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Exclusive Interview: castaway with the makers of Stranded: Alien Dawn

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Squint at Stranded: Alien Dawn and you might be forgiven for thinking it’s a sandbox management sim that’s set on Earth. But the title gives a big old clue that Stranded: Alien Dawn isn’t quite so local. It’s an unusual sim that brings the base-building of a Settlers or an Anno, with all their farms and fortifications, but transplants it to a completely alien planet.

That’s enough for some questions to start bubbling up. Rather than suppress them, we brought them in a horse-pulled cart to Haemimont Games, makers of Stranded: Alien Dawn, to see what they had to say. 

stranded alien dawn keyart
Stranded: Alien Dawn keyart

Hi, could you please introduce yourself and your role on Stranded: Alien Dawn?

I’m Kalina Kirilova, Assistant Producer for Stranded: Alien Dawn here at Haemimont Games. 

Could you give us a quick overview of the game?

Our goal was to develop a science-fiction outpost survival sandbox game that places a strong emphasis on systems and offers plenty of opportunities for base-building and resource management fans out there. 

Stranded: Alien Dawn invites players to put their survival strategies to the test as they shape the story of their crew, marooned on an unfamiliar planet. While we were of course inspired by other games in this genre, as well as other science-fiction media, we wanted to create an experience that is both challenging and accessible to a wider audience. We achieved this with an easy-going tone that can be adjusted for gamers of all skill levels. 

Coupled with the various scenarios and the different game rules and biomes, we’ve created a unique experience for the player. 

Our first reaction to watching the trailer was that while you’re going to an alien world in Stranded: Alien Dawn, you’re making a home away from home on that world. You could almost squint and see a ‘manifest destiny’ sim, and not realise that it’s an alien environment at all. Do you agree with that? What made you take this unique path?

We made a deliberate decision to keep the extra-terrestrial design elements more understandable for players, with the sole purpose of directing their attention towards the survival elements rather than overwhelming them with too many unfamiliar challenges right from the start. While each distinct biome contains Earth-like elements, the new environment presents numerous survival obstacles for players to overcome. 

Our aim from the outset was to prioritise observation, preparation, and finding effective ways to navigate this unknown world. The alien landscape our survivors encounter needs to be explored and understood first, as the flora and fauna may be dangerous, and their uses and properties may be unknown. While the temptation to create a more fantastical world is there, our primary goal is to achieve a balance between the unknown and the recognisable elements, enabling players to construct a believable narrative in their minds as they craft their survivors’ stories.

stranded alien dawn screen 1
Stranded: Alien Dawn allows for deep city building

Do you feel there is a statement being made in Stranded: Alien Dawn, that humans will always try to recreate their home comforts wherever they go?

Absolutely! 

We, as humans, have already brought our comforts to a wide range of environments on Earth. It’s safe to assume that the survivors will utilise their knowledge to make it long term in any new environment. However, they will face the challenge of discovering basic technologies from scratch, such as simple weapons and a range of helpful tools that we take for granted in our daily lives. They will need to adapt to the resources that are available in this new world and use their ingenuity to create new solutions. 

Despite the challenges, the survivors will still have the same basic needs and habits, which the player must provide for to ensure the group to thrive.

There are so many things you can do in Stranded: Alien Dawn that it could become difficult for a reader to understand what is important, or what takes up the most time. What does a player do on an average game-day in Stranded: Alien Dawn?

On a typical day, you’ll need to attend to basic needs such as providing food and cooking for your team, crafting weapons, equipment, and materials, and upgrading your base with various defences, devices, and furnishings. However, on less fortunate days, you may find yourself fending off hostile alien wildlife and caring for wounded team members. This is precisely why it’s crucial to have a diverse and adaptable group of characters. 

While there are many approaches to obtaining food, it’s always important to have a capable warrior or engineer to build turrets and mechs effectively. How these events play out will differ depending on the selection of characters, as each one brings a unique set of skills and abilities to the table.

Strategy, simulation and management sims aren’t easy to get right on console. The sheer number of options can make it unwieldy with controller inputs. How have you dealt with bringing Stranded: Alien Dawn to console?

For our games, we use our own proprietary engine which is designed to be platform-agnostic. In that sense we run the same game code on PC, while focusing on optimising the experience for each console and supporting controller gameplay. 

Our goal is to make Stranded: Alien Dawn accessible to as many players as possible, providing the same content and features across all platforms. We’ve been able to use our experience from our previous titles, from Surviving Mars all the way to the Tropico 3-5 titles, which were also successful on consoles.

stranded alien dawn screen 2
Fly high with the hot air balloon in Stranded: Alien Dawn

How much will the player be able to explore and learn about the world? Will a player interested in the story and world-building be able to uncover that by playing? 

Stranded: Alien Dawn is a deep and captivating sandbox experience that empowers players to create their own stories and adopt their own unique playstyle at their own pace. Exploration is a significant aspect of the game since there are multiple ways to achieve a single goal. 

Each playthrough introduces players to a new location, complete with distinct wildlife, and presents them with a choice: to employ tried-and-tested tactics to overcome challenges or discover entirely new methods of play. 

For instance, the animal taming feature provides players with fresh sources of food and materials, and certain species can be trained to fight alongside them. Players that decide to take such approaches may discover entirely new aspects of the game.

You’ve been in early access on PC and Steam for a little while now. How has that process improved Stranded: Alien Dawn? What is the biggest change that has come from community feedback?

Once you reach a certain point in game development, it’s tempting to lose sight of the bigger picture. However, early access allowed us to receive real-world feedback on our game and dedicate time to addressing key issues and requests. This experience was invaluable to us, as although the game was already in great shape, it gave us the opportunity to engage with a growing community and have open discussions. We implemented many changes based on players’ suggestions, and we learned a lot about their different styles of approaching the game and its objectives. By tweaking the settings, we were able to create a game that could be enjoyed in a completely different way. 

The journey of creating Stranded: Alien Dawn has been a trip to a new planet in every possible way, and we are amazed by how far we’ve come. We’re excited to say that we’ve now left early access and launched on PC and consoles, and that there’s even more to come for our amazing players!

And finally, you’re stranded on the alien planet. What do you do on your first day?

You should definitely look for a sheltered spot where you can protect yourself from the elements and any dangerous creatures that may be lurking about and prepare for your first night. Once you have a safe base of operations, it’s time to start exploring and searching for resources such as food, as well as items you can use as tools. 

stranded alien dawn screen 3
Stranded: Alien Dawn city in rock screenshot

If you’re ready to saddle up and start a settlement on the vast alien frontier then you don’t have to wait: Stranded: Alien Dawn is out now on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store for £29.99 – get ready to spend time grappling with starting a community in a world where there’s no ASDA.

You’ll find Stranded: Alien Dawn on PlayStation and PC too. 

Huge thanks go out to Kalina and Haemimont Games for the chance to run this interview.

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