Zero Point Explain Interstellar Marines

By Jim Rossignol on February 25th, 2011 at 8:02 am.


Earlier this week I took some time out of my merciless schedule of reblogging the trailers for the sequels to 2007 action games to have chat with Danish indies Zero Point. Game director Kim Haar Jørgensen told me about how Hired Guns, System Shock 2, and Deus Ex had all fed into the creation of their Unity-powered co-op sci-fi shooter, Interstellar Marines. You might have already encountered this “AAA Indie” project via Bullseye or Running Man, the browser-based mini-games that Zero Point have used to promote their title. The full game, however, is something much more formidable, as Jørgensen was to explain. It’s quite project for just a handful of devs, so I was keen to find out how they were getting on.



RPS: Let’s just start with some background: how many guys are you? How did you come to be working on Interstellar Marines?

Jørgensen: It started back in the day when myself and Nikolai, who is my good friend, sound guy, and musician (my background is the 3D graphics and animation), we sat down and played a game called Hired Guns by Psygnosis…

RPS: Haha, a Hired Guns reference. Great way to open an interview…

Jørgensen: It was on the Amiga back in 1993 or something, and it was split-screen co-op on a single screen with a drag-and-drop inventory, which was just really cool. Back then an idea was born, and we’ve been talking about this game ever since. A lot has happened in the meantime, of course, but right now we are four guys working on it, we were fluctuating a bit with the financial crisis, but we are now picking up the pace and getting more and more support. We are proud to say that our community counts to 90,000 people right now, so that’s fantastic.


RPS: That is a number of people.

Jørgensen: We’ve sold nearly 2000 premium accounts, which is the thirty dollar premium pre-order deal, and we have sold 6000 of the support medals, which are around five dollars. These allow the community members to show that we’ve supported the game’s development, which is a good thing.

RPS: What led you to source community support like that?

Jørgensen: It actually spawned as an idea back in 2009 when we went to visit our previous engine provider at GDC. We were unable to create an agreement that would allow us to show the work we had been doing on their engine, so we had to figure out what else to do. The publishers we were talking to at that time were consolidating and wanted to move to buy our IP for cheap. That would have meant we were left working on something that we don’t control anymore, so we sat down and said “let’s launch the community site, convince the world about our ideas for the game, and get the community to help us complete the game!” That’s what we’ve been fighting to achieve ever since.

RPS: Let’s talk about your overall vision for the game. We know it’s a Unity-powered sci-fi shooter, but what else? What can we expect from it?

Jørgensen: I’ve played every first-person shooter out there and always looked for co-op. So co-op is an important part of Interstellar Marines, all the ideas we’ve had have been centred around the need for it to be co-op. Co-op is in many games now, but it is right at the centre of Interstellar Marines. The titles that inspired us over the years for the design of Interstellar Marines, well, obviously the arcade shooters for their linearity and their learning curve, games like Half-Life. But those games always miss something, and that’s the depth provided by the tactical shooter. Those games, instead of having you unlock a knife, then a pistol, then a shotgun, and so on, let you choose. The tactical shooters gave us freedom of choice in how you wanted to approach a situation. So that is in Interstellar Marines. The third pillar, which is fairly important, is the role-playing aspect of the game. Early on Nikolai and I played System Shock 2 on co-op, and that is one of the best co-op games of all time. It’s extremely satisfying to upgrade your characters in that. I went down one path with weapons, and Nikolai another, he could hack and I could modify our weapons, and that mix just gave us a tonne of ideas. That’s back in ’99! We also played Deus Ex and that, with System Shock 2, showed that inner goals, those goals about developing your character along certain lines, provide a lot of satisfaction for a player. So that is an important part of Interstellar Marines, also.

The three pillars of Interstellar Marines is: role-playing, tactical, and arcade heritage. That is the foundation for a game that we believe can change the way people change FPS games. System Shock 2 and Deus Ex were never huge blockbuster titles, although they inspired a lot of people, but it was never the equivalent of a Call Of Duty, or Medal Of Honor, and we’re sad about that. We’re trying to come up with a fresh approach with similar inspirations.

And just a last thing to say about our own motivations: we love science fiction and the Discovery channel and space news, and that has inspired us to create a world that centres around realistic and believable science fiction: living 150 years from now, how will that be? We don’t want to create science fiction that is bloomy and laser shields and Star Wars, you know? We found a genre there that we love, and it has always been like that. We are keen to create a believable character underneath it all, too. The more you can believe in the character, the more you will be able to believe in the world that we throw you into.

