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Rogue Invader


In Depth Rogue Invader Interview with Squishy Games

PressA2Join recently had the chance to chat with Nathan Rees and Lee J Hinkle of Squishy Games about their Action Shooter game Rogue Invader, which is currently running a Greenlight Campaign on Steam.

PA2J: Welcome guys, I took a look at the trailer, Rogue Invader looks like a lot of fun!

Lee: Thanks. Nathan put about 60 hours of work into the trailer. His background is in animation, so he’s a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to telling visual stories. We wanted to make sure that the trailer gave insight–even briefly–to most aspects of Rogue Invader.There’s quite a bit more there than the casual viewer will catch on the first watch. He’s very good at what he does, but it takes a lot of time to see a vision and then make it look like that on-screen.

PA2J: So tell me a little bit about Rogue Invader, I believe there are a million marines but only one life per marine?

Yeah. That’s right on. Because it’s a roguelike, each playthrough ends with a permanent death. In the lore we’ve created, a million (ish, give or take) marines that arrive at the zeno homeworld, ready for a ground assault.  The support ships with all the drop pods were destroyed in transit. The fleet commander had one overarching order when sent by the Galactic Council: don’t come back until you’ve won the war.

The space battle is won, but the planet is still under zeno control.  Controlling the planet wins the war. So the fleet commander works with the tools at hand: one drop pod, one pistol. The first soldier gets only a standard pistol (with a teleporter mod, so the pistol returns to the ship upon the soldier’s death). Inevitably, that soldier will die, but hopefully she will teleport some resources and/or guns back, so they can build a rifle and start research and development of mods and weapons.

We’ve considered using a hard ceiling of 1 million marines per playable profile (which can always be reset by the player), but we haven’t concluded on that. We also don’t want anyone trying to use up all their marines.  That isn’t a good use of their time, just for the most elusive achievement in the game. Although, on the difficulty thing, 100%ing old games was HARD. So making an impossible achievement? Maybe something we’d end up doing…  I can just see a player now: “WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO GET 100%? I’VE BEEN AT 99% FOR 40 HOURS!” ,Parents: we’re not responsible for this.

Rogue Invader

PA2J: How did you come up with the idea for Rogue Invader?

Lee: Rogue Invader is about 20 years in the making. It started as the game Nathan wished he could play when he was growing up. He played NES and SNES at friends’s homes and then returned to his console-less room, envisioning cool games. The best thing he could do was create images with Hyper Card and VideoWorks 2 for the Apple Macintosh.

He made a number of these, and Adventur Masters II: The Alein Encounter (sic) was the spiritual parent of Rogue Invader: Adventur Masters II Preview.

Nathan: I contacted Lee J, a former roommate and friend in October last year and suggested we build a game together. Lee J’s background is in business, so he was most worried about competitive differentiation.  With so many indie games in the market and so many not doing particularly well, he wanted to make sure THE GAME was going to be different and stand out.

Lee: Nathan came back with a few ideas, and the 1-bit graphics combined with the isometric viewpoint, some nerdy homages, and cynical humor were enough to convince me to leave my job teaching secondary computer science and entrepreneurship to write all the code for Rogue Invader.

PA2J: That’s a pretty cool story, so the idea for the 1bit graphics is more a throwback to games you used to play?

We wanted to pay homage to where video games had come from. We also wanted to try to get ahead of the market. Rogue Invader certainly has that feel to it. Tons of games were coming out in 8 and 16-bit, we wanted to see if 1-bit would catch on. We felt it was a risk worth taking. 

PA2J: I think the kid in most gamers love the idea, because of what it represents.

We hope so. We hope to balance the retro feel with a very strong and smooth player control system–something we always wished those old games had. Shooting forward and backward isn’t good enough any more. We get frustrated out of our minds playing Castle Crashers and not being able to connect with our ranged attacks. We wanted to overcome that limitation of isometric. So our soldiers can fire in 32 directions (all 360 degrees) with accuracy proportional to the amount of time the player has been aiming.

So missing an alien will be due to aiming problems, not due to the limitations the programmers have put on the game.

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PA2J: Zeno’s are the enemy in the game, are you big fans of the films?

Lee: We want to make sure there is a delineation between Xenomorphs and our zenos. Nathan is a fan of the films, I need to see them. We want to evoke the same feelings of dread and fear when you encounter our zenos that come from the Alien films, but we also don’t want to tread on intellectual property rights.

