Wrongworld first launched on Steam back in May after a period in Early Access. The work of solo developer Jamie Coles of Sludj Games, Wrongworld is a bizarre open-world survival game with a truly unique style. The game has enjoyed extremely positive feedback from fans since its launch, and has even been shortlisted for the “Best Start-Up” award in the TIGA Games Industy Awards 2018. Near the end of September I had the opportunity to interview Jamie Coles during the EGX gaming exhibition in the UK.
Jamie Coles of Sludj Games on Wrongworld
So to start off with, can you tell me a bit about Sludj Games and how it got started?
“Sludj Games is just me, and it got started because once I got so far into making a game and it started being fun, I thought, ‘Oh, I need a company name of some kind.’ I’ve got a thing for five-letter domain names, so ages and ages ago I ended up getting a bunch of five-letter domain names that were remotely memorable, and Sludj.com was one of them. There’s no real deeper meaning behind it other than that – I like the fact that it’s got a ‘J’ in it, because I’m called Jamie; that’s about it.”
What would you say inspired you to make Wrongworld?
“About three years ago, when I first started prototyping lots of different ideas, one of the ones that I wanted to work on was… well, the thought process that I had was, ‘I wonder if I can make a Don’t Starve -style game in 3D.’ Because strangely, I don’t feel like that’s been done. All the other survival games that were coming out, and still are coming out, are very realistic, very competitive shootery, very gritty and a bit grim. Long Dark; amazing game, but it’s a bit heavy-going. I wanted to make something that was like a Don’t Starve, oddball survival game but just silly and lighthearted and fun.”
Obviously the game’s already available; is what’s available currently an alpha or beta release or is this the full release?
“Almost exactly a year ago, it launched into early-access. After nine months of early-access it launched fully in May, but that’s by no means the end of development. It was just a case of, I got to the point where I realised that because it’s an open-ended sandbox game, it’s infinitely expandable. I got to the point where I realised that if someone doesn’t like it now, they’re not going to like it in future; I’m just going to be adding more things that they don’t like. That was when I thought, ‘Time for full release.’
“I messed up slightly with the timing of that, because I always used to read from other indie devs who are more experienced than me – because this is my first game – that you should be spending one or two days a week doing marketing and press things, but during the crunch end I was so busy with developing, I didn’t do any of it until I launched, and now I’m trying to play catch up! But of course the downside is, trying to tell someone to be interested in a game that launched three months ago is much more difficult than telling them about a game that’s launching next week. But I’m hoping that when console launch comes around to make much more of a fanfare about that”
It’s obviously already released, but are you still planning to add further content to the game as time goes on?
“Yes. 1.1 just came out, which added a caving system to it; a randomly generated caving system and full spelunking silliness. 1.2 is probably mainly going to be a custom mode. At the moment it’s permadeath on normal mode. There’s an easy mode which is non-permadeath, but you don’t earn XP through that and you don’t unlock rewards. There’s a hard mode for anybody who really wants such things… a creative mode, because again, I try to deter people from playing creative because it’s such a spoiler for the late-game stuff, and it’s such a game about mystery and discovery I like people to be able to play it.
“But, a custom mode has been requested a lot, because even though I’ve got easy, normal, and hard, some people might say, ‘I really like normal mode, but I don’t like how fast hunger ticks down. I’d rather slow hunger down.’ The custom mode will just let people tweak pretty much everything I can possibly allow them to tweak. That’ll be quite a lot of big work, so that’s probably going to be 1.2.
“Beyond that, yes I have a lot of ideas. I still want to get some sort of local co-op in there. Maybe one day full multiplayer, although that’s vast amounts of work. I’ve got a spreadsheet that I keep track of my ideas for the future with, and my computer now dislikes running that spreadsheet even more than it dislikes running the Unreal Engine! That’s how vast that spreadsheet’s become.”
When you started out, what were you aiming to create with Wrongworld, and has that goal changed as development has gone on?
“What I was aiming to create was just a fun little survival game. The goal has changed in that it’s not that little anymore. I aimed small, and missed by a mile, and ended up with it becoming big and sprawling. It doesn’t necessarily look it to start with, but there’s a lot of depth in there. There’s people – even I don’t understand this – there are people on Steam that have played it for 500+ hours, and I don’t understand… there’s not 500 hours’ worth of content. I don’t understand what you’re doing! So yeah, the goal has changed in that it’s expanded, but the initial goal; it’s a fun survival game in the vein of Don’t Starve, but 3D. That was the goal initially and that’s what it is.”
It certainly has a very distinctive visual aesthetic; what would you say inspired that particular look and the other themes and gameplay which underpin it?
“Specific to the main character… well, my artistic talent with a pencil and paper stopped evolving at about age 10. So everything I draw is flat 2D, big googly eyes, looks ridiculous, and while I was doing these early prototypes of different things, I’d recently done an oil painting; my other half is a very talented artist, so she was trying to teach me how to do oil paintings. When I was trying to think of what to do, I just ended up doing this stupid Ewok, furry-looking mutant with a staff. And then, a couple of weeks later, when I’d got the prototype up and running, I thought, ‘It’s time for a main character,’ that was fresh in my mind. So I modeled that.
“As far as the rest of the artistic side of it goes, and the setting, I wanted to make the setting so random and have so much inconsistency that it becomes consistent. So much randomness in it that anything I think of that would be fun to add to the game I can add to it now and it won’t seem out of place. I can put a boxing ring in the middle of a desert and no questions are asked; it’s absolutely fine.”
