The REAL Steel Storm

A few weeks back I did a Game-A-Week (one hour initial gameplay review) of the indie top-down shooter Steel Storm: Burning Retribution. I enjoyed it but wasn’t overly keen as it was lacking content such as big boss fights, varied enemies and extra weaponry. The developers of the game Kot-in-Action came across my review and suggested I try out Episode 2 of the game as it had a lot of the content I was wanting from the game. I did so and lo and behold, there’s an entire game much larger than the initial episode that’s full of so many things I was wanting from my first play through.

So I set out to conquer this game with my girlfriend; we loaded co-op up and literally sat at our computers for six hours or so, plowing through waves of enemies and working together to take out the more difficult enemies such as the Heavy Proton/Minigun Tanks (psst they like to follow one player, get the other to go behind them and blast away!). We found that Episode 2 had a lot more variation on what was required to complete levels; sometimes it would be finding key cards/hacking certain terminals in the game and other times it would be sneaking past enemies within a heavily guarded fortress…we did think hah! we’ve missiles and beam cannons! We’ll kill you all…until they respawned leaving us to hiding behind shield walls for safety. #Facepalm

Overall the second episode felt like an entirely different game, and that’s because it was. I’ve read several reviews of the game online and I generally read the same thing, that its repetitive and is a retro game limited by retro rules. After playing the game through till the end I don’t feel that this type of criticism is justified. For example; enemies will utilise the map and take cover during fights,  portals will literally keep spawning units until you obliterate them which becomes difficult as enemies can end up forcing you to retreat, Lightning Tanks will disable secondary\special weapons making you feel like a right noob and repair turrets will quite simply resurrect anything around it and make your life a living hell unless you take it out. But it’s not just the fights that can become interesting. Playing on a level where you’ll need to be stealthy and another where you need to complete the mission within a certain amount of time adds character this indie game and I’ve had a blast playing trough it.

Q&A with Steel Storm Developer Kot-in-Action

  •  Can you tell us about the restructuring of the campaigns in the latest update? And why this change was made to the game?

“We have re-arranged the campaign structure in the latest patch. There is no longer Episode 1: Ashes to Ashes. Instead, you have a campaign called Training Missions (which is essentially the 3 best missions from Episode 1), and a campaign called Burning Retribution (which is exactly the same as it was). The Bonus Missions campaign got one extra mission and the rest of Episode 1’s missions were moved into the campaign called Lost Missions.”

“Originally, Episode 1 was released as a free game, in 2010. When Steel Storm: Burning Retribution was released in May, 2011 we decided to include Episode 1 into the game, for, as we thought, convenience. This was a last-minute decision and as it appeared later, a wrong one. Due to that decision, we got a lot of negative feedback about the game. A lot of users played Episode 1 and “shelved” the game (if such a term can be applied to a digital copy of the game :) ). Reviewers based their opinion on Episode 1 without trying Episode 2 a.k.a. Burning Retribution, which has been the actual game from the day of release. Our sales suffered a lot and the only proper course of action was to re-design structure of the campaigns to lead players straight to the Burning Retribution campaign.”

  •  Episode two varied somewhat from episode one; it added new enemies, bosses and that sort of thing. What made you add these features to the game? Was this what you always had in mind, did the community request these features?

“We always had these features in mind. Episode 1 took a long time to develop as we were only a 2 man team and worked at full-time jobs. After we had core gameplay working and had enough art assets created, we decided to release Episode 1 as a free game to measure potential success. Once the game was released, we got back to the development cycle and added everything you see in Steel Storm: Burning Retribution today.”

  • Steel storm was released as separate parts over time; what have you learnt as a games developer along the way and what would you have done differently if given the chance?

“I would call it invaluable hands-on training without a student loan :) We saw the industry from the inside so to speak, developed our skills and learned a lot about the business. One of the things we learned is that focus is important. I personally spent a lot of time on business development and I shouldn’t have done. Slow and steady growth is what a developer should expect, without marketing. There are exceptions of course, but such exceptions are rare. Another lesson learned is that Linux is a viable gaming platform from an indie point of view. We also learned that marketing games is much, much harder than developing them ;)”

“There are always things people would do differently as they look back after going through some events in their life. It’s the same thing with game development. As far as core gameplay, we would have certainly concentrated on the single-player / co-op aspect more. When we began the development we knew nothing about such business models as crowdfunding and early access. I think we could have adopted either of them and released builds of the game more often to receive early feedback and iterate. Looking back I can say that localization was something we didn’t have to do. During the pre-production stage we decided to make the game scalable, allowing it to be run even on the netbooks. 3 years later scalability became redundant as the hardware we were aiming at is no longer a mainstream hardware. It’s particularly noticeable by looking at the menu graphics as the default resolution was thought to be 800×600 :)”

  • Steel Storm: Burning Retribution was added to the Humble Indie Bundle 3, can you tell us how and why you did this?

“It’s simple – cold e-mails for a long period of time to HIB3 guys did the job and finally they gave in and let Steel Storm be a bonus game in the bundle. The initial thoughts were to earn a big sack of money as HIB3 is a well marketed bundle and showed a progressive growth of revenue. That idea was not liked very much by the HIB3 guys and therefore the second thought was about getting a good promotion out of it. It’s hard to tell if HIB3 gave us a boost of popularity. There is just no way to measure it, as we saw no increase in sales. Sales actually dropped. I can only conclude usefulness of HIB3 to third-party developers after we release DLC, as HIB3 gave us huge number of users :)”

  • Could you tell us a little about the upcoming DLC? How about a tagline =]

“Heh, to summarize I can reveal that the DLC will be single-player / co-op oriented, it will have new levels, new weapons, a gadget, and probably new enemies. The working title of the DLC is ‘Steel Storm: Anomaly’.”

Like many gamers I received Steel Storm as a part of the humble indie bundle 3, I hadn’t really heard of the game prior to that and my initial hour of gameplay limited my experience for what the real Steel Storm offers. The update to the game has just been released so if you’ve not given the game a go yet do so. If you don’t own the game either try the demo or spend less than the cost of a meal for a game that offers interesting and challenging gameplay. Looking forward to playing that additional Steel Storm content!

Thanks to Kot-in-Action for the Q&A! ^.^

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