Dabe Alan

Spaceteam is a fast-paced iOS game that mixes FTL, Artemis, and a whole bunch of screaming

Spaceteam is a fast-paced iOS game that mixes FTL, Artemis, and a whole bunch of screaming

Henry Smith was a programmer at BioWare before he decided to test the waters of indie game development.

“I loved my time at BioWare and it was a hard decision to leave. I’ve always had side-projects, but it became more difficult to work on them after BioWare was acquired by EA,” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “I had several discussions with managers and lawyers about conflict of interest/non-competition stuff and eventually decided that leaving was the best approach. I still believe that EA’s policies need to better encourage creativity outside work.”

His first project was a still-unannounced, ambitious title, but he decided to pull back a bit and first release a high-concept game that was smaller in scope. It was a smart move: The resulting game was Spaceteam, an iOS title that puts you and your friends inside a space ship that’s falling apart. Oh, and you’re also trying to outrun an exploding star.

The polarity, as always, should be reversed

Think of Spaceteam as the result of FTL and Artemis getting together and doing lines of speed. Your screen is filled with dials, buttons, switches, and all manner of things with which to interact. You’re given instructions on what you have to hit, adjust, or tap to keep the ship together, and you have to follow those directions within a certain amount of time. Here’s the catch: The game is played by two to four players, and each player gets the instructions for someone else.

This leads to players in the same room, looking at their phones or iPads, and yelling instructions at each other. “Set High Frequency Break to 3!” someone may call out, and the other players have to look to see if they have control of the high frequency break, and then adjust it before time runs out. You’ll end up frantic, yelling what sounds to be rejected Star Trek dialog at each other.

You need at least two people to play, but each Spaceteam team can include up to four players. “With four players the game is more chaotic, and if you like chaos, fun, because there are more controls and you don’t know who has what, but you get a little more time to balance things out,” Smith explained.

The game is easy to grasp and play, and can be pleasantly stressful. The interactions were almost more complicated, but Smith decided to keep them simple to reduce the development time. The decision was wise.  “I had a lot of other ideas that I just didn’t have time to add, such string pulls, panic buttons in glass cases, multi-touch controls, etc. I think the simplicity and familiarity makes it more accessible though,” he said.

Smith handled the design, programming, sound, and the concept art, although friends helped with the music and final art used in the game. “And I had lots of help with playtesting. I organized “Spaceteam Potlucks” where I lured people to my house with food in exchange for their QA services. These were absolutely essential in making the game, and really fun!” Smith told the Penny Arcade Report.

Getting used to a smaller team (or lack of team)

The goal was to release the game in a month, but it took almost three times that long. This was due to a combination of poor time estimates and the decision to spend more time making the game something in which he could take pride.

Losing the resources of a company like BioWare is tricky in some ways, but it’s freeing in others. “It’s hard to compare working for yourself to working on a team of 100 people, but I would say the biggest difference is how easy it is to iterate,” Smith said. “If you’re making a big game, it very quickly becomes difficult and expensive to change how basic things work and I think this is really important to making a great game.”

Spaceteam is free to download, although there are three $1 content packs that do things like allow for achievements, change the looks of the game, or allow you to begin at a harder point in the game. You can even change the game to “Symbolic mode,” where the words on each control are changed to a symbol.

The game is out now, and Smith made it easy to get people together to play by making the base game free. The question is whether players will find value in the add-on packs; the iOS world seems to be littered with great games that either fail to find an audience, or lack proper visibility or implementation of the pay portions of their games.

For now Spaceteam is out, it’s fun and unique, and Smith owns it. “So now I’m on my own until my savings run out, at which point I might just end up re-applying to BioWare,” Smith said. While that doesn’t sound the worst thing in the world, let’s hope Spaceteam is successful enough to keep Smith happily independent.