A little before E3 we caught up with CEO and Founder of Keen Software House, Marek Rosa to discuss the development of Space Engineers and the developers plans in the future.. For those who don’t know, Keen Software House is the development team behind the hit sandbox game Space Engineers and the recently released Medieval Engineers. But what does the future hold for this development company? Why did they choose Early Access? We find out that, and then some.
Space Engineers has been in development for almost a year and a half and has been part of Steam’s Early Access program for some time now. But what makes Space Engineers special is the way Keen Software House handle the game’s development. Since launching on Early Access they’ve been launching consistent updates every week, but why did they opt for such an intense release schedule? More importantly, why Early Access?
Rosa explained that the reason for Early Access was mostly to make players aware of the game.
“We knew it would take some time to develop the game and we didn’t want to wait until it will be completely finished, because you know, Space Engineers is two years in development and if we didn’t put it on Steam Early Access then it would still be behind the curtains and nobody would know about the game.”
“We have plans for some future games and some of them will not go to early access because it doesn’t make sense. For example, campaign or story-based games, it doesn’t make sense to launch it through Early Access,” added Rosa. “But we also have some ideas about other games which are very suited to the Early Access model. We will start with a basic prototype then retroactively keep adding one feature or one thing after another and we’ll just build it up.”
As for the development process, the weekly agile, incremental updates have actually forced Keen Software House to work much more professionally, as their updates are under the watchful eye of the player, with their every move being watched over.
“The idea is that you’re working very publicly, your work is visible week after week”
“The idea is that you’re working very publicly, your work is visible week after week, and this is kind of pressure that’s put on me and my team and therefore people try to keep developing that game much more seriously and professionally than if it was done behind closed doors with one big release at the end,” he revealed.
“People are watching us every week, actually all these days in the week, commenting and so on and we need to take this into consideration, it’s some kind of pressure, pressing us to really make sure that the features we are adding are not just some stupid ideas, some useless features, so this agile, incremental development, is something we’ll be using for Medieval, and for this AI project.
“It’s a crucial thing, the most important thing in the development for us.”
On development, Keen Software House recently released the source code for Space Engineers allowing any developer to create their own games using some of the in-game assets, unfortunately it’s still early days to say whether it’s something of a success.
Rosa did however add that it’s a lot harder to create some changes to the game’s code than some may thing due to a cascading effect on the rest of the game, because of this some people may attempt to use the code, but it may never get any results.
“It’s very hard to actually take the game, change some things, and say ‘okay, well this is a new game, this is not just Space Engineers with slightly different textures’ something like that, so I think many people will actually not finish it because it will take too long, they’ll lose focus and all these things.
“It was a good idea, and we just need to support it for some time and it’ll catch up.”
One of the main ideas for the opening of the source code was to prevent Keen Software House from being the bottleneck for ideas that the community could bring to the game.
“If someone wanted to for example, add an energy shield or something like this they don’t need to wait for us to implement it into the game, if they can implement it, they can just implement it themselves,” said Rosa.
When asked whether these ideas could eventually make it into Space Engineers, Rosa revealed that while the new feature could work perfectly in the developers version, when it comes to adding it to the Vanilla game a lot of things need to be considered to make it work, like a domino, this new feature could affect other features, and more things will need to be added in order to ensure fair play.
“Imagine if someone added energy weapons or energy shields on GitHub, it would work in their version and it would be perfect, we may even be able to merge it with our base game in two clicks, but then we’d need to consider ‘okay, we just added energy weapons, so what does it mean, we’d need some new kind of components for assemblers, or we need to add some kind of shields that are guarding the other people against these weapons,’ and then this domino effect would start and we’d realise it wasn’t as simple to implement and that we may need to spend one month on just finishing it up.”
With involving community ideas so heavily, it does open up the risk of Space Engineers becoming a “feature creep”, meaning that the game would never be fully complete with features being added constantly.
“Lets focus on Space Engineers 2”
“The main thing to consider is that if it’s not better to use our team for something else, like a really big jump and start doing Space Engineers 2 or something like that. This incremental thing is how we built Space Engineers, one Thursday after another, but sometimes it’s also good to make a huge jump, like stop working on backwards compatibility.
“If we were to add more and more features to Space Engineers, we would still need to think about the people still playing Space Engineers, and so on. But if we decided to say ‘Space Engineers is finished’ add some little features here and there, and lets focus on Space Engineers 2.
“Say, we’ll be quiet for a couple of months, a year, while we’re preparing some big change in Space Engineers 2, then when we finally release the game, we wouldn’t need to care about all of the backwards compatibility with Space Engineers 1, like worlds, blocks, or maybe 3D assets, and stuff like that.
