Interview: Space Pirates and Zombies developer MinMax Games

By Jeff Mattas, Jun 01, 2011 4:45pm PDT

Space Pirates and Zombies (aka SPAZ), the debut title from the two-man indie development team called MinMax Games, puts players in command of a fleet of Space Pirates out to explore the galaxy and make some cash. Sharing some spiritual common ground with classic space-exploration titles like Star Control 2 and Privateer, SPAZ's core gameplay centers on scores of action-packed multi-ship space battles, expanding and upgrading the pirate fleet, and eventually facing off against a great undead space menace.

My recent impressions of the beta (which is currently available on Impulse for $14.99) were quite positive. Truth be told, Space Pirates and Zombies is a game that I'll likely be playing for some time.

I contacted MinMax's Andrew Hume and Richard Clifford--both veterans of developer Radical Entertainment--to ask them about a variety of subjects, including the design of SPAZ's core gameplay pillars.

"We felt that some of the flavors from classic PC titles are lacking in their modern counterparts," explained Hume. "So we decided to grab our favorites, and then we tried to connect them in a logical way."

He continued:

The core of our action component is the physics. Remembering how the fighters used to battle in Babylon 5, using their thrusters to drift and gain position was probably the root of our combat system. We wanted to make sure that the combat was easy to learn, but extremely deep. SPAZ can be played effectively with just the Space Bar, W key and left and right mouse buttons, but if you delve deeper, you can become a real ace.

We both come from an open world game development background, and love them in our spare time. Our experience with procedural systems was also a natural fit for open world systems creation. A major goal was to provide tangible rewards for the exploration, and that is where the 70 components came in. They provide a lot of extra combat options but also give a huge motivation for exploration, tying the systems together.

Our levelup system is heavily influenced by Diablo. There are far more points required to fully level up your technology than you would ever achieve in a game, so you need to “Build” your tech tree to your specifications, just like building the perfect Barbarian in Diablo.

Strategy takes several forms in SPAZ. An important concept in all things for us is to allow the player to be “Good at” what they are doing. So any decision that is made can be made more or less optimally, but all decisions will provide progress. Deciding to save up and specialize in a technology is a good decision, deciding not to waste REZ attacking a station that you could more easily take out in a few levels is a good decision, allowing an escorted ship to perish to get a required blueprint, while evil, is also a good decision. We try to reward the player thinking in all aspects of SPAZ.

SPAZ has also been in full-time development for more than 22 months, funded by the developers' personal equity. Since raising awareness and marketing an indie game is the five hundred pound gorilla all indie developers must face eventually, I asked MinMax to share their experience so far.

This has been a huge challenge. We have tried to be creative with our marketing and we have had a lot of good luck. TotalBiscuit’s PR main man contacted us a few months back to do a ‘WTF is…?’ video series about SPAZ. That was huge for us. Instantly over 100,000 people knew we existed. As time progressed, TotalBiscuit offered to be our narrator, and we fell all over ourselves to accept, as you can imagine. We couldn’t be happier with how this worked out, and it has been our major foot in the door anywhere we have tried to get coverage.

Beyond that, Reddit has been a decent place to get the word out. One of our posts in the past got the attention of Notch (Minecraft,) and he tweeted about us. Boom, our website hits jumped to 12,000 that day. We still have not seen a day like that since.

It can be a challenge to balance marketing work, with work on patches, with maintaining a forum presence and listening to the ideas from the fans now, but we are managing. There really are not enough hours in the day anymore. That being said, we are starting to gain some momentum, as evidenced by this interview (thanks again) and we would not change that for the world.

The best advice I have is don’t expect people to know about your game just because it is a good game. You need to put it in front of as many people as possible yourself and you need to keep doing it.

You can check out the complete interview with MinMax Games over at Shacknews' sister-site, Indie Games Channel, where we discuss more about the design and development of Space Pirates and Zombies, expanding distribution beyond the Impulse platform, and the advantages (and challenges) of being a two-man team.

Be sure to keep an eye out on Shacknews tomorrow as well. We'll be giving away fifteen codes to download the SPAZ beta from Impulse.

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