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Moonshot - An Interview with the Developer

Author: Novalith

Category: Interview

We had some questions for the creators of Moonshot, and they were kind enough to answer our questions for us! Read the details and satisfy your curiosity.

Moonshot is a new game available on Steam. You can watch our gameplay and review right here.

And to find out more about the history and development of the game, we have asked some questions guys from Pump Action Games which should surely answer some of your questions regarding the developers and the game itself. 

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Q: Hello! Can you present Pump Action Games studio? There is not much information available. There are three developers according to the press kit but can you tell us more about each of you? 

A: We’re flattered, it’s still a bit new to us, this whole telling our story thing. Pump Action Games was officially founded in October 2015, but our roots trace back a couple years to an entirely different game than Moonshot.

Robert and Matt are both natives of the greater Seattle region. They were introduced via a mutual friend two years back when they kick started work on another awesome indie game which hasn’t yet been announced (and which we at Pump Action Games hope to eventually finish out, so stay tuned fans of digging/puzzling games :D).

After two years of hot/cold development, they had a breathtakingly beautiful game with compelling tech, but they lacked a strong gameplay loop. That’s where I came into the picture. I’m from Utah, but was brought to Seattle for a job opportunity that was too good to pass up. Robert and I work together at our day jobs, and we have a track record of doing awesome, innovative stuff together. He asked me to take a look from a design perspective. I could see the game still had a ways to go to become really compelling, but it excited all kinds of ideas.

Over the course of three or four brainstorm sessions, we sketched out a very exciting gameplay design. But, even better, we learned the three of us perfectly complement one another’s skill sets and have an incredible energy when we work together. We started dreaming about what we could achieve together.

Q: How did you meet? Was it hard to create the studio and start working together?

A: Shockingly, we all found we worked together brilliantly from the start. It’s one of the major reasons we felt we could really make magic together.

Q: What was the idea behind Moonshot?

A: Funny enough, Moonshot was conceived as a one day game that we planned to knock out as a mental breath freshener from our other unannounced title. Matt had done a tank concept with rockers instead of wheels. The look of the tank reminded me of Scorched Earth, and I suddenly wanted to revisit that nostalgia. We literally did the high level design on a whiteboard in about an hour’s time. We haven’t really looked back since. The game started coming together so quickly and with such a life of its own that we pushed pause on the other project to devote all our attention to it.

Here we are about four months after writing that first line of code. The game’s a fraction of what it can be, but the core was proving so fun that we had to share it with people. We’re delighted by the positive response it’s had so far, if only from a small audience. But we know that audience will grow, especially around key features like online multiplayer.

Oh, I should also mention that all our development is done during our moonlighting hours, since we all have day jobs. So you can imagine how hectic the last three or four months have been.

Moonshot gameplay

Moonshot gameplay

Q: People have likened your games to Scorched Earth or Worms in some ways. Are there any other games that influenced your vision for Moonshot? What kinds of experiences from these games were you hoping to re-create for players?

A: Oh definitely! We found inspiration everywhere – Samurai Gunn, Towerfall Ascension, Bomberman, Power Stones 2, Nidhogg, Gang Beast, Knight Squad, and, of course, Smash Bros. You can’t venture into this space without paying homage to Smash. Funny enough, more than once we took direct inspiration from the original Scorched Earth.

Our goal was to bring the pick-up-and-play arcade multiplayer experience to Steam. And we’re following in the footsteps of some rock stars who’ve done that brilliantly.

Q: In a world where even classically single-player game franchises have added online components, you've chosen to stick exclusively with Local Multiplayer. What factors lead to or influenced this decision?

A: Cost only. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I grew up nerding out with brothers and friends on Contra, Mario Kart, or Halo split screen. Couch co-op is hands down my favorite way to play – there’s nothing like showboating and gloating live. That said, adult life hasn’t been kind to my opportunities for couch co-op, and we recognize the same is true for millions of others out there. But we’re a tiny studio moonlighting in our off-hours and we’ve had to make some tough choices to get something out the door. That focus allows us to execute quickly – we went from first concept to Early Access in 3.5 months. Now we’re shifting that focus to online multiplayer.

Q: You guys packed a lot of really cool features into such an unassuming package, like the deflector shield and siege mode. Were there any features that didn't make the cut?

A: Hahaha, oh where to begin? The cut features would fill a toilet paper roll at 10 pt font. Some wacky stuff is gone for good like jumping tanks, funky bombs, turn-based puzzle mode, space sheep, balloon planets. Others may still find their way into the product, like configurable tank chasses with custom wheels and turret heads, siege mode thrusters that rotate planets, co-opetition to survive meteor showers or boss fights, tractor beams, catch up mechanics, etc. I could go on and on. So many of these are great ideas, but as is often the case, you find you simply don’t have room on the boat for a lot of your babies.

