We had an opportunity to interview developer Hannah Keane of Cosy Goat alongside our review of their first game Seasteader.
Cosy Goat is a two-person independent game development studio based in Devon, England, and they have been working on Seasteader since 2014. I was eager to learn about where the idea for this game came from, some of the challenges they encountered, and what drew them to independent game development.
Check out our full review of Seasteader here.
IndieHangover: Seasteading is a pretty specific/unique subject for a game. What is your interest in seasteading, and where did the idea of translating it into game form come from?
Hannah Keane: We’ve always thought that the concept of seateading is an interesting one. The comparison to Waterworld has come up more than once, but there are actually organisations out there that want to make it a reality. When coming up with a theme for the game, the idea was that no one’s done a seasteading game before, so we went for it.
IH: One of the big difference between Seasteader and other similar management/strategy games is the lack of terrain (i.e. mountains, rivers, etc), due to everything taking place on the ocean. How did this effect your design process? Did working with such a wide open canvas have any unexpected side effects??
HK: One downside to having the seasteads on the ocean is that there’s perhaps less of a strategic element in placing buildings. We’ve tried to work around that by adding the two natural resources of shallows and oil which appear only in certain places of the map, much like an on-land game might have, say, gold as a minable resource. One good thing about the game being set on the wide open ocean is that players are more free to layout their seasteads however they want.
IH: How did you determine the value/cost for the various buildings and proposals in game? Is there a real world basis for these, or a more game design based reason behind them?
HK: We tried to approach it from a game design perspective. It’s inspired by the real world to a small extent (example: oil is more expensive than sand), but we largely balanced it all in a way that makes for good gameplay. For example, textiles are the easiest top-level good you can manufacture, but because of that, the textile mill is pretty expensive compared to, say, the distillery. But then if you get all the resources needed for the distillery (sand to turn to glass, and corn) you can make more money from that than from the textile mill. It’s all interconnected somehow.
IH: I found that Seasteader is very punishing if you over-expand to quickly. There’s a definite need to slowly grow your settlement, particularly in the beginning, to manage the needs of your community. How did you go about designing these mechanics and the interconnected nature of the buildings, production, and people over time?
HK: Lots of playtesting. Balancing everything was one of the hardest parts of making the game. An ill-balanced game can lead to frustration on the part of the player, so we really spent a lot of time tweaking everything so it’s just right. Over-expansion very early will spread thin your most valuable resource, the seasteader. The game was designed for the player to be much more deliberate in their development of the seasteads. How much more is up to the player. A person can really micromanage the game if they choose to, but if not, it still gets stuff done automatically.
IH: Were there any unexpected challenges you ran into in designing a strategy/management game like Seasteader that you didn’t expect?
HK: Pretty much the whole development process consisted of unexpected challenges. Our deep dark secret is that neither of us are professional programmers. Our day jobs are in other fields. Because of this, getting the game done was a bit of an uphill struggle, but we managed in the end, and we’re quite proud of the result. Other than the actual coding, as mentioned earlier, the balancing was a lot more difficult than we expected. It’s not enough to just slap on any old values. It really took a lot of testing to get that right.
IH: Turning from Seasteader to you; How did you get involved in independent game development? What is your Indie Dev Story?
HK: Between the two of us, it probably started with modding games in childhood. That evolved into hobby coding, which in turn evolved into small but serious projects. Naturally, the next step was to complete a whole application, and that’s how Seasteader was born.
IH: What other games have been an inspiration for you, either recently or growing up?
HK: For Seasteader specifically, a lot of games have inspired it. On the modern side, there’s the Tropico series and Banished, and amongst older games, there are the Impressions Games (Pharaoh, Caesar, etc), the Bullfrog games (Populous, all the Theme games), the early Maxis games, and probably way more that I’m forgetting.
IH: Finally, are there any indie games or indie development teams that are doing something innovative or creative that has really captured your attention?
HK: We joined Twitter early last year to connect with other developers, and I have to say, I’m blown away on a regular basis by the creativity of indie developers. I can’t even begin naming them because I wouldn’t know where to end, but I follow a lot of the game development-related hashtags closely and love seeing the hard work that people put into their projects. Where AAA games are perhaps playing it safe with their releases, independent developers are breaking new ground, and that’s always interesting to see.
Our sincere thanks to Hannah for sharing some background on Seasteader, and her story about becoming an independent game developer.
Seasteader is currently available on Steam.