Old School Gamer Magazine chats with Waves of Steel developer Chris Weisiger (Founder & Lead Developer, TMA Games), who discusses the game’s development cycle and what games have influenced it the most.
About Waves of Steel:
Across the globe, tyrants are seizing power. Their limitless military forces seem impossible to stop – rolling across all organized resistance like waves of steel. But their reach is not limitless – and in the seas and oceans of the world, resistance holds strong …. for now.
Take command of one of the few remaining free warships. Resist. Stay ahead of the enemy’s grasp – and find the source of their power!
Waves of Steel is a fast and accessible naval combat simulator. Across its single-player campaign, your lone ship will need to take on hundreds of enemy ships, planes, and submarines – as well as colossal superweapons like a flying battleship and a gun made out of a volcano (!) Between missions, use the parts you’ve scavenged to customize your vessel in a flexible yet straightforward ship designer. You’ll need all the firepower you can muster to take on the enemy.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How was Waves of Steel born?
Chris Weisiger: I’ve been working in the software industry for 15 years, but I always wanted to make games. The problem is that my ideas are always too big, and I could never afford to dedicate the enormous amounts of time to them that they would need to really work out. So I would work on them in my spare time for a few months, get frustrated by how little progress I was making, and decide to do something else.
But in 2019, I finally decided to take the plunge and switch to doing game development full-time, instead of as a hobby. I reviewed all of my “dream games” and decided that Waves of Steel was the most achievable. Considering how big of a game it is, that should tell you something about my other ideas!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What is your role in the game?
Weisiger: I’m doing just about everything. In fact, it’s easier to say what I’m not doing: music, character designs and hand-painted backgrounds, and some of the writing. I write all the code, make all the 3D models, do the sound design, create the levels, provide art direction – and of course, I’m handling all of the business stuff. Being responsible for so many parts of the game is exciting and educational. It’s also a ton of work!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What has development been like?
Weisiger: I could say a huge number of things here: It’s a lot of work, it’s educational, it’s challenging, it’s fun. I think what I want to highlight, though, is how much hope is involved in game development. So far, I’ve spent two years working on this game – and in all that time, I had absolutely no clue if it was going to be a success. My only options were either to press on and hope that it would be worthwhile eventually – or give up and do something more immediately rewarding.
Two years is a long time! There are very few pursuits where you can (and often must) go that long without getting that sink-or-swim moment of exposing your work to the uncaring public.
Of course, my friends and colleagues were supportive. I got tons of valuable feedback from them (it’s not exactly like I was laboring in total obscurity), but I still feel like I spent years in limbo. The Early Access launch was a make-or-break moment. Imagine the stress leading up to that point!
Fortunately, the launch is going well! The game is selling well, and everyone’s having fun. I still have a long way to go before I can give a confident answer to the question of whether it was all worth it – but right now, the trend is pointing in the right direction.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What makes Waves of Steel special?
Weisiger: Waves of Steel strikes a pretty unique balance that you don’t see much these days. Many games have customizable vehicles, for example. But they usually either just give you a few equipment slots and a list of items to put in them – or they require you to build the entire vehicle from scratch, which is a time-consuming process and demands a lot of work from the player to get good-looking results. Meanwhile, in Waves of Steel, you get to pick from a set of premade hulls, and then a wide selection of parts to place on the hulls – not in slots, but anywhere they fit. So you have a lot of freedom to make each ship your own, without having to answer a lot of nitty-gritty details. It’s easy to make ships that look good. And then you can take the ship out into the game, and it’ll just work.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What games influenced this one the most?
Weisiger: Now this is an extremely easy question to answer! Waves of Steel is a loving re-creation of the PlayStation 2 game Naval Ops: Warship Gunner 2. One of the reasons I chose to make this game instead of any other was because I’d been waiting for over a decade for someone else to continue the series – and nobody was rising to the challenge. So I figured, why not me?
Warship Gunner 2 is a great game, and it still holds up today (in my clearly unbiased opinion). Of course, there are things that I chose to do differently in Waves of Steel – but it was invaluable for me to have this example to work from.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Any fun stories or wild moments during development?
Weisiger: It’s always fun to see weird bugs. One of my favorites was when I was first working on adding aircraft to the game – and I’d forgotten to limit the rate at which airplanes could launch from airstrips, so one would launch every single frame. At the time, the airplanes also had no randomness in their behavior – so the result was that I had a perfect conga line of airplanes stretching from the airstrip all the way out to my ship … which rapidly sunk under a barrage of bombs.
Old School Gamer Magazine: What were the major lessons learned?
Weisiger: That game you’re planning to make? It’s too big. Cut the scope down. No, smaller than that. Smaller. Even smaller. If you can imagine finishing it in a month, that might be about right. I’ll check in a year from now to see how it’s coming.
Old School Gamer Magazine: Do you think preserving older gameplay mechanics in new games is important?
Weisiger: I think that this is important – but also that it’s happening more or less automatically. People still make plenty of old-style arcade games, retro racing games, interactive fiction – and of course, millions of platformers. They even use retro “hardware” like the PICO-8 to get that old-school feel just right. So I’m not worried that the game mechanics that I grew up with are going to disappear any time soon.
Old School Gamer Magazine: The marketplace is crowded. How do you think Waves of Steel stands out?
Weisiger: It’s really weird to admit, but nobody seems to be making games like Waves of Steel! The game most people are playing in its space is Warship Gunner 2, which came out 15 years ago. In effect, I have a genuine novelty on my hands – and I’m hoping that will attract attention.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How have your previous experiences in industry helped this game?
Weisiger: I knew going in that I’d have to throw away a certain amount of work – because when you’re doing anything for the first time, you’re going to make mistakes. So I didn’t get “precious” with any of my output. If a sound effect I’d spent hours working on was bad, I’d throw it away and start over. If a game mechanic wasn’t working out, it’d get tossed out the airlock.
For example, I had an entire tech tree system in the game for a long time – where you’d earn research points and then spend them on unlocking techs that you could use to build your ships. After every mission, you’d get access to new tech to research – and then you’d go into the tech tree and decide how to spend your points; once the research was finished, you’d get your techs. Now you just find techs in crates during the mission. It’s much simpler.
Old School Gamer Magazine: How do you want Waves of Steel to ultimately be remembered?
Weisiger: In a perfect world? I’d like it to revive the genre! I want lots of other game developers to start making more games in this style – so that I can play them!
Old School Gamer Magazine: What’s next?
Weisiger: I still need to finish this game! And then if it does well, there’s DLC I’d like to make – and maybe a mission editor so that players can write their own missions. And maybe a more overtly sci-fi sequel. If I ever get bored, I can always go back to my pile of other dream games and start working on one of those. But I don’t see that happening any time soon.