Dan Marshall, developer of The Swindle and Lair of the Clockwork God, revealed the new spacefaring game he’s working on during the latest episode of The Eurogamer Podcast, which is now available to all either in this article or on all major podcasting platforms.
This new game is not The Swindle 2, though he did begin work on exactly that after Lair of the Clockwork God was released.
“In the dying days of [Lair of] The Clockwork God I was churning over in my head about a Swindle sequel, thinking, ‘This is going to be amazing – I’m really excited about making this,'” he told me during our long conversation, which included his best friend and writing partner Ben Ward (the ‘Ben’ in ‘Dan and Ben’). “But when I actually came to make it, I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to just spend the next three years of my life making the exact same thing again.
“I just felt like I needed to make something… I could see it was going to have the same problems and I was going to be facing the same bugs, and I was going to be doing the same things,” he said. “And my heart sank.”
So he moved onto a new idea: a wacky idea in which you were to play as a dinosaur on a steampunk game show. Though again, it wouldn’t quite work out.
“I started making this game where you play as an adorable little T-rex. And I put some gifs up on Twitter and I was like, ‘Shall I make this?’ And it went m- like, 600 retweets or something like that. So at that point I was like, ‘I should probably make this,'” he said.
“But again, same problems, same thing – it was the same game. It wasn’t fun – I couldn’t find the fun in it. I had this little test area set up and it was all… Playing the dinosaur was really tactile and nice, and you could grab humans and throw them at walls and stuff, and it was… It was nice but I couldn’t really see it turning into a game.
“Sometimes you make stuff… There’s dozens of prototypes of things on my hard-disk and it’s hard to do but sometimes you’ve just got to look at them and go, ‘Whatever this is, it isn’t it. It’s not the thing.'”
“I started making this game where you play as an adorable little T-rex”
It was then that he landed on the idea he’s making now: a spaceship game. A game in which you command a ship from the bridge and fly it around space while ordering your various teams to go out and salvage things or attack things in their squadrons.
“The idea is it’s post-apocalyptic and everything else has been destroyed,” Marshall explained, “Earth has gone, everything has gone, all the space stations are knackered. And you’re flying around salvaging bits off other spaceships to put on your own, and sending teams in and watching nervously while they report back from what they’ve found and whether or not they’ve encountered hostiles and aliens and weird goo and whatever they might find on there.”
Really, though, it’s a game about pressing buttons and watching what happens. And, perhaps for the first time for Marshall, it will be 3D.
“The idea is you’re on a spaceship with lots of monitors around you – so it’s a first-person 3D game on a spaceship bridge with lots of monitors around you and maps and things – and if you’ve got squadrons of fighters in your dock, you can send them off to go and attack other spaceships, and you can look up and see it all happening.”
This might sound hugely ambitious but it’s actually narrower practically than previous games he’s made – and this is one of the major reasons he’s doing it. He can no longer spend three years making a game only to release it and then nervously wait to see what people think. He can’t take it any more.
“Waiting for the reviews to come in [for Clockwork God] made me feel physically sick,” he said, “because you’ve put everything into it. The toll it takes on you in this day and age is too hard. When you’re doing stuff like we do – we’re not a team of 30 people, this is not a small indie studio of 10 people, this is two of us and it largely falls on me – and for my own mental health I found this cycle I’ve got, of every two-three years releasing another game, has to end.”
“For my own mental health I found this cycle I’ve got, of every two-three years releasing another game, has to end”
The spaceship game has the “potential” to be a lot bigger, then, but it won’t start that way. It’ll start smaller and then evolve if the audience is there to warrant it. Think of a No Man’s Sky or a Project Zomboid – a living project like that.
“I can make it and then in two years time I can release something that is a very nice game about going around salvaging spaceships and uncovering the mysteries of the universe and then that’s it,” he said. “But then if it works and people like it, I can expand it out and add other mysteries and places. I can make it so you can fly the fighter planes. I can add to it and keep adding different aspects to it. But it never needs to come out. It’s more like No Man’s Sky or Project Zomboid – [it] doesn’t necessarily need to ever be finished. And that way I can hide from the horror of launch day ever happening to me again.”
There’s no name or release date for the spacefaring game at the moment.
But though it’s a visual departure from the kind of game you know Marshall for, I’m sure tonally, and comically – a key ingredient of his games – it will feel the same. And to that end, yes, Ben Ward is absolutely coming on board to help write it. “I’ll be like the George R.R. Martin that comes in to help with lore,” Ward said.
They’re a really entertaining pair to listen to and they made me laugh a lot. Their enduring friendship – they met at secondary school! – is also exceedingly heartwarming to be around. You can hear much more from them in The Eurogamer Podcast, Episode 8, now available to all. Oh and remember, supporters of Eurogamer get episodes first. You can find out more in the supporter section of our website.