RPS: So this is a co-op campaign?

Jørgensen: Yes. You should think of it as a linear story, where you go from your basic training through to a secret division which protects mankind in the reaches of space. It is not a tactical game where you choose a level and then go, you will be experiencing a story with up to three of your friends in co-op.


RPS: And what about the PvP aspect?

Jørgensen: Right now we are focused on developing Deadlock, which is technology that you will see in the full game. I think we showed some of that in the recent video. We are trying to create a platform that can spread virally among the community. Both Bullseye and Running Man [Zero Point’s previous playable offerings] didn’t really do that, and we need a foundation where we establish the basis for multiplayer and then – with the help of the community – begin throwing in features to sustain the game. That is important, but of course our main focus will always been the main fully featured co-op game for the franchise.

RPS: Why are you using Unity?

Jørgensen: Well in the beginning we were forced into to it! We couldn’t put up the huge amount of money that it would have taken to share the content from our original engine. Eight months later they created a more liberal engine solution, but at that time there was pay up or don’t use the tech. We were facing bankruptcy, we had a small amount of money to create the community site. So there was this smaller engine developer here in Denmark so we talked to them, and they told us about their intentions for multi-platform support, the deferred renderer, and other things, and so we said “fantastic”. We haven’t regretted it.

RPS: The embedded Unity players seem like an effective marketing tool, but has that been well received?

Jørgensen: Yes, it has. We have two things here. It shows that the final game can work in the browser. People can’t imagine a game like Halo or FEAR being served in a browser, so here we have a way to dispel that misconception. At the other end of the spectrum we have people who just think it is cool stuff, because it’s the coolest thing they have seen in a browser game. We are confirming and showing how the game will work. You can play it in a browser! But you can just as easily download and play it on Steam. Really, how people access the game isn’t what is interesting. What is interesting is having as many players as possible, and this allows us to do that.

RPS: What sort of stage is the project at now? What’s the next thing we will see from you?

Jørgensen: Right now we have various options we are looking at. The recent video has changed things a little. Let me put it like this: since we launched the website it has been hard to get the understanding for the game that we need. Internally we like “ok, maybe crowd-funding doesn’t work”, then Minecraft came out and it showed that a good game can sell itself. It showed that even the simplest communication helps. One guy, saying: “You can only pay one price, only by Paypal, here’s how much I sell.” And if the game is good it can work.

So we came out of a hole there to think that maybe it really is possible, and perhaps we are just communicating wrong. So we created the video which came out about a month ago, and the understanding and support we got from that has been exceptional. So now it’s about sustaining that. The next part of this is Deadlock, but it is a slow process, because there are only four of us. There is a programmer, there is myself, a graphical artist and a bit of a web guy, then we have a sound guy who has taken on a lot of PR responsibility… Deadlock is being established, but slowly. We are trying to spread our games onto other platforms, such as Kongregate. Another option could be to create a Move game for the Playstation Network using Bullseye. So there are lots of paths to more players. Our objective though, really, is to keep communication flowing and get more about our game out there into the world.

RPS: So, speaking of communication, what’s the main message you’d like to get out to RPS readers reading this interview?

Jørgensen: Obviously trust is something we have to earn, but if we show and argue our vision, and enough people want to support that and pre-purchase that, then anything is possible: it is possible create an immersive sci-fi role-playing shooter. Allowing people to play the game while we are developing is possible. Listening to feedback and improving the game based on that feedback is possible. If people trust us, anything is possible. It’s just between us and them. We, who make the game, and the people who buy the game. It takes time to show that we will stick by every promise we make, so we just intend to work at it. I am happy to be able to acknowledge that this approach has worked for us pretty good lately!


RPS: How do you feel about independent development generally? You are aiming quite high for a team so small, does anyone else inspire you?

Jørgensen: Absolutely, Minecraft is a huge inspiration, because Notch the guys show what is possible. Unknown Worlds, the Natural Selection guys, are also a huge inspiration. I guess partly because their first game was a mod and based on a larger existing technology, they have a huge fanbase, and better success than us! But it’s much the same story for them, and we have huge respect for them and Wolfire Games too for taking something complex and trying to make it as an indie studio. We are all trying to convince gamers that this is the game for them.

RPS: So what’s next from you guys?

