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Interview: MindWalker Games and Sentinels

We love having the opportunity to meet with and talk to developers who care about one thing, and one thing only: making great games. MindWalker Games is a two person studio that is focused on exactly that.

Rob Elam and Alexandria Misha are the brains behind the operation and their premier game for their studio is Sentinels, a game we enjoyed so much that we featured it back in December. Rob has dubbed himself as the “Lead Grunt,” and handles all the development work and Alexandria takes on all the PR/marketing and is also featured as a voice actress.

Together, Rob and Alexandria form a dynamic team that proactively seeks feedback on their game. So much so, that the first thing you read when visiting their Steam page is:

We want your feedback NOW, not later. 😉
We’re just a two-person team at MindWalker Games, and Sentinels has been a labor of love for the past 5 years. And while we’re happy with the progress that we’ve made, we want to work together with the community as we continue development. We don’t want to be a ‘my way or the highway’ developer – this game is being made for you, after all. You should have a say in it!

There may be no better time for gamers to provide their feedback than during the Lunar New Year Steam Sale, which will allow people to play the game for 80% off at the low cost of $2.00.

The Studio

According the Rob, the studio was created for Sentinels as the premiere project. As of now, Sentinels remains the studio’s sole focus as there are enough plans to expand on the game that it will keep the studio busy for quite some time.

TacticalNucleusAlexandria joined the studio a few years ago before Sentinels went into Early Access on Steam. She had never been involved in game development in the past, but she was able to jump right in and contribute with voice acting and PR work. Alexandria has been the driving force behind community engagement:

I want MindWalker Games to work with the community – honestly, I like talking to people, and I like the idea of people being as involved as they want to! My inbox is always open 🙂 We just started up a discord server – as in, just started up yesterday, so pardon the dust – but come and hang out anytime! -Alexandria Misha

Game Concept

Sentinels was a concept that Rob had thought of and began developing at least a decade ago. He implemented an early version in a proprietary engine developed for One Must Fall: Battlegrounds. After spending some time developing it, Rob realized he was burning a lot of time on the engine development. So he took advantage of Unity being made free and scrapped the original to develop in Unity.

FPSSpeedTrap3Unfortunately, Sentinels was not in a state where it could pay the bills just yet, so Rob took a job and had to put  game development on hold for a few years. When Rob’s company, SoE, was acquired by Daybreak, the leadership offered employees the opportunity to take a severance package, which allowed Rob the opportunity to resume work on Sentinels full time.

It’s a concept I’ve been working on for many years, not generally full time, but it certainly has been a while.  It’s been long enough that I don’t recall when I came up with it, but it was well before I’d seen anyone mix FPS and TD games, so sadly it’s not quite as original as it could have been.  It was likely a drug induced fever dream. -Rob Elam

Game Story

The story is told via campaign mode that follows three heroes: Sam, Katrina, and Frank. As the player, it is your job to stop the enemy’s invasion and save the Earth.

The creeps you’re fighting in this game aren’t a new threat – they invaded before, and they nearly succeeded in destroying the earth. Through a combination of skill (and a hefty amount of luck) our three heroes, managed to turn the tide and end the invasion. However, now the aliens are even angrier – and they want revenge. And that’s where this game starts.

FPSFrankPer Alexandria, each commander has their own specialized automated structure, tier 2 structure, and activatable structure. The commanders all have their own specialties and strengths. Here is how the developers describe their heroes:

  • Sam McCain is the leader and only-part-time drunkard. His powerful turrets will focus down both air and ground enemies, and his first person arsenal is equally useful. His machine gun and sniper rifle will waste ground and air enemies alike, and if you want a bit more oomph – his shotgun is sure to satisfy.
  • Katrina Scott, mad scientist extraordinaire. Holed up in her lab in the Sierras mountains, she perfected her aerial defense after seeing those pesky drones try to steal her work. Now, she has missile launchers of all kinds – swarmers, line-guided, lock-on, you name it. If you’re feeling a little less scientific and a little more mad, her activatable weapon might be more your style – Her flask of death gains strength the farther you throw it, and will rain poisonous death upon your enemies.
  • Frank Spencer… well, Frank just likes money. And shooting things. His powerful blaster will nuke any ground enemies into orbit. While not necessarily energy-efficient, hitting planes with his grenades is a very enjoyable past-time. His activatable weapon is a bit unorthodox, but no less effective – the cold snap will freeze and slow everything in sight, making them prime targets for your turrets. In addition, cold creeps have the chance of shattering on one hit, regardless of their current HP. If that’s not enough for you, his alternate fire brings even more bombs! His MIRV will blow up everything in sight.

The studio hopes to add DOT (damage over time) structures such as fire and lightning towers in the near future as well. They plan to add even more turrets before leaving early access as well.

Game Play

FPSCritSentinels combines the best of tower defense and first-person shooters (FPS), which ultimately translates to the core of the game play. The action elements of that game are what really make it special, and as far as tower defense games go, Sentinels will keep you busier and more engaged than most.

It’s a bit of a double edged sword, as it’s quite fun managing the action/strategy elements, but it requires more work gradually easing the players into that deep experience…  so the tutorials and new player experience is hugely important.  Sentinels also has a loot system that adds a progression element as well as a lot of customization ability. – Rob

FPSLockonTo incorporate FPS elements, the team came up with the concept of the mobile gun platform. This is a feature that allows the player to take over a defense from the first-person perspective and then project that structure towards the enemy causing damage and throwing them off course. Additionally, it allows the player to move from one defensive structure to the next without ever leaving FPS mode. This also helps to ensure that the player is consistently involved in the battle.

Additionally, Sentinels features custom load-outs that will allow you to pick weaponry for specific commanders, enemies, or hazards.

We also want to add in modifiers that allow you to customize your experience – like an extra slot on the load-out screen so you can add passive abilities, so you can have a more FPS-centric experience, or more Tower Defense as you wish. -Alexandria

Features and What’s to Come

Sentinels features 5 major difficulty modes where the higher difficulties unlock more enemy mechanics.

TacticalSidewinderEach map has multiple encounters and generally includes an endless mode where your main goal is to survive as long as you can. The studio also just added Onslaught mode, “which is a faster paced mode that automates the building process, and has the player focusing on the action elements of the game.  This turned out pretty fun, and became the centerpiece for a VR experience that is shaping up real nice.”

The studio is also considering an alternate mode that will remove the FPS component and allow the player to focus on the strategy elements of the game. The thought here is to allow for an easier game mode to help make it more accessible and provide a change of pace.

BossPlaneAnother goal Rob is working towards is a co-op version of the game. This would take a great deal of time and resources to accomplish, so it may not make it into this current release, but it is certainly on the wish list.

Another wish list item would be porting Sentinels to console, but the team is currently investing all their time and focus into the PC version of the game. If things go well financially, this is certainly a possibility down the road.

In the game’s current state, it is available on Steam for PC, HTC Vive, and Oculus Rift.

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Steam Page80% off during Steam Lunar New Year Sale!

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Avid gamer across PC, Xbox, and Switch platforms. Check me out on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

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