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Sanctuary: Shattered Sun dev interview - PAX recap and future roadmap

On Friday I had the opportunity to sit down the Nine2 and Special_Bread to discuss what happened when Sanctuary: Shattered Sun took a trip to PAX AUS ’23. The resulting conversation, as happens when talking to two people passionate about their product, took many tangents, many wrong turns, lots of diversions and ultimately came down to what you see in the following article.

[TL;DR summary: PAX was incredible… Kickstarter possible before July 2024… Beta to Patreon Supporters first… Demo with Kickstarter will be a mini-campaign… Early Access on Steam a year after Kickstarter… Enhearten Media roadmap features fourteen games… Possibly working on another title in a few months… Investors welcome…]

Tell me about the PAX experience.

Nine2: PAX was incredible. The feedback for Sanctuary was overwhelmingly great! People loved it. For those aware of Supcom (Supreme Commander) they instantly recognised the inspiration behind Sanctuary. Those unaware of Supcom were blown away by the idea behind strategic zoom. We’re talking ‘jaws on the floor’ levels of impressed. They were shown the demo and bases being blown up. When they saw the fracturing of the sphere – first the base is blown up, and then the ground cracks and everything falls into the sun, and then the sunlight streams through – it was just awesome to see the look on peoples faces. They were like, “Oh, My God!” People loved the game.

I went through how the superweapons, the sphere crackers, could be used to create chokepoints, how they could be used defensively to deny access to your base. There are so many different uses for these awesome weapons beyond just blowing things up.

I explained the backstory, the Dyson Sphere, the setting, the factions. People saw this was an entire world that was being built here and the stories which could be set in this world. You could have an adventure game set in the same universe. People were really interested in exploring this.

I showed people the freezing effect. It’s less visually spectacular but far more strategic in how it is used. We’ll have these strategic zones – no one has done that in RTS games before. Sure, there are maybe occasions where you can capture a supply depot or get extra money, but to be able to control whether or not there is a navy. That’s never been done before. So if you control the atmosphere generator you can decide to freeze the ocean and navy cannot be used anymore. All the ships just become trapped. Tanks can roll right across.

One thing that was clear is that people just want an RTS game. There’s a real market out there for a new RTS.

Al: With all this interest did you see an uptick in signups for the Kickstarter?

Nine2: We got a huge amount of email sign ups for Kickstarter. Development is in good shape but not yet good enough for the Kickstarter. There were lots of signups. We’ll message people when it’s available.

Al: When do you think the Kickstarter will launch?

kick.pngNine2: We’re not sure of when the Kickstarter will be released. We weren’t sure about putting the game out on Steam when we did. There were lots of conversations about whether we should do that. We don’t want to launch the Kickstarter too soon. We want to make sure we have something that people will love so we’re working on a minor campaign for people to play through. We don’t just want to say, “here’s multiplayer, go have fun”, we want to give people an experience they will enjoy so a single player mission will be the way forward.

Bread: We don’t want to launch too soon but we don’t want to leave it too late either. You want to make sure you have enough time from when the Kickstarter happens to that you can spend that money on the game. We are looking at Q1 or Q2 2024 for Kickstarter. Before July, before the summer. Don’t hold us to that as things might change but that is what we are looking at right now.

Al: I want to talk more about the freeze effect. What happens when the atmosphere generator is captured and sea unfrozen. What happens to the tanks crossing at the moment?

Nine2: Well, hover tanks will be okay and amphibious tanks might be, but those which are not supposed to be able to cross the water. Sure, they’ll be destroyed.

Al: What about going in the other direction? So you have the sea, which can be frozen, what about if the temperature is dialled up and all the water evaporates?

Nine2: We actually thought about that before. There was talk about that sort of stuff but no commitment. I personally think that it is not a good move because it was too many things for a player to think about however freeze on or off, it has a lot going on but a player can understand that. But were were talking about there could be five stages, you could lower the water level and now there’s land bridges and all sorts of stuff.

We’re going to look at that stuff later and that’s our general philosophy with everything. We don’t really make black and white decisions on anything. We’re just going to look at it, once we start playing it. Keep in mind these are stretch goals, on Kickstarter. We don’t have funding to do shatter or freeze at this time. There is no point in us spending a long time designing those features. We just need to make sure that the code we are running today will be compatible with those things.

Al: One of the things that we first ever talked about was Kickstarter and that it was supposed to happen in December last year. You said it was put off because you received funding which meant you didn’t need to go to Kickstarter just yet. What’s the situation now?

Nine2: There’s always this balance. We just need the demo to be good enough to launch Kickstarter. So we’re eyeing it everyday saying, “are we at that point today?” If we got some more money we might be able to wait a bit longer. It’s a balancing act, right? It’s something we need to keep our eyes on all the time, which is why we can’t commit to a date.

Bread: Scheduling is hard, right? You never know how long something is going to take. It always takes longer than you think. What goes on in my head with Kickstarter dates is, “is an extra month going to make it extra better?” And at some point the answer is going to be “no” and then we’ll release it. But right now the answer is yes. If we work on it an extra month it will be better when it finally launches.

Nine2: The longer you leave it the better it looks and the more people are likely to invest because they believe in you more.

Bread: There is also the thing where if you release it too close to the final game people will ask, well what’s the money for really? You need at least six months between Kickstarter and release of the game.

Al: After Kickstarter would you be looking at Early Access on Steam?

Nine2: It all depends on funding and stuff, but yes! Early Access has other advantages beside funding because you can get feedback from your core players.