Jørgensen: Well, the first alpha for Deadlock is still a few months away, but that will be important. It will enable us to invite people in to this instant-access, ultra-thin client. It’ll be just as easy as linking a YouTube video to a friend. Instant action in your browser is our next milestone in terms of production. Hopefully you will also hear that our investors have put up enough money to expand the team and ramp up production on the game!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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46 Comments »

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  1. karry says:

    “they told us about their intentions for multi-platform support, the deferred renderer, and other things, and so we said “fantastic”. We haven’t regretted it.”

    And yet to this day, several years after Win release, i struggle to name even a single Unity-based full game that i played, let alone one that i liked and/or received good words on sites i visit.

    • PleasingFungus says:

      I… okay?

      Not quite seeing your point, beyond “Unity isn’t very popular yet.”

      (But it is growing by leaps and bounds! My Dad asked me if I’d heard of it, the other day.)

    • CMaster says:

      AI War?
      Although it’s doing so many things with Unity that it wasn’t intended to do.

    • karry says:

      “Unity isn’t very popular yet.”
      My point is exactly the opposite though. Unity is IMMENSELY popular. But the actual results of that popularity are…more than underwhelming.

      Didnt know about AI War being done in Unity.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Right, and most of the people using it are tiny studios opting for it out of cost. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to spawn something significant.

    • Kinsha says:

      Unlike UDK of course, where Indie developers are busy creating and releasing quality games while Unity is busy drowing in the hype-fest generated by PR tactics.

    • karry says:

      “Right, and most of the people using it are tiny studios opting for it out of cost. ”

      What kind of argument is that ? Those same tiny studios produce things all the time, mostly from scratch with self-made engines and editors. Torque and Ogre have quite a few successful projects to their name, i wont even mention HGE.

    • alice says:

      Well he says “We couldn’t put up the huge amount of money that it would have taken to share the content from our original engine. Eight months later they created a more liberal engine solution, but at that time there was pay up or don’t use the tech.” which I assume means they were on UDK prior to the switch.

    • Matt says:

      Clearly you haven’t played Jetpack Brontosaurus yet.

    • SpinalJack says:

      Engines don’t make the game, if those same developers used a different engine it’d still be the same game. That’s like saying all games made with the unreal engine must be good and all games using the source engine must be crap.

      Just because a lot of inide developers use Unity doesn’t mean all Unity games will be the same

    • bill says:

      Sarah’s run was awesome. The two Interstellar marines games are pretty good too.
      The problem unity has is that not many people have the plugin, so not many devs use it, and it’s a vicious circle.

      I know i’ve skipped a dozen games linked on RPS because they used unity and i couldn’t be bothered to install it. When i finally did i went back and played some of those, and many were pretty good.

    • Commisar says:

      well, Unity is getting alot better. The game Foreign Legion: Buckets of Blood used it and you can find it on Steam. Also, the newest version of Unity adds in alot of graphical effects and enhancements and makes development easier. Also, the full version of Unity is not expensive at all compared to Uniengine or CryEngine 3

    • Warth0g says:

      Battlestar Galactica Online is powered by Unity too….

    • dsi1 says:

      @Matt: I’m grinning in joy playing this game, and I don’t know why.

  2. mkultra says:

    Kudos to all indie devs.

    But of all possibilities we get fuckin’ space marines using earth weapons in dark space ship corridors?

    Sharks are a nice touch, I guess.

    And the Robocop thing.

    • Wilson says:

      Eh, I dunno what they could have done to be original without being zany. They can hopefully still have little touches of inspiration here and here (like the sharks). I’m not against zany, but you need to design the game with it in mind (e.g. Zeno Clash).

  3. Brahms says:

    I’m always down for a solid man shoot, and I got to say that the browser things they’ve released so far have felt extremely tight, very pleasantly immersive.

    It does sound a bit like they’re over reaching, trying to make System Rainbow Deus Shock with a solid multiplayer component too but… best of luck to them, in a world driven insane, only the insane can survive.

  4. Wilson says:

    I need to try this again at some point. It looks great, but I was having a slow internet day or something and could never finish preparing the browser to play.

  5. Bungle says:

    Why is Facebook full of stupid ‘Ville games when it could have fun online FPS games like this? I’d play this on Facebook, and I bet a lot of people would be willing to pay for stupid microtransaction stuff. I don’t see it competing with AAA shooters, but what do I know.

    • SpinalJack says:

      That and the majority of facebook users will instantly click close on a tab if a game asks them to download anything. The problem with unity web player is the market penetration when compared with something like flash which is practically pre-installed on every machine.

