Gunshine.net Preview and Interview with developer Supercell

By Xav de Matos, Mar 11, 2011 11:15am PST

Combining top Finnish talent from former employees at Remedy Entertainment (Alan Wake), Digital Chocolate (Millionaire City), and Sulake (Habbo Hotel), independent developer Supercell recently announced its existence.

Like a handful of other start-up devs, the team at Supercell have decided to enter the market with a free-to-play, MMO-style title with a focus on optional micro transactions. However, unlike other start-up companies, Supercell has received financial backing from London Venture Partners--an investment group founded by former Atari executives Phil Harrison and David Gardner.

Supercell's first project, a browser-based game entitled Gunshine.net, is currently in closed beta. In April, Gunshine.net will launch to all users. Upon first glance at the game in action the immediate impression I had was that the new dev crafted a love letter to the 1993 PC classic, Syndicate. Founder and creative director at Supercell, Mikko Kodisoja, admits it was one of the game's primary inspirations.

"There were many games. Syndicate was one of them. It might sound funny but we actually started to make this game for ourselves," Kodisoja admits. According to Kodisoja, his past MMO habit was cut short when his family grew to include two children. Since he was no longer able to commit to six-hour long raids, he had to find an alternative. Nothing offered the "deeper gameplay experience" he craved, so the idea for Gunshine.net was born.

Taking place in a "sci-fi, dystopian" universe, Gunshine.net has been crafted on a modern day platform to include ideas that the team at Supercell remember fondly. One of the features the team "leased" from old favorites? The flamethrower from Syndicate, Kodisoja happily explained.

"We wanted to create a quality games experience that would be easily accessible," Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen told me. Noting the example of gamers wanting to get in their gaming fix during a lunch break at the office, Paananen said that the drive behind creating Gunshine.net was to offer players a game as strong as a classic experience without asking gamers to always have a dedicated amount of time or hardware available at all times. "We actually think that a lot of these core games will move to a web browser. It's such an easy way to access games," Paananen added. "The latest Flash technology allows you to create a really, really great experience on the browser."

After being introduced to Harrison and Gardner, the pair became impressed with Supercell's "vision" of the web browser as a future destination for "core" games and how the "power of social networks can merge" to create a nostalgic and deep gameplay experience. "It turned out that both of these two gentlemen shared the same idea," Paananen told me. "They got excited. They were pretty impressed with the team we put together. We have a very senior team... a team of 'rockstar' developers."

Though Gunshine.net has a social media connection, the game runs on its dedicated site via Supercell's proprietary engine. Using Facebook, players can connect with other Gunshine.net players to invite them on MMO-style quests and raids. What Gunshine.net doesn't do is take over a user's Facebook wall, instead opting for a unique idea that allows users to play with Facebook friends live or borrow their created characters as A.I. controlled allies.

Gunshine.net has been inspired by a number of classic PC titles, including 1993's Syndicate.

According to Kodisoja and Paananen, Supercell decided to focus its development on the platform that has the widest range of players: the web browser. Our meeting, which took place in a noisy corner near the Moscone Center's South entrance, began with Paananen showing off the game's trailer on his iPad. When asked whether or not their engine could make the jump to the mobile platform later during our discussion, the former Digital Chocolate veteran said it was "absolutely" possible. The focus now, however, is getting the game perfected on the browser.

The conversation surrounding Gunshine.net seemed heavily steeped in hyperbole. Though the game's trailer looked good and both executives were excited to discuss it, it was hard for me to get roped in without getting my hands on the experience. But Supercell isn't keen on hiding its first born. Within a day of our discussion a beta key for the game arrived in my inbox. I quickly proceeded to lose a few hours to the experience.

There's a slick coat of paint tossed on the game and a sense of nostalgia hardcoded into the experience. It looks and plays like isometric, real-time RPGs of years gone by--and that's a very good thing in my book. It's simplistic but can be brutally difficult. It never seems unfair but the game does offer a grand challenge. Often, I'd find myself grouped with other players out of necessity to survive zones of varying lethality, and they were more than happy to stick by my side to get the job done. For a game that's built to be social, it's interesting that very little needs to be said in order to create pockets of resistance in the game's oppressive world.

Gunshine.net's story focuses on a mega corporation that has developed the technology to quickly create artificial islands. To test the process, the company creates a large island between the US and Europe and establishes a city on the fresh plot of land. However, as is a mega corporation's want, the company rules with an iron fist and disables all communication in and out of the island. Although the company bills the land as a utopia, players soon find themselves on the wrong side of the law and become a hunted citizen of the new colony.

Throughout the game players will come across 11 different factions, which they can elect to complete missions for. "This will twist your character's story a bit," Kodisoja says.

Supercell is adamant that listening to its community is key, calling them "co-developers."

There are two currencies at play in the game: in-game cash that enemies drop and premium diamonds. Players are free to purchase their way to quick advancement via diamonds or play the game normally to collect dropped coin. Paananen assures players that they won't be forced to purchase anything in the game to unlock its potential. There was one instance where the game did force me to have purchased diamonds, however. Players can pick up rare treasure boxes with unknown items inside, but these prizes can only be unlocked by buying the game's secondary, premium currency.

The philosophy for design at Supercell has been to allow players to drive the team's focus. Rather than execute a beta and cull through user submissions in the end, Supercell is implementing changes based on feedback as soon as they have the opportunity. The example Kodisoja gave me was the game's core feature-set. The original focus was on co-operation and Player vs. Environment (PvE) scenarios. Soon after launch the community "shouted" for the addition of Player vs. Player, which Supercell promptly delivered.

"We sort of want to 'co-develop' the game with our users, if you will," Paananen explains. "There's a lot of people [in the community] who want to dedicate their time to make the game better for everybody."

When asked the major burning question--why is the game called Gunshine.net--the pair of Finland-based developers laughed before answering. "I think we were playing around with different names. It sounded different and cool." Paananen admitted.

Kodisoja has a different take: "We have a lot of rare items in the game and some of the epic items... they shine a lot."

"Yeah. He just made that up," Paananen laughed.

Gunshine.net launches to all gamers in April. Stay tuned to Shacknews as we'll be giving away 500 beta keys for the game--via Chatty--sometime in the very near future. In the meantime, we're going to be playing this game at our desks during office hours.

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