Helltanking: Jupiter’s Folly Interview

Jay Kyburz makes ludicrously compelling browser strategy games, and he’s just beta-testing another one now. It’s called Jupiter’s Folly. I had a chat with him about that, which you can read below. He used to work at Irrational, and actually worked on XCOM for a bit. I asked him about that, too. His answer has something to do with Warhammer 40’s second edition.

RPS: Tell us about the new game? What’s the thinking behind it?

Kyburz: Basically this is another stab at the slow real-time game. We’re calling these games real-time online board games because that how we want them to feel. A small group of friends gathered around a game enjoying some simple mechanics. We’re not trying to make epic MMO’s or deeply emersive RPG’s. 

Another big influence on me are the classic Micogames from the early 80’s. I had heaps of these as a kid. I still really love the super cheesy sci-fi graphics. I suspect Jupiter’s Folly is not cheesy enough! I have a copy of Helltank and Car Wars on my desk right now.  I really like these small games. ( http://maverick.brainiac.com/cmm/cmm_index.html)

Jupiter’s Folly is our next experiment in the real time online board game genre.  This time it’s a race. A race to mine crystal fast as you can. The first player to reach their quota wins! To make things interesting players can deploy teams of super soldiers to defend their mines or attack and capture the mines of the other players. To keep players on their toes there are also swarms of alien bugs that wander the map looking for something to rip apart. Almost everything you can do in Jupiter’s Folly is expressed as a card. You start the game with a small hand of cards and when you play a card it returns to your hand. As the game progresses you will draw more cards and be able to do more things. The more cards you have the more you can do. 

Money is the only resource players need to manage. You earn a set amount every 24 hours, but get paid a bonus based on how much crystal you have harvested in the last day. We hope the game will have all the excitement of Neptune’s Pride but not be as quite as intimidating. You don’t “have” to go to war with your neighbours to win. It helps, but its not the only way.  

RPS: What sort of state is it currently in? Are we to expect big changes in the coming weeks?

Kyburz: Probably not huge changes, we’ll tweak some of the cards, perhaps add some new ones. I don’t think the game is completely broken, we just haven’t had a chance to play many games yet so we can’t say for sure. I have 2 or 3 games on the go now. We’ll know how fun it is in a few weeks time!

Right now the target quota for crystal is only 5000 tones for example. I think this might not be enough because the game ends before you really have to expand into the other players. I’m a few days into 12 player game where we need 3 times that much to see what happens. I also have some concerns that the card mechanics will make it a little difficult to react to other players when they start attacking you. We might need to make combat cards more common so that you can go digging through your deck to draw the cards you need, when you need them. We might just let players sometimes draw any card they think they need.  
RPS: What’s the payment model this time?

Kyburz: I’m sticking with a system where you can buy a key that unlocks all the premium features for a limited time. We don’t call the system a subscription because we’ll never automatically charge your credit card, we’re not locking people into a month to month deal. We’ve linked all three games together now so if you pay for one you can play all three. 

The whole Internet tells me I should have a virtual currency and charge people for lots and lots of little things. The idea being that some hardcore fans will come along and spend hundreds of dollars buying virtual stuff. I don’t like the virtual currency model for a few reasons. …and I could have a big rant here, but lets just say that I just don’t like paying for games that way myself.
RPS: What lessons did you learn making Blight?

Kyburz: There were a few design mistakes in Blight that I wanted to correct in Jupiter’s, and now that we have some test games of Jupiter running we’ll be going back to fix. I think Blight was a little to big for us and is not yet as polished as it should be. We plan to go back and spend another couple of months on it now, but there is too much “stuff” in there. 

The other thing I discovered was that while I like playing pure co-op games, I think I’d need to write a more interesting AI for Blight to be really compelling. Writing AI is hard and time consuming, and when you have other human players to play against it seems like a waste of time. Playing  and working with other real people is what I think is the most important thing in a game. Blight just doesn’t require much meaningful interaction with the other players. 

Perhaps Blight will morph into a kind of team PvP game, one team controlling the zombies, one team holding them back!

RPS: Was Blight more or less successful than NP? And by successful I mean “did it make more money for you”?

Kyburz: Yeah, even though the games design wasn’t as polished I think people responded to the game better. It made a lot more money but we also worked on it a lot longer.  
RPS: You are turning games around fairly quickly – is that going to be sustained? Should we expect a game a year from now on?

Kyburz: I like experimenting with different mechanics and playing around with different ideas. Jupiter was turned around in only 4 months. I have a things to go back and fix in Blight, but I’d like to divide my time between improving the old games and  trying to get a new one out every 6-12 months or so. This is why we allow players to play all three games when they buy a key for one. We want to build lots and lots of little games. It keeps things interesting for us, and hopefully for them as well.

