Talking Vostok Inc. with Nosebleed Interactive's Andreas Firnigl

By Thom Compton 30.12.2017

A clicker-shoot 'em up combination isn't the most obvious genre fusion, but this is the video games industry, and there is always someone out there taking risks and looking to provide new experiences for players. Nosebleed Interactive did exactly that, merging the two to come up with Vostok Inc. Having now released on Nintendo Switch, Cubed3 caught up with Andreas Firnigl, CEO of the Newcastle-based company, who has been recently promoting the new release.

Image for Talking Vostok Inc. with Nosebleed Interactive

Cubed3: Can you explain how you settled on Nosebleed Interactive for the company's name?

Andreas Firnigl: I'm probably going to come across very pompous now, but the UK games industry is full of companies with really formulaic names, and usually it's a colour or fruit and then an animal. We actually created a random string generator in the office that spits out generic game company names; Lemon Dog Games, Giggling Squid Digital, Big Banana Interactive. I kind of think Nosebleed is a bit more "edgy" and has multiple connotations.

C3: Combining a shooter with an idle game is one of those cross-genre ideas that's surprising, to say the least. What led you to combine these two very different, but oddly complimentary genres together?

Andreas: I played loads of Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD back in the day, but I only ever played them for one game at a time. Once I was done with chasing high scores I kind of stopped playing (and I have some of the Housemarque guys on my PSN friends list, so trying to beat their scores on their own game is almost impossible). I guess it stemmed a little bit with frustration, since I didn't really feel like I was progressing in those games, or if it was just tiny little steps, as I improved.

Around the time we started the prototype, I'd been introduced to Cookie Clicker as "Look at this ridiculous game, you don't even do anything!" as a bit of a joke. But I was instantly drawn to how it made players behave and think. Combining the two just kind of made sense on paper, so we did a quick prototype and could see the hook work instantly.

Image for Talking Vostok Inc. with Nosebleed Interactive

C3: Idle games have earned a reputation for sort of being the "pet fish" of video games, in that they're generally low maintenance and simple to grasp. Top-down shooters, on the other hand, are generally chaotic and very demanding of the player. What sorts of issues did you come across trying to meld these two genres together?

Andreas: Having the two systems sit together kind of worked from the off, but I think the thing that took longest to do and get right was the economy balancing. It really did take months and months of tweaking, with no easy fix solution. You don't want the player to feel like doing either thing (i.e. building stuff on planets or shooting stuff) is significantly better than the other one. As the income from planets grows, you want the loot drops from aliens to grow too, but it always needs to lag a little behind so you're not just shooting stuff.

This is where the player and enemy levelling system comes in. Basically everything you buy levels you up and so enemies level up around you. The higher their level the more damage they do, the higher their health and the more loot they drop - but none of that stuff really works with a simple algorithm or curve, so at certain levels we had to manually tweak the drops and health etc. so that it feels right. There's probably a point above level 256 where the game just starts to break in terms of enemy balancing and the money they're dropping. We figured if people are playing the game for that long then we've done our job and they'll probably be pleased they've found an exploit!

Image for Talking Vostok Inc. with Nosebleed Interactive

C3: What drew you to the 1980s, self-made millionaire style theme?

Andreas: That one is pretty easy to answer. I grew up in the 80s and love the aesthetic, plus the dialogue and theme kind of writes itself. There's so much great source material you can riff off of, but a lot of it is still quite relevant now. When I go back and read some of the incidental text about the buildings and upgrades on planets, I'm sometimes quite shocked at how cynical my writing is.

C3: There's a lot to do in Vostok Inc., including the minigames. How did the idea for those come about?

Andreas: Our first game was full of minigames too, but, quite honestly, I blame Shenmue with my obsession of games in games. In terms of the minigames in Vostok Inc. it was a throwaway comment someone made about being able to feed the managers like a Tamagotchi. They didn't mean it literally, but I was like "NO! That's a brilliant idea. Let's do actual physical Tamagotchi style things," and then, like everything we do, it got added to and we ended up making twelve 4-bit minigames (plus an extra 16-bit style one for the end credits).

Image for Talking Vostok Inc. with Nosebleed Interactive

C3: How much has the game changed since it was initially envisioned?

Andreas: We built a prototype in about two days on PlayStation Vita, which looks eerily similar to the final game. Then we spent almost three years polishing it. The basic loop of shooting stuff in space to collect moolah, then landing on planets to build stuff with that moolah, to make more moolah to spend on upgrading the ship so you can shoot more stuff, is almost unchanged.

There were a few different ideas; for example, originally, the universe was procedurally generated and endless, so you'd hop to a different system with procedurally generated planets, enemies, and so on. At one point we were "bigger than No Man's Sky," but moving to distinct systems let us do much more and just felt much better. I'd still quite like to do a sort of endless survival mode where you're getting deeper and deeper into the galaxy, but I think it would need a lot more planning.

C3: It has been more than proven that the Switch is capable of keeping up with its competitors, and part of that is the plethora of indie games that have come out on it. What drew you to porting to the Switch, and what sorts of obstacles did you come across or changes did you make to ensure the game feels at home here?

Andreas: One of the goals early on was to make a game you could sort of play while you were distracted, like if your other half is watching something on TV and you decide to have a quick go, you can pick up the game for 15 minutes of action, land on a planet, and if what they're watching is good you can just leave it there making moolah while you watch TV or make a cup of coffee. The reality, though, is that people are getting so hooked on it because we constantly provide short-term and mid-term goals, as well as an overarching sense of progression that they end up playing for hours and hours at a time.

C3: Any hints as to what is next for both Vostok Inc. and Nosebleed Interactive?

Andreas: We have some ideas for Vostok that we'll do if there's demand, and we've got a prototype for our next game that we're really, really happy with. It's most definitely a Nosebleed type game, but this time we're looking at treating a different genre in the same way we did shooters/idle games. Oh, and it has multiplayer. Can't say too much more on it right now…

Cubed3 would like to extend our thanks to Nosebleed Interactive CEO Andreas Firnigl for taking the time out to answer our questions, and wish him and the team every success for Vostok Inc. and future projects. Thank you, also, to Little Big PR's Danielle Amos for arranging the interview.

You can follow Nosebleed and Vostok Inc.'s developments through these links:

Twitter: /

Vostok Inc. is available to buy now on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, and PC.

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