Interview: Matthew Davis of Subset Games

Interview: Matthew Davis of Subset Games

We sat down with  programmer and co-designer Matthew Davis of Subset Games at GDC 2018 to talk about their IGF award nominated game, Into the Breach, and what influenced some of the choices made during development.

IndieHangover: Why were giant insects chosen specifically as opposed to other types of Kaiju?

Matthew Davis: Justin, who does all the art, determined the look and feel of the monsters. I think that giant insects are kind of a classic trope in terms of insects are terrifying, and it worked in terms of it was a wide category where everything could feel cohesive as one group and kept it easy for us and provided lots of inspiration for design and options. We never really talked about it that much, we ran with it. The first one or two were scorpions and we said ‘oh that’s cool, let’s do that.'”

IH: Were any of the mech teams inspired by something specific other than varying gameplay mechanics?

MD: Justin pulled from a lot of sources, he’s a bigger fan of Japanese anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, that I’m sure played a part, and we also worked with Gareth Davies, he’s a concept artist that does video game work and other cool things, and lots and lots of mechs. He did a lot of concept art and rough sketches that Justin would turn into a more detailed final version. So it was a bit of everyone contributing where they could.”

IH: What was the inspiration for the 5 turn limit?

MD: We were always looking to cut out the fluff and get to the meat of the design. We felt with FTL the first to or three  sectors are really boring once you’ve played the game a lot, and so it was important for us that for Into the Breach we dive in and it’s fun from turn one, minute one, and so the five turn limit kind of shrinks the game down and gets rid of the fluff. A lot of strategy games, especially a lot in the beginning involve just chasing down one unit and that’s just not fun. No one enjoys that, and so we just left that part out and the game works quite well without it.”

IH: Were characters thought up with certain backgrounds and personalities in mind? Was it difficult making each one feel distinct?

MD: It was a gradual process from a lot of people. There’s a different concept artist, Polina Hristov, that did the concept art for the portraits, which kind of came from archetypes, like we wanted someone who was cocky, we wanted someone who looks intelligent, we wanted someone that looks old and haggard and tired of doing this. Pilot skills were based on just what design fit, and that was often sadly unrelated to the characters. And then Chris Avalon came along and started really fleshing them out and the characters based on their skills and their portrait so they kind of were built very naturally over time, we didn’t have a long master list at the beginning and it was just something we added to and it just got bigger and bigger as the game went on.”

IH: Is there a more expanded lore to the game?

MD: We like having lore to be limited. We like to have a lot up to the player. We feel like when you just lay it all out in black and white it kind of ruins the mystery, and so we have a lot of lore background when we were prepping for the game and when we were doing the text that you actually see in the game we like to leave it up to the player to actually sort it out and kind of bring their own story to it.

Because that’s the thing with games;  a lot of players bringing their own stories, we don’t want to get in the way and just force everything on them. We just wanted it to be an interesting world, not necessarily a clear cut world.”

IH: What were some difficulties that came with trying to keep the maps on the small side?

“Yeah i suppose it would be related to keeping the action from always being on top of it so you’re always shooting the monsters, it’s not that gradual progression that XCOM has, because that wasn’t the type of game we were going for.

Like FTL, we like that kind of single screen elegance where all the design everything you see everything is there in one single image and when it comes out kind of like a puzzle game it works to be on a tighter board. If it was too big the rest of the design would break, nearly all the other design of the game, all the weapons all the enemies would all kind of depend on it being that size board.”

IH: Will we see the game on other platforms in the future?

MD: Right now we’re worried about the release and post-release in terms of tech support and the like, and then we’ll consider other platforms as we go. We’re open minded about it, We’d love to get to see it on more, but we don’t know what would be feasible.”

IH: Is there more content planned or will you be moving on to the next big project?

MD:Don’t know. We’ve gotten as far as releasing the game so to worry about the rest kind of like porting to other platforms we take it one step at a time. There’s no grand master plan. “

Our thanks to Matthew Davis for taking the time to talk with us and reveal a little bit about the design philosophy of Into The Breach.

If you want to know more about the nitty gritty mechanical details of the game, please check out our Spotlight.

Into the Breach is available now on PC via Steam and GOG.


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