Google is attempting to add a lot more indie games to its Stadia platform and we’ve recently spoken with Moonshine Studios about one of them, Get Packed.
As you can guess from the title (and featured image), it’s entirely themed around the concept of relocating, which is a bit unusual for a game. More specifically, the removals team ‘Last Ditch Removals’ is tasked to relocate the entire little town of Ditchlington after a greedy salt mining company forces everyone out.
The fun part comes thanks to the heavily physics-based gameplay as well as the local and online cooperative action, with the developers promising two game modes (Campaign and Destruction), fifteen locations to wreck, and four customizable playable characters.
Get Packed, which is due for release soon, is the first commercial title of Moonshine Studios and they’re getting publishing help from Coatsink. Furthermore, it’s going to be ‘First on Stadia’, suggesting a timed exclusivity period for the cloud streaming platform. We interviewed Marcus Gardner, Co-Founder and Programmer at Moonshine, and Jack Sanderson from Coatsink Software to learn why Stadia was such a good fit for Get Packed.
Do you want to start by talking about your studio, maybe in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and how that’s affecting you?
Marcus Gardner: Yeah, that would be quite an interesting question because currently we are all based in Cornwall, we’re only a small studio, Moonshine Studios is made up of only five developers really.
We kind of have a little bit of a different schedule going between us. Most of us work in our own office, inside a shed building, and we’ve got one of our programmers who tends to work kind of like a night shift instead and turns the house around because he finds it quieter and relaxing and easier to work. There’s a lot of people who have partners on the other side of the world, things like that, so we’re all quite used to remote working. As far as having the office closed down and everything, as far as working together, we’re all still very productive and we’re all used to it. It hasn’t affected us too badly in terms of workflow, fortunately.
Jack Sanderson: From the Coatsink side it’s pretty much exactly the same. We’re like a small army now because we have just under 100 people but our CEO’s wife actually does a lot of sort of disease testing, she’s a very clever woman so she kind of knew about this and kind of poked our CEO saying ‘You should prep for this just in case’ and that’s exactly what we did. So our transition, getting the hundred staff to work from home, was insanely easy, and thanks to our IT guy we managed to get everything running smoothly. In terms of workflow and working with the Moonshine guys, it’s been a very minimal transition, no delays in anything. It’s been pretty smooth in the grand scheme of things.
Marcus Gardner: Coatsink is based all the way in Sunderland, which is in the far north of the UK. And we’re here in Cornwall, which is in the far southwest. We very rarely meet up in person, we only visited Coatsink’s offices once. The rest is just all through digital communications.
In a recent interview with IGN, Bungie praised the Google Stadia platform because it’s very helpful to do Quality Assurance and playtesting. Are you also taking advantage of it?
Marcus Gardner: Currently, Coatsink as our publisher is also handling a lot of the QA kind of things and of course their QA team is also working remotely, etc. I can imagine that the process is much simpler because people can just connect together quite easily. And everything so much easier now that it’s all progressing towards a digital era anyway.
Can you talk about Get Packed a bit and tell us how you came up with this concept in the first place?
Marcus Gardner: Yeah, sure. Originally when we founded Moonshine Studios there were just the four of us. We’ve done a whole bunch of market research and found what kind of game we wanted to make. So we knew that we wanted to make a couch cooperative game made for a very wide audience and make it family friendly. We’ve looked at games such as Overcooked and things like that, which are very popular for local cooperative play. One of our artists, Callum, was moving house at the time and when we were brainstorming, he proposed this idea of theming it around moving house and the kind of calamity that usually ensues in that. When we started prototyping ideas together, one of the early prototypes was actually based around a Tetris style game where you had to fit different shapes of furnishings into the van and try to get as many objects into the van as possible. Then we started playing around with physics and we found it much more enjoyable and fun. So we kind of made a little twist on the game and made it very physics-based, we just found it very fun and kind of went off from there.
How long have you been working on it?
Marcus Gardner: We started working on Get Packed in November 2017, so quite early. We started working on it quite a few years ago, but at the time, the four of us were actually on a master’s program at university. We’ve created the prototype and started pitching to different publishers throughout the year. However, the first year of development was relatively slow until we partnered up with Coatsink the following year, where we could all work on it full time. Then development really, really picked up. So although we started in late 2017, we suddenly ramped up development quite quickly the following year.
