Feature: Inspired by Dungeon Keeper and Dwarf Fortress, set on a distant planet named after the Roman goddess of growth, and boasting a shiny, ’70s sci-fi exterior, Maia is ticking all the right boxes. We interview creator Simon Roth to find out exactly why we should be excited.
The F5 key on Maia creator Simon Roth’s keyboard is wearing thin. Anyone with a Kickstarter project that hasn’t immediately hit its goal can empathise – every donation is a step closer towards that goal, every cent and every penny an indication that people want to play your game and are willing to put their money where their mouth is. With £42,000 of Maia’s £100,000 goal raised, and 16 days to go, it looks like it’ll come right down to the wire – but Roth’s confident he’ll get his funding.
“I think it’s going to be tight right up until the end, and then at the end, I don’t think any of our supporters would let us not go over the limit,” says Roth. “I think people would jump in and start backing in the last ten minutes… which is going to be good for my blood pressure.”
His confidence is understandable. Maia is an exciting prospect – inspired by ’70s sci-fi, Dungeon Keeper and Dwarf Fortress, it sends you to a not-too-distant future, one where humankind has taken more than just a small step, leaping to the outer boundaries of space, colonising planets and not paying attention to pesky ‘ealth-and-safety regulations as they did so.
The surface of Maia is not safe – with seemingly everything existing purely with the purpose of offing you – but that didn’t stop the government sending people to live there. That’s where you come in: the colonists need protecting, and taking on the role of an almighty presence in the sky, it’s your job to keep them safe by building an underground colony, making sure the dangers are kept at bay and you’ve got enough resources to survive.
And survival is what it’s all about. This isn’t a game you’re necessarily going to ever win – at least not in the core sandbox mode, with a campaign mode that takes nods from Arthur C. Clarke planned should Roth find the funding/time – but rather one where you’re going to fight for survival for as long as possible, before eventually being overrun.
“I think on the standard level of difficulty, it’s pretty much always going to end up horribly. Because even if you create a really strong base set and bunker down inside, everyone’s just going to get bored, and go nuts, and destroy it and kill themselves and things,” says Roth. “So yeah, especially on sandbox mode – sandbox mode will always end on death.”
It doesn’t matter that you lose, though, so long as you get a story out of it.”You can create feedback loops in gameplay that give people dopamine and stuff like all these ‘Cow Clicker’ games do, but when someone starts reminiscing about a game, then that’s when it’s really, really great,” explains Roth, his voice flittering with excitement, as it often does when he dives into the details of Maia. “It’s not even about fun: things that are frustrating at the time can make a great story afterwards, and all the games of the ’90s did that really well. but I think we got too focused on hitting targets and marketing and all that crap.”
Roth’s confidence never comes across as arrogance – he’s worked hard to cultivate a strong community around Maia, and he values this community beyond more than just the money they can support him with, acknowledging that games are now in a place where you really have to listen to your fans and take on board their feedback, especially with indie titles. “Smaller/modest games are better – and they’re better in so many ways because with games now, you’ve got to really engage your community.
“You can’t just release a game and it just floats out there and makes a million pounds or whatever, you really have to be one-to-one with your community, and actually ask what they want, and ask what changes they want, because with games being a service and all that crap, people’s attention spans are zero, and you have to make something really special.”