Interview with Damjen Cvetkov-Dimitrov of The Seed

The Seed

I meet Damjan in a small bar in western Russia. The place is quite dilapidated, and I had to shoot the waiter when he tried to eat my flesh. Otherwise, we enjoy a nice bottle of vodka and a can of spam while we begin to conduct our interview, pointedly ignoring the packs of radiated animals barking down the streets outside in what otherwise is shaping up to be a rather pleasant post-apocalyptic afternoon.

Donut: Right, why don’t you start off by telling you who you are and what you do for The Seed?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: I am Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov, and I take the broader title Game Developer at The Seed since I like to involve myself into different aspects of the game. Mostly I focus on “gameplay” elements, programming the procedural timeline during scenes, adding dynamic elements to scenes etc, SFX and doing the skeleton framework of sci-fi events that lead to the world of The Seed.

“Game Developer” with quotes I guess :)

Donut: So you’re the jack of all trades, master of none?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: I try to be a jack of a few trades, and master at those :) All trades is overly ambitious.

Donut: Haha, sounds about right. So, what can you tell us about The Seed?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Well for us, its our little special diamond that was born out of months of high pressure discussions, brainstorming, long.. oh so long, but pleasurable forum debates, between the teams members. We set out to do something that would change the way we consider books, specifically interactive books. Since most of us started out as modders, we are VERY comfortable with the idea of working within a tight, claustrophobic environment or medium. Some game engines offer wider modding capabilities, but most of them are limited, as is the X-ray engine of the Stalker games, for modders. What we usually do is try to do complex results, as simply as possible, using the least amount of tools and working in the confines of the engine. This, I suppose trained us to work within limited frameworks, doing stuff within the boundaries that weren’t thought possible, sometimes even by ourselves :)

The interactive graphical novel format has much less limits in once sense, as opposed to modding the Stalker engine, since we have next to complete freedom to do anything we want in 2D in the engine we are using. But in another sense, it is still limiting and can easily become a non-video game, if we were lazy. But we love doing this, so we brought all the experience of video games, gameplay rules, balancing, punishment mechanics into a textual format that works like a game, feel like a game, looks like a game, but is an interactive graphical novel.

And it actually motivated us, to do more, work better in the frames and limits of the medium, and see what happens if we don’t take lessons from books, into a game, but the other way around.

Take this example for a better illustration of the idea:

We want to do a FPS interactive novel, how would that work in a textual, graphical context? Well, the whole of the text is narrated from first person perspective, as it is happening. So no easy jumps from difficult situations. If you don’t think well about the choices, you will go through increasingly more grueling experiences. No magical Deus Ex Machina sliding from above, and teleporting you to a normal or safe area.

We retain our style, known in the Misery mod, for merciless realism of sound, events, descriptions. Some of the ethical choices you would have to face, are really fringe and uncomfortable things to think about, and that’s what we mean when we say “bring you to the edges of morality”

We retain the style of Misery, and we expand on it immensely, evolving it even more, since now we have the textual liberty that we didn’t have in Misery.

Donut: So you mentioned how it’s more of an interactive novel. Obviously this is quite the departure from the open world style of Misery and Stalker in general. What lead you to this decision, and how hard was it? I take it there were plenty of disagreements

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Actually we are trying to do an open world graphical novel :) With large, strict causal links, and real effects over the world you play in.

Donut: I should say less open world, but free roam.

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: I agree, more free roam. But when you see the possibilities of branching combinations, you get a pleasant free roam feeling from it all. That’s what we are aiming for anyway. We want different people to have wildly different experiences with the game, and then they can later compare experiences, see what they’ve missed, how someone came to some situation that is more preferable to him, than other.

We are also planning on the actual printed versions of your own personal experience in the world of The Seed. Then you can give your own personal branching choices to a friend of yours, as a noninteractive novel.

Like, “Here dude, look what I went through, what I chose and how I did it”

Donut: So would you say it’s actually more open in the end?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: How do you mean?

Donut: Less limited than say, a Stalker mod or even your own game.

