An Interview With Brigador Developers, Stellar Jockeys

Brigador cyberpunk mech game screenshot


Following on from the look at Brigador‘s tweaked graphics a few days ago, we caught up with Hugh and Jack Monahan; the two brothers developing Brigador at Stellar Jockeys.  It was a chance to ask about their inspiration for the game, how they managed to work with Makeup & Vanity Set on the soundtrack, the current state of development, and the future.  Read below!

Brigador’s aesthetics (retro graphics, synthesised music, night-time setting, etc) make it stand out, but what came first; the theme or gameplay design? How did it come about?

Hugh: It’s been a mutually informing process. Setting the game at night came after we’d added colored lighting and realized not only were night shots possible but the game looked best in those low light conditions. Consequently that led us to the single night timeframe while structuring the levels / layouts to support that plot device, and focusing our thoughts on types of conflict that could fit within that duration: coup, revolution, etc. That back and forth permeates our design for most of the project.

Jack: Action films with great urgency typically take place in a very short window of time, so the question was what kind of scenario, both story and visually, made sense in a short window? Escape From New York is a natural touchstone, here. That’s a much less interesting story if Plissken has no countdown clock forcing his hand. So we thought about these kinds of stories, and about a coup or power-grab carving up a city in one night of chaos and panic resonated with us.

One of the real pleasures of making an independent game is that you can go straight to the kind of visual/musical choices that you love the most, rather than carefully balancing these things for broad appeal, as large budget games are required to do.

The game certainly comes across as partly cyberpunk in its aesthetics and I’ve read several mentions of Syndicate from people seeing Brigador. Are you conscious of any cyberpunk or influences over the game or is it more just sci-fi?

Jack: Once we figured out Brigador was taking place over the course of a single night, the rest follows naturally. Images of cyberpunk are so heavily intertwined with concepts of city infrastructure, of space management. Retrofit Los Angeles in Blade Runner, Dredd’s Mega-City One, Stephenson’s burbclaves. Once you’re thinking about spatial/economic/military divisions, it’s natural to arrive at cyberpunk.

Hugh: Syndicate is a beloved game for us but we didn’t explicitly set out to create a cyberpunk aesthetic, rather it’s more something we fell into given our interests and the direction of the game. Another 90’s title that’s a strong influence is Crusader: No Remorse, though we’re keen to pull influences more from outside the games industry. Escape From New York is arguably our most significant touchstone, though we’re interested in anything with that kind of gritty, lived-in aesthetic such as Alien, Blade Runner, and Outland.  As sci-fi writers go Gibson and Heinlein are the most significant for us, but Jack and I pull just as much from non-fiction; we’re both avid readers on U.S. overseas activity, clandestine operations, and securitization. Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars” and Steve Graham’s “Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism” are both excellent illustrations of those topics.

The music feels like a big part of the Brigador trailers we’ve seen so far. How did this relationship with Make Up and Vanity Set come about? How many tracks will they be making for the game?

Hugh: Though Jack’s initial tracks and John Carpenter’s themes created a clear reference point, we’d still struggled for months to find an artist that fit those parameters. It wasn’t until GDC last March when, while expressing my dismay at this point, someone pointed us to Matt Pusti aka Makeup & Vanity Set. Not only was he right, but working with Matt has proved to be an effortless collaboration that both fits the game perfectly and is shaping up to be an excellent album in its own right. We’ve got just over an hour of music finshed as of now, but as it’s looking like we’ll need a few more tracks for the game the finished album should prove very robust.

On the Brigador Reveal Trailer you anticipated a Summer 2014 release. That’s obviously gone by and it’s not uncommon for delays in game development, but can you give specific reasons? Was there anything unexpected?

Jack: Our game is like other games but unique enough that it’s been a process of discovery. We could have shipped a lesser version of the game on target with the original ship date, but just a little more time I think will help us make the game that’s better than just the initial concept.

Hugh: The original release dates assumed a short window for prototyping the unique flavor of gameplay found in Brigador. While those first passes were fruitful, they weren’t nearly good enough for us to be happy shipping, so we just needed more time dedicated to developing the gameplay; the last thing any of us wanted to do was ship a half-baked title. If there were clear models to iterate on creating gameplay for Brigador the process would’ve gone much faster, but as it is we had to build up these ideas and systems mostly from scratch, such as 3D aiming from an isometric perspective and completely destructible environments.

In April of this year you wrote a blog post outlining your view on the advantages and disadvantages of releasing a game via Steam Early Access. It feels to me like it’s mainly a financial advantage at the cost of the originality that can come from a small indie team with limited external input. Have your views on the matter changed much since April?

Jack: Early Access is tricky. It can be essential for some games, like any multiplayer or sandbox-oriented games, to do Early Access and really help build the game with the help of an established player base. But for single player games like ours, I think there are both hidden costs with doing Early Access (many players won’t come back and check out the final version of the game), and I think you can end up with a lot of negative press for a non-representative version of the game. I think there’s a lot of pushback with players on Steam for games to actually be better polished before they get them, and not just for independent games either.

And frankly, with a game as retro-minded as ours is in many ways, Early Access just didn’t seem like the right call. Part of the nostalgia for the good old days was to just get a game and it worked, right out of the box, right?

What’s the current phase of development and when are you expecting the game to be ready for release?

Hugh: We’re still honing in on the gameplay but it’s close, and past that most of the remaining work involves building up game content; levels, vehicles, weapons and the like.

Jack: I can claim a little bit better perspective than my teammates since I’ve been through a full development cycle before–but we’re rounding that final corner. Cementing the core gameplay and then polish, polish, polish. Polish is what makes good games great, I think. And so that’s our intent for our game. Get it as good as it can be, then put it up for sale.

Are there any plans for the game to be available on other platforms in the future?

Hugh: The game will definitely release on PC, Mac, and Linux. We’re also investigating other options, but I can’t say anything to that end until we know for sure.

We’ll let you know as soon as we can get our hands on it, so stay plugged in!

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Written by Zymepunk
Zymepunk was drawn into the world of cyberpunk by Deus Ex and Blade Runner and now looks both back and forwards in time for anything that may come close to those masterpieces.

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