What is it that you want players to experience with Wrongworld? What really sets it apart?
“I really want people to experience the silliness of it. I try not to do any hand-holding. Obviously, I guide people through the controls and all that. Really the world I could make much bigger, but I’m trying to fill it with enough points of interest so that wherever you stand in the world, you can pick any random direction other than directly up, and you’ll be able to see something either nearby or on the horizon that piques your interest. Something that you think, ‘I want to go and explore that.’ Because ultimately you could just stay pretty much initially where you spawn and build your base there, but I want there to always be things that distract you.
“Even little stuff, like getting lost; there’s no map in the game and that was an intentional decision. I may end up putting some kind of map in, but I’ll probably do it differently and make the players draw it in-game with a crayon or something like that. Because I like the… you get lost, you lose your base, and you spend a day tracking your base down and that’s a nice memorable thing. An adventure writes itself then. I set out a goal, give you the tools to complete your goal, but then try to distract you as much as possible with mysteries and things to investigate. I want people to play it and think, ‘Oh, I wonder what that is,’ and then suddenly five hours have passed. That’s the goal of the game.”
What would you say are the biggest challenges that you’ve found of being a solo developer?
“From a boring, business point of view, it’s the marketing and press side of things. Not because I don’t enjoy stuff like that – I do enjoy stuff like this very much – but it’s hard to justify spending 20-40% of my time not developing the game directly. That’s a challenge, and that’s why for the console version I’m tempted to get a publisher, just to help with the amount of plates I’m spinning. To have someone take some of the things that I don’t necessarily want to be doing. The thing that only I can do is work on the game. Somebody else could do the marketing side of it and free up more time for me.
“From a technical point of view though, actually, in the game I can’t program to save my life. I understand the logic behind programming and how to structure it, but syntax will always catch me out. I’m an artist; I come from a graphic design background – not an artist drawing, but a graphic designer. Wrongworld’s made in the Unreal Engine, and it’s a blueprint-only project. I haven’t written a single line of code for the whole game.
“So from that technical point of view I suppose learning the Unreal Engine and just wrapping my head around things. Everything has caused a few of its own technical little hurdles, but they’ve all been fun to overcome; lighting is a big thing, shadow-casting in the world caused a few hiccups, but it’s all been a joy to brute force my way through and figure out how to do it, because the Unreal Engine is just a lot of fun to work with!”
You mentioned this earlier, but at the moment Wrongworld’s obviously a single-player experience, and you said that you potentially have plans to add multiplayer in the future. Is that something which could be put into a future update?
“Yeah, I’m hoping later this year to spend some time playing around with local multiplayer, which I will do slightly differently. It’s not just going to be two players. It would more likely be, Player 1 has a pet dog or a robot that the second player controls, who maybe doesn’t have their own full inventory, but goes around digging and fighting off monsters and searching for things. Because the game world as it’s set up at the moment; so many of the game’s systems expect or demand only a single player to be in the world. The weather system, the random events, the beasts spawning in and out of the world; it’s all centred around one central player.
“I can do a local co-op and get around some of those issues with the way the game is built. For full multiplayer I’d probably have to go down the Don’t Starve Together route, where they re-develop it pretty much from scratch as a separate standalone version, given for free to owners of the original game. It really is about 60% of the game that I think I would need to redo with networking in mind. Plus, I have no experience whatsoever of doing that, so it’d be back to the brute-forcing drawing board to figure out how to do it. But it’s on my list for the future; local co-op, shortish term. Full multiplayer, about as long term as you can get in terms of the development of the game. I still will be, without fail, working on Wrongworld exclusively for the next year. Beyond that, we’ll see.”
You touched on this a little bit before; the game is currently available on PC via Steam, but do you hope to launch it on any other platforms at a later date?
“One of the first things I’ll be doing, which might also be 1.2, is finally getting Mac and Linux versions ready. In theory, I’m all set up for a Linux version, I just don’t have a test machine just yet, but I just need to set that up. I have access to a Mac now, and the Unreal Engine – in theory, again; I have no direct experience of this yet, but in theory – it makes exporting for these platforms quite simple.
“As far as consoles go, I’m all set up with an Xbox dev kit. PlayStation will be following shortly. Nintendo hopefully in the future, although it’s a bit more of a closed system, the Switch at the moment. It’s a lot trickier to punch your way into it and get their attention. If they reply to my emails at some point then yeah; I’d love to develop on Switch! Again, with the Unreal Engine, hopefully it makes it simple-ish.
“The game does work with a controller at the moment but it needs to be a lot more polished for a controller. It’s more just that I put controller options in but I’m still not 100% happy with the way the game works on a controller; it’s not super intuitive, so before I do consoles… they’ll definitely arrive, probably in about six months, I guess… I need to do a few things first to make it happen.”
One last question; if you had to give one reason why gamers should play Wrongworld, what would you pick?
“I’m a big believer in the Nintendo philosophy of just ‘Games should be fun’; I don’t care what the game’s about or whether it involves shooting people in the face or smashing trees with your forehead, or anything; as long as it’s fun. I think if people play Wrongworld, most people will chuckle within the first couple of minutes. There’s something in there to find funny and then underneath it there is enough of a deep survival game that you’ll get drawn into it. So yes, the short version is ‘Fun.'”