Suits Who: Born Ready Games On Strike Suit Zero

By David Valjalo on November 30th, 2012 at 5:00 pm.

Former Edge staffer and protein bar-lover David Valjalo marks his first appearance in our corner of the internet by chatting to Born Ready Games’ leader designer Chris Redden about successfully Kickstartered mech/space combat game Strike Suit Zero. Discussed: the resurrection of a genre, the issues around meeting public promises, changes to the original plan, the rich UK developer Kickstarter backlash and if the wild success of Star Citizen suggests a space combat revival.


RPS: When we previewed the game last year, it was developed by DoubleSix – tell us about the transition to Born Ready Games and the genesis of the project…

About three years ago we were looking to do a space game – we were big fans of the genre – and we were thinking maybe it was a good time to get the genre going again. So we thought “let’s have a go!” We were able to get Junji [Okubo] onboard for the concept designs which really spurred us along and we were able to get [composer] Paul Ruskay onboard too, which further encouraged us. We just went for it. That was when we were under the name of DoubleSix. It was about nine months ago now we had a management buyout, then we shifted to Born Ready to carry on the project. It was pretty uneventful on our side of things in terms of making the game, we just carried on. We moved offices about five minutes up the road in Guildford.

RPS: How did you rope in Okubo and Ruskay?

Junji had done some concepts on previous pitches for us before, and we had staff at the time who were friends of his, it was perfect timing. As for Paul, we were big Homeworld fans, and when we had Junji onboard we just thought it’d be amazing to get Paul too, for the soundtrack… so we just sent him a Facebook message.

RPS: Their names will attract a certain audience, they’re identified with specific games, is it intentional to invoke the likes of Steel Battalion and Homeworld?

Especially with Paul it was because we were fans – they each had the sort of styles that we wanted for the game. The atmosphere Paul created for Homeworld, we wanted that. And Junji’s mecha design style, he’s considered a western-style designer in Japan, he does very mechanical designs, whereas a western audience might not perceive it that way, it gave us the blend of east and west that we wanted.

RPS: Many people have suggested the mecha combat genre has died its death. Why do you think that is and why is it ripe for revival now?

I don’t actually think it ever died in the sense that fans went away. I think the industry grew and the larger markets were the console space, the FPS, those kinds of games. The fans didn’t go away, they just weren’t as numerous as that audience. But now with digital distribution, Kickstarter, you can just get your game directly to your fans, it’s much easier getting contact with fans, you can go straight to the space game audience. And there’s a whole new generation who’ve grown up now who need to be introduced to the genre, so there’s a whole new set of fans waiting out there.

RPS: So it’s an issue of distribution?

Definitely. You go into a store and a space game that sells to two million people has to compete with a game selling to 20 million. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the two million selling game is a bad game, just it can’t compete in terms of shelf space. But shelf space isn’t important anymore.

RPS: What were some of the key titles, the tomes, you and the team referred to during development?

There’s a big three for me. Wing Commander, the whole series in general, the X-Wing series and Freespace. And I think they’ve each done great things in their own respect. The X-Wing series has always been great with story. I think Wing Commander has always had really great dogfight gameplay. And Freespace really nails an epic scale, the sense of you being stuck in the midst of a great battle.

RPS: What elements did you want to remedy/avoid that the genre has traditionally held dear?

We tried to reduce the complexity of playing this type of game. I actually really enjoy having a million buttons on my keyboard but I don’t know that everyone does. And it doesn’t contribute massively to the game having those [excessive] features, they’re a very niche part of the genre. What makes it fun and interesting is having stories and battles as the focus, we can have that without having a keyboard with 50 keys to control the game in-front of you. We had to abandon that – unfortunately – but I don’t think it harms the game.

RPS: Would you say it’s more casual, then, than the typical, traditional space combat title of yesteryear?

I’d say the controls and learning curve of piloting can be called casual, but certainly the gameplay itself is not. It will be very harsh, very difficult to learn. But in a nice way. There’s a strict learning curve – you’ll want to go back and get better at it. The battles are interesting, there are lots of mechanics to get used to. You just don’t have to think too much about settings and the keyboard.

RPS: So what’s the ideal control method – did you design with a gamepad in mind?

We didn’t want someone to have to have a peripheral. That’s been another bane for the genre, as people moved away from having peripherals on PC. There’s a lot of emphasis on mouse controls. WASD, traditional style, feels like you’re playing an FPS but you’re piloting a ship. It works really well. But in terms of the number of buttons, we had to make sure it fit on a PS3 or 360 pad.

RPS: When we previewed the game last year, branching storylines and missions were a major draw – are they still a part of the game?

