Share this article

Cygnus Enterprises Interview: Climbing the Alien Corporate Ladder

By Xueyang
Jan. 17, 2023 updated 05:35

Team Miaozi is a video game developer headquartered in Shanghai. On December 16, 2022, their first PC game, Cygnus Enterprises, hit the Steam store in Early Access. The cross-genre game that combines Action RPG and Base Management gameplay elements is undoubtedly one of the most notable moves recently.

As a contractor at the galaxy’s self-proclaimed largest tech company Cygnus, the protagonist Doro is responsible for the repair and maintenance of the corporation’s planetside facilities. In the very first mission of her career, she was lucky enough to survive a spaceship malfunction and crash on the abandoned planet Mytilus with her personal electronic assistant (PEA). The two of them then set out on a journey to fight alien creatures, collect resources, upgrade facilities, and join forces to create a modern Robinson Crusoe.

Doro and PEADoro and PEA

Each day is split up into two parts: base management and combat missions. In addition to putting up new buildings and managing research projects, players can explore the map and complete different combat missions.

Once you start a mission, you will enter a top-down shooter mode to fight against alien creatures and collect resources. The bird’s-eye view gives the shooting combat a pleasantly fast pace. Plus, the different combination of sci-fi weapons and abilities leaves players plenty of room for creativity.

The odd alien creatures sometimes have a cute lookingThe odd alien creatures sometimes have a cute looking

Accordingly, there are two kinds of mastery in the world of Cygnus: base and combat. Base management and combat missions form interesting dynamics, as supplies gained through combat can be used towards base upgrades, and the weapons and gear forged in upgraded facilities can, in turn, power up the character for future combat missions.

In the process of restoring the previously abandoned Cygnus outpost, you are not only tasked with maintaining the facilities and fighting off enemies but must also wear the HR hat and ensure your clone workforce has a safe and happy workplace environment. The allocation of the base’s human resources and facilities needs to be carefully considered: when the dormitory is built too close to the factory, it will induce negative emotions among your workforce; while having it close to the recreational facilities such as cafeterias and shops, will encourage a positive mood.

Building layout can have a big effect on productivityBuilding layout can have a big effect on productivity

While Cygnus Enterprises can be taken as a sci-fi base-building game, it won’t take long for one to notice the resemblance between Doro’s growth and one’s career journey. As your character gains promotions, your title grows from contractor all the way to manager. The game also injects a lot of Chinese work culture memes into the loading screens and through PEA’s mouth, as if Cygnus is some ruthless overlord in the tech world.

PEA: “I’m complimenting you only because the company wants to motivate employees without money”PEA: “I’m complimenting you only because the company wants to motivate employees without money”

We had the chance to talk to Team Miaozi’s creative director Eva Jobse and project manager Oscar Lopez about the game and asked some questions about the behind-the-scenes and future plans.

Q: Could you give us a brief introduction to the game?

A: The game takes place in the far future. At some point, humanity spread to a handful of other planets, but this process was very risky and costly, which meant that humans ceased to attempt interstellar travel. All of that changed when Cygnus Enterprises developed faster-than-light travel, and a new era of space exploration began. Within a few short decades, humans reunite and begin to relocate from their overpopulated systems to newly discovered Earth-like planets across the galaxy. However, not all such settlement endeavors go well. The player is hired by Cygnus Enterprises as a troubleshooting contractor and deployed to the remote planet Mytilus to check on a Cygnus Enterprises base that ceased communicating half a year prior and make attempts to restore the base to a profitable state. Of course, the player soon finds themselves in over their heads when the reasons why the base initially became derelict is revealed.

Q: The idea of a cross-genre game that combines Action RPG and Base Management is very unique. How did it originate?

A: The core loop of “Management+ARPG” was set clearly since our core people joined: our creative director Eva Jobse has previous experience in developing Total War Three Kingdoms, which can already be regarded as a cross-genre game of kingdom management and real-time strategic battles. Other people on the team were more interested in action RPGs. We initially experimented with various prototypes and art styles. While the core principles of the game remained unchanged from the beginning to the end, the details with regard to the base and combat gameplay went through several rounds of prototyping and testing before settling on the game we have now.

In Cygnus Enterprises, most of us found the project we were looking for, a project that suited exactly our videogame tastes, the game that we would love to play as players. At every milestone, we had the opportunity to grow the team, and new people subscribed to the vision of the game and felt attracted by the prospect of working on a team that functions as an indie studio and has the freedom to develop new and original games.

