Interview: Tanya Short of KitFox Games
Kitfox games is the four-man dev team (helmed by Tanya Short) behind the recently released survival strategy iOS game Shattered Planet.
If you've played the game, you're probably familiar with the ups and downs of playing a game the incorporates rogue-like elements - death really hurts - but you'd be surprised to know that the most harsh of the game mechanics were inspired by Sid Meier's Civilization.
Tanya told me,
We actually initially set out to make a game about exploring. We were trying to recapture that feeling of endless potential from the early turns of Sid Meier's Civilisation series. So we made a few different prototypes, and our favorite ended up being styled as an RPG...and we realised a few weeks later that we had accidentally re-invented the rogue-like.
For those of you uninterested in games featuring permadeath, you'll be happy to know that Shattered Planet is very rogue-like light. (Italics are author's emphasis)
It’s turn-based, with randomly generated levels and sense of loss when you die, but we’ve added a sense of progression between runs, since you can upgrade your clone. Once we realised it was a rogue-like, we shamelessly added mystery potions as well. It’s pretty firmly a survival-strategy role-playing game.
After playing Shattered Planet myself a few times, I quickly realized (once again) how terrible at strategy games I am, and how challenging even a rogue-like light game could be for me.
I also never realized how quickly I could become attached to a clone whose sole purpose was to die so I wouldn't have to. So I had to know what kind of reception the game was receiving from other people.
It’s actually kinda funny. People who are so-called “casual gamers” have no problem with the somewhat punishing playstyle – they’re used to playing truly brutal games like Candy Crush.And people who are self-identified rogue-like fans also had no problems – their tactics learned through years of hard work all work, and they don’t feel the game pressures them to spend.
The only complaints were from “normal” gamers, who are naturally suspicious of free-to-play, and suspected that the difficulty was an arbitrary way to squeeze money from players.
Once you settle in and understand all of the systems, though, you see there’s no actual “paywalls” or other gimmicks – it’s an intellectual challenge, but you have all the tools you need to succeed. That’s why we really won’t be changing much about the economy for the premium PC/Mac version – it’s not balanced to be genuinely painful in the first place.
Considering I was once seduced into spending upwards of $10 by Dragonvale, it's easy to see where the "normal" gamers' suspicion comes from. There are so many pay-to-win games floating around the world that it pays to be slightly cautious. It also makes Shattered Planets a breath of fresh air among many games pushing micro-transactions.
The decision to not to push micro-transactions wasn't an easy one for Kitfox studios, however.
It was a difficult decision that we debated for weeks. But we saw it as the least risky option – in the worst case scenario, if it’s free-to-play, at least people could try it and like it, and we’d be building up Kitfox. Whereas if it’s premium, in the worst case scenario, not only do we get no money, but also nobody plays the game!
So we decided to treat it almost like a demo – you CAN spend money in it, but we weren’t very aggressive about it, so players could enjoy themselves and consider whether it’d be worth buying a premium version.
The premium version, which will be available sometime this year, will be available for PC/Mac. To further widen the audience of Shattered Planet, Kitfox ran the gauntlet and got the game Greenlit on Steam.
Since putting a piece of art in front of thousands of peers to judge sounds daunting to me (and I suddenly realize I'm in the wrong business) I had to know the rational behind the studio's decision.
Of course it’s always nerve-wracking to put something up in front of strangers and ask for their approval… but at the same time, we knew we had a fan-base, and we felt like we didn’t have much to lose. If we didn’t make it, if it turned out people just hated the game, we’d save the time and energy of trying to make a PC/Mac version anyhow.
Once the premium version hits, the team at Kitfox studios aims to turn their attention on Moon Hunters, a co-operative exploring adventure game that initially ran through the Square Enix Collective.