Verge Game Studio
MaK is Minecraft for engineers: you build, create, and give life to mechanical objects
Stepping out of the shadow of a giant can be a troublesome task, particularly when you happen to like the giant. Sebastian Patric is project lead on MaK, the PC-only first game from indie developer Verge Game Studio. Part of his job is to make sure people see MaK as more than the little brother in Minecraft's massive shadow. It hasn't been easy. For starters, the games both feature a focus on construction. Both games feature players as cartoonishly-proportioned avatars with large, box-shaped heads. Both rely on cubes for their construction. Patric told the Penny Arcade Report he's glad that games like Minecraft can act as reference points, but the real joy is in discovering the subtle differences.
World of Universecraft
It seems easy to call MaK “Minecraft in space,” but the two games are only similar at first glance. Take for example the prominence of cubes in MaK. Minecraft uses cubes to create and came out first, therefore MaK is copying Minecraft, right? Not at all. “We wanted to experiment with a bunch of physics objects with different properties and to be able to build stuff out of them and to invent things on the fly in the context of moment-to-moment game play. The idea was to make building a dynamic part of the central loop of the game and to create opportunities for creativity and crazy, physics fueled mayhem,” Patric told me. “Cubes happen to be a really convenient and simple unit in modular building.”“The cubes are like machine parts. As we go, we're adding new ones based on the types of things we want to be able to build. For example, we have cubes that let you float stuff in the air, so you can make floating platforms, vehicles, traps, and buildings. We're going to be adding a buoyant cube, so you can build rafts and ships that float on water. We're also adding an engine cube that rotates about one of its axes each time it's triggered. This will allow you to build hilarious ground vehicles, steering mechanisms, cranes, catapults, and plenty of things we haven't even thought of.” In other words, the cubes in Minecraft, while movable, are largely static, as are the creations they form. You see lots of statues and mansions in Minecraft, but you don't see a hot-air balloon with real physics properties. In MaK, the cubes aren't just building tools that let you make a car-shaped construction, they're the pistons in your engine that make it run. “It's like tinkering with magnets, engines, and other cool parts you dug out of the bowels of an RC car, except all the parts are shaped so that they fit together perfectly in any configuration,” Patric said. “That's why we use cubes.” There are games that Patric says MaK owes much of its inspiration to, though they might not be apparent right away. “I think we actually owe a lot to Angry Birds for making us realize how fun and addictive it can be to set a chain reaction in motion and to watch what happens,” Patric said. “You have a plan, and that plan doesn't always turn out as expected. But watching what happens when things go awry, given the systems involved, can be just as rewarding and entertaining as creating something that works perfectly.”
Loosening the inner Valve
The other game title name-dropped by Patric: Half-Life 2. “We'd like to make a game that runs the gamut in terms of mood. It's a bit risky, but I think that it will make for a game world that's tonally gradated and interesting,” Patric told the Penny Arcade Report. “If you've played Half-life 2 you may see what I'm getting at. The way it switches gears between action and horror and downright comedy while never leaving the player's perspective or breaking the plot. Having all those elements makes it a more complete and rich experience.” Yes, those adorable robots/astronauts/explorers/space gnomes you see in MaK's prototype game play footage and art are on a mission, and MaK has a story to tell. Patric said that MaK began as a multiplayer prototype, but that a strong fiction was important, even if it would always be kept in the background. Having that unifying vision, he said, means that conceptualizing the world of MaK and crafting the game's art direction is a smoother process. “The fiction that we're working on spans a great deal of time and space, and you'll interact with it in a very natural way. You'll come across compelling and intriguing things and challenges and artifacts, and your curiosity will tend to propel you forward, as you piece together more and more about the world of MaK, and how it ties into our own,” Patric said. “It sets a thematic goal to shoot for.” Ultimately, how fleshed-out that theme becomes will be up to the gaming community. Patric and the team at Verge have submitted the game for Steam Greelight, and now the push to get the game into the hands of players moves to Kickstarter. The game has a goal of $230,000, which is now on the low end of video game projects, and as of this writing has around $12,000 in funding.