Subset Games finally brought Into the Breach (Free) to mobile platforms through Netflix Gaming, and it is a fantastic conversion. Read my review of it here. Following the game’s mobile release, I had a chance to talk to both Mathew Davis and Justin Ma about working with Netflix, the possibility of FTL on Nintendo Switch, the state of the industry, and more.
TouchArcade: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
Justin Ma: Hello, my name is Justin Ma. I formed Subset Games with Matt about 10 years ago. We’re a small team so we all wear a lot of hats. I do a lot of the game art, but enjoy doing game design the most.
Matthew Davis: And my name is Matthew Davis. I do most of the programming but, like Justin, dabble everywhere else as needed. We only work with one other full-time developer (Mauro, also a programmer). We also get to work with numerous talented contractors to fill in our skill gaps as we approach the end of our projects.
TA: How has the reception been for the mobile version of Into the Breach?
JM: It’s been great! Like the iPad version of FTL a lot of people seem to have already declared it to be their favorite way to play.
TA: Into the Breach is a game I included on my list of games I was hoping to see in 2022 on mobile, and I’m certain it is high up on the list of most people. How was the response when it was confirmed to come to mobile through Netflix and not as a standalone purchase?
JM: Understandably, there are some people who can’t or don’t want to get access to Netflix that are disappointed. But a lot of people who already have Netflix accounts are grateful, and the overall majority of fans seem quite excited that it’s coming to mobile at all.
TA: How has it been working with Netflix for this release, and have they helped with any of the porting or conversion for the iOS or Android versions?
JM: As with all new game platform endeavors, it’s a bit of a learning process for everyone. We did the porting ourselves but they helped along the way with localization and testing support.
MD: I’ve enjoyed working with the Netflix Games team. They are enthusiastic about games and were happy to give us the time and freedom we needed to do things right.
TA: Into the Breach is also coming to iPhone and Android devices in addition to iPad, drastically increasing the potential mobile player base. How was it adapting the game for smaller screens and also working on so many hardware targets?
JM: We learned a lot from working on FTL and Into the Breach was already better prepared for dealing with different resolutions. That being said, much of the UI and interactions had to be reconsidered for touch input and the lack of screen space. In some cases we had to sacrifice having all of the information visible at all times by using collapsible UI elements or by simply cutting back on unnecessary information. Making sure all of the buttons were large enough for touch controls also required a lot of thought.
MD: We had to revisit every single UI window and consider how it could be modified for touch controls on smaller devices. That was definitely the biggest challenge. My UI code has always been questionable in its quality, and moving the game to its 3rd platform really stressed those systems.
Luckily, the game has extremely low requirements so the wide range of hardware support was not as much a concern. That’s something that we’re still working on, to make sure we get the game running properly on as many devices as possible now that it’s out in the wild.
TA: Tell us a little bit about the Advanced Edition update for PC and Nintendo Switch that is included with the mobile version from launch day.
JM: It’s a pretty extensive content update that expands on nearly every aspect of the core gameplay. We wanted to take everything we’ve learned while developing the game and see what interesting new mechanics we could come up with. We didn’t want to break the core game experience, but we tried to see how far we could push it to still result in a satisfying and challenging experience. In the end, we were a bit less focused on “perfectly balanced gameplay” with the new content and more on “fun”.
MD: We were really focused on player usability in the core version of the game. Weapons, enemies, etc. were cut if it could not be made immediately clear to the player how it functioned. The game is difficult to introduce to people, so we kept the designs minimal and streamlined to smooth out that process. The Advanced Edition let us play around with the messier designs (like weapons that require multiple steps or target inputs to fire) on the hope that players would only enable that content once they understood the core game.
TA: Having played Into the Breach on both my iPhone 11 and iPad Pro, it feels like a perfect conversion, but there are a few things I was hoping to see in future updates. These are haptic feedback, iCloud save support, and potentially DualSense / DualShock button prompt options for when using a controller. Are there any plans to bring these features into the mobile version?
MD: We don’t have a plan to support haptic feedback, but Netflix has a cloud save system that we will be supporting before the end of August. We’re opting to use their system instead of iCloud so people can easily jump between mobile devices (Android to iPad).
TA: Into the Breach felt nearly perfect on Nintendo Switch after the PC version, and it has always been a game I just assumed would hit mobile. Years went by, and we finally have it on mobile through Netflix. Were there any plans to bring it to mobile at all before this?
JM: There were a lot of factors that resulted in us turning our attention towards a mobile port this last year. After the initial releases we were poking at new content and doing some testing of touch controls that seemed promising. But to be honest, we were pretty burnt out on Into the Breach and wanted to try working on other prototypes. When Netflix approached us it seemed like the perfect opportunity to put our heads down and finally focus on the mobile version.
MD: I think it’s extremely unlikely the mobile version would have ever been finished had Netflix not presented an opportunity to distribute the game without the challenge of how to monetize it. It’s great that we’ve finally been able to finish that port.
TA: Will there ever be an Into the Breach artbook release?
JM: It’s very unlikely. There’s not a lot of art that isn’t just game assets.
TA: With Into the Breach, both Subset Games and Ben Prunty exceeded all my expectations after FTL. How was it working with Ben Prunty again?
JM: Working with Ben is great. He’s very independent, which works well with our developmental style. We can usually just leave him alone and he comes back with tracks we really like. It seemed like it was harder to establish an overall aesthetic for Into the Breach compared to FTL, but once he did, everything started to come together.
MD: There’s a new interview with Ben Prunty on NME that digs into the music more for those interested. He’s a brilliant composer and a pleasure to work with.
