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Tumbleweed Express Devs Talk VR Support, Consoles and Gameplay

On-rails train combat simulation. That’s not a phrase that gets thrown around the videogame industry a lot these days. But indie developer The Dirgiballers doesn’t stop there with its immediate hooks for Tumbleweed Express. No, add in terms such as ‘steampunk’, ‘laser turrets’ and, of course, ‘Oculus Rift support’ and you’ve got the makings of one of the more unique videogames to hit Kickstarter in 2014. Granted the Oculus Rift support is currently locked behind an unrevealed stretch goal, but that didn’t stop VRFocus from talking to the developer about the project.


In the interview below The Dirgiballers’ Jacob Clayman talks about a wide range of aspects from the upcoming title, including what virtual reality (VR) support is set to bring to the experience.  Tumbleweed Express is looking for $24,000 USD via its crowd-funding campaign,  and currently has just under two weeks to go before it closes. VRFocus will continue to follow the title going forward, reporting back with any further updates.

VRFocus: Where did the idea for Tumbleweed Express come from?

In November 2011 there was a local IGDA (International Game Developer’s Association) shout out to come together for a game jam (48hr development session). The game jam theme was ‘tram combat’ and the team concepted and prototyped a game about a train with guns on it that would fight of western bandits. Almost three years later a lot of the original team is still together, as well as new faces we picked up since then, and we’re aiming to finalize Tumbleweed Express, our Steampunk Rail shooter!

VRFocus: How did you balance the direct action with the tower-defense elements? How much control will players have over their vehicle?

Jacob Clayman: Tumbleweed Express was developed from the ground up to support both shooter and strategic playstyles. In terms of control the player is able to customize their train with four freight cars, each with access to automated weapon turrets, upgrades, gadgets, and employees that inhabit and act for each car in real time. While in game the player is able to pause the action to modify turret targeting priorities as well as redirect their Engineers and Marshals to where they’re needed most.

If the player is more interested in personally taking out their enemies then they have the option to spend their upgrades on their caboose on which rest the manual weapons and upgrades that the player controls manually.

VRFocus: Does Tumbleweed Express consist of different levels on different tracks? If so how many levels will be included and how long do they last?

Jacob Clayman: Tumbleweed Express is an adventure that is separated into three major acts with twelve levels between them, each one set in a unique environment with different obstacles and enemies to deal with. Each level aims to take about 3 to 10 minutes to complete. Replay value is added through our level scoring system as well as our contract system which allows players to purchase secondary objectives in levels that they’ve already completed to earn more rewards.

VRFocus: How much enemy and weapon variety can we expect in the full title?

Jacob Clayman: Currently implemented into the game are four weapon types that the player can purchase. Each weapon has a unique secondary firing mode when being controlled manually and each weapon will have unique upgrade trees in the shop. Weapon upgrades change the visual weapon and adds more power and effects.

In terms of enemy variety, each act is in a different setting and focuses on a specific antagonist, each of which has their own style of minions and turrets. In the first act for example the main bad guy is ‘Drillcar Jim’ and the player is mainly harassed by his Drillcar bandits which come in three different varieties. Other acts will feature their own varieties of enemies which will require different strategies and skills to defend against.

VRFocus: You mention jam sessions in the development of Tumbleweed Express. How did these benefit the title?

Jacob Clayman: The majority of the team is only able to contribute to the project in their free time as they have their own primary jobs to maintain while working pro-bono on Tumbleweed Express. Jam sessions are useful to us as they get the team together for 48hrs to touch base and implement features and infrastructure to the game that other team members are able to build upon full time. Game jams also help us to rapidly kick out demo builds that show off our game at the current milestone when we’re preparing to show at conventions and gatherings.

VRFocus: What does Oculus Rift support add to the experience?

We’ve had the chance to play with a dev kit and implement limited Oculus support. Right off the bat the novelty of it was awesome – it was like really riding the Tumbleweed Express! On a deeper level though one of our goals is to create an immersive and engaging environment for the player to take in visually as they travel on the tracks. Actually getting a first person view to personally take in the world we’ve created adds a great level of immersion to our game that we couldn’t achieve without VR technology.

VRFocus: How might the title need to change to fit VR given issues other developers have had with HUDs and on-rails cameras?

Jacob Clayman: Redefining our HUD for VR support will likely require jumping certain technical hurdles which we have not yet fully explored. Theoretically the basic features of gameplay and HUD interactions should be usable in first-person VR mode as long as we can ensure that they’re fully rendered and appropriately scaled.

VRFocus: Should your campaign succeed, do you hope to bring Tumbleweed Express to consoles? Perhaps with Project Morpheus on PlayStation 4?

Jacob Clayman: Our current focus is on finalizing the desktop computer experience for Tumbleweed Express. Console support would indeed be one of our stretch goals but we’re unable to make the promise without funding. Porting the game to a console would require not only a reinvestment of time to design and program the game for a new system but it also comes with its own overhead cost of licensing and hardware fees.

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