2006 was a very different time for online shooters. The dominance of Deathmatch arena titles such as Quake III and Unreal Tournament was slowly coming to an end while Valve’s classics Counter-Strike and Day of Defeat were starting to hit their peak. For the majority, shooting your fellow gamers and rising to the top of the leaderboards was plenty, but some gamers were searching for something a little more.
The Ship: Murder Party was that something. It combined the life management aspects from titles such as The Sims with the stealth of Thief, providing players with something that was truly unique. Before long the title gained a cult following, becoming an underground hit that was passed about through word of mouth at LANs and other social gaming events.
Then the Australian servers were shut down. A lack of server population has ended with The Ship sailing across the seas of obscurity, occasionally coming into view thanks to a dedicated community with Hamachi connections.
Blazing Griffin, an independent studio based in the UK, saw the potential that The Ship had to offer gamers, particularly now as the online shooter is once again growing more than a little stale. After the sequel, The Ship: Full Steam Ahead, was announced we spoke to Phil Harris who told us more about this delightful news.
“We bought the intellectual property because the multiplayer community was so big,” Harris explained as we talked about Blazing Griffin’s acquisition of the franchise. “It’s still so big even now, which is pretty damn good for a game that was released in 2006. We saw the opportunity there and unfortunately the previous company, Outerlight, had closed for one reason or another. We see Full Steam Ahead, the sequel, as something that expands the horizons but also harks very close to the core of the game.”
Why now? Why is Blazing Griffin looking to bring back this cult franchise some six years after the release of the last title? Like so many indie studios out there, Kickstarter has opened the door to delivering a title that most publishers simply wouldn’t touch.
“We’re an indie studio and we can’t afford to just put money at something. The Kickstarter is a proof of concept. If the campaign makes the money then we know that the interest is there; if it doesn’t then I think we would be foolish to continue because there isn’t any interest being generated for the amount of money we need to make the minimal viable product, which is the multiplayer game at this stage. I don’t think we’re fools at all, I think we’ve got a level head and we know what we’re doing. We feel that the interest is there for The Ship, we feel people really enjoy it, we feel they will fund a sequel.”
While Harris was bursting to talk more about stretch goals for the project, the final details were still being confirmed as we spoke. He did, however, have a few things to announce that were rather exciting.
“I can say that if we raise $1 million The Ship: Murder Party will become free, which would be amazing. That would then create a buzz about the game. We’re looking at elements to reduce the price so we can involve The Ship more. So while the community is waiting for this new game, they have the old game to play and when it flips over they will see the massive changes.”
What changes are in store? Full Steam Ahead has left the 1920s behind in favour of a bright, bold, and beautiful steampunk setting. In a time when games like BioShock, Guns of Icarus and Dishonored are dabbling in the same visual style, I asked why Blazing Griffin decided to use the distinctive art style for Full Steam Ahead.
“Steampunk is something that Hollywood has tried to realise on a number of occasions. Sometimes the imagery has been great yet they have failed on the story front, or vice-versa. With computer games there are no boundaries bar the imagination of the artists, ensuring that that imagination doesn’t go so far off the scale that people don’t understand what you’re trying to achieve. Steampunk is quite an established forum, it’s one that we think hasn’t been fully addressed by video games. It has been by some, but there’s a lot of room for expansion and fun.”
One of the best aspects of The Ship: Murder Party was the life management skills. While you were stalking your prey through the grand cruise ships of yesteryear, you had to ensure you ate, drank, had fun, and visited the bathroom. I asked Phil if they were planning to include these aspects in Full Steam Ahead.
“That is one of the parts that we thought was really important to keep, the fact that you have to go to the loo. The Sims based thing is still a very massive part of the game. We absolutely want to keep that in the mix as that is what made The Ship so unique in the fist place. Obviously if the Kickstarter overfunds we can start looking at new modes and consider adding single-player.”
One of the biggest complaints about The Ship: Murder Party was the AI. During the single-player campaign, many found that their lack of intelligence hampered the experience. The passion in Phil’s voice was apparent when he talked about the importance of community in regards to the development of Full Steam Ahead.
“One of the things we think is very, very important at Blazing Griffin is getting a feel for what our community wants to see. There is no point in us producing a game or an aspect to a game that people don’t want. We would much prefer to have something there that the fans are going to like, marvel at, and be really happy with.
“With no insult to the original game, between 2006 and now, AI technology has come along in leaps and bounds. One of the biggest issues people had with the original game was the intelligence of the bots, so that will be fixed up. Other comments were about the maps and we’re going to fix those in the new game. We’re interested in community feedback, and on our forums we’re definitely interested in hearing what people say. I look after the communities, I spend time with Steam, I put things out on reddit to make sure people hear about it. That’s obviously working because yourself and a whole bunch of other people are talking about the game and it’s really nice you’ve taken the time to get in contact with us, because we want to talk.”
If you take a quick glance at the gaming projects on Kickstarter you will see an abundance of space combat titles, zombie shooters, and adventure games. Are Blazing Griffin concerned that they are producing a first-person shooter that the Call of Duty generation might not understand at first sight?
“Not at all. We have assessed our community really strongly. The buzz just from my announcement yesterday about the Kickstarter has been big, there have been people re-tweeting us that I have ultimate respect for in the industry. That is really, really nice. I think the industry, as a mainstay, is strongly behind this. There’s a lot of positive feeling about this new version of the game.”
Check out the official E3 trailer for The Ship: Murder Party
The project is seeking £128,000 ($198,705 AUD) to create a multiplayer-only experience. What happens if they don’t make that goal?
“Obviously if the Kickstarter didn’t fund then we would have to look at the fact that it is not a viable product to make at this point in time, maybe shelving it and coming back to it in the future,” Harris says, a hint of sadness in his voice, “but the buzz that I’m getting is that it’s going to hit its target, exceed it,” he continues, his excitement overtaking all doubt at once, “allowing us to develop more modes, a single player story, and other things to just really enhance the gameplay so people can have something really nice.”
The fans of the original game are most likely going to back the project without question; However, are Blazing Griffin worried about disappointing the cult fan base who have followed the game for years?
“I think by yesterday’s press event, when we had all the concept art around the room, people are going to be blown away. Every time we showed the video – we showed the Kickstarter video three times for people to see – every time it got an ovation. It was really good to see and it’s a funny video as well. We’ve put a lot of time into that, to give the idea that The Sims element is still there, as well as the humour of the original game, as well as this new steampunk setting. The buzz is there, and we have a team that can certainly deliver.”
Knowing that many of our readers would have never played the original game, I asked Phil to provide me with a short elevator pitch of what gamers can expect from The Ship: Full Steam Ahead. His passion for the project is apparent as a short elevator pitch turns into a conversation in the lobby.
“The Ship: Full Steam Ahead is a unique first-person shooter experience. It takes elements that link simulation type games, but the fun of simulation type games, with a crazy Cluedo-esque setting where you rush around and try and knock people off. It’s got that mad cap humour and greatness – and in a steampunk setting with all the beauty, the grandeur, and the style, and everything, it’s just going to be a buzz. An absolute buzz. I’m not a massive PC gamer myself – I’ve come from arcades and then consoles, but I really respect PC gaming and I’ve been playing The Ship and things like this, and I love The Ship. I think it’s great and I can see how modernising that is going to create that buzz”
Well Phil, you have us sold. The Ship: Full Steam Ahead will be launching an official Kickstarter campaign on the 31st of October. Until then you can follow Blazing Griffin via their official site along with Phil Harris via Twitter.
Written By Stephen Heller