Tagged: Interview

I had the honor to interview Norbert Varga from Digital Arrow who are now developing their cRPG game named “Dilogus – The Winds of War”.
And although it’s still in the early stages of development, Norbert Varga promises it NOT to be DNF :)

1. Please tell me about your company, how did you started/formed the company ? how many people are you ? are you all working via the internet as FOSS projects tend to do, or do you have an HQ in which all your staff is located ? what systems and programs do you use ?

My name is Norbert Varga and I’m currently one of the co-owners of Digital Arrow. Ferenc Giric and myself founded the company about two months ago but I’ve led a modding team working on Dilogus before. Currently, I’m handling production and game design on Dilogus – The Winds of War. I’m probably most capable as marketings and production person, but have been involved with engine developments, modding and game development from various aspects covering some programming (especially physics simulation), scripting, writing, game design, music and level design. Only thing that’s really alien to me is animation as I’m only familiar with animation theory. But again, I think it’s important for a producer to be at least remotely familiar with all aspects of game development.

I’m an easy going patient person with strong passion for gaming. Next to that, I feel joy and sensation working on projects that are very community friendly, because the whole interaction just feels so great. Creating something for others to enjoy. Nothing better than that. Game Development is fun, but not easy. But heck, who can’t handle the fire, should stay away from it. Teamwork divides the task but multiplies the success!

Our company, Digital Arrow Games was formed a while ago, and we’ve recently expanded to become a more serious game developer. Before, the group behind Dilogus – The Winds of War was named FusionSoft, but due to multiple reasons, we had to change the name as well. Currently our team consists of 16 core people, an additional group of twelve 3D artists/animators, a few people through Symphony of Specters that does all of our audio and SFX and an additional four media/promotional personal from Quit Boredom – Germany.

While we do have a HQ set up, not everyone works on board but that is the final goal down the road. Currently, only a few of us are here, but the leadership is in one office which is probably the most important. We are still a young company, but we certainly plan to expand.

2. I understand that Dilogus was supposed to be a Crysis mod using Cryengine 2 at first, then you moved to UDK engine, and finally you switched to the GNU/Linux friendly Unigine.
Why have you decided to move to a different engine and create a full game as oppose to a mod ?
Since when Dilogus is in development and is there any estimated release date ?

The actual production of Dilogus into some sort of a computer media started out as a mod called Rise of the Asher and it was planned to be an action adventure (much alike the Prince of Persia series in style). After our mod team teamed up with another group of passionate modders, we’ve decided we’ll implement more RPG elements. That’s when Dilogus – The Winds of War as a concept was born. However, from about late 2008 not much development has happened as we ran into various technical problems.

Recently we teamed up and planned to recreate the game on UDK. We were on the way of producing the game when a friend of mine pointed out Unigine. Considering wanted to find a good way to release to Linux as well, we’ve immediately grabbed onto Unigine. Previously, due to mainly technical limitations we didn’t plan beyond Windows, but seeing the capabilities of Unigine we really wanted to dive more into the Linux gaming and provide a quality Co-Op Multiplayer / Single Player Fantasy RPG for those that prefer Linux over Windows. Flexibility is key. This of course does not mean we are neglecting the Windows platform, as that was a definite before. We see a great future for the Linux platform as a gaming environment as well, and we would like to prove this by delivering a top quality game through Unigine.

3. Tell me about Dilogus, what “world” does it take place ? what creatures can we expect to see ? what landscape and cities/towns will we visit ? are there alliances between races/clans/creatures ? politics ? Are there guides/clans or “sides” you can join ?

Ah, the world! We could be stuck here for ever and a day if I try to explain everything. But! Here are some highlights.

Dilogus actually started out as a CYOA/game (choose your own adventure) book way back in 2003. Ever since then, I’ve been developing the universe and polishing it to be interesting and unique. For instance, I made sure that elements that appear are not just there because “it would be cool to have”. Every single element of the world has a reason behind it. That includes things from the smallest details, like dish decoration to big and important things like gods.

The game takes place in the fantasy universe of Dilogus. Some find this name odd, but I can give a quick explanation. The name comes from the main god, Dhil’Aeghas being pronounced wrong by the inhabitants of the world, thus creating a slang name. Dhil’Aeghas is a god that supposedly ‘forged’ the world, therefore the name corresponds to him.

There are a multitude of various creatures and races but we certainly strive away from your usual orc and elf when it comes to races, and also try to keep it minimum with all the cliché creatures you can see in fantasy games such is undeads, goblins and alike.

As for landscapes, we are also trying to present a more unique fantasy world. The game will take place in the time after a major war that occurred as a result of power struggle between the main gods, thus the environment (especially the surface) is rather ravaged and cut up into pieces – creating some sort of floating landscapes scenery. In addition to that, we are aiming to create the contrast of beautiful open environments and dark, mystical and horror-like caves. A lot of fantasy games are just all about walking in the woods, go into a dungeon, loot, go into the woods, walk around the green woods, etc. Our game spreads out evenly when it comes to variety in environments, even things such are underground cities are in plan.

4. Please tell me about the characters/classes you can choose to play (please describe each character).
Will they be “strict” classes like in Diablo (warrior, rouge, mage etc…) or could you have a multi-class character like in NWN or the Eschalon series ?

The characters will have their own strengths and weaknesses at the beginning, yes, but there will be all sorts of opportunities to teach your old dog new tricks. There are all sorts of tropes one comes to expect from fantasy games, of course, like stealthy, combat and mystic magic. We want to avoid most of the generic class structures hwoever, so we’ve been working on new ways to present each skill and strength by providing the fixed character archetype with multiple disciplines to pick from as the game unfolds. As to how exactly will each character function shall remain behind the curtains until the time comes for them to be revealed. Keep an eye out in the future for trailers outlining each character.

5. I understand you will have several characters/classes – will it be party based when you could play all of them at the same time (NWN) or you will have to choose only one character and finish the campaign with him (Diablo) ?

The player will have the choice to select one character at the game start (much like Diablo), which is a set character archetype with multiple specialization trees to customize to a given playstyle. The single player will not have AI companions nor the choice of switching between them (like NWN). The reason for this is because we want the player to focus solely on one character, providing enough space for choices and decisions.

6. What quests can we expect from the single and co-op/mmorpg (depends on the 1st question) modes ?
Kill 10 orcs and come back for a reword ? or find a way to get that magic sword (and you will have several ways to do so, and each with their own consequences (Fallout style for example) ? (I’m a die hard deep cRPG fan which involves a LOT more then just killing).

We want to place an emphasis on choice, so each character will have a variety of ways (including some character-dependent ways as well) to solve parts of the main story and some side quests. One of our plans is to have character-based options present in the multiplayer mode as well, giving the “adventure group” the ability to approach the quest from multiple perspectives. We will aim to make our quests interesting and entertaining while minimizing the quantity of typical “slay ten monsters for an arbitrary reason” style quests and allow the players more room to think for themselves and use their characters to the fullest. Lets face it, your average barbarian wont delicately pick locks they are far more likely to but their boots through it, but the choice is there. As for the consequences, say for the previous example, the likelihood of being caught is much greater and that may have certain ramifications especially if crown jewels are involved for example.

7. You are planing on making a single player and a multiplayer modes ? how will that work out ? is the multi player mode is like a co-op single player (campaign) or it’s like a MMORPG game ?

We’re planning to make Dilogus playable both in single-player and co-op modes, but we’re not aiming to create another MMORPG. The multiplayer component in both the Left 4 Dead series and Borderlands is a good example of what we’re trying to achieve, as you’ll be able to play the game in single-player mode for a while, then call upon your friends when you need a hand. The game will adjust its difficulty accordingly.

We’re also toying with different quests and challenges that will change themselves based upon the makeup of your party, so each unique group will have its own unique quest experience. You won’t NEED to play co-op to beat the game, but there will be some parts, though, that’ll be virtually impossible to complete without some help. Besides, we find that games like Oblivion get pretty boring after hours and hours by yourself, so playing Dilogus with a couple of good friends is something we want to encourage.

8. Will there be several endings to the game ? (and if so, will they be “last minute” choices as in Fable1 which I didn’t like (like playing the bad guy all the game and then redeem yourself by a single choice)).

We certainly wish to present several endings in the game,yes. But each ending will be set in stone, but the way you get there will be up to you. Various changes will occur, depending on player choices through the main storyline. There will be no redeeming final choices for sure, as that entirely conflicts with the concept of choices through the actual game. We plan to create something that will make the player feel he is in there, and that his actions will have impact to how certain parts of the story unfold.

9. Can you play an “evil” or “good” character ? how will NPC’s react to you for being evil or good ? will there be “gray” choices/quest solutions ?

There is no distinctive line between evil and good. Such thing does not exist in life either, right? Every action is good for someone, bad for someone else. Something that may seem good at the beginning could affect your character in a negative way further down the road. Likewise, a choice that may seem cruel or evil at first may bring good to you or others at a later time. Some things are very good, some are very bad, and there are a bunch of things between these two. We are trying to find the best solution between what is good and fun to play with, and what is possible for us to create. We do not wish to take off a bite that we can’t chew. Artificial Intelligence is a tricky subject, and different “paths” usually depend on it.

10. Thanks for the great interview, is there anything I forgot to ask and you want to add ? please feel free to do so.
Nothing, really. Thank you as well for your interest. Just a heads up – starting from January, we will be releasing weekly development videos and updates. You can as well visit our forums and share your thoughts, opinions and ideas or just stick around to keep yourself up to date.

Extra Chat ! (non interview conversation)

LGN : have you read the “lets play AOD” thread at Iron Tower Forums ?
it’s a MUST and as you can see it’s 72 pages long.
Norbert: it’s very hard to compare a game such is AoD to Dilogus
but I will most certainly read it when I have a bit more time
LGN : it’s not only good read for the dialogs, but for any cRPG developer.
what the developer plans is not what the user expects in many cases and that thread lead to fixing some AOD stuff.
Norbert: AOD is way more of an RPG thou :] we have a tad bit less RPG elements in there, and a bit more elements of interaction than most RPGs
but yup, thanks
LGN : elements of interaction ?
Norbert: Yes.
Things such are social things and world interaction
LGN : mmmm….you haven’t told me abut those…
Norbert: because it’s still in experimental phase :)
But an example to this would be, you can use your environment pretty well in a multitude of cases, including combat, sneaking or alike…
Kicking someone down the stairs is fun :P
LGN : ok…so it’s more action oriented game than quest ?
Norbert: nope
It’s hard to explain :)
it’s both
But it mostly depends on your character, you ‘CAN’ play as a full action
But you can as well sneak around a lot and avoid a lot of fights.
LGN : I suck as sneaking
Norbert: :D
LGN : can I “convince” them not to attack me or something ? ;)
Norbert: that’s a very ridiculous thing in a lot of games
Why would a bandit want to even consider talking to you, in the first place? :P
He can just beat you up and take your stuff
Diplomacy is very relative and oddly transfered in a lot of games
LGN :depends on your looks, if you are big then he “might” consider running away himself
Norbert: most quests will also have a talking solution thou – but that’s a different case
LGN : I mean , there is a skill in many RPG games just for that – to make your opponents fear of you and run away or reveal secrets …
Norbert: yes
That’s intimidation, we have that in plan :)
But generally, when someone is already attacking you, you can’t hold him off for a talk
But we plan to experiment a lot with AI feelings, we’ll see
LGN : depends on how the script works , if he talks to you first…
RPG’s are the hardest games to make imo
Norbert: yes :)
It’s not really hard to make, it’s mostly a lot of work
Current technology also helps in a lot of things
LGN : when it comes to dialogs and quests, making them feel right and logical – it’s hard
Norbert: it’s all about planning :)

Thank You Norbert Varga For Spending Your Valuable Time And Giving Us This Wonderful Interview.

