What would you do if you had only one minute to pack your life away in a fallout shelter, knowing that anything or anyone left behind would be wiped out in an atomic blast?
That's the question posed by 60 Seconds!, a darkly comic post-apocalyptic survival game by Polish indie studio Robot Gentleman.
It's a game that launched first on PC in 2015, rising to prominence after coverage from some high-profile YouTubers including PewDiePie. As of the end of September, it is now also available on iOS.
As such, PocketGamer.biz reached out to Robot Gentleman Founder, Creative & Tech Director Dominik Gotojuch to learn more about 60 Seconds!, its development and the mobile conversion process.
PocketGamer.biz: 60 Seconds! has a very distinctive vibe. What inspired the game's style and premise and when did you begin work on it?
Dominik Gotojuch: One of the inspirations behind 60 Seconds! was the Cold War era fear of the nuclear apocalypse. Indeed, the game is set in 1950s suburban USA.
We drew a lot from that period, both story and art-wise, looking up comic books, books and films and referencing - often in parodic fashion - the situations of these troubled times.
As much as we enjoy the nuclear apocalypse theme, we thought there was one thing that was usually left out in other titles: the moment of the apocalypse itself and what happened just before it.
If you think about finding yourself in a scenario when you know that the world is going to end very soon, what is it that you do? What decisions do you make? Do you try to survive? How? With what and whom?
This thought drove the development of the design for 60 Seconds! from August 2013 to May 2015, when the PC version of the game was released.
The game is divided into two distinct chunks: the 3D 'Scavenge' phase and the 'Survival' aftermath with its 2D visuals and text-heavy delivery. Was it always this way, and what was the thinking behind such a contrast?
Originally, the game was meant to be much shorter. In fact, it was only supposed to be an internal prototype for testing out if Unity would be a good fit for us.
When we experienced the game in its early form, we understood that it has more potential than we thought. We suspended work on other projects and focused our efforts on creating 60 Seconds!.
Originally, it was only supposed to be an internal prototype for testing out Unity.Dominik Gotojuch
Still, the game was literally supposed to take 60 seconds. For almost half of the development, the game featured only the scavenge part, with the survival aftermath acting as a glorified score screen.
The intention was to get the outcome of the survival part generated automatically as a story of the family and their life after the apocalypse, on the basis of the player’s decisions in the scavenge phase.
After toying with prototypes we decided that we would much rather be a part of that story and help it unfold day by day. The game was then organically expanded to the form known today.
Although unusual, the contrast was planned. We wanted to start with pushing our players to the edge by engaging them in a fast-paced scavenge hunt with barely any time to think.
Gamers quickly learn that this is more of a challenge than expected, since decisions made in the scavenge run have long-lasting consequences for the rest of the game.
The seemingly more relaxed survival part initially calms players down and lulls them into a false sense of security. This creates an interesting cycle of emotion as players battle to keep their family from degrading in the shelter and perishing.
Quite a few of our more experienced game developer colleagues thought this was a dead-end and that the game would likely be a flop. We were very happy to prove them wrong.
Running around the house and bashing into physics-enabled furniture feels clumsy and slapstick. Is this what you were going for? What effect did you hope to create?
As with a lot of comedy involved in 60 Seconds!, we couldn’t just make the scavenge run a realistic experience.
Every bit of it was tied into the dark comedy vibe that starkly contrasts with the seriousness of the nuclear apocalypse theme.
Ted, the head of the family and the character you control in the scavenge part, was meant to be more than just an empty avatar for players to toy with.
His race against the clock and the impending doom had to be unique. Going for slapstick comedy was our way of making it so and continuing our exploration of contrasts that highlight mature themes hidden in the back scenes of the game.
Clumsily crushing furniture and random items in the house, Ted slowly but steadily collects supplies and makes sure his family is safe in the fallout shelter.
Our writing team is responsible for 200 pages of textual content in 60 Seconds!.Dominik Gotojuch
He is doing the right thing and for all his assumed flaws, he is a hero fighting against overwhelming odds.
If he succeeds or not is up to the players, but witnessing his struggle in all its hilariousness and tragedy is what makes the whole concept of 60 Seconds! work that well.
Much of the writing in 60 Seconds! is darkly humorous. Who was responsible for this?
Our writing team, responsible for the 200 pages of textual content for 60 Seconds!, is made up of Berenika and Dominik Gotojuch.
Berenika is our designer and writer, whilst Dominik is our programmer who happens to wear way too many hats and also doubles as a designer and writer.
What unique opportunities do video games offer for humour, and would you like to see more comedy in games?
Comedy is a very hard genre to work with and good comedies are hard to come by. This is true for any medium.
However, the individual interaction edge games have over other art forms makes the comedy value even more personal for the player experiencing the game.
It’s not a character guided by the author doing funny, maybe ridiculous things. It’s an avatar guided by our very own hand and will. This personal touch allows gamers to resonate with the game’s humour even more.
We grew up with amazing game comedies from the 1990s, including such gems as LucasArts adventure titles and The Neverhood, and really enjoy the fact that a lot of teams are making attempts at crafting comedy games.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it is very encouraging to see so many studios pursuing something as challenging.
