SteamWorld Dig Interview with CEO, Brjánn Sigurgeirsson

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Image & Form has been in business since 1997, and for a long time made children’s CD-ROM games for PC/Mac. Mobile development followed after that in 2009. The company didn’t dive into real console development until 2010 and since then, they have developed creative games for the PS4, PS Vita, Steam, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo eShop. Their latest game, SteamWorld Dig, was recently released this March on the PS4 and PS Vita. In this hardcore platform mining adventure, your character, Rusty, arrives at a Western mining town called Tumbleton and is sent on a mining and puzzle solving adventure while trying to avoid fatal traps and deadly enemies. SteamWorld Dig has received raving reviews and we’re here to give you a juicy inside scoop.

Today, we’re sitting down with Brjánn Sigurgeirsson, the CEO of Image & Form and we will be getting a glimpse inside the SteamWorld Dig world.

What was the team’s inspiration for the game? Why robots and mining?

Although we *would* like to firmly state that the only inspirations have been important and universal (such as love, peace and friendship among robots), SteamWorld Dig certainly also is inspired by some other computer games. There, I’ve said it. We are very impressed with the learn-as-you-go-along upgrade systems of Metroid and others. And there are elements from other mining (or digging) games, such as Dig Dug and Miner Dig Deep.

But the biggest inspiration was our own predecessor to SteamWorld Dig, a game called SteamWorld Tower Defense. It’s a mostly harmless tower-defense game we made for the Nintendo DSiWare Store back in 2010. It had a charming twist to it: the robots were the good guys and the pesky enemies were human.

That twist made us return to SteamWorld. We couldn’t help but wonder WHY the robots were upstanding folk running gold mines, and the humans were such greedy, aggressive lowlives. How had that come about? What was really the story here?? So we wanted to make another game in the series and give away a bigger slice of the background. The premise of SteamWorld Dig was interesting, because it built on the mining track established in SWTD, and we love games about mining.

(And at least I love mining itself – there’s something inherently wonderful about looking for and unearthing hidden treasure. I haven’t told my wife, but I’d secretly love to take her on a vacation on a historical beach somewhere with one of those metal detectors, hoping to dig up some old Viking or Roman treasure. I’ll operate the detector, she’ll operate the shovel. Just as secretly, she’ll not want to come.)

We discussed how we could mix mining with other great gameplay mechanics, and voilà! All this lunch-break thinking also means that we have *a lot* of different, yet-to-be-made ideas that fit SteamWorld as a universe. The gameplay of the next SteamWorld game will be nothing like Dig, but the art style will be instantly recognisable.

How long did it take to create the game? What was your team’s most difficult hurdle?

At one point, in February-March 2013 (by which time our lead designer Olle Håkansson had actually promised we would already be finished with the game), we had to stop. The game just wasn’t fun. Testers that we brought in asked what they were supposed to do when they were actually doing what they were supposed to – clearly not a good sign. So we stopped developing. No one drew anything or wrote a line of code, we just brainstormed for a whole week. The next week, the redesigning of SteamWorld Dig began. I was terrified, because we had borrowed so much money to create the game. But slowly, it became great. The most difficult hurdle paved the way to our finest hour, which has been truly important for future projects and team morale.

What influenced your team to choose this particular art style?

We like working in 2D, since 3D very often becomes generic and doesn’t come out the way you want. Obviously, there are a lot of fantastic 3D games, but I think 2D suits us very well. Our art director Tobias Nilsson and our character designer Agnes Mikucka are really very clever people, and whatever they think up we tend to go with. 🙂

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Which is your favorite character?

I really like Rusty a lot – he’s a brass-and-coal Clint Eastwood character. No nonsense there. But I really like Lola, or rather the idea behind Lola: why would a steampunk robot brothel madam even exist? And how come Joe is Rusty’s *uncle* – how does that even work? It’s quite absurd, and we like absurdities. Then I like Biff Beacon’s single-wheel distance animation, I really like that animation cycle very much.

Will we be seeing any cool new updates? Is there an expansion in the works?

For PSN, we are working on having cross-save in the game, which will complement the cross-buy that is already there. When we made the PlayStation 4/Vita versions, we reasoned that since SteamWorld Dig is a fairly short game, people wouldn’t mind completing it on either platform – they’d be done with the game by the time they’d start thinking about cross-saving between platforms. So we decided to skip cross-save altogether. And so we were quite surprised when lots of people asked us why the hell there wasn’t any cross-save, and when reviewers added the lack of it to the “Cons” side when summing up.

There is an expansion in the works: the way it looks now, we’ll release a full-fledged sequel before the end of 2015. It’ll be bigger than Dig in all directions, and it’ll be super awesome. From this point on, we’ll only make super awesome games. 😉

Tell us something interesting about Image & Form that isn’t well known.

When the initial SteamWorld Dig launch drew near, we decided on a somewhat cheesy guerrilla tactic: we put together a fake bribe letter, printed fake robotic money and fake train tickets to Tumbleton (the town on the surface in Dig), and sent out these packages to key industry players. The idea was of course that these key players would love the humour and rascalness of this brazen little Swedish dev, and immediately make a big splash about it through all of their channels. We ended up sending out to Destructoid, Game Trailers, Kotaku, GameSpot, IGN, Nintendo Life, Tim Schafer of Double Fine as well as Notch (Markus Persson) of Mojang – and surprisingly the letters surfaced here and there.

It wasn’t until after the fact we realized that the fake money we had printed actually looked very much like real money, although they stemmed from “The United States of Robotica” and sported robot versions of Lincoln and the rest. Hope no one working for the US government ever finds those bills.

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Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Fairly soon we’ll announce the next SteamWorld game – we just want to make sure we do it the right way. The best way to talk to us is via Twitter, so please follow us – we’re @imageform there – and we enjoy interacting with other gamers very much! We expect our coming game, which isn’t SteamWorld Dig 2 but a radically different type of gameplay in the SteamWorld universe, to be appealing and incredibly awesome. I’ve seen it in action, and soon we’ll be ready to announce it. And I can’t wait. 😉

Thank you for your time, Brjánn and thanks for checking out Gamer Compatible! If you want to know more about SteamWorld Dig, you can follow Image & Form on Twitter: @imageform.

And if you want to read more exciting gaming articles, you can follow us on Twitter: @gamercompatible.

Game on! And signing out.


Images provided by Image & Form.
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