Interview: Planet Nomads devs on building exciting new worlds

Talking about the challenges and ambitions of sandbox design.

Sandbox games are all about starting small yet dreaming big – turns out this rings true for the developers behind these projects as well. Following a successful Kickstarter, developers Craneballs are looking to turn Planet Nomads into a complete simulation of an astronaut-scientist with a knack for building custom spaceships and cruising the stars. It's an ambitious project for a crew of thirteen, one that Daniel Maslovsky, Head of Marketing & Community, was more than happy to discuss in a Twitch Q&A with Outstar two days ago. Today, we've had the chance to sit down and talk about the challenges ahead of the team, and what their plans are moving forward.

If you had to choose one thing that you’re most excited for people to see or do in Planet Nomads, what would that be?

Daniel: There are plenty of biomes that create amazing sceneries, and some encounters will be crazy, but if I were to pick just one thing it would be when you build your first vehicle. For sure. When you get it to work by setting everything correctly, and you take it for a spin, that’s incredibly rewarding. And then your mind starts wondering all those “What if I do that and this little fella here…”, “What if I build the suspensions a bit higher, or build a tank-like rover and hit a tree with it?” Physics and wheel physics are definitely something to explore in Planet Nomads.

Up until now, you've been exclusively in the mobile business. So what made you decide to take on PC gaming?

Daniel: It was a combination of several things. We are old schoolers. While we do play mobile games, we didn’t have them when we were kids and that’s where your most powerful memories come from. We had PCs as kids and it’s always been our dream platform. But we’d been too few to create a fully-fledged PC game at the beginning.
"[...] our team had grown tired of the F2P model and wanted to design a game that’s all about the game and not microtransactions."
Then Unity happened and after Overkill 3 we figured we could use it to make a PC game with (relative) ease. We thought what can we make as a team of 9? So we took what he had - several people playing survival games and one massive sci-fi connoisseur hooked up since childhood on Isaac Asimov, P. K. Dick and the illustrations of Tim White - that’s Kubát, one of our co-founders, and that’s where all the intricate environments come from. Another reason was that one part of our team had grown tired of the F2P model and wanted to design a game that’s all about the game and not microtransactions.

Have you found developing for PC vastly different from developing for mobile? What has that experience been like?

Daniel: Our coders feel like not that much has changed, but we all enjoy the added power and options for more powerful shaders for instance. Graphic artists very much enjoy the added number of available polygons they can use. But certainly the most strikingly different and totally epic was the PC community. When we started a website with a few bullet points and three concept-art screenshots who already started getting a following. That was completely mesmerizing for us as compared to our mobile experience. Then with the first demo of the building people already had pages of well thought-out feedback. They are engaged like crazy. They’ve made the Kickstarter happen, they are watching our Nomadic Journals, commenting on the tiniest details and basically being with us every step of the development. It’s been crazy good and we thank you all, Nomads.

Planet Nomads is a huge, ambitious project which surely faced its share of hurdles. So what development milestone has been the biggest so far for your team?

Daniel: You mean between creating Sandy, our procedural terrain engine, to physics, to wheel physics to getting the actual vision for the game, right? Good share of hurdles indeed. But I can name three major ones.
"we had to figure out our own gravity, since with the standard one you’d fall down from the planet the moment you reached the southern hemisphere."
The first one started during Kickstarter already when we switched from a procedurally generated endless plain to actual spherical planets - we had to figure out our own gravity, since with the standard one you’d fall down from the planet the moment you reached the southern hemisphere. Then it was the first alpha - that took three months to make, even though we’d basically had everything ready. Those tiny details of taking your “tech-demo” and turning it to a game are painfully time-consuming. Then we had a third huge milestone of adding survival mode - four months of development, two months of balancing with our Alpha Nomads and counting. Now the launch and planning the next features carefully.

Finally, in terms of Planet Nomads's future in development – what are you looking forward to the most?

Daniel: Space. We will start with flyers, so players can finally enjoy the planet from a bird’s eye perspective and get to places previously unreachable. Then that turns into space-flight, orbital building and traveling between planets. There are plenty of other features to be added, mobile fortresses, modding should be huge and open previously unforeseen possibilities. So generally speaking - we’re looking forward to bringing Planet Nomads to its full potential.