RPS: A bit of an odd question: Do you think you have any commercial competition?

Kyburz: Well I think there are heaps of great web games out there these days, but I also think there is heaps of money to go around. I don’t know if players have to think too seriously about whether they want to spend $10 on one of our games or on Trivian, its only $10. We don’t spend a lot of time looking at what everybody else is doing so I probably don’t know as much as I should about what else is going on out there. 

I once went to see Terry Pratchett give a lecture at our local University and he had some advice for budding writers. I don’t remember his exact words but the gist of it was clear. He said if you want to write fantasy novels, don’t read fantasy novels. Read mysteries, romance, thrillers, or even history. It’s the easiest way to make sure your book is interesting and original. That’s my excuse for not playing through hundreds of Facebook Evony clones. 

RPS: Here’s a question from one my twitter followers: Do you ever feel guilty for making such compelling games? The millions of man hours that are lost to these games..)

Kyburz: Haha, its really awesome to hear that there are a few people out there enjoying the games. I only feel guilty about not working faster and harder to make the games even better! You know, as an indie developer with no boss, I crunch harder and work longer hours than I ever did working for Irrational Games. It feels really good to work hard and know that at least some players appreciate what you are doing.  
RPS: Do you think X-Com fans are being overly harsh in their assessment of XCOM?

Kyburz: I think 2k missed an opportunity to create an exciting new IP as they did with Bioshock. I think people would be responding completely differently to the game if 2K was selling it as something new and interesting. There are ways they could have used to Xcom brand to promote the game without actually calling this very different game the new Xcom. Are the fans being overly hash? I guess because I don’t really care what the game is called as long as it’s interesting and fun. But on the other hand, I’m still bitter about what happened to Warhamer 40k in 1993 when they released 2nd edition so I guess they have a point.

RPS: Thanks for your time.


  1. Brahms says:

    What happened to 40k in 1993?

    • Squirrelfanatic says:

      They ended the war.

    • Vexing Vision says:

      The space-dwarfs died out. :(

    • MartynEm says:

      It became less about your toy soldiers and more about their action figures?

    • aircool says:

      They removed the role-playing, skirmish elements, and turned it into a WFB clone in space. The rules are a lot slicker these days, but a lot of the depth has gone, along with its freeform elements. Whilst there’s now a huge amount of background material, the individual character elements have long gone. There’s too much focus on Orks, Chaos and ‘nids these days, whereas back in the original Rogue Trader, you could pretty much make any sort of unit you wanted and play them. Wanted a bunch of mercs wearing Power Armour taking on a bunch of feral Eldar with their three-legged daffodils of death? No problem. There was a lot more fun and less competition involved.

    • Vandalbarg says:

      It also started down the slow road from cheesy satire to plain old GRIM DARKNESS DARK AND GRIM.

    • bill says:

      It lost most of the freedom.

      It used to be about bodging together your own army from random figures you happened to have available, and the lore used to be a lot more flexible. Rogue Traders could have eldar mercs working for them, and you could play it almost as an RPG at times.

      Then it became about selling THEIR figures rather than bodging together your own.

    • sonofsanta says:

      If he was angry about 2nd edition, he must have cried blood when 3rd came out.

    • Ovno says:

      Damn you Games Workshop!!!!

      They’ve been dumbing down my favourite games since before the word consolisation even existed :'(

  2. Commenter says:

    “…it seems like a waist of time.”

    Goes well with the belt of space.

  3. JackShandy says:

    I can’t believe there were actually games called Helltank and Car Wars.

    O, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world, That has such games in’t.

    EDIT: This post made me remember the Jupiters Folly game I started last week. I logged in just now, and my base had been destroyed.

    Call me crazy, but I don’t know if I have time for these games.

    • Gothnak says:


      Car Wars was one of the greatest boardgame/rpg game crossovers, especially with the Dueltrack addon.

      Basically it became a cross between mad max, f1 and gladatorial combat. Choosing whether to strap an extra gauss gun, spike dropper, or an extra layer of armour compared to leaving it all out and instead going for a higher acceleration and top speed.

      The only problem was it was the fiddly paper boards and complex driving mechanics… I can’t think of a better game ready for transition to the PC… Of course it would go action based and lose most of the fun as how can you play strategically when you are trying to steer around a corner at 100mph only looking forwards.

    • JackShandy says:

      Stop stop stop. Each detail you give me detracts from the simple, brutal majesty that resonates throughout that collection of vowels and consonants.

