Haydn Dalton talks loot, driftpacs and game design pivots in Drifters Loot The Galaxy

Haydn Dalton talks loot, driftpacs and game design pivots in Drifters Loot The Galaxy

Drifters Loot The Galaxy is a free to play 5v5 hero shooter that delivers manic, Driftpac-fueled aerial and ground combat. The colorful host of playable intergalactic scoundrels only goals in life are get rich, get dangerous, and unburden the galaxy of its precious loot. Clusterfukt Media caught up with Haydn Dalton, creative director of this wild new hero shooter to get the details on Blind Squirrel Games’ first original IP, the unique Driftpac concept and the challenges that come with creating a unique hero shooter experience.

“We spent quite a bit of time getting the art-style right, knowing that we wanted to create something that was unique and fit the identity of the game.”

Haydn Dalton, Creative Director, Drifters Loot The Galaxy.
Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  1. Is Drifters Loot The Galaxy the first original IP from Blind Squirrel Games?

Yes!  Blind Squirrel Games has been active in the gaming industry for over ten years now, and during that time we have been fortunate enough to work with a lot of leading developers and publishers in a work-for-hire capacity.  Over time we have accumulated a lot of experience and talent internally, and we have always had the goal to see our own ideas become reality, and thus Drifters Loot the Galaxy was born. 

  1. What is the storyline/lore of Drifters Loot The Galaxy?

“Drifters actually had a much different design during our Open Beta that took place last year.”

Haydn Dalton, Creative Director, Drifters Loot The Galaxy.

The Drifters Loot the Galaxy universe was created by an all-powerful deity, who’s actually more of a drunken layabout named Bob.  He originally succeeded in creating a very well-organized and advanced universe, at least by our current standards.  But he thought it was boring and totally sucked. So, in a wave of fire, brimstone, and booze, Bob decimated his creation and started over.  At least he assumes he did. He doesn’t remember. 

As a result of this rebuilding process, something weird happened. Remnants of the old universe started poking through the new. This place is called the Anomaly. It’s dangerous, unpredictable and… loaded with loot! The perfect place for a bunch of insane misfits to make some cash. The Drifters are a group of ragtag intergalactic raiders that discovered this spot and did what they do best: Exploited it!

Drifters Loot The Galaxy

When they’re not looting, you can find the Drifters at their favorite watering hole (well, their only watering hole), The Exiles Return. This isn’t just the spot to get a hot beer and a fetid bar-mat shot, it’s also where the Drifters get their next job. The Barkeeper knows all, and the only way you’re getting the good loot is by playing nice and staying on her good side – if she even has one of those.

So now Bob watches from afar as this new, colorful cast of characters loots his creation. And Bob is pleased. Bob is entertained.  For now…

“… we looked for a way to extend the “master of movement” concept further and take away the pressure from the hook. That is where the idea for the Driftpac came in.”

Haydn Dalton, Creative Director, Drifters Loot The Galaxy.
  1. What inspired the cartoon bounty-hunter aesthetic of the game?
Drifters Loot The Galaxy

Saturday morning cartoons were a big inspiration for us when we set out finalizing the art direction.  We spent quite a bit of time getting the art-style right, knowing that we wanted to create something that was unique and fit the identity of the game.  After some searching and testing, we came upon the idea of mixing what the Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse movie was doing with Blindspot (Love, Death & Robots: Episode 15).  As soon as we tried the style out, it was clear we had hit on what was right for the title.  A goal for us was that if people saw a screenshot of our game, with or without characters in it, they would be able to know it was Drifters. That meant it had an identity of its own.  

  1. The combination of the grappling hook and jetpack makes the action fast and furious. What inspired this unique combination?

There was an internal demo Blind Squirrel Games had been working on which featured a grappling hook and heavy physics use. That is where the original inspiration for the grappling hook came from, but we wanted to reduce its range and present more of a skilled element to its use. Saying that, in a shooter, we also did not want players focusing too much on objects that are not the enemy, so we looked for a way to extend the “master of movement” concept further and take away the pressure from the hook.  That is where the idea for the Driftpac came in. It complements the restrictions of the hook by allowing players full 360 movement in a natural way.  Grappling hooks allow for unlimited, very quick traversal boosts/movement re-directions with the restriction of grapple range, while Drifting provides limited, but full 360 movement. When used together, they provide a whole unique way to navigate environments in or out of combat.

Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  1. The jetpack and grappling hook combo gives an unprecedented sense of speed and verticality to the movement in Drifters. How has this direction impacted map design choices?

Having two different player-actions that provide a huge amount of traversal utility did have a big impact on how we approached map design.  Firstly, and the most obvious one, is that our maps needed to be a little larger than normal PVP maps, to allow players to fully realize the use of these abilities throughout the maps.  Players can cover both horizontal and vertical space very quickly, so we did not want them to feel too cramped when using them.  We had to make sure we gave players opportunities to use their new movement abilities to enter areas in different ways.  So instead of just having standard doors, we wanted things like like elevated windows, holes in the roof, grapple points on the outside of a cylinder that lets the player swing around a corner, suspended bridges which facilitate entering an area from below, or the ability to drift underneath a bridge to use it as a shield.  The new traversal tools really allowed us to create spaces that can be utilized in many different ways.

Once the shackles of the ground are shed, and players take part in a 360 dogfight with friends and enemies, it is like no other game out there.

Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  1. The neutral enemy creeps and dynamic Level-Up system give the game a MOBA-esque feel. How did you arrive at this system and how has it impacted character design?

Drifters actually had a much different design during our Open Beta that took place last year.  We were working on three modes at the same time: Bounty, Plunder and Capture the Flag.  However, these all dispersed the action around the level, leading to a lack of team fights and the matches felt a bit flat in terms of intensity.  We knew that we needed to make some pretty big changes.

We felt it was better to put all of our focus on a single mode, and make sure we had a solid core to work from before branching out with multiple gameplay styles.  The most positive feedback we received from fans was when the action centered around a single objective during our Plunder-mode game type, so we decided to make our main gamemode center on a singular objective, which is now the Payload. Also, we felt like looting and progression weren’t integral enough to our design, so we added neutral enemies and loot throughout the level, as well as an upgradable tech tree.  This allows for the intensity to continuously grow during a match, as well as some player choice in how they want to build their character.  The end result is a natural crescendo in intensity and some pretty killer team fights toward the end of the match. 

Once we were happy with the direction that the Push the Payload mode was headed, we realized that each of the Drifters didn’t necessarily have the best abilities suited for this gameplay style, and most needed some major adjustments.  We also needed to ensure that each had well-balanced Tech Tree options that gave players easy-to-understand upgrade paths based on their playstyle.  So we went through the process of redesigning each of the character abilities, collecting feedback from our community on a weekly basis.  We now have five characters whose gameplay design we are confident in, and are currently redesigning the other characters we had previously been working on. 

“We are currently working on redesigning Hibbs, who was a playable character in our Open Beta, along with a few other character designs we previously had in progress.”

Haydn Dalton, Creative Director, Drifters Loot The Galaxy.
Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  1. Did these design choices come with any unforeseen challenges during development?

Actually, we encountered more challenges prior to pivoting to our new gameplay design.  We could tell that our drifting and grappling mechanics lead to some fun and exciting traversal options, but it was difficult to pinpoint exactly why the game wasn’t meshing as well as we would have liked. 

Once we refocused around our new direction, we almost immediately received improved feedback from our community, and the internal team had a renewed sense of excitement for the game. 

That’s not to say that we didn’t encounter any difficulties during the redesign.  One example is how Ziggy ended up translating to the new gameplay type.  When Ziggy was first re-introduced, the feedback was extremely polarized; where some had a lot of fun sniping players from a distance, others felt Ziggy was breaking the game.  We ended up changing Ziggy’s playstyle significantly, moving toward a more mid-ranged, damage-over-time design, making the character a bit more vulnerable when on the attack.  Ziggy’s new ultimate ability still gives players the satisfaction of one-shot kills, but you only get three chances to land them in a limited amount of time, leading to some intense moments and high-pressure shots you’d expect from a sniper-based character.  

  1. The game is entering Early Access on April 15th. What gameplay modes and characters will it offer upon release?

The Early Access version of Drifters Loot the Galaxy is a 5v5 team-based, hero shooter, centered around our primary mode, Push the Payload.  Players need to defeat neutral enemies and collect loot to upgrade their individual abilities, then work together to push the payload to their dropship for a huge score.  Along the way, each side has a mid-way checkpoint that generates a large drop of team loot, that really speeds up player progression and provides a good team incentive to start focusing on the main objective early. 

We are starting with five playable Drifters, based on the following gameplay styles:

Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  • Resistor – Attack – Full-auto rifle, explosive high-damage abilities
  • Gogo – Support – Healing and damaging beams, support and teleportation abilities
  • Ziggy – Assassin – Semi-auto rifle upgradable with a long-range scope, toxic damage-over-time abilities
  • Sumo – Juggernaut – Close-range shotgun, protective and shutdown abilities
  • Halley – Juggernaut – High-damage asteroid launcher, protective and shutdown abilities

We are currently working on redesigning Hibbs, who was a playable character in our Open Beta, along with a few other character designs we previously had in progress.  We don’t have exact dates for when these will be available, but hope to have them in players hands relatively soon. 

Our pre-release matches have been an integral part of our recent design pivot…”

Haydn Dalton, Creative Director, Drifters Loot The Galaxy.
  1. Dedicated fans have been able to get in on special gameplay sessions before the upcoming Early Access release. What have been your impressions of these pre-release matches?

We can’t thank our core community enough for all the support and feedback they have provided, and continue to provide, during our development process.  Their feedback has been extremely helpful in guiding the product toward its new direction, and we would not have been able to arrive at our current design without their help. 

Our pre-release matches have been an integral part of our recent design pivot, and we have been collecting feedback through both remote interviews and surveys.  Almost instantly the feedback became more positive once the team was focused on Push the Payload mode, and their suggestions have helped us fine-tune our character designs. 

We are extremely excited to open up Drifters Loot the Galaxy to a wider audience, start collecting more feedback and continue to iterate on the game in a live environment to make Drifters the quality hero-shooter experience our fans desire. 

Drifters Loot The Galaxy
  1. What is the thing you are most excited for players to experience?

The combination of action and the traversal mechanics has always been the thing we have been excited for players to experience in Drifters. Once the shackles of the ground are shed, and players take part in a 360 dogfight with friends and enemies, it is like no other game out there.  Even in our early tests, escaping or chasing a target seamlessly from ground to air, in, on and around environment structures felt great.

Check out the official website for Drifters Loot The Galaxy here. Early Access is available now on Steam!

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