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exotic matter interview
exotic matter interview

Soon, everyone can build with Exotic Matter!

My first impression of Exotic Matter was that it looked familiar even though I had never seen it before. It already seemed like a classic. It evokes the feeling that it belongs on your computer and yet has somehow always been there. Honestly, I haven’t nailed down exactly why yet, but I think it has to do with the combination of the color scheme, the graphics in the alien environment and the soundtrack. It all fits together in a way that makes you think “Yeah, that’s going to be fun!”

So what is Exotic Matter you ask?

“Exotic Matter is a single-player open-world voxel roleplaying game for PC. It features a strong storyline on a fully simulated planet with roguelike underground facilities. Exotic Matter’s sophisticated facility generation system ensures that no two missions ever play the same. And it’s fully moddable engine allows you to explore countless other planets that were created by the community.”

Hey, what’s the story with this game?

“Shipwrecked on an alien planet, light-years away from Earth – your primary mission: survive. Explore the open-world of planet Xcylin and dive deep into the underground facilities of an extinct race. Discover countless items, weapons and block types to help you reach your ultimate goal: to get back to earth and save all humanity in the process.”

So now that we know a bit about the indiegame Exotic Matter, let’s hear from Florian Frankenberger, Game Design and Development at Moebiusgames…

How long have you been developing games for?

I actually started developing games again when I started Exotic Matter back in 2011. Before that I was mostly developing applications. I said “again”, because when I was young I actually started programming because I wanted to be able to develop games. So in a way I came back to something that I always wanted to do since I was a kid.

What is one early memory of a game that made you go “Wow, that’s something I’d like to do”?

The earliest memory must have been when I was about 6 years old and my parents bought their first computer – a Commodore C64. I remember playing a lot of games on it (Giana Sister, Space Taxi, Nebulus, Baccaroo, The Pyramid, Mr. Robot, …). I can’t really recall which of the games it was in particular that got me into programming but I remember that I was fascinated by all the things that were possible by just writing a few lines of code.

What makes this game different from others?

In a way Exotic Matter is something I always wanted to do: a game about exploration in a fully simulated world. And while I thought back in 2011 that I found exactly that in Minecraft, I soon realized that that’s not the case. I mean what Minecraft is really good in is creating a simulated world – and that’s why I played it a lot. But what it is not good in is giving you something to explore. I mean sure there are some things you can discover: different types of blocks and some straying NPCs – but there are no real buildings (at least back then) and you have no real purpose in that world. You wander around aimlessly until you get lost.

So I came up with the idea to take the blocky simulated world of Minecraft and to add a mission to it. But not only a mission but also places that the players can explore and mysteries that they can solve. That quickly lead to the concept of the player being stranded on an alien world – where else would you have a lot of mysteries and puzzles combined with the idea of exploration?

Another thing I really wanted to have is Modding. I always love to see how creative people get when they are able to mod the game – so I wrote Exotic Matter to be fully moddable. In fact it is so moddable that even the single player mission that comes with the game is in fact just a mod for it.

What are you building it with and why?

Exotic Matter is written entirely in Java. Why? Because it was and still is my favorite language. Also when I started I hadn’t developed games for some time now, so I thought if Minecraft was built in Java then Java can’t be such a bad choice for creating games.

Is there anything you’d have done differently looking back on it now?

I think if I’d had to start over now I’d probably try to use Unity for it instead of writing it in Java. Not because it would be that much better languagewise but they did a great job when it comes to portability. I mean in theory Java should run on any platform but in reality some platforms won’t allow you to run Java (like on consoles) and you have to go to great length to get in running on there.

Did you go to school for what you’re doing and/or how did you learn to do what you do?

Mostly I’m a self-taught programmer, but I actually studied computer science later on. So you could say I’m a professional developer but all other aspects of video game development is something I learned from other games, game-jams and a lot of reading about it.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up here in Munich, Germany. Most people know that city only (if they even do) because we have the famous Oktoberfest here.

What were your childhood interests?

Oh I’ve been a nerd for all my life, so I was interested in computers, video games, electronics and LEGO. Basically the same that I’m still interested in – only LEGO has been replaced by 3D printing 😉

What would be a single piece of important advice for other indie developers?

