Sheltered – An Interview With Unicube’s Dean Foster

Twinstick Gaming have been fortunate enough to conduct an interview with Dean Foster, Lead Programmer and Games Designer at indie developer Unicube. The studio are embedded in work on their latest title Sheltered, which is causing quite a stir in the indie games market. So much so that respected veteran publisher, Team17, have snapped up Sheltered and will be publishing this post apocalyptic title sometime in 2015.

Dean Foster manage to squeeze some time into his busy schedule to give us the latest on the development and life in the fast lane with Team17.

Q: First off, for the boys and girls at home, what is Sheltered?

A: Sheltered is a post-apocalyptic strategy game where you are tasked with keeping a family of four alive in a fallout shelter. You will need to ration your resources, maintain the shelter’s systems (oxygen, water, power), deal with other survivors and scavenge for further supplies. The game is very rogue-like, featuring randomly chosen stories and scenarios for the family to encounter.

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Q: How did the idea come about?

A: The idea began as a Ludum Dare project in April, in which the theme was “under the surface”, but we soon realised that our ideas for the game were far too ambitious to have the game finished in 72 hours! So we pulled out of the competition and continued on with development.


Q: You decided to raise funding for Sheltered via Kickstarter, was this a natural choice? Do you think this is the best route for any upcoming developer?

A: Kickstarter was definitely our first port of call in terms of funding. We thought our idea was good and we needed a way to provide us enough money to get it finished in a year, otherwise we would still just be working on the game in our spare time, which was pretty spare on its own! Crowd funding is a very powerful funding source for new developers, and I would strongly recommend it. My advice is to spend a good amount of time preparing the kickstarter project, and make sure to update the page as the project runs.


Q: Team17 are publishing Sheltered – how did that come about?

A: Well, not too much of a story here haha. They contacted us about two weeks in to the kickstarter campaign and said they would like to chat. We were a bit confused as to why they were contacting us at first, as we had no idea that Team17 had started publishing Indie games. They told us that they loved the game and that they wanted to publish the game for us. We were shocked, and pretty excited that a big name like Team17 was interested in our game. After a few days discussions and contemplation we decided that having Team17 on our side would be the best route for the game to take.

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Q: Are you a fan of Team17’s work? They snapped up a lot more indie dev’s recently, what does it feel like to be part of the Team17 family?

A: We are both big fans of the Worms franchise. I think the vast majority of gamers can say they have fond memories of obliterating worms with sheep, pigeons and grannies. Team17 have made us feel like part of the family from day one! Everyone has been really nice and helpful.


Q: Is it important for an indie dev to be supported by a well established games company?

A: I don’t believe that it is entirely necessary for an indie to be supported by an established games company. There are lots of ways to get a game published today (Greenlight, iStore, Android), without the need for a publisher. But, there is a lot of work outside of the games development, and this is where a publisher shines. They have a better understanding of the industry and can guide you through the not-so-fun areas.


sheltered kickstarter fundQ: You’ve managed to smash your Kickstarter target and the money keeps on coming – what will the extra funds help bring to the game?

A: The extra funds have allowed us to build on the games mechanics and, as listed on the stretch goals, add pets, vehicles, more locations for scavenging, and wanderer mode. We are planning on a lot of polish towards the end of development (as we are very big fans of the small details).


Q: Sheltered will be coming to Steam and now that you’ve surpassed your £23,000 Kickstarter target the game should be heading to PS4 and possibly Xbox One. Why possibly Xbox One?

A: This is just because Game Maker doesn’t currently have the export tools for Xbox One, but this may change in the near future. We are waiting for confirmation on this. We would really like to release it on to Xbox One!


Q: Is it important for an indie title to appear on next gen consoles?

A: Yes, it is important to have indie titles on all formats. The previous gen of consoles, as well as the new gen, have been focused on consoles becoming more than just a console, so it makes sense that you can access many forms of games, no matter if they are AAA or basement Indie. AAA games have their place in squeezing every tiny graphical computation out of the consoles GPU to give you the best looking game possible. Indies are there to squeeze out the very best in gameplay and unique concepts, even if it means your GPU can put it’s feet up and have a cup of tea.


Q: One of the unique aspects of Sheltered is working as a family unit and protecting the family as a whole? Is it this kind of thing that makes Sheltered completely different to games like Don’t Starve? What other differences can we expect?

A: I must admit, I havent played “Don’t Starve”, but it has been recommended to me a few times. We are putting a lot of emphasis on the family because we want the player to feel attached to each member of the family and want to protect them as if they were their own.


Q: According to you, if a family member dies in Sheltered, this will have an emotional impact on the family – what actual gameplay effects will we see?

A: Each family member will be susceptible to trauma, so if a loved one dies, it will effect them deeply. If the children witness or participate in combat without being prepared they could suffer long term psychological damage. The parents will need to prepare the children as much as possible, by teaching them how to maintain the shelters systems, how to scavange, and how to fight.

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Q: I noticed (in game) a picture hanging on the wall of the bunker that is by René Magritte – will we see more cultural references and will you be able to select what artwork and furniture your bunker houses?

A: When expanding the shelter you will be able to place objects where you like. The first layer of the shelter will remain unchanged though, as this has all the base objects for the families survival. Further artwork would be located when scavenging, so long as it’s not too badly burnt.


Q: Sheltered appears to merge several gameplay styles. Such as survival (by foraging for resources), RPG elements (that involve checking your families vitals and emotional state), a D&D inspired combat system – whilst wrapping everything up in an eerie apocalyptic family sim. Does infusing all of these different styles pose a problem or is it just an inspiring challenge for you as a developer?

A: When we began early development we hadn’t even considered what combat would be like, or what genre this even fell under. We just had an idea for a game and started thinking about how it would look and what you would need to accomplish when playing the game. This method of development works for us. We don’t like to decide what genre of game we want to make and then come up with a game for that genre. Game development should never be like that in my mind. It seems much more natural to come up with a concept and let the games own development decide what genre it will be. Games development is always a challenge, even if you have a clear idea in your head. But it offers such great rewards, with the biggest one being able to play a game you have built yourself!


Q: How do you find the indie community? Are there other developers that are supportive of you? Do rivalries ever spark?

A: We haven’t had any rivalries yet (fingers crossed we don’t have any!). We have had lots of kind words from other studios saying how much they like Sheltered. This was really inspiring to us. It is nice to come into the industry as a new comer and receive such welcoming feedback. Before kickstarter the only information about our game was on TIGSource, where we had a devlog in the forums. We received good feedback from the indie community and was a great place to start from.

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Q: Where do you stand on big name developers such as Ubisoft producing indie inspired titles such as Valiant Hearts or Child of Light? Are big companies infringing on indie territory? Or do these games help draw more attention to the indie market?

A: I think it is great to see big name studios create indie inspired games. It will have a great impact on indie developers. Big name studios will play it safe with a “AAA” franchise because they know it will make them money, but this does not progress the industry. Indie titles progress the industry. By pushing boundaries, re-imagining tired out mechanics and bringing forth new IP. Now that big names are allowing their own studios to create more unique and personalised games we could be seeing the beginning of a more “non-sequential” age of gaming.


Q: Now that you have all of the funding you need, how is development coming along and will we definitely see Sheltered hitting the online stores come 2015?

A: We have now moved into our office and development is in full swing! We were very excited about getting back to work and delivering the game we have promised…mainly because we want to play it ourselves! The game will definitely be hitting digital shelves in 2015!

Twinstick Gaming will bring you all the latest apocalyptic news on Sheltered between now and it’s release in 2015. If you want to see the latest on Unicube’s Sheltered Kickstarter project you can visit the site here.