The Ship is one of my favorite Half-Life 2 mods, a mixture of 1930s detective flavor, The Sims need management, and frantic stabbing with a variety of hilarious weapons. When I saw the announcement that Merscom was going to be publishing The Ship, I had a few questions. Most games go from traditional publishing to Steam, not the other way around. I managed to find Simon Hill, a Producer and Designer with Outerlight, and got to ask him those same questions.
The Escapist: Tell me about yourself and what you do for The Ship and/or the company.
Simon: My name is Simon Hill and I'm the Producer and one of the Designers at Outerlight. I've been working in games for a little over five years now.
The Escapist: So we hear a lot about how Steam is going to kill off the traditional publisher, yet you guys started on Steam and went with Merscom as a publisher. What do they offer that Steam couldn't or doesn't offer?
Simon: Basically they offer a route to retail, they will put the boxed game on the shelves of High Street stores. Despite the growth of online distribution, there are still a lot of people who prefer to buy a boxed game they can hold in their hands and we want to make our game accessible to those people as well.
The Escapist: Along the same lines, what advantage do you see in going to a retail box rather than sticking to digital distribution?
Simon: Ideally you offer the option of both, you don't have to choose just one or the other and then the customer can choose their preferred option.
The Escapist: I bought the Steam version of The Ship. Will there be any benefit if I decided to pick up the box/retail version?
Simon: You'll get a box and a manual but otherwise there will be no difference between buying the game on Steam or in a High Street store. We are updating the game all the time via Steam and so both retail and online customers will also get all of these updates.
The Escapist: I saw that there's now a single player game for The Ship. Was there a reason you put one in? What kind of problems did you run into putting together the single player version? Are you planning any further additions/gameplay modes/etc.?
Simon: The single player game story mode was really added at the request of our publisher. We ran into quite a few problems developing it as it is very different from the multiplayer game, features added for the multiplayer often impacted on the single player in unexpected ways. We also had a very tight schedule for the single player and had to work on it during a period when I think we'd have preferred to remain focused on the multiplayer experience which is still where we feel the strength of The Ship lies. We are planning to add more game modes, the next big one will be a team game-play mode which is shaping up very nicely - look out for that in the New Year.
The Escapist: What was the original inspiration for the game, back in the mod/Half-Life days?
Simon: Our Managing Director Chris Peck, came up with the idea during a late night conversation with some mates and through discussion, prototyping with the half life 1 mod and more discussion we gradually built it into the game you see today.
The Escapist: The "needs" system is one of the neatest features (at least I think so). What was the inspiration for that? Was it just a way to keep players moving?
Simon: The game-play purpose is exactly as you say; it serves as an anti-camping system forcing players to move around the map which is very important in this game. We also felt it was a good way to increase immersion and it provided us with lots of comedy opportunities. The novelty factor of being able to perform these actions in first-person and the level of interactivity with the map that this allows were big plusses for us. I like the fact you can sit in any chair you see, for example, as so often in games the background map is a lifeless set. The fact you are locked into an action while performing it also provides important murder opportunities for your hunter and it is common to quite literally get caught with your pants down which I think must be unique to our game.
The Escapist: Part of the appeal of The Ship is its unique, faux-1930s aesthetic. The cruise ship, the music playing, even a lot of the clothing, all of it set that kind of mood. Where does that come from?
Simon: In part it was inspired by the whole murder mystery genre. We also found as we began researching cruise ships that they had a golden period and most people associate this aesthetic with murder mysteries. Modern cruise ships are garish and ugly so in part it was quite simply that we like that aesthetic style and people seem to respond positively to it.
Simon: People each have their own favorites but of course if you are playing the game competitively you will always choose the highest paying weapon for your kills. When I asked the team almost everyone gave a different answer but the most popular are the purse/wallet bomb, the flare gun, the barbeque fork and the sleeping syringe.
The Escapist: What's next for you guys? More work on The Ship? A new project entirely?
Simon: Yeah we have a load of ideas that haven't made it into The Ship and so we have a pretty good idea about what The Ship 2 will be and we will be making it. If things go well we may also take on a new project, we certainly have a few design documents sitting in the pile so we'll just have to wait and see which ones the publishers are most interested in.
If you're interested in joining the world of intrigue and murder most foul, the official website can be found at http://www.theshiponline.com.