Monday, January 27, 2014

Space, the Wayward Terran Frontier

Welcome back friends to another Kickstarter Conversation!  Today I am pleased to be joined by George Hultgren the creator of Wayward Terran Frontier.  Thank you for joining us today George!

Of course, I’m glad to be here.

Your game has a lot going for it, even if the title is a bit of a mouthful, can you tell us what Wayward Terran Frontier is all about?  

Wayward Terran Frontier is a game designed for anyone who has ever wanted to just live on a spaceship and go on adventures with their friends in a mysterious universe. It is also a social game for people who want to host a persistent galaxy for their friends to play in akin to a minecraft server, but with space stations and intergalactic wars that sort of thing.

I know how I want to play it: I want to connect briefly during the day to tend my space farm, I want to connect in the afternoon and run a trade route, and I want to spend a full day on the weekend trying to reach that hidden alien artifact I found in deep space surrounded by guys that always blow me up.

There are so many parts of your game that seem like parts of other games, yet at the same time it seems to be coming together into something greater than the sum of its parts.  How do you think Wayward Terran Frontier will differentiate itself from those that came before it?  

The truth is, I’m far from being the first person to try and make a multiplayer game where you can be the captain of a space ship. I think that this is a game lots of people have wanted for a long time, and many have tried to make it. In fact many are currently trying to make it and I am honestly excited to play games like Project Trillek and Star Citizen.

In terms of what really makes my game unique, I would have to go with the story. I have had this trilogy of space epics fermenting in my brain for years and I could never bring myself to sit down and write a novel type thing. I think I am more of a game programmer than a novelist, hopefully that is obvious by now.

Also I have always been interested in the study of player motivations and incentives in online games. I think as a geek who once struggled with social situations I tend to approach multiplayer games in a very analytic way. I never played farmville for instance, but I would often interview my friends to try and understand what made it so addicting.

How key to the gameplay is the ship builder?  Will the players be able to just use the stock ships and get along fine or will they have to use the editor to get along?  

I focused on the ship builder early on because I am very technical and that’s the part that I enjoy playing around with the most. I think there are many different types of gamers and I think the ship design aspect really appeals to the ones who like to min/max their character in any game(that’s me). However I am fully aware those people are often a minority in online games so it’s very important that the final game doesn’t require intensive redesign of your ship to be competitive.

Ships will come with a working floor plan as you would expect when purchasing a real spaceship, and as you explore and board other existing ships they also have fully designed internals. Half of this is already true of the test client, and I want to try to have all of it in there soon.

Also, many module upgrades will be direct drop-in replacements for existing modules, and as you get more credits you can simply unlock new designs, modify existing designs or even share designs with your friends.

I like the component destruction system you have, will our ships just be able to repair hull and component damage or will we have to go back to bases for parts and replacement components?  

I want exploration to also have survival elements to it. So when you are looking to find the coolest sorts of things you are going to have to plan for a really long trip into deep space. That means designing a ship that is sustainable in addition to being powerful and that means the ability to repair and rearm in the field is a must.

Do you plan on running any servers or will this be a wholly community based server system like Minecraft?  

I will definitely experiment with hosting my own servers, actually that is going to be a big part of the testing. Also I have designed the code to scale best when you have lots of processor cores like you typically do in rack mounted server hardware, so I can see how hosting some official servers would make sense.

Your dynamic storytelling system seems very interesting.  Can you describe how it works both for single player campaigns as well as multiplayer?  Will it create really massive events that affect multiple players simultaneously?  

Well my inspirations were from single player games that changed the whole world in response to your actions. I remember you would stop by a bar or a cantina and some strange man would ask you to deliver a message somewhere, next you know you have started a war between 2 factions and there are battles in half of the systems you enter. These are harder to do in multiplayer because 1 person delivers the package and then everyone else is left to wonder why there is fighting all the time, but I think you can see examples of it being done well. For instance, in Terraria a single player can start a pirate invasion or spawn a boss and the whole server has to react to it.

I don’t think every single event will be massive, most will just try and tell a story that small groups of people can experience without changing much in the universe. Of course the actual algorithm behind it has to remain somewhat mysterious for it to be fun so I don’t want to go into too many specific details.

