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DPrime Interview: Oscar Jilsén, Lead Designer on Sanctum

DPrime Interview: Sanctum

Coffee Stain Studios’ first-person-shooter/tower-defense mash-up, Sanctum has been building up quite the loyal following since its PC release on April 15th. Its unique combination of two popular video game genres has proven not only operable, but quite infectious. But the indie developers haven’t taken a moment to rest, either, continuing to release new content for the game while promising even more.

The lead designer on Sanctum, Oscar Jilsén was kind enough to answer some questions for Default Prime to give some insight into how the game came about, as well as what is planned for its future:


Default Prime: Hello, Oscar! Thank you for taking this interview for DefaultPrime! To start things off, where did the name “Coffee Stain Studios” come from?

Oscar Jilsén: The name “Coffee Stain Studios” comes from the unexplainable amount of coffee stains we leave wherever we go. It’s a mystery, really.

DP: In our review, we discussed how you might have arrived at an FPSTD game. Can you tell us how it really came to be?

OJ: A lot of people who dislike the TD genre say they dislike it because of the spectating role the player has. You build towers and then you sit back and watch. These people want to be active while playing. We think the TD genre has immense potential and it is sad that a lot of players can’t experience that. After a lot of discussion, we came to the conclusion that FPS would be better at delivering the action packed experience that the TD genre needs. And thus, FPS-TD was born.

DP: Where did you draw your inspiration from when creating Sanctum?

OJ: The inspiration comes from a lot of different places for everybody in the team but other games are not really a big part of that.  There are, of course, a lot of games and other media that are inspiring, but nothing that inspired Sanctum as a whole. We’re mostly inspired and driven by the community and our own crazy minds. CSS as a company takes a lot of inspiration from Valve and the way they handle the community.

DP: Here’s a question that our reviewer was dying to know the answer to: Why are the aliens so intent on destroying the core?

OJ: Our plan is to hint at the backstory by the use of the maps in the game. Secret areas and not-so-secret areas are stuffed with hints about the backstory. Each map that comes out will hint a little more about the backstory. Regarding the question, I can just say that there is a reason for their suicidal march. The actual reason can be revealed by finding the hints in the available and upcoming maps.

DP: Alternatively, where did they learn to dance like that?

OJ: We’ve had dance sessions with all the enemies in Sanctum. An hour every Saturday from the start of the project. Walkers learn slow :c

DP: In the Steam forums, you’ve linked to concept art of a new level, which looks fantastic. Can we expect anything different here from the other maps?

OJ: The new level, Glade, is very different in terms of both the single player experience and the multiplayer experience. Glade is divided into two lanes, one on each side of the core. This means that you have to find a balance of the placement of towers and yourself, being a little more challenging in the single player mode. In multiplayer, it plays a lot more like a regular co-op TD as the players usually take one lane each. It’s a relatively simple change from the other maps, but we think it makes a huge difference on the gameplay experience.

DP: With the four-player online experience that’s on its way, will there be any other associated changes in this upcoming game mode?

OJ: There will be a lot of minor adjustments to the game necessary to implement 4 player support. Other than that, I cant really say. We’ve got some really sweet stuff thought out but we’re not sure yet whether it’ll be ready in time for the 4-player patch.

DP: You’ve mentioned plans to introduce new weapons and enemies. When can we expect some of these?

OJ: New weapons, towers and enemies will be the main priority after the 4-player patch is released. It’s still too early to say, though.

DP: Thus far, Coffee Stain Studios has been very involved in the user community. Was this a plan from the start?

OJ: Yes, we take a lot of inspiration from Valve in that regard. We believe that a good connection with the community is vital. After gathering feedback, we can also decide what is important to expand on. After all, it’s better to patch in something we know the community wants than to patch in something we think they want.

DP: Did the number or quality of entries to your ‘Creativity Contest’ surprise you?

OJ: They did. We did not expect that many entries on our first contest ever. It turned out great, though, and we’ll probably hold more contests in the future.

DP: This game seems ripe for user-generated content. Have you considered opening up the game to the community by releasing a map editor?

OJ: Not at the moment. Making a usable map editor is a lot of work for us and is quite the commitment, especially since the game is still very new. We want to make sure Sanctum has a very stable community before we can afford to spend our resources on developing a map editor.

DP: There are some pretty hardcore players out there right now chasing after the high scores. Are there any plans to introduce a tournament or some other form of competitive play to capitalize on this?

OJ: We’ve discussed quite a bit about a possible competitive game mode for Sanctum. That game mode takes a lot of time to implement, though, and we landed somewhere around 6 months development time. At the moment, we haven’t planned the development of a competitive game mode because of the time it needs. We want to focus on expanding the current cooperative part of Sanctum.

DP: What aspect of Sanctum are you most proud of?

OJ: That’s a really tough question. I think that the answer to that question differs depending on who on the team you ask. I am most proud of the gameplay and depth of Sanctum. I like the fact that Sanctum has depth even though it has relatively few towers and weapons and also the general flow of the game. The reason I’m most proud of that part is probably because that’s the part I’m responsible for. Though, I love the art style of the game a lot too… I don’t think there’s anything I dislike to be honest!

DP: Now that the game has been out for a short while, what, if anything, would you change?

OJ: Probably the difficulty level of the game. Since Sanctum is a new concept, there are a lot of new mechanics that players need to understand to successfully advance in the game. Therefore, it is perceived as more difficult than it actually is. Actually, the tutorial would probably have to be a lot more expansive.

DP: When you’ve finished with Sanctum, what comes next for Coffee Stain Studios?

OJ: Right now, we’re hard at work developing additional content for Sanctum. We’re also going to look at expanding Sanctum to more platforms. We’re currently looking at the Xbox 360 and Mac, but nothing is set in stone yet. We’re in the “poke and probe”-phase concerning other platforms.

DP: Once again, thanks for your time from all of us here at Default Prime. We’re glad to have you in the gaming scene and are looking forward to what comes next!

OJ: Thank you!

Matt is a lifetime gamer from his humble beginnings with the Atari 2600. He is also the host of the Default Prime video series, The Bowlingotter Show.

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