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Interview: Cyber Lancer developer Ian Williams shares new details

Ahead of Cyber Lancer's Steam launch, developer Ian Williams explains how the indie gem made it to where it is today!

Cyber Lancer is an indie arcade-shooter that lets you gear up in hyper-advanced mechanized assault suit as you blast through waves of enemies. Throughout the game, players will enjoy a progression system that lets you purchase and upgrade more powerful weapons to shoot toward your foes. The game also pays homage to SEGA Saturn classics like Virtual-On through its faithful visual and audio aesthetics.

You can also check out the gameplay for yourself below.

Cyber Lancer gameplay

Since launching on itch.io as part of the MechJam 3 competition, the game garnered lots of praise. This includes both fan feedback, as well as three awards in the competition. As a result, lead developer Ian Williams announced the game will now receive an expanded release on Steam with new exciting features, including four-player co-op.

Ahead of the game’s launch, we at Mega Visions wanted to learn more about what went into its development and what fans can expect from its expanded release. So, we sat down with Ian Williams to discuss both his development journey so far, as well as his future plans for the expanded launch of Cyber Lancer on Steam.

Read on to learn new exclusive details, including what new features you can expect when Cyber Lancer hits Steam, as well as the game’s projected release window!

From MechJam 3 to Steam: the journey of Cyber Lancer

Mega Visions: Ian, thank you for sitting down and agreeing to chat with me about Cyber Lancer It’s truly inspiring to see the reception you got from the game and where it’s headed in the future.

Ian: Yeah, thanks! It’s cool to be on here and talk about it.

Mega Visions: Looking through your portfolio on itch.io, it seems you love to develop titles with a retro aesthetic. What games would you say most influenced you to become a developer?

Ian: Well, that’s an interesting question because it’s a lot of games, you know: pretty much every game I’ve ever played. In particular, when it comes to the retro aesthetic, I think that I was definitely inspired by a lot of retro games that I used to play as a kid.

But, mainly, I was inspired by a lot of my peers, who were releasing games with that style. I thought that’s something that I can do as well. So, they’re kind of my more direct inspiration. Of course, depending on whatever game it is that I made, there’s a lot of different sources I draw from.


Mega Visions: So, how would you say your development process evolved from Releveler to Cyber Lancer?

Ian: Yeah, so, Releveler was one of the first games that I made. How has my development changed? Well, I’m just a lot better in general. It’s a lot of work to make games, and there’s a lot of things that you run into and tricks that you kind of pick up on.

But I’d say the biggest difference between something like that [Releveler] and Cyber Lancer today is just working with other people. That’s been the biggest change, or the biggest level-up, that I’ve been able to do in my career. As a game developer, working with artists, working with other programmers, you can get a lot more done when we’re working together rather than by myself. I mean, Releveler, I worked with my friend who made some music. But, you know, I did all the graphics and programming.

With something like Cyber Lancer, I’ve got the graphics and the sound all covered. I can just focus on programming the gameplay.

Streamer Pokop Pokopson contributed voice acting for the in-game copilot

Mega Visions: What parts of the game did Modus Interactive and Warkus contribute to Cyber Lancer?

Ian: On Cyber Lancer, Modus worked on a lot of the graphics and graphical assets. He also did the sound design, and some of the effect design and stuff like that. Warkus did the AI programming and the technical implementation of the graphics. And then I did the gameplay programming and structure of the game.

Mega Visions: How was it like working with Pokop Pokopson for Cyber Lancer’s voice acting?

Ian: She is a streamer who I found streaming one of my games once, and I just kind of became friends hanging out on her stream. She put out that she wanted to try voice acting for a game. So, when we decided that we wanted to have some voice acting for this, I messaged her and asked her if she’d be interested.

I basically just wrote some voice lines and gave it to her. She just knocked it out of the park on the first take. So, there wasn’t really too much direction. I told her to look up Bulk Slash, which is another Saturn mech game that has a co-pilot. And I also sent a bunch of clips from the anime Trigon. I was like, “these two characters from this anime, I want that energy”.

That was pretty much it for all the direction on the voice acting. It turned out pretty well for minimal preparation and revisions on the voice work.