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Well yeah, we intend to do 50 different endings for the kickstarter goal of 15 000 pounds. And these won’t be just minor permutations of the story. These would be completely different experiences, evolved along with the player though the 3 acts.

I am mentioning the goal, since if we overfund to a certain level, we expand on those endings.

Donut: Of course, are any of these endings standard “you’re dead!” endings, is it even possible to really die?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: It’s not possible to die before Act 3 no. You can’t practically “loose the game”. You can either go for a more preferred direction, or a more unpleasant, distant direction. You can take control and direct the characters experiences as much as possible, to explore a certain direction.

Dying would be a show stopper, and we decided to go for a more of a punishment mechanic, rather than “wrong move buddy” and the story ends. This way we can navigate the gray zone of morality even better since “death” in most games is an indicator of doing something wrong. And in the world of The Seed, it’s really hard to see what is wrong. Many times you will have to evolve your own sense of ethical balance, and play in those confines.

Donut: So by the sound of it, there is no ‘good’ ending or ‘bad’ ending per se?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: We are definitely straying away from that, sometimes what you want your character to do, will be a success, sometimes a complete failure. This is grounded in reality, and not morality.

Especially since the social aspect of morality has deteriorated where it isn’t that important to be sociable or friendly, or an altruist. On the contrary, those that are, don’t last long. There are of course reasons for all this that I won’t get into, since they are important plot elements and will be a part of the story in the game itself.

Donut: Of course, so your story can be praised (or criticized) by being very similar to others such as Metro 2033 or Stalker. Your roots in Misery of course play in to this, but how would you say your setting is different than the ones it draws from?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: I’ll gladly answer this question, since a lot of effort was put into world building and subtle sci-fi elements for this story to be very unique. I think after the game is out, and people play it, we won’t get this question asked, for sure :)

Naturally these books and the games have influenced us in many ways, but we try to build upon that, and evolve or even back off and devolve aspects that flow into an original world, a specific, unique experience not covered often, if at all. We draw upon a wider range of media to build upon, rather than just Metro and Stalker. I can just name a few examples: Planescape Torment, Roadside Picnick, The Road, The Walking Dead, Melancholia, Dying of the Light, Game of Thrones.

Donut: A good selection. So what would you say is the most notable part of your game is so far?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Well other than the aspects that I mentioned previously, and the specific nature of the lore and world building, I’d say that the graphical, cinemagraphic aspects of the scenes are absolutely jaw dropping. I say this without a drop of bias since when Nic sent his first scene, post-produced to perfection, having that specific ambient feeling that The Seed delves in great quantities. Ah. Nicolai Aaroe works his stunning, hypnotizing magic on the scenes, and I try to add some movement to emphasize their beauty. For now I’m most awestruck by that aspect I guess. But as we develop further in, we find new things and new ways to surprise each other.

We are also planning some interesting timing of visual transitions of a scene, to correspond with the average readers experience while reading. Audio wise and graphically. Naturally this can’t be overly precise, but there is a trick or two up our sleeves to make that more synced with where you are while reading.

Donut: So what would you say the story is ultimately about? A common theme?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Human struggle, perseverance, the way people adapt to radical change, hopelessness, overcoming obstacles, discomfort, willpower, common themes :)
Donut: So for the last few, let’s move into ‘gameplay’

Many would say it’s more like a novel, or a visual book, what do you think defines it as a game?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: We try to relate, contextually, all the elements for an example of the scene, into the story. So your choice could be a rational one based on what you’ve read OR it could be a conclusion that you’ve made based on what you’ve heard in the scene or in the audio transitions, or a subtle cue in the visual aspect of the scene.

We make everything a part of this world, and it’s really hard to completely call this a “video game”, since interactivity is mostly a string of selections of two branching options, some inventory management etc, but how much you employ yourself to the details of sounds/visual aspects, causal relationships and reason, makes this a full fledged game.

And I’ve seen action games with less interaction than this, casually called video games :)

It might be a more cerebral, strategic maybe video game, and not one where you rely on twitch action decisions.

