Since this was first published Rubicon has gone through a plethora of changes. From now being known as “Starship Rubicon” to being released on Steam. The game’s still being updated with new bits and bobs too so have a suss of the Steam page for the demo after giving this a read, it’s good stuff.
On May the 2nd 2012 a project was started on the crowd funding site Kickstarter. Developed by Joseph Perry (aka Wick) and titled Rubicon, the game planned to ‘combine the solid physics/gameplay of Asteroids with the tinkering of Mechwarrior‘. One month later the campaign came to a close and continued the Kickstarter trend of smashing the original pledge goal, more than doubling the expected two thousand dollars to raise over five grand.
Perry, a college student majoring in neurobiology, is a self taught programmer who started developing games by pulling all-nighters on weekends. Seeing the opportunities present with the crowd sourcing model he decided to start the Kickstarter project in order to be able to focus on developing Rubicon full-time over the summer break rather than working another minimum-wage job to make ends meet. The time was spent pretty well too, adding things like gravity effects to the game.
After the campaign ended, Perry wrote a pretty in depth look at the structure of the crowd sourcing model, including the backer rewards he added like the ability to be a beta tester and get your name in the games credits, being sent a poster and having a word of your choice become a kind of cheat code. Everyone who pledged towards the game also received an email with a unique haiku written by Perry and being a fan of the art of haiku I was delighted to receive mine which I’ve posted bellow:
I’ve always liked æsc.
Is an example.
There was also promise of a live bobcat being attached to the emails as well but instead everyone got a little snippet of bobcat related information (which was probably for the best). I’m not overly sure about the accuracy of the information though:
Did you know that bobcats are “crepuscular”, which means that their diets subsist exclusively of crepes? (source: Wikipedia)
But enough back-story, by now you’re probably wondering what the game’s actually like? Well fear not reader, which I shall get to now.
The major thing that struck me when I opened Rubicon for the first time was the music. Within the first few seconds you’re treated to one of the best chiptunes I have ever heard courtesy of Beatscribe who did the mission music and Rich Douglas who did the Intro and Boss music. Right off the bat it sets up the retro-inspired-space-shooter atmosphere perfectly and I tip my hat to Beatscribe for creating an amazing track. Perry also added some nice blippy sound effects to the game which add greatly too.
Visual wise the game blends pixel art (ships, enemies, bullets etc.) with more realistic elements (explosions, backgrounds) which work very well together and are always fun to look at without being too distracting.
For those of you who aren’t overly experienced in open-space-shooters (like me) the controls may take a while to get used to but once you’ve grasped them you’ll be strafing and blasting away enemies with ease. There’s a nice amount of customisation available for your ship too, ranging from guns to armor and such. It’s both similar and distant from what people are used to though which is hard to explain, Perry did an in depth write up on the subject which is well worth a read.
This is one of those games that needs to be played to better understand it so I’d very much reccommend giving it a go, I’ll even add a download link at the bottom of this article so that you may enjoy the awesome that is Rubicon .
Retrospekt was lucky enough to be able to have a chat with Joseph Perry about the creation of Rubicon, some of his inspirations and (of course), bobcats.
The Kickstarter campaign for Rubicon went pretty successfully with over five thousand dollars raised, well exceeding the original target of $2000. What was your reaction to how gamers reacted to the project?
“WOW OH MAN EXTERNAL VALIDATION IS AWESOME.” The vast majority of backers were actually totally silent, so I feel like I only got a small taste of how people were actually reacting. Apparently they liked it enough to pledge, though, and that’s a powerful statement in of itself. Somewhere between humbled, uncomprehending, and just really motivated to get a good game out there.
I’ve used the term ‘Shmupsteroids’ when describing the game to friends due the the titles likeness to retro classic Asteroids as well as bullet-hell shooters. There’s also things like the customization available in Rubicon. What kind if inspirations and what kind of new features were you wanting to bring to the table during development?
I’m kind of enamored (as are a lot of game developers these days) with the concept of flow. I think that simple, immediate situations and reactions are the key to creating an accessible game where you can just slip into that flow state. I played Bastion for the first time halfway through development and it made a big impression on me and Rubicon. It faces you with these really unique enemy challenges and gives you distinct tools to fluidly engage them.
To make the customization system, I tried to find as many similar mechanics in other games as I could. Mechwarrior IV, of course, was the original inspiration. Bastion’s Armory + Distillery are really fundamentally functional ways to customize your character. Mega Man Battle Network has a fun little customization minigame that was a lot of help. I think that having played a lot of different games and being able to pull from them is an essential tool of a game developer.
The Kickstarter campaign had some interesting perks for the different pledge amounts like receiving a haiku via email (with a promise to not send any bobcats as attachments) as well as another where you WOULD send a bobcat. Other perks like a code to change the game to ‘SPECIAL EDITION‘ mode, having you name in the credits and designing a ship for the game were included. What made you think up these perks and do you actually own a bobcat?
I think that the experience of reading the goals is almost more important than the goals themselves. I mean, you have to have staples like beta testing/receiving a copy of the game, but in a weird way I think that a personalized haiku is more appealing than a, I don’t know, bejewelled CD of the game with flashing LEDs. The lack-of-bobcat thing (people who didn’t qualify for the “no bobcat” got a huge annoying ASCII art bobcat in their email) and putting the reward levels at powers of two were fun little games I played to make people laugh and reel them in.
The latter game forced me to get creative with filling the different tiers. Beta-testing was the perfect low-cost first “real” reward at $8 and the poster needed to be a bit more elite at $32 (because filling physical rewards is a pain). Usually for video games (do your research!), the $16 niche would get you the full version- but I was releasing it for free! So I came up with a way to let certain people get extra features from the same file that everybody gets- the personalized cheat code “SPECIAL EDITION“. This turned out to be the most popular reward, so there’s something to be said for giving yourself creative restrictions.
I don’t “own” a bobcat, as per se. It’s much more complicated a relationship than that, but I think she and I have come to an understanding.
With the game finished and available for download have you thought about what will come next from Wickworks? Possibly another Kickstarter project?
Nothing definitive. I have a couple of ideas that I’m kicking around. I have a demo for this 2D platforming “I wanna be like spider man” grappling hook game that I could flesh out. Possibly a patch for Rubicon for issues that come up + more content.
There is this one idea I’ve had: when studying neuroscience and learning about all these neuronal circuits, I’m having a lot of problems visualizing what’s actually going on. So why not a neuron puzzle game? Make functional pattern generators using the actual components and rules that brains follow. If I’m going to make another Kickstarter, this will probably be the one.
This is always a fun one; last of all, what are your top 5 inspirational videogames?
In terms of games that I refer back to a lot when looking for good designs:
Bastion – I took a LOT of inspiration from this guy. Enemies, weapons, style, audio, all excellent.
Guild Wars 2 – an MMO that finally friggin’ respects your time. Being able to revive strangers makes for a really feel-good social baseline.
Starcraft – The ultimate trifecta of balance, and the flavor so perfectly matches and enhances the mechanics.
The Elder Scrolls Series – With games so saturated with options, your experience playing really becomes a function of what YOU bring to the table. I’m really a control-freak designer, so it’s good to be reminded that freedom is OK.
Portal – I mean, c’mon. Textbook step-by-step fleshing out of the implications of a unique concept in a fun way.
BONUS GAME: Evolution: the Game of Intelligent Life – Because velociraptor-people.
To finish things off Retrospekt would like to thank Joseph Perry for his time and we wish him all the best with his future projects. Until next time, if you see a bobcat make sure to serve it a plate of crepes and as always, happy gaming!