The next game from Vlambeer, the Dutch indie studio behind Super Crate Box, Ridiculous Fishing and the upcoming Luftrausers, is very much of a piece with the company's existing work. In fact, it turns out that the game, which is called Wasteland Kings, is the culmination of Vlambeer's game development experience to this point.
Vlambeer originally made Wasteland Kings in two days for Mojam 2013, the game jam run by Minecraft developer Mojang this past February that raised nearly $520,000 for charity. "We just wanted to make a game where you run around and you shoot at things," said Rami Ismail, the business half of Vlambeer, in a phone interview with Polygon today. The top-down arcade shooter got a warm reception at Mojam, so Vlambeer decided to keep working on it.
That's the typical Vlambeer development model — the studio releases a prototype to get feedback, and then iterates on it to turn it into a full game. That has opened up the studio to second-rate iOS clones of those prototypes, but Ismail vowed in a statement to Polygon earlier this year to continue that practice anyway. "We believe that showing our games to our fans early is a better way of developing Vlambeer games than keeping secrets and just dropping the final result on people when it's done," he said at the time.
Vlambeer decided to make Wasteland Kings its next full game, and started expanding on the Mojam prototype in between sessions of development on Luftrausers and an update to Ridiculous Fishing. At that point, a few things about its design came into focus. "We just suddenly started seeing, like, all these things we had learned from previous games just returning there," explained Ismail.
He referred to Wasteland Kings as a "roguelike-like," in the sense that it's "not really a roguelike, but it shares some ideas with roguelikes." Its worlds are randomly generated, its playable mutants have tech trees that are "somewhat random" and the mutations that pop up aren't useful for everyone. In that way, the game resembles Super Crate Box, in which you can increase your chances of success by understanding the mechanics and the system. Like Luftrausers' airplane construction elements, you outfit your mutant with the abilities you prefer. And like Ridiculous Fishing, there's a lot of underlying fiction to Wasteland Kings.
Once Vlambeer became aware of those similarities, a realization dawned upon the studio.
"Wasteland Kings is not so much a game as it is a tribute, our tribute, to Vlambeer," said Ismail, describing the studio's epiphany. "It's a game that exists because of all the stuff we've made in the past three years." It already contained subtle nods to the studio's previous games, but the overarching connections between Wasteland Kings and those other games make it "the logical result of three years of Vlambeer," and thus, "it feels like a Vlambeer thing."
Even more importantly, said Ismail, Vlambeer is in a much better place now than it ever has been. Ridiculous Fishing has been a smash hit, attaining universal acclaim including an Apple Design Award. The studio is putting Wasteland Kings on Windows PC via Steam Early Access — not because it needs the pre-purchase contributions to fund continued development on the game, but because it wants to give players some insight into the development process and the opportunity to shape the final product.
According to Ismail, Vlambeer has had a great time making Wasteland Kings so far, and that feeling is apparent to players. "The feeling you get when playing it is a happy feeling. It's a nice feeling, and I always think of Vlambeer as a happy thing," said Ismail.
"I know that we've been through a period where we weren't having as much fun, with the whole cloning debacle and everything like that," he noted, referring to the dark times after another company cloned the game Vlambeer would release in March 2013 as Ridiculous Fishing. But after that saga, Ismail continued, "The net result of three years of Vlambeer is a happy game."
"The net result of three years of Vlambeer is a happy game"
In that segment of our conversation with the garrulous developer, his speaking pace slowed as he repeatedly characterized Wasteland Kings — and the emotions Vlambeer associates with it — as "happy" and "nice." It felt like he was searching for other words, but couldn't find any and kept returning to those adjectives. Like a man who has overcome adversity and is overwhelmed by looking back on the trials he suffered, Ismail sounded genuinely overjoyed to be making this game at this point of his career.
Vlambeer wants to share those feelings with the world, and figures that since Wasteland Kings began during a livestreamed game jam, it makes sense to continue down that path. So the studio plans to host livestreams on its website and Twitch channel, once or twice a week, in which fans can watch the development of Wasteland Kings play out. Fans will also be able to submit ideas to Vlambeer and see how the studio fashions those concepts into gameplay elements.
"We just wanted to show them how something goes from idea to in the game, and we want to allow them to sort of see and interact with all those little points in the process," said Ismail. "I don't think anybody has done this before, so 'why the hell not?' was basically our idea."
Wasteland Kings supports that method of development because of the way it's designed — Jan Willem Nijman, the design half of Vlambeer, calls it a "framework for ideas." The studio can quickly implement new weapons, monsters and areas to see how they work in the context of the game. "It's like a playground where you can add tiny decisions like those without destroying the game," Ismail explained.
"I don't think anybody has done this before, so 'why the hell not?'"
Asked if he's worried about opening up the development process, and specifically, if Vlambeer is concerned about vitriol from fans potentially affecting the spirit of the endeavor, Ismail dismissed the thought, explaining that Vlambeer can just ignore any trolls. "If they don't ruin it for others, we're perfectly fine with that," he said.
What's more, Ismail believes that Vlambeer has built up a fan base of people who know the studio's work and are inclined to enjoy it, and would appreciate an inside look at the making of its next game.
"One of the cool things about being an indie developer is that we make the games we want to make, and then the people that are our fans are people that like the games we like making," said Ismail. "So we already have this connection with them; we already agree with these people about what is fun, what is nice, what is interesting, what is cool, what is Vlambeer."