Contract Work is a futuristic, RPG-infused, 2D shooter, a labor of love by the one man team of Iterative Games, Kee-Won Hong. Narrowly fulfilling its goal on Kickstarter, this challenging, fast-paced game is well on its way to putting a bit of strategy and hacking into the bullet-riddled platformer. After a few hours on the beta version, I got the chance to ask its creator about the journey of Contract Work’s production.
TechZwn: On your Kickstarter page, you mention blending influences of RPG elements of System Shock 2 and Deus Ex with the cyberpunk atmosphere of Ghost in the Shell or Akira, against the action of old-school shooters like Megaman and Contra. However, when playing the beta, the mouse-and-keyboard setup seemed reminiscent of indie and flash twitch-shooters of recent years. Have there been any contemporary games, commercial or free, that have given you encouragement or inspiration?
Hong: There have obviously been many sources of inspiration for Contract Work, but a more modern standout would be Intrusion 2, which is an ‘old school’ feel shooter that uses a mouse/keyboard setup. I had a lot of fun playing it and felt the weapons especially were very well done! In terms of art style, a couple contemporary sources of inspiration for me were Super Time Force and Transistor, both of which feature heroes battling robotic foes in a futuristic setting.
TechZwn: Contract Work has some very arena-shooter elements to it. At the tail-end of your Kickstarter campaign, you added stretch goals for competitive and cooperative multiplayer. At this point in development, does that still feel like a possibility for the finished product, and do you feel that Kickstarter offers the flexibility to grant you time for extra modes or polish?
Hong: So I’ve decided to release Contract Work in a ‘Minecraft’ style, where I plan to keep pushing more content and updates (with some incremental price increases). I’d love to see competitive and especially co-operative multiplayer happen, and if the game keeps selling it will definitely happen! Kickstarter was great for me in securing enough funding to make it to this point (initial release) but I planned and executed a pretty tight campaign (not a lot of extra money after expenses) so the flexibility is possible more because of the business model and because having a web based product makes pushing updates incredibly easy.
TechZwn: Upgrading and multiple solutions seem to be an incredibly important aspect of Contract Work. Was balancing the values of the various perks ever a struggle throughout development?
Hong: It was a struggle throughout development and something that I’m still tweaking now! Since the abilities and weapons are very diverse, there’s no easy equation I can do to balance things out. But another benefit of the web-based model is that I can collect a lot of data on what players are favoring and what their results are, and then make adjustments accordingly so there’s no dominant strategy that makes it too easy to win.
TechZwn: Before you began the Kickstarter campaign for Contract Work, you were employed by Toy Studio Games developing mobile games. How was the transition from a corporate backer to a Kickstarter campaign?
Hong: Toy Studio was a small outfit, so the development work I did was similar to working on an indie title (I was basically responsible for all the code on a project). However, the thing that I had to learn when I went indie was the marketing side of game development…it takes a lot of thought, inspiration and effort to pull off well! I must have spent a week just tweaking my Kickstarter Page. It’s been a great learning process (Protip – don’t run your Kickstarter during GDC…) and I’m just happy and thankful that it’s been working out so far.
TechZwn: Contract Work seems to have a consistent theme surrounding the businessman lifestyle, from the objectives of the missions, raising status of the avatar, to the very title of the game itself. You mentioned on your Kickstarter campaign page that you were laid off just prior to the development of Contract Work. Do you feel that the ejection from your prior job inspired the subjects of this game, or was it something else?
Hong: Originally I didn’t go into the game thinking I would be making a commentary on modern employment, but during development it certainly worked it’s way in. It fits with the uncertainty of the cyberpunk universe of the game…this isn’t a black and white scenario, where you’re the loyal soldier. And that’s a reflection of the modern workforce – you can’t be dependent on a particular company to take care of you for your entire career (I’ve been laid off twice in the last few years, and also changed companies for new opportunities), so your future is really in your own hands. It supports one of the most central themes in Contract Work, that idea of personal choice – the game gives you lots of options, and you choose what you use to be successful – it’s not going to tell you what’s right or wrong. And that choice is just going to keep expanding in the upcoming updates – right now there is only one ending to the game, but it’s not going to stay that way for long.