Straight from the Source: Image & Form Games (Steamworld Dig 2)

I had the chance to talk with Brjann Sigurgeirsson, the CEO of Image & Form at this year’s Gamescom. They’re responsible for the Steamworld-franchise and are currently developing Steamworld Dig 2 for Nintendo Switch. Read our full Interview about Steamworld Dig 2, how easy it was to develop for Nintendo Switch and a very tiny look into the future of the Steamworld-world.

Hello, I’m Nirbion from Source Gaming and I’m here with the developers of the Steamworld games, Image & Form and they are here to show off their latest game Steamworld Dig 2. Do you want to briefly introduce yourself?

Yeah, sure. I’m Brjann Sigurgeirsson. I’m the CEO of Image & Form and I have the fortune to run a studio that makes pretty good games. Right now, we’re working on Steamworld Dig 2, which is coming out very soon. So I think it’s a good time to be alive.

You said very soon, but you don’t have a release date yet, right?

Well, I know the release-date [laughs]. But very soon, we will announce it.

(Note: The release-date was just announced! Steamworld Dig 2 will be released on September 21st on Nintendo Switch. Check out the latest Trailer!)

That’s great. The Steamworld franchise has many different games with different gameplay mechanics and you always try out something new with new characters. However, this is the first time, you’re going to do a sequel. Why did you want to go back to Steamworld Dig?

Because when we made the original Steamworld Dig, we really tried hard to get everything we wanted in the game, but it was a different time for us back then. We basically kept our noses about the surface all the time. So we were doing freelance-work all the time to be able to support ourselves and work for hire. And so at the end, we were running out of money, so we had to cut Steamworld Dig. I mean, if you played Steamworld Dig, maybe you won’t notice but we always knew that there was something that we wanted to put into Steamworld Dig that didn’t make it into the game. So when we were done with it, we already knew that we wanted to revisit Steamworld Dig. Plus, the original Steamworld Dig as sort of an ending that begs for a continuation. So it was an easy decision to go back to it.

Yeah, I also noticed that. I don’t want to spoil anyone anything right now, but for me personally, it was a really depressing ending.

[laughs]

So yeah, I think I better leave it at that. But just to make sure, this is a direct sequel or is it going to be a prequel?

It’s a direct sequel, but you don’t have to play the predecessor to fully enjoy Steamworld Dig 2.

I see. Because I wasn’t really sure about this. When I first saw Dorothy in the first trailer, I thought ‘Oh, she looks a little bit younger’. But then I played the first game again and realized ‘No, not really. She actually looks the same.’

So in Steamworld Dig 2, Dorothy is searching for her friend in the undergrounds. So again, I don’t want to spoil anyone the ending from the first game, but will fans have an idea who is Dorothy searching for?

Most definitely. That’s not spoiling anything but yeah, if you had played the first game, you sorta understand Dorothy’s quest is and what she’s going to do. And so, that is what Steamworld Dig 2 is all about.

Usually, for direct sequels, you’re going to revisit the hero from the last game but you decided against. What was your reasons for that?

The reason is: In Steamworld Dig, we had Rusty who was the main character. He is sort of a silent guy who comes from nowhere just to this town and helps out the townspeople. We were sort of interested in who are these other people in this little village? What is life like for a young robot girl in a town like that? What does it inspire her? If she leaves this little town, where would she go? What would she do? We thought that could be really interesting. Plus, she has a mission from Steamworld Dig.

Will characters from the last game also be appearing in Steamworld Dig 2?

Actually, we get to know a little bit more in Steamworld Dig 2 what happened to few of the characters.

Alright. But something a little bit different from Steamworld Dig: Do you want to make more sequels from one of your games like Steamworld Heist? Is that an option for later?

It’s definitely an option. The thing is, when we started to make Steamworld Heist, we were a little bit worried that people would not pick up Steamworld Heist. It was difficult to explain what the game is until you played [it]. Then it becomes very obvious that’s a turned based 2D combat game. So when we made it, we didn’t think that we’re ever making a sequel to that. Also, Steamworld Heist kinda has an open ending. I don’t want to spoil you anything, but there is actually an opening happening after Steamworld Heist. Or maybe not [laughs]. But nothing is concrete right now.

Do you also have plans to bring one of your older titles to Nintendo Switch, maybe even Steamworld Tower Defense?

That would actually be interesting. We’re obviously open for that and we’re discussing with Nintendo what we can do and what they also want for their platform. I think Nintendo is treating it very well now. Because the games I see which is coming out for Nintendo Switch are looking pretty good. They probably don’t want too old [of] games to be put on there.

So it doesn’t become a Wii U 2 in that sense?

Exactly, they have a super fresh start with Nintendo Switch. Then again, there are a few games that very early came and were remakes or ports like World of Goo from Tomorrow Corporation for example.

I was a little bit surprised about that because I thought that Nintendo was only looking for new games for Nintendo Switch. So if we had the time and if Nintendo wants it, and it’s still in discussion, I would really love to bring our older games to Nintendo Switch. Because it is a great unit.

You were actually one of the first developers who could confirm their project for the “NX” back then. What was your first reaction, when you first saw the “NX” development unit?

It was really interesting because we went down to Frankfurt, me and one colleague, and they told us what it was. We didn’t get to see the form and we didn’t get to see what it was supposed to look like at in the end. But they exactly told us what it was going to be. They didn’t show a picture of the final Nintendo Switch unit, but they explained what it was going to be and we were very excited. But at the same time, we couldn’t tell our other colleagues what it was. We had to keep it a secret. So for a long time in the office, there were only two people what the NX was going to be. We didn’t know that it was going to be called Nintendo Switch. We always talked about it as “the NX” all the time. And so in October last year when they showed us a 3 minute video, there they showed us the name for the first time. But before that, we didn’t know it was going to be called Nintendo Switch.

Was it a complete surprise for you?

Yeah, it was a surprise. But another thing that also was a surprise is how easy it was to work with the dev-kits. We have set aside quite a bit of time like 3 weeks or something to get a build of anything running on the dev-kit. But it took only two days. So we sent an email to Nintendo directly and asked them if we did something wrong because it felt like it was already working. Are we missing something? They said, “No, it’s working!”.

So it was too good to be true. [laughs]

[laughs] Yeah, it’s a general answer that is very good. The Switch is such a perfect unit. It’s stationary and a handheld and it’s very easy for the developers to make games for it.

And for a console you can take anywhere you want, it’s quite powerful.

Yes, exactly. We were very relieved that it is such a good unit. I think if Nintendo would have released something bad this time, something that wasn’t really interesting, the world would have been a different place.

Yeah, I totally agree. And it has unique features like the HD rumble, which makes you feel a different and distinct rumble. Speaking of, is Steamworld Dig 2 utilizing the HD rumble feature?

Yes

Alright! Also, another feature of the Nintendo Switch is that you can take it anywhere and play it locally with anyone. But Steamworld Dig is more of a single player-focused game. Do you have any ideas for a multiplayer-mode or game or is it difficult to implement or out of the table at the moment?

Well, I should put it like that. We have more than one idea for multiplayer games. But we are sort of single player specialists, let’s put it that way. We understand very well how to make a good immersive single player experience. I think we are good in making games, where you just go into this world and play it. Like Zelda for example. It’s so wonderful to play it and you look up and suddenly five hours have gone. I think we’re good at making games like that, too. We never tried a multiplayer game and we have quite a few ideas for multiplayer.

But there’s another thing as well. A lot of developers these days are using Unity or Unreal Engine to make their games. We are using our own engine for our games. That means that we can make very efficient games and get 60FPS on almost every platform. But whenever we need a new feature like for multiplayer for example, we have to make it from scratch. So it is quite a bit of work.

So multiplayer is more for a whole new game realizable?

Yeah, that’s right. With Steamworld Dig 2, we always thought that it’s a single player game.And I think we’re going to keep it that way.

You already told me that you already had a working build in two days and you asked if everything was wrong. Did Nintendo provided more help and did you need in some areas more help?

I think at the beginning, we only asked a few questions so we understood correctly before we started working on the build. Nintendo is very very good in that. They’re extremely quick to answer if you had any questions. And it was really helpful for us because when we’re sitting wonder about something and we’re asking some question, we can’t really past that point if we don’t know the answer to that question and we cannot move forward. So they are really good [with] that. I mean, you ask a question and you get an answer very quickly. And usually, it’s very simple stuff. We haven’t run into any problems. Like I said before, the NX or Switch has been very easy to develop for. So we haven’t needed any support. It works really well.

Something different from Nintendo Switch: You were also one of the few developers, who heavily supported the Wii U. And it made me a little bit curious: Did you have Steamworld Dig 2 for Wii U in mind and you switched it to Nintendo Switch? Or was it developed for Nintendo Switch from the beginning?

That’s a great question. And the answer is yes, we had the Switch in mind for Steamworld Dig 2. We also noticed that the way Nintendo was starting to talk about the Wii U that’s it was not going to be anywhere. It was sort of at its end of its lifecycle. So we decided early on that we’re not probably going to support the Wii U unless something extraordinary happens. I think a lot of the gamers have already adjusted to that idea.

Very quickly actually.

Yes, very quickly. And it also was because Nintendo could come with such a great replacement. Switch is so much better than the Wii U in so many ways. So it’s not a big problem for people that there are not really any new games coming out for Wii U.

Right. Many fans are also asking for more ports like Steamworld Dig and Steamworld Heist and I can totally understand that. They want to move to a new platform and with the Switch, you can take it anywhere. So that’s also one of the reasons for the port-demands.

I think you already answered that question but last year, you released the Steamworld Collection for Playstation 4 and Wii U. Are there any plans to bring the collection as a retail-version to Nintendo Switch?

That’s a really good question, too. I think yeah, In time, there will be a collection. But I think that Nintendo doesn’t really want a Legacy Collection at this point like, for example, Steamworld Dig and Steamworld Heist as a physical package for Nintendo Switch. I do really hope that Nintendo could help us distribute it. It would be great for us because they have such a huge reach. So I’m not sure how we’re going to do that but again, it’s quite simple to do it. But this is probably something players don’t know or don’t understand: If we make a game that costs 10$ as an example if we sell it digitally on eShop, we keep 7$ out of 10$. So we get 70% of the digital sales. If we sell a physical package and it also costs 10$, again just as an example, we get to keep 25-50 cents of that. It’s a huge risk because there are so many middlemen: It’s us and the publisher, we’re going to talk to the distributors, the distributors talk to the retail chains and the retail chains sort of up the price as well. There’s like all these layers so people who are going to profit from that product. It makes sense if we could get huge volumes which we can get if Nintendo distributes a collection-package like that. But when Nintendo didn’t distribute it, we noticed a big difference. Nintendo distributed for us in Europe the Steamworld Collection and we had some great sales in Europe. Now compared to America, where Nintendo didn’t distribute and was another publisher, there was a huge difference in sales. So if Nintendo is going to help us, then we’re gonna do it. Otherwise, we need to think about it.

It’s also really difficult as an Indie developer to take this risk.

Yeah exactly, you need to rely on someone else to do all the work for you with the sales work, because we can’t do this. We’re too small and we don’t know the markets.

But speaking of the market: As you said earlier, you have the Steamworld Collection in Europe and America…but not in Japan. Are you thinking of releasing your games there with localized text for the Japanese audience?

You know, yeah, we’re actually planning it. And it’s great because we did it with Steamworld Dig and it’s out in Japan digitally. It’s out on the Japanese eShop with Japanese text.

Oh, I actually didn’t know that. [laughs]

Well, you have no reason to know [about] that. [laughs]

But now we have found a very very nice publisher that we’re going to work with in Asian regions. They’re going to help us with Japan, China, and all the other territories. So I feel really confident that it’s going to do really well there. But it’s not going to be Day One though. Because it’s not just a different language. We need to do different stuff to the game to properly localize it.

How was the response from Japan to Steamworld Dig?

