Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kerbal Space Program Devs Interviewed!

Aw yeah! We sat down with some of the folks from Squad, developers of Kerbal Space Program. Please make sure your trays and seat backs are in their upright positions...

It's no secret that we had tons of fun with Kerbal Space Program. So imagine our excitement when Bob Holtzman and Miguel Piña Sabido from Squad agreed to have a chat with us. Get comfy for one of our biggest interviews yet!

KGB: Let's start at the beginning- Who is Squad? When and how did the studio form, who were the founding members?

Bob Holtzman: Squad was founded by Ezequiel Ayarza, who quickly brought in Adrian Goya as a co-founder. These two were good friends and looking for a way to combine Ezequiel’s marketing background with Adrian’s art experience. So Squad has mostly focused its efforts on an agency creating interactive marketing installments in Mexico for major brands like Samsung and Nissan. Both guys had worked for companies that didn’t always treat its employees well, so one of their mantras for their office was that they wanted to make it a place employees wanted to work every day. So they’ve always had this strong pull to make it an employee-centric place, which is how they ended up developing games.

KGB: How did the idea for KSP come about? What's the story behind that? Was it one person's childhood dream of being an astronaut?

BH: Lead developer Felipe Falanghe used to deconstruct and then rebuild fireworks into more dangerous, explosive rockets with stages and astronauts. There were little tin men he’d call Kerbals and this concept stayed with him throughout college, when he studied game design. Well, he was working with Squad on the marketing side and Adrian and Ezequiel urged him to take advantage of their “Make Dreams Come True,” program. Basically, they’ll work with an employee on putting together a business plan around an idea. If they believe it’s a viable opportunity, they’ll do it. That’s how KSP got started.

KGB: Why Kerbals as opposed to humans?

BH: That goes back to Felipe’s fireworks days. The tin men were Kerbals so he wanted to expand on that concept of an alien race of astronauts.

Successfully getting a craft into space is a truly triumphant feeling.

KGB: Given the fact that the game is still in an early state, can you share any particularly funny bugs or glitches you've seen?

BH: While we’re sure there’s tons of them, our team works really hard to polish the game as much as possible. Since it was Squad’s first game and the concept was still a bit of a uncertainty, the team knew that each update might be the last. So the goal was to always deliver an update that could stand on its own, regardless of what came next for the game. So the team built a tight development cycle with internal Alpha and Beta tests for each update version. That’s why we don't particularly call KSP an Alpha.

KGB: What is the most impressive feat that's been accomplished by a team member there? Most impressive craft built or most daunting maneuver?

Miguel Piña: I think our QA lead gets to hold on to that crown. Dude's really, really good at the game, can easily go to and return to any and every body with pretty much any craft you give them as long as they're physically capable of it.

KGB: Can you tell us about a truly crippling loss that happened to you in game? Maybe a very long interplanetary mission that was miscalculated and got bounced into the sun? I'm talking about something big- lots of buildup and anticipation, only to be met with horrific disaster.

MP: It's almost painful to recall, haha, but I spent about two hours designing the perfect vessel to get to Duna after a couple spectacular failures, had a fantastic touchdown, went out, planted my flag and was just about ready to start the journey back home when I realized I had not connected the extra fuel tanks I had brought with me to my main engine, add to that a moment of panic during staging and I ended up dumping 4 full cans of fuel to roll down a hill, leaving my engine entirely dry and a Kerbal stranded there. The feeling of defeat from seeing those tanks slowly rolling downhill was unlike anything I've felt in a videogame before.


KGB: Alternatively, what is the most triumphant moment that you've experienced in the game?

MP: My very first Mun landing. It was incredible, the touchdown was so bad, my lander ended up rolling about twenty times across the Munar surface before landing without actually losing a single piece. Got out, planted a flag, got back in and from a friend's suggestion, I flicked the landing gear off and back on again, and the tiny boost the legs gave my craft was just enough to have an angle for a fraction of a second, during which I fired my engine up and next thing you know I was back in Munar orbit.

KGB: Can you share with us a feature that you found to be really interesting, but that had to be cut for some reason?

MP: I would if we had any! We've had to hold onto a thing or two to get more important and meaningful systems done beforehand, but so far we've been able to implement every little cool thing that has been tried so far.

KGB: Can you tell us a little bit about some of the upcoming features that have you the most excited? What's on the horizon for KSP?

MP:  The Research and Development part of the game is going to be gamechanging to a point we have not experienced yet, and overall Career Mode has us super pumped. You can expect more details from PAX!

KGB: What would you say is one of the more difficult aspects of being independent? One of the better aspects?

MP: The most difficult aspect is managing player expectations based off AAA development when we're working with a pretty small team, but that ties directly to the better aspects, like having a degree of independence and trust that is impossible to find in any other environment. Just from the getgo, trying to pitch an idea like KSP to any modern publisher would have you flung out of the meeting room via closest shatterable window.

KGB: Do you ever watch other peoples' gameplay videos? How long does it take before you think to yourself, "These rookies are screwed"? Kerbal Space Program just seems to lend itself to that pretty easily.

When in doubt, add more boosters!

MP: One of my guilty pleasures is anonymously jumping into twitch streams of people just trying the game for the very first time. It's super valuable as a way to see the experience from a completely untainted viewpoint, but I have to exhibit a level of control beyond what I ever considered possible biting my tongue just to keep myself from piping up when I spot some glaring issue in their design.

KGB: What made the team decide to go with an Early Access model? How has that decision worked out so far?

MP: It sorta grew organically out of the business model. Game started being free and asking for donations, but as we've added content and increased the size of our team, we grew into our current pricing model. The last free edition of KSP is currently our Demo, as we think it's worthy of it.

KGB: There seems to be  this large sea change in the last few years, where we're seeing more and more high profile independent releases coming out, a few of which follow the same Early Access model. How do you think independent devs will influence the video games industry going forward?

MP: With how risk averse the traditional industry has become, they've practically left the field wide open for us smaller, independent developers to jump in and run our own show. We're not tied to the 59.99 price model, we don't have to have our games approved by committees and focus grouped down to blandness and we can focus on just making good, innovative games that the players want. Hopefully this will drive the traditional industry to adapt similar models and understand that not every game needs to be a blockbuster with an ad in the Superbowl to be good. 

KGB: Do you have any heroes in the games industry? Anyone in particular you'd like to work with? Why?

MP: So, so many. Not sure about working with, I'd be thrilled to simply shake Gabe Newell's hand and thanking for making the success of games like KSP even possible. There's something surreal about seeing the game you're working on sharing virtual shelf space with the newest AAA releases.

Kerbal Space Program is now available on Steam. Check it out here for more info.

Rock would like to extend a very special thanks to Squad for taking the time to chat with us.

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