Space Bit Interview
GameAspect had a chance recently to talk to indie developers Ben Ellis and Jens Mertens about their new game, Space Bit. You can read our preview of SpaceBit here.
GameAspect: First things first: Describe SpaceBit to me. Tell me what the game is like.
Ben Ellis: Well SpaceBit is like a survival game which puts you up against a randomized planet which has its own seasons and weather conditions. You start from bare basics and try to discover your planet while building new materials to help make your life easier. There will be many different generated planets which will change your technology and types of things you can make with the planet resources you find, at night time monsters come out to feed the monsters depend on the planet you’re on. When you build a base with AI robots, and are able to defend yourself easily at night, you could possibly travel to other planets by making your own spaceship
Jens Mertens: Yes, and on other planets, one could find a wide range of different things. On one planet, there might be nothing but lava and rocks and some spots of rare minerals. Other planets could be inhabited by highly advanced aliens and their herds of animals. Maybe you could be friendly to the aliens and trade with them. It’s also very possible to just wipe them out and use their base as your own! Maybe the same planet could be inhabited by a gang of space pirates and they would then raid the alien’s base! You could choose to side with either faction or neither, if that’s your choice. The big thing here though is that it’s purely random.
Ben Ellis: Spaceships are only one part of the gameplay style you can choose. We want you to be able to spend a lot of time crafting your own ship making parts which make your ship work, like an engine, cockpit, thrusters, electrical components, and part protection. When you add all the needed components together, you will have some form of spaceship, this spaceship has a chance to work or fail and its performance is only based on how well you design it with the parts you make for it.
Jens Mertens: Yes, and a spaceship could also be fitted with an AI core, which makes it able to function on its own. You could make AI bots like this, on the ground as well as in the air. You could task them to attack, to gather, to guard, to transport resources.
Ben Ellis: SpaceBit has a lot of RTS gameplay mechanics.
GameAspect: You’re talking about having to properly design space ships, numerous possibilities for various racial encounters on other planets and a whole host of other game-changing random factors that help SpaceBit play uniquely for each person. How do you go from Day One saying: “Let’s make a game” to actually incorporating all of these complex functions?
Ben Ellis: well SpaceBit actually started out very basic and we took it step by step.
Jens Mertens: Haha, well, basically we just develop as we go, adding features where we think there should be.
GameAspect: Ok, so the game we see today isn’t the game you envisioned when you started out
Jens Mertens: Well, not exactly, you should have seen what we started out as. We also get many ideas from our community that we like to use and this also changes the game in the end. We did put goals and aims in the beginning, though.
GameAspect: Tell me about that. You two are from different parts of the world for one thing. [Ellis lives in Australia and Mertens in Belgium] How did you end up jointly working on this project? How did SpaceBit get born?
Ben Ellis: Jeno was always helping me test games I developed. One after another he was always helping me.
Jens Mertens: Well, me and Ben have been working together for a few years now. We got together making another game. He was programming it and I was making basic 3D models. That game got nowhere in the end though and ben started making little games himself. He just asked me to test them out and well, that stuck.
GameAspect: What was that game that you met on? And how long back has that been?
Jens Mertens: like… 2 years ago or something? I think. I don’t even remember what game that was; it was doomed to fail anyway.
Ben Ellis: this was when I was still new to programming.
Jens Mertens: The dev team was formed of many other teams combined. I had only just begun 3D modeling, and the game’s lead was bad… In the end, nothing really worth talking about.
GameAspect: Haha alright. While we’re on the subject, tell me about yourselves and the SpaceBit Dev Team. What got you into the field and what brought you together for this particular project?
Jens Mertens: Well, me personally, I’ve always loved gaming on all platforms and everything related to them. It was about two years ago that I started to dabble in 3D modeling and started to enjoy it. Right now, I’m studying Digital Arts & Entertainment in Belgium, which is basically an all-encompassing class for everything related to games. We learn 3D modeling, digital painting, sketching as well as programming in C++. When I’m done for this year, I intend to help Ben with the programming. I would then do some effects programming.
Ben Ellis: Well for me, programming has been a dream since I knew about computers. Even before I knew how games were made I always had a passion for making games. I recently finished my advanced diploma in programming and I looked for some work before I started my degree in computer science. After looking for a couple months while I developed SpaceBit, I realized I should focus directly on SpaceBit and put 24/7 of my work into it. Jeno and I make a real good team.
