9to5 Gamers recently sat down for an interview with Whacky Mole Studios; an independent studio based in Sweden. Stephanie (Art Director & UI programmer) and Filip (Network Programmer) spoke in depth about their upcoming game; Mineral Madness, as well as their experiences as game developers. 

The studio started work on this unique title in the summer of last year as the result of a university project and it recently underwent a switch from the studio’s proprietary engine to Unreal Engine 5. 

A release date has not yet been confirmed but the developers aim to make Mineral Madness available on Steam in the course of next year.

©Whacky Mole Studios

A Game Like…?

9to5 Gamers: Can you give future players a brief overview of Mineral Madness?

Stephanie: Mineral Madness can be described as Deep Rock Galactic but PVP. Specifically, it’s an Arena FPS with one simple rule; no guns allowed! So how it works is, that there are procedurally generated levels where two to eight players can join a game and try to collect the most minerals. 

They have a set of tools: a bomb, a pickaxe, and a scanner with which you can destroy and navigate the terrain to find the most minerals until either the timer runs out or you have deposited the required amount of minerals to reach the goal.

9to5 Gamers: Where did the inspiration come from for Mineral Madness?

Stephanie: It started as part of a project based on a university course and we discussed what we enjoyed playing. As a group, we really like co-op games. As I said the inspiration was Deep Rock Galactic and we really liked the procedural terrain aspect of it. We also decided that we’d love to see a PvP element, so Mineral Madness became a kind of Deep Rock Galactic, PVP hybrid.

Filip: I’d also like to add that in the years we have studied, we’ve seen a lot of different types of games come out of this course with a long game loop, like an RPG. They always put their time and effort into building quests, etc. We really wanted to work on the features of the game, like the graphical features. So, for me, it was important that the game loop was very short, so round-based, like this game or any other FPS game.

An Arena FPS Without Guns!

9to5 Gamers: Mineral Madness is a game without weapons. Was this a deliberate creative choice or the result of the game’s core mechanics?

Stephanie: I would say that it was a deliberate choice but not necessarily one we actively made, as in we specifically don’t want any weapons. Rather it came after analyzing games in similar genres when we were deciding on the concept. 

If you think about a lot of PVP games such as Fortnite, Valorant, etc, they all have guns. We spent a long time thinking about how we can make our game different. With the procedural terrain, we settled on bombs because they can be used to blow it up.

9to5 Gamers: So, the bomb is a tool rather than a weapon?

Filip: Yes. For example, I even opposed the game having a pick axe but in the end, the game needs a pick axe. So, Stephanie, I guess that “no weapons” is then also a result of the core mechanic.

Stephanie: In the end, yes. Further analysis concluded that the game’s main selling point and what makes our game quite unique is the procedural terrain, unlike many arena shooters that have a predefined level.

Since our terrain always changes, our tools have that in mind. A pickaxe can mine precisely and a bomb can harvest a lot at the same time and change the terrain.

9to5 Gamers: So you really can win without eliminating other players?

Filip: Yes! Although, when testing the game we found that there are typically two types of players; one we call the Gatherers, who spread out alone and mine in obscure places, and the Hunters that prefer to find other players and grab their minerals instead.

Mineral Madness

©Whacky Mole Studios

Designing Mayhem

9to5 Gamers: Mineral Madness will be a multiplayer game for up to 8 people in a free-for-all or 2 team format. What do you foresee the difficulties to be when designing a matchmaking system?

Filip: We don’t have the matchmaking system yet. In the early prototype, made in our own engine, we went with a lobby system. However, when we do implement a matchmaking system, I assume the difficulty is going to be how to define how well a player plays. 

For example, do we group the Gathers and Hunters together? Or just the Hunters playing separately.

We will have to find a quantifiable variable to measure how these players are playing, so we can evenly distribute them, allowing them to face players of similar skill levels. Mix players and their playstyle, so we don’t fill a game with for example only Gatherers.

9to5 Gamers: Then we would miss out on all the action!