So we’ve taken the general shape, removed the tails and rear tubes and gave them large comic eyes.

PA2J: Being a huge fan of the films, I did notice that, but it looks good!

Lee: Thank you for the compliment. Nathan’s spent a lot of time making sure they look good, and he still has four more types to make visually distinctive from each other–no easy task with the main colour being black. So if there are still issues re: IP, some reader please let us know!  Or Fox: please don’t sue. We’re small and not a threat.

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PA2J: How many different types of Zeno are there and how will they be different from each other?

We currently have four different types. We can identify there will be grunts (the ones seen in the trailer), snipers, and brutes.  There’s another one, but they may not be noticed until it’s too late. We’re considering one or two more, but we’ve already created 25,000 images to be used in the game, and we expect it to reach 40,000 before we’re close to being finished. (Nate’s working really hard on graphics.)

Mini-bosses and final bosses will be Zenos, but won’t fit the programming structures and AI we’ve already developed, so we tend to think of them separately. Much of the AI code is the same for different types (classes) of zenos, but each have three different possible personalities that manifest differently for each class, so essentially there are nine personalities we’re creating within our AI model.

PA2J: Variety is good

This isn’t going to be your standard platformer where the goombas run along two possible paths. Zenos will hunt you. So be ready.

PA2J: I’m looking forward to seeing the different types of enemies.

Lee: Thanks, I am too.They currently exist only in Nathan’s head. 

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PA2J: How do you feel the Greenlight campaign is going?

In our myopic entrepreneurial moments, we assumed it would be an instant hit. So many less-polished games/trailers are Greenlit quickly, so we assumed it would be a short ride for us. So in the moment it feels like we’re not doing well. But reality is we’re doing pretty well.  

Our comments are all positive and our Yes vote percentage significantly out-scores the top 50 average, so we’re feeling pretty good.We really just started reaching out to writers who can feature us and get Rogue Invader in front of a wider audience, so we think we’re doing well for not yet having that assistance.

PA2J: There seems to be some debate as to how the whole system works. Some people have been Greenlit with a certain percentage which is different to other guys that have also been Greenlit.

Yeah, It’s pretty black-box. We’ve already outperformed a game that was Greenlit in early June. I’ve had conversations with its dev, and the only conclusion we can come to is Steam wants to see quality games in its store, so his was Greenlit, despite not ever being popular.

PA2J: So ultimately, is it the gamers or the guys at Steam that make the final decision?

We don’t know. Which makes Greenlight a bit of a shot in the dark. However, for us it matters only in that we get in front of the right person.  Whether it’s an exec that says, “Wow. Rogue Invader has a retro look that I miss,; put it in our store” or the selection team that says, “Hey, these guys have developed a nice following over ____ weeks/months/(God forbid) years,” what matters most is we get in.

We feel our product is cool, well-built and extremely well-though out. So we just want a chance to get in front of people.  Because we believe Rogue Invader will do a lot to sell itself.

Rogue Invader

PA2J: There are quite a few weapons at player’s disposal, can you tell me a little about the weapons and do you have a personal favourite?

Weapons work a bit differently in Rogue Invader. We have (currently) six basic chassis:

– Terran pistol

– Terran rifle

– Terran heavy

– Alien light rifle

– Alien sniper

– Alien heavy

Each chassis can be modded using 1-6 mods. The mod will (typically) drastically change what the base chassis does.

PA2J: Are the Mods built through research?

Nathan: Yes, by returning discovered resources and weapons to the troop carrier. For example, the Batter Amplifier will increase damage, and the Heat Sink will improve the fire rate of the weapon. We’ve also developed a system by which you can name different designs, which is featured in the trailer.

We spent a lot of time with Tasteless and Artosis casting Starcraft II on our second monitors, so their names ended up on the weapons Lee J used in the developmental builds. So those are our current favourite weapons. Who doesn’t want a pistol that does more damage than most rifles?

PA2J: I’d go with the pistol

Lee: But Nathan named one of his rifles Vera after Jayne Cobb’s trusted rifle in Firefly. So that’s probably his favourite.

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PA2J: So does the research in the game help with any other aspects?