Mega Visions: In terms of the soundtrack, what was the conversation like with Viktor Kraus on achieving the right music?

Ian: Viktor is super talented. I didn’t work with him directly; he’s Modus’ friend. So, Modus kind of pulled him in. But the direction that we gave him was just old SEGA, Virtual-On. He just knocked it out of the park himself.

One of the coolest things about this project is that I think everybody working on it was on the same wavelength. It just really came together. I mean, we worked on it for two weeks for a jam, and the pieces fell into place really nice. It’s not always that easy, but I think everybody working on it just kind of knew. They knew what we needed to do.

Cyber Lancer making a boom in the world of indie games

Mega Visions: That’s awesome to hear how great things came together in development. Were there any challenges you did face during Cyber Lancer’s development?

Ian: Well, I mean scope and time is always a big factor when we’re working on a jam game. So, we were working on it up to like 15 minutes before the deadline to submit it.

It was challenging to get everything in that we wanted to. And we didn’t; we didn’t fit in everything that we wanted. But just polishing it, what we had, to be fun and playable.

On top of that, I had my mother staying with me, and my mother-in-law was staying with me. And then my internet was out at my house for a week. So, those were probably the biggest challenges. Not having internet and trying to collaborate was really tough. I was like tethering my phone to my desktop to finish the game.

But there weren’t a lot of challenges on the actual development front. I was mostly just time and outside obstacles that were a challenge.

Mega Visions: So, you mentioned there were features you cut out for the jam version of the game. Are you planning to implement those for the full release on Steam?

Ian: Yeah, definitely. So, in the jam version, we only had three weapons. And you weren’t able to get rid of your primary weapon; you just start with the same weapon. In the full design for the game, you can swap out both your weapons.

There’s also two equipment slots. In the jam version, we just removed [them] because you kind of just have the booster. Basically, you can map equipments to R1 and L1 and then weapons to R2 and L2. The full version has all those slots available for you, and there’s also an extra core slot you can use to level up your mech’s stats.

Also, we have multiple different mechs. We had ambitious plans for the jam version that kind of included all that, but we didn’t get to that. But the full version on Steam is going to have all that.

Locking on target for an epic attack!

Mega Visions: In the current state of Cyber Lancer, what gameplay element are you the most proud of and why?

Ian: I’m really just proud of how it feels to pilot the mech and the different weaponseven though we only have three in the jam version. I like how they feel.

I really spent a lot of time just to make it fun to shoot your guns. Like the chain gun, you have to kind of lead your target, and you can see the bullets arcing. And the missile launcher, you lock onto all the targets, and it feels really satisfying to do all those things.

I just wanted it to, you know, really feelyou have to know how to operate each of the different weapons. And I think that really came through.

Mega Visions: Of the three current weapons, which is your favorite to use?

Ian: With the jam version, the missile launcher is definitely my favorite. I just like locking on and seeing all the missiles come out. It’s satisfying.

In the new version, the work-in-progress, we have a rail gun now. You like charge up the laser, and it shoots this big laser that, if you line up all the enemies. So, that one’s my new favorite.

Explosive action in the Cyber Lancer Jam Version trailer

Mega Visions: So, for a new player just starting out playing the jam version of Cyber Lancer, what advice would you give for them to master the game?

Ian: Well, if you want to try to master the jam version, I guess just play with the different weapon upgrade paths. There’s kind of some optimal builds that make the game really easy. So, experiment with those different level upgrades.

We added the timer in there, so you can compare how good you did, how fast you beat the game. So, try to find some good weapon upgrade combos.

Mega Visions: Awesome! So, what inspired you to join MechJam 3, and was Cyber Lancer always meant to be part of the jam?

Ian: Personally, I just wanted to do a game jam. So, I was looking on itch.iothey have all the upcoming game jams. I saw that MechJam was on there. Somebody in our community posted about it.

I was like, “Oh, that seems like a cool one.” So, I put that on my calendar. Then, I messaged Warkus and Modus and asked them if they wanted to work on it with me, and they said, “yes.”

