Being attracted to bright lights and vibrant colours, my attention was quickly ensnared by a speeding spaceship firing both off at high speed, and in every direction, forever. The ship belonged the game Starlost, described by the developers as a moving turret-defense game, the idea of which makes me tingle in places. After attempting to outdo everyone else present at PGF (I didn’t), I had a chance to speak with Kenneth Johnson of Hoodwinked studios, who was kind enough to answer some questions for me about their game. Additionally, he was kind enough to say that my performance was admirable. Flattery will get you everywhere, Ken, especially anywhere in my greasy, narcissistic heart.
What is Starlost about?
Starlost is about one man and his ship’s journey through a galaxy that’s long been dormant due to a hostile AI. The player finds themselves stranded with only their wits, an old space mining retrofitted battleship, and trusty AI mothership to help them. The player will progress through a series of missions with story branches to give the player a choice, and upgrade their ship with mined resources. Our main aim for Starlost is to create an amazing, action packed universe for the player, which sets up future events for sequels and spin-offs (which we are in the middle of planning now!).
What was your original inspiration for Starlost?
My inspiration for the controls and systems came from an indie title called Starscape. This game featured an upgradable ship comprised of modules where you mine resources and travel around a galaxy completing story tasks. Other inspiration came from Warcraft 3 tower defence maps and games such as Overwatch (polish and reward systems). Other inspiration came from our friends over at errorsevendev and their success with the Laserbreak series.
You’ve described the game as a “moving turret-defence game,” how do you think you’ve accomplished that?
The thing that defines a turret defence game is placing down turrets strategically and modifying the playfield in order to accomplish your objective. Starlost is similar in that your weapons fire for you automatically, and you adjust your position (playfield) throughout the game. We also feature an upgrade system for the ship, which lets the player upgrade to suit their individual play-style.
What’s missing from the game before it’ll be finished, and what’s been the biggest challenge with development?
At this stage, we need to add a few more enemy types and create the next 15 levels so, not that much work really. The biggest challenge has been trying to squeeze so much action and graphics effects onto a device that has such limited resources. We’ve had many instances where we’ve added in a new graphical effect or increased the quality of an element only to have the game perform slowly. This has resulted in the need to either remove the feature or code some workaround to fix the issue. Another problem we’re having is simply finding the time to develop the game as we both work full time and things like spending time with family get sacrificed to work on it.
What I played at PGF was pretty hectic, will the game always be surviving until you’re overwhelmed?
The game that we demonstrated at the Perth Games Festival was about what we’d expect it to be about half way into the game. We did increase the difficulty curve right at the end to kill off our playtesters as our game’s designed for longer play sessions and we wanted everyone to have a turn at the event. In story mode, the gameplay will progress fairly smoothly as the game is mission based, and we want to challenge the player so that they need to stick by the decisions they make with their upgrades. Some areas may require the player to go back and grind resources to upgrade enough to pass if they don’t have enough skill.
Was developing for a mobile platform your first choice, and do you see it getting a port to other platforms?
The mobile platform is definitely our first priority for development, this is partly due to the size of the market and our goals for monetization of the game. Due to the limited control over the player’s ship, we felt this wasn’t suitable for a controller or keyboard and mouse setup. After the development of the Android version, we’ll be focusing our efforts on the iOS version. At this point, I think we’ll decide whether we want to port the controls and game to PC or focus on our next game in the series. It’s entirely possible you’ll see Starlost on Steam in the future!
The mobile market has a lot of games out there, what does Starlost do differently to make it stand out?
Starlost doesn’t focus on just the one mechanic, a lot of mobile games focus on a single mechanic and while they may be polished the game ends up lacking a lot of depth. We also have a branching campaign that the player can progress through, and there’s a definitive end that the player can reach. I feel this is more in line with a typical gaming experience you’d have on a console or PC – we hope it provides a solid gameplay experience. We’re obviously focusing a lot on presentation as well – we’re making a game that you can enjoy looking at for hours.
How was PGF for you guys, did you receive a lot of feedback?
The Perth Games Festival was a fantastic experience, and we received heaps of positive feedback from people who tried out our game. It felt great hearing how much people enjoyed the game as you get worried sometimes as a developer that your games not fun or people won’t enjoy it, and we needed to hear that. We ran an anonymous feedback form where we had people write down any suggestions or issues they had with the game and then placed it in a feedback bag. Quite a few of these suggestions were related to the control scheme, and we’re looking at implementing some of these.
What’s your experience with developing in Perth been like?
We’ve found the scene in Perth to be excellent, and we’ve had lots of support and feedback from other local developers. Let’s Make Games has been a wonderful resource for us and helped introduce us to everybody.
What would be your advice to fledgling mobile developers?
My advice would be to be persistent and get your game finished. After the initial fun and enthusiasm wear off, it’ll begin to feel like work. It’s at this point you’ll start thinking about other projects you could do instead or delaying implementing a feature because it’s hard and you just need to sit down and power on through. Another piece of advice would be to review the scope of your features after you get a feel for development time. This is important as it saves you time and allows you to polish further the things that remain. In saying that, it’s also important that you push yourself, and go for something special that helps to elevate you above other games out there.
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