In Conversation with Smash Game Studio :: People Behind The Last Train

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The Indian Game Development has changed and evolved for the better in the past 5 years. We have had better forums, better events, and better games. One such game coming out is THE LAST TRAIN. A game currently in the middle of its IndieGoGo campaign.

CHECK OUT THE LAST TRAIN ON INDIEGOGO

We had a chance to talk to the people behind the game, and talk to them about everything regarding the game. We talked to them about the inspiration behind the game, the gaming development process, and how an Indian studio is breaking the norm and building a game on the PC platform for a change.

EXCERPTS


As a development team, you have limited experience when it comes to PC games (just have 1 game that came out on Steam)? How prepared do you think you are for the challenge? Also how different (difficult/easy) is PC development than mobile development?

We believe we are ready for the task of making a PC only game. The main reason we published our game, The Ultimate Heist, on Steam was to make sure we get accustomed to the Steam SDK and how to implement it’s features like the leaderboard, achievement systems, trading cards and the workshop to name a few. We did face a few issues implementing it. Publishing the game on Steam proved to be a great learning experience for us. Once we learned how it’s done we came to a conclusion that it is in fact quite similar to how the features in iOS and Android work.

As far as the difficulty goes, thanks to the power of the Unity Game Engine, the game can almost be simultaneously developed across various platforms because of the optimisations it does in the background and how easy it is to just switch platforms and play the game with almost no changes to the code. At the time of writing, The Last Train can run at a steady framerate on PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. However, if we plan to launch the game on iOS and Android we will make sure that the UI and the experience are custom made for that.

Tell us a little about your small team? What are the pros and cons of having such a small team? How of role overlapping is there? How does the team juggle multiple roles?

Despite the relatively small size of the team, we have a very experienced team of people working on the game. We are a total of 3 members.

Our artist Nitesh used to work as a freelancer, working on games which had cartoony art styles mainly targeting kids. After we came up with the idea for the game he immediately started to get into the flow of creating the dark look and feel for the game. Almost all the artwork, character design that you see has been made by him.

Our programmer works remotely, he is based out of the Philippines. He has been working in the industry for over 3 years. He is a one of a kind Unity 3D Ninja. He figured out the integration of the Steam SDK in a matter of few days. If anyone has worked on the steamworks.net Unity SDK they would know the pain of figuring out things with bare-bones documentation.

Finally, my primary role is that of a Game Designer/Writer/Basic Programmer. I have been in the industry for over 4 years, worked on numerous mobile titles like Parking Frenzy, Star Fashion Designer, etc. I used to formerly work at Games2Win in Mumbai where I got the opportunity to learn a lot. After my time there I formed Smash Game Studios where I got the creative freedom to work on projects like The Last Train.

The Pros of having a small team are that we are very dynamic, agile and can adapt to new technologies faster.

The only biggest con I can think of is that we have to keep the scale of our projects to a level where its realistic for a team of 3 people to achieve. The problem with that is that there is only so much you can estimate and plan, we just need to be ready to face the uncertainties which may cause delays to our project.

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In your dev diaries, you have mentioned that the team discussed various art directions before settling on the current feel, especially the Kaws influence. Do you have any sample artwork you could share with us? What were your inspirations for this particular palette for color?

When we started off with the project it was initially going to be a disaster management simulation set in the modern day, however, once we chose to go for a World War 2 theme we initially wanted to have KAWS’s art style which primarily consisted of a bright and candy color palette. We thought creating a conflicting color scheme to go along with how dark the theme of the game was, would really get the player to think of the game in a different light. Having said that, after we took some more time initially we felt like we would not do the game justice by choosing an art style like that.

The biggest message we wanted to convey to the players was how war is bad not only for everyone involved in the frontline but also for people like you and me going about our day to day lives. In the end, the best way we could get the message across to our players was by showing the grim realities of war.

Our main inspiration for the dark and grim look were games like Paper’s Please, Westport Independent, Limbo and Inside.

Another one from the dev diaries. How did you choose the cities? How would the cities differ from each other?

When we chose the cities, I researched on how much the population of each major city was, the number of industries and employment available at the time and most importantly we took how the train network at the time was.

As far as the cities go, every station you enter into will feel different because we have made sure to include some of the notable architectural monuments that each city has. We have taken the color scheme of each state the city is located in, the weather, etc. For eg: If you arrive at Minnesota you might come across a passenger who would ask you take them to a warmer place because the weather is very cold.

