For those who didn’t hear, the Perth Games Festival ended up tagging more than 1,600 attendees! It was a massive debut, and we’d like to thank everyone who came out to learn about the industry and to support all of our local talent.
Around the time of the festival, GameCloud conducted a lot of interviews with Perth-indies, which was a fantastic experience for both us and all the developers we spoke with. It was great to be apart of the buzz, but our commitment to the Perth-industry doesn’t stop with PGF, so we’ll be continuing to interact with the community all year round.
Space Strafer was one my personal favourite games from the show floor of the festival — I got a little addicted afterwards, eventually racking up a score in the billions via the browser version of the game. Naturally, I was very keen to talk to the creator, so I reached out to Alexander Parker afterwards to see what else he could tell us about it!
As a Perth-based game developer, could you tell us a bit more about Southern Studios?
Alexander: Southern Studios is very much a one man operation – it started as a need to provide a plausible cover story to my family for the fact that I love being creative with code, pixels and music.
I’ve been in and out of the shadows of the indie game industry over the years, writing music for fan-remakes of the likes of Star Control and X-Com, and a couple of indie shmups, however, in terms of writing a game that I can actually finish building, Space Strafer is the first time I’ve achieved that goal and thrown it all out there to see what kind of reception it gets.
Through it all, I guess I just wanted to make a good, honest, and fun game for many years, so seeing it become a reality has been a great reward. Southern Studios is merely the vehicle for this passion.
What would you say has been the driving inspiration behind your new game, Space Strafer?
Alexander: The initial spark of inspiration was a small type-in from the September 1988 issue of the Amstrad Computer User magazine called “Star Dodge.”
When the time came to think of the simplest, but funnest game I could build as my first completed project, Star Dodge immediately came to mind. Decades old, it’s as “BASIC” as it gets, but the one-button gameplay mechanic was well and truly solid years before mobile phones were a thing. My mates & I would be up into the small hours of the night frantically trying to beat each other’s scores.
I think sometimes, it’s worth looking into gaming’s history to find hidden treasures.
How would you best explain your game to someone who hasn’t heard about it before?
Alexander: Space Strafer is a fast-paced skill-based asteroid-dodging game with explosions, powerups, upgrades and fireballs of death. Intricate scoring mechanisms add depth and a degree of strategy to the game for expert players, while starter missions give novice players a gentle introduction to the various hazards and abilities of the ship. If you have 2 minutes to kill or 20, I’ve tried to ensure that Space Strafer has something to offer.
It feels both familiar and totally fresh. Could explain how a typical game session plays out?
Alexander: It depends on the skill level of the player. A novice will begin by simply getting the hang of steering the ship, learning how to collect powerups, avoid asteroids and so on. Collecting crystals is in itself quite rewarding, so one could easily enjoy the game by picking up loot and unlocking new ships to fly.
For expert players, these basic aspects as mere tools to unlock the mega points, you can get over 10 million points in a single move if you follow the right approach, grazing some asteroids, avoiding a certain powerup until just the right moment, then smashing through an ice ball for huge points.
With a number of ships each with their own abilities there’s a lot of variety and plenty of niches on the leaderboards for different play styles. There’s some debate over the best style of play and which ship can get the highest score. The Beta is clearly the most finicky ship to play with, while I’ve heard some call the cruiser the “noob tube” of Space Strafer. Players who’ve been around since day one still adore the Alpha. There’s really something for everyone.
When you’re aiming for the top spot there’s a certain competitive advantage to knowing all of the scoring mechanisms in detail.
I like that it isn’t focused on just a shooting mechanic! How does strafing influence the gameplay?
Alexander: I’ll admit that in a way, the guns are a semi-deliberate red herring. With the update that introduced ice asteroids (1.4.3), the guns have somewhat more of a purpose as the ice asteroids are a lot weaker, plus shooting asteroids now contributes to the chain which lends to their use a bit more. I guess to many, space is about guns and blowing stuff up, so I was happy to oblige, however that’s not what this game is really about at its core.
