RPS interviews Into The Breach’s developer about hurting our feelings

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The folks at Subset Games are responsible for the games FTL and its follow-up Into The Breach, which means that they are also responsible for some of the most frustrating yells I’ve done alone on an airplane. I’m sorry to those around me, but I thought I was going to finally complete a run and then everyone I loved exploded or died from lack of oxygen or fell into the ocean. I assume Subset Games has been responsible for similar micro-aggressions against many of you. Which is why Adam Smith from RPS held them to the fire (a pleasant conversation) at Rezzed yesterday.

If y’all haven’t dived into Into The Breach, imagine Pacific Rim through the lens of a microscopic XCOM, where mechs-versus-kaiju force you to make make time travel judgments on a 8×8 panel and deal with the consequences when inner-earth monsters cripple your civilization.

Matthew Davis, one half of Subset Games, sat down with our very own Adam Smith today. At length they discuss FTL, building a follow-up to an indie hit, why giant robots are cool, and the shifting environment of indie games.

Justin Ma was absent, but Davis gets into how the FTL follow-up didn’t need to be rushed out, and Adam asks them about the Difficult Second Album Syndrome. Which, of course, applies overwhelmingly to a development team made of two dudes who only hire out when they need someone more talented then themselves.

The talk is fascinating. Both men behind this small indie (and FTL) took their first job together at 2K Shanghai and started building both FTL and the engine from a place of hobbyist interest. They also go out of their way to thank RPS for being the first (second) website to focus on how great their original game looked. But from here the team gets into how you build a house of cards within the drama of gameplay that threatens the player with knowing they are about to lose — and demanding they make peace with it.

They also discuss how FTL was renowned for its difficulty, but how Into The Breach struck such an in-between that the first two negative reviews on Steam said “this game is too difficult” alongside “this game is too easy.” How do you make both consumers happy? No one knows. They certainly don’t.

On a much more specific level, you can hear a discussion about how up until the day of release, the devs were still redoing the UI because they know that was the most important part of how the world would take this. There’s… there’s a lot more.

Check out the interview from Rezzed right here:

17 Comments

  1. MajorLag says:

    Do they happen to discuss their reasoning for including the achievement grind? Because I’m really interested to know how such clearly talented game designers could possibly think that was a good idea.

    • namleets says:

      Funny that you say that. I find getting all the achievement in Into the Breach really fun, whereas the grind in FTL to unlock ships felt like too much. How would you rather the unlocks in Into the Breach work?

      • jeremyalexander says:

        I agree, I like it much better than FTL. I’ve played so much FTL and still have so many ships I haven’t unlocked because some events don’t pop up or work out that I moved on. Still, I don’t get the whole Achievements thing anyway. Never have.

      • MrEvilGuy says:

        Problem with FTL is that you could unlock everything in easy mode.

        • wwarnick says:

          Yeah, but easy mode in FTL is not easy. In an easier game, I might have the same complaint, but easy mode in FTL is hard enough.

      • MajorLag says:

        Either A) don’t have them because unlocks are just artificial gameplay lengthening tedium, or B) unlock each new squad by beating the game with the previous one.

        • namleets says:

          Seems a lot less fun than having unique challenges to complete, but to each his own.

          • MajorLag says:

            There’s a difference between them being there and being forced to do them to get access to completely orthogonal content.

    • wwarnick says:

      I personally liked the way the unlocks work. These are achievements that actually make sense.

    • Don Reba says:

      The way they are implemented here, they are a great way of encouraging deeper understanding of the game’s systems. What is your issue with them?

      • MajorLag says:

        I don’t feel like intentionally playing the game badly with the objective of getting some stupid achievement so I can get a coin that I can use to unlock actually interesting gameplay.

        Just skip the bullshit and give me a new squad for beating the game with the previous one or something. That’s how I played anyway, right up until the last 2 squads where I didn’t naturally accrue enough coins to get them, and had to go back and play an intentionally losing strategy to satisfy arbitrary criteria. and Suddenly I had a much lower opinion of the game.

