By Nathan Grayson on October 15th, 2013 at 12:00 pm.
Edge of Space is yet another one of those reminders that game development has gone completely bonkers in recent years. Like direct inspiration Terraria before it, Edge of Space offers massive, bit-and-bob-and-secret-and-jetpack-laser-shark-packed worlds, despite being developed by an itsy bitsy team of two. It’s also run the full gamut of crowd-powered developmental aids – from Kickstarter to Steam Greenlight to Steam Early Access. Lead developer Jake Crane has, in other words, been around the block. But in an ever-expanding genre with a single game’s influence looming heavy, how do you avoid being more than just a clone? And is the trend of Early Access actually a danger in disguise – both for gamers and developers? Also, what’s on the horizon for Edge of Space, a game that’s still very much unfinished? I spoke with Crane about all that and more.
RPS: You’re doing a crossover with Terraria, a game Edge of Space is often compared to, for better or worse. What’s in that?
Jake Crane: We’ve taken the Skeletron boss and updated him into Omegatron. We also will be cameoing the Eater of Souls as a pet, and then we’ll be doing a special thing where [Terraria creator] Andrew Spinks’ character icon will be making an appearance. There’s some other stuff that hasn’t been completely finalized yet, but there are a couple other things in the works as well.
RPS: How’d this come about?
Jake Crane: I was able to get in touch with Andrew, and what was great about it is Terraria’s definitely a big influence on Edge of Space. So we wanted to reach out to the person who made it. And with talking to him and getting to know him, we thought that it would be really cool if we could get some of their content and pay homage to Terraria while kind of putting an Edge of Space twist on it.
RPS: Initially (and even now, to an extent), some people accused Edge of Space of being a full-blown Terraria clone. Obviously, though, Redigit doesn’t seem to think so.
Jake Crane: I actually asked Andrew outright about this when he was looking at the game initially. I’ve been in the industry for a while, and I want to be respectful to other developers. We definitely made strides to make sure that, while Edge of Space does take roots from Terraria, that we are trying to take our own unique direction.
RPS: But there is a kernel of truth to claims like that. I think it’s less an expression of creative bankruptcy and more a general feeling of genre fatigue. It seems like everything promises crafting and sandbox worlds and random terrain these days. Terraria, Edge of Space, Starbound, countless others – and that’s only on the 2D side of the equation.
Jake Crane: I think what it comes down to is there are a lot of smart people, and a lot of smart people think very similarly. So you see a lot of things that are really close to the same thing you came up with, and that’s because people are having to solve the same problems as you. But you’ll see different directions that those things take. It’s like a feature is ice cream, but there are different flavors of the feature.
RPS: Still though, when a genre is defined by a bunch of eerily similar elements across many games, it’s much easier for a feeling of “Been there, done that” to creep in. Do you think that’s approaching here?
Jake Crane: I think what happens is, you have somebody who sets the standard. Starts it. And then you have a bunch of other people who go, “I want to make a game like this, and I want to come in at at least this standard.” So you’ll get games that come in and expand in one direction and others that go elsewhere. But as you near that ceiling, it’ll then force the genre to take the next step. Because eventually, you’ll reach a saturation point where you’ll have, say, ten games that are basically the same game with new skins on them. So if somebody wants to stand out, they’ll have to go, “OK, how can I take this a step further?”
RPS: Have you considered at all what that next step might be? At least, for you?
Jake Crane: I can say yes for us. There’s a big, long-term goal. If everything goes right, there’ll be an add-on to Edge of Space that’ll be a top-down shooter. A space shooter. And that’ll all then be one big game. You can go up, fly, and do things in space, then land and do things [on the ground level]. So if the game is successful, that’s the direction we want to take it. I really like the idea of combining genres.
Like, in the pre-production documentation, I wrote a scenario that was like something out of Star Wars where something like the Death Star is protected by a shield generator, and you sneak in, blow up the generator, and then fly in a fleet to defeat the Death Star. Trying to capture that kind of feeling. That’s really, really far down the line for us, though.
RPS: I think there’s a danger with these sorts of games, too, of getting caught up in the possibilities. Saying, “Oh, let’s add this and that and that” while failing to make individual systems and mechanics fun, deep, or interesting. Substituting quantity and scope for depth, basically.