How “twitchy” will combat be?  Can I have a giant ponderous ship with spinal mounted weapons and lots of turrets?

Giant and ponderous describes it well. I want combat between really big ships to be slow. There is a lot of detail inside the ships, so if combat were really twitchy you wouldn’t have time to pay attention to the things going on inside your ship. You are supposed to be planning a broadside, putting out fires, reinforcing shields and re-routing power. There are already plenty of twitchy combat games with much nicer graphical styles out there.

You mentioned the AI isn’t very good right now, what’s the long term plan for your AI crew?

Some of the AI problems are NP complete like repairing every tile you can reach in the fastest order possible given an arbitrary map of paths between tiles. I doubt the AI will ever be perfect and that’s why you will always need human intervention to run the best ships. Over time I need to improve the tools for doing that by letting you select individual crewmembers for instance.

Ultimately what I want is for the AI to have more of a mind of its own so you don’t have to micromanage them so much and instead you give orders or suggestions for them to follow. My hope is to have them smart enough to say “hey, lets make some money” and pilot their ships between trade hubs buying low and selling high. Or maybe if you choose a destination on the world map and then leave the navigation console one of your crew will take over and try to fly towards your target location.

You have a playable Alpha version of the game available now, how important was it to you to have a playable version available before you launched your campaign?  

Hugely important. What I am trying to accomplish is way too ambitious to request funding without a proof of concept. I think without the working alpha people would see me as another insane lunatic without a real plan. This way they can see I’m an insane lunatic with a real plan.

I always look for a budget breakdown in any campaign as it shows how the creators have planned for expenses such as taxes and fees.  You do list a bit of a budget but it seems vague, was that on purpose?  You don’t seem to have any solid numbers on the project how much of your budget “in flux?”

There is some flux because many of the assets I want to put into the final product have a “more is better” sort of breakdown. For instance I have experience commissioning backdrop artwork, ship artwork, sounds, music and level design, and none of those require a fixed amount of funds to reach a stopping point. I don’t want the project to be finished when I reach the end of $50,000 I just want it to be polished enough to sell so I can add more to it.

Also, I posted my entire detailed budget in the form of an update because at the time of launching I was still working out a contract for the soundtrack. The good news is not only is the update out now with the full breakdown, but I got the music contract I wanted and I can offer the full soundtrack to backers.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

I have known about kickstarter for so long that I have a hard time remembering how I found out about it. Probably the first time I heard about kickstarter was on reddit, I have been browsing the gaming, gamedev, and indiegaming subreddits for years.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

A big part of this project is going to be user contributions and the ability for users to share their own creations inside Wayward Terran Frontier. I have been working many sleepless nights trying to add some new modding support into the existing game client as well as to fix many bugs that people have complained about. I want to get people to check out the forums and see that people are creating custom content and I want them to get involved with the community. To that end I am planning a number of updates to the kickstarter page centered around modding and community content.

I have also been looking into doing some sort of live stream event where I could answer questions and talk about the game in real time, but that will probably happen after the client update is out so I have more time.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

I have lists upon lists of people to contact and every single day I go down the list and write emails and press releases until my fingers are stiff and my eyes are bleeding. I was featured on Indielicious and Rock Paper Shotgun which helped a lot, but I know there are a lot of people out there that still have never heard of my project so every day I send out more press releases and emails. I think a lot of the messages I send are completely ignored, lost in an inbox that gets 200 solicitations every hour.

I have been contacting press sites directly, emailing youtube personalities, sending out press releases, tweeting at people, participating in interviews and podcasts, and I have also worked to produce youtube videos on a semi-regular basis. I dislike facebook and their monetization strategies, but I have a network of friends spreading the word there regardless. Also you can often catch me on the google+ hangout when I have a free moment, although it is getting more rare for me to have a free moment so I may have to plan some scheduled appearances in the future.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Find a buddy, this is enough work for 2 people :)

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Just that they should keep watching the campaign, I have some interesting updates already planned and put together, and I am busting my butt to build more stuff every day. Also, check out the forums and see the modded ships people are creating. Just because the ship editor is a pain to master doesn’t mean you can’t fly some awesome ship designs, people on the forums are already making better ships than I ever could.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

Thank you sir, hope I don’t disappoint!

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