While wandering around at EGX Rezzed, I was able to snag a few minutes with SteamWorld Dig 2. Fans of the SteamWorld games from Image & Form will likely be incredibly excited about what the developer has in store for us this time, and despite only playing the single level that was on show at Rezzed, I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to speak to Julius Guldbog, Community Manager at Image & Form Games. After reading through Guldbog’s AMA on Reddit a few weeks ago, I was eager to find out more about Dig 2 and what changes the Image & Form team has made since the first game. So, what’s new in Dig 2?
“Lots of stuff. I think the biggest difference between this and the first one is that this game is going to be huge. Playtime is not going to be an issue. There are a bunch of worlds with vastly different themes, a bunch of enemies, boss fights and a tonne of upgrades. There’s a very nice way to customise those as well, and we’ll show more in the coming months”.
Something else that will differ between Dig 1 and 2 is how the levels are crafted. Dig 1 had procedurally generated levels which made the game feel fresh every time players jumped into it whereas, Dig 2 will have hand-crafted levels. I was curious as to why Image & Form made this decision, seeing as procedurally generated levels seemed to suit Dig extremely well the first time around.
“The main reason we are going with handcrafted levels this time around is because we now have the resources to do it. The first Dig was made by six or seven different people, now we have twenty people, including two full-time level designers. Our team is so talented. They can create something unique that we weren’t able to create with procedural generation before. This means that there will be a tonne of new, fresh ideas in there because we can really get into the details. We’ll be able to create some really tricky challenge caves, platforming challenges and puzzles, and lots of different traps and secrets to discover – so it’s going to be a lot of fun”.
As Image & Form has grown, its resources have too and this has enabled the developer to spend more time on each of the levels in Dig 2. The team also wants players to have a more polished experience overall, by omitting the risks posed by procedurally generated levels:
“By not having the game being procedurally generated, we can make sure that every detail is fine-tuned and as fun as possible. That means that we can hide a bunch of secrets and not have to worry about bugs or the stuff associated with procedural generation. There is a slim chance, when playing the first Dig, that you can get stuck, or that some collectibles will be out of reach for you because it’s sort of random. By handcrafting every level, we can make sure everything is as good as it can possibly be, so those things won’t happen, at least, not from procedural generation.
So, procedural generation may be a thing of the past for the Dig series but Image & Form is sticking with the Metroidvania style touched upon in the first Dig game. If you’ve read anything about Dig 2 recently, you’ll probably have seen it likened to Super Metroid. I was eager to find out why the team wanted to focus on this genre:
“Because we are huge fans of the genre. It is really one of the best games of all time. What we try to do with the SteamWorld games is make something new every time. Even though Dig 2 is a sequel, Dig 1 only scratches the surface on the Metroidvania genre. This time we are going full Super Metroid, as I’ve said so many times before in the Reddit AMA. Also, I think it’s a genre with many new things you can do. For example, having the digging mechanic is a great way to enhance the sense of exploration because you literally carve your own way through the earth, and by forging a way deeper down, it’s like you create your very own levels. It adds to the sense of discovery.
From what I’ve seen of the game so far, it certainly has a strong Metroidvania flavour while adding some new ideas, too. The level that I played was a good introductory glance at what we can expect from Dig 2, but there are still a load of secrets left to discover and Image & Form is doing a great job at keeping these hidden. Along with Super Metroid, I asked Guldbog what other games influenced Dig 2:
“I think SteamWorld Heist influenced us a lot, mainly with how we handle game development. With Heist we learnt how to manage a big team, which was something we weren’t used to at all. Now we are hitting the ground running. I think you will see the strategy elements of the level design as well in there. But a bunch of us also played Axiom Verge, Guacamelee and lots of modern day Metroidvanias as well. We try to look at every single one of them, take what we like and add to it to make something new and interesting.
Speaking of new and interesting, Dig 2 will be launching on the Nintendo Switch sometime this summer. As a very happy Switch owner, I was keen to find out whether Image & Form will be utilising the new hardware to its maximum potential in Dig 2.
“Yes, definitely. We will have HD Rumble, so we are experimenting to see what we can do with that. I think it’s going to accurately recreate the sensation of digging into different materials and stuff like that, and I think there’s a tonne more we can do. We are experimenting at the moment so I don’t know exactly know how it will be implemented, but it will be there for sure”.
With regards to performance and battery life, Switch owners will also be happy to hear that Dig 2 will run at 60fps, 1080p docked and 60fps, 720p in handheld mode.
“Since the Switch is quite unique, we want to take advantage of making sure it works perfectly in handheld mode as well. We’ve adjusted the UI and have zoomed in the game to fit the handheld mode”.
“I think we are going to run official battery tests later. We test the game every two weeks and I’ve played it a bunch of times for three or four hours with plenty of battery left, so I don’t think that’s going to be an issue for this game”.
The Nintendo Switch currently has a rather bare eShop and if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably had to play at least one of the available demos, due to the lack of purchasable games. After testing out Dig 2, I’d happily download its demo on the eShop and I’m sure many fans would too, so I asked Guldbog whether this will be possible:
“The thing is, we would like that of course, but it’s a lot of work. We basically have to submit and make an entirely different version of the game, and we said that in a recent Q&A on our YouTube channel. We asked people that if they wanted us to make a demo on the eShop, make some noise! I think there’s a petition floating around… if you want it, sign it! We listen to every comment and try to respond to everything as well, but seeing that it is a lot of work we need to make sure a lot of people want it”.
You heard the man, get to it!
Switch owners definitely have a lot to look forward to, although Image & Form hasn’t exactly made it clear which other platforms the game will release on. Surprisingly, it turns out that Dig 2 is not exclusive to the Switch, not even just for the initial launch period:
“The thing is, it’s clever words by Nintendo, or us – we checked the script. The game will debut on the Switch, and that’s exactly what we said in the Nindies Showcase, but we’ve said nothing about timed exclusivity or exclusiveness of any kind except features like the HD Rumble (because that’s only possible on the Switch, at the moment). As I wrote in our official FAQ on the website, we are looking into doing a multiplatform release on day one, so stay tuned for more platform updates pretty soon”.
My conversation with Guldbog ended with us chatting about what the most challenging parts of development have been so far. It must be difficult to create a sequel to a game that so many people enjoyed and with the added pressure of Dig 1 fans hungrily anticipating the next instalment, Image & Form have a lot to live up to. Luckily, the team is coping pretty well while remaining as enthusiastic and open as ever:
“Working with the Switch has been easy, so that wasn’t really a challenge for us – it’s a great piece of tech. The main challenge that our designers tell me about all the time, is making something that is still unique, but also similar to SteamWorld Dig 1; creating something new within a box of set rules. I think we’ve managed to do that, but it is hard. Also, just finishing the game. Making a game from start to finish is always a challenge. Coming up with new ways to play while still having that same core gameplay has been hard. Also, narrowing down to what we should include. We have so many great ideas and only a handful of them will make it into the final game. Besides that, I would say it’s been a pretty straightforward process. A bit of back and forth here and there but overall a straightforward process.”
Summer may feel like it’s a long time away but it’ll be here before we know it. I can’t wait for SteamWorld Dig 2 to release and I really hope that we get a demo on the Switch.