The outpost team in the game is as diverse as the development team in real lifeThe outpost team in the game is as diverse as the development team in real life

Q: Why set your base in Shanghai? What competitive edge does this city provide for a new development team?

A: In 2019, invester wished to invest in a cross-culture team in Shanghai that would be capable of producing innovative games for the global market. Shanghai is an international city, one of the world's top hubs for videogame development: the city harbors an amazing talent for videogame development with veteran industry professionals, top videogame studios, and dedicated universities to teaching videogame development and design.

The city is really welcoming to foreign talent, and we are all really happy to be able to work and live in Shanghai. For example, we have a WeChat group with a lot of industry coworkers; we often organize meet-ups to share experiences, and knowledge, have fun and help each other. Shanghai’s art scene is also very rich, with plenty of art galleries, exhibitions, and museums. I believe that the city’s artistic atmosphere has positively contributed to bringing up such amazing artists that managed to pull our unique utopian bright art style.

Q: I have been paying attention to the tips on the loading screen. It seems that many of the quotes highlight the pressures of Chinese work culture. Is this an idea from the local employees?

A: Cygnus Enterprises is portrayed as a typical science fiction megacorporation, and part of the appeal of the game is being treated to sarcastic and cynical commentary from your Personal Electronic Assistant (PEA) – the sassy flying robot that accompanies the player at all times. Initially, the company does not care about the player’s well-being, but as the player produces positive results, PEA gradually starts to become more friendly, and the player earns promotions as well. The company is intended to be portrayed as an impersonal unlikable entity, which makes the challenge of earning its respect a valuable experience. This is a main plot point that we will definitely expand on with our future updates to the story.

The loading screen is filled with Chinese work culture memes, such as “Working people, working souls. No one cares about the workforce.”The loading screen is filled with Chinese work culture memes, such as “Working people, working souls. No one cares about the workforce.”

Q: You’re all very experienced developers who chose to create a sci-fi game that is quite different from what you’ve been doing in the past. How did the idea come around?

A: For our game setting, we were looking to find a niche where we would not have much competition. Science fiction was popular in 2019, and when we came to China, we were told by our colleagues to read the Three Body Problem books and watch The Wandering Earth movie. These experiences were very different from mainstream Western science fiction, and we took a lot of inspiration from these sources, in particular, the theme of people and factions that hold divergent views and interests cooperating in the face of an overwhelming threat and how heroes are portrayed as solving an overwhelming problem through intelligence and cunning rather than direct violence. As a result, the player character in Cygnus Enterprises is quite intelligent, the game features a diverse range of factions and characters that are forced by circumstance to work together, and the game, in general, has an optimistic outlook of the future, with the environment being colorful and the alien opposition entities that the player fights being very abstract and non-humanoid. We decided very early on that we did not want excessive human-on-human violence in this game and deliberately made all enemy creatures look non-humanoid and not too scary.

Q: The game incorporates both RPG and base management elements. How would you expect these two to interact? What is the most important experience you’re looking for when creating a game like this?

A: Both battle and base construction serves the ultimate goal of discovering Mytilus and accomplishing planetary immigration.  In terms of gameplay experience, we wanted to mix opposite mental states. On the one hand, Cygnus Enterprises has the base building part, with soothing music and a utopic environment. Time doesn’t progress, so the player can calmly reflect on what are the best actions to better progress and improve their base. On the other hand, the game has combat missions, fast-paced missions that promise to increase your heartbeat and provide plenty of excitement. This innovative mix makes Cygnus Enterprise a unique experience we are very fond of, a mix we can’t wait to keep expanding and deepening throughout the early access period.

Q: One of the issues I found is that the game feels less engaging once it’s in the grinding phase. Was it intentional that different stages have different focuses?

A: We did make efforts to dig out what our players were discussing and complaining about. The reason why we publish in Early Access is to continuously receive feedback and polish our game in better forms. In the weeks after launch, we gathered a lot of player feedback and already have some of the often-requested improvements in development. Also, we noticed complaints about late-gate experiences being boring and repetitive, and we will continue to add new features to the mid and late-game stages in particular, aiming to keep surprises looping from start to end.

The Early Access is expected to last six to nine months. At the end of the interview, Oscar mentioned that Team Miaozi has already begun development on two major free content updates at this moment. Those updates will expand the story, add new features to the game, and extend the progression with new resources, weapons, and other items. In addition, improving the basic experience is still their primary task at the moment, and they will roll out regular patches with bug fixes and minor improvements.