Exis founder Peter Kojesta chats with Phil Nachum about the upcoming Majestic-12 and how Steam Greenlight is a great tool for indies
Retro love-letters are common among the independent development community. Dozens of indie games are inspired by the late 80s and early 90s video game industry that their developers grew up with.
This retro influence is evident in Exis Interactive‘s upcoming Majestic-12, a current Steam Greenlight submission. I spoke with Exis founder Peter Kojesta about the game and his experience with Valve’s community-driven service.
Kojesta describes the game as Castle Crashers meets Contra, with some elements of bullet-hell titles like Ikaruga. It’s a colorful 3D side-scrolling shooter in which players take the role of a Majestic-12 commando and fight aliens.
However, one of the game’s biggest influences was TMNT: Turtles in Time on the SNES. Kojesta recalls playing the game with a friend. “We must have played that game until our controller buttons were rubbed away, but that was the appeal right? You could play it five million times and still have a blast. We set MJ12 up the same way.”
In addition to the campaign, Majestic-12 features a wave-based survival mode and a competitive versus mode, all of which support up to four-player local and online multiplayer. While the game originally only supported two player co-op, the developer decided to try four players, and found the game to be a lot more fun. Although implementing this was a considerable technical challenge and required a large time investment, Kojesta said, “It comes right back to giving the player the experience that they’ll enjoy best, and four people doing gun-fu on screen is more fun than two.”
This isn’t the only aspect of the game that changed during development. Originally, Majestic-12 was a purely 2D side-scrolling shooter, in which players could only face forward or backwards. In the game’s current state, players have far more freedom to move and rotate their character.
This change in perspective posed several control challenges. Kojesta explained, “Making the game control intuitively is essential, so we spent A LOT of time creating the default controls (you can change them in options if you like).
“For example, our characters can roll/dive, and when playing with a mouse, you just roll your mouse wheel and you’re doing acrobatics; this sort of intuitive control system makes the game really easy to start. Once you master that, and the game’s other systems like the shields and weapon add-ons/power-ups, you really get into some neat tactics. The great thing is, it’s 100 percent up to the player how deep they want to go.” Kojesta believes that “the game is easy to get into, but when you turn up the difficulty modes, it’s really about skill and reflexes.”
Majestic-12 has a resonance beyond gaming. According to conspiracy theorists, it was also the name of a top-secret government group tasked with investigating a supposed UFO crash site in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. Kojesta said, “I really enjoy the idea of being able to draw from of our own world to create the game world in Majestic. For example, in level two of our game, you’re at the ‘groom lake’ facility after fleeing Area-51, and you walk past these giant missile silos with ‘Peacekeeper’ missiles in them; That’s the real name/classification of the nuclear missiles that the US had in its arsenal in 2005, when the game takes place.”
Although Exis is considering post-launch content updates – only four of MJ-12’s 12 members are represented in the game – Kojesta does not seem interested in making sequels. He said, “We have games we designed back in 1997, and we really want to make these. We have stories we want to tell, and a lot of very cool game mechanics we want to show players. If the community gives us the chance, we hope to keep making really fun stuff that they can sink their teeth into.”
Majestic-12 is currently vying for community support on Steam Greenlight. After launching in late August, Steam Greenlight quickly became a controversial subject. While its intentions to let the community dictate which games end up on Valve’s digital distribution platform were sound, the service quickly became flooded with inappropriate and illegitimate submissions.
In response, Valve introduced a $100 fee per submission to prevent the noise and clutter. But while some saw the fee as a necessary means of prevention, others saw it as restrictive for the smaller developers that Greenlight is intended to serve.
Regarding the fee and its impact, Kojesta said, “If you’re serious about releasing and supporting a game, $100 should not stop you.” He added, “I think the fee was a great idea, and I wish it has been there from the start.”
In fact, Kojesta is in favor of other regulations for Steam Greenlight, to further filter the noise and ensure that only legitimate games are submitted. He said, “Another effective technique would have been to allow only games at a certain state in development, maybe post-alpha, to display publically. Some early moderation would have been appreciated.”
However, Kojesta is somewhat concerned about Greenlight’s future. While he is excited about the opportunity to expose Majestic-12 to the Steam community, and is impressed by how quickly Valve is approving titles, he “can’t help but be worried it’ll become like XBLIG and great games may just get lost.”
Although Steam Greenlight certainly gives the community more influence, Kojesta believes that “[t]he community always had the power. Valve does a good job of curating content, and this opens that process up to the audience as well.” The community is in control “regardless of who puts your game on their shelf. It shouldn’t be any other way.”
Steam Greenlight is still a new service and it may take time for all the kinks to get worked out, but in the meantime, we can take solace in knowing that passionate developers are finding it useful in exposing their work.