NOTE: This interview was taken in 2022, and has been updated to correct any changes made since then.


Hello and welcome to SAGE 2023! We are back speaking with Proto from Strange Matter, one of the lead developers behind Starbuster, a game that has been at various SAGE events over the years. In light of their recent progress with the game, I thought it would be perfect to get in contact with them and learn more about the game itself. All screenshots are from the recent 2021 demo version, which you can download form the Strange Matter page!


(Time to bust some stars!)
Daisuke: Alright, Proto. It’s great to interview you. As a beginning question, what made you want to create a game like Starbuster, to begin with?

Proto: Oh boy. So this started way back in 2015. I'd pretty much always wanted to make a game, but for the longest time, I'd assumed it just wasn't possible without a big team and such so it was always something of a pipe dream for me.

Then, in 2015, I ended up playing a few indie games that had been made by really small teams. I would play games like that, but never really bother to look behind the curtain to see how they were made. But when I started to look deeper, I pretty much thought, "Yo, I could do that" and started looking up how to program. I went with Unity because it was already installed on my machine from making Kerbal Space Program mods. I remember watching someone speedrun Megaman Zero and thinking "Yeah, what if the game just played like that normally" and that's more or less what got me started thinking about gameplay.

From there, it was around 4-5 years of just messing around with the mechanics until I had a single workable level, which got released in 2019. (And, boy, is that demo hard to look at)

Daisuke: Is the name of the game inspired by the connection to the Kerbal Space Program mods? Or did the name come from something else? Starbuster does feel like a rather unique name for the game.

Proto: Starbuster was actually going to be Starbreaker, named after the starbreaker beams from the Xeelee Sequence novels. It just so happened that I picked this for SAGE 2019 and Vertebreaker was there, and I thought the names were too similar, so I changed it to Starbuster. There's still a nod to the starbreaker beam as a weapon mod in the game.

Though I guess it's a pretty neat coincidence that one of the old NASA rocket planes was also named Starbuster, I didn't know that at the time.

Daisuke: What would you say was the biggest roadblock to developing Starbuster? You mentioned bug fixes before, but as a game developer myself, I wonder what part of development gave you the most issues.

Proto: Honestly? Level design. We have two completely different characters with two completely different control schemes, so what might be a really good setup for one might suck for the other. This makes it so each level has to be created with almost two different routes in mind. Right now I'm actually experimenting with a level where each character genuinely has their own unique level, so I can tailor everything to just that one specific playset. It's a challenge but it does force me to come up with interesting stuff. I think the game would really fall flat if I allowed myself to make levels bland.


(Tough choice, both characters are loads of fun!)

I either knock out the best level I've ever made in a month (assets and all) or it sits there forever and nothing gets done for months, I seem to have no in-between.

I'm pretty rubbish at sound design too but people help me with that, big shout out to string for basically making every good effect in the game.

Daisuke: It's great that you have people that can help you. Who are the other people working on the project alongside you?

Proto: Right now, it's Leila doing the music and helping me with the writing. String helps me with sound effects (SFX) whenever I can get organized. It's all a bit on hold right now, as I just don't have a lot of time for it these days, at least until we can figure out some funding.

My friend Imp helps me with the cover art now and then. If you've ever played Ultrakill you've seen his work. (and if you've ever wondered why some of our stuff shows up in the cyber grind it's his fault)


(It's a pretty small world after all)

Daisuke: I have played Ultrakill before, and it's cool to notice that stuff wasn't a big coincidence. If it's ok to ask, what's the workflow with the team? How do you get everyone to work together so well on a big project like this?

Proto: I do the programming, art, and gameplay stuff, so for the most part I just cram that and it's complete chaos because I am an idiot.

The actual interesting bit usually comes when it comes to level concepts. Usually, this entails me and Leila talking complete and utter bollocks in DMs until we get a vague concept (location ideas, how it fits into the plot, .etc). From there this tends to happen in two ways. Sometimes I'll knock out the background and environment art, and Leila will come up with music from there, and then we'll just refine until everything slaps. However, there's been a few cases where she actually goes and does the music first, and I just go and figure out the visuals from that. Our big hub world was pretty much entirely made the latter way, to the point its entire concept came from one of her albums before we even started working together.

Daisuke: Do you guys plan a lot before you put in a concept? Or are a lot of things done by someone's ideas coming to the table?

Proto: Depends really, some stuff has been planned for years, and sometimes we go "Oh right, there's meant to be a level here" and just make it up on the fly. Usually whatever plans we make don't survive contact and we end up with something better.

The characters tend to be the part that gets solid planning, so long as they're intact, we can do anything.

Daisuke: For my final question, I was interested to hear about what goes into the development of the characters and how they work with the levels. Would you say this is where most of your development time takes place?

Proto: Well, Alpha took like, 4-5 years for me to figure out. It's pretty obvious where his moveset originates from but it took me a long time to turn that something that had a flow I liked. Just making Megaman Zero again would be boring. The spirit is still clearly there but he's turned into his own beast (at the cost of me now have to work a bit harder on level design).


I don't remember exactly how long it took to develop Cassie, as there was a failed attempt in 2017-2018. I think the current version took about a year to develop initially, and every now and then I find a new way to make it interesting and have to account for that. Small physics tweaks can really make a lot of difference there.

The mod system is also a blessing and a curse here, sometimes I will come up with one that's disgustingly fun but maybe busts some older-level design. But on the other hand, being able to drip feed additional moves seems to encourage players (and myself) to experiment, and keeps things fresh. Plus if a new mod breaks the existing level design I can just drop it from the next boss and figure it out from there.

There's also a hell of a lot that goes into figuring out their personalities and story arcs as well, and I hope that this all comes across even remotely as well in the final game.

Daisuke: Well, it was great to hear about what went into the development of your game! Thank you for taking your time to have this interview with me!

Starbuster is a game that’s still in active development, however, you can play a feature-filled demo of the game on Strange Matter’s page! Make sure to follow them on Twitter, and enter their discord if this game caught your attention. Links will be below.