        I am by no means saying the unlock grind in FTL was better, but that was their first game and they should have learned from their mistake, but didn’t.

        • namleets says:

          The thing is, it obviously wasn’t a mistake, because most people like it. What you’re saying is that they should have realized that you in particular didn’t like that about it.

          • MajorLag says:

            If by “most people like it” you mean “a lot of people who bought the game didn’t complain about it”, that’s true. But a lot of people don’t complain about loot boxes either.

            What positive is there to locking parts of your game away with “coins”? It’s a stupid mechanic that artificially and needlessly draws out the playtime and their game is objectively worse for it.

          • Hypocee says:

            You do all this whining and “objective” posturing in the knowledge that a few months into FTL, Subset “learned from their mistake”, as you put it, and their big first patch added the ability to reliably unlock ships by winning the game. Yes? Let’s make it clear, is that what you’re doing?

            For people who wanted to jump into specific content right away, Subset never made any attempt at obscuring the FTL save file, and actively directed people to the hex edits and the fan-made tool that sprung up I believe during beta test.

            As For ITB, here’s the second Google result for “into breach unlock all”. link to gameplay.tips . In short, the save file is a text file this time around, or you can hit tilde to use the cheat codes they spent time building into the game for you.

            Finally, the game design reasons why Subset, despite not being masochistic idiots, did a bunch of extra work to put achievement-based unlocking in both their games and why not just blind objectively wrong sheeple fanboys like me but a broad swath of critics have considered it a brilliant move: Player onboarding and guidance.

            FTL would have been so much better if the first thing a new player had to do to play was analyze and select from a list of 18 (later 27 [both plus a few]) ships without having played the game yet. Lots more people would have gotten hours of enjoyment out of it. If they choose to start on the Stealth Cruiser because it looks neat, well, isn’t that just a shame. It’s the objectively correct thing to do. ITB would be so much better if a new player had to choose from nine squads times sixteen time travelers on their first screen. No, wait, that’s too restrictive and grindy. Let’s make them build a custom squad from the 314,928 available combinations of three mechs (Yes, you can have three of the same one) times sixteen travelers before they so much as see a board. Freedom!

            Or, if we wanted to do the objectively wrong thing, we could give the person clicking on our selection screen for the first time a reliable ship with highly reliable early game damage, one of the synergistic weapon type combos and a compact, ventable layout. And a squad every member of which has the capacity to both damage and move an enemy, led by the traveler who will level up faster, demonstrating that mechanic probably within the first island.

            Meanwhile tying these analysis paralysis reducing unlocks to achievements is good objectively wrong because, done right, achievements are one of a very few ways a designer can communicate and suggest things directly to the player without triggering resentment. Most of the achievements in FTL and ITB are good or at least entertaining tactics. The number of comments I’ve heard from LPers of both games along the lines of “Wait, you can what!? How would you even…ohhhhhh”. It gives the designer extra chances at the person who failed to catch or simply forgot that you can open the doors or stop an attack with rocket smoke, without popping up a window. It does all of that while increasing player ownership of their ship or team, because they were told something they could so with a system at a moment when they were choosing to engage with that system, and in ITB’s case with a team they picked to explore before the others.

          • Moondust says:

            Created an account just to state my approval with Hypocee’s comment. As someone who used to go into game files to unlock all the ‘non-playable’ factions in Total War, and now has to use mods instead to do the same thing, I’d say that Subset allowing players to access their save files as a txt file is great.

        • namleets says:

          A lot of people like doing special challenges and being rewarded for doing them. Your opinion is not fact. It’s fine that you don’t like it, but don’t say that you’re objectively right, because it’s just your opinion.

  2. svge says:

    Fantastic interview and surprisingly insightful audience questions. I wonder if the questions were vetted beforehand or if that’s the general standard across Rezzed.

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