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An Interview with ScrumbleShip's Dirk.

An interview with Scrumbleship's Dirk about his Kickstarter. Originally from http://kickstarter-conversations.blogspot.com/

James Yee, Blogger

October 18, 2012

24 Min Read

This interview originally appeared on my Kickstarter Conversations Blog.

Greetings my fellow Kickstarter followers, today I’m bringing you another interesting interview this time with Dirk, creator of the exciting new ScrumbleShip project.  Thank you for agreeing to this interview Dirk,

My pleasure!

So my first question has to be, “Why Kickstarter?”

Nezumi and I have been taking care of an older couple for the past few years, which resulted in a rather cheap living situation However, the older couple’s health deteriorated past our help and they’ve moved into assisted living. With our living expenses more than tripling, we decided that we needed some funding to make sure we could still work on it full time.

Surprisingly to me, the kickstarter has been a real boon, drawing tons favorable attention to our game.
Now you’ve already received a favorable interview on Gamasutra why bother with Kickstarter at all?  You could have pulled a Minecraft and just started selling the Alpha.  

We’ve actually been selling the Alpha directly on our website for the past few months. The kickstarter’s primary benefit has been “discoverability” - People, including news reporters, have been discovering ScrumbleShip left and right. Our website income has roughly tripled, even with the Kickstarter siphoning off funds.

And the kickstarter is still helping! Roughly 1/3rd of all kickstarter contributions are generated from kickstarter itself, which is a huge number of people learning about our game.

So the “simple” descriptions I’ve seen is that this is Minecraft in space.  Yet you’ve said you want to be known more as “Dwarf Fortress” in space why the change?  

The vast majority of minecraft can be learned in an afternoon or two - Learn how to craft, how to place blocks, how to kill creepers, and you’re more or less set up. This is fantastic, and is one reason why it’s so successful... But it also means it can lack depth. Once you’ve built a small hut and crafted yourself a bow, the monsters of the world can’t really touch you anymore, and you are left to find your own goals.

Dwarf fortress, on the other hand, has the same basic goal (“Survive”), but makes that incredibly rich and detailed, simulating everything from forges to soapmaking to the breeding population of cats. The best and most secure fortress in the world still faces challenges, not only from internal threats, such as running out of alcohol, but external threats, such as sieges and other “Fun” events.

At its heart, ScrumbleShip is a simulation game like Dwarf Fortress. I am simulating dozens of behind the scenes events that affect gameplay, and many diverse elements will need to be managed to run a successful starship. For example, having a mess hall on the ship will increase Clone morale, and thus their productivity and movement speed. Feeding your clones nothing but ration blocks, on the other hand, will diminish their morale, making them more sluggish.

The major problem with Dwarf Fortress is that it has NO areas that are simple and intuitive. Once you start playing, you’re immediately over your head. These are the areas in which we endeavor to be more like Minecraft - Namely, graphics and user interface.

We’re trying to combine the best aspects of BOTH games, while adding more to create a fun new experience.
So what makes Scrumbleship the “Most accurate space combat simulation. EVER!”  

Well, we’re certainly not there yet. But that’s where we’re headed.

Realistic physics is the biggest part of getting there - Fire a laser at a block of steel and it warms up a little. Fire it as a block of butter and the butter melts. Shoot a bullet at a thin strut of copper and it bends. Shoot it at a strut of ice and it shatters. Shoot it at a block of Tungsten and nothing happens. Movement physics are newtonian, and support for realistic inertia under acceleration is planned.

Through various sub-engines, we intend to simulate all these things and more. In fact, both heat and newtonian movement are already in place!

Butter? Why are there even butter blocks?

Back before ScrumbleShip was released I wrote a test program for the heat engine, learning how heat transfers through solids. I happened to run across an scientific article on the thermal properties of butter, put it in the engine on a lark, and never bothered to take it out. Now it’s an in-joke for the community, and a fun material to showcase the flexibility of the engine - If butter is a valid in-game material, what can’t the engine simulate?

So will I have to build inertial dampeners and the like in the game or are those systems more “assumed?”  For instance if I decide I want a keel mounted railgun that shoots Volkswagen beetles what’s stopping my ship from flying backwards thanks to Newtonian physics?  

Absolutely nothing is stopping that!

Player designs will need to account for basic laws of physics - You throw a large mass forward at high speed, you will experience backward thrust. A clever player will use these properties to their advantage - I can imagine  a battle escape mechanic that works by breaking the ship in half and shoving each end away from the battlefield, for example.
So are you saying I can pull an A-10 by just making my ship slow down every time I throw those Volkswagens out the front?

Heck, you can do more than that - With a sufficiently powerful enough shot, you can completely reverse direction, using your weaponry as a form of thruster. In space, there is less difference than you think between an efficient propulsion system and an efficient weapon.

Some of our readers may not know this, nor you Dirk, but I do have some personal experience in the space industry so I’m always interested in seeing how games can be more realistic yet still stay fun.  I mean are we going to have to worry about our ship hulls being heated and frozen in shadow and sun around planets?  Do we have to worry about light speed radio communications or are we using some kind of “Subspace” instant communication.  How much are you “bending” reality for gameplay here.  

