Developer Dialogue: 30XX Interview @ PAX Online

Time after time, indie developers have struck gold modernizing the retro archetypes that AAA studios won’t touch. It’s not just a shrewd way to maximize limited resources; it’s also a way to revitalize your influences. With 2017’s 20XX, Batterystaple Games have already had a fair amount of luck pairing the lively action platforming of Mega Man X with a roguelite focus. Nonetheless, the upcoming 30XX embarks on offering major visual improvements and a more nuanced gameplay experience. After spending some time with the eminently replayable pre-alpha demo, I got to talk to Batterystaple’s founder Chris King about the future of 30XX and what makes the indie game market special.

Zach: “Hey Chris! Thank you for scheduling this opportunity with me. How has the PAX Online experience been for you?”

Chris: “Oh, it’s been good for us so far. You know, one thing that seems to be constant between physical PAX and digital PAX is how busy the dang thing has been! It’s been a pretty packed week for us here. We very much miss the physical experience of getting to be on the showfloor, getting to see our fans interact with the game for the first time, and see their reactions to what we’ve been working on. It’s always invigorating and helps keep a high morale amongst the team. That said, the digital show certainly has its perks: we’re able to take appointments like this with a really broad array of folks. We don’t have to all be physically in the same place, so we’re open to meeting with people who aren’t normally in Seattle. It’s going pretty well for us so far, but we certainly miss the physical show.” 

Zach: “I see headlines left and right about video games being one of the few industries benefiting from the pandemic, but that is of course a very reductive claim, fixating on the final product. How has the development and marketing of 30XX morphed as a result of recent conditions?”

Chris: “Honestly, our development is relatively untouched for the most part. We’re super fortunate at Batterystaple to be relatively unaffected by COVID from a purely professional standpoint. Obviously, from a personal standpoint, nobody is exactly happy with the way things are going in 2020. It’s a pretty rough year all around, but from a professional standpoint, we were already a fully remote studio, so this sort of change, everybody needing to be home all the time, is really more about grappling with the inability to see our friends and loved ones as much as we’d like to than it is about any sort of individual process disruption at work. So we’re pretty comfortable there overall. 

The biggest change for us this year has really just been the conversion to digital showcases. A lot of our marketing efforts are based around finding the right moments, finding the right time to talk about some of the major stuff that we’re working on with 30XX. We’d normally be timing those kinds of beats around big shows like PAX anyway, so there’s a pretty good chance that those announcements aren’t really all that affected by the change in format.

 

Zach: “It’s great that you’re not a studio who’s prone to setting release dates far in advance. I imagine that takes off the pressure to sacrifice employee health for the final product.”

Chris: “Exactly. Philosophically, as a team, we very much believe in planning for as much flexibility as possible, making sure we have the time we need to make the thing we want to make and make it right, as opposed to saying, ‘Here’s a hard deadline and we’re going to do whatever it takes to hit it.’ We’re much more in the camp of, ‘Let’s wait until we’re really comfortable with release timing. Let’s wait until we’re very confident about what’s going into this stage. And then let’s just go ahead and set a date, a month or six weeks in advance and figure it out from there. So you’re exactly right. For us, you know, crunch is not a concern.”

Zach: “Great, so going into that development process, you released 20XX, reception is positive, replay value extensive (and further self sustained by multiplayer); going into 30XX, what part of the player experience do you think needed to evolve?”

Chris: “That is an awesome question, and very timely, given that last week we just introduced a new way to enjoy the game, which we’re calling Mega Mode. Mega Mode is basically the core 30XX experience, except minus permadeath, and the levels will stay the same until you actually finish them. So it’s much more of a classic action platformer campaign playthrough where death will cost you your progress through an individual level but not cost you the entire run. We think that one of the things we can really improve upon from the first game is with regards to two core audiences. 

The first one is the new player experience. We know there are a lot of people who are coming to us from the pure action platform or the Megaman X inspiration side of things, as opposed to ‘Oh, I love action roguelikes, so 20XX is probably my jam.’ And for those players, we know that the whole permadeath experience can certainly be pretty rough. There are a lot of players that are alienated by it. There are people who love the look and feel of the game, but then they realize that they can play for 20 minutes, die, and spend in-game currency on some upgrades for the next run, but they’ve sort of lost their end run progress.

We know that for those players, having Mega Mode is going to make the game much more approachable for them. At the same time, there are people who are very experienced, and love these kinds of games, and enjoy them to death but still don’t really want permadeath in their experience and would still prefer to have slightly lower stakes. Death-to-death gameplay that they can turn the difficulty way up on to be able to grind against a set of very, very difficult levels to push through. So we really just want people to be able to enjoy 30XX however they want to enjoy it, and we’re sort of really focused on giving people the tools they need to do that.”

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