As you might’ve noticed, the Nuclear Throne was added to the game earlier this weekend. It took us 33 weekly updates to take the game jam prototype to where it is now – and you can now reach the titular throne after you and your mutant complete the gruelling fight to the Palace from the campfire.
Creating this final moment of the game threw a major wrench into our live streaming and even led to some tension in the team about our approach to hiding our work on this reveal. Some of us wanted the Throne to be perfect before we revealed it, while some of us felt we should develop it completely in the open. We eventually agreed upon something in the middle: as soon as the Throne worked, we’d throw it in.
This does mean that now we can finally get back to not having secrets from you all, and that’s quite a relief. Sure, we’ll hide some thing from the livestream for fun every now and then, like the Frozen City Bandits last week, but it won’t be something that takes months anymore. We thank you for your patience while we learned that lesson.
As a little thank-you, we want to show you some of the things that we hid from you during development now that it’s all there.
For those of you that have been following us in the Steam Forums or on the Twitch.tv livestreams, it has taken us nearly seven weeks to design, prototype, iterate and develop this early version of the Throne. During that period, we discussed the lore of the Throne endlessly, and how it would look and work. Paul worked on the above implementations of the Throne, every time getting a bit closer to the vibe the Throne needed.
Jukio created music, first something that was closer to a heavy Castlevania boss track, and later decided to scrap that in favour of a track that emphasised the impending resolution for our mutants more than the unexpected mortal peril that they find themselves in.
Jan Willem struggled with dozens of different boss designs and behaviours before he finally settled on a range of attacks that felt appropriate to the battle. Of course, like everything in Nuclear Throne, what you might play today is a first draft that will be improved upon in the future.
A new chapter
In many ways, the addition of the Throne is an indicator that the first half of development has been wrapped up. It’s a reminder of an exhausting but amazingly rewarding game production. It’s the result of the work of six people that have pushed themselves to the absolute limit of their ability, the feedback and enthusiasm of the community and the support of the tens of thousands of gamers that play the game.
However, this does not conclude the work we have to do on the story of Fish and the other mutants. To us, reaching the Nuclear Throne is the most crucial moment in the lore of the world, but there is much left to be told about the world that the game takes place in. For the second half of development, we will revisit much of the content already in the game, but also start expanding on the lore and the world in the game.
In terms of reaching release-ready, we’re about half way. Nuclear Throne is starting to reach a state known as feature complete - it’s the point that denotes that the systems that power the game are now all in place. You can technically walk around, shoot things, collect ammo, mutate, find crowns, uncover secrets, fight bosses, pick up things, find cursed and golden weapons, play co-op and all the other things that you’re used to from Nuclear Throne. The next stage is known as content-complete. That’s when all the content – the levels, enemies, weapons, mutations, crowns, secrets and so on – are in the game. After that, there’ll be a period of polish and certification, after which the game will launch officially on PC, Mac, Linux and then PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.
Early Access and performative game development
We’ve been really serious about trying to ‘do Early Access right’. We have livestreamed development for four to six hours almost every single Tuesday and Thursday since we started the project properly, and we’re updating the game practically every Saturday. We refuse to do sales and bundles while we’re doing Early Access, since we believe it should be utilised to make a (stable) game even better, rather than using it as paid public beta or pre-order platform. And since we want to be able to make the best of our players’ feedback, we keep the feedback loop really short: we launch on Saturday, read your feedback on Sunday, plan our next week on Monday, livestream on Tuesday, work on Wednesday, livestream on Thursday, wrap up on Friday and launch on Saturday.
Keeping iterations that fast allows us to quickly correct the course of problems, but also to really offer our players a dynamic insight into how games are made, what decision processes occur and how prototyping features works. Basically, we don’t think we could do Early Access any better way than this.
If you feel that we could do better, please do let us know. We’re always looking for feedback.
Help spread the word!
If you’re not yet playing Nuclear Throne, it’s available on Steam Early Access or through Humble for $12.99, which it will stay – without discounts or sales – at least until the game reaches the final release version.
As we create these things and continue to livestream our development process, we invite you to continue to join us in the livestreams every Tuesday and Thursday. We also want to ask you – if you enjoy the game – to help us out with promoting the game. More than with any game we’ve made before, we’ve opted to spend our time making the game while relying on you – the players of Nuclear Throne – to help us spread the game. You can help by tweeting, posting on Facebook, making videos on YouTube, livestreaming on Twitch, telling your friends or joining us in the Steam Forums.
On behalf of the two of us at Vlambeer, Paul Veer, Jukio Kallio, Joonas Turner and Justin Chan, we thank you for your support thus far, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue working on Nuclear Throne.
Earlier this week, several people on Twitter voiced their discomfort with what they perceived as Nazi imagery in LUFTRAUSERS, and the belief that you play as a Nazi pilot in our 2D dogfighting game.
We do have to accept that our game could make some people uncomfortable. We’re extremely sad about that, and we sincerely apologise for that discomfort.
The fact is that no interpretation of a game is ‘wrong’. When you create something, you leave certain implications of what you’re making. We can leave our idea of what it is in there, and for us, the game is about superweapons. We think everybody who plays LUFTRAUSERS can feel that.
But even more so in an interactive medium, we do have to accept that no way of reading those implications is ‘false’ – that if someone reads between the lines where we weren’t writing, those voids can be filled by the player, or someone else. If we accept there’s no wrong interpretation of a work, we also have to accept that some of those interpretations could not be along the lines of what we’re trying to create.
From our perspective, we do not cast our player as a Nazi pilot. LUFTRAUSERS is a dogfighting game very much inspired by a very specific century in the history of mankind. Somewhere between the 1900’s and the 1980’s, there was a period in which military intelligence was capable of determining whether an opposing military force was working on secret weapons, but not quite what those weapons were.
The first time this really was a problem in our modern history was during the First World War, and it continued well throughout the Second World War and the Cold War. Only in the last decades, humanity has become capable of fighting such ‘fantastic fears’ with an even better capacity to spy upon our fellow humans.
As many of you may know, we’re fascinated by the idea of unexplored truths. We prefer older science-fiction, because that’s when people still dreamt that under the clouds of Venus, you’d find dinosaurs and prehistoric people. Technology hadn’t quite spoiled the boring reality of the world yet. We were attracted to a world in which the technology clearly didn’t exist, but people feared submerging warplanes, because those tasked with exploring the world told them those probably existed. There are stacks of documents describing increasingly fantastic weaponry that never existed.
We’re talking the age of fear for mind control, floating sky fortresses, orbital rays, weaponised dolphins, cryptography and submerging warplanes.
For LUFTRAUSERS we wanted to place players in one of those superweapons. To achieve that, we needed the player to exist on the side we’d be spying on for it to make sense narratively. When we started out with the project our internal pitch for the style was something along “Superweapon dogfighting in a world with World War II-era Thunderbirds”.
For us, there was never a question that LUFTRAUSERS takes place during a fictional and/or alternative reality conflict between the ‘good guys’ and an undefined foe that we were spying on. It takes place somewhere between the Second World War and the Cold War, or in an alternative reality in the ten to fifteen years after the Second World War. The player is part of an undefined enemy force that was not on ‘our’ side during the six or seven decades in which military intelligence was effectively telling us to prepare for a laser-equipped hoverboat assault. You’re not playing any existing enemy force, not the Nazi’s, not the Japanese, not the Soviets, not any force that existed. It was always ‘some country we’d be spying on’, and we based our materials on the various countries we actually were spying on.
We wanted to be genuine about the timeframe that inspired the universe in the game, and that means that yes, there were some stylistic cues we took from World War II to construct this enemy force, as well as from characters, aesthetics and technology from World War I, the Cold War and the smaller conflicts during this timeframe. For the technology, we were inspired by things that would exist in a world in which the documents we were inspired by were true. For the characters, we took the idea of puppets from Thunderbirds and dressed them in exaggerated outfits.
What we made is a 2D dogfighting game about being the best fighter-pilot in the world, flying a superweapon in a Thunderbird meets World War II-era aesthetics. It’s not about good or evil. It’s not about World War II. It’s not about any real conflict or faction; we made a game about superweapons in the era in which they could’ve existed.
Each interpretation of a cultural artefact is a reflection of not only the creator, but also of what the user cares about, what they find important and what shaped them. We wouldn’t dare to fault people for finding the atrocities of the Second World War important. It is important. We agree it’s important, and there are important lessons for us in what happened. We need to remember what happened, we need to commemorate the victims and we need to ensure nothing even remotely like it occurs ever again.
