Interview with Justin Ma – Half of Subset Games: Creators of FTL and Recently announced “Into the Breach”

I had a chance to talk with Justin Ma of Subset Games – One of the two men behind FTL: Faster than Light. He and Matthew Davis are currently working on “Into the Breach“ – a tactics game about saving the world with giant robots.

Thank you for being here today.

Would you be alright telling us about yourself – outside of building games, what does Justin Ma do?

Much of my life these days involves games in some degree. In my free time if I’m not playing one I’m usually thinking about game design. Other than games,
my wife and I love to travel and we’ve spent a number of years living and exploring Asia. We’re obsessed with good food from around the world and try to spend as much time in nature as possible.

What are your future plans? Do you plan on continuing to produce games? Do you plan on working for another AAA studio, or to make Subset games a large development studio?

It’s hard to think about on the long term when we’re entirely focused on development. Hopefully we’ll be able to continue making games for a long time. I think our strength lies in the dynamic between Matt and myself so we have no plans to grow into a larger studio.

How did FTL’s success influence your design philosophy?

I believe it’s made us question our ideas a lot more. Designing Into The Breach has been an exercise in trying to ignore self doubts and external concerns while simply trying to find mechanics we believe are fun.

I know both you and Matthew worked for 2K China – Do you think working for a AAA company has given you an advantage on the indie scene – do you use any tricks or systems that a large studio uses that you think most indie studios do not?

I think there are some key skills we learned from our brief stay in a large studio. Perhaps the most important was the attitude that’s required to actually ship a product. When it comes down to it, learning how to cut imperfect designs is more important than learning how to design perfectly. We spend the majority of development trimming and cutting features and I feel this comfortableness with letting go of ideas largely formed during our time at 2K.

Do the two of you ever disagree on design – how do you resolve those issues?

We generally are on the same page when it comes to big picture design directions. We’ll often disagree about specifics or details of design, but we’re both pretty flexible. If one person feels strongly the other is usually willing to compromise. We share a lot of the same goals for the end game experience so even if we disagree in the design phase we’ll often agree when we start prototyping the mechanics.

Do you have any advice for young developers?

Just keep making things. Tiny prototypes, big design documents, anything. Try to focus on making things that you would enjoy rather than trying to guess what others would enjoy. Also there’s also a lot of negative stigma towards working at a large AAA studio. It may not be for everyone but it shouldn’t be discounted as an option by anyone.

How would you describe “Into the Breach”?

It’s a tactics game that’s heavily inspired by what we enjoy about FTL and other games that rely on procedural generation.

What separates this from other games in the tactics genre?

Every gameplay element is very granular and clear – hit points are low, damage of a weapon is static, there’s no hit or miss chance, etc. Additionally every turn you can see the enemies intended actions before they act and strategize accordingly. This allows you to come up with perfect strategies to defeat the enemy and even use the enemy’s own attacks against themselves. The result is that Into The Breach can sometimes almost feel like a puzzle game.

Both “Into the Breach” and FTL both seem to have a sense of impending doom – an enemy that would seem insurmountable to defeat. Is this an intentional story decision to create a  system forcing you to move quickly?

We like creating experiences where every decision the player makes has consequences. We also simply prefer to play games that have a high degree of challenge and a high skill cap. This often leads us towards game design principles like permadeath and high difficulty. This fits very well with stories of struggle against an insurmountable threat.

Does “Into the Breach” and FTL share a world, or are they separate universes entirely?

No comment.


What inspired you to make a Kaiju game?

We both like mech games and the mech vs monster setting lined up with some of our primary goals for the game experience.


Are you planning on a large free update like you did with FTL – Faster than Light?

We’re simply focused on finishing the game at this point.

Thank you so much for your time! We are excited to hear more and hopefully we’ll have more information soon about “Into the Breach”

Into the Breach does not currently have a release date, but it has a steam page. EDIT 3-16-18: INTO THE BREACH HAS BEEN RELEASED!
You can check out more information about FTL and Breach on their website.
If you haven’t checked out FTL: Faster than Light – get it on steam.
And make sure to follow Subset Games on Twitter!



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