Storm The Train Interview With Games Faction's Lee Hickey
Earlier this month, Chillingo surprised us with Storm the Train, a free-to-play 2D shooter from developer Games Faction. In it, players take control of a gun-toting agent as they blast killer robots, werewolves and vampires aboard a speeding train. There's a wonderful arcade vibe, mixed with retro appeal for good measure. We like the game so much, we couldn't resist tracking down Managing Director Lee Hickey to learn more about this successful iOS title.
First off, who decided to give this game away for free? You could have sold Storm the Train for $0.99, right?
Going free-to-play was a joint decision that was carefully made between Games Faction and Chillingo. Yes, we could have sold Storm the Train for $0.99, but we decided quite early on to modify the design so that we could release it for free and maximize the number of downloads it received. We were really excited to see if we could design a game that would work as F2P.
The F2P model is a contentious topic for some people, but we don't see it that way at all. It gives the vast majority of our players the ability to play our games fully without spending a penny and really reduces download-friction. It's a great feeling to know there are nearly two million unique users out there playing Storm the Train.
Have to admit, the game definitely reminds us of some classic titles from the 80s and 90s. Which games inspired you throughout the development process?
I'd say the primary one is Metal Slug; what an awesome series of games. Maybe a little of Contra as well. We really wanted to make it fast-paced with very fluid controls, and have something of an old-school arcade feel. That's really tricky to achieve on a touch-based device without the tactile response of physical buttons, but we're very happy with the results.
Getting back to the free concept, now that more of these games are of a higher quality, how big an issue is this for companies selling $39.99-$59.99 retail games? What sort of increased pressure are they going to feel in the months and years ahead?
There'll always be a market for the blockbuster console games from the mega-publishers, and I don't think F2P games are competing with them. I think they are competing with the middle tier, though; games in the $15-$30 range, and especially games on the more traditional handheld devices. It will be interesting to see how those sorts of devices compete in a marketplace full of F2P games that deliver amazing quality.
F2P is not purely a business decision, though. It is very much a design decision and it certainly doesn't suit every type of game. It's going to be interesting to see what happens over the coming years.
It would appear the sky is the limit for downloadable content. Do you have anything planned? More weapons and suits perhaps?
Yes, we have LOTS of new content planned. When designing Storm the Train, we wanted to build a system that is very flexible and modular so that we could easily add new content without breaking the experience. New character upgrades, weapons, suits, special abilities, vehicles, environments, bosses, drones, gadgets... it's all on the cards, but at the moment, we're focusing on new games modes and events.
We also pay close attention to our players' feedback and have received a lot of requests for more environments, so this is something we're considering. Stay tuned, we have some really great additions lined up.
Is there anything that didn't make it into the original version?
We have a very iterative approach to building games. We have an idea, implement it quickly to see how it feels, then either leave it in or rip it out depending on how fun it is. Over the course of making Storm the Train, we implemented all manner of systems and features that got ditched at a later date for one reason or another. For example, originally, the game had ammo and health drops but it didn't quite have the manic feel we were after. Finite ammo just felt too limiting. Also, at one point, the game was all about distance, not of the player, but of the train, and the speed of the train would change to reflect how much mayhem you were causing. This had several issues as well, but mainly it was a really abstract concept and very hard to communicate to the player properly. There are so many other things we tried, perhaps some may be added in the future.