As the days fly by, more and more developers and publishers are seeing the benefits of optimizing their games for the Steam Deck. Most developers are going back and updating their games for compatibility, while some take the Deck into consideration during development. Either way, it is wonderful to see, and that's why when the opportunity came up to talk to Jason Polansky, a senior producer who has been at ATARI for almost six and a half years, I immediately said yes!
I actually met Jason at Gamescom last year. We didn't have the chance for a full sit-down discussion like this before, but I am so glad we were able to make it happen now.
We covered a range of topics, from the Steam Deck and our perfect handheld to two of ATARI's upcoming games, Lunar Lander Beyond and Qomp2, and it was wonderful. Before going into what we discussed, I would like to thank ATARI, Jason, and the UberStrategist PR team for setting this up. I appreciate it immensely.
ATARI Doesn't Develop With the Deck in Mind, But It's A Device They Test On
One of the first questions I had for Jason was regarding the consideration of the Steam Deck during development. I had brought up seeing a developer even creating a full game on there, but in the end, we both agreed that the limited hardware may not be up to the challenge for most games in development. So, does ATARI consider the Steam Deck during development? Well, not exactly, but it ends up having it anyway due to it being a big testing device.
Jason told me that while the Deck wasn't a big consideration during development, most, if not all, of their games end up having it because there are developers on the team that use a Mac to work. So, when it comes to playtesting the game, they will need a secondary device to make sure everything works, and they will usually try it on the Steam Deck. Because of this, the end product tends to run quite well on the Deck.
Jason Uses Our Settings for Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth (And Loves It)
At the beginning of the interview, Jason brought up that he was currently playing Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth on the Steam Deck and is actually using our settings to play! As the person who wrote that review and published the settings, it meant a lot to hear something so nice.
Developing On a Steam Deck is a No-Go
Recently, I saw a couple of posts scattered across X about completely developing a game from the ground up on a Steam Deck. Because of this, I decided to ask Jason about that possibility, and it was completely shot down. He mentioned that, with the money to buy a Steam Deck, you could get a better computer with a discrete GPU that would be significantly better for development.
Jason did reiterate that as a testing device, it is quite beneficial, but doing any development on that may be a bit hard due to limited power and the native Linux interface. Knowing what I know about game development, I have to agree with this, but it's still an intriguing idea.
The Configuration and Docking Experience Could Be a Better, More Streamlined Experience
As we discussed the Steam Deck, we talked a bit about how it could be improved. It is a great device, but it definitely isn't perfect. Jason notes that he is a console gamer first and foremost, and while he likes the Steam Deck, there are a couple of issues that he would love to address. The first one is the docking experience. Since it is a computer, the Deck can output to other monitors and screens, but compared to the Nintendo Switch, it is nowhere near seamless. Having a docking solution comparable to the Switch, where you can just set it down, pick up a controller, and keep playing, would be great. It would also be great to have a USB-C port on the bottom of the device.
He also mentioned making it easier to configure settings. As PC gamers, going into these settings is commonplace, and we know exactly what we are doing. So, with the Steam Deck, which bridges the gap a bit between PC and console gaming, a lot of console gamers won't particularly understand what is going on. Thankfully, there are some games that have specific Steam Deck presets, but even these can be improved (like Infinite Wealth).
It may be hard, but finding a way to fix both of these would make the Deck much more accessible to users outside the PC space. Jason does mention that it's nice that SteamDeckHQ helps bridge the gap with the configuration issue, with us providing and explaining the settings we are using and why. Jason also mentions that Valve could implement a 5th rating for Steam Deck compatibility for games that work flawlessly without needing to change a thing, similar to our "Best on Deck" rated games.
As for docks, Jason mentions JSAUX and their stands, which he uses as well.
Qomp2 is A Platformer That Has Reimagined Pong, and it Has a Story
The first of the two upcoming ATARI games we discussed was Qomp2. In the sequel to Qomp, ATARI took over publishing and fell in love with the idea. Jason mentioned that the core of the game was quite simple: You start off in a Pong-like stage, and then the ball goes free. You play the game with only one button and explore and solve puzzles.
While Jason isn't working on Qomp2 directly, he does go on to explain that these simple mechanics work extremely well, and we have some new mechanics while keeping that simplicity. This includes the addition of a second button, which allows you to dash through obstacles. But the part that surprised me the most was the inclusion of a full story that takes place after the first game! This shocked me, considering the game is literally a ball going through levels, just a single ball. But according to Jason, the story is nice, and it's a sequel worth looking forward to! I know I will be playing it on release on February 20th.
Lunar Lander Beyond is An Insane Evolution of the Original Game, and it was the Developer's Idea
After talking a little about Qomp2, we moved on to discussing Lunar Lander Beyond, which Jason is producing, and it sounds amazing. As a reimagining of the original game, developer Dreams Uncorporated decided to take the simple core loop and crank it up to an eleven. Yes, the gameplay is still there, and you are guiding a ship to make a safe landing, but there are so many new elements that really make it feel like a brand-new experience in so many ways.
We have a gorgeous sci-fi aesthetic with a deep campaign, which is completely new to this type of game, but what amazed me was the stress system. As you fly through the six planets, you must manage your pilot's stress levels. If they get too stressed, the world will start to change, imitating stress-induced hallucinations. I thought the way this was implemented and how it progressed was so intriguing. We also have multiple pilots, ships, and different upgrades you will be able to collect as the game continues. But the most interesting part to me was that the developers had a ton of creative control over this.
As Jason explained to me, there have been a couple of different ways these Recharged or remade ATARI classics have been greenlit. One of those was actually the developer coming to ATARI with the idea, and that was the case here. Dreams Uncorporated, who also made the game Cris Tales, went to the publisher with their idea for Lunar Lander, and after hearing the pitch, ATARI was all in. It's safe to say that the game would be entirely different, or may not exist, if Dreams Uncorporated didn't come to ATARI, and I am very glad they did.
Lunar Lander Beyond will be releasing later this year.
Windows 8 Would Be a Good OS for a Handheld (Unfortunately)
This was probably one of the hardest truths I had to swallow during my entire call with Jason. I am someone who doesn't like Windows 8, but as soon as Jason brought up how it could be a good use case for it, I saw the benefits. As Jason was talking about Windows handhelds and mulling over getting a ROG Ally for a trip, we started discussing Microsoft getting more involved in the space. He hopes Microsoft makes a bigger push for it and then unloads a horrible truth, Windows 8 on a Windows handheld.
He makes some good points, though. It was definitely built for touchscreens, and it did well for phones. It had a console-like interface that a lot of management programs on these handhelds emulate to some degree. It ended up taking a lot out of me, but I did agree with his arguments. I would be curious to see how a Windows 8-like OS from Microsoft could work on a handheld, and if implemented well, I could see it being the answer to a lot of my grievances with Windows OS being controlled from a gamepad.
And that's all from our discussion! Again, I want to give a big thank you to Jason, ATARI, and UberStrategist for setting this up and for the opportunity to talk about the Steam Deck and ATARI's newest games.
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