Halfway Q&A With Robotality
Continuing my search for fantastic Indie Games, I was very pleased to discover a game called Halfway, by Robotality. Turn Based Combat, set in space, with the atmosphere, art style and an awesome awesome level editor to boot! After discovering Halfway, I reached out to the developers with a few questions in mind. They were kind enough to respond with great enthusiasm!
So, how did Robotality come to be?
- It all started way back in the days. My brother and I would spend hours playing games together on the Amiga 500 (including the 512kb RAM expansion!!). I started tinkering around in Amiga Basic and my brother has always been the creative kind. Throughout our teenage years we started working on a few little games together, though nothing was ever released. Simon (my brother) then went on to Germany to work for Reakktor Media as an artist and later I moved to Australia. To be honest, we kind of lost contact over the years. Fast-forward about a decade, we started working on a few little projects again, not expecting anything out of it. We released a couple Android games also participating regularly in Game Jams. Then sometime last year, we got the opportunity to work on our games full-time thanks to a co-operation with Nia Schmidheiny. Thus, Robotality came to be.
You’ve made some smaller games for Game Jams and as experiments. Can you talk us through a couple of these games, and what sort of things you’ve learned from making them?
- Sure. One of the games we made is called “My little Dungeon”. It’s a reversed RPG of sorts, where instead of controlling your hero directly, you indirectly influence his journey by building a dungeon. You need to make sure he gains enough experience to defeat the final boss. Push him too much and he’ll die. Game Jams and experiments are really important to us. The brilliant thing about them is that you can’t take time to think about the details. You just get going and make it up as you go along. It sort of naturally removes the usual “I-got-to-think-this-through” barrier. I think every game dev should do game jams. It’s very motivating and refreshing and can take your mind off the usual every day grind.
Onto the big one! Halfway! What inspired you to pursue a Turn Based Strategy game in the first place?
- We’re big fans of Jagged Alliance 2, X-Com and Incubation. We also really enjoyed playing some of the Japanese turn-based RPGs like Tactics Ogre. So really, we’ve just always loved these kind of games. And we feel like we’re not alone in this!
In a recent blog post you acknowledge that Halfway credits the oft-compared X-COM as a source of inspiration, but you are keen to mention other influences while stressing that Halfway is much more unique than any of those comparisons may suggest. How do you view these comparisons that people are making? Did you expect them?
- Oh, we definitely expected them. Aliens, turn-based strategy, squad-based… It’s only natural that people will compare us with X-COM. Partially this is probably also due to the fact that the only bits of gameplay we’ve shown so far has been some of the battle action. Once people see the various other aspects of the game, I think it’ll become more transparent what exactly makes Halfway unique.
Halfway seems to be a much larger project than anything you’ve worked on before now. How has the size and scope of this project challenged you as an Indie Developer?
- Oh, it’s a constant challenge. Time and time again we’ve reworked certain aspects of the game because we just knew that it had taken as off-track and we could lose ourselves in it. On the other hand, Halfway is by no means “The Ultimate Game” we want to make. We see it as a stepping stone towards future games. So we’re not trying to put every possible idea we have into it. We look at the game and ask: Does the game need this or would it just be “Nice to have”. The core of the game needs to be really solid and we then build the rest of the features around it. To achieve this, we’re working in a very organic and iterative way. Chipping away things that don’t work, adding new ideas until we’re happy.
The art style is beautiful and hugely detailed. It really does convey a great amount of atmosphere already. How final is this style, and has the top-down pixel style posed any challenges in the design process?
- The style is fairly final. We are of course constantly refining elements and there are still some features we’d love to add in to make it even nicer. Yeah, the top-down has certainly posed a few challenges in the design process. We really had to think about visibility and how to make strategic elements obvious to the player. It’s actually one aspect that we might do differently if we had the chance to do it all over again. But in saying that, we’re really happy with how it’s turned out, and the combat actually feels very dynamic and we can convey a really cool atmosphere. Additionally, this style is relatively fast to work with compared to some other perspectives, which is why it allows us to put that amount of detail into it.
Something we’ve not heard much about is the work going into the sound design of Halfway. What can you tell us about Halfway’s approach to its audio?
- We’re working with Gavin Harrison on this project to do the audio. He’s a brilliant composer and has already done some amazing work for the game. Our approach to the audio is very similar to the rest of the game: Take some of the retro goodness and add modern twists to it. So you will hear a lot of retro inspired sounds but also some more orchestral bits in the audio! (Editors Note: Robotality talk more about their sound design here)
The story of Halfway seems to be focused on a more personal level than many games in this genre. Instead of hiring faceless soldiers, your squad is made up of people you find as you explore the ship. Will all squad mates be combat focused or can we expect more civilian-type roles . . . perhaps a chef that’s great at throwing knives, or a Janitor that can unlock new paths around the ship?
- I like the idea of a knive-throwing chef, haha! Maybe some sort of plasma-dagger? We are certainly bringing a few different characters from various origins into the mix. One aspect that the player will learn about more and more is a strong dual-class system that dominates the culture of the time. However, we also need to make sure that characters are usable in battles, the core of the game. We never want a character to just be a by-stander and not be able to do anything for turns, except for a special few situations. So yes we do have a variety of characters, but they all need to be able to engage in fights actively.
Interestingly, you credit some of your storytelling inspiration to System Shock. In what way are you approaching telling the story of Halfway, and has it been much of a challenge to nail down and incorporate into the game?
- Storytelling is not easy. It’s an area we’re working very hard to get right. Part of our approach is that the world itself is part of the storytelling. We’d love for the player to look around and discover little details that suddenly start adding up to a bigger picture and give him an understanding of how exactly the world functions we’re trying to portrait. Of course, we also have a much more direct way of telling the active storyline that unfolds with the game. And we do the same thing there: Step by step, aspects of what’s happening will add up to a bigger picture of what is taking place on the spaceship. Let’s hope we can nail it!
You’ve clearly taken a lot of time to carefully plan gameplay and features like the Level Editor right from the start. . .do you have plans for some sort of Multiplayer component, achievements and unlockable in general?
- Multiplayer is currently not on the radar, but it’d certainly be nice to have. But it’s also a lot of work! Can’t say we have any plans for achievements or unlockable content right now. However, we do have a few secrets and Easter Eggs for players to find!
You’re initially developing for PC, Mac and Linux. How much of a challenge does the distribution of this game pose compared to your experience with your smaller projects
- Good question, and I can’t really say much on that end just yet. Thanks to great cross-platform development tools, things are fairly easy to develop for various platforms. But, maybe you should ask me this question again once we’ve actually released the game, cause maybe I’ll change my tune!
You mention you would like to release on Tablets, but only after PC/Mac/Linux release. Why did you decide to put a Tablet release as a secondary objective?
- Every platform we release on will need some attention and work. Especially going from desktop to a mobile OS will certainly require some reworking of certain aspects. In order to keep ourselves on target, we pushed other platforms to the back. We simply can’t do everything. And we feel like desktop platforms are well suited for our game and we will be able to reach most people interested in this genre. Thanks very much to Stefan Bachmann from Robotality for taking the time to answer our questions! Robotality seem like they’re onto a winner with Halfway. We’ll be keeping a close eye on them, and so should you!