Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Howard Tsao, founder of Muse Games, talks semi-MMO, steampunk, co-op airship battles with Guns of Icarus Online.
What's your game called and what's it about?
Our game is called Guns of Icarus Online. It's a multiplayer airship-to-airship combat game where you battle it out in the skies on customizable ships with your friends and against other players, all set in a steampunk- and dieselpunk-inspired post-apocalyptic wasteland. Imagine if World War I never really ended; that's where we're at.
How does Guns of Icarus Online continue the narrative and gameplay of Guns of Icarus?
In the original game Guns of Icarus, you take on the role of Gabriel, who is basically an early pioneer of airship flight centuries after the Great War has laid waste to civilization. He builds his own airship out of scavenged parts and goes traveling across this hardscrabble post-apocalyptic landscape, visiting scattered settlements and fighting off sky pirates the whole way. Even though he doesn't survive the voyage, his doomed flight is an inspiration to the people he encounters, a brush of contact with the wider world and a sign of hope that things can get better.
Guns of Icarus Online takes place almost 100 years later, when Gabriel has become a legendary, almost mythic figure. With the rapid development of airship flight in the intervening years, the once-isolated towns have come into much closer contact, bringing both trade and warfare. It's a time of unprecedented prosperity, but also renewed conflict. In Guns of Icarus Online you are one of this new class of aeronauts, young men and women who have left their hometowns behind and signed up to serve aboard one of these airships in search of glory and adventure, seeking your fortune in the skies.
What did you end up doing with that extra cash you raised on Kickstarter?
A portion of the money raised from our Kickstarter campaign went toward fulfilling the gift items, as well as going to Kickstarter and Amazon Payments. The rest all went toward developing the game - to pay for the awesome work by composers (like the amazing Zain Effendi) and artists that we contract with, and some of it went to paying for game server licenses.
In a day where people are often in flame wars on forums or just trolling and griefing in the game, the Guns of Icarus Online community is something we are very proud of.
What's the coolest aspect of Guns of Icarus Online?
The teamwork and the community that Guns of Icarus Online fosters are highlights in our game. The way that the three roles (Gunner, Engineer and Pilot) need to coordinate with each other to operate an airship efficiently requires a degree of proficiency in each role – which gun should I fire first, should I repair the balloon first, do I need to disengage with the enemy? – and constant communication with your teammates. We've done our best to implement as many tools as possible (like integrated Steam voice chat, friends, invites, etc.) to facilitate communication.
The high level of teamwork required has created a community that is very helpful and friendly to new players. In a day where people are often in flame wars on forums or just trolling and griefing in the game, the Guns of Icarus Online community is something we are very proud of.
What inspired you to make Guns of Icarus Online?
We really enjoyed the feel of getting on turrets or big guns in a lot of FPS games. Those moments were always powerful, but short, scripted and lacking in depth. So the idea of turret shooting started the creative process for us. We thought that an offensive element should be complemented with a defensive element as well, and we looked to casual time-management games like Diner Dash for inspiration of the repair game and centered the entire Engineer role around time-management, aiming to create a frantic and collaborative experience as enemies attack.
We are fans of steampunk, and there aren't many steampunk games out there, so we really wanted to bring steampunk to life in the game. We also thought that a confined space is essential to drive team play and collaboration, so what better way to construct this space than aboard airships? We stretched the concept to include dieselpunk elements so we could have gas-powered engines for our high-octane airships.
Why don't you consider Guns of Icarus Online an MMO?
We're a small studio, and so we don't have the resources that big studios have to build an MMO experience. We're making something that is even more multiplayer where players have a direct influence on the world. Because we are small, we'll have to be smart about how we construct a sense of a world, with an interesting economy and political dynamics, but still keep it at a scope that we can execute and deliver.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
What drives the team and what makes us excited to be working together every day is to have the freedom to create and try out ideas that simmer and brew in our minds. Take Guns of Icarus Online for example: This is something that might never see the light of day at a bigger, more established company. We're not even sure what genre the game fits into or how quite to characterize it yet. Yet we took all the risks to create it, and we couldn't be happier or prouder. With us, it's definitely about realizing our dreams and trying our hardest to build a good game first, and hopefully money will follow so we can keep doing what we love to do. We have freedom to experiment beyond the formulas and metrics-driven design that can shackle the creative process.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Absolutely. With more and more independently funded, developed and published games on Steam, iOS and consoles, I think players are more and more in tune with and accepting of indie development. Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter are also giving indie developers more avenues for not only funding, but means of building awareness around their games.
Whether through meetups, shows or conferences, communities of indie developers are forming. We are sharing experiences, commiserating, and at times pooling resources to build projects. At PAX East, Guns of Icarus Online will be a part of the Indie Megabooth, and that's another awesome example of indie developers coming together, in this case through the initiative of Kelly Wallick, to form the biggest collective presence so far at PAX.
Sell Guns of Icarus Online in one sentence:
In Guns of Icarus Online you can become captain of your own steampunk airship, hire your friends on as crew, and fly into battle together to blast other ships out of the sky!
We're always improving the game and continually rolling out new content. This week, for example, we released a new map and a completely new game mode, as well as new cosmetic items for the in-game store, and we're also creating new guns and ships on a regular basis. Beyond that, we're working on some new features, like the ability to form parties with your friends or add cosmetic customization to your ships. We're constantly listening to our players' feedback to hear what they'd like to see in the game and make sure we're always improving.
In the longer term, we're continuing work on our next ambitious project, the Adventure mode expansion to the game. (The current PvP match system is called Skirmish mode.) Basically, Adventure adds a persistent world context to the game, with a town-based economy, trade missions and territorial politics based on six player factions. It's not an MMO, but it does contain some MMO-like elements. Needless to say, we're really excited about the prospect of expanding the combat core of the game so that your actions will be able to influence a living, breathing world.
Guns of Icarus Online is available now on Steam for $20, for PC or Mac. Whichever OS your airship is carrying, really.