“So we would be allowed to have this ‘no looking back’ mentality, so we can jump really, really far.”
In addition to Space Engineers, Keen Software House is also working in tandem on another “Engineers” title, Medieval Engineers, one that involves more interesting physics and a focus on medieval architecture and technologies. Though the idea for Medieval Engineers was conceived a little before the release of Space Engineers.
“We considered something like Medieval Engineers around a couple of months before we released Space Engineers, but back then we didn’t have time to actually think about this. It was more of a cool idea, things like using certain blocks, physics, and other things in a different environment and setting, instead of space,” Rosa revealed. “Later, though, when Space Engineers became kind of, this success, then we went back to this idea and started thinking that we didn’t want to develop this space game forever, it’d be cool to see some different settings, some nature, some green colour, and stuff like that.”
Development on the two games though hasn’t been as stressful as you’d think, in fact the parallel development has actually helped Keen Software House bring ideas from one game to another.
“Once we had the two teams working on both Space and Medieval Engineers, we soon realised that some featured added into Medieval Engineers could be added in some way to Space Engineers and vice versa. It was actually a really cost-effective way to develop a second game because it’s not like creating a game entirely from scratch, like a real-time strategy, for example,” he revealed.
With the idea of Medieval Engineers working in tandem with Space Engineers we wondered whether they’ve considered blending them both together with a Civilization-like progression system where players can go through different eras until ultimately ending up at Space Engineers, to our surprise it was something Rosa would love to do.
“We’ve been thinking about this, maybe, I cannot say it will not happen in the future because it kind of makes sense, but right now, today, this year, or next year, we are too far from that, we are building the basics, especially in Medieval, such as the basics of survival, and this sort of thing, but it can end up like this.
“Like you’d have one game called ‘Engineers’, and you will go from some ancient, even pre-ancient era, like ‘Prehistoric Engineers’, then to something like ‘Today Engineers’, then you’d go to ‘Space Engineers’, and so on.
“I would love to do this, but it will take us some time before we get it.”
Space Engineers right now doesn’t have a set final release, but it seems Keen Software House are trying to wrap up development, that is until another great idea comes along that they just have to add into the game.
“once we feel the game is polished, solid, and stable, then I think we can say it’s finished”
“With Space Engineers, we’ve almost already decided to start wrapping up the game, polishing, and preparing for release, but then we decided, ‘lets add planets’ as a last big feature, so planets kind of delayed the release because first, we need to finish them, then we need to add features that make sense of the entire planets idea.
“For example, we had to add Oxygen, because when there’s planets we need Oxygen, stuff like that. And usually when you add one feature, it kind of requires to add some other features for that to make sense to eventually close the circle.”
Upon finalising the game, Keen Software House hope to add a few missions, “they will not be story based, they’ll mostly be about adding some kind of goal to the game,” Rosa added because right now the game has no real goals.
“So once planets and then the mission framework will be in, then we’ll start looking at the game from a big picture perspective, look at what’s missing, and what needs to be polished. This will go for a couple of months, more than six months, and once we feel the game is polished, solid, and stable, then I think we can say it’s finished.”
Once Space Engineers has released on PC, Keen Software House will likely focus on releasing a few updates, as well as putting more into Medieval Engineers. The game is also coming to Xbox One, though we haven’t heard too much about that as of late, but there’s a good reason.
“It’s taking some time,” Rosa admitted. “Mostly because the game is written in C# and .net and we need to move this to C++. The game will still remain in C#, but we’re currently working on a conversion tool that’ll convert the stuff to C++ so it can be a multiplatform game.
“So once we solve Xbox, then the other platforms should be no problem, though Microsoft has exclusivity for one year. But it doesn’t matter, as these things take so much time, we’re not worrying about whether we release the PlayStation version of the game now, or in a couple of months, or in a year.”
With the launch of Windows 10 looming, we also asked whether Space Engineers for Xbox One would offer cross-platform compatibility between the two consoles, something Rosa would love to do, but it depends entirely on any complications that may arise during development on this feature.
“I prefer not to make any promises, as some little technical detail can prevent this from happening, though we may try, but I can’t make any promises at the moment,” he said. “We also don’t know what performance sacrifices we would need to make to the Xbox version of Space Engineers, or some sort of Android or iPhone version of Space Engineers, as these are not as powerful as some PCs.”
Space Engineers and Medieval Engineers are currently available to purchase on Steam under the Early Access program.
A huge thanks to Joshua Merrick for helping out with some of these talking points.