As someone who has loved video games for his entire life, I’ve often thought and talked about creating one of my own. As I’ve learned more about the elements of design, it’s become easier to express those ideas. There was a time though, when I didn’t have the vernacular of game design to aid me in elaboration, and I would often express my concepts as combinations. Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could make a Metroid game like Ocarina of Time? What would a Sonic text adventure be like? Though it lacked clarity and precision, the amateur language reflected a zeal for video games and the experiences they can provide. It’s this type of enthusiasm that struck me about Jamie Smith’s indie game.
Am I implying there’s a sense of the amateurish in OreSome? Yes. Watching a dev diary, I noticed the art looked a bit rough, but that’s no surprise as Jamie is working as a one-man development team, creating this in his spare time. Then I noticed the music. It’s best described as a Greensleeves-esque tune with MIDI instruments and a strong waltz rhythm- out of place in the space-themed game. What was notable was that the actions of the ships being piloted interacted with the music; layering it. Somewhere in the clumsy execution was a really neat idea. After that, I noticed the mechanics and realized something wonderful was happening.
OreSome puts players in the role of a mining ship out in the vast expanse of space. Played from the top-down view, players will acquire smaller ships known as bots who each have unique abilities like boosting, shooting or setting up electric fences. Bots will be used in conjunction with frames- variously shaped pieces of metal structures that attach together and have unique abilities as well, such as providing solar power, anchoring pieces together or acting as cockpits that allow your ship to dock and control the entire frame. You’ll use these frames to mine, explore, and confront enemy corporations. Here’s a trailer of the game in action:
If you’re interested in seeing how this all works, Jamie has been kind enough to release a program called The Shipyard, which lets players spawn bots, structures and enemies from the game, essentially giving people a sandbox/modding tool. After some time with it, I was compelled to talk with Jamie about OreSome and about the experience of being an independent developer, so I sent him some questions.
Jamie Smith: The viewpoint and space setting of Asteroids with the mining and creative construction of Minecraft and the exploration and quest style of Skyrim. It happened somewhat organically, starting from the building and exploration in Minecraft – the space setting brought in Asteroids, then the RPG elements evolved as I turned it into more of a full featured game than just a sandbox. I wanted the player to have some direction if they chose – the feature that I think Minecraft lacks the most.
EH: One of your game’s main features is the ability to connect individual, modular units together to form an object that accomplishes a particular goal. How much freedom is there in this system, and how do you balance the game so that these player-made machines don’t just roll over all the enemies?
JS: Balance is going to be a long slog for precisely that reason, but I think it’ll be worth it. Enemies continue to spawn and have the advantage of wearing the player down, whereas the player has the advantage of being able to plan ahead and take care. Enemy corporations have access to the same equipment the player has, so hopefully the fight will be relatively fair. There is quite a lot of freedom in how these structures can be put together – you can build bases, or capital ships. There’s perhaps 30 frame types and 10 bot types that can be combined into whatever configuration the player desires. Freighters, mining facilities, giant claws that capture suns, all are available options, and you’ll see each used by your foes too.
EH: Watching your dev diaries, there seems to be an almost RTS aspect to the game in that there’s a variety of controllable units, each with unique functions. What made you decide to split up all these abilities over multiple ships instead of focusing on one adaptable ship that can accomplish everything?
JS: I really wanted to play with the idea of starting from small beginnings and building up. One ship is all you get to begin with, but as you acquire more technologies, you can turn that ship into the nucleus of a gigantic battleship, all controlled from that single original point. You could also send off splinters to scout, or leave bases behind as resource stores in less risky locations. Each one of the ships is effectively a piece in these larger structures – Booster Bot scouts become thrusters, Blaster Bots become point defences and so forth – it makes the construction experience far more dynamic and allows more options. Of course, the individual abilities are useful too, particularly in the early game when risking your main Builder is very dangerous.
EH: You just recently released “The Shipyard”- a sort of sandbox mode where people can place any of the items of the game onto a map. What was the motivation behind giving people access to this?
JS: Shipyard supplies you with a void to fill with your own creation. It’s similar to a level editor – if you can make it in game, it’s possible in Shipyard Mode too. Better than that, if people make anything cool, all they have to do is send it to me, and I can poke it into the game in mere minutes – I intend to do this if people do come up with anything cool. I’m hoping that’ll give OreSome a community that really feels involved with the game. Not only do I want to build OreSome’s community, but I also want to give a taster of what the game is like – videos are all very well, but there’s no substitute for getting your hands on a game. Beta will come at a later date, but for now, this is the best way to give players and idea of what’s to come.
EH: You’ve said that OreSome originally began as a way to test your skills as you had never created a game before. Have you ever worked any mod tools? Any particular favorites if you have?
JS: I once messed about with Red Alert 2, creating nothing of any note, but besides that, this is really my first shot. I would give a shoutout to the guys at Natural Selection 2 though – their modding system seems the best I’ve seen, since they write all the game logic in a easily accessible scripting language. I can’t really do it adequate justice, but it’s well worth a look if you’re into that kind of thing.
EH: With so many toolsets out there that are popular with independent devs, why did you choose to work with XNA and how has it affected your development?
JS: XNA fit nicely with my .NET programming background, and I was attracted both by its portability to XBOX and Windows Phone, as well as the fact that it apparently integrates nicely with Steam. It also has some well designed plugin libraries – Mercury Particle Effects and Farseer Physics to name two. It’s made the development, if not a breeze, a fairly painless process. I probably should have looked more closely at alternatives, but I’ve been lucky enough that’s it’s worked out well for me so far.
EH: In a related question, how has being a one-man team and doing everything about the game- music, assets, programming, and PR- affected the way you’re making the game? More specifically, what does a normal work day look like for you?
JS: In a nutshell, it makes things SLOW. I have a 9 to 5 job, and a few hours after that every night is no substitute for doing it full time. I’ve managed to stick to my internal timetable so far, but I can easily imagine it slipping. PR for example takes a long time, longer than I had expected – but building the game is useless if no one knows about it! I tend to decide on a topic for the week, then work on that solidly. Each night, I spend some time answering forum posts and emails (and currently, writing the guide to Shipyard Mode on the game’s website). After that, I’ll push on with features for as long as I’ve got time for.
EH: One of the main traits of a successful independent anything- whether musician, developer, writer or filmmaker- is self-motivation. Seeing as this is a project that you’re doing in your spare time, what is keeping you motivated?
JS: Originally, I was just enjoying the construction process, but now that people have seen it and said they actually want to play it, that’s a great motivator. If I were to be all mercenary about it, I could say I was hoping to make some money out of the endeavour, but it’s really the comments that give you the best feeling, even over more tangible rewards.
EH: When can people look forward to playing the game?
JS: The aim is for ‘this year’. As I say, I’m on track so far, but games are notorious for slippage, and if it makes the final product better, I am willing to delay. I would expect to have at minimum a beta going on this year though – if not, something’s gone seriously wrong!