The Brew Barons: Kickstarter Pre-Launch Interview with Lifetap Studios
Updated: Dec 5, 2022
There are times when you experience an unanticipated piece of media that leaves a lasting impression. Weeks ago, while scrolling through a social media timeline I was swept away by visuals of a seaplane soaring above the gleaming ocean, towns glittering at night and... a brewery producing custom made drinks to fight back against pirates. Admittedly, it was 3:00 AM, but my mind was not playing tricks on me!
The Brew Barons is a currently in development title from Lifetap Studios. It immediately became a game I checked in on almost daily through their Twitter and YouTube accounts. While reading updates and watching videos, it's obvious that The Brew Barons is developing into a rare type of flight game that is willing to blend game mechanics from other genres, prioritize adventure and go out on a limb to try something outside of the ordinary for the flight genre.
Following the announcement of their Kickstarter pre-launch page on October 13th, 2021, Skyward Flight Media reached out to Lifetap Studios for an early interview before the Kickstarter campaign begins next year. We were fortunate enough to get the first interview about this upcoming aerial adventure!
Hello and thank you for this interview! Could I ask you to introduce yourselves?
Lifetap Studios was formed by two ex-Relic Developers, Diccon Yamanaka and Rob Hartley. We've both spent a decade and half making games professionally for a number of companies that span way back to the PS2 days back when normal maps were the latest craze. It was in 2020 we decided to take the leap and found our own indie company, Lifetap Studios based in Vancouver Canada. Before getting to the main subject of the interview, I’d like to talk about the prior development experience of Lifetap Studios. I see “Ex-Relic devs” listed in the official Twitter profile bio. Can you tell us about your time with Relic and any other game development projects you’ve been a part of? Relic was an absolutely awesome place to work. Some of the titles we've both had the pleasure to work on would be Company of Heroes 2, Dawn of War 3 and Age of Empires 4. We've both spent a number of years there, as it was a fun studio filled with very talented people whom are passionate about their craft. Relic also had some great stances towards working overtime which was kept to a minimum so as not to burn anyone out. What drove the decision to establish Lifetap Studios? I think it's no secret that most game developers have a dream game they wish they could produce. I, Rob, have had dozens of little side projects that I've done just for the fun of it throughout my career. Diccon and I both shared this desire to make a game of our own and it all started there. In fact it would be around 7 years of casually working on a couple sideprojects out of passion before deciding to establish our studio.
How does it feel to be working on The Brew Barons as an independent studio?
It's fun to work on something that's entirely new and unproven. That said, we develop with an openness to new features that could help enrich the experience. We're also able to quickly pivot if something doesn't feel right. It's also been interesting from a career standpoint as we're forced to branch into new disciplines in attempts to keep our team small and budget light. Our biggest obstacle at this point in time is mainly funding. We've been developing The Brew Barons for two years with no income. The simple solution would be to get a publisher, of which we've had many offers, though we're confident that our upcoming kickstarter campaign will raise a modest amount of funds to help us along without the need of an external publisher.
The Brew Barons seems to be a rather refreshing intersection of game elements not usually associated with each other. How did the concept for this game come around? The amalgamation of unlikely game mechanics in a flight game came from a number of exploratory twists and turns during the early development stages. Though before that, it was our liking of a famous Japanese film named Porco Rosso that involves a beautiful landscape and seaplanes that inspired us. Our original desire was to make a relaxing and peaceful flight game that wasn't a sim, though the issue was we didn't have much for the player to do outside of just aimlessly flying around. We explored a number of ideas such as delivery, survival, prohibition themes to name a few. Each on their own they didn't standout, but in combining elements of each made for an interesting concept. One of our goals since the beginning was to make an adventure flight game that didn't rely on combat to be the primary act of the game, to which I feel we've fulfilled.
That’s a great point to make about not having combat be the focus of this game. That alone is something noteworthy. Because shooting down every pirate you may see isn’t the fastest way to win, what do you estimate the overall play time for this game to be?
We're hoping to build a charming world filled with islands to explore, interesting characters to meet, quests and collection. The size of the world and activities within it are still in development, which makes it hard to give a figure on total play time, but we'd aim to deliver an experience that requires a minimum of 10hrs to complete the core game. We expect the miscellaneous events and activities to add an additional couple hours of extra play.
