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Develop catches up with the Nottingham-based team behind The Last Leviathan

Studio Spotlight: Super Punk Games

What have you been working on recently?
We have been hard at work on The Last Leviathan, which launched on Steam Early Access earlier this year. The Last Leviathan is a physics-based, ship building and destruction game where you construct battle ships to crush your adversaries and massacre the monsters you encounter around the ancient seas of Middenhir.

The Last Leviathan is your first game produced fully in-house. What has that experience been like for the studio compared to its past work?
It’s been a very exciting process for us from both a creative and a business POV. In spring last year, we decided that we wanted to move our studio from a solely work-for-hire studio into something that could also create and publish its own titles.

The majority of the work on The Last Leviathan running up to entering Early Access was done out of hours as the company was working on contracts in the day. This has its issues as progress is sometimes slow and finding a focus is difficult across a small team working from home in the evenings. But we got there.

The really interesting bits about building a game that you have conceived and are funding compared to working for someone else is that you get to experiment more and really have a lot of fun developing something that isn’t as premeditated and milestone-based. You are masters of your own destiny in every way; the amount of time we’ve put into some seemingly trivial design decisions is huge, and it’s very liberating and gratifying to see all of those decisions come to life and then receive such positive feedback from the players. 

We knew we had a strong ship creator and ship combat and destruction working really well, but we really needed to start getting feedback from real players and to start the next steps of the game’s journey.

You launched The Last Leviathan on Steam Greenlight. Why did you decide to use the platform and what were the benefits/challenges you encountered?
We went into Steam Greenlight earlier this year and The Last Leviathan was extremely well received. This gave us a lot of confidence that people liked the concept and that the visuals were really starting to get there. It also really helped us start to seed a community around our game. Steam Greenlight is a great way to access a large community of gamers and see if they actually want to buy it – it’s the first step in actually finding out if your game is any good. 

We then launched into Early Access on June 22nd. We’d only had a short stint of the whole team being full-time on the game. We knew we had a strong ship creator and ship combat and destruction working really well, but we really needed to start getting feedback from real players and to start the next steps of the game’s journey. Going into Early Access early on has really helped us to solidify what we knew about the game’s weaknesses and strengths, and its helped us clarify and prioritise the games development, so we can’t recommend it enough.

Steam itself is a great platform for us. The players on there are very open to indie games and the addition of Steam Workshop is a brilliant way for creative players to share their masterpieces amongst the community. It’s also great for us to have such close contact with our players, so far we’ve been able to respond to almost every comment and post, and this is something we want to continue though it may become more difficult in the future.

What tools and technology did you use for The Last Leviathan and how did these compare to the technology you’ve used in the past?
We use the Unity engine and this gave us a huge headstart compared to more bespoke engines that we’ve used in the past. We have, of course, had to bend it to our will in some places, but that’s true of every engine we’ve ever worked on.

Our company remit is to create games that have emergent gameplay properties that enable the players to be unpredictable to us as developers.

What were the design and technical challenges of building a game based around player customisation and user-created content?
We really wanted the player to have as much control over their creations as possible, both in the way that ships look and in how the ships perform on the ocean. This makes a lot of design sense, but gives us a lot of technical issues in terms of the number of individual elements on screen that need to be considered for things like buoyancy, physics simulation and rendering. We also wanted as much of the surrounding environment to be physics-based and destructible too which also adds to the problem.

Our company remit is to create games that have emergent gameplay properties that enable the players to be unpredictable to us as developers. We think that is not only exciting but really liberating as a developer, the innovation amongst the players is far greater than anything we can come up with at the studio, they’re amazing. We love how their ideas evolve the game and world, it’s a brilliant feedback mechanism that keeps the game fresh and exciting to work on. 

What did you learn from working with developers such as Activision, Dovetail and Hasbro? Should more studios consider working with such studios?
Our ultimate goal as a studio is to be successful enough to only develop and publish our own titles, though we won’t be making that jump any time soon.

There are big advantages to working with external publishers and developers aside from the income stream that they provide. We do a variety of contract work ranging from delivering entire projects to being a third-party team support across many platforms and game engines which keeps our team flexible and current technologically.

It also keeps us ‘out there’ in the games industry, working alongside different companies large and small which we think is incredibly valuable. We recommend having a third-party side of the business as it really does help to smooth out some of the bumps of indie dev.

We’re masters of your own destiny in every way. The amount of time we’ve put into some seemingly trivial design decisions is huge.

What’s planned for The Last Leviathan going forwards?
What isn’t planned! Aside from smaller things like improving the combat, destruction and optimisation, we have some very large features and modes we are going to implement through our time in Early Access. Epic monsters are a large part of the game that we want to be a truly awesome experience requiring the player to build multiple types of ship and use all their skill as a gamer to defeat them. 

We also have a voyage mode (sort of a story mode) which will unveil why the game is called The Last Leviathan and will feature exploration and discovery mechanics as well as ship building, destruction and creativity. And finally, we’re planning on bringing multiplayer to The Last Leviathan which we just think is going to be a ton of fun. 

How has Super Punk evolved as a studio since it was founded?
Super Punk Games started life as AppCrowd and was founded by former Monumental Games CEO, Rik Alexander. Appcrowd was set up to focus on mobile development however eventually found itself working on PC games. After working with Appcrowd for a few months, Steve Bennett joined Rik on the board as COO. Together we changed the vision for the company which involved re-naming it to better represent that vision. So in early 2015, Super Punk Games was born.

What are the biggest industry trends currently affecting your studio’s operation and work?
Right now, we are generally small enough to flex and adapt with trends and this keeps our thinking fresh and on point. One trend we are very grateful for is the rise of the indies, and the way players are as drawn to independent games as much as AAA games, certainly on platforms like Steam, which is just really empowering and enabling for small businesses like ours.

What’s next for Super Punk?
We have a lot of work left in The Last Leviathan before we bring it out of Early Access, so we’re going to get our heads down and focus hard on that for a while.

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