Jake Crane: Yeah, that’s very easy to do. These games are really large and not easy to make at all, and I know that I have trouble keeping track of everything [laughs]. But you have to make sure your core mechanics are strong. You have to identify what they are, as well. Are you focusing more on your exploration, and how are you making that interesting? Are you focusing more on your combat, and how are you making that interesting?
And if you’re trying to use a big feature list as your main selling point, that’s when you start playing toward initial bring-in versus long-term value. If all those features don’t hold up, then your longevity isn’t going to be so great.
RPS: At the same time, though, game development is becoming more and more about promising big before you’ve even released and immediately getting money for it. In some ways, it encourages big, not-as-well-thought-out feature lists. But, I mean, you’ve done both a Kickstarter and a buy-in beta. Do you think this a slippery slope into a potential vicious cycle?
Jake Crane: For us in particular, when we did our Kickstarter, we made sure our list of features was absolutely locked down – that we could meet those expectations no matter what. When we got into Early Access, we continued to be very conscious of those kinds of things. I mean, I just had a user come to me randomly who was like, “I really appreciate that you guys went onto Early Access when you did, because I’ve invested in, like, five or six different Kickstarter projects, and none of them are available to me. You guys are available to me.” That means a lot to us.
I mean, it’s hard to do. Edge of Space definitely did not look as good when it started out as it does now – and as it will when it releases. And that’s hard, because first impressions are important. But we really wanted to focus on getting the features in there and having people touching them, breaking them. We don’t have a large test team or anything, and it really helps on making those large decisions and figuring out where to buff things and where not to focus as much.
RPS: Your game has received more universally valid criticism elsewhere, though. Your fans have been taking it to task for a non-existent map/direction system and subpar progression. You’re aiming to fix those things in an upcoming patch, right?
Jake Crane: Yeah, we have a major milestone patch about to come out. That’ll be updating progression and adding some new elements like control centers that feed into how terraforming will work. We’ll also be bringing in our first vehicle. We’ll be bringing in sweeping changes to how lighting works. We’ve totally redone the crafting UI. We’re bringing in features players have been asking about for a long time, like the Matter Recombiner, which will allow players to re-merge materials that have been refined. Things like that.
As for mapping and location stuff, there’s a beacon system that will be in the game. It won’t work exactly like a minimap, but it will allow you to coordinate your self within the world.
RPS: And that’s coming in the next patch as well?
Jake Crane: Yes.
RPS: How many of these changes have arisen from player requests? I mean, you’re doing the buy-in beta thing, but how much is that guiding the direction of the game versus your own instincts?
Jake Crane: As far as that goes, a lot of these features have always been in the bag, but it’s about prioritizing them. So then when we get feedback, it helps reaffirm that these are features we need to keep in and not let go to focus in on other things. What’s really awesome about early access is it helps guide and show you things you might have overlooked. I mean, there’s only two of us that are the core developers on the game. So while we have all these things we really want to add, sometimes it’s nice to be tapped into your community to help you catch those things you might not have thought of as important in the beginning. It helps you realize how crucial they are.
RPS: What’s the cutoff for that? I mean, some developers – for instance Phosphor with Nether – have recently offered their communities full control over games’ directions. Where do you draw the line? How much is too much in terms of fan feedback shaping Edge of Space?
Jake Crane: Well, I mean, we have rocket-powered laser sharks and plasma-fisted polar bears, so it’s a pretty far line [laughs]. But really, I have a document that contains what the core of Edge of Space is supposed to be. And when it comes down to it, when we look at things other people are asking for – even internally – it’s put to that temper. “Does this fit? Does it still provide the experience we want Edge of Space to have?”
RPS: What is that core, exactly?
Jake Crane: One of our big things is domination. Owning the territory and really [doing your own thing]. Terraforming is one of the most direct references to that, but it’s really about being able to dominate an area and move to the next. Like man vs nature. So a lot of it’s going to be falling into that mentality. As far as features and where people want that to go, we want the game to feel like it has a lot of depth, there’s always something new that you could be learning, but at the same time it’s paced evenly.
RPS: Thank you for your time.