The kind of starting point was mech-Vampire Survivors. So, we wanted to make a game where you blow stuff up with a mech. All three of us are in the retro, throw-back indie space. So, when we started pulling for inspiration, Virtual-On is an obvious choice, or SEGA in general.

We’re all familiar with those games, so it kind of just came together from there. We definitely had not planned on doing more than the jam version. But when it came out, it got a lot of really good feedback.

We all took the weekend apart, and on that Monday, we all came together. And we were like, “this game is really cool. I think we have some potential here, so let’s turn it into a full game.” Ever since then, we’ve just kind of been cracking on it.

Picking up three awards at MechJam 3!

Mega Visions: I saw how much praise you guys have gotten for Cyber Lancer. How did you find out about winning those three awards in MechJam 3, and what does it mean to you to see critical and fan appreciation for the game? Were you surprised at all by the positive feedback?

Ian: It’s always cool to win a game jam like that, you know? I think there were over 100 entries on this one. It was, I mean I don’t mean to sound too smug, but, I feel like I wasn’t as surprised we won because I thought that we made a really good game. It was getting a lot of downloads and a lot of attention.

Not that there weren’t a lot of other good games in the jam, but I kind of likeour victory, I feel like, had already been had by how much people were playing our game and talking about it. So, finding out that we won the jam was kind of icing on the cake. But like, personally, I was already excited that a bunch of other stuff was coming in.

So, maybe that’s not the most exciting answer. You know, I really appreciate the people who put on the MechJam. It’s really cool, you know. It’s a lot of work to host one of those things. But, at the same time, the jam is just an excuse for us to work on something. It kind of lives on outside of the jam, you know?

Mega Visions: Oh, definitely! So, I got to ask. Where did the name Cyber Lancer come from?

Ian: So, we actually used some kind of random name generator. I don’t even know which one it was, but we generated a bunch of names. We wanted to name it something kind of cheesy, and there was just a big list of randomly generated names.

And I think we just took a couple words and put them together. And we were like, “Okay, that’s good.” I wasn’t even thinking that Virtual-On is also called Cyber Troopers: Virtual-On. So, maybe there was some subliminal direction there when we chose Cyber Lancer.

But we kind of just wung it. And, eh, it seems to fit.

Mega Visions: Well, it turns out to be a pretty catchy name. That’s why I was like curious what the story was behind it.

Ian: Yeah, just an AI! A lot of my jam games, or games in general, I name at the last minute.

Virtual-On for SEGA Saturn

Mega Visions: So, Cyber Lancer definitely draws a lot of inspiration from Virtual-On. What elements of the game did you want to incorporate into Cyber Lancer? And where did you want your game to stand on its own?

Ian: I think with Virtual-On specifically, we didn’t really try to copy it a ton other than the aesthetic. If you play Virtual-On, the gameplay’s a lot different. It’s a 1v1 fighting game, and you can’t look around really. It handles way different.

We made a wave-based shooter. So, we didn’t really look at any of the gameplay of Virtual-On at all. Really, aesthetically is where we pulled from it the most. A lot of those effects we recreated are used in a lot of SEGA Saturn games. But we kind of took, the first level of Virtual-On is kind of set in the sea, so we kind of did that. The grenade launcher weapon is similar to some of the stuff in Virtual-On.

four-player co-op in Cyber Lancer

Mega Visions: Can you talk a little bit about how the four-player local co-op will work in Cyber Lancer?

Ian: That’s kind of the first thing I started working on when I was like, “Oh, we’re gonna make this a full version,” because I needed to clean the code up from the jam version. I was like, might as well make the game handle more than one player.

So, co-op is completely working in the version I have on my computer. It’s going to be two- to four-player co-op. The game is going to stay focused as a single-player game, but I figured I might as well support it. I play a lot of Binding of Isaac, and my wife and I play co-op on that. So, that was kind of the inspiration.

You’ll just have a split screen, and I’m going to focus on balancing the game for one player. But I think so far, in my initial testing, just kind of the resource management of having an extra player, it really kind of naturally balances itself. I’m pretty happy with the way that that’s looking.

