Thursday, 9 August 2012

Laid off Obsidian Entertainment employees to create Steam Bandits: Outpost

It seems these days everyone and their grandmother is trying to create a kickstarter campaign to get their ideas off the ground. The whole thing has become somewhere for people to launch a ditch effort to gain the finances they need for tabletop games, off-the-wall ideas, personal projects, but especially video games. Most of those trying to gain backing are of a varying quality, usually indie developers lacking an official company, but this specific campaign definitely has some serious talent behind it.
The team, laid off by Obsidian recently after their title North Carolina was axed, consists of individuals who have worked on a few successful projects you might know of. Diablo 2, Diablo 3, Warcraft 3, World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2; all titles which at least one member of the group has worked on with almost all having contributed to the development of Fallout: New Vegas and its DLC. This level of talent makes it perplexing as to just why Obsidian decided to drop them but they seem to be making the most of it, starting up Iocain Studios to start producing games of their own. The kickstarter project? That’s to help fund one of their three starting games – Steam Bandits: Outpost.
Taking place in the same universe as the other two yet to be announced titles, Steam Bandits is set in a steampunk world of floating islands and isolated towns. Aside from giving it graphical look and location somewhat reminiscent of Bastion, this latter point is the main appeal of the game with you controlling one of these towns. It’ll be your job to construct each building, customise each character and help the town to prosper through trade. Turning in a profit as you work as an outpost for a company which controls the world’s steam – an unsurprisingly major resource in the universe of Steam Bandits.
While making it, the team had an emphasis upon trying to avoid the problems present in other online town-building games. Jason Fader, the creative director behind Steam Bandits, stated that he wanted to create a game which “won’t pester your friends and won’t stop you playing unless you spend money”. While you can spend money to help customise your town and develop the characters within it, you will be able to quite happily play the entire game without forking over anything. This is comparable to some MMOs like Lord of the Rings Online, allows you to play through the entire game for free but bars you from certain items or quests unless you spend cash. Considering how long that game has kept going for, plus others they have taken inspiration from like Team Fortress 2’s spending scheme, it’s a system which seems to work.
Fader has also described it as being “kind of like a diet version of Civ”. Their promotional video has described their objective as to have the depth of games like Simcity 4 and Civilization V but has the free to play model outlined above. It should also be noted that while casual it will not be available on Facebook, an unusual choice for the genre but an understandable one with the direction the team is taking.
The idea within Steam Bandits in terms of community seems to be intended to have more connectivity than the average town building game, and some shades of Kymera Keeper. Namely that final product will be made to link into the other two aforementioned titles across multiple platforms. One is intended to be an action RPG and the other a flight simulator in the same vein as Crimson Skies. In an interview with Kotaku, Fader described it how they will connect as this: "Let's say in my captain game I'm on a quest. I pick up a really weird item, a crafting recipe. Now there's no crafting in the captain game; it's RPG and combat focused. I can take this [recipe], hand it off to my girlfriend who's playing the town-building game. She can build it up. I can equip it on my airship... We're taking quests a layer above an individual game and spanning it across an actual game world." He also further detailed that players of other games will be able to use friends’ islands in Steam Bandits: Outpost as their port of call and visit them at will, giving out rewards and production boosts if they sponsor them.
All of this is an extremely ambitious project and only time will tell if it’ll be as good as has been suggested here. Yet with this much skill at the helm and a clear plan about how things are to be done it seems that there is a good possibility of them delivering upon what has been promised.
The kickstarter project has gained two thirds of their $30,000 goal, but with only a few days to go it has yet to be seen if Iocain Studios will get the finances they need. Assuming everything is successful, Steam Bandits: Outpost is set to be released sometime in November on Steam, iOS and Android with others following. Only time will tell how things will turn out for them.

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