Exclusive – Mike Diskett Talks Kickstarter, Espionage, And The Games Industry

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Mike Diskett brings a healthy amount of industry experience to the table wherever he finds himself. One of his most notable projects, Syndicate Wars, elaborated on the themes of corporate espionage and cyberpunk visuals the freshmen installment of the now long running Syndicate series created. Video games of the early 90′s and to a certain extent today offer an ‘on rails’ experience that doesn’t allow creative solutions to problems. Diskett and the team at 5 Lives Studios want to offer plenty of underhanded, unsavory ways to deal with opposing forces in their crowdfunding project – Satellite Reign. Last week I had the chance to toss some questions at Mike, and after some contemplation, he provided some fantastic responses. To cut down on jargon we’ll hereafter be referring to Satellite Reign as SR.

The team at 5 Lives Studios has by and large been working together for over a decade. That’s obviously going to benefit the teams efforts in a plethora of ways. What would you say is the biggest advantage of knowing what each other has had for breakfast every morning for the past ten years?

Actually the Australian bunch have been working together a long time, I came over to oz about 5 years ago and met up with the guys a few years ago, so I’m the new guy, but I’m also the old guy.

We know that Mike D served as the lead on Syndicate Wars, did anyone else that’s part of the core 5 Lives Studios team work on the project?

Mitch,Brent Dean and Chris are too young to have worked on the syndicate games, but they all were big fans of the games. Mitch was still in nappies when the first game came out, mind you he was in nappies until the age of 15.

Assassination, persuasion, bribery, and a slew of other underhanded tactics are essential to success in the open world of Satellite Reign (hereafter SR). What is it about corporate espionage gets the team’s blood pumping?

It’s not so much the corporate espionage as the setting the corps are in, the fact that corps have replaced Government and see the people as nothing more than a resource. Taking on these corps only to replace them with an even harsher iron fist fills me with a feeling of evil delight.

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SR is described as an open world RTS, but will it provide a true open world experience? What percentage of structures will be interactive?

It will be open world, there’s corporate checkpoints hindering your traversal through the city (in a 1984 style), but that’s part of the gameplay figuring out how to get around and through those checkpoints.

The Cyberpunk aesthetic is once again used in SR. My favorite use of the theme was probably the film The Fifth Element. What are some of the team’s beloved uses of Cyberpunk in entertainment?

Blade runner is still the standard by which all cyberpunk has to be measured, and I my opinion its still the master despite being 30+ years old. 

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Class based, RTS gives the player so many options to get the job done. What are some of the innovative gear and augmentation types built into SR?

I don’t want to give too much away here, but here’s a couple of cool items we have in mind, the support agent has a backpack that can be deployed into a sort of robotic creature we are calling “Big Dog” this dog can be used as a sort of movable deploy-able cover, and can later be upgraded to include a shield and other augmentation. The hacker has the ability to communicate wirelessly with electronic devices, this allows him to control armored flying drones, these can be upgraded to be used for shields or even remote control flying miniguns.

What makes the Unity Engine such an appealing choice for developers?

There’s a lot of great things about unity, with 4.0 its rendering engine is world class, all our cinematic intro is actually just rendered straight out of unitys gameplay scene. It has a really fast iterative workflow, it brings all the essentials you need, scripting , navigation light mapping, animation blending, IK. For me one of the best things is just how extensible the editor is, you can add all sort of tools yourself, and this coupled with an asset store that lets you add all kinds of interesting add-ons, makes it unbeatable. 

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How many FPS (frames per second) will SR run?

That’s really a how long is a piece of string question, How good is your PC? I will be aiming for the game to run at a minimum of 30 fps on even older hardware (My Own PC is 4 or 5 years old, although it was top of the range back then – quad core 4 Gig ram 8800 Nvidia GPU) 

Was Kickstarter crowdfunding your first choice for funding SR, or your last choice?

 It was really our only choice, It is literally the only way to fund a game like this unless we fund it ourselves, and I don’t have a months worth of savings, never mind a years worth :) Publishers only really look at AAA titles from big teams for funding, self funding only really works for much smaller teams, so for the middle ground of games that require a few hundred thousand Dollars, Kickstarter is really the only way unless you have a rich uncle :)

As we all know, crowdfunding has seen it’s share of setbacks. How is the team going to avoid pitfalls like delays in development crowdfunding has presented in the past? Are you worried that stretch goals may complicate development?

Stretch goals are tricky, in fact its quite hard in general designing a game when you don’t know how much money you will have, do we have 8 months or 18 months to work on the game. Fortunately we are able to scale quite a lot of our work, more money == bigger world with more variety, more factions, more varied art sets and city districts. 

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Mike, based on your long running career in the gaming industry. In your opinion, what’s the state of the industry as it sits right now?

The games industry has always been in flux, but I think the AAA games industry has almost killed itself off, I see so many studios shut down (I’ve been through 5 studio closures myself). AAA games have been in a race to the top, more and more detail, bigger and bigger teams, more cinematics, huge budgets, AAA games have become incredibly expensive to make but haven’t become an ounce more fun. So many games have lost money that publishers have had to take less and less risks until they are just left with a few faithful franchises they churn out year after year, to ever bigger fanfare. A the same time mobile has come along and done the opposite a race to the bottom, games for a $1, so many games its near impossible to get noticed. That is part of the reason I want to stick to my roots PC gaming, its the only sane place to try and survive in the indie game dev world at the moment.

As Mike mentioned, throughout his extended time in the games industry, things have changed. But it seems as of late momentum is starting to shift in the way of smaller developers being able to make their dream projects without compromising their bold visions for the almighty dollar. My most recent editorial talks about this fact in detail. Without the industry being in a state of flux, great projects like Satellite Reign may not have had the opportunity to be crowdfunded. I want to thank Mike for taking the time to answer our questions, and don’t forget to check out Satellite Reign on Kickstarter. They’re about to bust through their initial goal, but the intriguing concept, great aesthetic, and fun gameplay options make Satellite Reign a must play title, so back it! Don’t forget to check out our weekly Kickstarter Spotlight article, and all the other fantastic offerings here on iGR. Follow us on Twitter to stay up to date, and like us on Facebook for monthly chances to win great prizes!

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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