has stopped somewhere around the beginning of the 20th century – where, luckily, steampunk and Western meet. The only setting I can think up where this meshes is the movie Wild Wild West featuring Will Smith, and that didn’t do too well.

But another title that has been VERY influential is the collaboration between authors William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, a book called The Difference Engine. It’s a very interesting premise.

steamworld dig

10. Any hints for what we’ll see in the future from Image & Form? Anything interesting you’re working on?

We’re currently working on the next SteamWorld game, which won’t be a direct sequel to SteamWorld Dig, but rather set in a SteamWorld future. I can’t mention anything about it, I have a tendency to promise too much. So I won’t say anything, more than it’s going to be mindbogglingly fantastic.

11. Finally… give us six words to convince us why Steamworld Dig is awesome!

I can only use six words? … Damn, that’s six words already! It’s (1) immersive, (2) addictive, (3) filler-free, (4) beautiful, (5) handcrafted and (6) against-all-odds-an-indie-title-although-it-feels-like-a-first-party-title. There! Six words!

Thank you, Brjann! Watch this space over coming days for more coverage on SteamWorld Dig– a livestream of gameplay from early in the game, and the review on release day. 

Keep an eye out on the PSN store next week for SteamWorld Dig, releasing on Tuesday the 18th of March.