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Student-run game studio releases new PC game | The Triangle

Student-run game studio releases new PC game

Photo Courtesy of Starworks Studios

“Timeworks,” the latest release from a Drexel University student-run game development studio, made its debut Saturday, March 30 and has yielded highly positive reviews. “Timeworks” is Starworks Studios’ second title and first full-scale PC release. It is also their first to be released digitally through Steam, the largest game distribution platform, akin to Apple’s App Store and home to thousands of games and millions of daily users. 

The release is a significant milestone for the fledgling game studio and represents hundreds of hours of work. 

According to Starworks Co-Founder and Marketing Lead Thomas Luddin, “We probably had 10-12 hours of meetings each week, on top of the development process external to those meetings, on top of classes or co-op… it was a lot, and I’m happy to be in spring term when I can just go outside and hang out… fall and winter this year, it was really crunch time for us.” 

“Timeworks” is broadly classified as a puzzle/action game. The player assumes the role of a fuzzy blue employee at the Factory, a less-than-OSHA-compliant facility, and is responsible for transporting various products and materials across levels with strategic obstacles in their way. Fortunately, this protagonist has the assistance of player-controllable clones and a time-rewinding mechanism. Luddin acknowledged the game can be hard to read with these layers of complexity, but reviews for the game have been very positive, with many specifically praising these unique mechanics. The player makes frequent use of the clones and rewinding. For instance, to get an object across a chasm, they might throw it across, switch perspectives, rewind, and position a clone to catch it — living up to the tagline, “Play alongside yourself!”

Starworks Studios began as Underdog Studios during Luddin’s freshman year in the midst of the pandemic. It was co-founded by four friends at Drexel, who soon changed the name. Their first game was “Starhound,” an arcade-style spaceship shooter, developed while the studio was still a team of four. 

“Timeworks” began in 2020 as an Underdog prototype by programmer Colin Page, and, per Luddin, “when it became a fully-fledged concept, we obviously fell in love with it.” 

Development on the full-scale version started in the fall term of 2022. The game represents a year and a half of work on behalf of some 13 people, all but two of whom were Drexel students. 

However, Luddin recounts that they stuck to Starworks’ founding formula: “What I tell people is that it’s a group of friends that happen to do game development, rather than game developers that happen to be friends. It’s definitely been like a unique experience because of that, because we’re all very close, but we all [still] have a lot of professionalism.”

As their first major project, it was the first time the team implemented long-term planning, building a term-by-term schedule that eventually ramped up to five to six meetings per week. They also connected with Drexel’s Entrepreneurial Game Studio, an incubator for game development that connects student developers with professors, the Digital Media department, for funding, and a Drexel entrepreneurship grant which went towards marketing and promotion. 

“The [EGS] incubator helped. [Drexel] did help us with a lot of the funding and stuff… but we had to initiate that. So realistically they did [support] us, but it’s not like they were giving out handouts,” Luddin explained.

There were also challenges with releasing on Steam. 

“It was kind of hard,” Luddin admitted. “Steam’s a little more difficult than we thought it would be. You have to kind of… ‘apply,’ [they] gotta double check that you’re a person or an LLC — it was definitely a learning process. We learned so much [about] backend and Steam, how Steam sales work, when’s the best time to do what. It was definitely a great experience… [but] it [was] really a chore… I definitely think we’ll continue to release games through Steam and hopefully on other platforms.”

As for the future, Luddin and the co-founders’ senior project is on the horizon. Starworks is aiming to keep growing in size and ambition, with the current team sitting at 17 people. 

For the next game, “…we want to get on Kickstarter, we want to pump our socials… I have a list of 10 [concepts] here and I don’t know which one we’ll pick… [but] looking at the… games we have, [it] most likely will be multiplayer,” said Luddin.

“Timeworks” retails at $14.99 on Steam. A free-to-play demo is also available on the Steam store page. The soundtrack, performed by Philadelphia fusion band Atomic Fizz, is available on streaming services.