It didn’t take me long to find Starlost, with its visual spectacle capturing the attention of several transfixed onlookers. It looks like an elaborate twin-stick shooter but (as I quickly found out) doesn’t play like one, with a touchscreen friendly system focussed on resource gathering, upgrades and strategy. After having my ego quickly dismantled by the difficult demo, I caught up with Kenneth Johnson at Hoodwinked Studios to ask a few questions about the game.
This wasn’t your first rodeo, so how’d you find PGF this year? There always seemed like lots of people crowded around the Starlost booth whenever I went by.
This year we wanted to show to the Perth community the quality of game that this state is capable of producing, and I certainly feel we’ve achieved that this year. It’s been our goal to raise the bar of what mobile gaming is capable of, and I think people were impressed by what they were seeing! It felt like this year we were busy from when the doors opened to when the festival officially ended, and even after we still had volunteers and other developers come up for a play themselves. Overall, the feedback was great and certainly those that saw us last year mentioned that the game has improved immensely which validates all the effort we’ve put in.
What’s new at Hoodwinked? Is it still mainly just the two of you?
At this stage, it’s still just the two of us running the show. Should the game bring us some success after release, then we’re both looking to go full time in developing Starlost and future titles. We have big plans for the studio and are definitely keen to bring others on board to share the workload as there are a few talent gaps we need filled.
Can you give us a brief rundown of what Starlost is for those who are unaware?
Starlost is a top-down mobile game with tower defense, RPG and bullet hell elements featuring a 17 level campaign and controllable with just one finger. The action is frantic and exciting and differing from standard mobile titles in that you can progress through the story and there’s a finite end.
We caught up with you at the last PGF. What have you been working on in the twelve months since and have there been any major changes?
We’ve really pushed on with the campaign and have now released 14 out of our 17 campaign levels to the public. A ton of new functionality has been added to the game such as loot boxes, cosmetics, nanocores (resurrection) as well as utility and combat drones. There’s also a ton of changes that aren’t noticeable that we’ve had to make just to get the game running smoothly on such limited hardware. We’re definitely pushing the Unity engine and had to learn it inside and out to get the game to where it is now.
You mentioned you were in the process of writing the campaign. How’s that going? Are you still working with a branching structure? Can we have any plot teasers?
We’ve now fully fleshed out the storyline, including backstory, as well as timelines for possible future games. The campaign story is also fully written; however, we’ll be going back through before the full release to add to the world building. We’ve decided to forgo the branching storylines as with our team size it felt like a waste to generate content that wouldn’t be seen by all players. This does make the campaign more linear, but the action more than makes up for that by being unpredictable.
You’re running an open alpha for Starlost at the moment, is that right? How’s that process working out for you?
The open alpha concept has worked well and allowed us to release updates the day after they’re ready without worrying too much about breaking the game completely. We do treat each release seriously, though, and it’s always an anxious time waiting to hear if there’s been any problems caused. One issue with the alpha system that’s both a blessing and a curse is that feedback is only visible by the developer. On the one hand, it’s good that negative feedback caused by alpha issues isn’t up there for everyone to see, on the other hand, nobody can see how well the game is received, so visitors to the store just see an empty slate.
What have been the biggest challenges in developing the game?
We’ve had quite a few challenges in getting Starlost to the state it is. As this was our first serious commercial project, we’ve had a lot of stumbling in the dark figuring out work processes and quality assurances as well as dealing with a growing fan base. A part of this as well is dealing with creative differences and resolving them in an amicable state. Now that we’re nearing the end of the project we’ve started organising work into sprints and specifying tasks that need to be worked on. This helps keep us focused and gives us a clear map of when new updates to the public are released.
Is there a release date in sight?
At this stage, we’re planning to be done with the main campaign by February. This will include the last 3 campaign levels along with balancing and story review. After this, we’ll be making the game public and coinciding this with a marketing push.
Where will you be launching? Have you got an eye on particular platforms and marketplaces at this stage?
Starlost will be launching on the Android platform first with several replayability features to be added within the following months. After this, we’ll be porting the game to iOS along with localising the game to some of our more popular markets. At this point, we’re tossing up whether to pursue releasing the game to the Chinese market with the help of a local developer or pursue a port to the Nintendo Switch. After this years Perth Games Festival, and the response to the PC build we had there, we’re also seriously considering reworking the game and releasing on PC as well.
If you’d like to try Starlost for yourself or follow the game’s on-going development, check out the resources below: