Interview: Timberborn Was Almost A Game About Post-Apocalyptic Platypuses
Amidst some great city-building video games, Timberborn sets itself apart for having a unique concept and featuring some of the most enjoyable gameplay you can expect. Although the game is still in Early Access, it has received several notable updates — the most recent being Badwater — and continues to improve before moving towards its final release. Taking this opportunity, we decided to speak with Michal Amielanczyk, Communication Manager for Timberborn, to get some perspective into what lies next for the title.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on Timberborn.
Hi! My name is Michal Amielanczyk, and I’m the Communication Manager for Timberborn. We’re a small team, so my role mixes community management, public relations, and marketing. I also help with writing in-game flavor texts, and like everyone on the team, I offer internal feedback and suggestions as the game’s development continues.
The game has been in development for over half a decade, and seeing as how no one has approached the city-building genre quite the way Mechanistry has, I am curious to know what the inspirations behind the title were.
Michal: We’re educated on genre classics such as Pharaoh and SimCity series, but we’re also drawing inspiration from modern titles – Cities: Skylines, Dwarf Fortress, Factorio, RimWorld all come to mind. City building is still not a fully explored genre, and every game has its unique flavor – be it beavers, vertical architecture, and water physics, or something else. We can all inspire ourselves.
Now, with the release of Badwater, do you reckon we are getting closer to the full release?
Michal: Adding an extra season type and a new challenge that makes the gameplay deeper and less predictable was indeed one of the several things we considered a must-have for the 1.0 release. But there are still other features missing we want to add before we commit to the full release – one of them being Steam Workshop support, for example. We want to add it, but we don’t have any ETAs yet.
Can we expect to see a roadmap following the game's full release?
Michal: Ever since we entered Early Access, we were quite transparent about our distaste for traditional roadmaps, and publicly committing in advance to certain additions. That’s because we treat player feedback very seriously, and when it becomes clear something needs to be changed or added, we prioritize that. Had we had a roadmap, it would have delayed or even erased the original plans, and that’s bound to make people unhappy. Whether that approach changes post-1.0, it’s too early for me to tell.
Although the game was always expected to have a somewhat long Early Access period, did you anticipate that it would do as well as it has?
Michal: Certainly not. People liking our game and enjoying their time even in the Early Access period has always been our goal, so we low-key hoped we’d release a game good enough to warrant a high percentage of positive reviews. Sales-wise, what happened in the first week and continues to this day, with Timberborn hitting one million copies sold within two years – well, that was beyond our boldest expectations.
What have been some of the major challenges since the game's development started?
Michal: We’ve built our own water physics system, and that warranted multiple reworks, changes, and unexpected delays. Some of its issues, such as the infamous water dump trick with a single tile irrigating a way too large area, persisted until a few days ago and the release of Update 5. Another challenge was the less-than-stellar performance, which we kept working on until we finally increased the framerates by up to 80% last year. This, by the way, allowed us to remove one of the more unpopular things about Timberborn, which was the necessity to maintain multiple limited-range districts. They’re now unlimited and a convenient tool for more advanced players rather than an annoying necessity.
Were beavers always there in the game since the early concept? Or were there considerations of other animals, or perhaps a different central theme?
Michal: A post-apocalyptic city builder had been a rough idea for a good while but at some point, beavers looked way different and more alien than what was actually implemented. Also, there was even an idea to use post-apocalyptic platypuses. But it’s hard to compete with beavers as a hard-working species central to a building game full of water, right?
Do you have any interesting player-in-game statistics that you could share with us?
Michal: We’re not tracking any in-game statistics ourselves, but if you look up our game on SteamDB for example, you’ll see that Update 5 resulted in the highest concurrent players peak since the launch period. Knowing that almost 11,000 people are in your indie game at the same time is crazy!
Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Michal: Just a little bit of trivia I feel obligated to share whenever I can – beavers do not eat fish, and “kit” is not a typo when you’re talking about young beavers. You’re welcome.
Timberborn is a city-building game developed and published by Mechanistry. The game features a colony of beavers that must survive the resource shortage and make use of the land around them. It was released in Early Access on PC on September 15, 2021.
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