We are delighted to present an exclusive interview with Alex Simion, lead developer of Raiders of the Lost Island, a lively couch CO-OP indie game that has just entered early access on Steam.
I fondly remember my childhood years, when my sister and I would play a bunch of local CO-OP games, like Jazz Jackrabbit or Super Bomberman 2 for hours. Man… those were the days. Sadly, I haven’t seen as many split-screen or couch CO-OP games in recent years. Raiders of the Lost Island sets out to change this by introducing an exclusively LOCAL CO-OP game, where up to four players compete in looting treasures from a sinking island.
We’ve played the game for quite a few hours, and were surprised with how much fun we had in it. One moment you’re working together to escape the island, the next you’re trying to push your mate off a cliff and steal his coins. There is a constant pressure of betrayal, doubled by the necessity to work together to achieve progress that kept us going. It also made us collectively agree that we need to play the game again.
Join me and Alex Simion, the main developer of Raiders of the Lost Island, as we discuss the game, its inspiration, and unique premise.
Raiders of the Lost Island
Get the game on Steam! Available in early access.
BAABUSKA: Hey there, thanks for taking the time to speak with me today. Can you tell our readers a few things about yourself, your team, and the game: “Raiders of the Lost Island“?
ALEX: Hey, thanks for inviting me. I’m Alex Simion, and I’ve been working as a game developer for almost 20 years. I was always fascinated by video games, and I always tried to create and share my own. I do this as a full-time job, working on AAA games, but also as a hobby where I can fully explore my ideas.
In my free time, I usually work alone, but on occasions I join with friends or family and try things together. Like for game jams, which is also the case of my current project, Raiders of the Lost Island, a semi-cooperative party game for up to four players.
B: How did you get the idea for this game and how long have you been working on it?
A: Raiders of the Lost Island was born at Global Game Jam 2017, where I teamed up with some friends. I managed to convince them to try this crazy idea, where players have to fight each other, but then the game would force them to cooperate.
Inspiration came from cooperative board games like Forbidden Island, but also from video games like Overcooked and Gang Beasts. So, I came up with this concept where four players have to collect treasures and fight over them. Only the richest one wins in the end. However, the island they’re on is sinking soon, and they also have to work together to build a boat, in order to survive. Frankly, at the time I didn’t know if players would even manage to survive. I mean, who likes to do the hard work for someone else to win?
The game jam was crazy! 48 hours without sleep and without a clue if the idea even works. But when I’ve got home and my kids tried it, I knew immediately it does. It gets very competitive, but players still find a way to work together in the end.
Unfortunately, after the jam the team broke up, due to time constraints. But I really wanted to finish the game and there was a series of motivating factors that kept me going. The first one was the family – we were always having fun playing it. Even now, after two years and a half, we still do.
Second, the game won some prizes, like “Best Design” and “Best Game of the Show” at Dev.Play, the game development conference for Eastern Europe. It was present at Casual Connect London as an Indie Prize finalist, and we showed it at many local fairs and meet-ups. Players were always having fun, and this is what matters.
B: What do you think sets your game apart from other indie games?
A: Indeed, I think the game has something special, different from other video games. The gameplay mechanics are simple and pretty common, but the core idea, the kind of social interactions it generates between players on the couch, this is pretty unique. It’s interesting to see players passing through different emotion stages, from friendly to competitive, and back again. And believe me, it can become very competitive, especially between good friends or kids, who express their feelings openly.
B: It definitely got very competitive for us in the end. “Win alone or die together.” This is a great concept. Some of the best board games feature semi CO-OP mechanics, but I haven’t seen many video-games like this. What inspired you to implement it?
A: In the last years I played a lot of board games, and I always felt that video games need to learn more from them. Board games have been around much longer, and they mastered the design of social interactions.
In Raiders of the Lost Island, I wanted to focus on such aspects, to build a game around the players, to trigger their emotions. I wanted to push them against each other, to make them fight and rage, to bring out those strong feelings that make you want to punch your best friend!
But then, I wanted the game to force them to deal with these feelings, to force them find a way, to make a deal, in order to win in the long run. Or just to let your hate go, because you’re friends after all.
B: I know you’re planning to release the game in early access on August 1st. What are your expectations for the early access? When can we expect the full release?
A: I think it’s not easy to get the full experience of the game from the first play. For some people it may just look like collecting items and walking around. I think you need to play it for a while with the right group, to become comfortable expressing your feelings. It’s very easy for kids, and for people used to party or board games.
I think the game has reached a stage where the experience is complete, but there are still things to do to enrich it. With the early access, I want people to have fun with it and bring their ideas to the table. I still have a few features I want to see in action, so it will probably be another 6 months to the full release.
B: Are you planning on introducing an online mode in the future?
A: This one is tricky. As I said before, the game wasn’t designed for online multiplayer. It’s heavily based on the interactions between the players on the couch, and I preferred to focus on those, since my free time and resources are limited.
However, if enough players ask for it, and if I feel there will be a strong online user base, I could add it to the features list. I definitely don’t want to put six months into creating a poor online experience, where people complain there are no online users when they want to play. And I have other ideas of games that would fit for online multiplayer much better.
B: What games have influenced your design choices?
A: There are many games that do very well what they do. In Raiders of the Lost Island, I tried to focus on design choices that support the core idea. Things that encourage players to fight for treasures, to get greedy, like the very expensive diamond. When I introduced it, new levels of hate have been discovered. I had people raging and throwing the boat resource bags into the ocean, so no one would win.
The collections of special idols that score much more together are inspired from Stone Age. I don’t show the current player scores during the raid on purpose, to allow speculations. This worked very well in board games like Small World. Also, I allow players to make teams or break them during the adventure. They can make deals and alliances, especially if one of them is more skilled.
B: We found the idol and scoring systems really interesting. They forced us to pay more attention to what’s going on around us. The design of your game is also delightful. Can you tell us more about it?
A: I’m not an artist by profession, so for this game I preferred to buy models from Unity3D asset store. I had to adjust many of them and to create the ones I was missing, but this worked very well for me. I also tried to come up with variation in levels, from different color tones, to specific level design techniques.
B: Will there be more maps or events added in the future?
A: Yes, there will be more islands to raid, with more custom elements that support the core idea. I also want to add more characters variations and hats. And some special events, gameplay modifiers like who doesn’t work on the boat at all, doesn’t get in. Maybe some gambling elements to push your luck.
B: What can you tell us about the soundtrack. Who composed it?
A: Most of the tracks, I selected them from royalty free music websites, like AudioJungle. One awesome piece, in particular, was written by Brett Grime for the game and it was an interesting experience for both of us to figure out what works best. Simple and relaxing is what I aimed for. In total contrast to the track that plays during the last wave when the island sinks and everyone goes crazy about why the boat is not ready yet.
B: Thank you for your time. Would you like to add anything else?
A: Thank you, and I hope you’ll have fun with the game!
Raiders of the Lost island
Raiders of the Lost Island is a LOCAL co-op party game where up to 4 players compete in looting treasures from a sinking island, while building a boat to survive the final wave (recommended for 2 or more players, friends and families).
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