Screenshots and videos have been circulating on social media platforms and Reddit in the past few months, but how long has this game been in development? Quite some time. Several years ago we produced a very early and rather different story that can be seen in its infancy on YouTube. Once we left Relic and went full-time, we revamped the game in the direction you see today, which has been nearly two years.
After seeing the “Drytail Runners” video you’ve sent, I’m somewhat surprised that the video went unnoticed for so long. Is there any of the original concept of “Drytail Runners” left in The Brew Barons?
There are a few mechanics from Drytail Runners that we've carried over. The concept of collecting water from the ocean and utilizing it as a resource for plane abilities such as water boosting, water projectiles and water bombing were functions we enjoyed and brought over to The Brew Barons. Plane crafting and brew delivery were in a prototype phase, but they too were also brought over. Just about all the art was scrapped, though we retained our goal to deliver a charming and beautiful world. Our previous pilots weren't as developed as they are now, they did however have stamina and a sensitivity to chilly altitude temperatures which we've also kept. Brewing and business management… in a flight game?! That’s a wild idea, but it does feel like it fits the adventurous energy of the game. How does brewing and delivering products save the day in The Brew Barons? The primary story of The Brew Barons involves a corrupt and imposing organization of Pirates whoms operations are funded by their strong-armed brewing monopoly. Through the production of their Pirate brand brews, they impose loose control over many of the suppliers, bars, patrons and the very islands themselves which contain a number of ingredients ready for the picking. With the pirates growing evermore in strength, it's only by disrupting the source of their brewing monopoly through the engagements of their patrols, creation of your own higher quality brews and delivery to bars all over the world can the Pirate organization and their funding whittle away. Do you have a favorite brew that you think people should try to craft when the game is released? The brewing mechanic is rather open ended. You can mix any ingredients you want to form a number of brew outcomes ranging from beers, wines, whiskeys and more. Do you want to make a whisky made from giant pumpkins and glowing mushrooms, you can certainly try! Not all combos will taste great and might fail, but can still be sold. We're going for a more playful brewing experience and not strictly following real life brewing rules. That said, I recommend people have fun experimenting and see what you can come up with. For those not wishing to experiment and spend more time flying can try to acquire brewing recipes located throughout the world and make a brand they can call their own.
An open world flight experience somewhere in the Mediterranean is such a vibrant setting. Recently a video of aircraft flying through caves has joined other videos of ambient life. Is there a rough idea of how large the open world is? At the moment the physical size of the world in it's early phase is rather small as we work towards getting all the pieces in place, to which we can then expand out. Explorable caves are definitely in the pipe, underwater salvaging too. Our desire is to make a world large enough so that you might have to factor in fuel reserves and fuel stations when charting a course. Additionally as a stretch goal we would like to make the world procedurally placed. So it might be possible to allow the player to define the size of the world within limits... but that would need to be discussed and explored further. It feels like seaplanes are rarely seen in simulators or flight action games. Having the game revolve around the capabilities of a seaplane is very interesting. Why were seaplanes selected for this game? Are there land based aircraft available? The idea of focusing on seaplanes really came from the film “Porco Rosso” of which we drew inspiration from and found their heavy use of seaplanes to be charming. There's also greater freedom with seaplanes as you’re not confined to runways and you can stop on any body of water, which is critical when coupling an RPG style adventure. We don't have plans for land based craft, but we are planning to include flying boats that would be slightly larger than our seaplanes.
There were mentions of customization leading up to the recent gameplay trailer, but no one was expecting eight different categories! Could you describe in a bit more detail how customization works? Parts can be acquired through a couple ways. You could try your luck at salvaging a part from a downed seaplane that rests on a seabed floor, or if you have the money you can purchase a new part from the parts catalogue. When you acquire a new part, you're actually obtaining just the part blueprint which can be physically produced as many times as you wish for a fee. When crafting a plane, the player will choose from one of two categories, light or heavy. Light planes (pontoon style) can only accept light parts and heavy planes (flying boat style) can only accept heavy parts. Each plane part will possess RPG style trait modifiers that alter plane attributes like structure points, cargo size, fuel capacity, fuel consumption, landing durability, weight penalties, ingredient collection and much more! Typically each part will possess both a positive trait and negative trait, so best to put a little thought into your part combos. Should you damage your plane or crash, you simply pay the repair fee. The only thing you might lose are the items within your cargo hold at the moment of impact.
