Last week, we checked out DROPSHIP, the new title from Scottish indie studio MINIGOLIATH. This week, we’re delving a little deeper, chatting to the game’s developer Paul Large, and venturing through unexplored caverns that even a shaky 60’s spacecraft couldn’t reach.
Taken for Granted
But before that, let’s set the scene and talk about the inception of MINIGOLIATH itself. The studio’s co-founders and sole members, Paul Large and Gary Whitton, met during their time working together at Ruffian Games in Dundee. They both enjoyed decade-long careers there, becoming good friends and working on small side-projects together alongside their core work. But then, in 2020, a sea change occurred; Rockstar acquired Ruffian Games, rebranding the studio as Rockstar Dundee.
While this was an exciting development for many at the studio, it created problems for Paul and Gary’s side projects, due to the new owners’ policy in that area. This became especially problematic when the pair secured an Epic Mega Grant to work on a still-ongoing project (Keep an eye on SGN for news of that in the future!), creating issues that meant work on that project had to stop, placing the pair at a crossroads. In the end they decided to leave the studio and pursue their own ambitions, reuniting later down the line to form MINIGOLIATH as an outlet for their side projects; “We’ve always made our own games, and MINIGOLIATH was a way for us to make our own games and make it more official.”
With their own studio established, Large and Whitton set about creating the kinds of games they wanted to work on; short, experimental titles with less mainstream appeal than those they’d worked on previously. They released TERMINAL, a minimalist horror game about ‘a strange computer in a strange place’ and The House in The Woods, a PS1-era take on cult classic The Blair Witch Project.
While all of this was going on, however, Large had another plate spinning; a personal project he’d been working on since before MINIGOLIATH was formed; a small-yet-mighty title called DROPSHIP.
While Whitton created a lot of the marketing materials for the game, the core development was handled entirely by Large, which was a new challenge for the artist to meet; “The main thing with DROPSHIP is that I made it by myself.” He recalls. “The experience of being a solo dev was interesting; doing literally everything except the music, which was licensed.” Compounding this difficulty was the fact that Large also had a full-time job, first with Ruffian, and then later with Scottish Games Award-winning Team Terrible; “I mainly worked on DROPSHIP in my spare time.” He says, a fact which undoubtedly made the development process much trickier.
Before he could create the game, however, Large had to conceptualise it. And to do so, he drew from an eclectic range of sources; “I’m an artist, so the visuals were the first thing that came together on the project. I like things that are really bright and old and colourful. I worked on a game called Fragmental for Ruffian, which is also really bright and colourful, with a kind of 80’s flavour to it; that’s my go-to style.”
Beyond the visuals, Large looked to the past for gameplay inspiration as well; “I love old games; I’m a massive nostalgia nerd.” He admits. “Whenever I’m making stuff, I’m always trying to pull from older games, and I was really trying to get the feeling of a modern game with old-school sensibilities.”
“The gameplay is inspired by games I used to play as a kid, on the Amiga and Commodore 64. Lunar Lander, Gravity Force on the Amiga, etc.” These classics were a great starting point, but Large was careful to not just retread old ground; “The challenge was to come up with a way to mix things up, rather than just making another lander game. I originally came up with the idea of flipping the gravity upside-down when the player enters certain areas. It became really hard to control the ship with this setup, so instead I decided to let the player move everything else.”
This unique control scheme is one of the best aspects of DROPSHIP, but it’s actually a clever deception: “Essentially what you’re doing in DROPSHIP is rotating the level, even though it feels like you’re rotating the ship. The game feels random at first, but it’s not really, in the same way as Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy” Adds Large, citing another of the game’s major inspirations. “I like that kind of really difficult, skill-based game that takes time to get into.”
Running the Gauntlet
DROPSHIP’s high difficulty is one of its defining features, and it was something that Large had in his sights from the beginning: “When I set out to make this, I set out to make a game that was rock hard; I like making hard games, I like playing hard games.” He’s not alone in this; there’s been a trend in recent years of ultra-difficult, ultra-popular titles, like From Software’s Souls series, and platformers like Crash Bandicoot 4. We asked Large for his thoughts on this trend:
“I think it goes both ways; a lot of people are looking for more of a challenge, as the Souls games and Elden Ring prove. But on the other hand, a lot of games are easier than usual these days; the first-party Sony titles are often criticised for this.” Viewing DROPSHIP through this lens, as a counterweight to some of the easier mass-market titles of today, its ruthless difficulty makes a lot of sense. “You play games for the story, of course, but I’ve always played games for the experience as well, and I remember games I used to play as a kid, where there were times I wouldn’t even get past the first level! I think it’s cool that people are embracing more challenging games, and I hope it continues.”
As hard as the current version is, talking to Large revealed the shudder-inducing fact that DROPSHIP used to be even harder at certain points in development. “For a while, the rule was that when you touched the walls you blew up, but then I started putting things like lasers and spikes and that in, and it felt like if the walls were as deadly as everything else, it didn’t leave me much scope to put other things in; things like black holes that suck you in. It got ridiculous, and I had to take some of it out. I’d been playing the game for two years and it was difficult even for me!”
Thankfully things were toned down for the final release, not that you’d know it from playing the game. Large is quick to defend this high difficulty, however; “It’s one of those games where you don’t feel like you’re getting better at it but you do get better at it, if you can stick with it without raging too much!” DROPSHIP, then, is a game that rewards perseverance, just as Large was rewarded for his own perseverance when his two-year labour of love finally released on Steam. Perhaps those terrible, twisting caves hold a lesson for us all.