We have three main tenets for ScrumbleShip:

  • Be true to Reality

  • Be true to Science Fiction

  • Be Fun.

Any new feature should fit at least two of those criteria to be considered. Sometimes they come into conflict, and that’s when hard decisions have to be made.

One of those decisions is in the scale of the solar system. To quote Douglas Adams, “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space.”

Making players wait 40+ years to visit the closest star system would be an instant game killer, so we need to compromise. First, we’re making each solar system smaller by compressing the amount of empty space - What used to take years to travel will instead take hours.

Secondly, we’re providing FTL gates between solar systems, allowing players to make journeys of thousands of light years in minutes.

We’ve made similar decisions in the heating engine - Even for a copper block, waiting for heat to travel from one side to another is agonizingly slow. So we’ve speeded it up by a factor of 1,000, which will help space battles finish more quickly. For hardcore players, features like this are likely be toggleable.

Yes, you’ll need to worry about both the heat of the sun, the coldness of space, and, for ship-to-ship chatter, lightspeed delays in communications.

In short: We do bend things when we need to, but we make this obvious to the players, and try to provide a way for them to switch to the realistic method when we can.

You’ve only got a goal of $8,000 and you have a playable alpha right now, are you getting people bugging you about doing a Kickstarter at all with the project in this state?  Or questioning if you can really pull it off with only $8k?

The majority of the feedback is overwhelmingly positive, with people saying they’ve waited years for a game like mine. But you can’t please everyone, and people have brought up both points you mention.

Half the people who complain about the state of the game suggest I should have waited longer, and half suggest that I waited too long before starting a kickstarter. *grin* I suspect this means we’re actually about on target!

People seem to budget a lot more than I do for basic living costs. I spend about $500/month, which includes food, rent, utilities, fun, transit, and a small amount for savings. Between the ongoing alpha sales and the odd computer job for friends and family, an $8,000 kickstarter ought to keep me programming for at least the next year, possibly more!

So You’ve announced some of your stretch goals: more music and sound, AI ships, and then....

And then I’m not sure! I will discover these stretch goals right along with my fans.

In fact, the AI ships stretch goal was  suggested by a fan just a few weeks ago. It was a good idea, but would increase development time by a month or two, making it the perfect stretch goal.
Well you can’t blame me for trying to get a hint.  So at this point what do you plan to do to continue to gain momentum to get you past the last half of your campaign?  More videos?  Screenshots? A Demo?  What else are you going to do and what can we do as followers of your campaign?

We’ve got a fan-made tutorial video coming out soon, and another fan has volunteered to make us another trailer. I expect he’ll be able to do a better job than I was able to do.

We’ve been having Nezumi, our artist, draw lots of concept art showing off features that aren’t in the game yet, and we hope to continue with that.

I have yet to send out a message to the ScrumbleShip website users, which should generate some interest. Many of them already have the game, but I am constantly surprised by the closeness and generosity of our community.

Our campaign as a whole has been anything but ordinary - If you take a look at our Kicktraq graphs, they have very little in common with the average Kickstarter project. I’m curious to see how much of a mid-month slump we’ll have - I could easily see it being more or less than the average project!

Anyone following the campaign, backer or not, can help immensely merely by talking about it. Post on a forum, tip your favorite news site about us, or post on reddit, facebook, or twitter. Tell your friends, acquaintances, and even your enemies about ScrumbleShip! After all, how great would it be to grind your enemies’ spaceships into dust?

I’ve noticed most of your rewards seem to be digital only but you do have some physical stuff in there.  How prepared are you for the shipping nightmare you have ahead of you?  

Reasonably. The physical rewards are all relatively expensive, which helps to keep the volume down. Even if we triple the number of physical rewards by the end of the kickstarter, that still leaves us with less than 20 packages to send out - Tricky, but hardly a nightmare.

Is Kickstarter.com providing you with all the information and metrics you want to keep track of your campaign?  Is there anything you’d want them to add?  How is Kicktraq working out for you as supporting your campaign?  

Not quite, but Kicktraq fills in the majority of the gaps in the system. It gives me trending, tentative projections, and some daily breakdowns, all of which helps me understand what’s going on better.

One thing neither Kicktraq nor Kickstarter provide me is a graph of referrers over time. I’d love to see the spike caused by the Gamasutra article, or how long the tail on the RockPaperShotgun mention was.

Any tips or warnings you’d give for anyone thinking of starting a Kickstarter?

Warnings, I think. Two of them:

1. Only 25% to 30% of your funds are going to come from Kickstarter users. The rest will need to come from external referrers, which means you’re going to have to work hard to get mentioned in a lot of places.

2. Seriously, you’re going to have to work HARD to get mentioned in a LOT of places.

Between Kickstarter, ongoing game development, and packing for the move, my average work day has been 15+ hours - If I’m awake, I’m working. It’s a lot harder work than I expected, but it’s been very rewarding to see the community grow so quickly.

Well thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule is there anything else you’d like to add?

Just to thank YOU for your time. I’ve been answering a lot of interview questions in the past month, and these have been easily among the best thought out and most enlightening.

You flatter me sir, but thanks again for your time Dirk and I look forward to seeing a final completed campaign!  

My pleasure! I look forward to it too.


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