Don’t forget to visit the Dilogus blog, and get updates on new game features, characters, world and more…
Also the Dilogus Forum has an interesting Q&A section in which there will be weekly polls of questions to ask the developers and off course answers from the developers on the “winning question”.

Links

Also check out Digital Arrow’s great partners:
Symphony of Specters – Our Audio Team
Unigine Corp. – Our Technology Provider
Quit Boredom – Our media/promotion Partner

A few days ago I’ve posted about new FOSS science fiction game under development named Avaneya.

Today I publish the interview I’ve made with the project starter Kip Warner :

1. Tell me about your game, you wrote :
“Avaneya will combine elements of a science fiction real time
strategy, adventure, and some of those of the classical city building
and management genre. “

A. To what game can we compare it too ?
How will the city building be like ? AoE ? Settlers ? SimCity ?
other ?

To be honest, I never played Age of Empires, but I have heard great
things about it. I didn’t know much about software as a kid, but even in
my teens, I smelt a rat when I saw the Microsoft logo on the box. I
think that’s probably why I was too stubborn to try it. Nevertheless,
outside of philosophical reasons, it looked like a good game. I never
played Settlers and don’t know much about it, so I can’t comment.

SimCity, however, I played a lot and really enjoyed it. It wasn’t that I
was trying to deliberately avoid senseless violence in video games, but
at the time of SNES which I was playing it on, it wasn’t really
represented as an unorthodox alternative but as just another game.
Looking back, I see that, at least with respect to most games these
days, it’s very unusual in that respect.

SimCity had a reasonable amount of breadth for the capacity of the
hardware at the time (and thus people’s expectations). Crime, pollution,
population density, and so on, where various interacting dimensions to
it. What it lacked though was more substantial breadth and depth.

By depth, I mean it didn’t really probe too deeply into how any of
things might be related. In some sense, it kind of taught people that
getting your society to work was about finding the balance within that
paradigm of neo-classical economics. This is interesting to explore, but
it still leaves me wondering as I’ve come to view that school of thought
as a vehicle for unchecked assumptions. As time goes by and I learn
more, I am realizing that the whole paradigm is broken. Rather than just
reminding many of us of what we already are starting to figure out, it
would be more constructive to propose something useful to address that,
like the GPI.

Society is not a thing in itself, but perhaps a holistic or “emergent
property” of many people doing many things. Having said that, I’d like
to take Avaneya in the direction of embracing this.

Also, I didn’t mention SimCity in the FAQ, though I wanted to, because I
was unsure of the legalities of doing so. This might be an issue, given
my company is incorporated and this is a commercial game. I didn’t want
to step on any landmines.

Something I’d also really like to draw from SimCity is how, after a
certain point of user interaction, the city seems to take a life its own
and seems “alive”.

B. What kind of RTS can we expect ? AOE style or non-combat ?

I would like to see predominantly non-combat, as we saw in SimCity.
However, conflict is real and it would be unreasonable to white wash
society by removing it. So I will not rule that out, but it will be
presented in a non-traditional light.

It’s important that I am cautious in describing the game in terms of any
other game. If I could do that with a perfect one-to-one mapping, I
wouldn’t feel driven to create a new one. So I hope it will be
interpreted as somewhat cross-genre.

C. What is the adventure part in the game ?

One of the challenges I am facing is to see if there is room to
incorporating a personal dimension to the game. A story is necessary,
but characters, which is what I mean, are difficult. Traditional city
building games typically involve the player at a macroscopic level,
whereas traditional RTS like StarCraft have their heroes. I think there
is a creative solution to this that will reveal itself in time to
balance this need for both a high and low level of abstraction.

Another source of adventure is the user trying to solve old problems in
novel new ways.

D. The single player mode will be free while the online mode won’t,
tell me please about the online mode…will it be like a MMORPG, or a
single map online match like HoN or other RTS games ?

Single player I would like to see both a campaign mode (story driven)
and a separate quick game mode where you select a scenario and play it.

I am thinking multiplayer on a Martian regional / planetary scale. This
could allow players, each acting as governor of their respective city
state, to interact through trade, expansion, or what have you. This is
something that is difficult to do because there is the inherent problem
of what happens to your infrastructure when you are not online?

Another possibility would be to have players engage in scenarios where
they have, say, a time limit to raise their shared city to a certain
minimum GPI. StarCraft had a multiplayer mode where players shared
control of the same team.

I know I am being vague, but take it as a hint that many things are
changing right now.

2. Are you making this game alone ? (code and art) can people join your team ?

I am the sole soul behind the engineering at this point, but there are
countless people who have asked to be involved in some way or have
already contributed. I am also doing modelling, art, website, and
cinematics as well.

As I’ve mentioned in the FAQ, many in the academic community, from the
Department of Forestry and the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems at
the University of British Columbia Farm to the Rubenstein School of
Environment & Natural Resources at the University of Vermont have
already made contributions. I’ve received a lot from them in the way of
academic papers, useful methods of measuring the GPI, environmental
models for the interaction of soil and deforestation and other
literature.

I’ve had many already step up to the plate to volunteer their modeling
skills. One of the challenges though is getting the data out of Blender
into a format the engine can use. This will involve likely writing a
exporter plugin, but the problem is that Blender’s API is predominantly
Python based. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just it’s another
language I am going to have to pickup. I’ll figure that out though.

Music is really the most exciting part for me right now, even though I
am anything but a musician. I can’t even read music. Nevertheless, I
have an awesome crew that is coming together for that. Mike Verde,
Izmar, Von Magnet, Rone, and some others are all on-board right now and
I’ve been enjoying their music long before I dreamt up this game. Some
of the music is already in the works and is, as we say, executing in
another thread as I work on the engineering side of things.

Obviously I will decide what music gets included and what does not, but
besides it resonating with the game, it needs to be in a free format.
Our musicians need to submit their work in FLAC at 24-bit / 96kHz to
make transcoding to Ogg Vorbis for different platforms as flexible as
possible.

This is distant, but we are also considering releasing a separate
Avaneya official soundtrack. This is popular in Japan where game
soundtracks on people’s shelves are commonplace. A challenge though is
figuring out the format. Regular red book? Well, that will work in
everyone’s car or home stereo, but you’re limited to 2-channels,
16-bit / 44kHz.

Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails, to name a few, have released albums in
the past in surround sound. We’d like to consider doing that, but the
problem are the legalities surrounding encoding to Dolby Digital (AC3)
or Digital Theatre System (DTS) and that they are non-free. Red-book
might be the way to go, but give people the choice of FLAC and Ogg
Vorbis as well. Given that most of the people who buy it will be
probably playing it back on their computers, this isn’t unreasonable.

The proceeds from the OST can, and should, go to the musicians. Since
many of them are not big names, getting their name out is really
important for them as well.

3. What engine are you going to use for your game ? some FOSS engine or costume ?

I am developing a custom one. It’s called the Ares engine.

My goal is to have it as data driven as possible, but still context
specific enough to the type of gameplay of a RTS / city builder. This is
a good compromise between trying to balance code re-use and the
performance benefits of a context specific engineering approach. The
physics, renderer, collision detection, audio, and so on will all be
written in C++.

The data that it operates on will be provided in AresPackages which are
binary archives that can carry shaders, textures, vertex attributes,
scripts, and so on. The AresPackages are defined through an XML
interface and enforced against an XML schema as they pass through a
compiler which transforms them into a binary format containing EBMI
data. EBMI is akin to XML, but binary. It’s what makes Matroska
possible. Indeed, it was created for that.

The logic of the game itself will be driven by Lua scripts, embedded in
the AresPackages.

An idea I have been flirting with is to have scenarios provided by the
community, in addition to the official ones that will ship with the
game, and have the authors compensated proportional to the number of
people playing on the server in it. That way, people are encouraged to
provide the best content for the game; secondly, it brings more people
to the game itself; and third, it invites those with domain specific
expertise to educate everyone due to their in depth knowledge of the
mechanics of agriculture or what have you. Everyone wins. But I need to
think more carefully of the logistics of doing this to ensure it is
sustainable and that I don’t make promises I can’t keep.

4. What kind of graphic quality can we expect ? do you have a screenshots yet to show us ?

I spent a lot of time going through some pretty advanced literature on
algorithms, shaders, lighting, and so on, so I will hope to do my best.

There isn’t much visually to see at the moment. There is code written,
but it is mostly for low level algorithm stuff that isn’t really
interesting to look at for the average end user. However, for the
developers out there, expect to see the Subversion repository come
online soon.

In the mean time, here are two render tests of the fluid dynamics aspect
of the physics engine simulating water. The engine just needs to know
the fluid’s viscosity (stickiness), temperature, atmospheric pressure,
and it will automatically generate it and respond to any disturbances
made. I create a disturbance by clicking with the mouse. It does all of
this through a differential method that was very tricky to implement,
but I was very happy when I finally got it to work. All of the number
crunching is done on the GPU, so the CPU doesn’t really do much.

http://www.thevertigo.com/temp/water.avi

http://www.thevertigo.com/temp/water2.avi

5. From your description about trees and water, while logical and real – most people won’t get it.
They are not environmentalists and can’t know many things you see as obvious.
Will you offer some explanation before they make the mistakes ? or, how would the tutorial work ?

You raise a very important point. It is peoples’ lack of awareness of
that which is a major motivation behind this game in the first place. If
you recall, the philosophy that drives Avaneya is to assist users
unlearn some things, learn other things, and enjoy the process of
transition.

It’s not that people are trying to keep themselves unaware with these
phenomena, it’s just that we’ve been able to live in a system of such
abundance for so long that we didn’t have to worry about that very same
system caving in on itself like now.

The Buddhists say you cannot teach anyone anything, but they can only
teach themselves. It is my hope to have the GPI integrated into the game
in an obvious manner. By this, I mean possibly built right into the GUI,
like other metrics in SimCity and other games. This way you are always
being advised of the effect of your interaction with the world.

I too was a stranger to the GPI and had heard only of the GDP. When I
realized that the GDP was just an income sheet and the GPI a total net
balance sheet, a light went on in my head and it all made sense why so
many things are dysfunctional now. We’ve been looking at the wrong gauge
all along, like the pilot following the wrong instrument in the cockpit
while trying to navigate and ending up in the side of a ravine.

The interesting thing is that most companies, to a certain extent,
already conduct their business by looking at their net balance sheet
(Net Profit). It wouldn’t make sense for you to look only at the fact
that you had made $10,000 in sales (Gross Profit) one month, but neglect
the cost incurred in materials and labour of $45,000. Unfortunately this
is the kind of logic that has taken hold of our policy makers as they
rely on the antiquated and dangerously limited GDP as a measure of
progress.

