Cross-posted from IndieGames.com.
Space Qube is a space shooter for iOS which is now available globally. The player's ship and all of the enemies are voxel constructions, with players having the ability to create, share, and 3D print their own custom ships. It's the first game from Qubit Studios, a new indie game development studio consisting of Owen Wu (formerly a senior graphics engineer responsible for supporting AAA game development at AMD) and Louis Lu (formerly the lead character artist for the God of War series), though Space Qube was made with some help from Japanese composer Asagen. Space Qube won a Best in Play Award at GDC this year and was one of the finalists for Sense of Wonder Night 2013. It didn't take home any awards at Sense of Wonder Night, and that's probably because, as one of the judges said, the real sense of wonder in this game comes from the fact that Owen Wu designed the game so that he could play with his Lego-loving, 5 year-old son in Taiwan while Wu was living halfway around the world in Canada.
The game started out as a voxel editor, as you'll see if you keep reading, with the space shooter being added later in development. From what little I've played of it so far, the shooting game itself is a good adaptation of the genre to mobile and Louis Lu's player ship and enemy designs are really well done. That said, when I was talking to Wu at Tokyo Game Show, it was the game's origin story and the ability to quickly and easily order a 3D print of one's voxel designs from within the app itself which really caught my attention.
What was your son's reaction when he found out you made a game for you to play together?
I remember that the first model I made for him was Thomas (the tank engine) since he was a big fan of Thomas at that time. (Now he is a big fan of Angry Birds.) I also made Mickey and Winnie the Pooh for him. He was surprised, and the day after he tried to duplicate those models with his Legos. It was hard to reproduce the models with the limited Lego bricks, but I could still tell [what they were] from the color and shape. After that, we were playing a game called "I make it, you guess it". We would create models of famous characters then show the the models to each other and let the other person guess what the models were.
Did you tell him you were making it ahead of time, or did you surprise him with the complete game?
I didn't tell him before the editor was finished so it would be kind of a surprise for him.
Did your son help design enemies for the game?
Yes. The red skull pirate ship boss was his idea and red is his favorite color. Of course, the models are actually designed and made by [my development partner] Louis Lu, but I promised to let him design some characters for our next game. My son also helped me to improve the ship editor and make it easier to use. He told me about a few issues he encountered while making the models and I also observed his interactions with the ship editor when I traveled back to Taiwan for vacations.
Speaking of enemies, how many voxels are there in that final boss? He looks hard.
I don't remember the exact number, but it should be something between 15,000 ~ 25,000 voxels. And there is a very interesting design for the final boss, but I'd prefer not reveal it here and let the players discover it. :)
You've said before that you wanted a way to play with Legos with your son even though you were in a different country. That explains the voxel shape building, but what made you decide to add a space shooting game to that?
When I was working on the ship editor, the iPhone 4 was the most recent iOS device. Its graphics chip is not as powerful as the current iPhone 5, so rendering a full screen voxel scene would have been impossible. We came up with the idea to make a space shooting game since the universe is a void and we wouldn't need to render full screen voxels and could avoid the hardware limitation. Our other reason for making a shooting game is that we think the explosion of a voxel object looks awesome because our engine can control the behavior of any single voxel in the game. Because the background of the universe is not 3D, we also added a few post-processing tricks to make it look more beautiful. If you look closely, you will see the god-ray effect when playing the game and the motion blur when receiving a boost power-up.
Do you have any idea how many people ignore the shooting game part of Space Qube and just use it to make, share, and print their own voxel creations?
Many people were very interested in the 3D printing feature at TGS, but according to our numbers from the soft launch in July, only 14% of players really create something using the editor. I don't know if this number will be higher for the global launch yet, but I guess it will be similar. I discussed it with Joseph White (of Voxatron) and he said that number is normal. He said Voxatron even got lower numbers on the creations since his game needs to create a stage and it's even harder for the players. So basically, most players want to play the game only.
It looks like some of your concept art was done with Perler beads. Why did you decide to do that?
The Perler beads were actually not for concept. I was trying to use the Perler beads to "print out" the voxel models before I found 3D printing service providers. I tried to create physical voxel models from Perler beads but it's a time-consuming job and I couldn't have dealt with huge orders so I gave up and just made those Perler beads for my son to play with.
You made it to Sense of Wonder Night and won Best in Play at GDC this year... do you have any other award ceremonies coming up?
Currently no. We will submit it for IGF next year. Wish us luck!
Is there anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
We are about to make our next title and it will be also a voxel game. But this time, we can render many more voxels on the screen so it will be a full screen voxel game. I can't reveal much now, since it is still being designed, but it should be an action RPG game in which the players can customize many things in the game. We had a great talk with Sony at the Indie Stream party so we will probably develop a console version for our next title. For Space Qube, we will port it to Android and maybe consoles, too, later.