Weekly Update: A New (Better) Direction

Hi Truckers,

Let’s start with a disclaimer, the way most thrilling pieces of literature begin: If you currently do not have a beverage and/or snack I strongly recommend one; I’ll do my best to be succinct and entertain you with stupid jokes and fun visuals but spoiler alert I won’t be succinct at all. We have a lot to talk about, you and I (seriously is anyone even reading this).

I won’t bore you with a deep dive of our origin story, because trust me, it’s boring. We don’t have super powers, there was no catastrophic event that lead to Mike having laser vision or a biological disaster that gave me the ability to cook ramen without crying the entire time. We were just two corporate kids that started our own company, worked with clients, then pivoted to make video games instead.

STL is, objectively speaking, our first real game. It started as a very, very simple Unity demo with a truck driving itself through a generic parallax landscape and earning coins for each mile it passed. You bought a few upgrades with said coins and did the exact same thing, only faster because that’s basically the game loop for most idle/rpg games. After a few months of adding new features, content, systems, and even a social layer, we felt we were ready to find a publisher. Almost the same week we decided to do so, Kongregate, a major browser game portal and coincidentally our first choice for STL, announced its imminent demise in response to Adobe deciding Flash’s EOL would be at the end of 2020. For those of you that aren’t huge nerds, that means the owner of Flash, the predominant software platform often used for making games that were playable in browsers, decided to no longer support it and blocked content from running in the Flash Player.  Consequently, that put a lot of sites like Kongregate on life support. Dark days, man.

This is what Kongregate looks like today:

But hope was not lost. We also considered Armor Games, a similar site still thriving after a heavy pivot to Unity; the same software we used to make STL. That’s when AG and STL became best friends and braided each others hair and had pillow fights in their pajamas after eating waaay too much candy except for the fact that that’s not even close to what happened. We were informed that STL wasn’t a good fit and they’d be passing (for now). They were professional and respectful but it still meant another dead end. Damnit.

Armor Games:

A quick but necessary aside here is to answer your first question which is probably why the hell am I telling you all of these things, especially publicizing rejection. The answer is actually simple; we weren’t spiteful or defeated, but immediately decided we’d build our own Kongregate; our own Armor Games. Custom social systems with friends, chat, gifting, and notifications? Sure why not. Premium shop with Paypal integration? Sure why not. Our own servers? Sure why not. Custom admin tools built from scratch in WordPress? Sure why- the $#%@ are we doing this? Because we can. Mike and I are (objectively) very good at designing and building web properties so we wrapped one around STL, made it a “multiplayer game” with social elements, discussed (to death) multiplayer functionality, and created a web page that felt more like an ecosystem which we realized recently detracted from the whole single-player experience.

This is what STL looks like, right now on the live servers:

And that’s the point of this post, to introduce a new (better) direction for STL (holy shit you guys he said the title!). Instead of building this MMO vibe we realized we’d rather focus on the player’s experience rather than multiplayer functionality and social integration, especially given the genre of the game. We’ve talked about drag races, multiplayer boss battles (don’t ask), community events, competitions, and other things and none of them felt particularly fun, on brand, or worth the effort required. How does one make a multiplayer experience engaging, rewarding, and most importantly fun in a 2D scrolling game with a truck that drives itself? They don’t. And if they do, they did so by abandoning the core experience of the game to make a new one, and honestly what the hell is the point of that. That’s a rhetorical question; if the only way you can make a large group of players have a good time together is by deviating from the core loop as much as possible, you should be working on a different game dedicated to that purpose, from concept to execution.

To be painfully honest, STL was never really designed to be a multiplayer game, and that became more and more apparent the more systems we added. You can drive for weeks. You can upgrade your truck a dozen ways. You can customize your truck with over 200 paints and toppers. There are several custom built radio stations with licensed music in different genres and fake sketches and a real-life professional DJ (Stevenson) who was generous enough to host a fake radio station in STL. We built 12 different loot tiers with randomly generated stats into the game for custom parts to be installed. You can craft gear with unlocked recipes. There are over 100 achievements (badges) to earn with a secondary reward track for achievement milestones. There’s a race track you can place bets on, offline progress, and a fully built inventory management system. We have daily goals and a brief tutorial. There are 9 unique buffs you can apply to your truck, a slot machine, and multiple ascensions. All of those can exist and succeed independently from any multiplayer inclusion, and we’re not even done yet — I’ll get to that.

Not only is multiplayer unique from a gameplay standpoint, it also requires a lot of moderation and tech overhead. For those of you that have played a multiplayer video game, you’re well aware of the potential toxicity on the social level. There are only two of us; trying to moderate potentially thousands of players is basically impossible.  On top of that, if we get thousands of players chat will become a minefield of spam and a playground for trolls. We’d have to keep that locked down with profanity filters, volunteer moderators, ban hammers, extensive EULA policies, and possibly even legal intervention if something went sideways. We’re just not big enough to handle (or want to handle) that when we could be focusing on good times for our truckers. The requests to our servers also goes through the roof, bogging servers down, increasing costs, and adding to our workload. It’s just not worth it.

