PAX East 2014: Interview with GALAK-Z's Senior Producer

Interviews, Videos

Many of you might not have heard of GALAK-Z: The Dimensional from 17-Bit Studios, but I hope to change that. Set in a universe where you are the star of an epic anime style space saga, GALAK-Z puts you behind the stick of a sleek and powerful spacecraft. Combining a surprising range of game types, GALAK-Z truly gives you the feel that you are piloting a weightless spaceship with a variety of upgradeable weaponry.

Not only did I have the chance to go hands on with GALAK-Z, I was also able to interview the game’s Senior Producer, Raj Joshi. Keep reading to learn more about this fun and challenging game directly from the developer himself.

Kris Rey: Tell me a little bit about GALAK-Z. I don’t think many people have seen it or are aware of it, but we are going to help solve that.

Raj Joshi: GALAK-Z is an homage back to 80’s anime series. Jake Kazdal—the creative director, art director, and CEO—absolutely adored Macross and Robotech while growing, up as many of us did. We wanted to bring that experience to gamers, but actually give gamers the chance to play it. In GALAK-Z, you actually get to be that star fighter pilot. We really think it’s a beautiful mix of 2D and 3D graphics while bringing you those addictive gameplay mechanics you get in an arcade experience. This game delivers that experience, but with modern graphics, AI, and physics.

It’s Rogue-like, meaning that it is procedurally generated, but we like to say procedurally assembled. We hand-craft and tune every single encounter you will experience. However, which encounters you will see and how they are strung together is totally different every time you play. Really like those Saturday morning cartoon shows, you have the same characters you know and love while learning more about their back story and the overall world. In GALAK-Z, you get this in bits and pieces, but we really focus in on the moment-to-moment gameplay, which we feel is the core of the experience.

Just like those Saturday morning shows, every once and a while you have an hour-long special pitting you against an uber boss, letting you dig in a little deeper. We had planned to do a 5-6 hour linear story. But instead of trying to service that narrative, we wanted to give you the gameplay people fiend for and then wrap it in story to keep you engaged. We don’t want anyone skipping the cut scenes, so we keep them short. We keep them pertinent and then we get you back into the gameplay.

Kris: Speaking of gameplay, it looks like GALAK-Z pays homage to a lot of different game types. Can you tell us what inspired this combination of gameplay?

Raj: We are big fans of other Rogue-likes namely Spelunky and Rogue Legacy. We love the Spelunky daily challenge. You jump in and play for five minutes or two hours, but…you never play the same content twice and you are constantly learning. We realized that is something we wanted to do because we adore games that focus on core gameplay…

Obviously, you will see that the game is a space shooter. As you saw in the demo, it uses a very different style of controls. The control paradigm is different to give you the feeling of really piloting a weightless craft. However, the enemies don’t act like other space shooters.

Jake loves Halo and Far Cry 3, and they were a huge influence that drove us to focus on really smart AI and really fantastic encounter designs. That 30-second burst of fun really translates to GALAK-Z. In Far Cry 3 the enemies have vision cones, they communicate with each other, they can hear you, and they are always on patrol. In our game, scouts will come in, see you, and turn about-face Paul Revere-style to warn other enemies.

Sentient—the group we are working with on AI—has helped create some really intelligent AI. Every faction and enemy unit you come across has a different type of AI and is tuned specifically for that unit. This means that you will have to formulate different strategies for different unit compositions, and it’s one of the things we love about this game. You can play for hours and not get the same type of encounter... The more you get used to the controls and the better you get at it, the more the game starts to open up. When you watch Jake play this really shows, it is like watching a strange space death ballet.

Kris: One of the things I like most about this game is how well the lighting sources react with the environment. When you shoot rockets, the light bounces off of every surface and looks incredible. Can you talk about the engine you are using?

Raj: So we are using Unity, which is pretty robust and allows us to support many platforms. We are doing a ton of stuff with lighting and Unity allows us to load up the scene with many different light sources. Directional lights and ambient lighting, plus all the enemies and weapons, add lighting to the scene. We are really trying to push the limits and are constantly doing that dance between performance and visual flair. We are trying to do something you wouldn’t expect to see. You may not think we are a 3D game but we are doing a lot in regards to combining 2D and 3D to support the style of art and create spectacular environments.

Kris: As an enthusiast PC gamer, what can you tell me about the PC version of the game? Will there be any special features?

Raj: Right now, we are trying to figure out what the special offering will be on Steam. The PS4 version is coming out first towards the end of summer, but will release shortly after on Steam. We are huge Steam advocates and we love the PC because your game can go anywhere with you. Especially with a device like NVIDIA SHIELD, once you get that game on Steam, it is in your pocket. We know there are a huge number of indie fans on Steam so we want to do something special.

One of the things we want to implement is daily challenges, similar to Spelunky. We are thinking through multi-player and even a bounty hunter mode similar to Dark Souls. Imagine someone jumping in your game and challenging you with a twist. We want to set up a wagering system where if you think you can take someone out, you can use in-game currency to put your money where your mouth is. We want to do everything we can to ensure the community plays with each other. These features won’t be in at initial launch but it might make it in time for the Steam version.

Kris: The game is quite challenging and I really appreciate that. Not many games have that F-you difficulty anymore. As a gamer, you want a game that can defeat you and gets you fired up. You may put the controller down, but you will come back hell-bent on defeating that portion of the game.

Raj: People love competing for high scores because it is so brutal and punishing. I remember Ninja Gaiden on the original Nintendo and I would die over and over. I was young, so no one told me I was pretty much killing myself with frustration.

Kris: You were stripping away little pieces of your soul one death at a time.

Raj: Exactly, and this is where we come from. I think the game still appeals to the casual gamer because of the design and you can learn the basics of the controls easily. We want it to be challenging and we want people that invest time to feel like they are evolving. As this happens, the game changes. The best thing is that as you progress through each stage, the game gets more and more difficult. Because the game difficulty evolves with your progress, it never gets stale.

Kris: On a final note, if there was one thing you could tell our fans about GALAK-Z, what would that be?

Raj: You get to be the star of an epic anime style space-combat saga. It is incredibly rewarding from a visual and gameplay perspective, and you will never get the same gameplay experience twice.