If you want to have an outcome of a specific nature, for example gain information about the events leading to the present state of things in the world, you will have to think hard, make smart decisions, be observant of all elements of the game, to make the right choice, not right as in “right or wrong”, but right as in, “The choice that you need to do, to get what you want”

Donut: Are things like inventory management a full system or more like standard CYOA games

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: They influence branching, I’m just going to leave it at that

Donut: To top this off, what are you most excited for in The Seed?

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: A disappointing answer I know, but literally EVERYTHING. I can’t wait to start working on the rest of the scenes that Nicolai sends over. I can’t wait to start building concrete situations and expanding on the world. I am dying to start work on the dynamic procedural sound generation aspect of the game, and in fact I’ve smuggled in some experiments before schedule, but don’t tell anyone. :)

I just want to get funded the minimal amount, so I can start work full speed ahead :)

Donut: Er… you know this is going to the public, right? Haha.

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: I know :) but still, everyone that is reading this, don’t tell Nicolai about this :)

Donut: Guys you heard him, not a damn word.

So I think this has been an enlightening interview. Thanks! I’ll be sure to back.

Damjan Cvetkov-Dimitrov: Thanks Donut, I had fun during this interview :)

Interview with CumQuaT of Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox

Malevolence: The Sword of AhkranoxDonut: So tell me about yourself and Malevolence.

CumQuaT: Well, I’ve been gaming since I was about 4 years old, using an Amiga. But back then I didn’t know much about computers, so I had more fun watching my dad play games. This sort of became a habit, and I would pull up a bean-bag next to him and watch him play these RPGs like Might & Magic and others, and he would name one of the characters in the party ‘Alex’ and the others would be named after himself and other people we knew and we’d essentially go on these large-scale adventures together, that would last months and months, resuming each night that little habit was what hooked me to RPGs.

I’ve always been attracted to them more than any other type of game. I never wanted those gaming nights to end, and I was always sad when bed time came around and we had to stop, so skip forward many, many years, and I was in university, and I loved to write my own engines right towards the end of my diploma (in animation) I was coding on a lunch break, and I figured out how to generate infinite worlds. not “effectively” infinite, but actually infinite. persistent, too, so you could always go back to any point and it would always be the same at the time, I thought it was cool, but I didn’t really do anything with it.

I went on to make other games instead but then, skip forward several more years and I had just gotten married, and at the same time was very, very ill, and given an 85% mortality rate. It didn’t look like I was going to survive when that happens, it really threw life into focus, and I realized that I wanted to leave something behind that would last. I didn’t get the chance to, and I went in to have major surgery which I was told I wasn’t really likely to wake up from. but, obviously, I did. and I was determined from that point on to make a game that I would be remembered for.

Since I had these fantastic childhood memories of playing games like Might & Magic, Eye of the Beholder, etc, I decided that would be what I would do, as it’s a very personal thing for me and since I had this technology lying around to let me have an infinite world, I decided that I would combine the two and voila! Malevolence was born. 3 years of work later, here we are.

Donut: Well that was longer than an entire interview normally is, haha. So from day one, have you had the grid system? Even Might and Magic didn’t use one.

CumQuaT: Yes it did! M&M 1 through to 5 were all grid-based it’s only the modern ones that are free-moving

Donut: Than I guess I don’t remember them as well I should have. So yeah, was the grid based a new thing? Or was that there from the planning phases.

CumQuaT: That was there from day 1, I wanted people to experience what I experienced

Donut: What is your response to people disappointed it is grid based?

CumQuaT: Don’t play it ;) haha what people in the gaming community don’t seem to realize is that I’m making this game for me. Always have been, always will be. It just happens that many, many people also love and miss the grid-based system. but not a day goes by where I don’t have to deal with comments saying “your movement is so laggy and broken!”, but it’s all from people too young to recognize that its a system that was used by games such as Anvil of Dawn, Dungeon Master, Wizardry, Might & Magic, Eye of the Beholder, and many, many more for about a decade! If it wasn’t for those games, modern RPGs wouldn’t exist at all.