Here is a good example that GPI Atlantic
(http://www.gpiatlantic.org/publications/abstracts/fisheries-ab.htm)
provided on their website:

“In the late 1980s, Nova Scotia’s fishery for cod and other groundfish
seemed to be booming. The media reported steady catches, high exports,
and strong contributions of the fishery to the province’s Gross
Domestic Product (GDP), the conventional measuring stick of the
economy.

A few years later, many fisheries were collapsing and the fabric of
many coastal communities began to unravel. Our conventional economic
measuring sticks – such as catches, exports and GDP – did not warn of
the impending disaster. While catches were kept high, the decline of
the groundfish stocks remained hidden from public view, as we focused
excessively on a narrow set of economic measures that failed to
incorporate all that we value in the fishery – notably healthy fish
stocks within a healthy ecosystem, supporting strong fishing
communities and a sustainable fishing economy.”

Hopefully Avaneya will be able to make the GPI a household term and also
make people think twice when they hear policy makers cite the GDP as the
basis for something.

I wouldn’t say the GDP is the root of all evil, but it certainly
contributes to more messes than most things by providing short term
gains at the cost of mortgaging much larger losses into the future. It’s
had a free ride for decades and Avaneya will try to contribute to
putting an end to it.

6. What is the big differences between Avaneya and Simcity from user perspective ?
Except environment you have mentioned “human rights” and “social “justice”
… can you explain in more depth ?

Since the GPI is very holistic in nature, it measures many things. If
you produce, say, a $1,000,000 worth of goods and services, but it came
at a cost of that same amount in costs incurred through crime and
pollution, then the GPI will be zero. Any rational individual looking at
that will know immediately that things aren’t working properly and
something needs to be changed.

Since the end of the Second World War, we’ve seen the GDP in most
developed countries, on average, continue to rise. One would think that
kind of economic growth would be good. But as it turns out, household
debt (at least in my country), pollution, lack of satisfaction with
one’s career, potable drinking water, air quality, divorce, dangerous
foods, and so on all continue to be compromised. If people are worried
about their next meal or the air they are breathing, they are not free
and things generally continue to degrade from there on.

So as you probably see now, it will be similar to classical city
building games like SimCity, but aim to have much more breadth and depth
with far more metrics involved. I hope that answers that.

7. Will there be any combat at all ?
How will a winner be defined in an online game ?

Winning is something I need to determine. Remember that in SimCity for
SNES, while there were some scenarios that had goals, like surviving a
natural disaster, there was also a mode where you just built and
maintained your city. You could spend hours beautifying it or
experimenting. That is one mode.

The other scenarios I will leave up to the community to provide through
the engine’s Lua based interface. Want to see the effects of
McDonaldization or Coca-Cola in your city? No problem. However, some
scenarios will be official and distributed with the game. That way there
is already high quality content with goals that vary from scenario to
scenario, and also the process of creating new scenarios is documented
via the existing ones.

8. The game takes place on Mars – wouldn’t the materials be different there ?
What about life forms ?
I mean – Mars shouldn’t act like earth, what we know about earth
doesn’t necessary apply to other planets.

Absolutely. That is partially why I chose Mars in the first place -
because it affords more of a creative license for some things.

Nevertheless, many things will still be the same. Mars is comparable in
many respects to Earth, but the people there will be absolutely
identical in terms of their actual needs to their terrestrial
counterparts. They still need water, oxygen, food, shelter, a means of
sustenance, security, and so on.

As for non-terrestrial life forms, all I will say is that, if they do
make a presence in the game, it will be as consistent as possible with
the most plausible of scientific hypotheses regarding potential life on
Mars. I won’t say more about that now though.

Thank you Kip for this wonderful interview !
I hope we will hear more about Avaneya and in time more interviews will be made.
For more QA about Avaneya, don’t hesitate to read the FAQ on the projects website !

And if you want to contribute to this FOSS project, don’t hesitate to contact Kip :
kip [at] thevertigo (dot) com

Links
LGN News-flash about Avaneya
Avaneya
Avaneya FAQ

Frictional Games the developers of the horror Penumbra series recently revealed the title of their next project – Amnesia : The Dark Descent which I wrote about earlier.
For this special event I interviewed the developers about their next title.

1. Hello Jens and thank you for the interview,
There is a question I ask every commercial game company that already released their previous games to GNU/Linux,  I wonder how where the overall sales of the Penumbra Trilogy per platform ? from the “Thank You” post I feel that there is indeed a market for GNU/Linux, but can you be more specific (at least percentage wise for each game and the trilogy pack)  ?

It’s a bit difficult to give any exact numbers, mainly because for Windows we have a publisher and they in turn use many partners, so even if we get sales figures they are not always detailed down to a unit level for all territories. To make matters worse the first publisher we had for the original Penumbra: Overture release where pretty much a scam and never sent any sales figures at all, so we have only a slight idea of how well that game sold.

I did my best to collect as many figures as I could for online sales of the game for Linux, Mac & Windows. To give some background, the only place to purchase Linux is through our online store, the Mac version is available in our store + 3 other online stores and the Windows version is available in our store (recently added) + all the major stores (Steam, D2D, Gamer’s Gate, etc). I could not get all the figures for the Windows version, it also further weakens the figures that the Windows version is available in retail and that it has had backup by publishers. So it has had a lot of marketing that the other platforms have not had.

Here are the percentage for each platform, based on the total sales of all the games (individual and as the Collection):

Windows: 80%
Linux: 12%
Mac: 8%

A large part of the Linux percentage is thanks to the “Thank You” post you mentioned, that the article it mentions and its readers are what we thank in it for purchasing a lot of copies during the USD 5 weekend sale.

I wish this was all very positive, but in reality our games do not do that well. The only reason the company exists is because we live on what the treasure chest has to offer! So while the Thank You post is obviously a big thanks (it is!), it’s more that it bought us some more time, at a time when we really needed it badly.

We sold 3000 copies for Linux during that weekend, which is a GREAT number of units to sell during a weekend, but for a price of USD 5, you get about USD 13 000 to put in the chest. We are five people in the company and we also have a great guy making the Linux port, so with that in mind you don’t get that many days extra to live on. Here in Sweden the tax rate is above 30% and the employer fee above 30% too, so to put say USD 1 000 in your pocket to buy food for it will cost the company around USD 1 800. That does not include the additional 12% of VAT you have to pay for the actual food! Haha.

There I went on a long trip… It was not to nag about the poor state of being an independent game developer, it is great to be part of a small company that can quite freely work on the type of games we want. But it does have some parts that are a bit of a strain on the creativity.

2. What can you tell us about the upcoming game Amnesia and how would you compare it to the Penumbra series gameplay/engine wise ? (please be detailed)
I’ll leave this question for Thomas, he spends a great deal of time with the design of the game and is properly the man to ask for this question.

Thomas: One could say that Amnesia is a sort of progression from Penumbra. Many of the core gameplay elements have been taken from Penumbra and then refined in Amnesia. This is stuff like the physical interaction system, the way which we design our levels, and so on. Anyone who has played Penumbra will feel right at home when starting Amnesia. What really makes Amnesia different from Penumbra gameplay wise (apart from story and settings) is were our focus have been this time. These are the main areas:

1) To make the player the protagonist. What this means is that the player should to the extent possible be in the shoes of the character he/she is playing as. We will not have any sort of cut scenes, there will be very little text feedback (like descriptions) and the player should be in control from start to finish with no time jumps or anything like that. We feel that this will increase the immersion and emotions experienced during gameplay.

2) Much more effort has been put on the graphics, in terms of details, quality and diversity. As we no longer have text comments that can enhance the environments we want the player to be able to get the feelings by themselves. When entering a room the mood should be apparent and work towards enhancing plot and atmosphere. So instead of the protagonist telling the player what they should think or feel towards something, it is up to the player to decide and hopefully forcing him/her to become more immersed in the game world.

3) To make a more streamlined experience where the player does not get stuck all the time on a puzzle or a gameplay element. We want to have difficulty in the game, but we are designing it in such a way that it should not make break the immersion. Whenever the player restarts from a save or gets stuck at some puzzle for too long, he/she will drift away from the game world and the quality of the experienced will be lessened. This means we are working very hard to get rid of these things and we do not want to throw in a puzzle just to lengthen gameplay time (something that we did in Penumbra).

Engine wise it is quite different and there many parts that have been rebuilt from the ground up. The Penumbra games uses a portal system to do occlusion culling (check what objects not to draw) that placed a heavy burden on the artists. In Amnesia we used a fully dynamic culling system based on a technique called Coherent Hierarchical Culling, which does not give any extra work for the artists and give them more time to make nice graphics instead of worrying about performance issues. Another example is the shadows that were stencil (shadow volumes) based in Penumbra but is done with shadow maps in Amnesia. There are all kinds of new effects added as well, like Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, proper decals, etc. This means that Amnesia will not support as many graphic cards as Penumbra did, but we felt that we had to improve and were forced to draw the line somewhere. Still, Amnesia will be a lot less demanding than most commercial 3D games released these days. If you are looking for minimum requirements, then I am afraid it is too early for that as proper testing on that front has not started yet.

3. Usually I don’t like puzzle games, that’s because I am not so good at solving them – but I really enjoyed playing the Penumbra games because of it’s dark and scary atmosphere, how are the puzzled in Amnesia compare to Penumbra ? more challenging or easier ? can we expect more of the same or the new engine will let you make more complex and interesting puzzles  ?
For Amnesia the puzzles can probably be summed up as being a bit easier, it has been a design goal for the game to be a bit more streamlined in the experience. With Penumbra it was quite clear that as you encountered a puzzle, you had to spend some time trying to solve it, in Amnesia we have tried to smooth it out a bit more. Making puzzles more integrated into the rest of the game, so that we don’t get these “puzzle breaks” in the gameplay.

Amnesia is more about the exploration and horror than Penumbra, we have definitely concentrated on a game where the atmosphere is dense and trying to create an intriguing story. Much of the game is about finding out who you are and piece everything together to get the answers you seek.

So no, the engine is not really going to give any complex puzzles, but it will however give a better interaction with the puzzles. The whole physics interaction, and interaction in general, has been tweaked a lot so it is for example much easier to open doors, turn valves and so on.

4. What tools/libraries/programs have you used to develop Amnesia ? (3D, 2D, programming, platforms, etc…)
Oh, hmm, tons of stuff. Speaking for myself I use a Mac (old PPC model) to do all the work with sounds and video editing, I also use it to write down all my notes about bugs, the todo etc. The programs are quite old, I used to run a sound & music company, so it is Cubase SX 2.0, Spark XL (defunct) and an almost none working version of Peak. I use Windows for the development, which is mainly using our own tools for Level & Model editing in combination with writing the script code for the game, which I do using Notepad++. I do some simple modelling, often placeholders, and some basic image editing, for this I use Blender and GIMP.

Don’t worry, we use Linux too! Our server is Linux and I have a cute Eee with Linux that I usually use to login to the server and also to do some work with when on the run. It’s really great that server wise it does not really matter what platform you are accessing it from, the Mac obviously works out of the box and for Windows you have PuTTY.

