Q&A: Eugene Zhukov, Digitilus
There have been a number of space games that have been forced to retreat from a faltering Kickstarter bid and with less than two days to go and more than $90,000 still to scan down, Skyjacker looks fairly certain to be the latest. It will not be for want of trying though, for it’s fair to say that updates have been relentless in revealing the impressive technology powering the game and the depth of the background material behind what still promises to be among the most accomplished and vibrant space shooters in recent memory.
As Kickstarter pitches go, it’s hard to point out precisely where Digitilus may have went wrong, but the good news is that CEO and Producer Eugene Zhukov won’t be allowing Skyjacker to slip quietly into obscurity. After months of preparation, ceaseless campiagning and answering inane email questions from inconsequential space game blogging sites at 4am, the fight for funding will continue.
PSF: Skyjacker is reaching the end of its second Kickstarter bid. How are you feeling – exhausted, confident, deflated, indifferent?
Eugene Zhukov: I feel a bit tired for sure. I’ve been driving this campaign for almost three months since our first launch back in May, plus a couple of months of preparation previous to that. But I’m glad that so many people found our game good enough to give us their pledges. It’s always inspiring to see such incredible support from thousands of people all around the World.
PSF: Let’s assume the worst and that you don’t hit the $200k goal by Monday, will Skyjacker effectively be shot down for good?
Eugene Zhukov: Absolutely not! Skyjacker was around before Kickstarter and we fully intend to make the game real no matter the circumstances. We are planning to change tactics. Instead of trying to reach a $200k tier, we’ll divide the whole project into stages and will launch them as a series of Kickstarters with budgets of no more than $15k-$20k each. Each will be a finished project, which will allow us to build the main project as we go along.
PSF: Is there a project you have lined up to go first?
Eugene Zhukov: The first will be an advanced version of Starship Disassembly, which will include all the enemy vessels from the main Skyjacker game. You’ll be able to take a good look at each of them and strip them down, but we’re also looking to add the functionality to fire weapons, throttle the engines and watch the ships explode into their constituent parts. Since we need to convert all the ships into the Unity environment and add demolition physics, the new Starship Disassembly project will work out well for us; allowing us to hit two birds with one stone by providing a new app for players while allowing us to move on with the main game.
PSF: Are we are we to expect a lesser Skyjacker or one that will just take a bit longer to complete?
Eugene Zhukov: Skyjacker cannot be less! We promised our supporters and we must deliver on those promises. We’ve set up a digital store so we can get funds through alternative channels, so a worst case scenario is that it might take a bit longer to complete Skyjacker, but it won’t be anything less than the game we’ve always talked about.
PSF: Skyjacker’s story seems to be set 20,000 years in the past, with aliens capturing a Cro Magnon man and turning him into a space buccaneer. Seems a rather curious/crazy idea – how did you come up it?
Eugene Zhukov: We decided to subvert the usual good-guy-takes-on-the-galaxy-and-wins scenario and have you play a very bad dude, whose plan is not about saving the world. He will steal, kill and make himself a gun for hire. Our initial storyline was even more radical and didn’t have humans at all, but we didn’t want to… er, alienate gamers who prefer to associate themselves with humans. As a result we created a story where where a wild savage of the human race gets to fly a spaceship in a completely alien universe.
PSF: Skyjacker does come across in videos and screenshots as vibrant and loud, camp and a bit nuts – Fifth Element meets Wing Commander, perhaps. Is it all of those things? For those that like dry and serious space sims, will they find those aspects in Skyjacker?
Eugene Zhukov: Well, thank you for the comparison. Fifth Element was a great movie. But anyway, it depends on what you mean by a dry and serious space sim. If all this is about the bright colors of the HUD and flashy environments, I’d point you to your car meter display or the Hubble telescope space photos. All of them are bright and flashy. Everything else in Skyjacker is quite serious: the flight models, ability to destroy ship parts, criminal background, aggression, treachery and death between stars. And the loneliness, the deep-seated loneliness of being the only human among all those aliens. What can be more serious than that?
PSF: The Skyjacker universe does seem rather packed with all manner of xeno-beings. Which of them are your favourites?
Eugene Zhukov: Balagores. They are like the Eastern Slavs after the Soviet Union collapsed – still kids in their souls, believing in miracles but lost in this new and hostile reality. At the same time they’re smart and can survive anything that gets thrown at them and always jump at the chance to improve their lot in life. To be honest, I have a few character sketches for a second book and the main hero is Balagore.
PSF: Skyjacker appears to be both mission-based and open-world, with layered objective-based missions rather than the usual ‘escort ship A to point B’ type stuff. How open is the world though? What insane things will we be able to get up to?
Eugene Zhukov: Planetary landing is probably the most anticipated feature in the game, followed by shooting ships into various pieces. The same will be true of the game environment, actually – we can break apart small asteroids, fly inside huge space station tunnels and fight the defense forces there.
PSF: Do you think that in offering every flight model in existence, from arcade-style FreeSpace combat to I-War style inertia, that there’s a danger the control system and interface will lack focus?
Eugene Zhukov: I don’t think so. Even in the current demo you can find changes in the game interface depending on the flight model selected. Duplex flight model uses different a speedometer, which works in positive and negative ranges, reflecting the possibility to move on and back. Furthermore, flying with the inertial model the player can change direction by using booster and roll function.
PSF: One of the most spectacular features of the game is the way the ships come apart when being attacked. It seems like a lot of work for just a few seconds of appreciation though. Is it?
Eugene Zhukov: It’s one of the most important features of the game. It really changes the way players used to play games. From the very abstract ‘shoot there for a long time to kill ship’ the player must target ship sections to attain a specific result.
PSF: Skyjacker is clearly being made through a deep love of space gaming, with nods to almost every type of gameplay over the last 30 years. Is there anything we won’t be able to do in Skyjacker?
Eugene Zhukov: During the Kickstarter campaign we’ve gotten a lot of suggestions for what we should add to secure a pledge, from Firefly starships to medieval space knights from Poul Anderson’s “The High Crusade”. One guy wrote about having hot aliens in sleazy space bars. Another man asked us to add mining and trade.
I can officially confirm there will be none of these things. There will be no time to flirt in some sleazy space bar with alien kitties, or mine/trade resources. In this game we will do only two things: fly in space and shoot others flying there. But we do all our very best to make these two things as advanced as and polished as it’s possible to imagine. We prefer to stay focused on those goals.
PSF: How do you see development progressing over the next 12 months? When might your backers gain access to more of the game?
Eugene Zhukov: We will need at least six months to transfer everything from our current game engine to the new platform (Unity) before we can let players test anything. Furthermore, there is a huge list of features; suggestions from backers and our own ideas we want to incorporate. It’s a huge list, and we must find a way to realise as many items on it as possible… while staying focused on those goals
In two months before the end of development we plan to start our marketing campaign and releasing a new demo. That’s the general plan, but who know how will it go. In any case, gamers should will get a chance to play the Skyjacker beta next Spring, with the final build planned for the Summer of 2013. We’ll see.