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Interview: SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt

Interview

Interview with Image and Form CEO Brjann Sigurgeirsson on SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt, coming to the 3DS eShop August 8.

What is the game development dream for Image and Form?

Wow, that’s a big question to start off with, our elevator-pitch vision is to make super-quality games, and to sell enough of them to keep us being able to do so. The super-quality ambition means that we’ll never make shovelware or me-too games – we’ll always try to do our own stuff with original ideas and twists. For example, we made Anthill for iOS towards the end of 2011, and Apple selecting it as iPad Game of the Week at the time of release put us on the map – before that we were just a small developer no one had ever heard of. It’s a little different now. Enough great little games will mean both recognition and respect, and we’re well on our way. We’ve been lucky to find an appreciative partner in Bergsala, a game-industry behemoth by Scandinavian standards. They bought half of Image & Form from me in late 2011, which means that we have been able to both expand and take on longer game projects.

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What’s the vision for SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt?

SteamWorld Dig is the first time we got to spend a lot of resources on a single game. In effect, four people made Anthill, and now all 11 of us have been working full-time for a long period to create SteamWorld Dig. That means cranking up the quality yet another notch. The vision is to make a spectacular, mysterious, story-driven game with a marked buildup towards to the climactic showdown at the end. But the intention is also to expand on the SteamWorld universe, which we only touched upon in SteamWorld Tower Defense, the spiritual predecessor to SteamWorld Dig.

The Western motif is a beautiful fit for many cultures to provide their own spin and vision on. As a Swedish studio, what value does Image and Form bring to the conversation?

[Laughs] I think every culture has a hero’s tale, where the lone hero has to take on a formidable enemy. Here in Sweden, it’s the epic tale of the little guy versus the Tax Department. No, but I think we’re fed as much American culture as any other country. The Western motif is something we grew up with, watching movies and playing cowboys and indians – so I think it’s quite universal these days. The Western/Steampunk setting is very inspiring, and we wanted to interpret it our way.

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SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt feels like a convergence both of theme (Western/Sci-fi) and genre (Platform/Adventure). How does it blend these elements to create something unique?

The mix, along with the setting, plays a large part in making the game unique. When Cowboys & Aliens came out in theaters, I thought it was the strangest mix ever. But it’s sort of enticing – space and Western at the same time, it’s like ice cream AND cake at the same time!

The sci-fi part of SteamWorld Dig is the “what if” alternative-history scenario of SteamWorld: mankind succeeds at making advanced mechanical computers towards the end of the 19th century, and the consequences are devastating. Lots of the technology is useful – for example, simple-minded robots are developed to take care of heavy chores – but computers also mean a quantum leap in weapons technology and degeneration of humans themselves. The openness of science at the time means that all countries have access to it, and an arms race begins. Humanity blows itself back to stone age, and the remaining scraps of it huddle underground. Left are the robots, who go about their business pretty much like before. And so time and progress come to a standstill, and we have friendly robots running the Earth in a perpetual late-19th century setting. That in itself is unique. But also the gameplay, where we mix mining, platform play and puzzles with an escalating adventure story – I don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.

There have been a large number of mining oriented videogames over the last couple years. What sets A Fistful of Dirt apart?

Yes, there have been quite a few! Well, most of the major other titles are sandbox environments where you build what you like. It would be interesting to make a game like that, and we may well embark on that in the future. The main difference is that SteamWorld Dig is story-driven in that it has a beginning and an end (although you could argue that it opens up for a sequel), as well as quite developed characters. It’s a very different game from any sandbox game.

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This is a follow-up to the studio’s earlier title for the original DSi eShop. What opportunities and challenges have gone into working on the new tech?

From my perspective as CEO and no-longer-programmer, the team always seems to just deal with any challenges that arise from new tech. They’re simply fantastic. As for opportunities: for one, Nintendo has really come a long way with the eShop. It’s a dream compared to the old DSiWare Store, which was a publisher’s nightmare. It was hard for consumers to find your games. It’s infinitely better now – probably better than the App Store, from a shopper’s view. Also, the 3DS obviously has a number of new features, such as the stereoscopic 3D. It’s interesting, works great and we use it, but we wouldn’t make major gameplay decisions based on the hardware for any game. Idea and gameplay come first. SteamWorld Dig fits the 3DS like a glove, the controls are perfect for the game, but we don’t make use of blowing into the microphone and such.

What’s the importance of platform exclusivity for the title and is there something only Nintendo offers that appeals to the team?

Right now we’re making it for the 3DS. If it turns out to be a success, we may well port it to other consoles, even PC. But we’ve always loved Nintendo and their hardware. And SteamWorld Dig was made with only the 3Ds in mind.

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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