Can I Swap That?

9to5 Gamers: To what extent will future players be able to customize their in-game experience?

Stephanie: We are thinking about letting players customize their loadout. Currently, in our prototype, the player only has a pickaxe, bomb, scanner, and grappling hook.

We want to give the player more choice because not everyone prefers to use everything. For example, we want players to be able to pick a different type of mining equipment, a different way to navigate the cave, and a different way to do damage to other players. Still, no guns allowed!

Players like to find something new, they like to pick up a different weapon and try things out. And we thought it would be fun to put that in our game as well. How many and what types are still a secret!

©Whacky Mole Studios

Tough Decisions

9to5 Gamers: You recently chose to move from your own engine to UE5. Considering the loss of progress, that must have been a tough decision. What was your main motivation behind this choice?

Stephanie: This was a very tough decision. It was during a joint discussion within the group that we concluded that it was best for the game. If you think about very big game companies, a lot of them do have their own engine but they have the benefit of so many people working within that engine, that understand and have learned it.

But for us, if we wanted to hire a new designer or an artist, they might struggle to get into our own engine because it is small scale. So, opening up new business opportunities and also enjoying the new tools that Unreal Engine 5 has to offer hugely contributed to making the decision.

An “Unreal” Advantage

9to5 Gamers: What would you consider to be the top reason why UE5 will make Mineral Madness a better game? 

Stephanie: The thing with your own engine is that you have to implement EVERYTHING yourself. For example the placement of UI, that’s all code you have to do, all the networking bits, don’t get me started on porting to Switch or PlayStation, because they have completely different interfaces. 

One of the things that Unreal Engine 5 offers to developers is the majority of the things are a push of a button and you can see everything already rendered on the screen as you are working with it. Those are all things that would take us months to implement.

So if we could do it or have the knowledge to do it, just because we are such a small-scale team, in the long term it wouldn’t be viable. This is why seeing all the things we would love to have in an Engine that is pretty and accessible, just made it the logical choice. And we are having fun with it!    

©Whacky Mole Studios

Behind The Scenes With The Developers

9to5 Gamers: Being an independent developer clearly comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. What, apart from the budget, do you consider to be the biggest hurdle to overcome when starting to build your dream? What do you consider to be one of the benefits of being a mid-sized team?

Stephanie: There is a lot of creative freedom and everyone’s input matters a lot. We also have a very democratic system in our studio, we do a lot of votes on features and how they should be implemented.

Filip: I think the biggest hurdle we have is kind of connected to the budget. The people in our team need to survive, which requires some kind of income. A team member might only be able to work with us part-time because they’ve found a full-time job that pays the bills.

Solid Advice

9to5 Gamers: Is there anything in particular that you learned whilst working on Mineral Madness that could serve as advice to fellow Indie Devs out there?

Filip: The main thing that Stephanie and I are trying to do is reach out with the game. We could really get started with the idea of releasing our own game when we joined a contest for games here in Sweden, which we won!

Through that, we got connected to people who really helped us to get the whole project on track, as well as find our way as to how you actually release a game. The light at the end of the tunnel has truly come closer.

Stephanie: Yes, it then became more of a reality rather than a dream. So what we can really say to other developers out there is… Go out there, pitch it, meet people, talk to people, and make contacts.

Filip: Join contests, game jams, and conferences.

Stephanie: They are all going to help you. Actually, everybody is very positive, in my opinion. People just get excited when hearing about what you’ve done. It’s all about meeting people really, that helps a lot.

©Whacky Mole Studios

Goodbye… For Now.

9to5 Gamers: Well, that’s it from me. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Stephanie: Our pleasure.

Filip: Yes, thank you.

I’m definitely looking forward to playing this unique and fun-looking game. I’ll surely fall into the Gatherer category, getting blown to pieces for my minerals. Spending time with Stephanie and Filip was a great experience, and perhaps I’ll have the pleasure of speaking to them again about future updates to the game.

To learn more about Mineral Madness, check out the developer’s Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit.

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