      CAR WARS.

      Wars… between cars.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Only on RPS do people quote The Tempest to make a point :P

      If games be the food of life, play on.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      Jack, Jack, Jack… I am not a Car Wars fan. In fact I have not played the game myself. However, I have talked with people who have played the game enough to know that it is widely considered tremendously good among those who have played it. It’s a bit of a niche game, and as a PC gamer you may be forgiven for not knowing about it because it’s marketed to enthusiasts rather than toy stores. But to dismiss it based on it’s name is just trollish.

      I mean: WoW. A game called “Wow!” Boy that must be utter crap. Just because of what it’s called, and no other reason. Also Minecraft, Half Life (what, they couldn’t include a whole life in the game?), X Com, Counter-Strike (why would I want to strike the shop counter with my hand?), Mass Effect, Deus Ex (not even the whole latin phrase? rubbish!), Ultima, Final Fantasy VII (durr! contradiction! durr!), and Serious Sam. All obviously crap games. Durr.

    • JackShandy says:

      MadTinkerer I have no intention of making fun of Car Wars with these posts. I would never disrespect something named with such an such an orgasmic match of form and function. If games were named more like Car Wars, the world would be a better place.

    • BeamSplashX says:

      It makes Future Wars all the more disappointing in that you don’t get to do much warring in the future.

  4. Zeewolf says:

    Seems interesting, but I’d be much more likely to buy it if.. well, I could. If it was something like Solium Infernum, which I could buy, download and own.

  5. wodin says:

    Ooh Car wars…had that one and truck Stop and Sunday drivers….I know we have Darkwind but please someone make a turn based or Wego car Wars game….

  6. megazver says:

    Still using the slow real-time? Well, I guess I’ll skip this one as well.

  7. Vandalbarg says:

    Still playing through a game started from the last article you did on this (as ‘Beef’, incidentally, if any of the others in the game are reading)

    Good lord, the bugs. They’re bastards. Despite their prowlings I’ve got a decent mining industry up and running, and although my army has taken quite a beating it’s still sizeable. Now if I could just take some more mines I could win this…

    • shoptroll says:

      The bugs aren’t terrible so far for me. You just need to consolidate some of your starting forces, and park a security detail at the closest choke points to your base and keep reinforcing it on a regular basis. It’s a lot cheaper and faster to reinforce existing details than it is to crank out new ones. Also, reinforcements come in at the same strength as the rest of the squad so if you’ve got an experienced group, it’s a lot better than just dropping money on Black Squad or the other high strength army. With any luck your squad will level up at about the same rate as the hive churns out younglings, and you should have zero trouble staying ahead of the swarms in terms of unit strength/size.

      I’m about 5 days into one game and I haven’t had a huge problem with them by doing this. The only trick I haven’t figured out yet is how to effectively swap out a experienced force for a smaller, fresher one.

  8. Jake says:

    Got a twelve player of Jupiter’s kicking off shortly. Our 12 player game of Blight was pretty good fun but the game was not balanced at the time and goblins swept the board clean easily, still planned to go back to it soon. 12 Neptune’s Pride was just about the craziest thing I have ever played, like some giant, all consuming space monster that ate my life for a month, forcing me to stay up till 5am to launch my fleets when my enemies were asleep.

    Also it would be cool if these guys got a 40k license. I am picturing a real-time game of the battle for Armageddon or the Horus Heresy or something.

    PS. – anyone have any advice about what difficulty to play this on? Is medium too easy?

    • shoptroll says:

      Easy is pretty hair-raising as it is. Since the difficulty level only alters the bug presence it really comes down to a preference about how much trouble you want from them.

  9. Dances to Podcasts says:

    What can I get for $10?
    Anything you want!

  10. mondomau says:

    “But on the other hand, I’m still bitter about what happened to Warhamer 40k in 1993 when they released 2nd edition so I guess they have a point.”

    Amen to that. Also, this just took me from mild interest to ‘what the hell, I’ll buy this.’

  11. shoptroll says:

    I’d kill for this game to be on Google+. That, and an iOS version.

  12. Metonymy says:

    There was a rather significant mistake in his answers, you have to keep track of several resources other than gold. The biggest one is the cooldown on your cards. The 6-hour cooldown on the reinforce card is probably the most valuable thing you’ve got, especially after you have a few more of them. The cards themselves are a resource, since having multiple copies of overpowered cards (like the one that splits the bugs) is generally more important than having lots of extra cash sitting around.

    And of course, time is always the best thing you can invest if victory is your objective, but it’s not as bad as NP.