I got to sit down and talk with Andrew Trese, one of the two brothers that developed the fantastic space RPG Star Traders for mobile devices. Inside, we discuss the inspiration for it, the inspiration for it’s sequel, and the ups and downs of development. We also talk game publishing and about the joys of developing as a family.
1. How are you, and can you tell us a little about Star Traders 2?
Let me first say a bit about Trese Brothers – because the two are intertwined at their very core. Star Traders RPG was our first game, and it was the game that launched Trese Brothers game studio into existence. I live on the east coast, and my older brother Cory used to live on the west coast. We are only two years apart in age, so we grew up making things (games, software, trouble) together. When we moved out to different coasts, we had a long down period where we weren’t working together. When Cory suggested that we work on a little Android game together for fun, we had no idea what would happen next. Star Traders RPG’s immediate popularity convinced us that we could make games, find an audience and be successful at doing what we love together.
Star Traders is a trading sim and space RPG inspired by some of the greats – Firefly, Wing Commander, Privateer, and Master of Orion. In Star Traders, you are the Captain in command of your space ship and you must recruit a crew, and find income through contracts, trading, exploring or piracy to keep your ship repaired and the crew paid. The game is a very big sandbox, economic and political simulator, so it gives you a huge lease of freedom to tell the story you want to, and become the kind of Captain you want to be.
2. What inspired the game, apart from the fact that it’s a sequel?
Our inspiration was drawn from the community and from the players. We’ve had over a million Captains play Star Traders RPG, and so many of them have to us, shared their stories, how Star Traders has helped them through a hard time, and how their Captains have triumphed or fallen in epic fashion. And so many of our fans loved the depth of the game — they debated, suggested, and discussed. They put forward the ideas how to tackle the game’s difficulty ladder – and how, as you increase the game’s difficulty, you have to use more and more of the game’s systems (rumors, conflicts, caches) to stay alive.
Our Captains saw what we could produce on no budget (we spent $25 in total to launch Star Traders RPG) and they have imagined what we could do with a bigger budget, 4 years of experience, and a more sophisciated game engine foundation. Together we have dreamed of Star Traders 2 RPG – and now they are helping us make it happen!
3. What has been the easiest part of development?
The easiest part of development is getting to a playable prototype that Cory and I love to play. The fast, fun, and easiest part is to rapidly put something together that is ugly, clunky, but shows the core of the idea. We can have fun playing it, and you feel like you must almost be there already … right?
4. What has been the hardest?
The hardest part of development is getting that clunky prototype into something that is polished, finished, and balanced. This is the long mountain to climb, and we struggle against our own desire to make the game even more fun and to expand the scope at every turn. Sometimes we get sucked into long stretches of playing too much and not working on the game enough, which is pretty funny for a game developer. Since we are 100% self funded, we have time pressures to get to the market with a game, and this is where the pressure cooker environment and long hours start to set in. Getting the game to a polish point for the community alpha – that is when you breathe a sigh of relief and then we can just have fun with our gamers!
5. How was Star Traders 2 funded, and did this add extra stress to the development?
As with all of our games except Heroes of Steel, Star Traders 2 has been funded from profits from other six games. For Heroes of Steel, we took the game to KickStarter and funded a project at 170% for just over $20,000. The rest of the development cost for the game, we funded with our own profits from the other games. This method does add a lot of stress to the development process. Because we are completely independent and we are completely self-funded, we are in a position where a single failed project could endanger our studio, so we have to make sure we are making games that our community loves.
For Star Traders 2, we came to KickStarter to raise $50,000 to allow us to create the game we wanted to make, and the game our community has demanded, instead of just the game that we could afford. We will match the funds from KickStarter with our own internal revenues to take the next major leap in game evolution for our studio. If you love any Trese Brother game, remember that a vote for Star Traders 2 RPG is a vote for every future Trese Brother game. I like to encourage people to hold Cyber Knights and Heroes of Steel up next to each other. You can see the vast difference in these games immediately, and the reason we were able to make that evolutionary jump was because of the KickStarter. Let’s make this happen together!
We will match.
6. Do you wish you had gone with a publisher to deal with anything? Is being an indie beneficial over that?
The concept of indie publishers, and that big publishers are starting to take indie developers seriously is really exciting. If we wished we were working with a publisher, it would be because we need better marketing and promotion. The exciting thing about not working with a publisher is that we can put game play and game depth first instead of concerns like monetization. This also helps us avoid a lot of external pressures that might not Cory and I to do the things we love to do with our community and studio. Our constant stream of updates, and hours spent every day working with our gamers to keep enhancing games that have been on the market for years is something we chose to prioritize.
That said – we’d love to find a publisher who would let us do all of these things, we may very well join up!
Yes – art. When I was in third grade, I was a pretty good artist. I could draw horses well, ha ha ha. But, it is a skill you lose if you don’t work actively on it, so I never really went anywhere. And, I fell in love with coding and the joy of creating software. When Cory and I came back to start working on games together, we immediately knew we would need art, and probably a lot of it. I got the insane idea in my head that I would be the artist, and Cory didn’t stop me. It was maybe a lurking lifelong dream of mine, and I finally got the chance to pursue it. I am now pretty passable artist with so much more to learn, but I love seeing my skills and production quality grow every year. They always say, if you want to get better at art, you have to put in the hours. Well, working on at a production studio with 6 games that are constantly updating will force you to work on your art — every day!
8. What indie games do you like to play besides this?
9. What is your favourite game of all time?
Cory and I both have the same twitchy reaction to this question — Diablo 2!! Did I just see some gold, gilded text? I’m having flash backs. We played that game to death, and were obsessed with climbing BattleNet’s Hardcore Ladders on Hell Difficulty. We had a lot of characters die up there in the top 10 for their class. I think Diablo 2 has a lot to do with our obsessive love of perma-death games even to this day.
Cory also lists Galactic Civilization 2 as up there. I would list the original Final Fantasy 3.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to say? Where can Star Traders 2 be found?
We’re so proud of how our community and Captains have come out to support us. We’re a tiny study of two hard working creators who have made 6 games and published thousands of updates. We could not keep doing any of this without the appreciation, support, and encouragement of our fans and friends. So, we’d just like to say thank you!
You can join the Star Traders 2 KickStarter here. You can pre-order the game for any platform, so let’s make this happen together.
We are also running a Greenlight project to get Star Traders 2 RPG onto Steam. We’ve had a great launch and are climbing up the charts quickly. Please join us on the Greenlight project and vote Yes!