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An interview about "Ensign-1"

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This week we talk about the upcoming space game "Ensign-1" by Only Human Studios. Our guests are Brandon Smith (aka."Onion") the lead programmer, and Kevin Pears (aka."Rusty") the artist and level designer. They have taken the time to answer some general questions about where the game is heading and how it will get there:

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QuoteSpace Combat With a Twist

Imagine you're gripped in the heat of a space dogfight, and your side is losing. In the distance, you notice a large asteroid which everyone else has been too distracted to explore. With nothing to lose, you leave the battlezone to check it out. Hidden behind the rock is a derelict battle cruiser which you decide to dock on and explore. The ship is overrun with some kind of alien infestation, but you dispatch of the insect like creatures and quickly find the bridge. After powering up the ship, you find that it's powerful weapons are still in tact, and that it just might be enough to turn the battle...

Or perhaps you find yourself in a different battle between two factions fighting over control of a pirate base. You're able to get there first and land in one of the docking areas. You quickly exit your ship and run to the nearest set of turret pods. From there you're able to effortlessly destroy any enemies in the vicinity. Gameplay like that is what we're trying to capture in Ensign 1. We'd like it to be an immersive multiplayer space combat game that allows players to leave their ships and explore, even pilot much larger space cruisers. Ensign 1 will be available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OSX.

They say that the best place to start is from the beginning, thus first tell us what inspired you to make Ensign-1; the reasons you decided this will be your new game?

Onion: Making a space game where the player had the freedom to board other starships has been something I've wanted to do for a very long time. I think it's a really cool idea, and was kind of surprised it hadn't been fully utilized in games today. I think it's an idea I came up with 8 years ago, and have just been holding on to for this time.


And how did the rest of the gaming world welcome your vision?
Did you have any trouble getting the necessary starting funds? Is it enough?

Onion: Our feedback has been quite encouraging. We've had a number of comments from people saying we're making the space game they always wanted to play, and that's exactly what we were going for. Getting our initial Kickstarter funds was a lot of work, I think more than either of us realized it would be at first. It's true, early marketing really is a full-time job, but it was fun too, and worth it. We've raised enough to at least get the game to a playable alpha state, which is what we promised.

Rusty: Yeah we kind of expected Kickstarter to provide the hits for us, but soon realised it was going to be much more work than that, we emailed every site we knew of. We hit reddit and twitter with a vengeance and of course hit up GOL for some news here and there. The Kickstarter funds where great but we can always do with extra funds while we are still producing Ensign. We had a number of people ask us if there was any way they could still donate to help out and or claim some of the rewards we offered in our late Kickstarter campaign. With this in mind we decided it might be worth re-opening our funding on 8-bit, hopefully we can re-stock our cupboards with some more tins of Baked Beans. ;)

In your opinion, will you be able to accomplish all of your goals?
Do you have a roadmap? How much is already finished?

Onion: Personally, yes, I think we will. Progress has been coming along quite nicely, and I'd like to think the most difficult problems have already been solved. The game engine is probably over over half way there, but as far as game's contents are concerned, we've only just begun.

Rusty: Our team is very committed to bringing Ensign into fruition, although there is so much content that will need to be produced for the final article, between us we have a great love for computer games and really enjoy making them.

According to the description, although the game features a singleplayer campaign, emphasise will be on the multiplayer.
Mind clarifying what will be the main differences aside from additional people?

Onion: That was the original plan, yes. But you can thank our very own Rustybolts for bugging me about putting in a single-player campaign. At this point, it's something we are commited to bringing, and with a rather full team. It will be getting just as much, if not more, love.

Now the multiplayer is something that I think will be pretty cool. We haven't fully hashed out how the game modes will work, but I'd like to avoid the free-for all death match style games where players respawn almost immediately after death. We're looking to bring a more team focused game, where players have rank with varying equipment, and death comes with pretty severe consequences.