Sounds like a ton of computers for a poor independent developer? Well, the Mac was traded for another older Mac + some extra cash in 2006, my PC is home built with some parts dating back to 2001 (damn that SoundBlaster card is really great or not much has happened with sound hardware/software compared to the graphics industry…).

Amnesia it self is built using cross-platform libraries only: OpenGL, OpenAL and Newton Game Dynamics are the major parts and then a slew of various libraries for mixed tasks. You can peak at Penumbra to get a specific list, it has changed very little for Amnesia!

5. At the Penumbra series the player was encouraged to run/hide from monsters , while in the first Penumbra it was possible to kill the dogs, in the second game killing the monsters was impossible (without a patch/mod) , how Amnesia will be compare to those games ? will the player be able/encouraged to kill monsters ? will Amnesia be more action oriented (fighting/climbing/jumping etc…) ?
And if so what weapons or/and skills can we expect ?

If you asked this question a year ago, I would have answered that Amnesia would be more action oriented. We spent about a year creating prototypes and have tested a lot of different approaches, what we originally wanted was to avoid some of the very tedious parts of developing a game like Penumbra. With Penumbra almost every instance of the game is uniquely created, each puzzle has to be done from the ground up, each event and so fort. It’s not like a First Person Shooter where you can put a lot of gameplay hours into having the player shoot enemies and once you have set it all up it can be re-used multiple times.

One idea we had was to add a bit more combat, to go back to the Overture idea that the player would always have a last resort of defence. This time we did the combat a bit easier and worked a lot on how the AI should behave, so that it gave the player a better chance to sneak or do a bit of battling to get out of a tricky situation and then hide again. But during testing we had the same problem as always, half thought it was way too easy and the other half thought it was very difficult. Adding to this we felt that it was not as fun as we had hope, that at best it would be like a poor-mans version of Condemned, as a small developer we really have to try and be unique, we can’t afford having a lot of “well it’s like game X only worse” comments.

So if comparing to the Penumbra games, Amnesia will be most similar to Black Plague. But with the differences that enemy encounters will always be very short, more of an obstacle to overcome, than levels filled with patrolling enemies.

6. Amnesia will use the new and improved engine HPL2, what’s new in this engine ? what new features will it have ?  are you willing to license this engine to other companies ?
Also at this note, is there a chance you will release your older engine HPL under some FOSS license like GPL as id software does with their older engines ?

To make sure you got the best answer to this question I asked Thomas to jump in again, he is after all the programmer.

Thomas: I have already gone through some of the new features in a previous answer, so I will let that be.

We do not plan to release any commercial version of the engine at this point since it would take too much time in support and probably not be worth it. Also, what we want to do is to make games, not sell SDKs / tools.

As for the releasing the old engine, we have talked about it, but it is not all that good and it would take some work to get it into some state that is usable for people (meaning documenting and such). I am also unsure how many people that would do anything useful with it now that engines like Unity can be gotten for free and has a lot better tools and support than the first HPL engine. This combined with the time it would take to make a proper release, makes it quite unlikely that it will happen. But as always it depends on how big the interest is and so on.

7. The community made some mods for the Penumbra games, how mod friendly will be Amnesia ? will you supply modding tools for the community and if so what can you tell me about them ?
Amnesia will be a lot more mod friendly. Developing tools take a lot of time, with Penumbra there was not time to do any advanced tools, creating the engine was time consuming enough. For Penumbra Thomas was pretty much the sole programmer, but for the whole Amnesia project we have had one additional programmer on-board that has concentrated fully on developing tools.

What we have now is a Level Editor, Model Editor, Particle Editor and a Material Editor. The main tools are by far the Level and Model editor. In the Model editor you import a 3D model, say a door and its frame, and then you use the editor to add physics bodies, joints and set properties for behaviour. For example you specify that the door is made out of wood, what it weighs, that it is connected by a joint to the door frame, that is has a gameplay specific value of being a door (which gives it a lot of predetermined behaviour, that is also easy to change) and that the joint will make certain sounds when the bodies connected to it move around. This allows you to create a final door entity, that you then can use over and over in the Level editor. Each time you use it you can give it specific properties, such as if the door should be locked or if it should be opened a bit when the player first enters the level.

The Level Editor is the most fun to use, you build the levels using sets of static graphics, you have pieces for walls, ceilings, railings and other type of main components to create rooms. Then you add in entities that are doors, chairs, items, gameplay parts and so on, all comes with a specified behaviour so in it’s simplest form you already have some gameplay in the level. Then you can continue on and add lightning, decals, particles, fog and other type of effects to spice it all up.

There are a lot of things that you can do in the Level Editor that we previously had to script in Penumbra. This saves a lot of time and also allows the user to do a lot more without having the need for any script knowledge. But of course, when you want to add in some really fun stuff you have to start writing scripts, but it’s at a quite high level so what limits the mod creation will be more about the effort than the requirements on skills.

To summarize, we have created a lot of tools to make the development of the game much more effective for us. But we have had the community in mind while doing it, so the tools will be part of the game and the game itself has a basic support for making use of user created content, more specifically a special option to load user maps.

As it looks now the tools will be available for all three platforms, something that we are very happy about!

8. What can you tell me about the replayability of Amnesia ? will there be several solutions to each quest/puzzle ? what about different paths/ways to end the game ?
We are strong believers of making games that definitely does not necessary need a lot of replayability. Since we make a story driven game that is much about exploring and experiencing the game we feel that it should be one experience that is as good as it can possibly be. We don’t want the player to get stuck too often in the game, so the story and environment often push the player towards a specific goal, but this does not mean you have to take that specific path.

Much like in Penumbra you can explore the world in more than one specific path, there are places you can go and solve parts of a large puzzle in different orders. There are of course events that only occur based on certain criteria, it could be as simple as revisiting a level three times for a spooky event to occur (as a precaution to make sure that if someone goes back and forth a lot there will be some events going on making it a bit more interesting).

There will be story bits and puzzles that are not necessary to complete the game, so depending on how you play there will always be the option to replay to make sure you got all the story bits and puzzles. For the ending we do not want to talk about it really, but there will be some differences depending on what you have done during the game, but it’s not something we would put down as a main feature or talk too much about as it would ruin the final game.

Our type of “replayability” is perhaps conveniently compared to that of films, if you really enjoy it you see it one-two times again to really suck it up all up and notice the details you missed the first time.

9. When could we expect Amnesia to be released ? will the Linux version be released at the same time as the Windows one ? what about preorders ?
Sometime during the summer 2010 is the current goal, it might change, but we usually manage to stay on track. We have had a very confusing time with this project, with publisher involvement planned than then has gone down the drain, close to the closing of the whole company and so on and on, so we have had periods when we have had to concentrate a lot on other areas than the actual development of the game. But since this summer it has been full steam a head and keeping up with the schedule.

The Linux version should be available on or around the same time as the Windows release. We can inform already that Edward Rudd, the Linux porter, have the game up and running on Linux as well as the Level Editor. So things are looking good at the moment!

We will definitely make sure there is an option to preorder before the release, not until next year though. We can absolutely make use of all the support we can get!

10. Is there anything I’ve missed and you want to add to the interview ?  
I think it is all good! Looking forward to be in touch again next year, perhaps with some new gritty details or even playable previews!

Thanks for asking us to do an interview.

And thank you Frictional Games for answering in so much detail.

Links
Frictional Games
Amnesia : The Dark Descent
Penumbra Series

As you can probably notice I’ve been very busy with my job as a GNU/Linux and Windows System Administrator in the past month and I didn’t have much time to update my blog.
But this is hopefully about to change now…

I’ve noticed that many people where interested in Dark Salvation from Mangled Eye Studios, so I’ve managed to to interview Thearrel McKinney – the founder and main (and almost only) developer of the game.

1. Hello Thearrel McKinney , please tell us about yourself and your company, when did you start developing Dark Salvation ? is it your first project ? and what made you start a game company ?
I’ve been involved in the game development scene for over a decade. I got started in the mod community, built up a portfolio, got hired professionally where I worked on projects such as Counterstrike: Condition Zero, Star Trek: Elite Force II, and Black Hawk Down: Team Sabre to name a few. I did that from 2001-2004 and in mid 2004 I broke out on my own and formed Mangled Eye Studios.
I had begun the early renditions of Dark Salvation back in 1999 right after Quake 3: Arena was released before I got into the industry professionally. It was an untitled mod project at the time and was only supposed to be an extension of Quake 3: Arena as a new tier. As with a lot of game development projects, ideas get tossed, added, changed etc. and it just eventually got to the point of turning out to be a single player project instead of just a new multiplayer tier for Quake 3: Arena. It took about 8 years from start to finish but not full time since I had to put the project aside a number of times to make sure my work was complete and on time for my actual job at the time.
It isn’t my first professional project since I worked on a number of commercial games already but it is my first project released by my company Mangled Eye Studios where I built the entire game myself with the help of outsourced contractors. I started Mangled Eye Studios so I could pursue some of my own projects I have in mind.

2. What inspired you to start a game studio that specializes on 3D shooters ? there are so many 3D shooters already, what do you think you could add to the genre ?
The 3D shooter genre has always been a favorite of mine. It’s what I developed with back in the day and its what I’ve worked with for years. Yes there’s tons of 3D shooters on the market some unique and a lot are the same. The main goal of this game once I established it to be a full fledged single player game was to just make a fun old school shooter for fans of that type of game. There was no intention to make it look like a modern game nor to be some super never done that type of gameplay before type of game. It’s just something simple and fun to play. We did use id Tech 3 (Quake 3 Engine) for this game with no modifications to the renderer itself so most people should realize
its not going to look on par to something that came out recently using a more modern engine. We did push the engine as far as it could go though so you’re seeing the engine at its limits by default and I think it turned out fairly well for the aged tech we used.

3. Please, tell me in detail about Dark Salvation, how is it different from hundreds of other 3D shooters in the market ?
Dark Salvation isn’t anything new in terms of how the game is played. It is built to be an old school shooter with monsters, puzzles, etc. Some of the unique things about Dark Salvation are the environments and you play as a dead woman who has been brought back to life by the Spirit Crystal and the flesh of her forearms have been eaten away by the power of this crystal. It does speak to you and sometimes it can give you clues on what to do next.

4. In the games description I’ve noticed that there are puzzles in each level, what kind of puzzles can we expect from Dark Salvation ?
There are a lot of different types of puzzles in Dark Salvation. There are breakable objects some you have to destroy them all to open certain doors. Switch puzzles where you have to press them in a certain order based on imagery you’ve seen in that specific level. Platform jump puzzles, timed doors, all kinds of misc. stuff. You can find secrets that lead to armor, health, ammo, weapons etc. There are also a number of secret levels that can be found in the game.

5. What can you tell us about the interesting unique weapons in the game ?
The main weapon is called the Spirit Crystal. It is the object that possessed Talia (main character) and ate away her forearm flesh and ripped her heart out. She throws it and it homes in on nearby enemies. Each weapon uses an alternate magic attack as well. Some things like spikes shooting out of the walls and floors and killing monsters instantly. Another is a vortex portal that will suck in monsters and explode them on impact. You also have a weapon called the Gription where you need to use it to shoot onto latches scattered throughout the levels in order to progress and find secrets. You can even use it to pull objects to you when you normally can’t reach where they are at. There’s a lot more for the rest of the weapons. You can also collect pieces to a magical weapon that you obtain throughout the game by assembling all the pieces.

