SG Interview: Iron Tides Designer, Carina Kom02 Aug 2017 0
Iron Tides - a Viking-styled turn-based strategy survival game - took an interesting approach as soon as it became known to the public. Headed up by Sam Raski and Carina Kom at the freshly named Crash Wave Studio, this tiny independent team decided to utilize three common self-publishing methods while out-sourcing key design areas to make up for gaps in their skill-base.
Starting its public parade on Steam Greenlight, it didn't take long for the promise of a Viking-simulator to make it through the screening process. With potential players obviously already on board, their next step was properly funding further development.
The aim of the now defunct Steam Greenlight process was to have enough 'Yes' votes to make it into the Top 100. For Crash Wave Games and their debut project, this took just under a month. Their Kickstarter venture took place just under a year later, taking just another month to gather up roughly $24,000 while the team toured numerous conventions to show off their idea to the paying public. To top it all off, the team recently launched their game onto Steam’s Early Access Program, a platform that by all accounts was supposed to replace Greenlight to some degree.
Most developers typically consider utilizing one, sometimes two of these crowd-sourcing schemes, but here we have a project that’s knocked through three of them. We asked Co-Founder & Designer Carina Kom to shed a little light on this strategy:
We wanted our first Crash Wave Games title to reflect our step-by-step process and commitment to a profession that we love. Feedback = improvement, and it’s been a mission to improve Iron Tides since our Greenlight days. Part of being a developer is being a gamer. As a gamer who supports other developers, we can only hope they will be as committed as we are to an exciting journey.
When we pitched Iron Tides to Steam Greenlight, we were covering our basis and ensuring our game would be a match for the community. Even from the early stages of production, our team did everything we could to engage our soon-to-be fans, and Steam Greenlight was just the first step.
The team needed to make sure they balanced the crunch of game development while keeping would-be players in the loop. There was an initial length of silence that had people concerned, but since April 1st, the team has made sure to keep their audience engaged with Carina taking up the mantle of social media director. Following the conclusion of their Kickstarter, backers were given the chance to play each major build of Iron Tides for many months and development became something of a community endeavor. The team had to weigh the good from the bad:
To date we have spent an absurd amount of time (over 100 hours) watching players (in person, on Twitch, and on Youtube) engage with Iron Tides. We then prioritize what happened during the session and find a winning solution to potential issues. The hardest part about community ideas is selecting the strongest idea and separating what is essential and what is unnecessary.
Around the time that their Greenlight silence was broken, they announced plans to attend the popular SxSW convention. Though the team participated in numerous similar trade shows to demonstrate prototypes and early builds before (with appropriate Viking garb), the reasoning here was something a little more lucrative. The idea was to enter the show's 'pitch' competition where they'd be given 10 minutes to explain the premise of Iron Tides to a 4-strong team of industry professionals. Though they eventually lost out to Tessera Studios' 'Intruders: Hide & Seek', they were awarded a Finalist accolade that's still displayed proudly on the game's Steam page as they headed into Steam’s Early Access program.
Turning the premise of venturing across harsh waters with little reason other than to live to fight another day, Iron Tide’s simplified turn-based battle system strikes that impressive, all-important 'easy to learn, hard to master' philosophy. A premise every strategy game should realistically strive for - a way to entice a varied audience.
Each quest incorporates numerous layers; dungeon crawling, rogue-like choices/permadeath and turn-based strategy. And it's how this tiny team managed to find the room to add their own unique spin on the turn-based strategy genre (like the use of shields) while retaining the game's core make-up that stands out the most:
We are hardcore gamers with a creative background in casual games. It was our goal to familiarize casual gamers with elements that are hardcore. Therefore Iron Tides had to be simple from the start. We knew Iron Tides would be a genre mash. The game elements you describe were derived from our interpretation of “survival-strategy”, and spurred on with concepts from Dungeons and Dragons.
As Iron Tides is a Viking-themed adventure, it naturally made sense for us to dig deep and find ways to analyse what Vikings do to separate themselves as warriors. We noticed the use of shields playing a significant role and we began to extrapolate our own mechanics using that observation.
Part of how Iron Tides manages to keep to its Viking roots during its dungeon crawling moments on the waves is by including short narrative snippets across the ruins and islands littering the seas on each quest. Upon landing on these 'chance' squares, players are typically presented with scenarios and must choose from a selection of actions befitting their Viking persona in exchange for food used to survive on the waters or various types of currency peddled back at the main hub of Norstead. While some have been tailor-made in tandem with their higher-paying Kickstarter backers, the rest can take a little more work;
The chance encounters are tricky to come up with as we need to balance the reward with player expectations. Everything is hand crafted for a single encounter and we rely on each other to help us get it right
And while the team have promised to add even more chance encounters as the game rides the Early Access train through to its proposed Winter 2017 release, Iron Tides already feels like a feature-complete game.
Engaging with the community has been a paramount experience. I would argue the opinions of our Most Valuable Players are critical to our game. We’re flattered to stand out as a completed product while in Early Access – this tells us we’re on the right track
Paying for the vast majority of development and marketing costs out of their own pocket, their Kickstarter endeavors came about as a way to help clear outstanding IOUs by essentially cashing in on pre-orders. From that, Crash Wave Games grabbed a bank loan to cover the rest of the development costs, hoping that their idea will eventually pay for itself.
But should that initial bout of passion fail to generate the cash needed to break even, Iron Tides could end up appearing on a platform known to lap up simplistic, cartoony strategy games - mobile. For couch surfers, they've got your back too.
We’ve been silent about this for some time, but are currently testing touch controls. We know Iron Tides works on a [Microsoft] Surface tablet and we are preparing controller support for a future update.
It's taken a little while since October 2015 for Iron Tides to find its stride, but the raging waves are finally ready to welcome your bows, sword and axes aboard the bandit ships and crashed-out vessels lining its randomly generated waters. Early previews, including ours, are proving highly favorable.
If you're looking for a turn-based strategy that doesn't take days to wrap your head around, Iron Tides is a smart and simple solution that can only get better with age. And for under £10, you're already getting a very solid strategy gem backed by a team who fully understand what they're doing.