Tell us more about the upcoming contents – what makes your title stand out from the rest?
Are there any dilemmas the gaming/modding community can help resolve?

Onion: I think we're hoping this one would be pretty apparent to most players by now, space game where you can board other ships. There are other games out there that provide this, like the source mod Eternal Silence, and Battlefront 2, but I think we're the only one (that I could find) where you can man turrets on ships piloted by other players, or even command capitol ships.

I think we're pretty set as far as our core team. I occasionally get emails from people asking if they can help in some way. If it's something we feel can really add to the game (like a new voice actor), I'll usually try to accommodate, but at this time we are not looking to expand our team size any further.

Now as far as modding Ensign-1, we're planning to release the game's level editor used "in house", so players will have a lot of freedom there, if they wish.


Some people have been wondering about the aesthetics of the game.
Why exactly did you decide to go for this particular art style?

Onion: I'll let Rustybolts answer this one.
Rusty: I started out with Only Human as the level designer, and I didn't have much experience with computer graphics and modelling up to that point, albeit I have always been quite artistic. I found sometimes it is easier just to muck in and produce the models that I wanted, as relying on others did not always yield the results I wanted.

With Ensign I have been producing the artistry from the off, I am learning and improving on my trade all the time. My model making is quite organic in its approach so I guess the "aesthetic style" is probably just my own actual art style. I have been a gamer for many years so a number of games have probably influenced the look of Ensign, games such as Doom3, Oolite, Wing Commander, Freelancer and Freespace 2 have probably all influenced me in one way or another.

The game is still in early Alpha so some of the current graphics may not make it into the final game. Models and art that I feel can be improved at later stages will probably get readdressed until I am happy that I did the best I can do, hopefully with a few surprises included along the way.


Ensign-1 runs on a custom engine, no?
Mind telling us why you decided that this is better than using an already existing engine?

Onion: Yip, I've had ... limited success with game engines in the past, with kind of the impression that if you're looking to make a game that differs quite a bit from what the engine was built for, you're going to feel very limited. We we're looking to bring a truly original experience to gamers, something they haven't seen before, so we went with our own engine.

Another reason is that, being that this project is a one shot at a dream, I didn't want to get in a situation where we were at a certain point in game development, having spent months of time, and find that it would be too difficult to modify an engine further to do what we needed. I knew it could be done with a custom engine, so I went with it.

Before we end, on your IndieDB page you've written that the release date will be sometime around August.
Is this the full game or an alpha/beta version? Where will people be able to get it and what will be the price?

Onion: That's a rough idea, and it's for the full release. The alpha release we're trying to finish as soon as possible, like within the month. The alpha price will likely be $4.99 building up to some undecided price for full release. We are hoping for distribution through Desura's alpha-funding program, but you can also pre-order your copy through our current 8-Bit Funding campaign. Article taken from
Tags: Misc
About the author -
Ex-editor. Created the GoL mascot.
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Hamish Mar 6, 2012
This game is sounding better and better everyday guys. Keep it up.

Though, one question: If you want to get this on Desura, will you be putting Helena up as well?
Brandon Smith Mar 6, 2012
Don't think Helena will be going on Desura, we tried ;)
Liam Dawe Mar 6, 2012
Desura apparently can be picky about what they put up.
Cheeseness Mar 7, 2012
Neat. Is Rusty the only artist on the project?
Brandon Smith Mar 7, 2012
Yip, the core team is Rusty and I. After that we have a writer, some composers, and some voice actors.
Cheeseness Mar 8, 2012
That's a lot of work. I both envy you and am glad it's not me :D
Brandon Smith Mar 8, 2012
Tell me about it.
Cheeseness Mar 8, 2012
Is there anywhere where you've talked about your approach for art direction for this project/how you work? If not, I'm sure there'd be people beyond myself who'd be interested in hearing.
Brandon Smith Mar 8, 2012
I could tell you...., but then I'd have to do horrible things to you.
Cheeseness Mar 8, 2012
I'm both enthralled and repulsed?
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