Sandswept Studios Interview

We recently reviewed DETOUR, an unique take on the RTS genre by Indie developer Sandswept Studios. We’ve been planning to launch a series of interviews with Indie developers, so what better place to start? We had the pleasure to speak with Geoff Keene, CEO and design director at Sandswept Studios to find out more about the company and its first game, DETOUR.

So let’s start off with a bit of background.  Can you give us some information about Sandswept Studios – who are you guys?  How did you get started?

My name is Geoff Keene, CEO and design director at Sandswept Studios. Sandswept Studios is a handful of incredibly talented artists, programmers, and writers, currently working on the PC and Xbox LIVE Indie Game “DETOUR”.

I always found it a little bit funny when people ask how we started. I quite literally woke up one day and told myself I needed to get started doing what I love doing. Sandswept Studios was co-founded with my father, Richard, currently our lead generalist programmer. Definitely one of the driving factors was my personal passion for gaming, as well as creating and writing new things. I’d spent my entire life up until that point messing around with story-telling, and coming up with (what I now realize was) fan fiction of sorts for all the games I played growing up. I dabbled about in modding projects and the like beforehand, so I had a good idea of how to organize a team and get every one working on what they do best. We started Sandswept with a sidescrolling game, but quickly found out it was far beyond the scope of what we could do at the time, as well as poor planning on our part. So, we took a ‘detour’, if you will, and that’s where we are now; working on DETOUR, which you can see has come a long way.

Why the name Sandswept Studios? Where does it come from?

It might be a shocker, but we really just thought it sounded cool. It has nothing to do with anything in particular, other than the fact that we believe the word “Sandswept” conveys an epic feel. Perhaps the same surreal feelings you’d get from a vast desert with ancient, buried ruins, wind blowing across the dunes, and shimmering across the blistering sands. Or maybe not. We tossed around a whole bunch of ideas, ranging from ninjas to … Well, actually, ninjas came up a lot. But anyway, this is the one that stuck. It also plays nicely with our officially unofficial slogan, “Pardon our Dust.”

Imagine someone would invest heavily in your company today. How would that change the direction of your company?

If we still had free reign over how we designed and created our project? We’d most certainly get a full-time studio set up going. Right now, we’re all putting in the time we can, where can, how we can, from where we can.

How did you decide on developing DETOUR, what inspired you?

DETOUR was initially the brainchild of Richard, something about turn-based bridge-building and “a simpler game that we could get done a lot quicker”. Heh. 2 years in, that makes me smile, but it was a great idea nonetheless. I took the very basic idea he pitched and we evolved it into the real-time strategy it is today. The decision to develop DETOUR was made mainly based on the fact that our current project at the time was hitting too many walls, far too rapidly. It wasn’t planned very well, so we scrapped that project, hired a few new guys, and moved over to more productive, smarter things. DETOUR is the result of that move, and we couldn’t be much happier.

What has the response from the press and gamers been to DETOUR so far?

The response to our platform announcement trailer has been great. The press has begun to run our stories, and people are definitely getting their eyes on DETOUR. We are definitely finding that being an Xbox LIVE Indie Game makes you fill a very strange niche. You’re not something as huge or amazing (at least marketing-wise) as an XBLA title, but you’re not quite off the radar either. And PC games… Well, that’s just a huge market full of all sorts of indie games, as well as all the AAA titles. We’re finding rapidly that press outlets who run our stories and help us out (like the awesome guys at Mana Pool) are going to be our friends for life. They are definitely a driving force in helping us get the word out, and we can’t thank them enough.

As for the gamers… We’re definitely surprised on the response to our visuals. Where I see a whole bunch of visual bugs we need to clean up, other people say “This is the best looking Indie Game I’ve seen” and that sort of thing. That kind of caught us off guard, but it’s all the more welcome. I think I am trying to make a personal point that “indie games” don’t have to be weird, artsy things, and can actually just look like, say, an Xbox LIVE Arcade title.

What didn’t catch us off guard is people asking “How exactly do you PLAY it?” We’re very aware DETOUR doesn’t play like a normal unit-based RTS. It’s certainly not a city sim. In the simplest of terms, it’s a truck-escort RTS. Get your trucks across safely, while every one else is doing the same. And it’s a lot of fun. We’ve got some plans to better explain the game to gamers before they even get their hands on it. We know gamers are smart, and they’ll figure this one out really quick. You can definitely expect us to release an additional trailer or two to clarify gameplay.

After DETOUR is released, have you got any other projects in the works that you can tell us about?

Yes, we have something in the works already (some of our team has already moved on from DETOUR to our next project), and no, we’re not talking about it yet. We’re keeping our focus on DETOUR. Once DETOUR is out the door and people are picking it up, we’ll be a lot more interested in talking about the very delicious “Project 2.” You can bet we’re going be taking the lessons learned from DETOUR and applying them to our next project.

It’ll be something really different, that’s for sure.

What is your greatest wish or desire for Sandswept Studios right this moment?

Success. Over about 2 years, nearing on 2 and a half, we’d really just like people to give us a shot, check out our game, and let us know what they think. We’d like them to give us the time of day to show off what we’ve been working on, and we want feedback on it. We really want to get DETOUR into the hands of gamers as soon as we can. We’d love to see people coming to us, to our website, just saying hello, letting us know there’s people out there looking forward to it, maybe let us know what they’re curious about, or what they’re looking forward to. That sort of thing really helps drive us to make the best game we can. We’ve already changed a few things in our game due to comments made by people who checked out our trailer, and we expect to make a few more before DETOUR gets out the door.

If any readers feel like supporting your company, what is the best way to do so?

Absolutely the best way is to support us is visit Sandswept.net, post on our forums, and get your friends to do the same. We’ve got a great team of forum moderators, and lots of the Sandswept team members post on the forums and answer questions about the game. Any support to help our community be a more active and fun place to be is the right kind of support. The more feedback we get on our game pre (and post) release, the better we can make the experience. (Not to mention we do drop the occasional batch of screenshots, renders, and other fun things!) Tell your friends, tell your mom, tell your pets. Check out DETOUR, spread the word, and let us know what you think!

Thank you for your time. We would like to wish Sandswept Studios the best of luck!

It’s places like Mana Pool that help us get the word out and share our game with gamers. I’d like to thank you for giving us the outlet, and hope to see continued interest as we get DETOUR finished up!

the author

Managing Editor of ManaPool, Peter lives in York, UK and is a great fan and master of turn-based strategy games. If he isn't playing one of those, you'll probably find him in a role-playing game instead. He's definitely not afraid to provide a straight up opinion on any game and has a strong like for indie developers. We all start small, after all.