‘Marauders’ lead developer Cameron Small on taking his ‘Tarkov’ love to space

"You can't beat 'Tarkov' on its gunplay - it's some of the best in the world! So we'll carve out our space in another way"

From the outset, it’s hard to compare Marauders to another game. A sci-fi shooter where players must raid spaceships, salvage loot from raids, and upgrade their own vessels? Credit where credit’s due – Small Impact Games’ latest shooter is original.

Speaking to NME, Marauders‘ lead developer Cameron Small says the game was scooped up from a “big melting pot” of inspiration. In the beginning, Small says he was completely on board “the Star Citizen hype train,” but found it didn’t have enough ship-to-ship interaction (or breaching) as the version of Star Citizen he’d dreamed up. The scale of Star Citizen also proved an issue, as Small wanted a more claustrophobic experience to Cloud Imperium Games‘ span of the stars.

In terms of inspiration, it took a game much closer to Earth for Marauders to start taking shape: Escape From Tarkov, Battlestate Games‘ hardcore shooter that drops players into time-restricted raids and tasks them with escaping with their loot alive. Small, who loves Tarkov with his “heart and soul” and describes it as “the best multiplayer game in existence,” could eat his heart out with claustrophobic, frantic firefights aplenty – but there was still something missing.

Marauders
Marauders. Credit: Team 17

“I was trying Sea Of Thieves at the same time and thought…there’s something here that can just join,” says Small. “Me and the team were like, yeah there’s something we can marry together! That was the big thing.”

With the big three ingredients thrown in the pot, Marauders just needed a bit of spice: with a dash of Cowboy Bebop and a sprinkling of Killzone, the game quickly took on a diesel-punk life of its own. Yet despite Marauders‘ many influences, it was Tarkov that still held a special spot in Small’s heart. “I’m a Factory main,” says Small, referring to the closest-quarters map in Tarkov. “That’s definitely bled into development!”

Part of that influence is visible in Marauders‘ closed beta trailer, which is filled with cold industrial corridors, “very lethal” close-range firefights, and a quick glimpse at speedy inventory Tetris. However, trying to capture some of Battlestate’s magic comes with some drawbacks: even thousands of miles above Earth, falling under Tarkov‘s shadow is still a very real risk.

“You can’t beat ‘Tarkov’ on its gunplay – it’s some of the best in the world! So we’ll carve out our space in another way,” says Small, who thinks that Marauders‘ sci-fi theme is the way to do that.

Marauders. Credit: Small Impact Games.
Marauders. Credit: Small Impact Games.

It’s an effective approach – when sitting in a bush for 30 minutes falls to the wayside for high-stakes aerial dogfights, and nearly all shootouts are violently intimate, Marauders comes into its own. Small says that although Small Impact Games expected Marauders‘ sci-fi features to play second-fiddle to the standard FPS experience, the community proved the team wrong.

“The crew sizes, the ship management, the ship combat – we’re gonna keep pushing it out because surprisingly, everyone enjoys it. We thought we were just gonna be doing an FPS – it turns out the ship stuff is actually quite popular!”

On that note, Small says that players can expect “Bigger ships, bigger guns, customising your ships, all that good stuff” coming to Marauders in the future.

In another departure from Tarkov, Marauders has no interest in making long-range shootouts the norm. Although Small says the game’s “first test of long-range combat” is on the way with the terraforming map, Small Impact Games doesn’t “want to go into that scope meta.”

Marauders. Credit: Small Impact Games.
Marauders. Credit: Small Impact Games.

“We’re gonna try scopes in the future, and we’ll see how it goes for the bigger maps just so we can shift the meta a little bit,” says Small, who clarifies that the “close-quarter Factory feel, 20 metre engagements maximum” will remain the team’s priority.

Looking ahead, Small also says other extraction shooter developers are “playing it safe with the format of the meta loop” – which is where Marauders will carve out a new area for the genre.

“We want to reach out into other spaces like leaderboards, guilds, you know – even the concept of Valorant‘s bronze, copper, gold stuff. I definitely want to reach into that where people can create a pirate guild and have a group stat, and do missions together. Which is some stuff I do like with Sea Of Thieves – so I would like to push that in early access,” says Small. “Outside that, the lore needs to be tapped into more – we’ve actually stumbled onto quite a unique universe we’ve made, we just kind of did it accidentally and then it fell into place with the factions. We have our linear progression systems, we’re gonna lean into that a bit more with the faction stuff – but again, this all depends on how the players feel.”

However, Small explains that in some ways, Marauders will remain grounded: “We want to keep that tactical element where you’re listening for audio, taking your time, peeking your corners. Somehow we’re going to marry the two.”

Small is surprisingly open about Marauders‘ wealth of influences, and it’s clear the upcoming shooter comes from a place of passion. Small Impact Games wants Marauders to be more than the sum of its parts, no matter how big some of those parts already are. And as Small describes, at heart Marauders still offers one of the extraction genre’s universal features – the simple, guilty pleasure of ruining another player’s day: “They’ve worked really hard crafting this giant capital ship and you breach it, kill the crew, and get out with it? That…it’s hard to beat that feeling. It’s better than taking a gun! I’m really proud of it.”

Interview by Jake Tucker.

Marauders launches in Early Access for PC later this year. 

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