Steampunk Mechs, Jewels, Strategy, and Ironcast with Daniel Leaver
with Greg Micek
In case you missed it, we’ve discussed Ironcast before; and with good reason. With some slick visuals, a retrolyunique gameplay concept that could prove to be both addicting and deceptively deep, Ironcast has some people very excited. Daniel Leaver, Ironcast’s designer, was kind enough to take some time out of his Kickstarter campaign to answer some questions for us.
Cliqist : Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Daniel Leaver : My first job in the industry was for Media Molecule, about 8 years ago. For a time I was the only level designer there, but ultimately built a tonne of cool levels and features for LittleBIGPlanet 1 and 2. After LBP2, I left Media Molecule with 2 other employees to form Ambient Studios, my first attempt at running an indie games studio. We had some great fun producing Death Inc for PC and Monster Meltdown for iOS, but ultimately these projects didn’t bring in enough money to keep the studio open. Such is the games business.
In February I created Dreadbit, tiny a studio that does not have a large number of permanent staff. Instead, we pull in the development talent required on a per project basis, coordinating the team and delivering exciting indie games. Much like how the movie industry works today. Our first game is Ironcast.
Cliqist : How do you go from working for “the man” at Media Molecule to striking out on your own?
Daniel Leaver : Well first off working for Media Molecule is about as far as anyone can get from working for “the man” (and not only because it is, of course, run by a woman, Siobhan Reddy)! The team culture there is everything you could ask for in order to be creative and innovative. Much of what I’m doing now with Dreadbit is building upon the great example set by Mm and what I’ve learned from them whilst I worked there.
What’s different, of course, is that Media Molecule probably isn’t the right place to explore ideas of an ultra-nerdy nature, such as ones featuring brass and iron steampunk mechs ! It’s just not their style. I really hope to return to Mm whenever I can to help out on their exciting future projects because I love working with them. Part of the beauty of Dreadbit’s structure is that this could be a reality.
Cliqist : Can you describe Ironcast for anyone that might not be familiar with it already?
Daniel Leaver : Ironcast is a turn-based strategy game where steampunk mechs battle it out in Victorian era England. It’s like a mixture of FTL meets Puzzle Quest.
Cliqist : How would you respond to this statement : “So it’s just another jewel game, but with mechs. Lame.”
Daniel Leaver : That’s a statement I’ve prepared for! However, what’s surprising is how little I’ve actually received that comment.
I believe that anyone who’s played or enjoyed Puzzle Quest or Dungeon Raid will instantly understand that the gem matching mechanic is just a nice, satisfying core gameplay mechanic upon which a deeper strategy game rests. I think most of our backers would fit into that crowd.
In all honesty, the way the player generates resources (such as ammo for their weapons or energy to power their defenses), could have been anything, such as a randomized roulette wheel, rhythm action mini-game or similar. But I find matching shapes, colours and patterns incredibly addictive and satisfying! It’s a huge part of what’s made Candy Crush and the like so successful, but it’s only a portion of Ironcast’s gameplay experience.
Cliqist : Your funding is going really well so far, and you’re trending to surpass your goal. Are you surprised? What sort of pre-campaign work did you do?
Daniel Leaver : I’m absolutely over the moon with progress so far! At the time of writing we’re at 69% funded, with about 3 weeks to go.
I wouldn’t say I’m surprised that the campaign is doing well, because obviously we all love it and believed that others would feel the same. But one thing’s for sure, I won’t be able to rest until we hit that magical 100% funded goal! Many a slip between the cup and lip, and so on.
Cliqist : Ironcast seems like it would be particularly well suited for the Vita, or tablets; any chance we’ll see those in the form of stretch goals?
Daniel Leaver : I agree! I’d love to see these kinds of stretch goals, but they’re a little more expensive to produce than most people realize. As we get closer to that 100% funded mark we’ll talk more about our stretch goal plans.
Cliqist : Based on your budget breakdown the bulk of your Kickstarter money is slated for non development purposes. How far along in development is Ironcast? When can players expect a playable prototype or demo?
Daniel Leaver : That’s a great question! There’s only 3 full-time developers on Ironcast, and we’ve decided to eat the cost of producing the game ourselves. However, paying out for outsourcing, legal fees and similar is something we can’t face at this time.
Ironcast is probably about 50% complete at this stage. We’ve got most of our gameplay mechanics in place now, it’s just about producing content and polishing those features up to a glorious shine! We have no dates in mind for a demo or beta at this stage; anything I would say here would only be rescheduled and potentially disappoint people 🙂
Cliqist : What do you think it is about steampunk themes that gets people excited?
Daniel Leaver : I think it’s a combination of the dark beauty of steampunk visuals (elegant and baroque design meet the cold, harsh lines of industry and metalwork) and the time period that most steampunk is set in. The late 1880s was a time of real scientific and industrial progress, but yet superstition and horror were still a massive part of culture. I think people love when sci-fi and history meet!
It’s also still fairly fresh and new to most people. I think this year will be the year of steampunk!
Cliqist : Is Ironcast a scam or unattainable dream? What assurances do backers have that their money is in good hands?
Daniel Leaver : Well it’s certainly not a scam, but I agree that people need to be wary of projects that smack of unobtainable dreams. One thing I can say to hopefully reassure backers is that I’ve been making games for more than 8 years now and I have a great deal of experience with shipping complex, innovative titles. Ironcast was designed from the outset to be a much simpler project, that could be completed inside of a year. We’re currently right on track to do just that and I can see no reason why we’d let our backers down.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning is that I value my reputation very much! I’ve not worked on a game that’s received less than 84 on metacritic and I certainly don’t want our first venture at Dreadbit to break that streak. Whilst things can and always do go wrong in game development, we’ll do our best to ensure Ironcast is a real gem and another Kickstarter success story.
Cliqist : Can you close us out with an Ironcast inspired haiku?
Daniel Leaver :
Not done one before
No idea where to start
Thanks to Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions! If you’d like to learn more about Ironcast be sure to check out the Ironcast Kickstarter. If you’d like to follow its progress be sure to keep an eye on our Ironcast calendar entry.
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