6. Dark Salvation is using id tech 3 game engine which since have been released under the GPLv2.
I understand from the Wikipedia (under Products using a proprietary license of id tech 3) that you have licensed this engine at the time when it was still closed source.
What is the “open source” status of “your” engine ? have you modified it ?
And if it’s still open source, would it be possible for the community to “convert” the game to use other more modern engines or improve the existing one like it was done before with other games ?

Where did you hear we licensed the engine? (laughs)
There really hasn’t been anything we’ve done to the engines renderer. The only modifications we made to the engine was to enable Dark Salvation to be its own game so we won’t be releasing any source code for that. We will be however releasing the game source once we have the Linux and Mac builds ready to deploy. This way people can use the game source and make some mods for the game as well as using it as a basis to develop their own project.

7. When looking on the hardware system requirements for Dark Salvation they seems very low, are strong PC’s/Mac’s with new videocards could use their power in the game ? to what extent ?
Yeah the system requirements are just about what Quake 3: Arena’s requirements were. The only adjustments that were made higher for graphics card and memory requirements was for using a larger texture budget and particle effects. Really older systems just wouldn’t handle running the game that well or even at all based on those two factors alone. With newer cards of course you’re freeing up system memory and using video card memory so the game will run better no doubt with newer gaming systems. The engine is only capable of so much itself so eventually things cap out. A modern computer would make the game a better experience but it is also not necessary to have to enjoy the game since it does have the lower system requirements.

8. As the Windows version was released first with the Dual Disc edition which includes the great soudtrack, I and many other GNU/Linux user worry about how we could also get the soundtracks with the GNU/Linux version ?
Will there be a download edition for GNU/Linux which will also include the soundtracks as a separate download (maybe as mp3 or ogg) like it was done with the recently released Machinarium ?

I’m not really sure yet on what I’m going to do with the Linux version. In order to provide the game in disc form it will have to be profitable since this is a small indie company with a budget. I’m not 100% sure on how big the Linux gaming community is so I may do preorders for the Linux version to see where it stands if it will be profitable. There’s really no sense in paying to have a bunch of them put into production then only a handful of people purchase the game which just covered the cost of manufacturing resulting in zero profit.

9. When could we expect a GNU/Linux port to be released ? will it be available only as a download or also as a DVD ? what about the dual disc edition for Linux ?
When its done is the usual stance on things. I’ve begun work on a new project so the port isn’t getting my full time but it is coming along. It will be available as a digital download for sure, still not sure on making it available on disc yet.

10. thank you for the interview, is there anything you wish to add to the interview ?
Thanks for the time, I appreciate it. The Linux port is on its way just slowly since I’m a one man crew. I hope everyone enjoys the game when it is ready. If anyone has and other specific questions feel free to email from the website.

Thank you Thearrel McKinney very much for the interview, can’t wait for the GNU/Linux release of Dark Salvation !

And for those of us who want the box edition with the soundtrack CD – preordering is a good option (when the GNU/Linux port will be finished).

Links
http://www.mangledeye.com
Dark Salvation

I had the pleasure to interview Konrad Kiss from Bitgap who is working on a new Sci-Fi MMORPG named Xenocell which I wrote about earlier.

This interview is very long and detailed – so i hope you will enjoy it at least as much as I did.

1. You have developed a web-based game in the past and you have listened to the proposals and suggestions of the community.
What have you learned from those players regarding making a good MMORPG ?

Droidarena was a game where the player had to create a virtual robot, program it using a simple AI language specifically created for that game, and send it to battle where it would confront other enemy robots.

When I started that game, I knew that I was targeting a rather specific group with it; – young hobby programmers. To my biggest surprise, Droidarena managed to draw in players of both genders and all ages. I recognized it only later, that it was due to the immense amount of communication options I’ve built into and around the game.

Back in around 2001 when Droidarena launched, there were no buzzwords such as social networking. I was still lucky enough to recognize the power of communication in time, and started expanding the game based on that. I fine-tuned the rules to encourage the formation of clans (corporations). I wanted players to feel like they belonged to their friends in their corporations. Within a single year, this resulted in a very strong and helpful community, which was very rewarding to see evolve.

I also learned that managing a community is best done by staying neutral and as much anonymous as I could. This formed a private line which players did not cross – I’d like to believe that it was out of respect partially for having created the game. In my opinion, together with a handful but exceptional GMs, that respect was the basis of being able to control a game with tens of thousands of players.

Of course I had to move quickly on bug reports, and deliver new features in time to keep the community satisfied and helpful. If you can’t make your players feel valued, then your game is pretty much doomed. I learned that the easy way, fortunately, thanks to an amazing, imaginative, helpful and luckily huge fan base.

2. Xenocell is being developed using the Torque3D engine which is not Linux friendly like their first Torque Game Engine yet you are planning to make a native Linux client, how are you planning to achieve this goal ? porting to Mac and re-port it to Linux ?

Being a GarageGames associate developer, I can see that there are steps being made to bring Torque 3D to the Linux platform. These are not guaranteed to succeed, but they are good signs of something moving forward.

While with their TGEA line GarageGames firmly rejected a Linux port of the engine, this is totally different with the brand new Torque 3D 1.0. Not only does it have better wrapped core features that generally make it a lot easier to port the engine under just about any platform, but the port to Linux itself is also supported by GarageGames and a number of community members.

I believe that we will see dedicated server features ported to Linux within 6 months. I also think that a Linux client is very likely to appear in the first half of 2010. To be fair, I need to mention, these are only my speculations, and are nothing official.

If a client wouldn’t happen soon by GarageGames or the rest of the Torque 3D developer community, we’d set more resources aside to deliver both Linux and a Mac clients by the end of 2010.

Since Linux’s OpenGL libraries are a lot more usable than those on the MacOS X, we are not likely to start a Linux port based on the Mac version. We’d probably go straight from Windows to Linux instead.

3. Except making Xenocell your company is also “migrating” games that use the Torque Game Engine to Torque Game Engine Advanced and T3D.
How long does it takes to port a game from TGE to TGEA and T3D ?
What are the benefits to the players and developers moving their games in the middle of development to other engine ?
And most importantly, will a Linux compatibility remains when porting from Torque to the later engines ?

Torque has changed a lot since the first versions of TGE were available sometime around early 2001. Fortunately, most of the porting is rarely from any of the ancient versions, although we did have one specific task where the code was from late 2005.

It usually takes about 10-20 days to port a Torque game, but it depends heavily on how modified the original engine was. It could add up to months even, or be done within a few days. All games are different. Though even if the source was not modified, and the game only uses the scripting aspect of Torque, the changes are usually numerous, and not all of them can be ported.

A port does not only require us to work on the game, but the developer as well. Things like terrain blocks usually need to be recreated. The material system is vast and full of new features that should be harnessed. A port often requires recreating most of the artwork by the developer, so it is not always an easy task.

To be honest, Linux compatibility was not required from us when doing a port so far. TGE was compatible with Linux, but TGEA broke that tradition. Only the latest version of TGEA, 1.8.1 opened towards MacOS X. Torque 3D was based on TGEA 1.8.1, and it did inherit the MacOS X compatibility, but neither of the engines after TGE support Linux yet.

Torque 3D shows great promise nonetheless. It has made it possible for independent developers to publish games on all major game platforms such as Nintendo’s Wii, Microsoft’s XBOX 360, Sony’s Playstation 3 and Apple’s iPhone. Understandably, these platforms enjoyed a higher priority than operating systems which are not known for being game platforms.

If a port is worth it? When the targeted platform is Windows only, the benefits are always worth the port. The engine is constantly evolving feature-wise. The basic lighting mode in Torque 3D that could be compared to TGE’s lighting gives many times the frame rate in some situations. That’s because the code that does the lighting is clearer, more optimized, and uses up-to-date techniques to do its job. Programming evolves just like any other profession, and it’s just perfectly desirable to make use of this advancement. If eye-candy and better resource management are not enough to convince a developer to upgrade to a better Torque engine, bugs are found and squashed with great response time from GarageGames. This alone is enough reason for me to take the extra time to port Xenocell to the latest version of Torque.

However, for many independent developers it is also a financial question whether to upgrade. Torque 3D costs many times the original price of TGE. Even considering this, I still believe that Torque 3D has a better feature over price ratio than TGE did. The recently released public demo version of Torque 3D might convince more TGE developers about its worth, and I’m hoping that people will start seeing Torque 3D as an AAA engine at an unbelievably low price instead of the successor of TGE. It is a completely different engine now.

4. You wrote that Xenocell won’t be like the other MMORPG games, what didn’t you like in the other MMORPG games and what have you changed in your game to make it unique ? what can you tell us about Xenocell ? – please be detailed.

I’ve been having the idea for Xenocell since sometime around 2003. There were a few big MMOs around, and I’ve always loved the idea of 32+ multiplayer games. I started with Everquest, played Lineage, World of Warcraft, probably all NCSoft games, Age of Conan, Tabula Rasa – you name it. I’ve probably played them all. But usually, with the exception of World of Warcraft, I just played them for a few months to see their what they added to the idea of an MMORPG.

What I’ve learned is that most of these games were about completing endless quests and leveling up. My goal each time was to level up to the next level. After a while, I stopped following the story, because it became boring. In some games, I could not use some of my features, because they were too complicated to learn, and were far from being intuitive enough for me to just make the right guess about them.

What I think Xenocell will be different in is that it will be a lot simpler. There will not be a hundred icons on the screen. You will not need to endlessly level up. The whole process of leveling up can be considered as a longer tutorial in the game. Upon reaching the maximum level of 20 within a few weeks, the player will have opened a great and vast dimension of new skills and abilities.

This game is not about questing. Although the base storyline is very important, the main idea behind the game is the player acting as one unit in a persistent RTS match fought by many clans in the same world.

Your clan leader might issue you and a few others to go on patrol to a resource site owned by your clan. Whether it gets attacked or not, that depends on enemy clans. Instead of NPC assigned static quests you receive commands that your superior commanders will give you. Everything you do for your clan will earn you something. You will still have the option to go out and grind mobs, but the point of the player’s role will be shifted from an adventurer to a soldier with active duty.

We did our best to come up with some improvements on the field of MMO AI. Since MMO game servers need to handle hundreds if not thousands of players, we realized that our initial plans to create more sophisticated AI were brave to say the least. However, we did manage to conjure up a system that will match up to most leading commercial MMOs. Soon after our launch, we will further enhance the AI side of the game by giving our NPCs active memories of players and their actions. This is supposed to supplement our faction system in a way that will be unique to an MMO so far. You will be able to have NPCs as your enemies or friends, and be attacked by them on sight, or be able to call for their help when in trouble. They will take a vehicle and join you for a limited time to fight by your side if you want.

Another thing I haven’t sen anywhere is our skills system. Players can gather a huge number of skills from the DNA of animals and plants. So in essence, you will have access to hundreds of skills, but will only be able to store about 20 in your own body. Even from those 20, you will have to choose 8 skills that you will want concentrate on, that is, the ones that you will use at any time. You will be able to rearrange those 8 skills when not in combat.

