Over the past couple of months, Gamerhub have been working with Braintonik to take a deep-dive into the formation of the new studio, and taking a look at their upcoming first game, Spheriums. Take a look below at out interview with them, or read the transcript.
Q1 How Braintonik came to be?
Nick and I have been friends for a while now and always shared the same interest about video games, especially, but not only older video games. We started a personal project, we revamped an old pinball machine together and we built and arcade cabinet for video game, which was a nice personal project. During the pandemic, we started playing together more, different games, especially Astroneer and games like that. Eventually we got bored, we had to choose a new game, then we had the idea that we might look at the technology behind Unreal Engine and start a very small project about a game. So, we did. Surprisingly it worked quite fast. Unreal Engine is quite nice tech. Within a matter of weeks we had something. We started to build around a story for a game, then we decided, okay, we’ll create a game. That started around October 2020. Around November we had something. In December we decided we would start a company and all the things we had to do to start bringing video games to be in 2021. So that’s how it started.Jean-Pierre (JP)
Q2: A love for gaming: How did you get into or lean to develop games?
From my side, I’ve always been into gaming. I started with the Atari 400, 800 and Commodore 64, you know. And I always like a game. And after that, working at companies like Softimage for 3D stuff. I also created an old game on Xbox 360. What is it called? Yeah, with XNA I believe, and I created this game with my kids called Virus Wars and it was a lot of fun. Then I was working at a company called Auto-Kinetic where we created Wise, a middleware engine. I was the CTO there. So I was a little used to the Unreal Engine because we integrated with it, so it was always something I was looking for at some point. And ye, for me it’s a passion, you know.Nicholas (Nick)
Q3: Spheriums Tell us a bit about Spheriums, for the benefit of those who have not played
Basically Spheriums is a single player adventure/first person shooter, where you travel around different 6 different worlds. We tried to craft these worlds to be very unique types of world. You are a small sphere of energy named Arcos, and you are the last hope and need to save your planet, which is dying because it is being attacked by The Drainer. So while you are doing this, you are going to explore, find secrets, unlock upgradeables, build machines and some devices; in some cases (solve puzzles) but it’s not the main scope of the game but find some things to resolve some puzzles. And basically, yeh. That’s it, and of course you will encounter different types of creatures because that’s something we invest a lot of energy (into) the richness of the fauna and the creatures themselves.Nick
Q4: Spheriums Fighting Mechanics
It’s something we invested a lot of time in it. Exactly as you said because we didn’t want to build the game like ‘traditional’ games where you get a type of gun, but you can always use the same gun to kill all enemies. In this case we wanted to create some weapons that would only work against some types of enemies, forcing you to switch weapons while engaging many enemies. And that is something we have been revamping a lot, to mix different types of enemies to provide more of a rich experience and a greater challenge, I would say.Nick
Q5: Inspiration – What sort of games inspired Spheriums?
Like I was saying before at the beginning, something we played a lot was Astroneer. Because of it’s visuals colour, simple visuals (textures) and it’s really something we appreciate, and something that was some kind of inspiration at the beginning of the design of the game itself. Empyrion, it was also a game for searching for resources, it was an inspiration as well but we knew with the limited team we had, to create something with this kind of complexity would not be possible. So we kept this mechanic of finding resources but we made it a bit more simple, although a lot of games are using these kinds of mechanics. But one thing we tried to do, and we tried more at the begininning and less as we went along, was to try and do something totally different. We realised it would have been interesting, but it would have been a lot of work, and a lot of work in advance to do something that different from other games. So we have our differences but the player will be comfortable with some concepts that are more similar to what they are used to having in game.JP
Q6: Gameplay – While developing Spheriums you have really drilled down and focused on certain areas, ie gameplay… Can you elaborate on that?
Yeh sure, there was a few points. The first one, as you mentioned, is the visuals. JP and I really liked something that was colourful, you know how something that can create some kind of emotional response from the user when you play the game. This sense of lets got to the right or left, and try to find something and all those colours you know, popping up. And something that is a little bit stylised because we need to compensate for the fact that we need to create those assets, and as JP was saying, I mean he’s the blender guy and he’s been working like crazy creating all these creatures and trees and all of this. But we need to build something that we are able to do and I have to say we are very proud of it! The fighting mechanics was the second one. We wanted to do something different, as I explained earlier. So, we invested a lot of time in here. And then then AI diversity. Because creating, and this is not as easy as we thought, creating AI. We have so many creatures, and to try and give them their own personality, it’s hard. It’s something we need to tweak and tweak and tweak again. Even as I speak today, you know yesterday JP and I again were tweaking some of the AI, how do we mix enemies so that when the player encounters them, it’s going to be fun. It’s challenging. The last one is we wanted to create a game accessible to the whole family. Your know in previous games you have games with a lot of blood and stuff like this and we wanted to try and do something, you know it’s still a shooter, but we try to give them no human (elements). It’s really abstract, so everyone an play the game and we believe it’s accessible. It’s easy to grasp some of the concepts. So, those are the main points. Maybe I missed something JP you wanted to say? But that’s basically the main things we wanted to focus on.Nick
I would say that we wanted on the story as well. We want to keep the consistency in the story. Maybe no add something that is very, very complex. I would say it’s quite a simple story. But to keep the consistency in terms of assett, the way they look and their place. We have two different civilisations, we have the Spheriums and the drainers, and want to keep a signature for each, and to keep that in the story. It was more a thought we should have had at the beginning. We had to change the story. Something we thought would bring us to the end and no, it has to be tuned.JP
Q6: Challenges – What have you found to be the biggest development challenge?
