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Powargrid Pre Release Interview with Willem de Neve and Michiel Konstapel

Powargrid

Power! I need more Power! Oh eh hem… I mean Powar! On October 5th the Wee Free Studio released their new strategy game Powargrid. You can read our review here. Powargrid is Wee Free’s first completed title and the team hopes to shock some life into turn-based strategy games with some unique features and abilities. The game takes place in a world where creatures called “Blobbies” are constantly waging war against each other for reasons both big and small. Players will find themselves in the shoes of a new recruit under the blue faction. As a Blue Blobbie, players receive basic guidance throughout the battles by the ever stern and short-tempered Commander Grak. If you think a stern commander will be difficult to please just wait until you meet the other faction leaders.

After five years of development, Powargrid has gone from a board-game idea to a full-blown videogame. Willem de Neve and Michiel Konstapel are the Netherlands based developers of Powargrid. The duo were more than happy to talk with me about some specific insights into the game. Before I get into the interview I must give a disclaimer. Unlike their studio logo neither Willem nor Michiel have spikey orange hair. I know this may be a deal breaker for some of you out there… but I assure you their reason behind the logo makes up for their lack of spikey awesomeness.

Powargrid is set to release on October 5th. I know that you have had beta and alpha versions of the game available to the public starting back in 2011. But how does it feel now having a finalised version ready to be released on Steam?

Willem:

One part scary, one part exciting and one part ‘pinch me, I must be dreaming’. It’s really strange for us to see the Steam page for our own game. It makes us realize that we’re actually going to release this game that we love and have been working on for so long.

The scary part is whether we’ll get everything ready in time. Not just the last tweaks to the game, but also other non-game details like promoting Powargrid and getting everything ready for Steam. Michiel: I remember Willem asking me when we had been working on Powargrid for a few weeks: “so what do we do when it’s done?” And I replied, “I don’t know… I’ve never finished any of my projects! I guess we put a ‘buy our game’ button on a website?” Then Steam Greenlight launched and we figured “why not?”

We were on Greenlight for over a year when out of the blue, we got an sayingemail we had been greenlit! And now, seeing our game on the Steam store just makes it a lot more “real”. We’re still just two guys hacking away at this in our spare time, but it feels like a Real Proper Game now!

So…very exciting, quite stressful, and a bit weird. We’ve been working on this for over five years, so developing Powargrid, it’s just “this thing we do”. But now it’s time to launch our baby and see if she’ll fly!

Powargrid

After five plus years of development, has the concept or game mechanics seen any drastic changes over the years?

W&M:

Powargrid started as a concept I made for a board game. But with the amount of bookkeeping needed to make it work, it was more fit to be a digital game. Quite a few things have changed but that first version is still recognizable in the game mechanics.

So we’ve seen more evolutionary than drastic changes. For example: power plants used to start out at max output instead of slowly ramping up and at one point we increased costs for building farther from a power plant or substation.

I should also add that this was a conscious decision from the start. We’ve aimed to keep the game’s mechanics as simple as possible and to aim for emergent complexity. We’ve only added new rules when they were needed to balance the game by mitigating the starting player’s advantage or by preventing a dominant strategy.

Tell me a little about Powargrid’s story; what inspired the little characters called Blobbies? 

Willem: For our characters we wanted something non-human so we could really make them into caricatures. Blobbies both fit that description and fall within the realm of what we were confident we could draw. 🙂

As for the story, we started from the premise that we wanted to tie it into the absence of moving units. Such restrictions breed creativity. So the logical next step was to give the player a warlike superior who is determined to wage war by any means possible, aka Commander Grak.

Michiel came up with the great tagline ‘in a world without war, the blobbies refuse to be pacified’, which really captures the feel of the story.

During the campaign you meet, fight against, other blobbies such as Zealot Zomg, a green blobbie with a streak of madness, and Chairman Swap, a yellow banker-blobbie.

Michiel: Like Willem said, neither of us could draw proper humanoids so we needed another life form 🙂 The blobbies worked out much better than I had dared to hope! This was mainly because we had no idea how to do animation back then. It’s good that we created a game without moving units, this worked its way into the story and eventually formed the basis for most of the plot.

Powargrid

As I was playing I was pleasantly surprised that the environments sometimes play a role in how you need to strategies. Was environment interaction a big focus during development?

Not at first. But as we were developing the campaign we wanted to make it more than just a series of skirmish matches. And for some missions, it was logical to do that through interaction with the environment.

For instance, in ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ we use the falling rocks both to teach the player about overcharge, without which it’s impossible to reach the valley in time, and to emphasize that substations can provide power even if they’re cut off from your power plants.
In all, I’d have to say that interaction with the environment was not a big focus for us. But we used it whenever we thought it would make the game more fun.

