Brigador from Stellar Jockeys is a futuristic isometric shooter and is available now on Steam. Join me as I take a look at the game and get an insight into the darker side of the game development process with Brigador’s creators.
On a gloriously bright summers day in 1992, shut away in a dark bedroom I huddled over a Sega MegaDrive (Genesis, to our siblings in the US of A) D-pad as the insanely excellent music from ‘Desert Strike’ blasted out from my TV, drowning out my mother’s cries to ‘go outside’, ‘cut the grass’ and various other commands that were never going to happen. Flash forward to 2016 and replace ‘bedroom’ with ‘office’, ‘mother’ with ‘wife’ and ‘Desert Strike’ with ‘Brigador’, because for me this game is a joyous mechanical stomp down memory lane to that stroppy teenage era of video games.
Brigador is a 16-bit retro style isometric action shooter ,where you take control of an assortment of hulking mechs and armoured anti-grav vehicles in a futuristic and fully destructible environment. The action takes place on a far flung world (Solo Nobre) in a futursistc, post totalitarian, K-9 eat K-9, war zone where its every mechanoid assault warrior for themselves. You have a choice of 18 primary and secondary weapons with which to load up your 6 mechs; ranging from chainguns to rockets, as well as a special ability (smoke grenades, EMPs, active camouflage etc). The gameplay sees you completing various contracts over 9 levels (so far), you do this by blasting and pummelling every man, mech and building into the ground.
The controls may seem a bit unintuitive for people not used to this style of gameplay and may take a bit of getting used, but generally they work pretty well. The music throughout the game is a mix of futuristic electropop synths and sequencers as viewed from the perspective of someone living in the mid 80s and very reminiscent of the iconic sci-fi film scores of that period (think Terminator, Robocop etc). The sound FX are thunderingly loud and poundingly violent, which is great.
If you’ve never played any of the 90’s Isometric shooters (tsssch. . . youngsters) then this may be a very hit or miss affair and at its current price point may seem a bit steep. For those of you that owned a Megadrive/Genesis then you will know what to expect. If you take a shine to this game then you have the option of buying the deluxe edition which comes with a digital copy of the music and a gravelly voiced audio novel which expands the game universe.
The development studio behind Brigador, Stellar Jockeys, was started by two brothers in 2011 along with two programmers fresh out of college. Brigador was in in development for five full time self funded years and during that time the developers struggled in every imaginable way to keep the game progressing. Combined with an initially unresponsive audience, when the game hit early release, the whole process took the dev team to the brink of despair and back again. I caught up with Hugh Monahan to talk about the game and its development.
DrJK: Standard question, what inspired the game?
Hugh: Collateral damage, or rather the lack thereof in games. BF Bad Company 2 is one of my all-time favorite games, and one of the few that’s actually taken pains to create an environment that properly reflects the ordnance being deployed. The dynamism of the environments and how they affect gameplay has long fascinated me, and also it just seems disingenuous to build an environment that is entirely inert when you seemingly have earthshattering weapons at play, So from its inception destructibility has been a core component of Brigador, which went on to dramatically impact the game we ended up building.
DrJK: And how was the development process?
Hugh: I love making games, and the development of Brigador itself was largely a joy. The main issue was just that there was too much development to do; between writing our own engine and being hamstrung by our inexperience we had to compensate with long hours and a dev cycle arguably 2 years longer than it should have been. That and our precarious financial state forced us to live together and use the livingroom as an office for years. While there’s a certain tarmacadam to be had from mutual misery, 4 years of that pushed all of us to the brink of cracking.
DrJK: Oh no, really? So, what were you high and low points?
Hugh: For a long time we were perpetually in a state of thinking we were 6 months out from shipping the game. Part of that is due to the game continuously morphing and growing as we properly understood what we were building, but as in part it was because we’d never shipped a game on our own before, so we just couldn’t see that far down the road. It began to feel Sisyphean, and around a year before shipping early access was the complete nadir. Ironically finally gauging the complete scale of the thing we were building also inspired despair as we realized it was at least a year out at that point. All you can do is square your shoulders and soldier on, or give it all up.
The high point has been seeing all the wondrous things our collaborators have produced. The soundtrack Makeup and Vanity Set produced for the game exceeded our wildest expectations, and Brad Buckmaster’s book adaption and the ensuing audiobook we produced gave us chills when they were done. I cannot tell you how great a joy it was to see something you’d made taken by someone else and turned into something distinct yet recognizable. It was like being able to see our game with new eyes. All in all the entirety of that package we produced– game, soundtrack, book, and audiobook– is something I’ll always be proud of.
DrJK: The style really captures that 16-bit era, what game engine did you use?
Hugh: We rolled our own engine. We were young, and we wanted to build a game in the ‘old masters’ style; a good blacksmith makes his own tools, and a good painter knows how to craft their own paints and stretch their own canvases, so why should it be any different with games? Yes we wanted to make money, but we were also in it to become consummate craftsmen.
DrJK: With that in mind do you have any advice for inspiring indie developers?
Hugh: Don’t do what we did. At least not at the beginning. By all rights we should have crashed out years ago, and we may yet still depending on how this launch goes. Cut your teeth on some tiny projects, ship something small so you can get the lay of the land before starting a larger project, so you don’t harpoon yourself on the one game you’ve spent a half decade making.
DrJK: So, what’s next for Stellar Jockeys?
Hugh: Hopefully more games, but we’ll see.
DrJK: Well, I hope to see a lot more from Stellar Jockeys, any final thoughts?
Hugh: The games industry feels like both the best and the worst place in the world to be working right now. It’s such a curious thing.
DrJK: Thanks a lot and good luck with Brigador.
If your looking for a nostalgic ear drum bursting blast from the past, want to see what a megadrive game would look like if it was made today or just want to play a thumping good 16-bit style isometric action game then Brigador is available on Steam now. You can also check it out on facebook and twitter.