Interview: Johan Persson of Muddy Pixel, Developer of "Worlds at War"
Updated: Nov 7, 2020
Our interview is with Johan Persson of Muddy Pixel, the developer of Worlds at War. Released on March 9th, 2018, Worlds at War is a virtual reality flight sim-lite set in a world that has suffered an alien invasion. What remains of the multi-national forces of Earth band together to survive against the ongoing alien attack. If you think this is an Independence Day clone, you're sorely mistaken. If anything, this is the type of game we wish the Independence Day franchise could have produced.
Worlds at War enables players to fly combat aircraft, attack helicopters, and armed boats to take to the skies or the seas to fight for survival. Players are able to pilot any aircraft or boat that is available on the aircraft carrier. The primary game mode is horde based with tutorial missions, but the game receives regular updates. New enemies, adjustments to game play mechanics, new vehicles to pilot and soon new, non-horde mode missions are to be introduced.
To start this interview could you please introduce yourself?
My name is Johan Persson, I was born "a long time ago in a country far far away" (Sweden). I currently live with my wife and daughter in Los Angeles. And next year I will move back to Sweden... which I have been saying for the last 10 years, so I guess we will see.
Now that introductions are out of the way let's start with the questions proper. How did you start developing games? Was there something that inspired you or a certain game you played as a child that inspired you so much that you pursued a career inside of the game industry?
I started developing games on the Commodore 128, then Amiga when I was around 12 years old. I made some feeble attempts at making various mainly side-scrolling type games, inspired by games like Blue Max, Zaxxon, Space Invaders, Defender, Elite and Asteroids. In the later teens and early 20s, I played a lot of games at LANs that me and my friends would setup in our homes. We would play mainly DOOM, StarCraft and Command and Conquer. I also played A-10 Cuba! on the Mac at University. These are some of the games that probably influenced me the most. After stuyding a few years for a degree in computer science, me and a friend figured "Hey, we should be able to make these games too!"
You say that you have had experience with franchises such as Battlefield, Resistance and Titanfall, so how long have you been in the game's industry and how have these titles influenced you as a developer?
I have been in the game-industry for some 25 years now. I was the physics- and lead-engineer for Battelfield:1942, and I was in many other ways deeply involved in the formative years of the Battlefield franchise. I left EA/DICE some 14 years ago and worked at a couple of studios in the US for 10 years. A couple of years ago I started working on a flying VR-game. VR made everything look fresh again. It was a bit like when hardware accelerated 3D-graphics were introduced some 25 years ago. It reignited the spark for developing games. I had lost the spark during some of the later years in the industry, I thought perhaps I had outgrown game-development. When I went indie, I realized that I simply had a very narrow preference for the type of games I enjoyed working on.
Your most recent work, Worlds at War, is a game that you have been developing all on your own for the past 2 years with the Early Access releasing March of 2018. Could you tell us what being a solo developer is like and which challenges have you encountered while you develop this game?
Being a solo developer has its pros and cons. One thing I loved about working on a team was the bouncing of ideas, and to work with people that could create wonderful things in days that I could not do in a million years. As an Indie, you buy assets online or contract them out instead. But being on 100-person+ teams also creates a lot of frustrations in terms of decision-making and coordinating. It can be tiresome. I most enjoyed development when we were around 20-30 people developing Battlefield 1942. I love being indie, I would probably work on the game 80 hours a week, if my wife would let me. smiley It's a great sense of freedom, you wear many hats, can choose when to work and on what. Financially you only make a fraction of what the industry pays employees, so that can be a problem. I can only do this because I have another business I started 12 years ago that I can run absentee and that pays the bills.
Worlds at War features a world that has already suffered an encounter with an invading alien race, putting the player in the boots of a soldier that is part of a ragtag carrier-group formed by the surviving members of several militaries. What were your major influences for this set-up?
The first influence was the Independence Day 1 movie. The setting is also inspired by Starship Galactica - the TV-series - where you have a human carrier (that one in space instead of on Earth) trying to keep out of harm from an overwhelmingly stronger foe. Last but certainly not least, it opens up the option to let the players play around with any cool vehicle from any nationality and opens up interesting enemy- and level-designs! Having said all this, the game doesn't have a story like say Ace Combat, this is merely a background-story. The main priority is to create interesting gameplay that is similar to flight-sims, simplified like Battlefield, and has some interesting fresh twists to gameplay borne out of the setting.
The aliens that we are thrown against them seem to be seeking for total control of the planet. Is there a story reason behind their actions? Or is this something we will know about as the game finishes development?
Yes, they are already everywhere and forces this small surviving carrier-group to live as scavengers. The story will probably not be fleshed out for this title. Perhaps in a sequel, if the community shows strong interest.
This game, even while being desktop compatible, was designed with VR in mind; featuring detailed cockpits for the A-10 Warthog, the AH-64 Apache, the Attack-boat and with more vehicles coming soon. Why did you choose to go with VR in this title and how hard has it been to balance these vehicles?
The game now supports monitors, but it started as a VR-only title, because VR was what brought me back into game-development in the first year or so. Lately I do enjoy both working on and playing the game on a monitor.
Motion sickness is something that affects the large majority of VR games. How have you dealt with such an issue?
Frankly I have not given that too much concern. You can set flight-assist on, which helps you fly, makes the plane fly gentler and more stable (at the cost of agility), and you can fly in 3rd-person, which also helps. But my player-base typically has decent VR-legs. As far as I have seen myself, VR motion-sickness is something that fades as you play VR-games a bit. After some 20-50 hours I think most people are getting pretty comfortable if the frame-rate is good. This is perhaps not the first game you should play, but having said that, my 75 year old parents have both tried it and they were just fine!
What are your plans for this title going forward? Anything specific?
The game is in Early Access. It has 8 training scenarios and 3 Horde-mode scenarios. I am currently working on adding more traditional missions to the game - something that the community for the game have been asking for.
About the interviewer
Santiago "Cubeboy" Cuberos
Longtime aviation fanatic with particular preference towards military aviation and its history. Said interests date back to the early 2000's leading into his livelong dive into civil and combat flight simulators. He has been involved in a few communities but only started being active around the mid 2010's. Joined as a Spanish to English translator in 2017, he has been active as a writer and content manager ever since. Twitter | Discord: Cubeboy #9034