Powargrid

The game has a lot of funny optional dialogue, that I think players will appreciate. Which one of you has been in charge of that aspect of the game?

Willem: Thank you. Good to read that you like the dialogues.

I’ve written, and re-written, basically all of the dialogue in Powargrid. But Michiel has read everything and often suggested or made revisions.

So I guess you could say that means I’ve been in charge of that aspect of the game. But to be honest that doesn’t really describe the way we work. I don’t feel like I’m in charge of anything. Who does what grows sort of organically, from what we’re good at or what we like to do.

So far that’s worked really well for us. Michiel for instance, has done most of the programming since he’s a great developer. He’s made all the missions look great and created very satisfying explosions for our buildings. Besides writing the dialogues, I’ve designed the gameplay for the missions and created the blobbies and the buildings.

Michiel: On the other hand, I definitely consider Willem to be in charge of the story. Although, I’m happy to suggest edits if I think they’re an improvement 🙂 My focus has been on the programming and special effects, with Willem working on the story and mission/level design. It’s true though; that we just both kind of gravitate towards what we’re good at. But we’re not picky about making/suggesting changes to any part of the game.

I know you are both focus on making sure Powargrid is ready for release. But I’m curious if you have started tossing ideas around for your next game? 

We certainly have!

The hard part is actually to choose between all our ideas. I think I’ve pitched about 20 ideas for games to Michiel during the creation of Powargrid. So we have no lack of choices. 🙂

Currently, we have two games that are topping our list. We’ll probably start working on both of them. Afterwards, we’ll see which most captures our attention. Beyond that, we also have things we’d like to do with Powargrid in the future, but I think we’ll start those new concepts first.

I’m curious about the Wee Free Logo neither of your have spikey orange hair, which is a little disappointing, how did you come up with the design?

The orange hair has to do with our studio name not with the way we actually look, sorry about that. We wanted to give our studio a name that gives of a small and independent feel, but we also wanted it to refer to things we think are cool and awesome.

So we named our studio after the Wee Free Men from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. These Wee Free Men, also known as the Nac Mac Feegle, are tiny pictsies who have been kicked out of fairyland for being drunk and disorderly. They’re fiercely independent, “Nae king! Nae quin! Nae laird! Nae master! We willna’ be fooled again!”, very funny and their hearts are in the right place.

Also, they have unruly orange hair, which is what inspired our logo. 🙂

Powargrid

Michiel (left) and Willem (right).

Are there any other interesting features of Powargrid that players may be unaware of?

Now that’s a question that’s food for thought. 🙂 We think the following things may be interesting: – We have a “hotseat” multiplayer mode, to play with a friend sitting next to you.

– There are lots of achievements to unlock for people who want to go “above and beyond” the mission objectives.

– You can change the difficulty of the campaign at will between missions. So one mission that might give you trouble won’t prevent you from playing the rest of the campaign. The game tracks which missions you’ve completed on what difficulty, and of course there’s an achievement for finishing them all on hard mode. It’s called Full Metal Blobbie.

– Every game has “V-sync” and “anti-aliasing” in the graphics settings. But do you actually know what that means, and if you want it on or off? We’ve added simple explanations to each of the graphics settings. Michiel also added what his choice would be for each setting and why.

– And a specific graphics setting for Powargrid: you can enable “pre-rendered backgrounds” for a big performance boost on slower PCs.
– The blue, red, green and yellow blobbies are not the only factions you’ll meet.

There is one more thing I’d like to mention. During the development of Powargrid we’ve had tremendous fun building our AI. We spent many an evening pitting two of them against each other in a skirmish match, looking for things to improve.

One thing that grew out of those evenings is that the background for the Powargrid menu is not a video clip, but two AIs duking it out

(you can hide the menu with F10 if you’d like to take a look).

Another thing is that we decided to create an AI interface so others can create their own AIs for Powargrid. Michiel built the interface and wrote both documentation and an example AI, named Daft Wullie, after one of the Nac Mac Feegle.

We really hope that people will build AIs for Powargrid. Both because we know how much fun that is and because we’re really curious what they’ll come up with. Interested developers can find information here.

Interested in blowing up your enemies’ power plants with strategic thinking? Well then be sure to check out Powargrid which is available now on Steam. If you don’t Commander Grak may come find you and make you do 200 push-ups for your laziness. To stay up to date with the Wee Free Studio and everything Powargrid follow them on their social media accounts: Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Website.

According to my license I’m an adult… I think that means I can perform a citizen’s arrest now. When I’m not protecting civilians I enjoy indulging in sci-fi or martial art movies. I play videogames when I can’t fall asleep, and if that doesn't work I fistfight the ghosts in my basement. Nice to meet you.

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