Rainbow Six Meets Aliens -- Interstellar Marines Interview
In recent years, we've seen a resurgence of more challenging games across many genres. Be it FTL: Faster Than Light, Dark Souls, or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, gamers wanting a greater challenge finally are finding their outlet. Now fans of games like the original Rainbow Six titles have a new team-based multiplayer shooter to put on their radar: Interstellar Marines.
From being a notable game on IndieDB to making its way through Steam Greenlight and entering Steam Early Access, Zero Point Software's first title has risen through the ranks of multiplayer indie games. I got a chance to sit down and speak with the project's producer Paul Allen to get some further insights into the game and his side of the development process.
Elijah Beahm [EB]: For those who don't know, what is Interstellar Marines?
Paul Allen [PA]: Interstellar Marines is a realistic, sci-fi FPS game set in the near future and takes you through mankind's first contact with a sentient alien species and all the action and drama that surround that. Interstellar Marines is effectively split into two parts. The first is called Prologue and takes you through your selection and training to be an Interstellar Marine (this is the multiplayer part of the game) and several link missions which lead into the campaigns (they are single player and coop).
The campaigns are purely coop/single player and will be the heart and soul of Interstellar Marines. Right now we're in Early Access and still early in development. We have a working multiplayer, which we're constantly updating, and have recently announced we'll be introducing the first coop iteration in our next major update.
EB: As producer of Interstellar Marines, what has your role been on the project throughout development?
PA: It was only a couple of months ago I moved to the producer role. Most of the work has been ensuring we work smarter, using our time more effectively, plus taking a higher-level view of our development. For example, the recent introduction of Linux was something which was relatively simple to do, but required someone to champion that. It's instances like that I've been working to promote.
Interstellar Marines is a life long project for our Creative Director, Kim Haar Jørgensen, and he has been at the heart of what we do for 10 years. He's always had to look after many aspects of Interstellar Marines over and above the actual creation of the game, so I've also been working to relieve him of some of the more mundane aspects so he can concentrate on creating his dream.
EB: What is it like being producer of an Early Access game? Is it easier managing the situation with a flexible development goal or would you say it's an added challenge to keep the updates on time for your users?
PA: Fun, stressful, tiring, inspiring, basically everything a good job should be :) Given the uniqueness of the project, it's fair to say the producer role is also fairly unique and different to what you'd see in a regular team or probably most other early access games. We use a version of scrum, so once the decision has been taken as to what is in the next update my concentration shifts to making sure we're focused and to support the team in any way possible. I've heard many descriptions of what a good producer is, but I suppose it's a person who does whatever is necessary to support and enable his or her team. That could be something as simple as bringing food for a dev who's working through lunch, or acting to remove a development roadblock.
When it comes to the polishing aspects of an update we've found there are times when you just cannot accurately estimate how long that will take, so we take a flexible attitude to release dates, telling our community the rough time we expect it, and then keeping them updated as we progress. We would rather wait and release something that is right, than hit a deadline only to find the release is either unplayable or bug-ridden.
EB: In the age of troubled releases like Battlefield 4, I'm sure your fans appreciate that!
EB: What is your favorite aspect of Interstellar Marines?
PA: My favourite part of the game itself has to be the land sharks - cannot wait for those to come thrashing out at players' screens! But my favourite part of the whole package is actually the community. I was a community manager prior to producer and we have one of the most amazing communities I've ever had the privilege to be a part of.
EB: What inspired the push towards a more hardcore shooter experience over making something more arcade or old-school?
PA: Realism has always been Kim's vision. As I mentioned this is a life long project for him - he's going to make this game come hell or high water, and that never say die attitude permeates everything he and the team do. He loved the Rainbow 6 series, and that's the kind of realism we want to bring to Interstellar Marines.
EB: How did you go from being a community manager to a producer? Are there any other roles you'd like to try out once you're done developing Interstellar Marines?
PA: I was offered the position at the start of the year, partly because we realised we needed someone to structure things and operate at a higher level than day-to-day development to see any opportunities and issues, and partly because Kim was simply overloaded with everything he was looking after. Producers are enablers, they support and harness the abilities and direction of other people, provide oversight and forward vision. They're a combined Mum, Dad, best friend and whip-cracker, and a good producer knows which of those personas to use and when.
There's no other job I can honestly think of that I'd rather do than be a producer. Being a community manager comes a close second, and I miss that day to day contact with our community because they really are that awesome. Our community has supported us since the beginning and are just magnificent.
EB: Are there any hints to the future of Interstellar Marines you can give us?
PA: Once we have the first iteration of co-op out you can be sure we'll add considerably to that. This is a pivotal moment for us in the development of Interstellar Marines. Co-op is a central point of the game, and although the AI we'll be introducing will be relatively simple, this is going to be the first time we're releasing any kind of co-op for public play. Be sure to keep your eye out!
EB: You've spoken highly of your community. How has their response been to Interstellar Marines?
PA: I've mentioned our community a few times because I really cannot praise them enough. They've supported us through thick and thin, been honest with us and told us exactly what they think every step of the way. I've been a gamer for 30+ years and it's a rare community that acts with the honesty and openness the way that the Interstellar Marines community does. Their response has been one of continual support, and in the few cases we've got it wrong they've very firmly let us know about that.
EB: I'm glad to hear it. With a community like that, a game can have a good long life. Thank you for your time Paul, and I look forward to what you guys have in store with future updates!
PA: It was a pleasure!
Interstellar Marines' Early Access is available on Steam for $18.99 (currently $11.39 during Steam Summer Sale). For more information on the game, please be sure to head to the game's website and give its free demos a whirl.