Having been born and raised in the Netherlands, we are extremely aware of the awful things that happened, and we want to apologise to anybody who, through our game, is reminded of the cruelties that occurred during the war.
Since the last time we’ve updated the blog here, a lot has happened. We’ve been officially licensed as developers to both Nintendo and Microsoft, meaning that technically, Vlambeer games can now come to any of their platforms. That makes us licensed to all three console platforms, the two big mobile platforms, Steam and Humble Store. That’s all sort of insane considering where we started just three years ago.
Apple declared Ridiculous Fishing their iPhone Game of the Year, meaning that after the whole cloning debacle, Ridiculous Fishing did not only do overwhelmingly well for our little team, but also won not only a wide range of critical awards, but also both an Apple Design Award and an Apple Game of the Year award. The game then started climbing the charts again, making it all the way up to the top 20 of iPhone apps for the first time since it’s launch almost a year ago. We’ve launched two minor updates last weeks, adding localisation for French, Italian, German, Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese at Apple’s request. We also hope the long overdue update of Super Crate Box iOS should be due for the first week of 2014.
Sony finally has LUFTRAUSERS in what hope is the final technical requirements check before we get a launch date from them. As you all know, certification has been a slightly overwhelming process for us and we also hope that Sony will look at streamlining their launch process. Rami spoke to our good friend Shahid Kamal in London about the platform and our experiences, and we have to say that we’re still extremely impressed by the way Sony treats developers. Everything feels personable and Sony does a lot of things to make developing for them a pleasant experience, from finding good marketing opportunities to making sure they check in every now and then and ask what is up. We’re revving up our Playstation 4 dev-kit to start exploring the technicalities of bringing Nuclear Throne for Playstation Vita and Playstation 4.
Microsoft has launched ID@Xbox, which is definitely an amazing achievement by Microsoft’s Chris Charla. He has been tirelessly working to get the companies indie program up to speed after what can easily be described as an embarrassing E3, and the fact that ID@Xbox is as polished and streamlined as it is is a testament to how fast something can turn around. Five months ago, we were interviewed about working with Microsoft and said it was a distant possibility based on their terms back then, now we have nothing but a single major complaint left: launch parity. We’ve gotten a lot of questions about the whole thing, but essentially the problem is that forcing people to launch at the same time on all console platforms is problematic for a lot of indies and their limited time and resources. We also feel that allowing for exceptions might be even more troublesome, because unlike Microsoft’s general movement towards technological democratisation by making every Xbox One a potential dev-kit, this still creates a artificial and curated barrier. Still, considering that Charla started from zero, the progress he made so far has been great – and the plans for making each Xbox One a dev-kit are super progressive.
On the same day the iOS version of Ridiculous Fishing won a Dutch Game Award, we suddenly launched Ridiculous Fishing for Android. At first, the launch was a mixed experience for us. We worked really hard to make sure the game was as good as possible on as many devices we could test for, but we’ve learned that compared to the smooth launch of iOS, a launch on Android is more like a global hardware test. You can only test on so many devices, and suddenly launching the game onto 3500+ highly fragmented pieces of hardware simply means you can’t deliver a problem-free launch. It was quite painful to see that people using problematic devices complaining on Reddit that we considered Ridiculous Fishing for Android a second-grade release, as we poured in a lot of effort to make this port happen for the many people that asked for it. On the other hand, the Humble Bundle Mobile launch was great, though, and we’ve also received a lot of great responses from Android gamers. In the end, we’re feeling pretty good about the whole launch.
Steam Early Access has been a really fun experience. Nuclear Throne’s development livestream now amasses over 100,000 viewers per week, which sort of validates our idea that game development can be presented in a way that’s entertaining for non-developers. The idea of “performative game development” – live, with all its problems and little surprises, instead of neatly cut and filtered by a professional camera crew – was something we wanted to explore while working on what is essentially a really fun action game. We’ve also been really happy about the Let’s Play community picking up on the game, with specifically NorthernLion, Sleepcycles and Tengu Drop doing amazing videos of the game. The development of Nuclear Throne was at a breakneck pace in November, when Jan Willem added crowns, crown vaults and a new character, and we’ve been taking a bit of a breather in December to recover and get ready for more hard work. We’re still having an amazing amount of fun developing the game, and interacting on the Steam Forums has been really rewarding as well. The game has an amazing community that happily keeps adding to the Nuclear Throne Wiki, makes amazing fan-art, shoots really useful gameplay videos and gives us in-depth feedback on how they play. We’re just super excited about the whole thing.