How difficult is it to create a branching story title that makes decisions feel like they have true weight and meaning, and each playthrough a distinct experience? By your reckoning, how many unique outcomes are there in 60 Seconds!?
The short answer: very difficult.
The longer answer: it took us months and months to develop the content and craft the game’s balancing in a way that made sense for us, and we hoped it would also be enjoyable and challenging for our players.
It took us months and months to develop the content and craft the game’s balancing.Dominik Gotojuch
We never really calculated how many different story combinations there could be, but with the amount of storyline events we have it would be a fairly large number.
Various endings to the game, on the other hand, are focus points. And although they are not scripted to happen on any particular day, their number is finite.
There are two happy endings to the game and about a dozen unhappy endings, where the family perishes or loses their fallout shelter.
After launching 60 Seconds! on PC in 2015, how happy were you with its performance?
It went amazingly! We were hoping for the best, but with almost 30,000 copies sold in the first month after the release, we definitely surpassed our hopeful estimates of 10,000 copies to be distributed in the first year of the game’s release.
It was a runaway success we never anticipated would go as far as it did.
Why did you decide the game would be a good fit for mobile and what were the biggest challenges during conversion?
We were considering creating a mobile version quite early in the development process, but due to the fact that there was neither the time nor the budget to do it, we decided to postpone it.
We suspected the game would work really well on mobile devices, but it wasn’t until our fans started querying us about bringing it to mobile that we decided to act on it.
It wasn’t as easy as pushing a single button labelled 'Generate Mobile Version'.
Since this was our first mobile game, there were technical issues to be considered, especially in regards to optimisation.
Our biggest problems were related to redesigning the game with smaller screens and different control schemes in mind, whilst preserving the feel of the desktop original.
How long did it take to come up with a mobile version with which you were happy? Are there any key changes for the platform?
It took us nearly a year to get ready for the mobile release.
Content-wise the game is the same 60 Seconds! our players know and love from the desktop version, but the control scheme is changed to work with touchscreens and there are a number of user interface and functionality improvements to make the game work best on mobile phones and tablets.
The game has been played by some very prominent YouTubers. Was this part of your strategy, or did it occur organically?
From day one we were very welcoming towards smaller YouTubers who approached us about the game.
From day one we were very welcoming towards smaller YouTubers who approached us.Dominik Gotojuch
We soon found ourselves talking to bigger and bigger Let’s Players. Eventually, PewDiePie and other hugely popular Youtubers played the game.
Most of this commotion and interest was absolutely organic. For PewDiePie, we did try to get him interested, but we are not sure if it was our attempts that got his attention or if he accidentally stumbled onto the game.
Did you note a dramatic spike in purchases driven by YouTube Let's Plays? Would you have any advice for other indie studios wanting to get their games noticed by influencers?
The buzz generated by YouTubers big and small contributed to the long-lasting popularity of our game, there is no doubt about it.
That’s one of the reasons why the PC version of the game remains incredibly popular to this day, even though it was released almost a year and half ago.
In fact, we believe that over 90% of our sales in Poland were likely inspired by high-profile Polish YouTubers.
The biggest spikes we’ve noticed came after PewDiePie and Markiplier released their videos. That was also when we registered our sales of the day record.
The important thing to remember if you want your game to get any interest on YouTube is to treat YouTubers as partners.
Many of them are inspired creators, just like developers, and take pride in what they do. Their passion can sometimes be of huge help to the game’s popularity.
However, it is good to assume you know nothing about YouTube and its trends. We thought 60 Seconds! was not a good fit for YouTube because of the amount of reading. Boy, were we wrong!
What other approaches to getting the word out have you taken, or are planning to take, with 60 Seconds!, especially on mobile?
With PC we relied on the word of mouth, but for the mobile version we knew any extra help might prove invaluable.
Within a week of sales, the mobile version recouped its development costs.Dominik Gotojuch
We already had a great community asking us to release the pocket version of the game on mobile devices, but to make the impact even bigger we decided to reach out to mobile-focused press outlets.
We also enlisted additional help of experts who were able to advise us on how we could make the mobile version better.
Have you been happy with the game's mobile launch? Any surprises?
It took us quite a while and jumping through a lot of hurdles to get the mobile version out the door. It was new territory for us, as PC-focused developers, and we weren’t exactly sure what to expect.
Even though we’ve done all we could to make sure that mobile 60 Seconds! would be as enjoyable as the original desktop version, we were preparing for the worst.
Everyone kept telling us that a premium game would not sell very well and all the numbers we found supported that very claim.
To our great surprise, the game did excitingly well. It was warmly received and within a week of sales it recouped its development costs.
This certainly encouraged us to experiment with more mobile titles in the future.
Is the book now closed on 60 Seconds!, or will you be looking to add updates etc.? What's next for Robot Gentleman?
Development of 60 Seconds! is far from over! We are planning a number of updates that will bring new content to the game and keep it fresh and entertaining for new and experienced players alike.
We are also busy preparing for the upcoming reveal of our second title. It will be different from 60 Seconds!, but we are sure that everyone who enjoys story-based games will love it!
Any plans for an Android release?
We would love to get 60 Seconds! into the hands of as many gamers as possible and the game is likely to be arriving to more platforms in the future. However, we can’t confirm the Android version just yet.