I see it primarily being played single-player, secondary two-player. And then, for people who have four people at their house, they can play four-player if they really want to. Or three-player.

Blast off with new weapons and equipment with the full version!

Mega Visions: So, earlier you talked about adding new weapons and slots for equipment. What other new features do you plan to add to Cyber Lancer in the Steam release?

Ian: Yeah, so new weapons, new equipment, which I said the booster is currently the only equipment in the jam version. So, you’ll have more equipment. There’s the cores, which you can use to upgrade your stats. [There will be] new mechs, new levels—we’re going to have more levels.

I don’t know if we’re going to release with multiple levels, but we’re definitely going to release with multiple mechs, multiple weapons. The goal is kind of to get the game to a point where, there’s not really any place-holder content, but maybe one level’s worth of content and couple mechs. And if it’s successful, we’ll expand upon it and put more in the game.

So, we’re designing the game to be expandable. It’s kind of like a rougelike, so there’s a lot of, basically infinite, room for growth. But when we release it, we’re going to try to just have a really tight core amount of content.

More exciting Cyber Lancer gameplay!

Mega Visions: So, in terms of expansions and updates, how frequent do you think players could expect to see new updates in the game?

Ian: Well, I have no idea. I think that, well I can’t speak for the other guys, but as an indie game developer like myself, I’m trying to figure out how to be somewhat commercially successful with my games. Hopefully, Cyber Lancer can be successful.

If it is, all of us on the development team will have to take a look and reassess what our plan is from there. So, I can’t exactly say what the pace of release would be. I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to see.

Cyber Lancer blasts onto Steam soon!

Mega Visions: So, I have another question you may or may not be able to answer at this time. But do you have a projected timeline on when you plan to release the full version of Cyber Lancer on Steam?

Ian: Yeah, so, I mean I hope to release the Steam version in the fall. The initial Steam release, we want to get it out fast to start getting some feedback and see how it does. So, I’m really hoping for the fall. That’s pretty much the closest window I can give you.

Mega Visions: Well, I’m excited to hear that. It’s a really awesome success story seeing how far the game’s coming.

Ian: I hope so! We won’t really quite know if it’s successful until we release it I guess. But, yeah, it’s a lot of work. It’s hard being an indie developer and pay attention to your stuff. So, thank you for covering us. And I hope that it continues to be successful.

Mega Visions: Definitely! So for any potential future game developers reading this, what advice would you have for them to get started?

Ian: It’s really hard, I got to say. Making games is really hard, and there’s no really shortcut around that. So, if you want to make games, you got to know that. You got to be prepared for that.

You just got to make them. It sounds like a chicken and egg kind of situation, but you really just got to start. You got to make Snake. You got to make a Pong clone. Make something super simple, and do that five times in five different frameworks or programming languages. Just make stuff, and keep going.

Also, you got to know what your goals are. If you want to make games and release them, and have people play them, then you have to finish games. You have to finish them even if they suck, and release them and put them out there.

If your goal is just to learn about game development, then, you know, you don’t need to release something. But you need to be honest with yourself, and just keep doing it. Keep practicing and not be discouraged by how hard it is because it’s freaking hard.

Mega Visions: That’s great advice! Thank you. Is there anything else you want to say about Cyber Lancer?

Ian: I want people to wishlist it. Those are really important for Steam releases. So, please wishlist the game on Steam.

Mega Visions: Awesome! Well, Ian, once again, I want to thank you for coming on here and talking with me about Cyber Lancer.

Ian: Yeah, thank you a lot! Once again, it’s hard to get the attention as an indie game developer. So, it really helps getting covered. Thank you.

Cyber Lancer

Add Cyber Lancer to your Steam wishlist today!

You can play Cyber Lancer for free now on itch.io. In addition, a fully expanded version of the game will launch on Steam this fall. You can wishlist the game now, as well as learn more information, here.

Have you played Cyber Lancer? Are you excited for the expanded version of the game to hit Steam? As always, share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Sam Fronsman

A writer with a love for video games, both new and old. A collector of games, CDs and DVDs. Can sometimes be found behind a camera or playing guitar. The X-Men games for SEGA Genesis will always hold great memories.
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