Batterystaple Games' Chris King Talks 30XX and Building for the Future
When asked how he spends his free time when he isn’t developing 30XX, Batterystaples Games’ Chris King said he doesn’t have much of it to spend. 30XX and its predecessor 20XX have taken center stage for King in the last seven years. But when he does have time, he likes to play the same games until he’s mined their depths.
“I’m probably a horrible developer,” King joked, “because I like playing the same game, and look for that momentum that lets you play the same games over and over.”
That understanding of what makes a game tick is how King intends to make 30XX even better than the first game. Ideas for 30XX’s design came from a number of different places, including King’s love of pixel art. But King said the community inspired some of the most significant changes Batterystaple made for 30XX.
30XX's Steam page mentions games like Mega Man X and Binding of Isaac as direct inspirations, but these are more like guide points giving players an idea of what to expect.
“I never sort of expect to see whatever inspiration hits,” King said. “I try to go out of my way to play something new every week just to always be taking in those fresh perspectives. You never know when you’re gonna find a specific mechanic emotion or feel that you’d like to evoke yourself. ”
It can be anything, from a gameplay style to something as small as a smart UI feature.
King’s goal in pulling from so many different ideas is making a game people can keep playing for a long time and still get something out of.
That’s also why King made taking 20XX feedback to heart a priority.
“My approach to making something is building a fun skeleton of something and saying ‘here are a bunch of ideas I think are cool, but what I'd really like is those of you who enjoy this, tell me what you like and what you don’t.’”
He spent eight hours per week sorting through Steam Community comments and Discord mentions when 20XX was in Early Access, and he made it a point to read every email he received. Of course, not every suggestion made it into the game, but many of them, including ideas championed by just one person, shaped 20XX’s design.
Still, there were some areas after 20XX launched that fans and critics thought could be improved.
“We heard from a lot of people saying they just wanted to enjoy the game without roguelike elements,” King said.
So they came up with 30XX’s Mega Mode.
Mega Mode builds on 20XX’s Revenant mode with a bit of Celeste’s Assist feature in mind. Mega Mode generates a series of levels from the start, and players decide what levels they want in what order and at what difficulty rank.
Should they fail, there’s no permadeath. Instead, they can try again with no major penalty, taking the pressure out of each playthrough. The levels won’t change until they’re completed either, making it easier to learn the stage’s ins and outs.
It’s meant as an entry point to roguelike newcomers, King said, and there’s an arcade mode for players wanting a similar level of challenge 20XX offers.
The Batterystaple team doubled down for 30XX, and King said it goes “multiple levels deeper for systems, content, and appearance.”
For systems, Batterystaple overhauled Nina’s and Ace’s progression.
“One of the things we heard the most was that the end of the game felt the same for both characters,” King said, referring to how Nina and Ace ended up following similar progression paths despite playing differently.
That’s not the case for 30XX. The team built Nina’s path around managing energy resources. For example, Nina gets boss weapons and can fuse them in a number of different ways. Some are small, like basic mods to make progression easier. Others are “over the top” combo attacks, but they take more energy and planning to pull off.
Ace gets a host of techniques instead. These are mapped to button controls for players to weave into his basic attacks without worrying about energy resources.
Then there’s the art style change, something King and the team deliberated over for a while before deciding it was the right thing to do.
“I always knew high-quality pixel art would be valuable to the game,” King said.
But they weren’t sure whether it was a good idea.
“We researched to see, and no other games ever released a first installment using vector art and then a sequel using pixel art,” King said. “We didn’t know if there was a reason for that, if it was a bad idea.”
Batterystaple started working on 30XX prototypes using detailed pixel art in 2018 and kept tweaking and working with it.
Now, “I’m just noticing, oh my gosh, I can’t believe it looks this good,” King said.
It’s a significant difference from 20XX. The single-player level for the PAX Online 30XX demo drops Ace or Nina in a cave with glimpses of the outside world. The foreground is full of texture, from multi-faceted, shining jewels to gently pulsing speaker blocks. The glimpses you see of the outside show a richly detailed mountain, almost a shrine, of speakers.
20XX looked good, but 30XX is already carving a strong new visual identity for itself.
It also plays very well for a build that’s yet to even enter alpha.
King said it’s not the beginning, though. Batterystaple wants to launch 30XX in Early Access sometime in early 2021, where work will continue just like it did for 20XX.
“It would feel foolish not doing Early Access,” he said. “There’s a whole bunch of work in our roadmap, but a number of large question marks because we know once we get into early access, there will be tons of feedback to integrate.”
Naturally, that means there’s no solid date in mind for a full 30XX launch, but King said the idea is to stay in Early Access for at least a year so the team can make the best game possible.
Meanwhile, the 30XX pre-alpha demo is live on Steam with a short-but-sweet taste of what's to come. Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more 30XX news in the coming months.