EVERSPACE Interview – Future Plans and First Details on Nintendo Switch Port, Running ‘Super Smoothly’
When you think about the recent Renaissance of the space simulator genre, games like Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen probably come to mind first. However, there's at least one indie space that's perhaps a bit less known than it should be: I'm talking about EVERSPACE, the rogue-like title Kickstarted a long while ago before releasing on PC and later Xbox One.
We interviewed ROCKFISH Games CEO and Co-Founder Michael Schade at the time, in the middle of the game's crowdfunding campaign. With EVERSPACE now about to release on new platforms such as PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch, not to mention the upcoming Xbox One X patch, we contacted him again to get an update on what's next for the game.
Many game developers are going from PC/console to mobile, while you have made the exact opposite switch. How does that feel? Do you think mobile gaming will ever catch up with core players anytime soon?
The transition from mobile to PC went pretty smoothly for us, actually. We worked on the PC and
Mac versions of Galaxy on Fire 2 before, so we already had a glimpse of what to expect. When the
time had come, switching from our former proprietary engine running on restrictive devices to a
high-end cross-platform engine like Unreal Engine 4 with almost unlimited computing and rendering power was super exciting for us. At last, we didn’t have to worry about performance issues that much anymore and could use GPU-rendered polygons like there is no tomorrow.
I also think our mobile legacy helped us make a highly accessible space shooter with tight controls
which you can pick up and play almost anytime thanks to its relatively short game sessions and its
immediate action gameplay. This is one of the main pillars of Everspace, setting it apart from big
budget space sims like Elite: Dangerous or Star Citizen.
I doubt that mobile gaming will ever be able to catch up with PC and console gaming. Apple just
missed the opportunity to position mobile gaming as a premium experience by letting developers
change prices on a daily basis. Quickly, it became a race to the bottom and the writing was on the
wall when EA slashed their whole portfolio to $0.99 per title for the Winter holidays in 2010. When in 2011 F2P became the predominant business model on the App Store (albeit with a few exceptions like The Room or Monument Valley, for instance), this was the last nail in the coffin for premium gaming on mobile. On Android, it never existed. From our point of view, Google never had the intention of making premium mobile games work, which is not a surprise for a company that offers any service for free with ad monetization being rooted in their DNA.
Do you see yourselves continuing to create space combat/trading games or are there other particular genres you would like to explore?
Well, back in the day, we have been successful in creating award-winning 3D mobile games within
other genres, too. Rally Master Pro, for instance, which became the world’s best mobile game in
2008 with an average media rating of 9.22. Or the fighting game Gladiator, the sports game
Snowboard Hero, or the RPG Blades & Magic. They all won tons of awards. Still, none of those titles
became as commercially successful as the Galaxy on Fire series did. Yet, one has to bear in mind that there hardly was any competition for such console-style games on mobile.
On PC and console, the situation is much different. If we tried to succeed within a different genre
we’d have to compete with the biggest gaming franchises in the world and super talented indies with years of experience. When working on Everspace, we already had an existing community and a team with lots of experience in making space games at our disposal. It also helped that after a long period of neglection, the genre was revived by space game juggernauts like Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen and No Man’s Sky and gained a lot of attention from the gaming press and space game enthusiasts alike.
So, we’d rather stick to what we are very good at and to what we are best known for since the
release of the first installment of Galaxy on Fire in 2005.
Are you happy with the combined sales of EVERSPACE so far? Did it meet or exceed your expectations?
After the successful Kickstarter, we were quite confident that Everspace would be making a profit
and keep our studio with 12 devs afloat until our next title. We anticipated selling at least as many copies during the launch month as we did during the Kickstarter which were 11,000 units. To our pleasant surprise, Everspace was prominently featured on Steam.
It became a #1 top seller globally on the first day and stayed in the top 25 for a week. While I cannot share any specific numbers per platform I am happy to report that sales exceeded our expectations significantly.
About nine months later at the Full Release on Steam, Everspace got featured again and we had a
similarly successful launch month. After that, Valve reached out to us, wanting to promote Everspace with 20% off during the Summer Sale, which led to Everspace staying in the global top 25 for another whole week.
Since then, we coordinated further sales with Valve which have always exceeded our expectations,
even after having adapted our forecast based on our sales trajectory. We also had a sweet hardware bundle deal with ASUS ROG graphics cards and mainboards which not only added a big bunch of sold copies but helped to promote the game in the US and Europe.
In spite of a Metacritic score of 84 on Xbox, the sales did not meet our expectations on the platform. Partially, this had to do with some platform-related teething issues during Xbox Game Preview and UWP in particular (Everspace was the first UE-based game in Xbox Game Preview that also supported PlayAnywhere), which lead to quite a few negative reviews. However, the main reason was that for an indie title it is much harder to get featured in the Xbox Store. We hope that we will get some more exposure when the enhanced version for Xbox One X is out and when the Encounters add-on is released for all Xbox One models.
So far, we have sold over 400,000 copies across all platforms combined, without discounting the base game or the DLC too aggressively. Hence, we are looking forward to a few more successful sales and upcoming releases on further platforms, later this year. So, if we stay small we should be good for quite a while.
How is the Encounters add-on performing? Can we expect any further DLC/expansions or a sequel?
The response has been great. We’re at a whopping 97% positive rating on Steam for the expansion.
Players really like the new ship and equipment and have been praising the name-giving encounters, saying they add more depth and a new way to look at the game. We’ve really enjoyed the feedback.
