Jeremy Lee On Game Development, Player Feedback, And Starlight
In 2014, Singaporean game developer Jeremy Lee published the real-time strategy game Foresight with his studio Strides Interactive. After a successful but bumpy launch, the brand and the studio have been quiet for a long time, but now Lee has returned after almost seven years with a new game called Starlight: Eye of the Storm. We talked to him about Foresight’s release, the challenges and lessons learned for indies, and what has changed for him since then.
“We did have a lot of challenges in terms of our own experience or lack of it.”
When the space strategy game Foresight finally appeared in 2014, the reviews were cautious, and the game was not the financial success it was hoped for. In retrospect, Lee sees a variety of reasons for this failure. First of all, he criticizes his inexperience with the industry at the time and the associated misjudgment of the amount of work that such a game project requires. The financing by investors was also problematic. In some cases, the money came too late and employees could no longer be retained.
Ultimately, the then-publisher KISS Unlimited also misjudged the market and opposed the early access concept, which was still new at the time. From today’s perspective, Lee thinks that Foresight shouldn’t have appeared as a full release in this condition, especially at a starting price that was too high.
“I was really quite violated, to be honest.”
Although Lee emphasizes that there were also many good moments with his team, the problems mentioned above inevitably led to disagreements within the workforce. Only year’s after the release the full extent of dissatisfaction and mistrust became clear: A former dissatisfied employee is said to have stolen the source code of the game and offered it to other studios for sale. Fortunately, Lee says, Strides Interactive wrote the code themselves, so it wasn’t easy to find a buyer who could actually understand and use it. So, luckily the whole process did not result in any financial damage to the studio.
“It’s not so simple to make an RTS. It is not just that I click on it and move things around and test it. Unfortunately, it is far more complicated. “
In the end, however, it is the scope that almost makes the project fail. The 3D graphics and especially the voiceover require a lot more attention than expected. For example, Lee has the latter outsourced to a studio in India. More than 15,000 lines of voice output are still a mammoth task for most indie studios today, and in the case of Foresight, the dubbing ensured a significantly longer development phase. In retrospect, Lee says, 10% of the whole thing would have done it because compromises had to be made elsewhere.
“If if we come up with another game, you know, it could be Foresight 2, but you know, it took us so much to create it. So maybe something simpler, maybe something that we can manage easily. “
Unlike Foresight, the new game from Strides Interactive is no longer a strategy game. Instead, Starlight: Eye of the Storm is now a classic 2D shoot ‘em up in the sense of R-Type or Raptor: Call of the Shadows, the latter being explicitly used as a reference. Although the genre changed, the developer decided to keep the scenario and story of Foresight. With Jun Jimin, for example, the main character who is popular among fans is returning. Initially, Lee had a 3D shooter, like the X-Wing Alliance or the recently released Star Wars: Squadrons, in mind, but then decided on a project that was easier to implement.
Lee learned from the mistakes of the past: Starlight: Eye of the Storm relies on a manageable game concept, 2D graphics, a spaceship editor, and – last but not least – on Steam’s Early Access program. With this, Strides Interactive now is able to respond more to feedback from the players.
“You can see Starlight as a mix of a Western and Eastern shoot’em ups.”
Like many of its genre colleagues, Starlight relies on a sheer mass of projectiles that the player has to avoid. These shooters called “bullet-hell” are usually aimed at hardcore gamers. However, the philosophy behind Starlight is different. Thanks to a moderate level of difficulty settings, a less experienced audience is also to be addressed here.
Even if everything seems to go smoother now, Lee still reacts evasively to the planned target date of May 2021 for the full release. First, he wants to wait for the general feedback. Nevertheless, the developers are already planning more content for the future. The story is supposed to be told in a campaign mode (currently, only the arcade version is available), in which the performance of the players in the individual missions should affect the course of the narration. With the built-in and accessible spaceship editor, the players themselves should also provide additional content, and a level editor may also be planned.
“Singapore actually is very competitive. But it’s a bit irrelevant because you’re always competing with the rest of the world. “
We also asked Lee what it’s like to be a game developer in Singapore, and his feedback was positive. Singapore thus offers both the technical and the political basis for successful game production. The most important thing, however, is to remain competitive in the global market. The key to this is a good workflow and a realistic assessment of your resources without losing sight of the production values.
“They may be ranting, they may be angry, but that’s only because they care, you know, when your audience cares about your game, they will start to give you feedback.”
Lee knows his way around lousy feedback, and that is why his advice to other game developers is not to take it personally but to extract the essence of the criticism and take it seriously. Here he responses almost overly humble by stating: “we reproduce, we fix it, and we thank those who ranted against us.” Many indie developers are too arrogant to notice the feedback from players or the gaming press and would therefore fail, so he states.
“Do not constrain ourselves to just one franchise. We want to explore. We want to go into other games. “
At the end of each interview about the past, it is also worth looking into the future. At the moment, Lee doesn’t know whether there will ever be a Foresight 2. But he remains deeply rooted in his created universe and does not rule out other small games of different genres. A grand strategy game or board games under the Foresight label also seem possible. In this regard, Lee understands the US company Blizzard as a role model that is successful with its brands in a variety of genres. Even if there are still no concrete plans, it looks like Starlight wasn’t the last game from Strides Interactive. Let’s hope it won’t be seven years again.
6 lessons-learned for indie developers
- Start with a manageable game concept
- Plan enough time
- Invest in your team and build trust
- Make sure investment comes in early
- Stay open-minded for other genres
- Take feedback seriously
We would like to thank Jeremy Lee for the friendly and insightful discussion. His games Foresight and Starlight: Eye of The Storm are available for PC on Steam.