Donut: What would you say is what you derive most from these games, sans the grid system?

CumQuaT: It would have to be the sheer scale of them. these games were utterly massive during a time when game worlds were tiny in every other game. People think of games such as Skyrim as having these enormous worlds, but in actual fact, they’re incredibly small compared to some of these games from the past. I love to stand in a game’s world and feel truly small in comparison to it. the open-ended nature of them where you can just pick a direction and head off and have an adventure in whatever way you want, to me, is so much better than a linear game experience

Donut: But won’t the world eventually get boring? How do you deal with the fact that the infinite world only has a limited number of variants of dungeons and such? You might find a cemetery or a pyramid but wont you end up just having the same thing over and over? Same enemies and types of loot and such?

CumQuaT: All of the loot and quests are generated procedurally as well, including spells that you can find and learn. there’s also an intricate crafting system planned which will keep people occupied, since the crafting system uses the procedural loot monsters stats also generate procedurally, and we’re implementing a system that includes special boss versions of monsters which wait for you in dungeons to really test your mettle the 3D assets of the game world stay the same, but they are arranged procedurally to give a bit more variety as time goes on

Donut: Interesting. So besides the standard fantasy elements, what unique things will we be finding in Malevolence?

CumQuaT: You mean aside from the first ever truly infinite game world? ;)

Donut: Haha, I mean more in the places you go and the things you fight. We all have fought skeletons and beholders, but what new things will Malevolence bring?

CumQuaT: Oh, in that regard it’s very much an homage to the classic CRPGs of the late 80s and early 90s. It’s aimed at bringing that experience back, rather than creating a new one. Since no-one else seems to want to do it ;), there’s nothing that is specifically new in Malevolence that you wouldn’t find in those old games. All of the creatures and loot and whatnot are all designed to bring back memories of the old classics, so you’ll find all of your orcs and zombies and minotaurs, etc

Donut: So what do you personally love the most about the game so far, once again sans the infinity.

CumQuaT: How true it’s managed to keep to its predecessors and also the amazing community it has generated :)

Donut: So the beta recently came out, what features can we expect in the next iteration that you are excited for?

CumQuaT: Well, we’ll be sorting out a few major bug fixes first, which is inevitable after opening up to so many different system types but our first major content release will include the quick-travel system, procedural magic system and monsters will start roaming the countryside at night :)

Donut: So how does the procedural magic system work?

CumQuaT: So with the magic system, basically every spell can have up to 3 sub-effects which combine into the final spell. these effects are chosen from a list of effects that are available in the game, and mixed together using procedurally generated values based off of the players stats so, for example, you might find a spell that does 50 points of lightning damage and 20 points of fire damage, while taking whatever damage you deal and giving it back to you as health the game, after generating a spell, works out how powerful the spell is and applies to it a level at which the player must be to be able to use it, based on how powerful the spell is it does all of this intelligently on its own

Donut: Is there some sort of level cap? Hard to imagine finding a level sixty thousand spell.

CumQuaT: no level cap, no. but it does get harder and harder to increase in level over time though we do have some level 12’s running around already

Donut: What do you see as the feasible max a player is going to hit? And if god forbid we find super hero level thousand players running around, will the spells scale with them?

CumQuaT: Yep, everything scales :D in my simulations of play time, I saw people that were level 120 running around (yes, I ran simulations to see how feasible an infinite game was hahaha)

Donut: So scaling enemies as well?

CumQuaT: Yep! The game even keeps a track of what gear you’re using, and tries to throw you challenges from time to time to “inspire” you to upgrade your equipment there’s actually an underlying AI “dungeon master” so to speak, which tweaks the game based on your play style

Donut: So back to spells, one thing I loved about the Might and Magic series (and the later RTS iterations) was the uniqueness of spells. Dimension doors, magic mirrors, meteors. Will we see anything like these in the game or are we limited to buffs and offensive spells?