We don’t have branching missions. We had to focus on one area or another. We wanted to deliver  a better story, and it was hard to keep branching missions in a short campaign. We tried to keep elements that would change missions, so you can go back and play in a way that will give you a different ending. There are multiple endings.

RPS: With the January release looming, are you entering crunch now?

We’re working hard [laughs].

RPS: Is there an added pressure due to the public promise when you’re funded via Kickstarter?

I actually think the Kickstarter has been more encouraging than anything else. It’s really different. When you’re showing the game to the “real” real public, they’re very critical and don’t accept certain issues that, say, someone in the press would. So their response has been really great, and its spurred us on, made us confident in what we’re doing.

RPS: So with Kickstarter the advantage is dealing with an in-built fanbase?

Yeah, it’s kind of like, “well people like the game already so let’s get it done”.

RPS: You were originally slated for a summer release this year – what happened?

The branching campaign… when we moved away from that, we had to rework missions, that kind of thing. Also, half way through development we wanted to overhaul the visuals. Compared to its showing at Gamescom last year, it’s dramatically different.  In general we just wanted to spend more time polishing it.

RPS: Kickstarter was initially all about the underdogs, smaller developers like yourselves, how do you feel about the “big boys” moving in there now – Molyneux, the return of Dizzy and Elite?

I think the nice thing with Kickstarter is it’s entirely controlled by what people fund or not, no-one’s having an arm twisted to donate. If Elite comes along, gets a lot of attention and people want it, that’s great. What I really like is it’s turning more and more people onto the idea of Kickstarter [in general]. In the long-run I think the nostalgia stuff will run out – there’s only so many games we can remake on Kickstarter.

RPS: So original IP will be the future of Kickstarter?

I think it’ll be a mix, I think certainly there won’t be as much nostalgia as there is today as we’re running out things to remake.

RPS: Has Oculus Rift affected your design process?

It hasn’t really changed much in terms of inputs, gameplay, it’s more about how you present information to the player, there’s more to think about in terms of HUD and context. The information we give to the player is something we’re constantly working on, how to give information to the player that’s not confusing.

RPS: What’s your view of Star Citizen, another space game coming soon thanks to Kickstarter?

I think it’s really great, I love to see more space games. It’s Chris Roberts: Wing Commander. Before these games started coming back, the last really great space sim was Star Lancer, from Chris Roberts. I’m actually also a really big fan of the Wing Commander movie, despite no-one else being, I really liked his ambition with it, and really hope Star Citizen succeeds.

RPS: So are we on the cusp of a space combat game revival?

I really hope so and I hope it’s not a fad thing. I like to think that the way the market works now, your genre [of choice] is always available now, at all times on the internet. Whether it tactical RPGs or space combat, it’ll always be there now.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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20 Comments »

  1. wodin says:

    “RPS: What elements did you want to remedy/avoid that the genre has traditionally held dear?

    We tried to reduce the complexity of playing this type of game. I actually really enjoy having a million buttons on my keyboard but I don’t know that everyone does.”

    Aaaaaahhhhh..Why..Why..Why…do so many developers say this? No..there are loads of people who want this..they want the complexity to come back..we aren’t playing on a console but a PC for god sake. Who are these people who obviously are the majority who can’t handle this kind of complexity? WE\they managed years ago..have we all become so dumb it’s now beyond us? Drives me insane..

    • SuperNashwanPower says:

      Because cash

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    • Fyce says:

      we aren’t playing on a console but a PC for god sake.

      The game will get its way on 360 and PS3.

      Also, why don’t game developpers don’t make very complicated to control games like, say, Steel Battalion and its “wonder-awful joystick”? Simple: because they don’t want to sell their game to three people in the world.

      Plus, it’s not the case of being dumb or anything among those lines. It’s a case of fun to play the game. Not everybody say it’s fun to have to learn a sh*tload number of buttons and combos to makes its way in the game.

      You have to deal with the fact that the current gaming market for “hard and complicated games” are not driven by their controls right now, but by the “easy to understand, hard to master” concept like, say, Super Meat Boy, I Wanna Be The Guy and all those games that doesn’t require a lot of learning into the controls, but yet you have to be really skilled to get all informations on the screen, to have the correct “awareness” it ask for, the reflexes, etc. etc.

      Personally, it tend to dislike games where I have to remember that Left-Alt+Left-shift+L is used to activate the left winker of my space battlesuit. And I’m happy that a game like Strike Suit Zero which have a strong arcade/scoring theme attached to it doesn’t require me to have 35 fingers on my hands.