It will be different to find two players with the same active skill set. This system will add a new level of strategy, to which I’ve only seen something remotely similar in Guild Wars.

Finally, I also would like to mention, that Xenocell will introduce a new layer of communication in the game. I can not yet offer more details about this aspect, though I can tell that the way we’ll use the power of player-player communication is a unique one that has not yet been introduced to any MMOs as far as I know.

5. Most MMORPG games that I know about enforce “powerplaying” and “fast leveling” because if your hero is weak he will have a very hard time facing stronger players in PvP areas.
Does Xenocell also “enforce” fast leveling or a low level character could also help, survive and enjoy the game ?

On one hand, Xenocell has limited leveling. The player will be able to gather a lot more items and abilities once the highest level is reached, yet the road there will not be a long and hard one – the very opposite. It will probably take less than a week for hardcore players, and a month at most for any average player.

We wanted to have leveling only until the player feels familiar with the game and its world. Experience levels serve as a protection of some sort against players that reached the maximum level – where the game begins. In this regard, lower level players will have certain defenses against higher level players that do not apply between level 20 veterans.

Low level players will also have their own PvP areas. They will not be able to reach enemy territory only until they can likely defend themselves, but they will be able to enter Clan versus Clan zones from the beginning if they want to do so.

Clans will want to continually have lower level players in their ranks, since these players will be able to join fights for common resources. While these resources are abundant, they can only be defended by players of up to a certain level. Alternatively, a common resource site can be attacked or protected by higher level players, but only with very serious drawbacks.

Solo play will also be encouraged. Only scout class players and solo players will be able to retrieve access cards to a clan’s resource silo. This access card is required when one clan attacks another’s resource site. This is a process that must start with one player and probably ends with two clans clashing for control of the said resource.

All in all, I believe that we managed to design a system where every player is important – no matter what level or class he or she is. I think this will let more players enjoy the game in the long term.

6. In most MMORPG’s that I’ve seen the quests are very simple and boring : go to X, kill 15 Y, speak to Z to get the reward.
What can you tell us about the quests in Xenocell ? how different would they be from other MMORPG’s ?

Some of our quests will be much like those you see in other MMOs. Although in-game events will constantly alter these quests, they will be there there. On one hand, this is a method that connects this game with other MMOs. On the other hand, it is a great way to tell a story.

What’s going to be more exciting is the way we solved quests that are given out by players to players. We call them orders, and they bring bonuses to both the issuing player and the one completing the order.

Say, if you are a commander of a clan, you will receive bonuses for controlling more resources, so your task will be making your soldiers take over an enemy silo. You can make them do that by assigning them quests, such as “Get an access card to an enemy silo.”, “Hack the defense system of this silo using this access card.” or eventually “Win this resource site for our team.”. These sentences are very simplified, but it all boils down to this. You will also be able to gain ranks via completing orders.

There’s another quest system in development that will automatically assign headhunter quests. Players will be assigned to hunt one another down within a given time frame. This is of course if both players accept the quest. Whoever kills the other player first will win the quest. The time we’re thinking of is hours, not minutes. Any two online players of the same level from different factions will be chosen automatically and offered the possibility via signing up to be available for such a quest. One to be the victim who needs to survive and the other who is the hunter. They will need to find each other through a number of means – asking NPCs, using terminals or reports from spy drones. It sounds very exciting to me, since I personally enjoy solo PvP a lot.

7. From what I understand from your website, Xenocell will be pay to play based on monthly fee, will you also include a free to play options ?

We have not yet finalized the method of payments yet. It is also possible that instead of the monthly fee, the game will only have micro-transactions. Or both ways.

What’s certain is that the game will be playable free of charge. If you want to start another character, that might cost you the price of a burger. If you want to use some special vehicle or weapon, you might need to get a license for that or be a premium subscriber.

It’s too early to say more about what the limitations of a free to play character would be, but I would want it to be able to play the game without any level restriction.

Right now, we are preparing for every possibility tech-wise, so when we make our final decision, it will not be constrained by technical difficulties. We want to be able to handle both recurring and micro payments, so we will be able to decide just before we launch the game, after taking a step back and having a final look at what we have accomplished.

8. What classes and unique abilities will there be in Xenocell ? please explain in detail about them.

The game begins with a human colonization space vessel crash-landing on an alien planet. The starter classes are much the same as any job you’d have on a spaceship or within a young colony. There are five base classes.

Marines provide high damage per second from powerful and heavy weapons and are built to be at the front line of intense battles. Scouts remain unseen, providing moderate damage from a long range, or using fast weapons to get a high number of shots in. The job of the Pilot is to get from one location to another as fast as possible, with all personnel and material belongings safe and sound. The technological advances and technical capability of the Scientist is not to be underestimated, especially on the psionic battlefield. Lastly, behind the enemy lines, the true masters of life and death are the Medics, who maintain and strengthen the Human machine.

At level 10, each player can further specialize by choosing a subclass. Subclasses build on the original classes, but get additional bonuses to certain tasks. Let’s see them one by one.

Marine subclasses remain the best choice for direct combat. Special Ops are the best types of Marines to have in a party; they can take damage, they can deal damage, and they are easily motivated when supported by numerous allies. Paratroopers walk alone, and are not the type that you want to cross. They gain different kinds of bonuses when they are not in a team. Lastly, Bions are literally war machines. They are physically formidable beings capable of wielding the most powerful weaponry. They excessively use implants to boost their mostly physical powers.

Scout subclasses are the masters of infiltration. Snipers excel in finding a target, ending it permanently, and leaving no traces behind. Infiltrators have the mastery of psionics that they need to remain entirely unseen as they demolish their enemy’s last hopes. Lastly, a class that comes from the Droidarena universe, the Decker. Deckers have become well versed in electronics and code, as well as learning what makes nearly everything tick. Being able to hack defenses, they are a key class when starting an offensive on an enemy resource site.

Pilots subclasses will probably be a very popular choice. Combat Pilots are the hardiest of all Pilots, coming close to being a Marine in combat capability, while being able to control flying vehicles in battle. Carrier Pilots are your best bets for long range transport and hauling. This includes the skills to transport an entire team! Finally, Navigators are the masterminds of multi-tasking and massive vehicle maintenance. The biggest and baddest of all vehicles are commanded by Navigators.

While crafting will be available without having to choose a profession, Scientist subclasses will be able to create plans and craft better items. Researchers are the ones that do all of the analysis and testing of theories and new devices, as well as the ones who get to play with the most interesting of toys from the extraterrestrial races. Engineers are the premier minds behind manufacture and production, both at the personnel level and at the architectural level. They are a sought-after class when clan structures need to be built or repaired. Masters of the science and art of psionics, Adepts bring to mind the old saying, “Sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.” Few can combat the raw psionic force of an Adept.

Although Medics are the healers of Xenocell, its subclasses can go other routes. Combat Surgeons are one of the most frightening combatants to come up against. Their array of quick healing skills, enhancement type psionics, and vicious combat prowess, makes them hard to defeat. The job of the Biotechnician is to make the best better. Cutting edge Biotechnology, performance enhancing substances and implants, and anti-Biotech/cyborg psionic abilities make Biotechnicians the most skilled of all doctors. Wounds and injuries previously believed to be untreatable are within the reach of the Mentalist’s healing. Mutilated limbs, rended organs, even fatal diseases… all curable by the psionic powers of a well equipped Mentalist.

9. In Xenocell a player can own cars/planes/ships and other stuff.
Can you please explain how it works ? how the player acquires those items ? for how long do they stay in players control ?

Acquiring vehicles in Xenocell can be in different ways. Most smaller vehicles without turrets can be purchased by the player. Other vehicles require licenses to drive and are accessible to pilots only. These vehicles are usually the ones that can carry more personnel or can serve as a clan base.

With the exception of a few vehicles, the player can “summon” his vehicles at any time when on open terrain. The vehicle is then hauled from a nearby base to the player’s position in a few seconds.

The player starts driving the vehicle until he exits the vehicle, or the vehicle is destroyed. If the vehicle is destroyed, it’s “summon” skill will have a long cooldown until the vehicle can be summoned again, so it’s a good idea to look after your vehicle in battle. However, you can have several vehicles at your disposal, but each of the “summon” skills take up one slot from your 8 skill slots.

When using vehicles, players lose their skill bar, and the vehicle’s own skill bar is shown. Through upgrades, players will be able to add new skills to their vehicles. This includes mounting a turret on a jeep, or upgrading it with Nitrous-Oxide. All vehicles have a certain number of free skill slots. When these slots are all used, no more upgrades can be used on a vehicle.

There are different kinds of vehicles. Jeeps, tanks, planes, gunships, APC-s, bikes, jet-packs and so on.. Of course, there’s no use to a vehicle, when you need to infiltrate an enemy underground base.

10. In Xenocell website I’ve noticed a remark about players ability to change and influence the world, can you tell us more about this ?
To what degree a player can change the world in a MMORPG game ?

We are finishing a system that will monitor a player’s acts. It will judge the player and try to assign points to the player towards being good or bad in a specific situation. We will globally monitor responses to the game world by the players, and create game events that will alter the existing scene.

Such an example would be a captain that would ask your help with the construction of a special rifle. You could steal the rifle or you could help him. If many people stole the rifle, the guy would go broke, and look for another profession. If more players would help him with the rifle, he would start a store and a tuned-up version of the rifle would end up in his store for a reasonable price.

Of course this would apply on a more global scale as well. Alternately, this would decide what the sequel to the first chapter of the game would be. There’s an alien conspiracy to be discovered, and at the end, probably not long after reaching level 20, the player will have to make a choice. If many players choose one ending over another when completing the main story line, very drastic events will happen within a few months. I’d really love to tell you more about it, but I’d be spoiling the game for our players, so I better not disclose the details of the end of the storyline.

We are also looking into letting CvC areas be destroyable in a sense. We’d like to see craters caused by huge explosions. Eventually these anomalies would disappear within hours or minutes, but in the meantime they’d reshape the scene in a way that could be used strategically. For now, we will not include this feature, but we are actively working on it!

Thank you very much for the interview.

And thank you Konrad Kiss for your superb answers, can’t wait to play Xenocell !

Thomas the founder of Basilisk Games and the creator of the Eschalon series has agreed for an interview about Book2 which I wrote about before.

1. Hello Thomas , can you tell us about yourself and your company Basilisk Games ?
How many people are working on Book 2 ?

Basilisk Games was founded in 2005 and we released our first game in 2007. I am the founder of the company and the lead developer on the Eschalon series.

It is very hard to give an exact number of people working on Book 2. I work on it full-time of course, but we have had at least six other contracted artists help with graphics and music. We have three dedicated internal testers that also contribute to the design process. We’ve had some contributions to writing as well. So while I am the sole full-time developer, Book 2 is far from a single-person project.

2. Basilisk Games developing “Old-School cRPG’s” , can you explain what is “Old-School”, are they just old cRPG games or is there something deeper that defines them ? how they are different from other cRPG games such as Fallout 1-2 for example ?