Jens Mertens: Yes, we do, especially since for Ben, it’s pretty normal to stay up way past midnight (as its 1 a.m. over there right now). He takes care of most things, though I help out with some of the essentials, like the art and publicity
GameAspect: Okay, great. Jeno said a bit earlier, “You should have seen what we started out as,” when talking about SpaceBit’s start. Tell me more about that. What was the game when it was first conceived?
Ben Ellis: well back when SpaceBit first started it was more like only about the spaceships. You kind of had a grid which you could place to make a spaceship and destroy asteroids and other enemy spaceships.
Jens Mertens: Well, actually we intended to give out early versions of the game to people who ordered the game on the website.
Ben Ellis: if enough people like it we will probably release it as free ware.
GameAspect: What about the horde/survival aspects, was that even a part of the core game?
Jens Mertens: Yeah, but it started out just as a “survive the asteroids” kind of game.
Ben Ellis: back then, the game engine was still being coded. I never got up to that stage at that time.
Jens Mertens: Then after a bit, there was the little planet… no animations, no enemies, no damage, no HUD, nothing.
GameAspect: So then it turned into something very different along the way. How did that happen?
Ben Ellis: The survival aspect was always a plan but I thought of doing the spaceship parts first because of the complexity with rotating the grid of each component in a spaceship while storing each of the grids position in the world. But after I completed the core of the spaceships I went to the survival aspect and kept the spaceships out of the game till a week or so ago
Jens Mertens: then it grew and grew. As we were testing it we started talking about how we could go further. We would just go like “How would this be, would that be fun?” However we always intended multiplayer and a survival setting.
GameAspect: Vehicles? Are there still plans for that?
Ben Ellis: Possibly. We plan on adding buildings and robots first.
Jens Mertens: There will be vehicles after that, definitely. I had the idea of wanting vehicles in the very beginning of the game (not the spaceship part). The movement was so slow that I figured our character would need some form of faster travel. This is when I told ben to put in some form of planetary speed bike. This is one of the advantages to the 25$ version… When we get there, those buyers will get that exclusive awesome bike.
GameAspect: Ben mentioned to me that you guys are wrapping up multiplayer even as we speak. And, Ben, you asked earlier what I would like to see in SpaceBit. Multiplayer is what I’ve been looking forward to most in it. How will the multiplayer work, though?
Ben Ellis: currently multiplayer works by joining a dedicated server of your choice. You will have game modes, but currently you will only have survival game mode but in the future we might add extreme survival where it’s really hard to survive and monsters are always around and you find ammo on the ground including weapons while being able to build a quick base for protection, and we also plan to add a war game mode in which everyone spawns on a random planet and has to build a base then fight other players online or work with them till there is a victory from any faction players are in. War is much like your typical RTS
GameAspect: And multiplayer is set to be useable when?
Ben Ellis: Monday [May 7] I’m hoping. On Desura there will hopefully be a stable version by Wednesday
GameAspect: Let’s talk money. How has SpaceBit been funded?
Jens Mertens: The only funding we’ve received comes from the buyers we’ve had until now.
Ben Ellis: My savings haha. And the buyers really help.
GameAspect: Okay, so you’re really invested in the game’s success. That’s the indie way. How successful has it been so far? Obviously you’re still in the alpha stages, but what kind of reach do you have right now? Is there a large player community?
Jens Mertens: Well, there’s no day without buyers and we have some really helpful guys over on our forums.
Ben Ellis: the player community isn’t so big right now. We have about 20 forum members but they are all quite active, we have a lot of support from people who try the game. SpaceBit’s development is amazingly fast. I have things like duel wielding item Ability system I need to add, Alien AI which shoot you with lasers and use military tactics to trick you and try kill you, more item categories like traps, explosives, long range weapons which fire up and land were your cursor is.
Jens Mertens: That, on top of the zombie hordes is going to be fun.
GameAspect: Haha ok. So the aliens are in addition to the zombies?
Jens Mertens: Of course. One would never replace the other.