It was surprisingly good. I lived in Tokyo six years when I was younger and when I lived there, there is a distinct difference of what kind of comic, games, and movies the Japanese public like and what the western public likes. The odd style of anime and manga, it’s totally different. And Western games have typically a hard time to sell well in Japan because our art style doesn’t really appeal to the Japanese audience. So I was really surprised to see that Steamworld Dig did decently on the Japanese eShop. It was less than what it was in the West but it was really still worth doing it. So Steamworld Dig 2 is definitely going to be localized into Japanese and Chinese.

That’s great news! Maybe one of the reasons why Steamworld Dig did so well in Japan is because Rusty, even though I would say he looks a little bit old, has a cute mascot design. Maybe this was one of the factors of the success since Japan is huge into mascots as you can see with Hello Kitty and Pokémon’s Pikachu.

Yeah, cute stuff really works there well.

So would like to make a Rusty amiibo or merchandise in general for the Steamworld franchise?

That’s a great question. We’re now working together with Fangamer, one of the biggest merchandise companies. Fangamer is a huge partner to have. So we’re now developing merchandise for our games. What it’s going to be, we’ll see in a long run. We’re in the opening stages now and we’re looking at clothing and records, like real vinyl records with the soundtracks of our games.

Oh. Vinyl becomes more and more popular and with the vinyl release of Street of Rage for example, people really loved it. So I also think there’s a lot of potential in vinyl-releases.

I think so, too. Some kind of a Retro-thing!

I should also mention about the amiibo. We have been talking about the amiibo in our office ever since amiibo came. There’s one problem with amiibo and it’s just a huge financial risk. The minimum batch we need is 100,000 amiibo. We cannot make fewer. And can’t make like 5,000 amiibo or 10,000. It must be at least 100,000. And we need to put that money up front. We need to pay licensing fees to Nintendo for the amiibo-brand and also the production-cost and the distributors etc. It’s a huge risk.

And in the end, you might only get 25 cent out of it.

Yeah, that’s probably right. [laughs]

If Nintendo gives you an opportunity to make a game from one their franchises, which one would you choose?

Metroid!

Metroid? Ok, I mean it makes sense with Steamworld Dig, it’s like Metroid in a lot of ways.

Yeah, it’s like a Metroidvania-game. I think we understand Metroid really well, that type of game. When they announced Metroid: Samus Returns, I was so sad because I was sort of hoping that we could do that one. But maybe, there are still openings for that.

Well, Mr. Sakamoto already said that if Metroid: Samus Returns does well, they’re thinking about making more 2D Metroid Games. So maybe there’s an opportunity for you. I would love to see you making a new Metroid Game!

Yeah, I would love to see that, too! Because I think we could do it really really well. It’s what we do, you know? We’re really good in making 2D-games.

Yeah, and Steamworld Dig was also a game I wanted to explore more and more and dig deeper, so I can totally see the connection.

To wrap our interview, we love to ask this question to Indie-developers: What does being “Indie” mean to you?

For us, it means having decisive power for what we do. If we can decide what kind of games we’re going to make, then we’re Indie. If someone else tells us what to do, then we’re not Indie. I think you can have a co-owner in your company who is strong financially. As long as that co-owner lets you follow your vision, you are still independent. That’s what I mean. You don’t need to starve and you don’t need to suffer to be independent. All you’re be able to do is to determine what you exactly want to do. If someone else outside of the studio just has a tiny bit influence on what you do, you’re not independent anymore.

Does this also mean with a publisher?

Yes. I do believe so. The publisher can come up with input where the game should be sold. But if the publisher wants to influence the game, then you’re not really independent anymore. Indie has become a really wide word. I think it’s better to call it a small studio if you’re exactly doing the work the publisher asks you to do.  

I think that’s it. Thank you very much for this great Interview!

Big thank you to PushDustIn and NantenJex for the very helpful edits on this articles!

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Nirbion

I’m the guy responsible for the article headers you see on Source Gaming or Twitter/Facebook. Sometimes, I’ll also do some additional graphics for SG like the banner or graphics for our videos. Because of that, you won’t hear much about me. But I hope, you’ll like the designs I make. What else can I say about me? Ah yeah, I’m a VERY big Kirby-Fan, which you could maybe tell from my profile picture and maybe from my name. And as a design-guy, I’m also fascinated about animation. That's it I guess.
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