The term “old-school cRPG” is admittedly vague, but generally it refers to RPGs made prior to Diablo. Diablo was the first mainstream RPG that gave birth to the “Action RPG” genre, and showed the average gamer how fun it could be to play over a network with other people. We are creating the kind of RPG that came before Diablo, when RPGs were exclusively single-player, generally turn or phased-based, and more focused on stats and character management.

Old-school can also imply the open-ended game worlds found in Ultima and Might & Magic, which is something we strive to achieve as well. While some exceptions do exist, many contemporary RPGs have very liner designs and do not allow the player to freely explore the game world at will.

3. I wonder about the sales of Book1…
Where they above your expectations ? did they cover the cost of development ?
Can you give us insight about the sales per platform percentage wise ? how is GNU/Linux doing ?

Sales have been generally good, about 25% higher so far than we projected. We fully repaid development costs on Book I about a year after its release, so all sales since then have been profit. We roll as much profit over into Book II as we can while still keeping the bills paid.

Our sales, per platform, are about 48% Windows, 42% Macintosh, and 10% Linux. Although Linux is a small percentage of our overall sales, we will support it as long as we are financially able to.

4. Please tell us about Book 2, what should be expected from it ?

What you should expect from Book II is: “the same philosophy that we built Book I upon, but with a lot of suggestions from fans.” We are keeping the general feel of the game, the same type of turn-based game world, but have added a number of new features that have been frequently requested.

5. In Book 1 the quests were very liner and often had only one solution, will it change with Book 2 ?
Are you going to make several solutions to each quest with consequences to your choices ?

Good question. It’s hard to answer because the number of solutions to each quest depends on how you define those solutions. For example, one of the first side-quests you come across has you retrieving an item for someone as part of a debt settlement. Now then, you can go directly to that person and threaten them. You can can offer to buy this object from them, knowing you’ll make a bit of profit when you get your reward. You can steal it from them, either through stealth or murder. Or, if you explore a bit more, you can find something to blackmail them with. By my count that is four separate ways of achieving the final goal. Others might say “well there is still only one way to successfully finish the quest and that is by retrieving the item and delivering it.” Perhaps, but that’s not being very creative- you could just keep the item and murder the person who gave you the quest.

Often, we try to find several ways for a player to get from point A to point B within the game, whether a quest is part of that journey or not. Like in Book 1, there were 3 unique ways into Crakamir, and players found the best way for themselves through their own individual play style. Book II will have a lot of this type of “multi-path” gameplay.

As for consequences to quests- yes, we are definitely going to put more examples of this into Book II than we had in Book I. But in keeping with old-school game mechanics, Book II will still have plenty of quests that are simply “do this and get a reward”. Some RPGs are built entirely around the concept of choice and consequence. That is the gimmick the developers are going for, and it’s great to have this kind of gameplay option for RPG enthusiast. Our gimmick is that we are old-school: Lots of exploration. Tons of character development options. Stat micromanagement. Crazy monsters and powerful spells. Traps and puzzles. And in the end, we have a huge gameworld that you can make your own adventure out of: follow the main quest or don’t. That’s your choice and consequence.

6. Will Book2 feature several endings depending on paths you choose along the game ?

The Eschalon trilogy was originally written as one story, with one ending. Like all stories, Eschalon has grown and changed since its conception. Obviously we began by breaking the original big story into three “books”, by which we could more easily focus on for the games.

As we did for Book I, we want Book II to have a couple different outcomes based on player choices. The biggest issue we have now is that Book II, being in the middle of the story arc, can only have “so much” flexibility while still making sense within the trilogy. So to answer your question, yes, there will be a couple different outcomes to Book II, but expect the biggest number of endings with Book III.

7. Playing as a fighter in “Book 1″ was very boring as you only had one attack.
On the other hand playing as offensive mage was very easy with all the powerful spells you had.
What things have you changed and added in Book 2 regarding combat, spells and balance ?

Game balancing is one part mathematics, one part talent, and one part luck. It turns out that Book I was very easy for seasoned RPG veterans, especially those who took advantage of a few minor exploits that made it through beta. The first step in balancing Book 2 was to patch up as many exploits as possible, so that everyone plays on the same level. Second, we are employing a more diverse group of beta-testers this time to get feedback not only from the casual RPGer but also the hardcore, so hopefully we can tune it to that sweet spot that both kinds of players find challenging but not impossible.

Spells are getting revamped for more variation- we’ll have new spells that aid or assist the player, and a wider selection of combative spells for different battle scenarios. Combat itself takes on a new level of strategy, if for no other reason than it will be more challenging. Enemies have been given new AI functions and abilities, and players will find themselves in situations dealing with multiple foes in varied environments. Rare is it that players can rely solely on toe-to-toe brawling to win big fights in Book II- strategy will involve how best to utilize skills, environmental advantages, spells and aids to win battles.

8. In Book1 most buildings had only one floor (and sometimes a basement), What kind of new buildings we will see in Book 2 ? will there be a multi-floor buildings ?

There are several examples of maps with multi-floored buildings in Book 2, with Port Kudaad being one of the best. This is a large city in Mistfell which exists in 3 full levels: sub (sewer), ground, and second story. The gameplay often transverses all three levels, so for example a puzzle may have you thinking in this additional dimension.

9. What kind of new enemies will there be at Book2 ? will there be some kind of Bosses or Dragons ?

We are are putting mostly new creatures in Book 2, with only a few returning enemies to support the story. Some will be similar, such as Black Mold- a slightly tougher version of Fungal Slimes from Book 1. There will be a few boss types creatures (no Dragons in Book 2…) and they will be larger and more diabolical than any boss we had in Book 1. We are giving enemies in Book 2 more intelligence and additional special abilities.

10. In Basilisk Games forums some people made many good suggestions regarding Book2 , you listen to them and try to implant those ideas in Book2, you also made several threads in which you asked people how they prefer things to be implanted – I really love the openness of the indies …
What ideas have you borrowed from the community in favor of Book2 ?

We got 95% of all our Book 2 ideas from the fans. They are our life blood and we will always try to give them what they ask for but we must balance this with a focus on our overall philosophy, and that is to design old-school RPGs. Some fans have requested support for online or MMO-style play, other people want us to gut the combat system and move to a strict action-point system. While these are all good suggestions, we must adhere to the fundamentals that made Eschalon popular in the first place. We will be moving on to new ideas after we wrap up the Eschalon trilogy, and that is when we can experiment with other modes of game play. Eschalon will always represent classic, old-school role-playing.

Some of the best ideas from our fans that have been included in Book 2 are the flexible rules system, the in-game challenges, the increase in game detail and resolution, new spells and skills, just to name a few.

Thank you Thomas for a great interview, can’t wait for book2 to be released !

Recently I’ve interviewed the Fanafzar Game Studios development director Amir about their upcoming game Garshasp, which I recently wrote about.

1. First of all, what can you tell us about yourself and your company ?
My name is Amir H. Fassihi. I am the development director for the Garshasp game. Fanafzar Game Studios is a private company based in Tehran, Iran which is working on Garshasp. Fanafzar Game Studios is part of Fanafzar Software Company which has been active in business application development for 6 years now. Garshasp has been in development for 2.5 years now.

2. Tell us about Garshasp, is it like “God Of War” clone with different setting ? What can we expect from it ?
Well, God of War is the favorite game for almost all our members here at Fanafzar. Our story is based on Persian Mythology, which is older than Greek mythology by the way. We are looking forward for little innovation in this game too.

3. In your game preview movies I’ve seen some very cool combat moves and combos.
Are all combat moves will be available from the start or will you have to learn them in the course of your adventure ? What skills and weapons will be at Garshasp ?

Garshasp will have combat moves from the start but he will achieve a few special moves as he proceeds. His main weapon is a sword, he will find a special mace as he proceeds. The mace looks like the skeleton of a dragon. There are a few items which have magical abilites also, one of the magic powers is a wall which will surrond the player and enemies, Garshasp will be able to jump out of this wall and confine the enemies in there.

4. Will Garshasp offer some RPG elements such as quests, character build, leveling, choices and consequences and/or other stuff ?
The RPG elements in this game will be very light, we are hoping to add such features in the sequels to this game.

5. Will Garshasp also offer other gameplay options such as Arena fights, challenges, vs mode, multi-player and other stuff ?
One of the features in our wishlist is Co-op play. However the first release of the game is not going to have that feature and we might see that in the sequel.

6. You have chosen the Ogre3d game engine for Garshasp, what made you choose it and what other software did you use ?
We were looking for an open source engine to do rendering very well. Ogre3d is open source, has a very nice architecture, a wonderful community and the fact that it is not a full game engine was a plus for us since we wanted it to be great at rendering and we knew we had to implement a lot of features for our game ourselves. Our core team was mainly made out of technical people and we always had a very positive feeling towards free and open source software. Other software we use are Nvidia PhysX, Particle Universe (Ogre project for particles) NxOgre (PhysX wrapper for Ogre), Boost library, OpenAL, WxWidgets for our world editor.

7. As Garshasp is being developed with Ogre3d engine, will there be a GNU/Linux client ? When it can be expected ?
This is one more think on our plan. Ogre is platform independent, the other libraries and tools we use the same so theoretically we do not have a problem porting to Linux but in reality it might take a bit of tweaking here and there. We are looking forward to the time after our release and right before the pre-production of the next title to work on the port.

8. Your company is based on Iran, I understand that there are issues sending goods to some countries.
How do you intend to solve this problem regarding your game ? Will you also offer a download version so this problem could be more easily bypassed ?

Unfortunately there are some sanctions against Iran imposed by some Countries, this brings some constraints. As an example we can not apply for the dev kits to develop games for the Consoles. About selling our game outside Iran, if we are successful in finding a publisher, then there shouldn’t be any problems. Direct download can be another option as you mentioned.

9. Recently you where at the “Gamescom 2009″ conference, you spoke with many people from the gaming industry.
What new things have you learned regarding the gaming world ? Where is it heading ?
Are the game developers more open to GNU/Linux and FOSS ? Please explain.

The Gamescom experience was great for us, seeing all the experts and new projects is always inspiring for us and there are a lot of things for us to learn from. Regarding the gaming world, it would be hard for me to generalize about where the industry is heading, I need to gain much more experience for that, but what has been interesting is that there are two poles, one where games are getting more complex and advanced and another where we see casual and very simple games. The increase for games on mobile devices is interesting also. I guess good developers always open to FOSS but we don’t see this being promoted much in the commercial world of gaming. It is always to see projects using open source, there are quite a few German games we saw at Gamescom base on Ogre.

10. Is there something that I’ve missed and you would like to add regarding Garshasp ?
Thank you, thats all for now.

Thank you very much for the interview despite the fact that I’m Jewish and live in Israel.
This really proves that political issues have no place on my Linux Gaming Blog and in the FOSS community in general.

Koen Witters the founder of Koonsolo and the developer of Mystic Mine (MM) agreed to answer some questions for us.
He was fast to replay and had a very interesting answers.
So read and enjoy !

1. First please tell us about yourself, where are you from and what are you doing in your daily life.

My name is Koen Witters and I live in Belgium, the land of beer and chocolate. I’ve been creating games for a long time, both professionally and as a hobby. I’m currently working as a software developer, and next to that I create my own indie games.

2. Why and how did you start working on MM, was it like a hobby at first or you did really want to make a living out of this business ?