We also launched a bunch of our older (non-Windows 8 compatible) games on Itch.io, which is a nice Bandcamp-like storefront for games.
Rami has been touring Scandinavia and Germany and will return to the Netherlands at the end of the weekend, while Jan Willem decided to take two weeks off from the crazy Nuclear Throne update schedule by celebrating the holidays somewhere in the Southern parts of Africa. While the Nuclear Throne livestreams will continue, this does mean that updates will cease for a week or potentially two. For now, there’ll be one more update, tomorrow, before the end of the year. We hope that you’ll be back with us when we kick off 2014 again.
So, that’s probably all for 2013. This has been an amazing year. Thanks, everybody!
We know that this is probably a bit of a surprise in that normally we’re super open about our development process. In this case, development was done externally and we didn’t want to announce a game on a platform we don’t know before being sure the game would be up to the standard people expect from us. If the game didn’t reach those standards, or the amount of devices that supported the game was too low for our liking, we wanted to be able to cancel the game.
Android (and porting in general) is a particularly tough challenge for a game as precise and meaningful to us as Ridiculous Fishing is, but we’re happy to say we finally reached the point where we felt comfortable releasing the game recently & decided to try something we felt would harken back to our original launch plans. We wanted Ridiculous Fishing’s original launch to be surprise announcement, but way back then, a clone threw a wrench in those plans and we ended up scrambling. This time around though, we can pull it off.
So here you go, Ridiculous Fishing for Android, launched sort of the way Ridiculous Fishing for iOS was supposed to launch. Obviously, the amazing bundle of games the game is releasing amidst is something we are really, really proud of. This is our first foray into Android, and we’re quite nervous to see how this launch will go. Ridiculous Fishing is obviously a game that carries a tremendous emotional weight for co-creators Zach, Greg, Eirik and ourselves at Vlambeer. We embarked on this trip to fulfil a request we kept getting on a daily basis, and now that it is available, we hope you love Ridiculous Fishing as much as we do.
Whew. It’s been a long time since we sat down a wrote a news roundup here at the Vlambeer blog. Sit down and grab a drink, because it’s going to be a longer one. First of all, we’re sorry that we didn’t write something in September, it was kind of crazy with Fantastic Arcade and preparing for the Nuclear Throne launch. Since then, a lot has happened – ranging from the majority of the Nuclear Throne team visiting Nottingham for GameCity to Ridiculous Fishing being nominated for a Dutch Game Award. And as some of you might’ve noticed, since the last blog post Rami spent two weeks in the hospital for emergency surgery and has been recovering since. It’s actually been interesting to us to see how our three current projects are affected by an emergency situation like that. The three main projects we want to talk about today are Nuclear Throne, LUFTRAUSERS and Ridiculous Fishing.
So let’s start with the one that most people are rightfully a bit anxious about: LUFTRAUSERS. Ironically, the above trailer still says ‘Spring 2013′, but we have been talking to Devolver Digital & Sony about the project a lot recently. With QA and FQA still ahead of us, we’ve established that 2013 is an unlikely release frame. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but it does mean that unless a miracle happens we don’t think it will launch before early 2014. The good news is that our job is now really done. Since our business dealings are spread thin with Rami not at full capacity, we’ve given full control of wrapping up our dogfighting game to Devolver Digital and they’ll be dealing with the final paperwork and setup. We want to re-iterate once more: we do not know the release date, because the certification process is so that you can’t set one until it clears certification.
The way we worked with LUFTRAUSERS, in hindsight, wasn’t really optimal. We assumed that certification would be harsh, but didn’t expect it to take more than a month or two. While a part of our team was already focusing on Nuclear Throne and Ridiculous Fishing, we kept being pulled back to fix things or add last minute changes to the game to fit within the requirements. Switching between projects in such different states mentally is extremely exhausting, and a lot of our time was spent orienting on where the game was and where it needed to go.
