Interview With ‘Steam Marines’ Developer James Seow

Rogue-like. Squad-based. Brutal. Deceptively addicting.

Worthless Bums‘ ‘Steam Marines’ is all of these, and unashamedly so.

While spending a few hours with ‘Steam Marines’ over the past week, I found myself repeatedly coming back despite many, many failures. Its been a while since a game has punished me so severely for missteps I didn’t even know I was making, but it did so in a way that made me want to immediately start a new game and take another shot. That context-less and grid-laden spaceship was not going to get the best of me. All I needed to do was keep my men together more, cover the exits better, be more careful about walking through doors…

While the game is still in its Alpha stage and so has a ways to go in some areas, I was drawn in by the steampunk atmosphere and the emphasis placed on tactical movement in a turn-based environment. Looking to get a glimpse into the mind behind ‘Steam Marines,’ I took an opportunity to talk with the game’s developer, James Seow:


Oh, don’t worry. They’ll find you.

1)      Talk a little bit about what Steam Marines is all about.

When I was a kid I played a lot of Scarab of Ra and games from the Exile series. Scarab of Ra was a game I played on the Mac Classic. It was a first person, turn based dungeon exploration game where the goal was to grab Ra’s treasure and beat feet out of there. The Exile series was a turn-based, party RPG that had an (under)world map, towns, dungeons, and a pretty cool battle system. So Steam Marines draws quite a bit from elements of those games. It’s goal oriented (survive whatever way you can) and clear/survive the ship’s invaders. It’s got the squad/party and turn-based elements translated into a focus on positioning and ranged combat.

2)      What about the game excites you the most? What sets it apart from others like it?

I like the combination of theme and mechanics – that you’re stuck on a steampunk spaceship and you can tear apart the walls and see space or to create entrances/exits. It lends for some pretty interesting gameplay, moreso when I bring back enemies that can destroy walls! [Author’s note: That thought terrifies me.].

Pro tip: Don’t split up.

3)      Steam Marines is currently in the Alpha stage of development. Can you say a little bit about what youll be focusing on as you move forward?

Right now I’m working hard on making the first part of the game a lot more polished to ease new players in. Some of the mechanics are a bit impenetrable at first – you can fire through fellow marines, aoe splash damage does not kill units outright, things like that. In conjunction there’s the UI/UX. Steam Marines has undergone a lot of changes in those areas and I hope to cut down on UI in particular even more in the coming months.

4)      Do you have any significant additions planned?

Sure do! I want to bring back Missions. Primary and secondary mission objectives that were randomly generated per deck. I removed those a few builds ago because I felt it detracted from the gameplay focus. But I’d like to bring them back as a choice the player can make. After each deck you can already pick what deck to assault next so I think that dovetails nicely.

Another addition is space weather. You can already see a bit of it in the current builds – the green crystal rain. Right now it’s aesthetic only but eventually I want randomized space weather to have actual effects on gameplay. Some might just be funny (gamma rays sterilize marines) and others might cause damage in areas or corrode armor.

I’d also like to extend the classes. There’s some push and pull on this. A lot of people prefer variety (e.g. more classes) and others want a classless type of gameplay. Ultimately I think four character slots per squad and four classes already provides a lot of tactical variety. There’s still a lot of tweaking I’ll have to do regardless of whether I go for depth or breadth.

5)      After spending a few hours with the game, I can personally attest that it is brutally difficult at times. Is a high degree of difficulty a part of your design philosophy?

Yes, absolutely. The game aims to be difficult (as long as you stay away from Easy mode!) but balanced. As a point of clarification I do not strive for fairness. Steam Marines is unrelentingly unfair. You move faster and hit harder and coordinate better, but they outnumber you and can swarm you or pick you off from afar. The game aims for balance in that the player will (almost) never be put into a situation that is insurmountable unless the player made suboptimal moves. When you lose it’s not because RNG tooled you, it’s because you chose to take that 54% shot or chose to open a door and let a bunch of enemies see you when you were not prepared.



6)      What should everybody know about Steam Marines?

Most of the tactics focus on unit positioning. For example you can fire through marines and your accuracy goes to 100% when targets are at max weapon range; maybe you were wondering what those Shortsight items were for! The rooms and levels generated are purposely claustrophobic to force the player to think about each action taken.

7)      When are you planning on releasing the game?

I’m hoping to be in beta by the end of 2013 and to fully release in early 2014. On the other hand I had originally planned for an April 2013 release, so you see how good I am at estimating these things!


IndieGamesAAA will definitely be anxiously awaiting the finished product. Until then, however, I think I’ll content myself with sending my Marines to their deaths in exchange for small, painful lessons learned. Want to join me? It’s only 5 bucks. Pick it up yourself.

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