This is what STL currently looks like on our staging server:

Just a few minor changes. No big deal. For starters, the entire bottom of the screen wasn’t cropped out; it’s f’ing gone. Chat, DMs, Channels, and that carousel that absolutely no one ever complained about have been stripped from the UI. We removed Notes and Friends from the right panel and replaced the space with a larger area dedicated to Goals. Because Goals are fun. With the carousel removed we also decided to move the Shop into a more subtle top nav item, removing it from the left side altogether to put less focus on MTX and pissing people off with MTX which also definitely never happened. The left nav is now reserved for action items the player cares about, and frequently jumps between. If you haven’t been keeping up on the blog (aw), we’ve added 4 more ascensions and a new loot tier, additional crafting recipes, 6 new buffs with unique bonuses, and tweaked balance and rewards relentlessly to the benefit of the player. There are also visual/audio improvements, like a spinning barber pole animation on the mile bar with little sparks that fly off the end as you hit miles, randomly placed cash and scrap feedback text to keep things lively, multiple indicators on web elements when interacting, and audio cues as well.

Leaderboards have been removed completely. We realize this one might hit a few of you in the plums, but rest assured it was for the greater good. While we always listen to our players, creating a fiercely competitive environment was never our intention either, and ironically the leaderboards were born after a few closed beta players requested them because there was little else to do in the game. Now that we’ve got so much going on leaderboards just seem arbitrary; especially when things in the shop could potentially give players advantages over others. It doesn’t seem fair, fun, or a holistic approach to a game otherwise absent of a multiplayer focus.

We also reworked the MTX shop to provide more bang for your buck, if that’s your thing. You can even buy the “full game” which hilariously kills the MTX shop entirely and we’ll never bother you again. This decision, much to the absolute irritation of every predatory cash grabby game on the planet, was a joint decision to give people the option to opt out of further MTX purchases and get absolutely everything in the shop while simultaneously hooking your bois up with a decent meal and by a decent meal I mean buying a nice bottle of scotch to celebrate your generosity and our inability to spend money like responsible adults.

On top of everything else, if you made it this far (thanks for that, by the way), you might have noticed something interesting in that last screenshot I deceptively failed to mention. See it now? No? It’s this:

Mike has been working his wrinkly old balls off on a desktop version of the game. For those of you that don’t want to rely on a browser, you can download and install the game and slap that bad Larry right on your desktop. You’ll still be fully connected to the servers, and when we push new builds and updates you’ll get those without having to do anything other than restarting the game. Lastly (no, really) some of you are aware that backgrounding the game in a browser, including switching tabs or minimizing can lead to frequent disconnects. We’ve explained why this happens in the past and even introduced offline progress to counter this issue as many idle games do because it’s basically out of our control otherwise. Not only can you background the desktop client, but you can minimize that shit entirely without getting disconnected. If you own Cookie Clicker on Steam, you know exactly what that feels like. We’re testing the app and so far everything works beautifully. I’m sure we’ll encounter a bug or five but until then, weee!

The last thing I want to mention is that I can speak for both of us when I say we have no regrets. We knew we’d make mistakes, learn from them, and move on. We knew that not every feature was going to be a resounding success and fun is subjective. We knew we’d piss some people off (on accident) and make amends. Everything we’ve built we’re glad we did. Even though we did in fact build our version of a gaming portal like Armor Games, it doesn’t mean we can’t use that in the future; STL is not just the first game we’ve built, it’s the first of many. Our social wrapper will be applied when we decide to make a true multiplayer game, and we’re pumped to get to that point. For now, we’re focused on STL being the best single player experience we provide, and we hope y’all are excited to experience it when it goes live… at some point. We’ll also be overhauling and utilizing our Discord exclusively to keep the community intact. We can gain insights through feedback, share screens for work sessions, host AMAs, post updates, and interact with our awesome truckers without the need for multiplayer integration in the game itself. Our Discord will become the Strike Interactive HQ, not only focused on STL, but every game we build from here on out. We hope you’ll join us there.

Next week, we’ll be diving into the last piece of the puzzle; Fleet. A robust mini game focused on managing a fleet of truckers under your own flag that’ll let you hand pick drivers to build an army, earning crates and other rewards down the road (get it). Thanks for reading the most absurdly long blog post in the history of the internet and for sticking with us on this ridiculous journey. I’d show you a screenshot or two but my fingers are going to fall off.

Much Love,

Dan & Mike