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Road to the IGF: Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Developers Matt Hammill and Jamie Tucker tell us the history behind the frantic co-op space platformer/defense hybrid, which is nominated for an Excellence in Visual Arts award at the Independent Games Festival later this month.

Frank Cifaldi, Contributor

March 13, 2013

6 Min Read

As part of our Road to the IGF series, Gamasutra is speaking to each of the finalists in the 2013 Independent Games Festival to find out the story behind the games. Today we speak to Matt Hammill and Jamie Tucker of Asteroid Base, the team behind Love in a Dangerous Spacetime, which is nominated for the Excellence in Visual Art thanks to its unique 2D viewpoint that is, in reality, taking advantage of 3D polygons.

What is your team's game development background, if any?

Jamie: I have a background mostly in illustration and animation. When I moved back to Toronto from Calgary in 2009 I joined the indie game community and made my first game at TOJam 2010, and since then I have been making small jam-sized games and learning various tools and pipelines. I picked up programming through web development and eventually got into Game Maker and Unity. Matt: I got my start tinkering with Quake mods as a kid, using qME. I got back into it when I discovered Adventure Game Studio around 2006, and continued working on projects in my spare time while I started working in animation. I released my first game, Gesundheit!, on iOS in 2011, and since then I've been balancing indie projects like this with freelance game contracts.

What game development tools are you using?

Jamie: We built our first prototype at the Toronto Global Game Jam in January 2012 using Game Maker, and we used Photoshop and After Effects to create and animate the sprites. A few months later when we started on production of the "real" version, we switched to Unity and started animating the new spaceships in Maya because we could be more dynamic with the implementation.

Where did the concept come from?

Jamie: Our teammate Adam had been telling us about the game Artemis, which is like a Star Trek simulator–everyone has their station and duties. Somehow we got talking about the scene in Star Wars where the Millennium Falcon was being attacked by TIE fighters and Luke and Han had to scramble to the turrets. We wanted something to capture that sense of frantic energy. Our only requirement going into the meeting was that we were going to make a co-op game, having been influenced by Damian Sommer's A Friendship in Four Colours and Spooky Squid's Cephalopods Co-op Cottage Defence. Matt: We made some sketches from an overhead view of a ship divided into different rooms and control stations (not unlike FTL actually, which we found out about later) but as artists we didn't want to spend our time animating the the tops of heads and shoulders of the crewmen, so Jamie suggested we switch to a side view and the concept of the micro-platformer was born. At one point we were exploring other thematic settings too, like pirate ship battles, but the concept just seemed to lend itself to a space setting.

How long have you been working on the game?

Jamie: The prototype was done in three days for the Global Game Jam. We sat on it until around June of 2012 when Matt started to recreate the game in Unity. Matt: It was really slow at first, because I was also using the process as an excuse to learn Unity. But towards the end of that summer Jamie jumped back on the project too, and we've been working on it steadily since then (though we both balance that with contract work as well).

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any standouts?

Jamie: Of course we played FTL--such a great game. We actually considered dumping our game entirely last February when they had their immensely successful Kickstarter campaign, because our game was so close thematically. Matt: We have this really long email thread with the subject "uhhhhhhh oh shit" which is from when we first saw their Kickstarter. We didn't want people to think we were trying to rip those guys off! But eventually we calmed down and realized that we're both coming at it from pretty different directions. As for other games, I thought Dys4ia was totally wonderful and surprising, and Guacamelee! is gorgeous. That animation, oh man. Jamie: I met Anna Anthropy when she was in Toronto, but I was too shy to say how much I enjoyed Dys4ia. I just said "hi" and bought a copy of her book. I really wasn't expecting the emotional reaction I felt from playing it. Also being a part of the Toronto indie dev community we had been exposed to Guacamelee! from pretty early on. Yeah, that game looks so great.

How do you define an "indie" game developer?

Matt: For me it's about having the freedom to make work that you believe in without needing permission or approval from anyone else, and of course facing the decisions and responsibilities that go along with that. What I like most about it though are all the different hats you get to wear -- I can bounce from game design to animation to programming to trailer editing and constantly be learning all these different fields. Jamie: I am obsessed about being able to do everything. "Indie" game development has help me feed this need. I love learning new tools, languages, workflows, strategies, programs, paradigms, patterns, pasta recipes, etc...

LDS' color palette evokes a certain late 80s/early 90s nostalgia for me. Is there anything in particular you were going for with it?

Matt: Since we already felt bit guilty about doing yet another space game (the genre isn't exactly under-represented) we at least wanted to give it a fresh paint job. I think I OD'd on grim darkness as a Warhammer 40K-obsessed teenager, and I wanted our sci-fi space battles to go in the total opposite direction. And yeah, we grew up in the 80s/90s, so there's definitely some nostalgia in there, but we were trying to approach it in a fresh way, if that makes any sense. We wrote a blog post about our inspirations here: http://www.asteroidbase.com/devlog/3-drawing-inspiration/ Jamie: We definitely tried to capture something from the era of coin-op arcade games with the colors and arcade gameplay. A commenter (AxeMan808) on our YouTube trailer said that it was like "an updated Space Zap, with some Burgertime tossed in for extra fun." I wish I thought of that.

Some may be surprised to learn that the game is actually rendered in polygons. What advantages does this give you?

Matt: The biggest advantage of working in 3-D is that it lets us use rigged characters with animated skeletons, rather than animated sprites. This lets us blend and modify animations in code, meaning we can have more dynamic, lively characters. For example, our evil space jellyfish swishes his tentacles differently depending on his speed and what angle he's moving at; it's a subtle difference but it really brings the character to life. This kind of thing is par for the course in 3-D games, but in 2-D it's still quite rare.

Wouldn't these two lovers be happier on the ground, where it's safe? Why would they put themselves out into dangerous spacetimes when they could be somewhere a little less stressful? Is that just like, what they're into?

Matt: That's a good question. Perhaps they're having a midlife crisis and looking to put some spice back into their cosmic relationship. Jamie: I don't think it matters where you are–haters gonna hate and lovers gonna love.

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