Another thing we noticed is that the project in the current state was overly dependent on Rami as a center of communications. Now, we really like being in control of our projects, but it turned out that having one central figure in development is not necessary good for control. When Rami went in for surgery, Nuclear Throne simply progressed onwards due to the way the project is set up, while LUFTRAUSERS just grinded to a full stop because the person passing on the messages was gone.
There’s a weird realisation we had after a conversation about the projects’ progress a few weeks ago: LUFTRAUSERS is very much the final product of the ‘Ridiculous Fishing’-era Vlambeer. It’s a game that Jan Willem started on to jam away his worries about Ridiculous Fishing while Zach, Greg and Rami were trying to salvage the project. In many ways, LUFTRAUSERS feels more aggressive than most of our other games. It’s a really strictly defined game in every way, from the limitations we set ourselves in the seven-color palette, but also in the way it uses only four buttons, the way the interface had to integrate into the world, the way it launches simultaneously on all platforms. LUFTRAUSERS is us being desperate about not climbing out of our clone-induced depression and us being angry at ourselves for getting cloned in the first place.
We’ve talked a lot recently about how Vlambeer games come from a happy place. LUFTRAUSERS was us transitioning back to happiness. In many ways, that makes LUFTRAUSERS feel like a different game than most of our games, which we actually think is really cool. Don’t get us wrong, LUFTRAUSERS is everything you’d expect from a Vlambeer game and we’re really proud of it: it’s intense, it’s challenging and it achieved the goals we set out for ourselves in April 2012. It’ll probably release in really early 2014, which also happens to be a really nice release window. We’re leaving the rest of this one up to Devolver until we rev up for release.
Nuclear Throne has been making good progress, as you all can see during the livestreams on Tuesday and Thursday. Unlike LUFTRAUSERS, the project is set up in a really distributed fashion. While LUFTRAUSERS uses a really strict seperation of responsibilities, Jan Willem leading the project during prototyping and Rami leading it during porting and certification, Nuclear Throne is a bit more open. That meant that even when someone dropped from the team, the team could operate in some capacity. Within the team, we’ve discussed the lore and goals and ideas of the game a lot – and everybody can add to the lore, modify the atmosphere and add extra intentionality to whatever they’re working on.
Nuclear Throne has made a lot of progress since the name change. Where the original prototype featured just three worlds and five mutants, we’ve completely revamped the game, added not only two new mutants and two new worlds, a lot of new mutations and we’ve finally started layering the game. In Update #4, we’ve finally introduced the Interdimensional Police Department, or I.D.P.D. for short, and Crown Vaults, and in expanding their role in the game, we’ll be adding a lot of interesting new ways to play Nuclear Throne.
The game has done extremely well on Early Access. In a week or two Nuclear Throne sold over ten thousand copies, which is absolutely mindblowing to us. Even in this early version, people are playing about 5 hours on average, and 5% of players already invested more than 20 hours. Those statistics exceed all our expectiations. Our idea wasn’t to have a public beta test, although we’re really grateful for everybody sending us bugs, but to create an experience – a ride, so to speak – out of us making a videogame. We wanted to do game development in an honest, open and almost performative way. So far, it’s been extremely rewarding. Not to mention the amount of fan art we’ve gotten on Tumblr and the Steam Forums, which is so overwhelming. We can’t wait to really start making noise about the game.
Unexpectedly, the other noise we’re making is about Ridiculous Fishing, and the news is pretty simple and we can wrap it up in a single image.
Because of popular request, we’ve been working with Zach Gage & Greg Wohlwend since March to see if we can create an Android version of Ridiculous Fishing. The breakthrough came when we met up with the folks at Apportable, who have a framework that allows them to port the game over to Android. That port is now almost done, and the next time you see us mentioning this should be when it releases. It might be sooner than you think.
As for minor updates, Rami finally got the MacBook Air we received for the Apple Design Award 2013 to work, so we can start making progress on the Super Crate Box iOS update as well. We’ve decided to use LUFTRAUSERS & Nuclear Throne as test projects for Windows 8 support, so as soon as those are done our own end we hope we can look into Windows 8 support for Super Crate Box, GUN GODZ and Serious Sam: The Random Encounter.
November is a lot about progressing on Nuclear Throne in terms of systems, so we’re adding a lot of new things to the game. Don’t forget to tune into the livestreams at nuclearthrone.com on Tuesday and Thursday at 1PM CET, we’ll be working on the game live.