Exclusive: Jordan Weisman on free-to-play games, working with Bungie, and his new game Strikefleet Omega

It seems slightly disingenuous to simply call Jordan Weisman a “veteran game designer and serial entrepreneur.” Over the course of his 30 year career, Weisman has founded four successful companies and amassed an enviable list of accomplishments, creating everything from the classic pen-and-paper RPG Shadowrun to the collectible combat game Heroclix.

With his newest company Harebrained Schemes, Weisman was able raise one of the biggest kickstarter funds ever — $1.89 million — for his game Shadowrun Returns, a PC and mobile title that will be released in 2013.

However busy Weisman is on that project, he’s not slowing down. On Thursday his team will release its second mobile game, the 6waves published Strikefleet Omega for iOS and Android. The title is a space-based epic that blends sci-fi tropes, real-time strategy elements and tower defense gameplay.

We were able to chat with Weisman last week to discuss Strikefleet Omega, game design challenges, and what it’s like to create free-to-play mobile games after 30 years in the industry.

Inside Mobile Apps: What was the development process like for Strikefleet Omega? You’ve said the game went through many, many versions in order to get it right. 

Jordan Weisman, CEO, Harebrained Schemes (pictured right): We started with the concept of wanting to do something that used the same elegant control mechanism seen in games like Flight Control, where you get to path planes around and it’s really fun. We started with a design document that had one mothership and there would be lots of little ships that would come out of the one mothership and you would have to path around it. We built that and… it wasn’t fun. We discovered that the essence of the fun in Flight Control is avoiding hitting things, not trying to engage with other things like you would be a combat game.

So then what we did is started a process where we’d meet every morning, talk about what was cool from last night’s version and what wasn’t, pick a target for the new version and having it playable by the end of the day. We went through that process 16 times over the next couple of weeks. When we look at where the original design document was, there was probably about a 30 percent course correction.

IMA: So after 16 versions, what did you end up with?

Weisman:  We realized what this was, was a very different take on a tower defense game. Once that clicked in, we had a path and we could figure things out and say “oh, we need this kind of unit and this kind of bad guy.” At its core, it’s a tower defense on this epic scale where you’re moving units rather than only being able to place units. At each level of the game you start with just the mothership showing up and then you harvest crystals that allow you to warp up to six additional ships in around the mothership. With the tower defense understanding it became like a siege game, where the inner castle is the center ship and you’re warping in these other ships like castle walls, and each of those carry with them new capabilities.

IMA: The gathering elements in the game bring to mind Starcraft. There seems to also be a higher level of strategy involved because you can move units around. 

Weisman:  Starcraft is an excellent reference point. Relic’s Homeworld was definitely an inspiration point as well. It does hit the middle ground between a real-time strategy game and tower defense title. It’s very active. It’s a twitch game with a lot of strategy.