January 5, 2014 3:45 PM | Staff
Game industry veteran Luke Hodorowicz had a vision. He'd played a whole bunch of city-building games over the years, but nothing had really managed to scratch the itch properly.
So after building console games for around 10 years, Hodorowicz decided to fill that void himself. He quit his triple-A job and started Shining Rock Software, with the aim to create the city-building game that was lodged firmly in his head.
This game was Banished, and it's about to release for PC via Steam. It follows a band of outcast travellers, who find a quiet little spot to set up camp, start building up a little village, and eventually find themselves battling through the harsh conditions in order to survive.
"With other city-builders I've played, it always kind of annoyed me that you have this tiny house and there's 70 people living in it, or that you have this infinite supply of resources," Hodorowicz tells me. "Those were a couple of things that I thought it would be interesting to explore when I prototyped the idea. I ended up liking it quite a bit, so I continued working on it."
Where other city-builders focus on building from the ground-up, funnelling this resources into that building and generally constructing the very same town that every other player has accomplished, Banished has a grand aim for creativity.
There is no perfect town in Banished. Rather, you can build whatever you want, and in whatever order you choose. You can decide to focus entirely on one form of survival, or you can go large on everything. Even staying small is a fair tactic in this game.
"You just build what you want, as you want it," explains Hodorowicz. "The only requirements are the resources to build it. You can build a tailor to make clothes, but if you don't have leather, there's no way to make clothes. You need to be able to acquire those resources before you can that building work for you."
"I wanted to build a game where you could play it anyway you wanted," he continues. "If you wanna play where your town stays as a small community in the forest, that works. Or you can erase the whole forest and have farms as far as you can see, and still have your population work that way - although it's a little harder to maintain."
The main goal with Banished, he notes, is for players to be able to create whatever neat-looking city they want, and have fun doing it.
"After I'd made the initial play of placing houses and allowing people to cut down trees and make firewood, and survive a little bit, it made sense to go down the survival route."And there's another twist to the base city-building concept that we've seen thrown around so much over the years. While you're looking to build up your town however you see fit, you'll also need to account for your harsh surroundings and weather conditions.
"People have to survive the winter, and depend on a mix of rain and sun to make the crops grow," notes Hodorowicz. "I didn't really plan for it - it just sort of seemed like the obvious next step when I was building it."
"When I decided the game initially, I had one page of notes - it really wasn't a proper game design," he continues. "So after I'd made the initial play of placing houses and allowing people to cut down trees and make firewood, and survive a little bit, it made sense to go down the survival route. The game design was very emergent as I built it."
And a focus on a fully customization interface is another arrow in Banished's quiver. While Hodorowicz initially pinned the user interface elements to the edges of the screen, he quickly came to realize that allowing the player to move and resize windows anywhere they like made perfect sense.
"You can click on any building, and it has a little interface," he notes. "So sometimes you want to watch how good the production is even if you're not paying attention to it - so you can keep it on the screen and just kind of keep track of it there. It makes sense to allow users to put all the interface elements wherever they like. It seemed like a good way to go."
Banished is nearly ready to go -- Hodorowicz is just putting some final tweaks into the game, and finishing up the tutorials. We can expect the game to pop up on Steam for purchase sometime in January.
And as for Hodorowicz's future in games, he says he still has plenty of ideas he wants to explore.
"With Banished, I have a huge wishlist that I could keep adding features and more layers of complexity on top of it," he says. "I'd like to do that at some point, but I would like to explore some other ideas and some other games."
"I'd also like to bring the game to a few other platforms, and make my game engine a little more port-able," he adds. "There's a lot of things I could do."
[Mike Rose wrote this article for sister site Gamasutra]