Ben Ellis: Aliens will use spaceships and have technology which makes you have better gear Aliens are more end game. You will struggle fighting the aliens for a while, but once you start getting their technology they will turn out to be even in the battlefield. We also have a unique Unit controlling system we plan on adding soon. You don’t select units, you order them. More like a commander
GameAspect: Ok. Sort of like Kingdom Under Fire or a similar system. Mount and Blade-esque unit control?
Ben Ellis: Kind of. But more specific. Not like go there, but mainly go here, then go aggressive. Like mount and blade, but a different take on it.
Jens Mertens: Something like “all gatherers go over to that spot and mine out all gold,” or just task it to a few of them.
Ben Ellis: You will have an AI center so you will be able to categorize teams of AI’s, then order them in their category.
GameAspect: Okay, very cool. I’ve read bits and pieces about that on your site. The goal is to be able to have your robots do your work and get to a point where you’re more a king than a survivor right?
Ben Ellis: Yes, exactly. More like a commander, so you will watch the resources fill up while you explore new lands to take minerals from.
Jens Mertens: Yeah, sounds like so much fun. However, it could very well turn around again! Someone could raid your planet, causing you to flee elsewhere, having to start all over again!
GameAspect: SpaceBit has sort of a quasi-Minecraftian feel to it in certain respects, though it’s certainly pretty unique in most others as well. What do you think SpaceBit is doing that other games aren’t?
Jens Mertens: Well, everything we do is intended to be new and refreshing. It is however not an easy feat to do something that hasn’t been done before.
Ben Ellis: I hear a lot of people say it’s like Minecraft and terraria, but I think SpaceBit is more about building specific buildings which serve a purpose where Minecraft and Terraria are more about building something for looks in most cases.
GameAspect: The graphics have a very basic or old-school feel to them, which isn’t a bad thing at all in this gaming market. What led to that?
Ben Ellis: Currently the per-tile style is only a placeholder for the more in-depth system I plan on adding. SpaceBit currently has no real effects built in. It’s mainly all drawing or drawn through the program. We plan to add much more effects like bloom-ish. For example, engines will have a type of heat wave. It should be very pretty. I care allot about visuals.
GameAspect: Can you elaborate on player-environment interactions?
Jens Mertens: Well, the obvious aspect is that the supplies on your planet are not infinite. If you cut down all trees and plant none, you’ll soon run out of wood.
GameAspect: So I can move into a planet, raze all their resources and fly away.
Jens Mertens: Yep, that’s one of the main pillars the game will have.
Ben Ellis: The climate is fairly stable based on what your planet is when you spawn on it, sometimes it rains a lot, or snows a lot causing everything to be covered in snow, or maybe you have a lot of meteor storms causing lava to burst from the planets core. You will have more interaction with day-time animals allowing you to keep them and farm them for food or resources so the planets life stock doesn’t become extinct. You should be able to keep a stable climate, but if you’re not smart you won’t be able to, and you will have to try to make a simple spaceship or pod to try fly to another world. Kind of like the human race, haha.
Jens Mertens: Well said.
GameAspect: Dual wielding is an interesting component, though it’s not implemented yet. Tell me about that.
Ben Ellis: You will have dual-wielding, so for example, you equip a pistol and on the other hand you equip a lighting type of item generator thing. When you left click to fire a pistol you fire a normal bullet. If you right click you fire a pistol with a lightning static ability which bounces to enemies.
GameAspect: I’ve wondered a bit about the class system. How fleshed out is it currently?
Ben Ellis: Currently classes in SpaceBit aren’t really ready, but it will have a very interesting depth to it when it’s added, including specific class item abilities. I hope to add it within the next patch after multiplayer. For example, a medic might have a healing item ability called a medipac it isn’t an item enhancer like the soldier or special forces item ability; instead it just heals an area around the medic
Jens Mertens: Currently, classes only differ in the items you start out with.
GameAspect: How much of this is implemented. How much is yet to add? In terms of the overall game, how near completion is it, percentage-wise?
Ben Ellis: Well percentage-wise, we are about 40%. We get about a percent a day. We do a lot of backtracking though, to maintain top quality.
GameAspect: Alright. So two months of hard work and you’re all done?
Ben Ellis: Yes. That was around the specific date.
GameAspect: We’ll look forward to it. Thanks Ben and Jeno.