      There was talk of chrome supporting unity games natively without any plugins though which will be a massive boost in uptake.

    • Mad Hamish says:

      I’m actually finishing up a Unity based game for facebook. It’s a kinda 3D space invaders ie you blast endless hordes of an ever larger number of different alien ships for high score, with different weapon types being effective against different ship types. It’s already a million times more fun than Zynga’s entire catalogue.
      http://dimerocker.com/ these dudes are the easiet way of getting your game onto facebook that I know of.
      I heard chrome doesn’t need the plug in or they intend to have that in the future. Don’t use chrome often so I don’t know. But if browsers could run unity with out the hassle of downloading a plug-in it would be incredible. It would massivly increase the number of people playing unity browser games.

      edit:my unity browser games.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      @SpinalJack, In psychology that’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy. I heard that pseudo-argument for years. Everybody is parroting it. And it’s complete and utter bullshit. Actually, it’s more like people blindly install every crap they’re asked to install, as long as what is behind it, is something they want.
      But spine- and ball-less people (the same ones who when talking to a girl agree to just everything to not lose her, and exactly because of that, lose her) always use the above excuse, to stay in backwards land. And users, being life-forms (well, barely ;), of course act efficiently, and don’t install something they don’t need. (That’s the keyword here. You (have to) create the need in the first place. And if you have, you can also have a cost.)
      So nothing changes, those people say that they were right, and blame the users… instead of themselves, for being so pathetic.
      The same thing happened on the WWW with older Internet Explorer versions. In case you don’t know, IE technically was, and still is, a horrible mess of failures. Like a person who says one thing today, and another thing tomorrow… except IE says about a dozen contradictory things at the same time. So there is a real and strong need to update. And it’s extremely easy for users too, since e.g. Firefox even back then was downloaded in seconds, installed really easy, and of course was designed to act like a clone of IE (and Opera) (because Mozilla were the same kind of pathetic losers with no own vision or self-confidence). But developers still always said “We have to develop for IE too, because most people still use that”. But they only use it because you still do that!. (The self-fulfilling part of the mess.)
      Real leaders offer something great, and know they can make demands in exchange. (In relationships, your “rules of business” always are how you give yourself worth in the first place. If you don’t say no, people will walk over you, and lose interest because something that is available in abundance and free usually isn’t even worth a song.)

  6. Dragatus says:

    I know I’m nitpicking, but if it all happens within our solar system it should be called Interplanetary Marines.

    Looks fairly interesting though. I like the shark-karkians, they look pretty vicious.

  7. Hillbert says:

    Hired Guns! That’s a game which is referenced not nearly enough.

    Miniguns, shotguns, sentry units, psionics and cyborgs. What’s not to love?

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      Very true. I was always hoping for a modern game that captures the mood of Hired Guns as well as its coop gameplay.

      I have allready pre-ordered Interstellar Marines because I was impressed by bulls-eye and had more fun playing Running Man than I had playing some other high profile comercial shooters but now that they mentioned Hired Guns and threaten to make an […] immersive sci-fi role-playing shooter […] I must say that I find myself suddenly extremely excited.
      One thing that I notice in hindsight is that both Hired Guns as well as the Interstellar Marines demos have superb sound design managing to create dense atmosphere.
      I guess once my next pay-check arrives it’s time to buy one of those supprt medals…

      While the development of this game feels slow (no surprise considering that it is made by a four man team) they keep on giving in irregular intervals.

    • MadMatty says:

      hired guns co-op was a sweet experience for the amiga… they even had a sequel planned but it got dumped for some dumb reason. The source material is rich and begging for a real 3d FPS treatment.
      Im gonna go have a look at System Shock 2 co-op, even tho the 2 didnt have the atmoshperics of the first.
      And also in SS2 the 3d space virtual hacking went out, what was up with that? That was uber cool.

  8. Shazbut says:

    These guys certainly have good taste and their hearts are in the right place

  9. Premium User Badge

    yhancik says:

    I’m looking forward to hearing Yahtzee’s review of Zero Point’s first game.

    • Commisar says:

      he will probably tear it apart for being an FPS. As usual, if a game isn’t Thief, Painkiller, or Just Cause 2 is is a no-go for him.

    • subedii says:

      As usual, if a game isn’t Thief, Painkiller, or Just Cause 2 is is a no-go for him

      “As usual”? I have no idea what you’re even saying here.

