Gunshine Interview

Gunshine Interview

Written by Charles Husemann on 9/8/2011 for PC  

You can't throw a rock around the gaming world without hitting three or four free to play browser games.  Unfortunately for core gamers most of those are aimed at bored soccer moms who are killing time between PTA meetings.  When I first heard about Gunshine I was interested because they are doing something quite different by creating a game that core gamers are interested in.  With my interest piqued I dug a little deeper and here's the result.

Could you introduce yourself and talk about your role on the project?
Actually there are two of us. Mikko Kodisoja is the founder and creative director of Supercell and currently also working as a Project Lead in Gunshine.net, while Mikko Karvonen is the producer of Gunshine.net. Yes, that’s two Mikkos for the price of one.

Together we guide the ship that is Gunshine.net – we set the targets, choose the next features and priorities to work on, decide schedules and lead our team of developers, artists and game designers. Additionally we work closely with our various partners and contacts to make sure that both them and us have everything needed.


What’s the backstory of the Gunshine and what where the inspirations behind it? How did you come up with the name Gunshine?
Gunshine got started when we looked at the then current crop of browser-based games and realized that the landscape was severely lacking in meatier, gamer-focused games. Combine that with some savvy real-time online game technology that was bubbling in the cauldrons of our technical wizards and persistent, online roleplaying seemed like a perfect match. It didn’t hurt that most of us were already huge fans of the genre, either.

The game takes place in Dawnbreak City. An artificial and isolated island created and ruled by a megacorporation called Labycore. Labycore’s CEO and leader is a man called Sid Lovens who is one sick dude. Dawnbreak City attracts new people to the island by promising liberty and opportunity but the reality is something different.

There’s a whole story behind the birth of Labycore and how Sid Lovens got the island and megacorporation up and running. You can check it out at gunshine.net site.


”Gunshine.net” itself is a data network, a closed cyberspace created by Labycore. It was originally built to handle Labycore’s weapons industry business around the world but eventually evolved to more complex virtual world.

Funny enough, we haven’t turned on the network yet in the game as we have been busy working on other parts in the beta phase. Soon players can enter the matrix via terminals around Dawnbreak City. Many upcoming missions and the cyber-bosses are going to be accessed in gunshine.net within Gunshine.net.

Inspirations… There are many! William Gibson novels, Blade Runner, Dune, The Matrix, games related to cyberpunk in general, Shadowrun… When we introduced Paradise Island area a while ago, we had tons of material from the movies like Mad Max and of course many of our developers have been playing Fallout series. Paradise Island is a wasteland / deserted island filled with various mutated life forms.


Could you give us a little history on your development studio? When was it founded and how many people are currently working on the game?
Supercell was founded a year and three months ago. It was me and a bunch of other developers who wanted to shatter the norms and standards of browser gaming. One thing that we wanted to do was to open the game to the players as soon as we possibly could to receive feedback. And it was a good decision. We have got tons of it.

We currently have 13 people working on Gunshine.net.

 
Why did you choose the three character classes you did? Do you think you’ll be adding new classes down the road?

We wanted to start with the basics: tank, damage dealer, and healer. They are clear, distinct roles that are intuitive for the players to understand and us to develop around. This allows us to avoid having to teach lots of completely new concepts to the player, and instead focus on polishing the experience for each individual class.

New classes – or ways to customize the current classes to different approaches – are definitely on the drawing board. However, there is also a huge amount of other stuff in the same pile, as we have lots of plans and ideas in store for Gunshine, so it will take a while for the new classes to get into the game.


Saying the free to play market is crowded is like saying that a few people go to the San Diego Comic-Con, how do you get noticed in such a big space? Is it as much about marketing and PR as it is about having a game that’s different than anything else?
Truth to be told, we don’t see many direct competitors for Gunshine.net in browser-games.

But competitors or not, getting noticed is about a number of different things, but it all starts with the product. You need to have a game that’s good, unique, and preferably impressive in one or more ways. It also needs to resonate with the players to really grab them. That will also help it to go viral, which is always important to build long-term success.

But you cannot just put a good game out there and hope it gets noticed. You need to give it a chance with PR, marketing and partnerships. That means busy days for our marketing and management.


What kind of game design challenges does being a free to play game represent? Do you design the entire game first and then go back to find where to monetize the game or is that a factor as you design the game out?
The biggest challenge is probably changing your design mindset. Our designers had a two-digit number of games under their belt before Gunshine, but making a browser-based, free-to-play game requires different kind of thinking. That’s one of the great things about this project, actually. Having to look at things from a completely fresh perspective is always invigorating!

Design and monetization is a matter of balance and dynamic design process, really. You cannot make monetization your first design principle, as that would result in a terrible game, but you cannot completely forget about it during the design either, as you’d end up with a game that has no chance of long-term survival. However, the crucial fact is that it’s much harder to make your core game experience fun after the launch than tweak monetization aspects, so there isn’t really a question of which of them is the main priority design-wise.

