Steampunk coffee break space exploration game 39 Seconds to Mars has just been released on Steam Greenlight. We covered it back during the Kickstarter campaign, so we took the opportunity to catch up with developer Philip Buchanan and find out how his tale about two Victorian adventurers attempting to get into outer space.
1. How has the process of working on the game changed the way you approach it?
This is the first game I’ve worked on that has had such a large following before release. Writing regular development updates and interacting with people who are excited about the release has really changed how I look at the game. As a developer it’s easy to get too close to the technical details and miss the overall picture. But having this interaction forces me to take a step back and evaluate how the game is coming together as a whole experience. I feel that this is really helping to keep the project on the right track.
2. What’s the single most important thing you’ve learned from development so far?
It’s difficult to step back from the game and see it from the perspective of a new player, but this is one of the most important things I can do. The puzzles and levels I’ve implemented have always turned out to be much harder than they were in my head. Early play-through have really made me aware how much testing and and balancing I’m going to have to do to pitch this game at just the right level.
3. What are the challenges involved in making ‘coffee break’ puzzles?
One challenge that I’m struggling with at the moment is increasing re-playability. Puzzles in traditional point-and-click adventure games often have one solution and the challenge is figuring out how to interact with the world to achieve that goal. For 39 Days to Mars, I’m trying to create puzzles that are easy (and fun) to interact with, but where the solution changes each time you play.
4. There’s a clear Jules Verne influence here, is that an aesthetic you’re particularly drawn to?
Steampunk in general is an aesthetic I enjoy working with. My particular version is of course influenced by the usual suspects – Jules Verne and H G Wells – but also by a number of modern authors who I enjoy. Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Neal Stephenson, and several others who I’ve forgotten.
5. Why do you think the steampunk aesthetic appeals to nerd culture so much?
I think that steampunk actually has a much broader appeal, if the response to 39 Days to Mars is anything to judge by. Perhaps it’s the fact that steampunk lets you experiment with themes and topics in a world that’s not constrained by our current technologies, but that also has a grounding in a reality we can understand.
Personally I find a lot of appeal in the whimsical nature of it.