However, developing an expansion is no easy task and we had to find the right balance of adding
enough content but not spending too much development time on this. A few of the features and
concepts that wound up in the expansion had been around for some time, but a lot of stuff had to be created from scratch, particularly the new ship. We knew we needed it though, as there was a lot of demand for it.
So, while the reception for the add-on has been extremely well, we were hoping for more sales. But, since the expansion has not been discounted too often, we still anticipate quite a few more players picking it up later this and also next year.
As with every additional DLC, the number of potential buyers decreases, and as we already had to
work hard to make the 4th player ship as well as the new weapons, devices and consumables
meaningful additions, we decided to not release another add-on for this installment. We certainly could add more variations of the current ships, but we think it is better to spend our precious time
working on our next game.
The game is single player only. Have you given any thought during development to cooperative or competitive multiplayer, though? Is that something you might add in future games?
This question didn’t take long to come up when we announced Everspace back in May 2015 and has been asked by our community fairly regularly ever since. As tempting as it may sound to fight with or against your buddies in space, it’s super hard to get it done right. Before creating Everspace, we were working on a co-op space shooter for an AAA console games publisher together with our friends at Nukklear, also from Germany. We brought them on board, as they are the makers of the 3D space shooter MMO Black Prophecy. They definitely know a thing or two about real-time PvP in space, and we got a fantastic vertical slice with co-op working before the project was canceled. However, even with their years of expertise in this field, we learned that any gameplay feature takes about three times longer to implement if it also has to work in multiplayer.
Now, without a big publisher funding our new project and without any in-house expertise in writing
network code, it was clear that we had to make a single-player only game. And yet, a lot of fans would like to see a separate multiplayer mode in Everspace to scratch their Freelancer itch, and we
don’t want to rule it out entirely in case the right partner comes along. But, for now, there are no
EVERSPACE is listed among the officially confirmed Xbox One X enhanced games. Can you tell us the enhancements you're planning for this version? What do you think of the console?
There is no denying, for a console, the Xbox One X is a beast, and we are glad that it closes the gap to mid-class gaming PCs. Of course, you will always have more computing and rendering power in a high-end gaming PC, but it will come at a much higher cost, in a much bigger casing, and with more maintenance effort. On console, Everspace has never looked better and played more smoothly than on the Xbox One X, hands down.
However, it took us a while to make the most out of its power when running Everspace on Xbox One X in 4K but also in 1080p because we had to migrate the whole project to a higher version of Unreal Engine 4, twice. Finally, the build for Xbox One X was approved by our friends at Microsoft just a few days ago, and we are excited to share that Everspace runs on Xbox One X in native 4K with 30 fps looking super crisp. On a full HD screen, it runs with 60 fps in native 1080p (instead of 83% screen resolution on Xbox One (S) with an improved level of detail distance settings as well as better shadow, shader, lighting, and VFX quality.
Now, before we can release the enhanced version, we have to bring the UWP version of the game to Unreal Engine 4.17, too. This is due to the fact Everspace supports XPA requiring cross-platform
compatibility for save games. From our experience with porting to UWP so far, it is hard to predict
how long this will take, but we are hoping it will be just a matter of a few weeks. Or, in the best case
scenario, just a couple of days.
Will EVERSPACE launch on PlayStation 4 and if so, are you also preparing PSVR support?
Porting Everspace to PS4 and PS4 Pro has already been completed and we have just announced
partnering with our Spanish friends from Badland to also have a boxed “Galactic Edition” coming out on May 29th.
Granted, the PS4 Pro does not provide the same oomph as the Xbox One X does, but even in
checkerboard 4K, the game looks significantly better. The same goes for running Everspace on the
PS4 Pro in 1080p because we made similar visual improvements as we did on Xbox One X. However, on PS4 Pro, we had to slightly downsample the 3D scene to maintain 60 fps most of the time.
We won’t be offering PSVR support, though. It took us a lot of time to get VR support ready on PC,
and we still run into new issues when migrating to a newer version of Unreal Engine. Also, there
seem to be more titles that are VR exclusive for good reason, like performance optimization and
gameplay that works well in VR. While VR players on PC immensely enjoy traversing our beautiful
Everspace universe, the game is probably a little too fast-paced for the optimal VR experience which is even truer when running on current gen console hardware.
The game is made with the Unreal Engine 4, which fully supports the Nintendo Switch. Do you think the console's hardware could run EVERSPACE and if so, are you considering a port?
For a team with its root in mobile gaming, we are super excited about the Switch, naturally. We have always loved the ubiquity of mobile gaming devices in general, and the Switch even comes with proper analog controllers which is very much needed if you want to have a proper console-style experience on the go – as much fun it was to play Galaxy on Fire 1 and 2 on smartphones and tablets, touch controls have never been the best fit for a 6DOF space shooter.
More importantly, Nintendo’s DNA has always been a great “mobile” gaming experience with a
premium pricing policy keeping the perceived value of its games at console level and keeping the
platform from being cluttered by too many shovelware. The success of the Switch proved Nintendo
right, and we have started looking into an Everspace port a few weeks ago.
Now, while I cannot share any further details about a release date or pricing, I definitely can share
that our mobile gaming background already paid off: Everspace runs super smoothly, and it looks just gorgeous on the device. We still have to optimize the performance when running on the big screen, but we are getting there. So, stay tuned for more!
Thank you for your time.