      He’s critical of games because that’s what’s funny. I mean you could also add lots of other games to that list, Silent Hill 2, Minecraft, Crysis, Limbo, Half-Life…

      So “As usual” if it’s a game he doesn’t like then he won’t like it. And “As usual” he’ll point out its weak points regardless because that’s what people watch ZP for.

    • Thants says:

      Yeah, he’ll tear it apart because he makes a comedy web-series based on tearing apart games.

    • Urthman says:

      Actually, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is the game he most often praises.

  10. bill says:

    I saved up for months to buy Hired Guns from upstairs in HMV.. just because it looked so cool on the screenshots on the back.
    I think i returned it because it didn’t work on my pc. Stupid EMS!

  11. bill says:

    I can’t work out whether this funding model is good or evil. It seems like we get to donate to them and get the game in return… but that doesn’t sound as good as investing in them and getting a share of the profits (if it’s successful).

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      If you got a percentage equivalent to the money invested and provided you paid the amount they asked for the Spearhead pack which is 48.95 $ (getting you the Interstellar Marines trillogy and access to early betas)l you would most likely make a better deal by getting the game. The percentage of your investment would be so low that you probably would have to wait quite a while to get your investment back and you would still have to buy the game.

      Edit: Look you can have it both ways. I just read at Zero Point’s homepage that you can actually buy shares by buying a certain ammount of support medals.

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    Okay, now I’m starting to get interested. The video from before smelled a bit too hyped up, but this is better.

  13. Chris D says:

    Hmmm, another men with guns game…yawn.

    Oooh! Shark with legs! Tell me more!

  14. Iskariot says:

    Well, the ideas for this game sound great. If they succeed in combining elements of a few of my favorite games like Hired Guns, System Shock 2, and Deus Ex then I definitely will be buying this. But I am not pre-ordering. I never do and I never will.

  15. tossrStu says:

    Hopefully it won’t be inspired by Hired Guns in that it takes FOR-FUCKING-EVER to come out.

    (Seriously, how many times did it feature on the back cover on AP as “coming next month”?)

  16. Odeon says:

    These guys’ story reminds me of the developers for a game called AfterWorld. Only four indie developers (but Russian instead of Danish) for several years (five as of about a month ago), using a low-cost, mulit-platform engine (but Torque 3D instead of Unity) to create a multi-player, sci-fi, futuristic (but 55 years in the future instead of 150) game (but an MMO instead of a co-op FPS) that will one day be accessible and have shared play across a variety of platforms, including PCs, Macs, Linuxs (is that a word? 8-P), and consoles. I’ve been following AfterWorld since late in 2006 and playing since early 2007 (when they began open alpha testing) and thought that it was pretty unique in all those ways, but it’s cool to see others with similar ideas and intentions to push the envelope much further than it has been pushed so far. Their web site is http://www.afterworld.ru.

    Unfortunately, the AW developers are much less able to communicate with their community since they apparently spend all of their time programming, designing, debugging, and bug fixing, apparently in that order.

  17. Premium User Badge

    Skystrider says:

    Being a Spearhead, I just got an email from Zero Point. Seems like “rich uncle” (and major shareholder) Gert is going to give away his shares to buyers of support medals. More info here: http://www.interstellarmarines.com/articles/news/uncle-gerts-shares-for-support-medals-giveaway/

    As publicity stunts go, I’d this one’s pretty damn neat. In a beautifully eccentric, possibly totally crazy way. Gotta love them Danes.

  18. protorp says:

    We don’t want to create science fiction that is bloomy and laser shields and Star Wars, you know?

    Hooray, someone who dares to call out Star Wars as shite scifi! You just won my interest, Mr. Jørgensen, and I am off to find out more about your game.

  19. Navagon says:

    Despite not looking hugely interesting initially, this game is really starting to grow on me.

  20. wazups2x says:

    Browser game like Quake Live? Like how they say it’s running in your browser but you really just download a separate application that works as a plugin is more like it.

  21. zimbabwe says:

    Looks like every other thing ever… wait, was that a fucking shark with legs? I’m in… Seriously though, make a trailer that doesn’t look like a bad HL2 walkthrough video and we can talk – other than the dull voiceover proclaiming “we are indie” there was nothing there. Anything that sets you apart from every other FPS in the world, you need to show that. Also show those sharks in action, they look awesome.

    Sharks. Run with it.

  22. warsarge says:

    I have one word to say about that shark picture:

    Candy-gram!