Anyone who has played danmaku style “bullet hell” games will know of a mechanic called “grazing”, where brushing your wingtips over oncoming bullets will yield higher scores. Imagine that with asteroids instead of bullets. Another inspiration was Raiden Fighters Jet, where by following a few tricks you suddenly switch the game into an insanely high scoring version of its former self. I saw that as a way of rewarding dedicated players who have taken the time to learn the mechanics in full. At its heart Space Strafer is all about taking skillful risks. Being able to shoot stuff is just icing on the cake.
Could you tell us more about chaining ice crystals, and how to increase the score multiplier?
Alexander: In truth, there are a number of actions considered “Chainable”. Collecting any power up, strafing an asteroid, successfully negotiating a narrow gap, all of these actions increase the chain level in addition to collecting crystals.
Play it too safe, and your chain disappears. This incentivises taking a measured risk to strafe an asteroid or grab that risky crystal or powerup, because the ultimate score you receive for any action is multiplied by the base multiplier x the chain level. So if you’ve collected 5 crystals in a row and have a risk multiplier of 5, every point you earn will be multiplied by 25. It’s not unheard of to earn over 20 million points to collect a crystal, however working your way up to that level requires a lot of careful maneuvering.
Charging up a shield is important too! How do power-ups and blowing up asteroids work?
Alexander: By strafing an asteroid your ship’s shield is engaged. The higher your chain level, the longer your shield will last. You can boost the capacity of your shields after engaging them by performing any chainable action, but this doesn’t reset the shield to full power, so it’s usually better to take more risks to build your shield up to a high level first before engaging it.
When the standard (green bar) shield is engaged, all other scoring mechanics work as normal. When the megashield (yellow bar) is engaged, you can’t increase your risk multiplier, however you can re-trigger the shield back to full power by strafing an asteroid. People who like taking risks deliberately avoid the megashield, it’s been derided as the “noob shield”, however when you’re in the late game I believe the megashield is an essential part of play unless you’re _really_ good at grazing asteroids.
The risk mechanic where you have to scrape asteroids is very cool, tell us more about that?
Alexander: As in real life, when there is a risk, there must be a matching incentive to take that risk otherwise people won’t do it. In Space Strafer, each gameplay element has its risk balanced against an (I feel) appropriate reward. By choosing balanced incentives, you avoid exploits where a player can just spam the shields or lasers to get huge bonuses, for example. If I am rewarding the player with the ability to multiply their score by a factor, I need them to work for that bonus. For every way of scoring points, I’ve tried to make sure some skill is required to earn them. Having a permanent multiplier was one way of doing this, and it seems to have worked quite well.
What was the reception like at the Perth Games festival, and what was the highest score?
Alexander: I was blown away by how many people came past and tried out the game. The feedback was always constructive and I was really impressed by some of the initial scores. Seeing people of all ages getting hooked into the mechanics was a great reward for the effort that went into making it.
A kind of rivalry seemed to develop among a small group of players during the day who seemed to keep coming back for more. It was a really great experience and I think the highest score was up in the millions! I wish I’d written a separate leaderboard for the day!
How can the Perth community support your project, and where can we learn more about it?
Alexander: I’m always open to feedback and game ideas, more than one mechanic in space strafer has been suggested by regular players. I’m online at https://twitter.com/alexofparker, and also probably more active at http://www.reddit.com/r/spacestrafer. I also put music up at https://soundcloud.com/noterror
In terms of support, all I can really say is that the more people who hear about this game, the more players I get, the more likely I am to continue working on it and future ideas. Right now, this is a hobby, if I was able to justify it as a full time pursuit I have a number of more advanced games I wish to build. So spreading the word about Space Strafer and Southern Studios is really the best thing that could happen for myself and Southern Studios.