Jack Sanderson: The Stadia conversation was quite an interesting one. Our CEO and COO heard that Google would be doing something and had a mutual friend who introduced Coatsink to the Google Stadia team. After a few back and forth conversations and things like that, we had a couple of games we pitched them and they actually fell in love with Get Packed and that’s kind of how the relationship stemmed. From a development standpoint, they’ve been nothing but amazing, they’ve provided MoonShine and Coatsink with support because it’s been such a new platform, a new piece of hardware, that they’ve got a team able to support us in case there are any troubles through development to make sure that the game runs as smooth as possible on their platform.
Was Stadia a great environment to work with from a developer’s point of view?
Marcus Gardner: Stadia offers a number of different opportunities that traditional consoles don’t. Like for example, Get Packed as a very heavy physics-based game can often be quite performance heavy, and being able to make use of the powerful Google servers to run these games and require people to only have a good Internet connection to run these games on maximum settings seems like a really good thing to do. So you can really see how far we can push the physics mechanics inside the game and make it look great at the same time.
That’s one of the big reasons, and also being able to have Get Packed streamed and have the streaming options for viewers and content creators using the YouTube platform. Features such as Crowd Play make it very easy for content creators to interact more with viewers and with the games video content market being so big and growing all the time, having those options available really can be very powerful. And I’m very interested to see how the gaming community kind of grows alongside it and what kind of potential opportunities that provides them and how it kind of shifts. It’s certainly been touted as perhaps a pioneering piece of gaming technology that could lead to the future of gaming and being part of that, right from the beginning, is very exciting.
You mentioned physics. That’s actually something I wanted to ask about because Google and other developers discussed using something called elastic compute to basically allow, for example, two servers to run a single instance of a game to enable more detailed physics. I was wondering if you are using that for Get Packed.
Marcus Gardner: Currently not so much. I think that that kind of thing is probably still in like a very beta stage at the moment, I would expect. Because physics can be so difficult to work with, it’s certainly very important to make it as stable as possible and we know that, because we’re developing on Unity, which has its own physics platforms, it’s got the entity component system and burst compiler data coming out, but they’re still just in beta. So they’re still not quite fully developed yet, there are still bugs coming through and in order to create and develop a game that is as stable as it can be, unfortunately, we can’t make use of some of those components in Get Packed, not at this time anyway. I mean, we’re certainly planning on updating the game as we go along and seeing how we can use new technology as it appears.
If you were to bring Get Packed to other platforms, would you have to scale down the physics a bit?
Marcus Gardner: We’re already currently looking at optimization options across the board. This is just to make sure that it’s running at 60 FPS on 4K maximum settings on the Google stadia. Optimizations can always be done. I mean, there’s always stuff you can do, whether it’s in terms of improving rendering performance or code optimizations. As far as other platforms are concerned, or if you’re running on slightly lower hardware, the thing we’d want to do the least is to scale down the physics at all, so we would be probably making a lot of hidden optimizations to improve things where it visually doesn’t change very much. We’d be interested in much more like LOD based visuals and things like that, to try and reduce that overhead. But yeah, we haven’t tested Get Packed on any other platforms hardware yet, so it’s really hard to say how it’ll run on there and what kind of optimizations we can make at this stage.
In the future, though, would you like to see Get Packed on other platforms? I’m not sure if there’s a proper exclusive agreement in place.
Jack Sanderson: Get Packed is first playable on Google stadia.
Okay, so it is basically a timed exclusive, reading between the lines.
Jack Sanderson: Yeah, all we can say at the moment is it’s first playable on Google stadia.
Okay, fair enough. Can you share anything about the release date?
Jack Sanderson: Get Packed is in its final stages of development, it’s coming soon to Google Stadia.
Are you potentially interested in adding Get Packed among the Stadia Pro games should Google ask you to?
Jack Sanderson: It’s definitely an opportunity we would consider but again our main goal is to get Get Packed out first and you know, get the game to the Stadia community, and then anything else is worth evaluating at a later date.
Post-launch, do you plan to add new game modes, locations, and other content?
Marcus Gardner: Yes, of course, we’ve already got stage five planned in the works already. We’ve also got plenty of plans to continue adding content throughout the following year, whether it’s new stages or new competitive levels, additional character customizations. We’re seeing what we can do and what we can add and when to add it. We’re certainly planning on adding more stuff to Get Packed as time goes on.