If you take the development in general, in terms of developing a game and not specific of the technical aspect, I would say realising how much marketing is important as a big thing. We knew it from the beginning, we had read and listened to all types of interviews that were saying that. But when you’re caught in the technical aspect and you are a small team of two, well it’s easy to neglect because if you have nothing to market. It was not our plan to go to something where you market everything then you get found then you design your game and get marketing. It was something when we launched on Steam we learned that oh, you really have to take special care in marketing properly. All the events in which we participate, like sales and things like that brought us some very good learning experiences. To understand what is the dynamic you have all those steps that maybe we should have done a little bit more, but we’re catching up and we’re getting there.JP
Q7: Player feedback – How has the game evolved from player feedback
Oh my god a lot. When we have had betas we had people helping us. There is a big difference when sometimes you think something is good, and its maybe not that good. So it’s very good to have player feedback. It forces us to rethink some of the concepts of the game. The big difference right now between what is available on Early Access on Steam and what we are going to release is that most of the worlds that are already available, we are going to revamp. Based on the feedback we have changed the design of the worlds because we realised it was too hard to travel, it was hard to find resources, we introduced the notion of scanning, the notion of maps and we introduced the notion of managing energy and shields. All of that was feedback from the players and helped us create a better game. I think the biggest challenge is to fine tune all these elements. You can put in all the big parts, I think that’s quite straight forward. But after that to really make them work seamlessly together and that the overall balance is good, this is where the challenge is. And this is where only through people working together we have all good ideas, we are challenging each-other constantly but I think people really make a big difference. And because of that, we are nearly two years into development of this game. We didn’t think it would take this amount of time but at the end, we are going to ship a better game because of that. In-fact I want to say kudos to all the people that jelped so far, because without them, we wouldn’t be here today.Nick
A little more details about some of the feedback we have had. When we started the design of the game, we wanted a game with a lot of vagueness in what you have to do. Some games in the past we played, you don’t know and discover as you go along. But it proved that because we were very into the game from developing it, we assumed too much things and when we put it into the hands of testers, it was not clear at all and they would email us ‘how do I get into this building?’ ‘how do I find these resources?’ And it evolved into this game where you were much more guided through it. That’s where we introduced the map, where we introduced the scanning part of the game. Scan your surroundings to find key elements. Honestly, these were big improvements. As soon as we put them in, it was clear it was a good decision.JP
Q8: Release – Have you narrowed down the Speriums release window yet?
Yes, we are still on track to deliver this summer. I know it is a large time frame but it’s always evolving, but you know we are still on track for the Steam and Windows store but maybe we are a little bit at risk for the Xbox Series X|S versions at the same time. Worst case scenario the Series X|S versions will be in early fall, so a little bit after. But I have good news here. The frame rate runs good already, so optimisation is not going to be a big deal. But with two people it’s so much to do, but we are on track. We are very happy! And after that, maybe end of fall, we want to go onto support Xbox One versions of the game. Of course those platforms are less powerful, so maybe some improvements for the framerates (are required), some scaling down of the assets, but we will see. It is running on those as well, but will require a little more work. Once we are done there we will also look at Nintendo. No confirmed plans there yet but we are looking at this soon.Nick
Q9: Do you think you might look to PlayStation?
I would say it is something further out. It is a little bit more difficult for an indie company to publish right now on the PlayStation. The Xbox and Nintendo ecosystem are very open for indie developers, so it’s easier to submit your title and get some feedback. Certainly if there is a market, we are going to look into it, but let’s say PC, Xbox and Nintendo right now are our main focus.Nick
Although we will probably be able to squeeze in Linux & Mac OS in-between them (Xbox and Switch) as well. We’ve had some success running it on Linux as well but we want to test it properly to make sure there are not problems, so those platforms will be sorted in this time frame as well.JP
Q10: I know you have been working hard to come this far, how has covid affected development?
Covid was an opportunityJP
To motivate usNick
Because we were working from home, it was already in our minds. And because there was less things to do and more time on development.JP
Q11: Do you have any post launch content planned?
Right now we don’t know too much. It is a little too far away and we have so much on our plate right now to deliver where we want to. It is not out of the question, definitely not. We have a lot of ideas regarding that. But we don’t want to create false expectations of stuff. We want to focus on this (full launch) and the after, well lets say you will be the first to know.Nick