TA: When I played FTL years ago on Steam, I was blown away by many aspects of it, but I was completely floored at how good it was on iPad. I don’t even bother with the non iPad version now. What were the biggest challenges in bringing it to iPad?
JM: We were also really happy with how it turned out. The biggest concern early on was the screen size of the smallest devices (iPad Minis). There’s a lot of information that needs to all be visible at once, yet you still need to be able to select individual crew members. Once we came up with the system where only one ship would be zoomed in on at a time, it seemed like it would be doable.
MD: I’m always skeptical of touch interfaces, but was surprised to find that FTL on the iPad is probably the best version of the game. The interface was definitely challenging (as Justin described) and we’re thrilled it turned out as well as it did.
TA: FTL has been supported for nearly a decade on iPad now with support for newer device aspect ratios and more. Has it been hard to keep it updated with newer devices in mind for the interface and game performance over the years?
MD: I hope to continue supporting the game indefinitely. It’s the benefit of being a smaller developer with complete control over our games, we can make sure they continue to run everywhere. That said, keeping up with newer devices is definitely a challenge and we may be a little behind the curve for supporting every update, especially the more minor ones like new aspect ratios.
TA: Will FTL ever come to Nintendo Switch? I know it likely won’t work on the Lite and even be difficult on the regular Switch, but the OLED Switch has a larger screen.
JM: The issue with Switch is less with the screen size and more with the input method. We never found a satisfactory way to manage crew members with a controller. Touch controls on switch would likely be viable, but we wouldn’t want to have a suboptimal input method for TV-mode.
TA: Are there any plans to bring FTL to Android tablets or Into the Breach to other consoles?
JM: There are no such plans at the time.
MD: I think we’d like to work on new things rather than porting old things now.
TA: I’m glad to see Into the Breach get a physical release on Nintendo Switch. With FTL not on Switch, will there ever be a nice big box PC version of it released for FTL Advanced Edition?
JM: We don’t have anything like that in the works. It seems a bit late to pursue something like that but I guess I can’t say it’s impossible in the future.
TA: How has it been working across the world for the team during a global pandemic over the last few years? Did things change a lot from the remote setup you already had?
JM: Practically speaking, the pandemic changed very little for our team. We had been working fully remote for many years prior. We did have some recent moves which changed our working styles (Matthew moved to the US and I moved to Japan) but that mostly just impacted the time differences.
TA: Subset Games has released two absolutely brilliant indie games. How has it been working independently compared to when both of you worked on AAA games in Shanghai many years ago?
JM: Our time spent in the AAA space is now much smaller than the time we’ve spent as indies together. It’s been so long that I don’t have much to compare it to. We’re quite settled in our quiet, slow, work-from-home style of development.
However, I will say that it has been nice being detached from the financially driven motivations of a lot of AAA. We haven’t ever had to incorporate things like games-as-service, microtransactions, or blockchain into our work. Instead we get to just focus on making fun experiences.
MD: I think we’re both a better fit for this style of development. We’re not adept at managing large teams, or working within large teams! Getting to wear a lot of different hats and influence all corners of development has been stressful but undeniably satisfying. We are extremely lucky that our games have done well enough to allow us to continue working like this.
TA: What do you think of the current state of the gaming industry across consoles, PC, and mobile compared to how things were when FTL came out?
JM: It feels like a completely different world, both in who the major players are and what you have to do to get your game noticed as an indie. We were very fortunate to get into indie development in the window where interest was growing but the actual number of developers were relatively few. I have sincere doubts that FTL would have received anywhere near the positive reception if it were released now.
MD: When FTL was released on Steam it was the only game that came out that day, and one of only a handful from the week. The benefit of that for sales and promotion is impossible to understate.
JM: There’s a lot more money at play and a lot more people playing games in general. We feel almost outdated in our desire to make tiny standalone games that aren’t worried about long term user retention. It is a luxury to be able to continue developing the way that we do.
TA: With Into the Breach hitting mobile through Netflix, what are your views on the current landscape of gaming subscription services across platforms like Xbox Game Pass, PlayStation Plus, and even Apple Arcade?
JM: It seemed inevitable that the industry would attempt to move in that direction, even if it ends up looking very different from film or music subscription in the end. As a gamer myself, I’d personally prefer a simple purchase & ownership model with games, but if this is the direction that players would prefer, we’d like to take part in the changing gaming landscape.
MD: There are some smaller titles that struggle to find a home in the open market, hit-driven madness of Steam or the App Store. I’d optimistically hope that curated subscription services like Netflix or Apple Arcade can help support those titles. There seems to be space for weird indie films on all of the streaming services, so why not games? But it will likely always be challenging for developers (or filmmakers!) looking to make less traditional experiences.
TA: What do you think of the Steam Deck and Valve’s Proton?
JM: It’s cool and exciting.
MD: Both great! I use my Steam Deck all the time. Proton is super helpful for supporting Linux players quickly at launch, but I’d still like to continue supporting native Linux ports as a lot of that community would rather not depend on Steam for all of their games.
TA: What games are you currently playing and enjoying from newer and older releases on any platforms?
JM: I recently sat down and finished 13 Sentinels on the Switch, which I enjoyed immensely. Other than that, I’ve mostly been playing old GBA games that I can find on my new Analogue Pocket. I’m currently enjoying Magical Vacation.
MD: I’ve been enjoying Triangle Strategy on the Switch. And I’ve also been replaying Disco Elysium, which is an absolute masterpiece. Board games take up a big portion of my gaming life, and Wingspan and Outer Rim have been making it to my table often lately.
Thanks to Justin Ma and Mathew Davis of Subset Games for their time following the launch of Into the Breach: Advanced Edition and the mobile version.