Starwraith 3D Games LLC’s Shawn Bower took some time recently to discuss the mega expansion for Evochron Mercenary. Players have access to a bevy of new features too numerous to list here, including my personal favorite, Terrain Walkers! Look here for all of the details. The game is available here, and on Steam for $24.99. I’ve already reviewed Evochron Mercenary, so you KNOW I’m a fan- I have my mech at long last!!!
Jeff: Could you explain why the expansion for Evochron: Mercenary is free? There seems to be more than enough content here to warrant a DLC fee!
Shawn: Indeed, I’ve been working on Evochron Mercenary for over 4 years now and have ever only asked for one purchase price during that entire time. But this was what I wanted to do from the beginning of the game’s development. My goal was to try and fund the game’s development for a longer duration than just a one or two year life cycle. By charging a higher up front price only once, my hope was that it would provide the funding needed to give me the time and resources necessary to continue working on it through at least one major ‘expansion’ type update in addition to many other free updates for at least 3-4 years. The benefits would include the player always having access to whatever the full game offered without having to pay for separate DLC packs. Doing it this way would also make sure that the playerbase would not be divided between those who had a DLC version and those who didn’t, which was an important consideration with the game’s unified single player and multiplayer gameplay structure. Once a player bought the game once, they could always access everything it had to offer during the course of its development and that was a priority to me.
J: How influential is the fan community when trying to design an expansion? Was there anything they were especially hoping for that you had to leave out?
S: Feedback, requests, constructive criticism, and player interests all play a major role in my time and resource management process when deciding what to work on and what to leave out. The more relevant and popular a request is, the more attention I pay to it. The expansion focused on the most popular requests and criticisms and there are always a few features that are left out that some players would want to see. Sometimes they fall outside the scope of my design goals/interests for the game, sometimes they just won’t work with the current gameplay and/or functionality framework. But even if something is left out, it doesn’t necessarily mean it may be out forever. Sometimes a request simply takes a lot more time or is more feasible for a major update like the expansion.
J: Let’s talk Terrain Walkers. Tell me about the decision to include them, and what additional gameplay elements they represent.
S: As an indie developer, I am free to include features or options that are things I just want to have in the game. This was the case with terrain walkers, so it was basically just an ‘I wanted to add it’ feature. Terrain walkers provide a way for the player to get out of their ship and explore the surface of planets ‘on foot’. They mine five times faster than spacecraft, so they are a useful mining platform. They include cargo scanners built in, so the player can hunt for lost cargo containers on the surface of planets and use the walker to determine what’s inside without having to pick it up first. Walkers open up new contract options, such as surveying and biological recovery. And of course, they provide a new option for PvP combat.
J: What was the biggest challenge in creating the TWs?
S: Probably the custom code based animation system that I developed to meet certain functional requirements I needed for including them in multiplayer and for various other systems. I wrote an animation system from scratch that assembles the various components of the walker and then animates them in code, rather than using keyframes built into the mesh. The amount of work involved and level of complexity it required was higher than I had anticipated.
J: When creating an expansion, how do you know what to add and what needs to stay on the editing room floor (at least for the time being)?
S: I carefully analyze a lengthy list of potential options to determine what I can feasibly accomplish, what fits well with the intended design of the game, what has the most player interest, and what will make the game more fun to play. Those features/options that make the cut then move on toward prototyping and testing.
J: How do you draw the line between “realism” and accessibility? When fans clamor for features, on which side of the issue do they normally fall?
S: It can go either way. Some features do better and are more fun with a more realistic implementation. Others are better received when they are more accessible. Whatever might help make such features more fun for more players. So I prioritize the direction for each feature ‘on demand’. It’s obviously a subjective process and many features will certainly miss the mark for some players who have different expectations and interests, but I try to work toward achieving an effective balance that makes the game fun to play for most.
J: What’s something even the most hardcore fans might not know about the Evochron universe?
S: Much of it is based on concepts I had in mind for a movie when I was younger. Plus, there are still some ideas that haven’t yet been implemented into a game that I may one day want to develop.
J: Are additional expansions planned for the future? What about for Arvoch?
S: I currently don’t have plans for further expansions for Mercenary or Arvoch. I have actually been considering a new direction for my next project. Still space related, but not a first person space-sim. Not sure I’ll actually go through with it yet, I’m still in the process of reviewing options. For now, I plan to continue to work on Evochron Mercenary with updates as long as it remains viable to do so.
Whatever lies ahead for Shawn, I wish him nothing but success. Evochron Mercenary should not be missed, and I can only hope his next project is as engaging as this one!