Inspired by games like Mega Man X, 30XX features two wildly different characters with interesting sets of powers. One of them, Nina, can fuse different boss powers together to create more than 60 unique combinations. I wanted to dig into the ideas behind 30XX's fusion mechanic and get a sense of the overall balance decisions that led Batterystaple Games to 1.0.
Back during the dark times of 2020, our writer Tyler Chancey chatted with Chris King, the lead developer of 30XX, ahead of its early access launch. Now, three years later, I caught up with him again, just two weeks before it hits 1.0.
For more of the interview, check out the video above or on YouTube.
30XX's Fusion of Ideas
Being in early access for more than two years, lots of the game’s systems as they are today only exist because of fan feedback and support. Nina's fusion powers, for example, have existed since early access day one, but the intricate details changed over the course of development.
On early access launch in February 2021, her fusions were bidirectional, meaning the order you fuse powers would change the outcome. Today, that isn’t the case. King found that the lower number of fusion possibilities led to more interesting, unique abilities. However, that doesn’t mean un-fused powers are useless.
“As we have sort of gone back and forth with the player base about this, we wanted to make sure that all of the base powers by themselves are satisfying and fun to use,” King said. “Because we know that there's going to be a subset of the player base that doesn't experiment a whole lot with fusion upfront.”
He found that curious players would experiment with fusions from the start, while others, like himself, stick to what works until it doesn’t.
"One of the things that I find the most satisfying in any skill-based or challenging game is when the game gets difficult enough to make me care about the depth of its systems to make me care about the choices I have in front of me,” he said. “That's one of the most satisfying parts of all of that for me. It's very important that we kind of had that flavor aesthetic in there with our power fusion.”
I’ve played a lot with Nina’s fusion system in 30XX, and it offers a robust set of more than 60 options for almost any situation. If that sounds exciting -- or daunting -- you can blame Justin Ma, co-founder of Subset Games. You might know him from his work on FTL and Into the Breach (which was nominated for our 2018 Indie Game of the Year).
“I was at a PAX with him forever ago, shortly after the release of 20XX,” said King. “He had sort of made an offhand comment about, you know, ‘I noticed a lot of players including myself just find the same three [powers].’”
After chatting more with Ma, the idea for 30XX's fusion powers came to be.
“He's both to thank and to blame for this idea coming around,” King said, half-jokingly. “Because hoo boy, making every single set of powers have a unique, fun, flavorful interaction to experiment with, discover, and master is very, very satisfying. And also a tremendous amount of work.”
After spending almost 20 hours with 30XX in 1.0, I can confidently say that work was worth it because of how many meaningful choices the fusion system gives you in a run.
“It was a design change made to fix a player pattern in 20XX, where for the most part, you'd find a couple of preferred powers, and then you would just ignore the rest,” King said. “Here, you'd have reasons to consider all of the powers that aren't kind of normally in your main wheelhouse.”
“We’re so proud of what we did with 20XX, but we still felt having finished it that there’s so much further we could take it.” -- Chris King, 30XX Lead Developer
The Journey to 1.0
If you’re like me and love Mega Man games, you probably checked out 30XX when it first hit early access. If you’re also like me and would prefer to wait until a game hits 1.0, you probably haven’t seen much since.
“The guts of the game, the core gameplay, the moment to moment were all really solid in early-access launch, but the run variance was not quite there,” King said. “And now it is very, very, very much there along a number of dimensions that just weren't present when we released early access.
“So if you enjoyed run variety at early access launch, you ain't seen nothing yet.”
Between 30XX's early access launch and the 1.0 launch on August 9, Batterystaple Games has roughly tripled the number of items and doubled the number of stages. In fact, the final two stages will only join the game during the 1.0 update.
One of my biggest takeaways from chatting with King is that run variance is a crucial part of 30XX’s identity. There’s so much variety from run to run, and one of the biggest contributors to that is picking your starting character. Nina’s fusion powers provide interesting options and lots of range, while Ace is all about getting close and personal.
"One of the big things that we really wanted to make sure we did with 30XX from the get go was make sure that both of our characters had very unique, distinct-feeling toolkits,” King said. “Their power systems are different. Their energy recovery systems are very different. So the kind of way that they interact with the game’s world and power ups and progression paths is very different.”
Some might find Ace more difficult to play, considering he has to get up close. King said the team is OK with that, and in high-level play, there’s enough variety where some enemies are actually much easier for Ace to fight (and vice versa).
“It gives them both a different kind of texture and feels,” he said. “Both characters have different parts of the game that they’re worrying about a little bit there when they think about what’s coming up [in a stage]. And I think that’s great.”
After beating the game once, there’s a lot more to do, see, and explore in 30XX. There’s a difficulty system called Entropy that adds punishing modifiers that affect your overall run, similar to Hades’ Heat system. For players curious about the game’s world, there’s a lot of little details to soak in, too.
“We added a whole whack of weird narrative events that eventually lead to the games true ending, none of which were in early access at launch,” King said. “There are lots of different side objectives that the game hints at and sort of slowly teaches you how to do that will lead you deeper into the game’s narrative.”
The Future of 30XX
It’s been a long journey to 30XX’s 1.0 launch, and it all started with Batterystaple’s last game, 20XX.
“A lot of the reason we made the game in the first place was that there was so much we really felt we’d left on the table with the first game,” King said. “We’re so proud of what we did with 20XX, but we still felt having finished it that there’s so much further we could take it.”
While 1.0 signals a sort of “finality” to a game’s development, King is looking ahead to the future. After all, 30XX came out of an abundance of ideas; why leave any of them out now?
“We would really love to be able to continue to make more content for the game,” he said. “We’d love to make more playable characters, we might even love to make more stages, if finance and time allows.”
Part of my interest in 30XX stems from how long it’s been since we’ve seen a new Mega Man X game. X8 released in 2004. While the Mega Man Zero/ZX Legacy Collection was a wonderful blast from the past, it’s still a collection of older games.
I’ve longed to see a Mega Man X9, and King, who’s unsurprisingly also a Mega Man fan, feels the same way. I assumed a majority of the 30XX audience would agree, but he found that not quite to be the case.
“It never ceases to surprise me how frequently we get fans that actually haven’t played those games and are just like, ‘Hey, this looks kind of cool, and I saw the good reviews. So I picked it up and gave it a try,’” King said. “We definitely seem to have a broad appeal outside of just that niche.”
But if you are a fan of Mega Man style games, you’re in good company. From music to mechanics to aesthetics, Batterystaple Games knows what it’s doing to make this game live up to all your expectations. If you need proof, you can check our 30XX review.
“We’re tickling a lot of the same core flavor aesthetic needs, right? It’s the fluid combat, it’s the action platforming, it’s the excellent movement,” King said. “There’s a crunchiness to that gameplay that I think we serve very, very well. If what you want is the same satisfaction and intensity and challenge that those games and their core gameplay bring, I think we do an absolutely fantastic job of serving that need.”