Maschinen-Mensch Indie Dev Interview

In a year of lockdown, I managed yet to travel abroad, feast with the natives, and paint scenic waterfalls. I died dozens of times along the way, but that’s the fun of Curious Expedition.

I named Curious Expedition as one of my top Switch games in 2020 for its humor and addictiveness. Set in the 19th century, this roguelike exploration game skillfully brings together many elements—danger, disease, drama—into rip-roaring adventures. I can’t wait to see how developer Maschinen-Mensch will further improve upon this unique game in its sequel, Curious Expedition 2.

In eager anticipation for CE2’s full release (January 28 on PC, later in 2021 for Switch), I reached out to Maschinen-Mensch so we could learn about the development of CE1 and CE2.

Expeditions for the Curious

LadiesGamers Maschinen Mensch interview

In your interview with Gaming Bolt, you mentioned establishing a “travel genre” with CE1 and trying to achieve your “ultimate vision” in CE2. How would you describe the travel genre? What’s your vision for it?

We have this design process where we approach games from the thematic perspective first, without having a specific genre in mind. For Curious Expedition we tried to evoke the feeling of wonder and excitement of travelling and discovering new places, and also the hardship to get there sometimes. Everything else flowed out of that initial seed.

For example, the procedural worlds ensure that you would have this core feeling of curiosity in every single session, independent of whether you played the game for the first time or replayed it for the 100th time. Other game rules emerged in a similarly organic way, resulting in a game that mixes conventions from lots of different genres. It’s always hard for us to explain what Curious Expedition is exactly; therefore, claiming this new genre title is maybe the easiest way of explaining the game.

Developing Their First Game

LadiesGamers Maschinen Mensch interview

What inspired the CE games? How did the 19th century and The Adventures of Tin Tin come to influence your design choices?

The games are inspired by a variety of books, comics, graphic novels, movies, animated series, documentaries… travelling and walking in nature has also been a huge influence.

Regarding Tin Tin: we felt the visual style of Hergé’s comics would work well in a game like ours, and few other game developers have used it, so this was an opportunity to stand out from the crowd. On top of that, while we enjoy Tin Tin comics, they definitely have some really troubling aspects (namely the racist colonial attitude in some of the stories) and wanted to “take back” the ligne claire art style, using it to present exploration stories which are more respectful towards different cultures.

What element in CE1 brings you the most joy or satisfaction?

It’s hard to pick one! We’re definitely happy about the procedurally generated storytelling system we built, which created so many memorable stories for players. The pixel art style is also something we still look at fondly. Ultimately, rather than a single element, it’s the combination of all the different parts and how they came together to create a unique experience which makes us proud of what we achieved with the first game.

It’s amazing how you brought together so many different mechanics and moving parts. What was the biggest challenge in making CE1? How did you overcome it?

Making all the aforementioned elements work well together… we overcame it with lots of iterations—the game received almost 100 updates during its first 5 years!

Designing Curious Expedition 2

LadiesGamers Maschinen Mensch interview

What’s your favorite major change or new mechanic in CE2?

The new art style is of course a big one. We think the game looks like no other, which is a big accomplishment considering how many games there are out there!

On the gameplay side, we basically reworked every single mechanic and tried to make it deeper and yet more approachable.

How do you achieve the right balance of game difficulty and complexity—especially as you introduce new elements with CE2?

This is never easy, even less so for a game like ours featuring procedurally generated elements and systems which can be combined in countless different ways. Playtesting the game, watching people playing, evaluating and reacting to the feedback we receive is the most effective way to improve the game, and that’s why we ran a closed alpha phase first and then went into Early Access, to make changes while the game is still being developed.

Anything else you’d like to tell us about CE2?

Version 1.0 is coming in early 2021, but we’re already working on future content updates: the end of the Early Access doesn’t mean the game is complete; rather, it’s a new beginning.

And for all the handheld fans reading this: the game will come to Switch later in 2021!

What’s one lesson you learned during the development process of CE1 and 2?

It’s important to have a vision for the game when you start working on it, but it’s ok to adapt and change it along the way if your gut feeling tells you it’s the right thing to do.

LadiesGamers Maschinen Mensch interview

At Maschinen-Mensch

LadiesGamers Maschinen Mensch interview

In what ways do you try to maintain work-life balance at your studio?

Most of the team is in their late 30s/early 40s. That means we had several previous working experiences at other companies in our lives, which at times included working long hours. But we know better now, and are aware that crunch never leads to anything good.

So in order to guarantee a good work-life balance for all the members of the studio, we provide flexibility in the working hours, to accommodate for different needs and habits. Most importantly, we make sure to structure and plan the work so that no one has to work overtime. Lastly, we’re based in Berlin which is by default a very laid-back city. Overworking is not that cool here 😉

What’s the story behind the name “Maschinen-Mensch”?

A lot of game company names are very playful, so we thought it would be fun to mix it up by having a serious-sounding name. Something that sounds like one of those big German engineering companies that you would associate with cars or washing machines. We like to bring a spin to everything that we touch, even if it’s just the company name.

Thank you for your time, Maschinen-Mensch. We look forward to Curious Expedition 2’s release on the Nintendo Switch!

CE2 launch trailer:




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