Funktronic Labs on getting the Funk out of triple-A

Funktronic Labs started life in 2013.

It was founded by Eddie Lee and Kalin, veterans of Japanese studio Q-Games, who had worked on Q’s PixelJunk series for PlayStation platforms and PC. Initially based in Japan, Funktronic soon moved to LA.

Now the duo are preparing to release their first title, Nova-111.

There’s a cost-benefit to going indie,” Lee explains.

Big games have the advantage of bigger budgets, huge productions and lots of production value. But conversely you have a lot of money invested, a lot of people whose lives are on the line so they can’t take as much risk generally, because you have investors, you have a lot of people to take care of.

Our budget is relatively small compared to a triple-A budget. Particularly for Nova-111, which is a weird game – it’s a turn-based/real time title – so it’d be very risky in terms of triple-A. How do you communicate that? Because we are indie we are able to effectively take more risks.”

As Lee says, the concept behind Nova-111 – blending real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy games – is an interesting one.

Kalin and I both like very similar games, lots of turn-based titles, like old-school roguelikes [a procedurally-generated RPG where death means restarting the game],” Lee says. We find that turn-based games generally have a deep sense of strategy that we very much enjoy. But the problem with a lot of turn-based games is that if you are fighting someone you are standing next to them and both idling there. It feels very artificial and there is no sense of urgency.

So we thought about real-time games, which are the opposite, where you have tonnes of urgency, lots of things going on at a given moment, but because it’s so frantic you sometimes don’t have enough time to think and stategise and find your tacts. We thought about mixing the two, extracting the elements that we find to be the best of both genres and distill them into Nova-111. That’s how it all started.”

And this is not the only experimental project the studio has worked on. During Nova-111’s development, the firm also did some work-for-hire projects, including LEAP VR titles Lotus and Collider.

Those were fun projects that we did during the development of LEAP. It was mostly to support ourselves, because we’re a small studio. We’re not super well-funded so we’ve been going to contract work to fund ourselves. It’s been fun, but it’s also been a bit distracting from our main goal, which was to make Nova. But it’s part of the process. Nova-111 is our big, first, real game. Because of that we don’t have a catalogue of games to fund ourselves. So we had to do that in order to live.”

He continues: I’d love to continue working on our own IP. We want to make interesting things, interesting experiences for people to show them how games can be different. Nova is different in that we tried to mesh together two genres. And hopefully if Nova does well, it’ll allow us the freedom to keep going down that route.”

"Because we don’t have a catalogue of
games to fund ourselves, we turned to
work-for-hire projects to live."

Eddie Lee, Funktronic Labs

Right now, like many indie games, Nova-111 is a digital-only release. And Lee says that bringing the game to physical retail does not make sense.

I grew up going to stores and buying games,” he says. There’s a sense of magic just going to a store and buying a game. It’s a different business, though. You go to a store and buy a boxed copy of whatever triple-A game you want and it’s $60. And because it’s such a high price, you can justify the printing, distributing and shelf space costs. For a game like Nova, it’s got to be ‘indie’ price. It doesn’t make sense for us to package it. If we do, three-quarters of the costs will go into packaging and distribution, which doesn’t make sense. Maybe we could do a bundle or something with other indie games. But for Nova on its own, it’s not feasible financially.”

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