Repairing aircraft at a town was briefly mentioned in a Tweet. Do the towns have other interactive elements for players to use? Other towns will have Bars, Markets and Gas stations to visit. Within the bars you can expect to find a bar owner that might require friendly persuasion to accept your brews or local patrons needing your help and presenting a task in typical RPG fashion.
I have to ask because they seemed so popular when they were proposed, are there any serious plans to include the fishing or crane recovery mini-games in the final release? Absolutely, the underwater salving crane game is already in a playable state and will be available in our demo. Fishing is still on the drawing board but we have full intentions to include it in the brewing ingredient lineup. That's right, we're leaning toward the option to throw some sea creatures into your brews should you desire ;) The role playing game elements of the game include choosing pilots who have their own character traits, strengths and weaknesses. Will these characters be able to have their levels or abilities increased? Pilot attribute points from a raw performance standpoint will deviate from one another just slightly, it's their individual character traits that will make them standout. Each pilot will have a few traits, most of which are positive but some negative. For example we have one pilot that's afraid of the dark and will refuse to swap into the pilot seat at night. It's traits like these that we'd like to give our pilots to create unique situational obstacles as the player adventures the world. Through the progression of each pilot's story will they overcome a personal obstacle and convert a negative trait into a positive one.
On the subject of pilots, are there also notable pilots among the hostile pirates that players will be fighting against?
We do have a small cast of pirate goons that you will regularly see, for your combat engagements will not kill these pirate individuals, but instead disable their craft, forcing them to retreat and fight you another day. We are the good guys in the pursuit of peace and balance after all. We have yet to build the full fleet of pirate attack boats and planes, but there will be a hierarchy of power within the pirate organization. We've also had a couple ideas regarding ex-pirates that might help your cause. We have lots of great ideas in store for the pirates.
Is The Brew Barons designed to only be played with keyboards, mice and gamepads or will players with flight sticks be able to use their hardware as well?
We have plans to support all of the above. Keyboard/mouse are currently supported, controller and stick support are on our to do list.
What can you say about the flight model? Is it pure arcade or is there a bit of realism mixed in? The flight model is physics based, in that it uses aerodynamic equations to calculate forces that move the plane around so the model is based on realism. However the numbers used to drive the plane are not based on real aircraft, but tuned according to what we found enjoyable to play. We also cheat the equations in certain situations by making wings bigger or smaller, or moving the centre of gravity around, because it makes the gameplay more enjoyable. The overall aim is to try and provide a sensation of weight and realism but without all of the skill requirement that comes with a real simulation.
How has the feedback over the past few months been received by Lifetap Studios? Was there any feedback that helped in recent game development?
We've seen a decent amount of really positive feedback on Twitter, Reddit and Youtube. We've heard from flight enthusiasts intrigued to see a flying game venture into new experimental gameplay. Equally we're also seeing individuals that aren't diehard fans of flying games take an interest in what we're making because of the RPG and Business management elements in an entirely new setting. But most of all, we've heard the praise from fellow Porco Rosso fans who rejoice at the fact a game in its honor is being made, to which we share that same sentiment.
The Kickstarter pre-launch page was announced on October 15th, 2021. The game is currently listed as released in Q3 or Q4 of 2022. Is there a rough idea of when the Kickstarter will launch?
Our Kickstarter for The Brew Barons will go live sometime around Steam's Next Fest demo event in February. We want players to have a chance to play our game before backing us, so we welcome anyone interested to give the demo a play. Our release date has some variables tied to successful Kickstarter, as it would permit us to build more features and may delay this date, which is why we’ve loosely stated our release window.
We look forward to trying out the game as soon as possible. Thanks for your time!
We, Rob and Diccon, sincerely thank Skyward Flight Media for not only reaching out to us with this interview, but also for being the first ones to do so! Our thanks comes not only for the extra exposure The Brew Barons will receive, but also for supporting indie developers as a whole.
About the Interviewer
Aaron "Ribbon-Blue" Mendoza
Co-founder of Skyward Flight Media. After founding Electrosphere.info, the first English Ace Combat database, he has been involved in creating flight game-related websites, communities, and events since 2005. He explores past and present flight games and simulators with his extensive collection of game consoles and computers. Read Staff Profile.