      • gravity_spoon says:

        True. People forget easily that there is a lot of ground between “One buttons for all/Press X now” and “Write a program to make this work while enemies murder you/Create a symphony using these 50 keys”. I think either of the extremes appeal to a certain set of players and whatever is being discussed here doesnt belong to any of these extremes but somewhere in the middle ground (hopefully)

        • David Valjalo says:

          Really interesting to see something resembling the casual/hardcore debate breakout re: SSZ and the issue of mo’ buttons mo’ problems… As AmateurScience points out, Wing Commander was minimalist with its inputs – would we call that causal/dumbing down nowadays? The distinction seems to be between “space combat” and “space sim”.

          What about games like Dark/Demon’s Souls – relatively simple inputs but rock solid game-loops to work around/smack your brain against.

    • MrUnimport says:

      Because the market has expanded to include people who don’t want a billion buttons but do want to play space games.

      To that other guy: Steel Battalion’s unpopularity may have had something to do with its ludicrously expensive single-use peripheral controller, not just its complexity.

    • AmateurScience says:

      Come on, Wing Commander worked with a two button joystick and a couple of keyboard shortcuts, Freelancer with the mouse and WASD, Freespace 2 and i-War 2 both sing on an xbox controller.

      Simple and/or accessible does not mean shallow and/or dumbed down (I *hate* that term). And the best (or at least the most popular) examples in the Spacesim genre were all the former.

      • Alextended says:

        Freelancer is not a good example, awfully shallow game and more of an RPG lite with action elements than a space combat “sim”. Freespace 2 still needs the keyboard for many functions even if you get a good 360 controller setup (which you’ll only care to make if you don’t have a decent joystick really). You’ll probably have to do all the communications and orders and what not with the keyboard alongside other functions, especially since the right stick isn’t properly responsive in all its axis (but even if the latter has been solved). Basically you just get (most, not even all of) the basic combat flight mechanics, targeting controls, match speed switches, etc, to fit on a controller, anything else would need a completely overhauled and time wasting UI to be available on such a set up.

    • wodin says:

      I’m not asking for overly complex..but I also don’t want everything distilled either. I also never saw loads of people complaining that games where too complex years ago..

      I don’t buy it that a game with some complexity and say with regards to a space sim more “sim” like would mean it wouldn’t sell. If the UI is good and it isn’t overly complex I see no issues at all.

      All developers seem to talk about is streamlining for the modern gamer..take XCom for instance. The new version is a damn fine game..but it didn’t (well for me anyway) have the legs that the old XCom had and I put it down to the “streamlining” which meant I had less things to fiddle around with and in the end less things to do and think about. This meant I played it for a month and doubt I will go back..the old XCom and Terror from the Deep kept me going for many months.

      Publishers go on about “it wont sell it’s to complex”..then developers say the same thing.. I don’t buy it. I’m sure to god where all capable of using more than a joystick or WASD and a fire button..

      I’m one of those who used to love putting the piece of card over the keyboard that told me what the keys did in the flight sim I was flying..I miss those inlays. Now I do think you can go too far from the average gamer and would put them off like the DCS sims, but something at the complexity of some of the older sims or even the Thirdwire sims I’m sure we can all manage.

      I thought Kickstarter would have been a good place for developers to put forward their slightly more complex games, I place where a more indepth space sim could be announced and funded. I wnat abit more complexity in my games from all genres.

  2. kallefeud says:

    I think someone watched a bit too muched Battle Star Galactica when doing the trailed.. (not that you could actually watch TOO much BSG). “original soundtrack”, pah.

    • PatrickSwayze says:

      LRN 2 SPACE GAME HISTORY.

      Soundtrack is by the guy who created the soundtrack for Homeworld which inspired the soundtrack for the remake of Battlestar Galactica.

    • Ravenholme says:

      And beaten to it by Patrick Swayze.

      That’s pure Ruskay there baby, and it was actually part inspiration for the soundtracking of BSG.

      The idea of mixing traditional western sounds and eastern music themes was done with the 1st and 2nd Homeworlds a long time ago

  3. Entitled says:

    From space sim games, I’m still waiting for Infinity: The Quest for Earth, that is also planning a Kickstarter in Q1 2013. That will be the big one, once they get their shit together.

  4. kwyjibo says:

    “protein bar-lover” – is this some post-Leveson euphemism?

    • David Valjalo says:

      It is what it is – I just enjoy a good Oh Yeah! or Power Bar, complete with lots of made up chemicals and proteins (Myomax, Biomax, Monster…max) as much as the next guy :o)

  5. JackDandy says:

    “We don’t have branching missions. We had to focus on one area or another.”

    Color me dissapointed. That was one of the major draws of the game, at least for me.