How did you come up with the backstories of the various passengers? Was the fact that these characters came from America during the 1940s act as a challenge or did it make it easier? Tell us how much history you delved into coming up with these 200 personalities?

When we got to work on the character descriptions for all the passengers we had to do a lot of research on how people’s lives were during the War. The descriptions are all based on how people lived their lives during the time. The 1940s was one of the most crucial time periods for the people of America, it was the birth of the much romanticised Suburban lifestyle, the country had just recovered from the Great Depression, it was a truly revolutionary time for women as they started to get into the workforce along with men, thanks to things like Rosie the Riveter Movements and most importantly the African American community started to get well integrated into the society as over 2.5 million men and women took part in the World War 2 proceedings.

I have been an avid reader of World War II for a very long time and it came in handy as we started working on this project. I have watched numerous World War II documentaries to familiarise myself with the settings and themes of war. We wanted to give the players an authentic experience as they are playing the game; the events that take place in the game’s alternate timeline are accurate. We took all these precautionary steps to make sure that the immersion of the player doesn’t break as they are playing the game.

One thing that you haven’t focused or discussed in your dev diary is the Sound design. What kind of sound design is your team working on? What are your inspirations for the soundtrack?

For the soundtrack, we are looking at a track, which would give a somber vibe to our game because of the time period at which the game is set. We are also focusing on having the sound FX in the game to complement the background music, we don’t want it to feel out of place.

Games like Limbo, Inside and Paper Please are our primary inspirations for the soundtrack. We want the game’s sound FX to be reactive to the player’s behavior within the game and most importantly we will be making sure that the soundtrack complements the gameplay and it will not break the immersion of the player by either playing similar loops or by having abrupt sound FX.

Finally the reward system, your IndieGoGo campaign states that one might choose between rich passengers and poor ones. Is the moral vs money the only scale, or are there any other advantages of picking poor passengers over rich ones.

The major dilemma that we wanted to give the player was choosing between which passenger they want to take on the train and boiling it down to moral v/s money is not the ideal way of looking at it. Even you are a survivor doing your best to make it through the catastrophe, so if you constantly keep picking up passengers who give you fewer rewards you will not be able to survive because you need to cook and eat food to keep yourself alive.

In the story mode of the game you will be able to see the effects of picking up passengers based on morality and money, for eg: If you choose to pick up a sick old man from one of the stations, you could contract some infection which might permanently damage your max health or if you choose to help wealthy people, the word might get out that you have access to a lot of supplies and you could get robbed by bandits and thieves, so at the end of the day it is a double edged sword. You need to carefully choose how you are going to manage the passengers in the game. The game will be balanced in such way that you won’t find the game unfair at any point in time.

The campaign currently stands at 85% of the goal, with another week remaining. How hopeful are you that the game would make it? What is a realistic goal that you think is possible given the time left, and your stretch goals?

We are very positive that we will be able to hit the campaign goal. The final target as per our estimation would be around $5200-5300 at the time the campaign comes to a close. If we manage to complete the game well within the set budget we would also focus on achieving our stretch goals, like getting the game out on other DRM free stores and a possible mobile port of the game. We say it’s possible because we don’t just want to hit switch platforms in Unity and release the game but we want to make sure that the experience on the mobile device is optimised for the platform.

Finally, what would you like to say the Indian gaming community? What would you like to say to your fans?

It is great to see that our Indian Gamers are more open towards the idea of playing different genres. We would like to thank all our well-wishers and supporters for the incredible support and love they’ve shown us. It motivates us to make The Last Train the best it can be. We are working super hard on getting the game done and ready for release by April or May this year. So keep an eye out on my Twitter to keep track of the game.

I also need to give a special shoutout to the awesome game developers that we have in our country. It is great to see us take huge strides forward creating original ambitious games like Asura, Raji – The Ancient Epic and other AAA quality titles. This is just the beginning of how amazing our industry is going to be. With more graduates coming out of Game Design schools like DSK and iCat the boundaries of what we can achieve in the field of Games will constantly be pushed forward.


If you haven’t already checked out The LAST TRAIN you can visit the link below and check out their game. If social media is what you are looking for, we have you covered there too.

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