Rockfish Games is breaking new ground with Everspace, an upcoming action game that marries the intensity of the space shooter with the mega-intensity of the roguelike (which is shorthand for “infinitely replayable, procedurally generated games with permadeath elements, influenced by the classic Rogue”). It’s already a huge deal, too, with a successful crowdfunding campaign that’s netted the developer more than $500,000 (and counting). And today, we’re thrilled to announce that Everspace is part of Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program – which means it’s headed to Xbox One and Windows 10 PC in 2016.
We recently had a chance to sit down with Rockfish Games’ CEO Michael Schade, to discuss the company’s history, Everspace’s development, and the future of the roguelike as a mainstream genre. Believe us: This is going to be one to keep an eye on.
Xbox Wire: How did the idea for Everspace come about?
Michael Schade: We have a long history with space shooters: Galaxy on Fire came out in 2005 for feature phones, followed by Galaxy on Fire 2 in 2008. We had tremendous technical limitations, but it is fair to say that the games in the Galaxy on Fire series were the most advanced 3D titles on mobile phones back then. We won tons of awards and got critical acclaim from mobile gamers from all around the globe; we were even more successful a few years later bringing it to iOS, Android, BlackBerry, and Symbian – totaling 30 million installs combined. So, we have been doing space games that were super popular for more than 10 years, and we wanted to build on that long pedigree.
However, with Everspace, we did not just want to deliver more of the same that we did on mobile, but try something really new on PC and console. We also wanted to distinguish ourselves from the big space sims already out there, or still in-the-making. While sticking to our guns of easy-to-pick-up-and-play space action with top-notch visuals and audio at its core, we bring in roguelike elements and nonlinear storytelling to Everspace. It takes players on a challenging journey through an ever-changing yet beautifully crafted universe full of surprises.
Each run will be exciting, as players have to face completely new situations – and their skills, experience, and talent for improvisation will be tested continuously. This way, we keep each part of the game long-lasting and generate lots of individual, meaningful moments.
Xbox Wire: What games did you draw inspiration from?
Michael Schade: We were heavily inspired by the all-time space sim classics Elite and Wing Commander, when we did the Galaxy on Fire series a few years ago. Now for Everspace, you could say that it is a lovechild of FTL: Faster Than Light and Freelancer, which resonates really well with our new and old fans alike. But also Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac – which are fantastic roguelikes that made us come up with some new ideas, for a new breed of space shooter.
There are a lot of big-budget space games out there going for realism or massive scope… or both. So we’re trying to set Everspace apart with a very distinct art style that portrays space as something vibrant and colorful. We believe that it fits perfectly alongside the focus on arcade-style combat, with intuitive controls setting us apart from space simulation games.
Since Everspace is a roguelike title, the orbits are procedurally generated, and there’s always a chance that players enter a location where they see a whole new, jaw-dropping space environment. One of the more recent influences for our colorful and vibrant art style has been the space scenes of the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy.” They, too, have that hyper-real edge.
Xbox Wire: What’s the non-linear storytelling like?
Michael Schade: Due to the nature of a roguelike, dying and starting again is an essential part of the player experience – which is why in Everspace, we had to come up with a story where such a loop is part of the narrative. Without spoiling too much, I can tell you that our hero will wake up on a big carrier, in a remote place in the galaxy. He will not have any recollection of who he is or why he is there; he will get a mysterious order from someone unknown, instructing him to go to a certain location. So he heads to this destination on his ship, hoping to find out more about himself, the world he’s in, and the mysterious messenger.
During this journey, the player will die many times – and, in combination with a certain progression, every death will unveil a piece of the story. There are also side character story branches interwoven with the main story. Where and when players encounter certain characters depends on chance, and meeting certain conditions. Also, how (and if) they interact with certain characters will have an impact on their journey. Every game will tell the same clear story… but in many different ways.
Xbox Wire: How does the game’s persistent progression work?
Michael Schade: During each run, players collect credits that they can spend on permanent perks and ship upgrades, prior to their next run. Additionally, players will keep their story progress and collected equipment blueprints, which enables them to craft better weapons, consumables, and devices during their runs. The more advanced blueprints will, of course, require more resources. As players lose their crafted equipment after each run, we get a nice mixture of persistent and non-persistent progression. As our fans continue to back us through our website, I am happy to announce that the next stretch goal is just about to be unlocked, and we will have an ultra-challenging Hardcore Mode with permadeath and other nasty surprises for all roguelike purists out there.
Xbox Wire: Do you have any thoughts on why roguelikes have exploded into mainstream popularity over the last few years?
Michael Schade: I guess you could say the same thing about the fashion or music industry. Every now and then someone takes their inspiration from something long-forgotten, and forms a new trend by adding something new and exposing it to a wider audience. Most players of current roguelike titles have probably never played the original Rogue, so the classic roguelike elements – like procedural level generation and learning by dying – is all-new to them. They especially appeal to people who are looking for alternatives to the current popular titles, and appreciate a good challenge a la the games of the ‘80s and early ‘90s. And with the growing exposure, more major studios have been checking out these new roguelikes, which is why a lot of the mechanics are now finding their way into more and more games with higher production values and larger audiences.
Everspace hits Xbox One and Windows 10 PC in 2016. We’ll get to see it in action on the Xbox One for the first time at next year’s Game Developers Conference!