Bread: With Early Access you get to launch the game twice. When you launch for Early Access you got a load of Steam visibility and when you launch for real you get more Steam visibility. It’s a big thing. Early Access is almost like a soft release.

Al: Is that something which is on the timeline?

Nine2: We think that a year after the Kickstarter we’ll have enough to do the Early Access. There will be enough playable fun content there to keep people interested and we will be delivering features over time to make it better.

Al: Well, I’ll be signing up, so you have at least one.

Nine2: We’ve had 15,000 people sign up to say they’re interested in the beta. So that’s the other thing we’re talking about doing soon is doing some small beta tests. When we launch the beta we are thinking of making it available first to Patreon supporters. These are the people who have backed the game. They have believed in what we are doing and put their money into Sanctuary. We want to reward them for that. So it will probably be Patreon which gets the beta first.

We had a big chat about the demo today. You can’t just throw it to the masses and have 100,000 people testing it for the first time. That could work out very badly. There might be major problems.

Bread: I guarantee there will be major problems. You can’t release a beta without bugs.

Nine2: Have faith!

Bread: Never!

Al: okay, tell me more about the whole PAX experience.

Nine2: So there was lots of colourful characters there. Lots of people in cosplay. Then you have all the fans walking around and checking out stuff. Then you have the business people. We had a marketing guy. There was a guy who can help us make t-shirts. We have composers who want to make music for us. Some other game creators. Any one who is connected to an RTS game came to visit. The only one I missed was the guy from Tempest Rising. He came but I was busy. That was disappointing. We talked to people from Rusted Warfare, Zero-K. The guy who runs Zero-K. That was interesting. We got along great. We are creating bridges.

Honestly, I’m kinda tempted to start a second project with some of these guys. I can see how we can help each other. I’m thinking of something sort of side-ways to the RTS space, like a Tower Defence game as a side project.

Al: You’re forbidden until Sanctuary is complete!

Nine2: It’s just we would need a separate source of money. We have publishers who want to work with us. We have a whole bunch of code that we could just copy and paste. And although Sanctuary is still ages away we’ve got all the things to build a kick-arse Tower Defence game.

It turns out there’s lots of games we could build with our engine. Just for fun I spent six hours today making an action game in our engine where you’re mech and you left click to shoot and right click shoots a missile and you can dash and run and it’s all in our engine. There are all these tanks trying to shoot at you and there’s this whole RTS base and they’re all trying to hunt you down and kill you. You’re just one guy and you’re just zapping around messing people up and it’s kinda hell fun. And it really shows you can do a load of stuff. We have big ideas.

Did you see the Industrial Annihilation game? They just completely validated an idea we had as we had been talking to a publisher about repurposing our engine to make a ‘Factorio’ style game in our engine. Both Factorio and Sanctuary are base building and combat. Sanctuary is 10% base building and 90% combat. We wanted to flip that on its head and it would be 90% base building. We’ve talked to publishers about it and they’re interested but the catch is they want a demo and we would have to take time out of Sanctuary to do that so we’re not doing that right now, but maybe in a couple of months we’ll have time to do that.

You were asking about other RTS devs. So they might say they are wanting to have a specific feature and we say, “well we have that”, we can just kinda help each other. The other thing is cross promotion. We have 15,000 people on our mailing list alone. When you factor in social media we probably have 25,000 people. We can send out to them, “hey go check out Zero-K, for example” and when we go to Kickstarter they can help us out in return. That’s how us little guys can help each other. For example, there was a guy working on a Command and Conquer mod. He has 13,000 people on Discord. All 13,000 are RTS fans. So on launch day we can drive 50,000 people to our page and get some momentum, and then you start getting publicity from the media.

This is the kind of stuff we run through our potential investors. Our business is not just Sanctuary, it is predominantly Sanctuary but we keep our eye out for other opportunities and we actually have heaps of opportunities. There are games we could carve out in 8 months with the code we have so we could get the money early. And we’re actually trying to do that at the moment. We’re trying to get money from investors who share in our vision so that we can hire more people to work on other products. Sanctuary would keep ticking along ands we would spin off a little mini-team who would take our code base, make changes and get a title out within a year. We would just have to work out which of our awesome ideas to use first.

We’d look better to investors as well, we would be increasing out intellectual property. We would be able to share innovations across the projects.

One more thing I want to say about the other opportunities we have, and what our investment pitch really is. We have this roadmap of fourteen titles we want to put out. If you look at a game like Sanctuary, it can make forty million dollars. You can then copy and paste it and make another RTS that targets a slightly different audience, like a Command and Conquer or a StarCraft, that can make forty million dollars as well, and then you get all DLCs and stuff. But we also have this idea of smaller games. Other strategy games, not RTS, but all strategy games. They would be like smaller indie kind of affairs. Some of those could do quite well. Factorio is the holy unicorn. It was made by three people and made two hundred million dollars. That’s pretty crazy and that’s such a cool industry to be a part of because in what other industry can you do that? Where three guys can make two hundred mil? It’s just absolutely amazing. We’re really excited to be here. As long as we remain funded.

Bread: Solvent. As long as we remain solvent!

Nine2: We’ll be able to do it again, and again, and again. So, you know, it’s looking good.

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I'm glad to hear that Sanctuary was well received in PAX Aus! From what they've revealed to the public so far proves that this is going to be one of the best RTS games to ever exist, and is definitely going to be worth the wait. It's awesome you got to interview Nine2 and Special_Bread, great interview Al!
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