Creating computer games has always been my passion. I started at the age of 14, and ever since then I’ve been creating games in my spare time and later professionally. Mystic Mine was created in my spare time. Making a living from indie games unfortunately doesn’t come overnight. Rule no.1 when starting out as an indie game developer is “don’t quit your day job”.

3. I’m very happy to know that you are a GNU/Linux user and that you developed MM on GNU/Linux using FOSS.
what tools did you use in creating MM and why did you choose them ?

The language and library that I use to create my games are Python and Pygame. Python is just a great language to get things done quickly, and if you’re working alone and only in your spare time, speed of development is a huge factor. Python/Pygame is also multiplatform, which allows me to develop in my favorite OS, and deliver to all the mayor platforms. Pygame also relies on the SDL library, which I’ve used before in C++ and knew that it’s great.
For the art I use the 4 most popular Open Source art packages: Blender 3D for my 3D models, Gimp for 2D art, Inkscape for vector graphics and Audacity to edit my sounds.
On the more technical side, I use gVim as my main text editor, Subversion to store my files and Trac to keep track of the remaining work and bugs. Then for deploying/installing my game I used NSIS, py2exe, py2app and cxFreeze. Funny thing is that the author of cxFreeze actually saw that my game was using his tool, and he bought the game and wrote me a friendly email.
I’m doing this all on a Kubuntu system, which in my opinion is the most user friendly OS out there.

4. Many game developers complain that it is very problematic to port games to GNU/Linux and yet your game “just run” on the 3 OS’s without extra effort.
How is that possible ? what do you advice other game developers to do so their games will be “multi platform” “out of the box” ?

Those developers got themselves in that situation. If you start developing your game using OS specific code/libraries, of course it’s a big effort to port your game. If you make sure from the start that you are not doing anything platform specific, and use libraries that support multiple platforms, it takes no extra effort. And I’m not only talking only about pygame here. The previous game I developed was Rabbit Wars (which was a project for an external company). It’s developed in C++ and uses the same codebase for PocketPC, Smartphone and Windows. Linux support was not required, but it would probably take me a day to get it running on Linux, since I use SDL as my main library, and try to stay far away from any Microsoft libraries ;). The same could apply for 3D games of course.

My advice for competing game developers? Keep buying expensive, Windows specific engines/libraries. Focus on Windows only, and stay away from Open Source software. If it’s free, it can’t be good, right? Because in the end you will get what you pay for… . No, seriously, if you’re smart, you will do the exact opposite of what I’ve just said, but who listens to me anyway? ;).

5. I’m wondering about MM sales per platform vs platform market share.
I assume you can’t give us actual numbers (for some unknown reason) but percentage wise how much GNU/Linux, Mac and Windows sales went ? Is there indeed a market for GNU/Linux games ?

As you know I’m an indie game developer, so you can’t really compare my numbers against some best selling AAA games. But I’ve just checked my direct sales (those I get from my website), and I’m selling equally well on all 3 platforms. Mac OS X is at the top, then comes Linux, and finally Windows, but it’s a close one, because Windows represents 1/4th of my sales. So there is definitely a market for Linux games if you’re an indie developer, and quite honestly, you must be stupid not to support all 3 platforms, because as stated above, it just doesn’t take any extra effort.

6. You developed MM almost alone (except the music), even your company koonsolo run only by yourself.
It’s not very common to see game developers who are “good at all arts” , like programming , graphics, game design etc…
What is your specialty and how did you overcome the other less familiar to you, weaker points in creating MM ?

My specialty is definitely the programming part. I’ve been doing that as a hobby when I was a kid, then studied computer science, and I’ve been a professional software developer for 7 years now.
The graphics is a leftover from when I was young. I was pretty good at drawing things, but later my main focus went more to programming (which was also a better “career choice” ;)). But I’ve always found creating visual arts very interesting, and can still draw better than the average person. I’ve also continued to mess around with 3D modeling, but hadn’t done anything serious, until I created the art for Mystic Mine. As you can see the graphics of Mystic Mine are way better than ‘programmer art’, but still don’t reach the level of someone who’s doing it as his main profession. I’m still not pleased with the fact that the graphics don’t represent the quality of the product and gameplay so much. They are not bad, but could definitely improve. For my next game I would love to work together with someone who’s art skills match my programming skills. I’ve done some effort to find someone like that, but haven’t succeeded yet :( (if someone is interested, please mail me at koen@koonsolo.com).

7. MM is very unique game, how did you come up with the idea for the game and how much time it took you to finish developing it ?

I knew about isometric games and the “Escher” problem they sometimes have. So I thought to myself, why not create a game based on impossible isometric levels, like those paintings from Escher. The gameplay just kind of went from there. One thing led to another, and it all came together with the game you currently see. I like to approach game design with a simple prototype, and then iterate from there. In my opinion this is the best way to get to the most fun.

8. How are the overall sales of MM ? were they successful enough to start working on game development full time ? Are you working on a new title ? can you tell us more about it ?

Mystic Mine is selling way better than I expected, especially on Linux. Linux users are used to getting quality stuff for free, but obviously they are also prepared to buy games, which is great of course. Unfortunately the sales are not yet enough to start working full time on my indie games alone. I live in expensive Belgium, have a family to support, and I currently have a well payed job as a software developer. So I have to sell a lot of copies to support my life. But the current sales of Mystic Mine allow me to work on it part-time, so that’s a good start. As an indie game developer you really need to build up a customer base to go full-time at it, so I’m definitely working on it :).

I’m indeed working on a new title which will also feature those impossible levels, but the gameplay and theme is entirely different. I currently can’t tell you much about it, but if you subscribe to my newsletter at http://www.koonsolo.com/newsletter.php, you will definitely receive the latest news on that front.

9. MM is played by only one button, did you originally plan to support people with limited mobility ? what influenced your decision ? did you have any feedback on this from those people ?

I didn’t plan this. As stated above I use an iterative approach, and at one time I had those gold cars moving on the levels, and you could switch those tracks with the mouse. Suddenly I realized you could also switch the upcoming junction with the keyboard, and so it suddenly became a one button game. After that discovery, the idea of multiplayer on a single keyboard flashed before my eyes.
I requested feedback for the accessibility features, because I didn’t know much about it, and received a lot of great suggestions. One of those people who responded was someone from the Anne Carlsen Center, who works daily with individuals with disabilities. It’s a great feeling to know that there are plenty of kids with physical and tracking impairments out there that are enjoying Mystic Mine.

10. I assume you used a level editor to make the hundreds of levels in MM ,but you didn’t include it in the actual game…why ? are you planing to include a level editor in the future ? what about add-ons, additional levels and expansions ?

I programmed a very basic level editor to create those levels, but it’s not user friendly enough to release it. Some of my friends seem to enjoy creating those impossible levels, so I might still consider improving and releasing it. But currently I’m not putting any effort in it, my main focus is on my next game.

Thank you Koen Witters for a great interview
We wish you good luck on your mission developing great games for all major platforms.

Last month I interviewed Michael from Viewizard, the developers of AstroMenace which is a fantastic hardcore space shooter which is available under GPLv3 and is FREE for Linux.
The funny thing is that the windows binary actually costs money and although it could be compiled from the source code, it’s still selling !

I’ve asked the questions is English and Michael answered in Russian, today I’ve took the time to translate the interview and publish it here :

Hello Michael !
Sorry for writing in English because I do speak Russian (but as I didn’t study in Russia my spelling grammar is horrible, but I can read).

Excellent, The I’ll answer in Russian
I off course can answer in English, but I think you would like more complete answers.

I am a Linux user and I am extremely happy that you released the source code under GPLv3 and supplied the Linux version for free…
I got a few questions however.

1. What made the devs release the source code under GPLv3 and the Linux version for free while the windows version costs money ?

My principle is simple – if you want to pay, then pay. if you chose a commercial OS, then why should I give you the game for free ?
A FREE game needs to be “earned” .

GNU/Linux is a community – it’s a huge army of experienced users, programmers, system administrators etc…
With their help testing the game was very effective, and we didn’t need to run and seek for people – they found us and offered help, this was very pleasant.

Making a cross platform game (Windows-Mac-GNU/Linux) isn’t a big problem. the most important thing is to want. everything else is already there in forms of documentation, pieces of code, etc…

2. How are the sells went ?

Franky speaking I didn’t see any change in sells, there were no downfalls after the code was released under GPLv3.
It is possible that somewhere there is a compiled version for Windows (we didn’t change the code on purpose and all Windows fragments are present), but we haven’t seen it yet

3. Is there a new game under development ? (I’ve seen on your site/blog 2 games Astromenace2 and other space non-Astromenace game).

We have some prototypes, but currently they on hold till “better times”. it’s very hard to foresee anything for the next 6 months and beyond (and developing a game takes much time), with all the economy problems.

4. On the “support” section I’ve seen 3 new games : Awakening, Black Star : first attack and dangerous activity 3d … however I did not see any of those games on the download or games section on the site – can you explain what are they ? are they available for Linux ?

I’ve started writing games spontaneously on a programming class at the university. like all normal people when we see a computer we start playing … the teacher was angry at us and said that “you can play computer games, but only if you programmed them yourself”. I think he regretted his saying very much afterwords.
At the time we studied recently released Delphi 3, and Pascal. not thinking much I used those languages to develop games, uploaded them to the Internet and started selling, well at least I’ve “tried” to sell them.
As you probably guessed converting those games to C++ was not possible for me, but was it needed at all ? those games already done their “job” and I got the experience from making them.
Now those games are no longer available, but if I already sold them – I still need to support them.

You misunderstood my question about the sells …
What I meant was if the sells where good ? if they covered the cost of the development and made profit for you ?

Yes, the game made profit, but not a big one.
There is a need to say that the game was hardcore, that’s why we couldn’t work with a publishers. they just rejected the game. everyone needs a game in which you push one button and see colorful explosions , that’s why they rejected our game by saying “it’s not arcade enough”.
Overall everything went us I expected, and the publishers we worked with done a poor job (at least in my eyes), their audience demanded an arcade game
I’m not arguing, arcade games could be made… but if your work won’t give you satisfaction – it is better to work as a regular programmer and get a steady pay without worrying too much.

I understand that you have another work right now for a different company , that’s why your projects are on hold – right ?

Well, our family is well funded, we have a family business in which I can always be something like IT consultant that I used to do all the time…
But I can’t not to talk with my own parents after all
The gaming projects needed to be put on hold, I just can’t pay people enough money right now, and using the people in my family is something I do not want to do…
Luckily, at August 2008 I already smelled that things not going right and advised “my people” to look for a job, so when the economy collapsed, they already had good jobs.
As far as I know, the crises didn’t hurt them.

The economy is indeed bad this year – many unlucky people got fired and companies got bankrupt … I hope that you as myself still hold your job

Thanks, I hope so as well

Are you also involved at other FREE (GPL, BSD …) projects ?

I helped Don translating Notepad++ to Russian.
I also translated his website and for “some” reason I accidentally became the Russian tech supporter for Notepad++, all emails are sent to my inbox :)

Other then that I am not involved in additional free projects.

Thank you very Michal for the interview Michael !

Some Screehshots :

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Website

Viewizard Describes Development Process – English Edition