Research will unlock mods, weapon chassis, sensor upgrades, special items, fleet upgrades, and possibly (?) a drop location closer than where the player starts. We’ve tried to make it worthwhile. So many games have a mod/crafting section that is there, but isn’t necessary to winning. When it’s all done, ours will be pretty much essential. Although there will likely be an achievement for winning with an un-modded weapon.

PA2J: Ah, a challenge!

Yes. We like those a lot. We believe the core of what made retro games good was the challenge. When death mattered, you played better.  When you had 0 bananas and 0 life balloons, you always found a way to ride the minecart correctly in Donkey Kong.

We love FTL: “Do you want to send someone down to help against the giant spiders?”…”Hell no.  I want to keep my crewmen.” ….We never save anyone from spiders.

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PA2J: I read on InideDB that one lucky backer might get to design one of the games weapons, is this true?

Lee: That is definitely a consideration. I have spent quite a bit of time outlining the KS campaign, but haven’t shown everything to Nathan for perfect approval. We’d have to have some guidelines the backer would work within, but that is a very real possibility. That weapon would likely exist as an undeletable blueprint, and so the backer’s weapon would exist in perpetuity for all players. So they’d really get their money’s worth.

We’re trying to develop good rewards for backers that play to interest as well as a bit of pride, and help progress their interests and ours. They would indeed, most backers get maybe a meet and greet or their name on the credits but having your very own weapon is pretty unique.

PA2J: That would be an incredible reward!

Lee: For sure. Nathan shot down the idea of letting the backer name the Carrier, but this type of thing would work well. We’ve got a few other ideas, but those haven’t been approved. What it comes down to, is we want to provide rewards that we as players would be interested in.

“Name in the credits” is worth maybe US $10 at most. All it takes on our end is exporting a CSV of backers and loading it up into the credit string. No effort. But talking with us via Skype and helping create a weapon? That feels like the backer really helped. And better if it’s immediately visible to all players. (Even if the parts that make it aren’t available.)

Rogue Invader

PA2J: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers, anything we might have not covered, etc..

We wanted to quickly mention two things, mostly because we haven’t yet written anything about it. We posted our trailer and it showed what we’ve termed “persistent damage.” Two days later Super Rude Bear Resurrection comes out and essentially uses the same concept. So that was interesting.

Our uses of it are completely different, of course.  We won’t have soldier corpses piling up in trenches, but we will have destruction last for a few runs. The trailer shows the sniper tower being rebuilt.  The Zenos are industrious, and their defenses are consistently being fortified, but the extra expenditure of ammo might make several future runs easier–and we want our players to think about that.  We want them to make decisions based on how one soldier can benefit the next.

We hope it will be a mechanic players will use thoughtfully. Destroying cover in one run might make a future run a lot harder, even though they gained a lot of resources from destroying the cover. So there will be tradeoffs for doing these things. Lastly, on music. We want the music to match the game. We’re both fans of strong orchestral scores (Hans Zimmer, Howard Shore, etc), and we want that to feature in our game.

PA2J: Im a fan of Hans Zimmer, recently watched Interstellar, he composes music for the film.

The 1-bit graphics create a very retro experience, but we don’t want to do plinky chiptunes. We don’t think those help immerse a player in the world. This 1-bit world is, excuse the obvious reference, very alien. It’s new to gamers. Most players will be younger than we are, and so they’ll need a bridge into the game. We hope the music will play that role. We have solicited bids from a number of very talented composers who can bridge the known world and the semi-alien nature of our game, and we’re excited to bring a strong musical score to Rogue Invader–one that will provide the players an immersive experience.

(We wish Tom Holkenborg from Mad Max were within the budget, but…)

Overall, we’re excited for what the future holds. Greenlight is the first step and then we’ll need a much wider audience, and Kickstarter will be soon after that. We’re making a game we’d like to play, and we’re betting there are a number of people who will really buy into the world, the effort, the art, and the beauty of what we’re creating.

Massive thank you to Nathan and Lee J for taking the time to chat with us, below is a trailer for Rogue Invader and you can show some support for their Greenlight Campaign HERE

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Dan has been gaming for nearly 30 years and has survived everything from Nuclear Fallouts to Zombie Outbreaks but his main love is Survival Horror and don't we all know it. Favourite games include Resident Evil and Grand Theft Auto, he can be regularly found cruising the streets of Vice City listening to the classics.


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