The latest entry in the popular SteamWorld saga, SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech is coming to Switch later this year and promises to deliver a fun take on the otherwise well-worn RPG genre.
We were lucky enough to get some quality time with Image & Form's Brjánn Sigurgeirsson and chat about the game, its origins and what we can expect when it launches a little down the line in 2019.
Nintendo Life: Where did the idea for SteamWorld Quest come from, and how long has the game been in development so far?
Brjánn Sigurgeirsson: Well, SteamWorld Quest started as a pitch from Peter Johansson, the director of the game. While making SteamWorld Dig 2 we decided to do an internal game pitching round for coming title(s), where everyone got to pitch one or more game ideas to the rest of the studio. The plan was that we'd then get together and pick one (or more) for subsequent development. That probably sounds like a marvellous idea and a great exercise in democracy, but it was a lot harder than we expected; not to come up with ideas, but rather to pick the winners. We hadn't set up the criteria properly beforehand and it rather became a great lesson in humility and guilty feelings towards all the runner-up ideas. Nevertheless, SteamWorld Quest perhaps wouldn't have been born without the process.
For a good while, important aspects of the game were quite different than they are now, but then we had one of our proud – internally at least – moments: a marathon meeting where we decided to chuck out what wasn't working and instead make a truly epic game. We had similar moments while making the original SteamWorld Dig and SteamWorld Heist. Not very surprisingly, making epic games is typically better than keeping stuff that doesn't work very well.
This new game is set in what appears to be a different time period to previous SteamWorld games. How does Quest tie in with the rest of the series chronologically?
It does tie in with the rest, believe it or not. There's been some truly brilliant work in the last few months on the SteamWorld lore front, and Quest expands on it. I won't give any of it away here, and Quest itself contains just enough hints to keep everyone speculating what this world is about. We won't be running out of Steam(World) anytime soon. It's a wonderful and remarkable place.
There's a big focus on card-based attacks in this game; why have you chosen to embrace this mechanic in an RPG setting?
First, a trademark anecdote to show how good I am at using analogies and stuff: in the nineties, there was this Mac software company called Thought I Could Software, and it was always my favourite company name. Those three words told the entire story of the people who worked there.
Now, about the card battle mechanic (notice how smoothly I segue from the anecdote to the real answer) we simply thought we could. We also thought it would be very cool and topical – they're robots, so they would, of course, be using punch cards. One card, one battle instruction. Plus I'm sure you all appreciate the pun-fest here: card battles, attacks, punches, punch cards. And finally, many of us play card-based games. But I should also mention that it's an RPG that uses card-battle mechanics rather than a card game with RPG elements. It's really an epic game about friendship and what it takes to be a hero. We're debating in the office whether it's more of a JRPG than a straight-up RPG. I'd say it is, but then again it's not a Japanese game. So let's call it an SRPG – a Swedish RPG
To answer the question on a broader level: this time we decided to make a card-battle RPG. Next time it's likely to be something else again. It's a long story, but we really want to continue making different kinds of games. It's a very expensive way to make games, it's potentially dangerous as we risk taking the wrong turns every time and/or alienating our community, but we're confident in our abilities... and more importantly, everyone only lives once. It takes us somewhere between 18 and 24 months to make a SteamWorld game. We are literally getting a bit older with every release, we only have time to make so many games, and there's so much we want to tell and also explore ourselves. Not only do we want to bring something great to our players every time, we also want to surprise them and outdo ourselves with every game.
This approach is also really gratifying. When we announced SteamWorld Heist, quite a few players mentioned that they didn't like to play turn-based games. When we released Heist, players said they'd thought that they wouldn't like turn-based games, but Heist had changed their mind. You can only imagine how it feels to get credit for opening up a whole new genre to a player. That's like permanently opening someone's ears to, say, classical music! With Quest, we know that many players like to play RPGs, but not everyone is sure they like the card elements. It's up to us to make Quest fun and accessible enough also for people who don't usually play these kinds of games, so that they can start enjoying other games like it. This idea of "teaching people to like games" sounds pretentious, but I think it's really cool to work at a studio that tries to come up with new stuff every time.
What titles would you say have provided inspiration for Quest?
If we start with non-game stuff, I'd say that all epic stories are inspiring. Being an Icelander I'm really fond of heroic tales. The old Norse sagas are crammed with heroes, heroic deeds and the darkest humour you'll ever find. Our main writer Pelle Cahndlerby also thrives on this stuff. Then there's a really cool movie on the subject of epic medieval fantasy that does a clever cameo in SteamWorld Quest (if movies are allowed to do cameos). As for games, for Quest we've been inspired by Mega Man Battle Network, Baten Kaitos, Fate/Grand Order and a few others. Please note that none of them are really the same thing as SteamWorld Quest, however.
What element of Quest do you think players will find the most surprising?
The abilities and traits of all the characters in SteamWorld Quest are truly surprising. The cast of Dig 1, Dig 2 and Heist are all pretty simpleminded and, well, showcase just the most basic of robotic needs and urges... such as mining and shooting off hats. From what little we've shared so far about Quest there's already a lot of speculation online as to why the robots are talking about, say, food and alchemy; it ought to be utterly useless to them. But as I just mentioned, with Quest we set the stage for some really spectacular SteamWorld mythology.
Being the studio head I'd like to talk up the various elements of the game as well, but it's somewhat less surprising that the music, the art, the dialogue and the game systems are magnificent, as we like to polish things for very long stretches of time. However, I'm confident that players will yet again be surprised by the magic, fun and value we're giving them for their money.
What's it been like working with Nintendo again?
We've never stopped working with Nintendo, it's a constant joy and privilege. Nintendo is very important to us, and they all make us feel quite special. They inspire us to improve simply by the way they do things. They set the bar very high.
You've given the game a release window of 2019 – can you tell us if this will be sooner rather than later this year?
Since it's one of the best games you'll play this year, it will certainly be later than you want. But it will also probably be sooner than you think.
Will Quest remain exclusive to the Switch, or do you plan to bring it to other platforms?
Right now we're concentrating on the Switch – as mentioned in Nintendo's Indie Highlights showreel in January, SteamWorld Quest is coming to Nintendo Switch first. We may decide to bring it to other platforms later. But first things first.
We'd like to thank Brjánn for taking the time to speak with us. SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech launches later this year on Nintendo Switch.