Interview with Nate Schmold of 30/30 Games

Cosmochoria blasted its way onto Steam’s Early Access storefront on September 29. A sort of tower defense/rogue-lite/space-gardening simulator, it’s one of the more colourful and highly received Early Access titles this year. Power Up Gaming’s Jake Richards recently spoke with its creator, Nate Schmold.

Jake Richards: You chose to make the naked protagonist of Cosmochoria a cosmonaut; in a game market saturated with astronauts that’s a bold move. Why a cosmonaut?

Nate Schmold: On November 10, 1955, a friend of my father’s named George was asleep in his home and awoke to the sound of mind-blasting electronic sounds. George tells the story that when he opened his eyes, he saw a man from space standing in front of him in a bright yellow space suit of some kind, holding some sort of a brainwashing device and talking in a deep voice. The very second I heard that story I was enamoured with space and the travellers of space and time. Actually wait, no that was Back to the Future.

Truthfully, I just thought a little cosmonaut would be a cool, ‘familiar’ way to come at a space game, while giving players something ‘fun’ to play with. I really wanted the game to feel familiar in many ways so that it sets up the possibility to introduce surprises and oddities with greater effect.

JR: What games influenced the style, tone, and design of Cosmochoria?

NS: Artistically, things like Loco Roco, Noby Noby Boy, Katamari Damacy, and Yok Yok were at the forefront – I wanted something that looked playfully childish, again, to establish a certain feeling of nostalgia and simplicity. In terms of tone, I’m trying to mix the simplicity and mechanics of a game like Asteroids or Donkey Kong with the playfulness of Yo Gabba Gabba, with the mystery of a simplified Fez.

Starseed Pilgrim was a huge influence in terms of the type of game, where the mechanics themselves were meant to be ‘discovered’. I’ve been finding it really hard because some of the biggest criticism of [Cosmochoria] is the fact that I don’t really ‘direct’ players on how to play. It took a lot of convincing to finally put some text cues and instructions into the core of the game – but I still wanted people to feel like they were the ones learning to play the game. I think that it is an alienating point of view to take though, which is where I’ve had the most internal struggle on how to present the design.

JR: Experts are saying that a manned space flight to Mars is coming sooner than later. Would you volunteer and if so, would you wear clothing?

NS: Volunteering would be death. There’s no way in hell I could survive a trip even past our own moon. I’d be insane and suicidal by the time we could see moon craters from the spaceship window. I’ll gladly strip down and plants seeds on our own planet, though!

JR: What’s your most anticipated indie title being released over the next year (or that has already been released)? Are there any Early Access titles you’re currently playing?

NS: Really, really looking forward to Hyper Light Drifter. So much to say about that game, but trying to not inflate it up in my head too much, like I did with Fez. I’m sure it’s going to be a pretty cool game, though. I currently don’t play too many games because as soon as I start, I begin feeling guilty that I should be getting back to work. That being said, Nuclear Throne has eaten up about 20 hours of my life so far. That game is next level – in presentation and design!

JR: What are some updates people can expect before the full release in January? Why should people buy in now rather than wait for the full release?

NS: The primary updates that will be taking place over the next few months will be related to:

– New Enemies and Bosses
– Story and lore woven throughout each playthrough
– A completable ‘end game’ that you are actually striving towards.

Early Access gives you the chance to see this stuff and play with it while it’s being added in, in addition to leaving feedback, directing the balance, tweaking the systems, etc. The benefit of Early Access is you get to see the game unfold. There may very well be parts of the game that are stripped out or changed entirely by the time it hits the full Steam release. I think being able to play the game as it’s being developed is an interesting experience unto itself, and I try to be very open to suggestions and feedback from the community that is playing, so in a way it’s like you’re literally helping bring the game to life.

That all said, I understand the connotation and associations that come with a game in Early Access, and if you’re truly interested in just playing a final experience, I fully encourage you to wait until the final release.

JR: When Cosmochoria is all wrapped up, and assuming you want to develop another game, what genre or theme would you want to touch upon next? Would you use Early Access again?

NS: I’m actually trying to not think about it too much, because I want to make sure any good ideas I have go towards Cosmo at the moment, but I am looking forward to being wrapped up and trying something totally different. I’m probably going to try to put something really, really simple together: like a mobile game with some quirky, off-the-wall mechanic that is just fun to play in short spurts. Something I can focus on for 3-4 months and then be done with. I’d like to get more games under my belt in general, just to learn even more about the business and promotional side of things. I feel like Cosmochoria should have been my fifth game, not my first!

I may use Early Access, yeah, I feel when used in conjunction with other things like live streaming, the Steam forums, official forums, social networks, etc, it gives me a really good picture of the things I need to be adjusting and adding to the game. It is a really cool way to get people involved in the development and get an honest gauge of whether or not the things I am doing make an impact towards a game people actually enjoy playing, so I’m not just stuck in a room all by myself hoping that when I finally finish, people are going to like the monstrosity I toiled over.

JR: Any advice for would-be indie devs trying to find their way into the industry?

NS: All I can say is what I’ve learned in my short time trying to do the very same thing: don’t be shy. Put yourself out there and work as hard as you can. If you have something that some people think is cool, embrace that while continuing to find more people who might find what you’re doing cool. I started just under a year ago from almost nothing. Literally nothing; just me reading and wishing I had the stones to make a game. I decided it was time to stop wishing and just try. Then it was to try to find the stones to show people. Then it was to try to find the stones to get people interested in voting on Greenlight. Then Kickstarter. Then purchasing on Early Access…

I think if one thing rings true for every step of the way, it’s that I truly 100% believe that what I have to offer is something special. Now, that may very well be delusional, but I believe it, and use that belief as a guiding light to keep working hard and keep putting myself out there and amazing things have happened because of that, so I think it must be kinda helpful advice… Maybe not…

Just do your thing. For yourself. No one’s gonna make you a success, you just gotta keep going. When people rip the game apart, don’t get offended but listen to what they’re saying: some of it is actually valid feedback. When someone tells you what they like, listen to them closely, accept their compliments and make more of what they like. All you gotta do to be part of the industry is work on a game, so just start doing it!

JR: Cosmochoria is currently available on the Early Access storefront for $9.99. It’s already received several updates and, if trends are any indicator, is shaping up for an excellent full release.

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