Q: Similarly, were there any features you wished could have been implemented but just didn't see itself come to fruition?

A: The game is young, and the sky’s the limit, so I haven’t had to kill any babies outright yet. But the one I wanted most for initial release was perks. These would have been tank abilities that unlock as you earn score round after round. In any given match, you could equip any two perks. We had such great concepts for what the perks would be.

Moonshot gameplay

Moonshot gameplay

Q: How was your experience with Steam Greenlight?

A: We were astonished by the response in Greenlight. We’re still trying to understand it. The game caught fire and steamrolled ahead of the biggest players in the bunch. By day 2, we were in the top 100, and by day 3 or 4, we were in the top 20. Valve approved us on Thanksgiving Day after only 10 days on Greenlight! That gave us all plenty to be thankful for.

The other interesting thing about Greenlight was that our Yes to No vote ratio was just incredibly high. Typically, Greenlight games will see about two No votes to every Yes. Moonshot flipped that on its head and was drawing two Yes votes to every No. There’s no doubt that overwhelmingly positive sentiment helped us through quickly. We’re really grateful for the community support that turned out.

I’m not sure what to credit that to. Obviously, the art is great. And I feel like our trailer was strong. It clearly communicated what the game was all about in the first couple seconds, and did so with style. But ultimately, I think the success was because the pick-up-and-play class of arcade multiplayer games is an underserved category on Steam. I think it’s something people have never stopped loving, even as devs have served the category less and less. We want to give non-console gamers a console quality Smash Bro’s-esque experience.

Q: What presented the most challenge while developing Moonshot?

A: Networked multiplayer, hands down. I mean, the cost of a feature like that is pretty close to the cost of the whole dev time on the rest of the product. Unity is brilliant in that it offers a lot of shortcuts that you can buy or get open source, but the reality is these features are still engineering intensive. We had a branch working at various points throughout our development, but keeping it running proved such a time suck that, with the size of our team, we really had to choose between making the game or making the multiplayer.

That said, we’re pleased to report that the positive reaction we’re seeing to the gameplay means we can divert *a lot* more attention to letting people play together. Which is what this concept has been about since the beginning.

Q: How true to life was the physics? Were there mass calculations? Do asteroids which have had chunks blown away affect shots less than those who are completely intact?

A: Haha, great questions. Now you’re peeking behind the curtain, which I love. The beautiful thing about making a game is hacking rules and systems to deliver unconscious delight. Take something like gravity – super satisfying when your RC plane is banking and swooping, but it can be a royal pain when you’re crashing. Games don’t have to play by the rules, so we definitely exploit that.

We started with real gravity, then we scaled that up about 4x, which made for some beautiful bullet trajectories. Planet gravity remains steady as they erode. We tried both, but we found that players build a mental model. Changing that model mid-stream throws off people’s mental calculus.

There are a couple of subtle things going on too. Each planet has an atmosphere, and bullets within that atmosphere experience atmospheric drag, which slows their velocity every frame.

Moonshot gameplay

Moonshot gameplay

Q: Do you have any other plans in the wings for Moonshot? Any updates or additions?

A: Oh, for sure! We intend to use Steam Early Access exactly as it was meant to be used – it’s a way for us to have a relationship with people who love the game so we can shape it for them. So far, we’re hearing three requests loud and clear: 1) Multiplayer!! 2) More modes and weapons, and 3) Tank customization.

I know a bunch of our fans are eager to play online multiplayer today. Rest assured, we’ve got our best minds on it. I hope you’ll be patient for a month or two while we get it ready. At first, you’ll be able to join a friend’s game. But ultimately we want to grow this product to be something like Rocket League or Splatoon, with effortless single-click matchmaking.

As for modes and weapons, we’ve got the first new mode coming this Monday – Sumo Wrestling! I think it should be pretty hilarious. After that, we’ve got a steady stream of others designed, including Raise the Flag, Bounty Hunter, and Space Race to name a few. Ultimately, I’ve got Titan Mode in my sights, which I designed three months back and which I still think sounds like a blast.

Q: Can we expect to see more titles from Pump Action Games in the near or not too distant future? Anything specific conceived during the development of Moonshot you are eager to dive into?

A: We’re keeping our cards a bit close to the vest on what’s next because it’s early days yet. But let’s just say we’ve been incubating another concept that takes a fresh look at tower defense. And we have the digging/puzzling game that brought us all together yet to finish. So I would say you’ll be hearing a lot more from Pump Action Games in the not distant future.

Q: If there is one thing you could have every player know about Moonshot, its development, or its developers, what would that be?

A: We exist as a studio to give people ways to play together. For us, games are about playing with people. Whether you’re unwinding and having a laugh, or doubling down on a boss battle with a friend for the 17th time,sharing the experience makes good moments epic. We’re inspired by Co-optimus and other sites like it that are championing this goal.

Moonshot gameplay

Moonshot gameplay

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