A single piece of advice of other indie devs? I think the most important thing is to always have the target audience in mind when you come up with an idea for a game. I mean that’s at least if you want your game to be profitable. When I started Exotic Matter back in 2011 I didn’t think of any target audience – I created the game for myself, because I wanted to play it. And sometimes this works as well (we’ll see about how well that works with Exotic Matter when it is released) – but you have to be lucky that there are more players like yourself out there. It’s much better to plan that ahead of time – it makes things so much easier in the long run.

What would you say has been the most difficult part of making Exotic Matter?

Oh that’s an easy one: up until now the tesselation of the terrain has been the most difficult part. While most people think that voxel games actually have countless of blocks on screen it is in reality just an illusion. Actually the terrain is just a shell consisting of only the sides of the blocks that are visible on the outside.

I must have rewritten that part of the game at least ten times. Firstly because I didn’t really know how to create a voxel world and later because I wanted the drilling laser to cut through the blocks as quickly as possible. I think it’s working quite well right now but there are still a few things that I’d like to optimize later on if I have the time.

What part has been the most fun?

I think the most fun part of creating Exotic Matter is to see how everything works and to see that the world that was once in my head is actually coming to life.

Are there any other people or designers who have influenced your work?

There is one author who influenced me a lot with his books: Stanislaw Lem. Especially the book Solaris had a significant effect on me when I came up with the basic idea for Exotic Matter. The vibe of that book impressed me so much that I tried to bring some of it over into the world of Exotic Matter.

What would you say is your best attribute, game related or not?

I think my best attribute is that I have strong will power. If I really want to do something then I stick with it until it is done. But I think that’s a necessary attribute to have for any indie game developer.

Do you use any specific methods to evaluate progress at different stages of development?

Because it’s just me working on the game most of the time, I don’t really have any special project management framework. I tried to introduce Scrum once but it just doesn’t work for one person. So at the moment I’m tracking progress by creating issues in an issue tracker and closing them when they are done. Together with hard deadlines it worked quite well the last few years.

Do you have any other games in the works?

I have ideas for a next game but because of the limited time I have I haven’t started working on it yet. But it will definitely have a smaller scale than Exotic Matter projectwise.

In your website you mention that no 2 missions will ever play the same. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Well in Exotic Matter most of the things are procedurally generated. So not only the terrain but also the alien facilities and other structures found on the planet. All goes down to the so called “Multiverselocation” which is basically the seed for the procedural generator. So if you start one mission then your planet/facilities/etc. might look one way and if you start another mission, because your Multiverselocation will be different, your planet might look completely different – you are basically in another multiverse.

And even if that doesn’t bring enough variety for you then don’t forget Exotic Matter is fully moddable. So there will be countless of community created planet types to explore as well.

I know you don’t want to give too much away but, could you give us any insights into the storyline?

Sure: the storyline of Exotic Matter is roughly that the player came to planet Xcylin to harvest an important material that allows to travel faster than light. This material consists of exotic matter and can only be found on this planet. Unfortunately though the player’s ship crashed on that planet and they are the only survivor. So they need to find a way back to Earth and bring as much of that material with them as possible.

You mentioned when I contacted you that it’s primarily you working on this game with the help of some freelancers. How many hours a week do you think you work on it?

That depends. Because Exotic Matter is not released yet I also have to do some contract work to keep things running. I’d estimate that I spend at least 30-40h a week on the game. Sometimes more sometimes less. But Exotic Matter is the project that has the highest priority for me at the moment.

I saw that you can mod the game worlds and create your own. Do you have any plans to expand what you can mod?

Oh the modding API is pretty big already. As I mentioned earlier the single-player campaign  that comes with Exotic Matter is already a mod for the engine so you are not really limited. Maybe people have a different understanding of modding – what modding means in Exotic Matter is that you use JavaScript to create game mechanics. So for example you could use it to create a block type that has a different texture – but you could also use it to create a block type that when touched by the player creates a complete building out of thin air or does something that even I didn’t think of.

But yes, despite all the things that you can already do, I plan to add more crazy stuff that could be done using the game’s engine. And the first thing I’ll do is to add that to the modding API – because otherwise I can’t use it, too. So modders will always have the same possibilities that I have when I work on the single-player mission.

Is there anything I missed that you’d like us to know?

Yeah – actually I just finished bringing Exotic Matter to Brightlocker to get better connected with the community, so if any of your readers is interested in getting involved in the development of Exotic Matter that’s the place to go: https://www.brightlocker.com/games/exotic-matter

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