Mars or Die! - From Comedy to Game
Mars or Die!: From Comedy to Game.
34BigThings, developers of Redout, are one of the biggest players in Italy’s burgeoning game dev scene. By combining work methodologies from abroad and Italian creativity and MO, the studio keeps growing and experimenting. We contacted Valerio Di Donato, the company’s CEO, to tell us about their last game, Mars or Die!
Who are you?
34BigThings is a game development studio founded by three people: Giacomo Ferronato, Giuseppe Enrico Franchi and me. The three of us studied game development at Copenhagen’s ITU, and when we came back to Italy we decided to start a game dev studio in Turin, up to the northern part of the country. What started as an incredibly naive endeavor has now grown into a company that employs more than 30 people.
What was your first game?
Our first game was Hyperdrive Massacre, a couch multiplayer game where players fight each other with space muscle cars equipped with all sorts of weapons and gadgets. Our first big release, however, was Redout, a futuristic racing game which we conceived as an heir of the classic arcade anti-gravity racing classics like Wipeout and F-Zero. It took us three years to ship Redout, but it was definitely worth it.
Redout’s success not only put us on the spotlight internationally but also locally: many small indie studios started here, in Turin, following our success, attracting many talented people to the industry.
Tell us about your last game, Mars or Die! Which design choices inspired the game?
After Redout, we wanted to try developing something a little different. After doing some research, we noticed that the industry was lacking a tower defense with base building and bubble-exploration mechanics, and so we decided to start from there. All in all, Mars or Die! is a balanced mix between Terraforming Mars, Kingdom Rush, and Helldivers.
What about the theme? It looks particular…
The art and theme are inspired by Fascisti su Marte, a comedy movie by Corrado Guzzanti, one of the most talented Italian comedians of his generation. He created a series of sketches (which were then assembled in a full film) in which a lost expedition of hilariously incompetent fascists are sent on Mars to colonize it. The whole movie is strongly satirical, ridiculing the language and gestures of the time, and is structured like a series of propaganda newsreels.
The game has taken ample inspiration from the movie: structures (the Glorious Flag), the UI (an archaic-looking computer), the music (unnecessarily glorifying and martial), everything is designed to look outdated and ridiculously over-masculine.
How long is the game and which updates are you currently working on?
The game is currently made up of 9 levels and it has a single-player campaign. We are currently working on a hardcore campaign mode, as well as a Horde mode in which the player must hold out as long as he can. All new and free content that will be available to our existing users in the next couple of weeks.
How do you talk to your players in a way that reaches them so directly?
We are gamers before game developers. We still play during our free time (as small as it can be, we’ll always find time for it). We try to be active on social media as much as we can, obviously, but we also try to keep as close to them as possible, which is why we have an official Discord channel where our players can often interact with us more directly.
What do you think this industry will be like in 5 years?
It is hard to say. What has been transparent for a while in the industry is the need of more solid foundations, companies that can traverse a really bad market without suffering too much and definitely without closing shop. At the moment, for instance, it’s way more approachable to be hyper-indie (1-2 people companies, doing games in their free time) or AAA than anything else in the middle. Also, we are expecting bigger studios to start functioning as vertical startup incubators as well as indie-friendly publishers.
What do you look for when hiring for new artists? Are there specific details you want to see in a portfolio or is it based more on an interview?
We have a very person-centric approach. We believe that, while portfolios and interviews are very important, even more important is being the right person, at the right time, for the right job. To us, social skills that allow a person to form relationships which are both professional and relaxed with colleagues is more important than raw work skills and talent.
What does your onboarding process look like?
We are really, really bad at onboarding. When we started, it was only natural for us to attract people who had a lot of seniority (we are talking more than a decade of experience in the industry), because we could only afford to hire the best (and most daring) developers Italy had to offer. In the last few years, we started to on board people who are moving their first steps in the industry, but it is rough and I am positive we are not doing it right at the moment. We will learn more as time goes by and the studio grows, I am sure.
When working on projects do you give autonomy or is it more directive?
Since we follow a very person-centric approach, raining down strict directives does not really work for us. The members of our studio have ample autonomy, provided that they adhere to a select few principles and directives. Other than that, everyone has pretty much free rein on how to do what we ask them to do.
What’s next for the studio?
We are currently working on Redout: Space Assault, a space combat game that maintains Redout’s feeling of incredible speed while adding fighting and flight-sim mechanics. Players will certainly have a lot of fun gunning each other down at supersonic speed.
We are also hard at work to port Redout to the Nintendo Switch, which we feel is an ideal platform for it.
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