DEV DISCUSSIONS: Nosebleed Interactive, Creators of Vostok Inc.
The 80’s gave us a great many things: The Rubix Cube, waterbeds, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but none changed the world more than the Yuppie.
In 2017, Nosebleed Interactive will release Vostok Inc., which embodies Yuppie culture to such a degree that don’t be surprised if you’re not freshly coiffed after 5 minutes play.
Here to tell us more is CEO of Nosebleed Interactive and lead designer, Andreas Firnigl.
Hello there. Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Andreas Firnigl — CEO/lead designer/general dogsbody/tea boy at Nosebleed Interactive. We’re an independent game and entertainment studio based in Newcastle upon Tyne (in the Northeast of the UK) — and while we’ve done a bit of everything over the last 5 years (console, VR, mobile corporate), we’re now focusing on making console/PC games that put fun mechanics at the forefront.
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How would you describe Vostok Inc. to someone who might not be aware of the project?
To non-gamers, I say: “It’s basically The Wolf of Wall Street…in space!” — a game about the endless pleasure of watching your wallet grow, mixed with some really “juicy” arcade style shooting. In essence, it’s a pick up-and-play, twin-stick shooter that uses the hook of idle clickers to keep you coming back — all with a very cynical gaze towards corporate greed … something you can play in short bursts or have a longer sit down session with. We’ve added a lot of content that we “drip feed” to the player, so that it has a fairly long playtime … and it always feels like you’re making progress.
What inspired the ’80s influence of the game’s aesthetic?
Probably the biggest factor is our amazing musician. He’s a guy I had on my Soundcloud for ages, and I ended up contacting him to see if he’d score our previous game. He agreed — and he’s been doing all our music since. The other major factor was that we wanted the game to be a sort of retro future ‘80s thing. No pixel graphics but featuring a more up to date, retro sci-fi look and blending the whole thing with ‘80s yuppie culture. The fact that I grew up in the 80’s probably had a part to play. “Member berries” and all that.
Did this also encourage the team to pursue the 2D gameplay as opposed to a first person 3D affair?
Our first game was 3D (and also had an ‘80s vibe), but Vostok Inc. started life as a sort of internal game jam — and we wanted to prototype some ideas really quickly to see if they’d work. 2D lends itself really well to that. After a day or two of development, we were sure we were onto something. In fact, one of the team got so hooked on the prototype that he took a Vita testkit home over the weekend to play. As the prototype grew, we decided to stick with the 2.5D setup. It meant we weren’t needing to spend as much time building stuff and had more time to make the game fun. We still retain 3D elements like cutscenes and so on — but just in terms of letting ourselves be free to polish gameplay, it made things easier. We do actually have a 3D first-person shooter mini-game, too — so it’s not all 2.5D.
The premise of visiting planets and extracting resources holds certain similarities with No Man’s Sky. Were the team inspired by this in any way?
We actually started developing a prototype for Vostok Inc. as a sort of in-house game jam right around the time of the No Man’s Sky reveal — I think maybe a week before the VGAs. I was mega impressed by their trailer, as was everyone else at the time (and I’ll put my hand up and admit I’ve actually rather enjoyed chilling out in NMS since they patched in some more stuff to do) — but other than a bit of mickey taking with some of our objectives/achievements/trophies, No Man’s Sky hasn’t been a huge influence in terms of gameplay. We’re trying to build a much more immediate and instantly gratifying game.
More of a direct influence would be games like Gunstar Heroes (arguably the Genesis/Mega Drive’s finest game), who’s weapon combination system we’ve riffed and expanded upon — and stuff like Super Stardust HD and Geometry Wars. I’ve always loved those tactile, twitchy twin-stick shooters — but Vostok Inc. was partially borne from a sort of frustration with them. I’d play them daily, but only ever for 10 minutes at a time before I wanted to play something else. We thought if we could create those short bursts of fun and marry them with a really compelling mid-to-long term metagame, we might be able to take the genre (is it a genre?) in a different direction.
Another major influence is Cookie Clicker — which, if you’ve played, you’ll understand is digital crack! If you haven’t, just wait for Vostok Inc.
I’d been playing a few idle clickers on my phone, and again there was a frustration there. I was very much hooked on them, but I wasn’t sure I was really getting any pleasure from them. I never felt I was really progressing. These games are about accruing a lot of money, cookies, cows etc. — but there’s never a payoff or a point where you get to spend your cash (or cookies) on something tangible. Plus, you’re always just waiting. Combining the compelling second-to-second gameplay of a twin-stick shooter with the long-term waiting game of an idle clicker just seemed to fit. It opens up short, medium, and long term goals — and it gives you actual stuff to spend your in-game cash on (ship upgrades, etc., in our case), so it gives the game much more longevity.
Can you explain the decision-making process on the inclusion of the various mini-games and how the team decided which games to take influence from?
Firstly, I’m a sucker for games in games. I blame Shenmue, one of my all-time favourites. Our previous game, The Hungry Horde (a Vita exclusive published by Sony), was full of them — and we sort of got a bit of a following for it. We even had a game, in a game, in a game (which unlocked the ‘gameception’ trophy). It only seemed right to carry that on with Vostok Inc. The other thing is that while the game is on, the economy never stops — so if you pause, you still make money from your factories. We wanted to give the player plenty of stuff to do. It also grew quite a bit, as the original idea was just to be able to recruit executives who would boost your economy if they were kept happy — like the Tamagotchis of yore … just with champagne and caviar instead of chicken drumsticks. The mini-games came after that.
In terms of the mini-games themselves, they’re heavily influenced by throwaway mobile stuff. Snake, Flappy Bird, iCopter — stuff like that. There’s some more retro stuff in there, too — and a first-person shooter — but one of the major factors was that we needed to be able to build this stuff quickly; the Tamagotchi-style screen allowed us to do really simple 4-bit type graphics but maintain an overall look that didn’t totally clash with the main aesthetic of the game — but rather complemented it. It was also a bit of a ‘two fingers up’ at cynical mobile development — where we’re including a lot of content that might be considered standalone games, as a distraction within a much bigger offering.
Given the retro-inspired style of the game, was there ever any discussion to develop the game for an older system ala homebrew gaming?
Nope! I’ve been working professionally making games since the start of the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era, so I’ve seen the various limitations placed by the hardware — and I’m very grateful for the advances in tech and lifting of many restrictions. That said, I’m a HUUUUGE Dreamcast fanboy. (Maybe we could do a sort of late ‘90s demake… hmmm… no… our lead coder would kill me!)
I did start making the game in LittleBigPlanet 3 (where I have a couple of picked levels), but I’d rather spend the time making sure the proper game is as polished as it can be. Maybe I’ll go back to it once the game is released.
What’s next for Nosebleed Interactive and BadLand Games? Will they continue to work together in the future?
First thing to do is finish Vostok Inc. We’ve got enough time to really polish and balance it so that hopefully when it releases it’ll feel as slick as we want it to. We’ve got some ideas on how to expand the scope beyond the initial release, but that all depends on how much the community wants it. As far as BadLand as a publisher, we’ve loved working with them. They really get the game, and what we’re trying to do with it — and I’d like to think it’ll be a long relationship.