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Blazing Griffin and their Distant Star

Blazing Griffin and their Distant Star

We were lucky enough to have been invited to speak with the fine folks at Blazing Griffin to talk about Distant Star (a remake from the ground up of the iOS strategy game of the same name) and The Ship: Full Steam Ahead (sequel to the groundbreaking The Ship: Murder Party).

We started by talking to Peter van der Watt for an overview of the company and its origins.

Blazing Griffin Overview

Founded by Trevor Fountain and Peter van der Watt around 18 months ago, after talking at a game development meet-up, Blazing Griffin’s initial aim was simply to make games. They had also spoken of Murder Party as something unique and interesting, so it was fortuitous that The Ship as an IP became available. This was due to the original developers finding themselves in troubled waters, financially that is, as the development of a spiritual successor to Murder Party hadn’t gone as well as was hoped, leading to Blazing Griffin acquiring the rights.

To start with, funding was from the founders, but later a new version of Distant Star was given some funding from the University of Abertay, with others currently lined up to back the team.

After this whirlwind tour of the company’s beginnings, we spoke to Stephen Hewitt, Head of Design, and Trevor Fountain, Head of Programming, with more specificity about the games.

Distant Star

Speaking of the original Distant Star on iOS (now called Distant Star Classic on the App Store), Trevor had a desire for a 4X style strategy (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) game when the iPad first appeared, but couldn’t find any. He also felt that the level of granularity common to the genre would be ill-suited to the iPad. So, in creating Distant Star, it was necessary to simplify the number of elements down to essentials, as much for the sake of fun as catering to the device.

The stakes are raised with the new version though. Stephen tells us they want to turn Distant Star into an IP that will last, while still keen to stave off the ballooning complexity of the genre. Instead of massive fleets, there’s more of an emphasis on individual ships. And then there’s story, where fewer units afford the opportunity to pepper everything in the game with little tidbits, allowing players to piece things together through gameplay.

Digesting reams of backstory is still an option, certainly. How else would you know that humans are the ancient ancestors of all the game’s races? So don’t expect tentacled and/or bug-eyed aliens.

Anyone can play however they choose and still find interesting decisions to make. Partly because design choices were about bringing things down to manageable levels. Fewer units types, no huge fleets, unit stats: Less fluff means what’s there is of more import. And more interesting, since its far easier to differentiate a few units than a massive fleet of thousands. This makes the consequences for losing units far more impactful to the player.

With the conversation turning to the nuts-and-bolts of the underlying logic of this new version, Trevor pointed out it was the rulesets of Collectable Card Games that helped them design the infrastructure of how the units, characters and story elements fit together. While the game probably won’t be presented to players in such a way that they’ll even know that’s the case, those solid foundations will certainly benefit the overall experience.

Stephen points out that it’s still very much a strategy game, so players looking for a 4X game on their tablets won’t discover it’s really a CCG and, likewise, those with the not uncommon stigma against CCGs won’t be put off either. It simply benefits the modular design philosophy of the game.

And indeed the company: Phil Harris was keen to point out that the idea of modular design is a major part of Blazing Griffin’s strategy in general.

From here, we moved on to discuss the follow-up to The Ship: Murder Party. Though for that, you’ll have to come back soon…


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