Once you find the proper balance, the monetization aspect affects the design process much less than you’d think. The basic principles are still the same: the game needs to be fun, rewarding, varied and engaging, so often bringing in the monetization is just making a small tweak or two into what you’d design in a more traditional project.


Speaking of monetization, what kinds of things are going to be free in the game and what are people going to have to pay for? What factors went into what you’re charging for and what you’re not charging for?
Our guiding design principle is making sure that the game can be played completely without having to pay for anything. Paying is always about saving time: getting gear that allows you to level up faster, getting instantly back into action after dying or using different boost items to tackle tough bosses sooner. Essentially paying money is about getting things now instead later or making things bit more convenient for you.


Does the abundance of competition in the market impact your pricing schedule or does the uniqueness of your game allow you some flexibility?
We are constantly keeping an eye on our competitors and what’s happening in the market, but it does not affect our pricing much. Competitors or not, the simple truth is that Gunshine needs to pay its own bills to be a viable product. That is all about having the right product, right kind of exposure, and right balance between which items the players can buy and for what price.

Another thing is that free-to-play market for more dedicated gamers is still much more undeveloped than one would think, so in that sense every competitor is also our ally in changing the attitudes of our target audience. Gamers are accustomed to paying for their games up front and are still skeptical about the free-to-play model, even though it makes financially more sense than the old model. I don’t even care to think for how many console games I’ve paid 60 euros only to find them unsatisfying after three hours of play and leaving them to gather dust. With our model you in direct proportion to how entertaining you find the game, and you’d have to be a real enthusiastic to pay even the same amount you’ll pay for the latest Xbox 360 or PS3 hit.


How does the online co-op work? Is it drop-in/drop out or do you have to start together?
You can form and break up groups freely, so your friends can drop in when they enter the game and simply leave when they need to. We have worked to make grouping as smooth and easy as possible, and are constantly working to improve this side of the game. In fact, our UI guys are just now working on a new group finding tool that will make finding a group to tackle all the bosses and other challenges much more easier.


One of the cool features of the game is that you can “borrow” characters from friends, could you talk about how that works and how the system gets enough information to emulate them?
In my opinion, this is one of the coolest features of Gunshine.net! And others seem to think as well, as there are some other games that have started to implement something similar as well...

The idea itself is very simple: you add your friends’ characters to your mercenary list, and if you need some extra firepower when your friends don’t happen to be online, you can simply hire their characters as mercenaries. When you do, the chosen character joins your group, with all the right skills and gear, and helps you out for a set period of time. To make the deal even sweeter, your friend’s character gets a bonus for being hired as a mercenary.

As for the mercenary character behavior, I cannot go into details now, as we are still tweaking the logic that controls their actions.


The game is currently in beta, what kind of metrics are you trying to glean from the beta? What’s been the biggest surprise from the beta so far?
It would probably be easier to think about the metrics we are not tracking! The statistics page and the information available is just huge! And with a game like this, you never know what turns out to be useful while making next design decisions, be it the average amount of cash for characters on each level, the most commonly used healing stations, or number of medipacks or air strikes used against each boss.

However, the most important thing we try to figure out from all the statistics is simply how to make the game more fun and engaging. If an unusual percentage of players don’t complete a certain mission, we take a look at it to figure out the problem, change things and then see if that helps. If players spend too long or too little time on any given area, we try to fix things and make it more balanced and interesting. This is what makes online games like this really unique: you can constantly improve them, based on the feedback of numbers, often by fixing things that players don’t even put their fingers on as being problems.

The biggest surprise has probably been how thorough and dedicated the players can be. There are few easter eggs in the game, some of which are in places that require some really, really obscure tricks to reach, and it has never taken more than couple weeks for someone to discover them.


As people play the beta, what are three or four things they absolutely have to do while they are in the game?
First, simply group up and go tackle a boss – it’s heaps of fun with a friend or two!

Second, level up until you get a flamethrower and go use it on some nasty enemy. You’ll laugh in glee and joy!

Third, after our next big content update, definitely check out our new, improved crafting.

Fourth, go on and buy some diamonds. You get cool toys that are really fun to use and you support a good cause!


Any pro-tips or tricks for people who are checking out the game for the first time?
Three things:
1. Don’t be afraid to use grenades, medipacks and other items: they are plenty, easy to come by and they help you tremendously.
2. Make the most of the mercenaries: they are fun, handy and give you a lot of extra oomph! The characters of your friends are especially good as they are cheaper and your friend gets a reward too.
3. Keep updating your skills and equipment. They have a huge effect on how well you do in the game.


Anything we missed that you think is important?
If anyone wants to keep up with the progress of Gunshine.net it is highly recommended to follow us on our Facebook page, Twitter feed  or our official Forums. We love getting feedback from our users, and many features that have been suggested from our community, has already or will be, implemented into the game. Any feedback is good feedback.
 
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About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom.   I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.
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