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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2019 Business Diary

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Taking Care of Business - Iron Tower Studio 2019 Business Diary

Company News - posted by Infinitron on Sat 16 February 2019, 21:14:50

Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Dungeon Rats; Iron Tower Studio; The Age of Decadence; Vince D. Weller

A year ago, Vault Dweller wrote a very interesting business diary update, a highly transparent look at his studio's operations including revenue charts, market analysis and more. Well, it looks like that's going to be an annual thing. This year's business diary is much shorter but comes with big news. Instead of the small tactical spin-off he described last year, Vince has decided his studio's next game will be a full-blown sequel to Colony Ship. To try and avoid the dreaded "sequel fatigue syndrome" he's always warned about, Vince intends to take the game in an ambitious but not unexpected direction - the surface of the alien-inhabited planet the colony ship has at long last arrived at. I quote:

Colony Ship, formerly known as The New World

As the last update says, we finally have a playable build, so we hope to release the combat beta in 2 months and a full demo by the end of the year, so it should be a very busy, stressful, but exciting year for us. In unexpected news, our efforts were noticed and we've received our first publishing offer from a well-known company (in fact, I was very surprised to learn that not only they're aware we exist but that they also read our updates occasionally). Some folks are destined for greatness and greatness does call for strategic alliances and capital injections. Sadly, we're too small-minded to dream of such things, so we'll stick with our 0.0003% of the global market.

Anyway, we've been working for 2 years building the "infrastructure" (RPG-izing the engine, developing systems: character, combat, stealth, inventory, dialogue, etc), working on items, models, effects, etc. Even though we're far from done, the time and effort investment is already considerable. Starting from scratch every time is painful, so we'll have to brave the dangers of the "more of the same" curse and do a proper sequel, instead of another small tactical game or a brand new project.

Naturally, investing 3 years into a sequel and selling 30% of the original will be equally painful (as Dungeon Rats' sales data shows, you don't have to spend 3 years to sell 30% when a single year will do), but what we in mind is so crazy it might actually work.

The main problem with sequels is that the setting and gameplay remain the same. It's nearly impossible to switch gears and offer the player something radically different. While your best fans may be enthralled with the initial game and crave more of it, part of what they are craving is the sense of exploration (of a land and a rule set), novelty, and wonder that accompanying a new RPG - things that will almost inherently be absent in a sequel. Obsidian's Deadfire, for example, plays the same way as the original (which is to be expected, of course; after all, Fallout 2 plays the same way too - you know what works, what doesn't, so you follow the established path and know what to expect from the enemies and factions). With Colony Ship, this problem is easy to solve, not because we're so clever, but because the setting itself implies its solution: we land the Ship and start the Colony.

A Tentative Sequel

From Colony Ship's intro: "...after the Ship's launch a deep space probe transmitted highly detailed images of the surface, which revealed one minor setback: this very habitable world is already inhabited. Since the voyage is estimated to take close to 400 years, it’s possible that by the time the Ship arrives the colonists will encounter a mature civilization, corresponding to Earth’s Middles Ages."

The typical space opera trope is that when we make first contact, it is with aliens either corresponding to very primitive indigenous people (such as in Avatar), consisting of a nightmarish swarm (as in Starship Troopers), or at some extraordinary level of technology themselves (as in Star Trek or Babylon 5). Here, however, while the aliens are pre-industrial, they are well past the spears and face-paint stage, and have well-established political, economic, and military systems.

More importantly, they are alien, which means that while they may be humanoid (to make our animator's life easier), the fundamental logic of their society, religion, and power should be truly alien to ours and vice versa. The result is a highly asymmetrical kulturcampf.

For the record, it won't be a retelling of the conquest of the New World but on another planet. The ragtag Terrans who'd land on Proxima B after 400 years of space travel and in-fighting will be at a disadvantage and will have to fight for survival and adapt to this less than welcoming arid new world. Reinforcements won't be coming, so the Terrans will be on their own and each defeat will bring them closer to being wiped out for good. They will have to rely on crude firearms more than ever as the high-tech weapons and gear intended for the future colony were used up during the Mutiny and the civil war that followed. New factions will emerge in response to new threats, each offering a different way to survive and become part of this world.

While we're playing around with the basic concepts, we're exploring what the alien civilization might look like. Joan Piqué Llorens out of Barcelona thinks it might look like this: https://www.artstation.com/artwork/BmvNgA

Back to the alien culture. Needless to say, it has to be unique in a good way and thus interesting to explore, which is easier said than done. The first attempt was a complete disaster but fortunately for everyone, Mark Yohalem (Primordia, Fallen Gods) was the first to see it, so he quickly pointed out the flaws and helped us find a much better angle. The second attempt managed to get Mark's stamp of approval:

"Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but I do kind of like it. I also like the sense of this spectacular and alien civilization that is basically being destabilized in a way that you can see the whole thing crumbling in the face of familiar human tech. Makes any sense of victory a bit melancholy."

Now that we have a good socio-political and religious foundation in place we can spend the next 2 years slowly fleshing out, so that by the time Colony Ship is released, the new setting will be mapped out and ready to go.
Sorry, Inquisition RPG fans. Maybe in 2030?

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