Astronaut: The Best is a narrative strategy PC game where you turn underdog losers into presentable space heroes using lies, dark magic, and/or hard work. Now on Kickstarter, including a fabulous demo!
The developers, Universal Happymaker, will receive Fundbetter funding to match their Kickstarter goal – but only if they make it! We spoke to Mike Sennott from Universal Happymaker.
We loved the pitch for Astronaut: The Best because it was outright funny – more than anything else we received for Fundbetter. What are your comedy inspirations for the game, and how would you describe its humour?
Wow, thanks! Our team’s senses of humor converge on inspirations such as American adventure games (the LucasArts/DoubleFine lineage), British television comedy (Look Around You being especially relevant), and the casual absurdity of Japanese games from Ace Attorney to Suzuki Bakuhatsu.
It’s dangerous to explain comedy, so I’ll try to back into it from a design perspective. One of our main goals for Astronaut: The Best is to take the sort of tough moral decisions common to narrative-centric games and place them in a fun and liberating context. We want to make a space for players to experiment, where curiosity is always tempting you to do something you never would in real life, and the game lets you know that making questionable decisions is OK. To capture that vibe, we tried to create a bizarre and silly world to juxtapose with serious actions.
Also, our game involves a good deal of procedurally generated content, which tends to create comedy whether you want it to or not. For instance, the most memorable Dwarf Fortress story I’ve heard involved a brave berserker who ate only maple syrup. We did our best to work with the absurdity that comes from mashing random things together, instead of against it.
The art style is also bold, and again like nothing we’d seen. What were the inspirations there?
Our artist Julia (who would give a much better answer to this question) is currently on vacation, but the art style is entirely to her credit. She comes from the world of fine art, and her gallery work combines illustration and embroidery in a mind-blowing way. Many of the characters and motifs in the game come from her sketching whatever weird creatures were in her subconscious. Recruiting from outside the games industry can really pay off in originality!
We wanted the game to feel like a mid-century cartoon. Our mood board has a lot of Maurice Noble, Saul Bass credit sequences, and Disney shorts such as Toot, Whistle, Plunk, and Boom. (The influence of the latter is especially clear in our Kickstarter video.) Our goal was to create a place where absurdity would feel natural, and evoke an era close to the Space Race. Plus, as you said, it was a style we hadn’t seen much of in games before.
Oh, and our UI uses lots of pentagons and groups of five as tribute to the Five Gods of Flaustria.
You recently exhibited at PAX, how did people react to the game?
Overall, we were thrilled with the positive response we received! I learned that it’s fairly easy for people to tell whether they’ll like Astronaut: The Best. They either screwed up their face into a pained expression and left immediately, or they played the game and enjoyed it. It can be tough to show longer games involving reading at conventions, but fortunately seeing a single random event was usually enough to indicate what the game was about. Especially when that event was responding to your astronaut robbing a bank, or a demand from the Mongoose Priest to build a spherical ship because a normal rocket might harbor a giant snake.
Also, we were able to meet some journalists at a cat cafe, so I am able to confirm that cats find the game to smell interesting, but not too interesting.
What are you looking forward to about your Kickstarter?
I hold hope that we might not be as insane as it appears, or at least others may be insane in comfortingly similar ways.
Also, I understand that if we do things right, our game will have a community. I’ve never had a community before. I wonder what they’ll be like! I bet they’ll be awesome.
If you can, describe Astronaut: The Best in three words:
Disgrace. Malfeasance. Reptiles.