Continuing my Journey With the Steam Deck
Previous Indie Corner Episode 18: Reviving Old Classics
This has been a productive summer for me!
I hope everyone is keeping okay. One of my favourite publishers of old were Microprose: a giant in the 1980s who specialized in strategy games. After many years of silence, they returned with a vengeance in 2021 with two releases: Highfleet and Carrier Command 2. While they have a niche following, they publish unique and challenging games. I reviewed Highfleet last summer, and found it a compelling if frustrating experience. You can read that review by clicking on the link down below:
Microprose also published the topic of today’s interview: Regiments! The work of solo developer Mikhail Sherstennikov, Regiments is a high-quality RTS set in the latter stages of the Cold War, boasting a large amount of content, diverse strategy options and plenty of units. I’ve started playing Regiments recently and enjoying it a lot. Recently I got the chance to interview Mikhail about his game processes. You can read that interview right now! In the meantime, pick up Regiments. It’s available on Steam:
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
I’m Mikhail Sherstennikov, Regiments developer.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
Regiments, at a core, is still a one-man project, so for me, it means being a versatile generalist. Design the game loop, implement it, test it out, adjust, bugfix, repeat.
Having to implement your design also means there is a strong incentive to take streamlining very seriously.
There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years about micro transactions in gaming. Not so much an opinion, but why do games tend to cut out content to sell later as DLC and lootboxes? Is it to do with development costs? Or is it time related?
I skip a lot of AAA releases, so I never really encountered lootboxes and never researched this topic.
There are some studios with controversial reputations regarding their DLC policies, but DLCs themselves don’t automatically mean a predatory monetization model. As long as the content-per-dollar ratio is correct, I see it as a good way to keep a game growing – developers get the financing to keep working while players receive new content for the game they like.
Tell us about your current project.
Regiments is a Real-Time Tactics game set in Germany 1989. The Cold War has gone hot. Lead your Regiment through the fires of conflict and the blah blah blah
It has grown out of a mod for the well-known Wargame series, targeting largely the same audience, but presenting a very different approach – single-player focus, less micro, more controllable combat.
As anyone who creates anything, we must all deal with criticism from consumers. How do you go about it particularly in the prolific and viral standard of gaming today?
Criticism remains a hotly disputed point among various arts because there’s still no nice and easy solution. Artists need it, otherwise, they can’t improve. But often it can be toxic enough to destroy any motivation to go on.
It requires a complex approach. Manage community to cull toxic elements and encourage civil discussion. See past vitriol and answer the core questions. Limit exposure reasonably, there’s no need to read or consider every piece of critique out there. Grow a thicker skin, yes, let’s not ignore this. Have ways to return to a healthy and constructive mindset.
Constructive feedback is easier to deal with. So far, I’m trying to be open about requested features, stating plainly if it’s planned or not, and whether we have resources and time to implement it in a certain timeframe.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
Have a clear vision of the product you want to make, a certain ‘core’ of mechanics and experience you want to deliver, and stay focused on delivering it.
Steam demo festivals are great for practice – it’s almost like a real launch, but much softer.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
“Singleplayable” ARPGs have proven to be a good way to just zone-out: Path of Exile is my current one.
I try to play as many RTSes as possible to be aware of the developments and often try out various quirky indie games for fresh ideas.
What inspires you to do what you do?
“Design – implement – get positive feedback” is an excellent dopamine loop.
What is the hardest part of your job?
User Interface and dealing with complicated bugs right before some deadline.
What was your favourite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
Gamedesign itself – developing and refining the game loop, all associated mechanics, and features. That typically takes 2-3% of the total worktime, though.
User Interface always takes ridiculous amounts of time to get functional, at least for me.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
Not organizing a small group of loyal players into a testing group was a mistake. It’s standard practice for a reason. We had some internal testing capability, but it wasn’t really enough.
OTOH, it was interesting to see that you can successfully launch an RTS without some things that are usually considered Absolutely Mandatory – like multiplayer, replays and in-session saves. Sure, you lose some potential clients, but you also save literal man-years of development time, so it at very least evens out.
As a small team, it’s hard to replicate the very high standards set by the likes of Westwood, Blizzard, and Relic. Stay lean, stay focused, and play to your strengths.
What are your future project(s)?
I’ll keep working on Regiments for the observable future, expanding it’s scope and amount of content.
If you couldn’t be an game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
It’s hard to say that game dev is an absolute dream job, but I struggle to come up with anything better for my tastes.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
Open & Living worlds with emergent storytelling remain a ‘dream goal’ of game design.
I would like to experiment with vast maps – Death Stranding highlights that you can make traveling from A to B an engaging experience even without procedural encounters every 1.5 minutes.
The settings and art style would be weird, something like Sacrifice (2001) or Warframe – the financial pressures and risks leave so many venues of design possible only in games unexplored.