CumQuaT: Oh there are quite a few things in the works. think of the spell list more like the spells from the Diablo Series. Things like firewalls and portals and whatnot. We want people to feel POWERFUL in the game, not contained

Donut: Armageddon spell confirmed? :P

CumQuaT: Haha the visual I had in my head was for a level 20 character to just be able to fill a whole frikkin room with fire, annihilating everything within in that regard, I guess you could say that D&D has been a bit of an inspiration with the magic system the effects all emanate from the player. It’s very player centric.

Donut: So will the players be able to harm themselves using their magic? I assume lighting a room on fire won’t be very healthy.

CumQuaT: Actually, no. The hero that you play is actually MADE of magic, so magic that they create can’t harm them. monsters, however, will soon be able to use their own magic, which will DEFINITELY spoil your day

Donut: I suddenly feel as if I did not do enough research on the hero. What differences between monster magic and the heroes own will we be seeing?

CumQuaT: Not much. anything that the player will be able to use, magical monsters will be able to as well, though usually in a theme you’ll find fire mages, water enchantresses, poisoners, etc so, while any one enemy will generally stick to one type of magic, you can potentially find an enemy with ANY sort of magic

Donut: Interesting. One thing players of many modern RPG’s find annoying is that enemies scale instead of just having areas with harder enemies. Will we see this or is it straight scaling?

CumQuaT: Actually, Malevolence has an invisible biome system for difficulty (in addition to its regular biome system for terrain) so you may be in an “easy” biome where the monsters are fine for you, but accidentally, without realising it, wander into a “difficult” biome, where you’re better off just running once you’ve gotten a few levels, you’ll be able to take on that biome (we don’t like linear scaling either)

Donut: Will the game feature some sort of morality system? Will we be able to fight pesky adventurers and skeletons in different biomes or will we only fight evil monsters.

CumQuaT: Only evil monsters for now. The thing most people tend to forget while looking at Malevolence is that it is, in fact, a roguelike. And it plays like one :)

Donut: Aw, my chaotic evil character will be so bored. We are almost done, so lets get more general. What are the biggest changes we are going to see in the final release?

CumQuaT: We actually keep a running list of what’s coming on our testing blog: http://malevolencealphatest.blogspot.com.au/ the best bits will be the magic, the boss monsters and the guilds, I think, given the feedback we’ve recieved on the game so far that’s at least what people seem most excited about

Donut: Will you be continuing support after the game is released?

CumQuaT: Oh, for sure especially since the first expansion is already planned and we’ll be moving onto it pretty much immediately after version 1.0 of the game comes out. One thing you learn very quickly as a game dev is that it doesnt matter how finished you think your game is, there are ALWAYS bug fixes to be done ;) with a project this large, and a body of this many people, it’s impossible to have the game 100% perfect and, really, I want everyone to have the best possible time playing it. so i’ll be working hard on the updates and fixes for as long as I need to be. I love my fans and players! they’ve been so supportive and vocal throughout the last 18 months, and I owe it to them to be worth their attentions

Donut: For our final question, what do you think the end point is? What is the end game for Malevolence?

CumQuaT: To complete every single thing on the list I just sent haha after that, just to sort out any little bugs that are left. The community that has built up is AMAZING, and it’s become very self-sufficient. because of how cool they are, i’ll likely keep dropping new surprises in for them and such And then, of course, there may be a Malevolence II, or another expansion all comes down to how popular the game is

Donut: And then in the 3DO fashion, we will then get a Malevolence RTS

CumQuaT: Ahaha definitely not though I can say – without revealing too much – that there do exist plans to put Malevolence into a couple of new forms both of which shall excite fans of the game a GREAT deal

Donut: Thank you, this has been an enlightening interview.

CumQuaT: Not a problem! Always happy to spread word of the game.

Malevolence: The Sword of Ahkranox is an infinite, procedural CRPG that can be found at http://www.moddb.com/games/malevolence-the-sword-of-ahkranox

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Interview with Paul Kiesling of the Dawn of the Reapers mod for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion.

Mass Effect

Donut: So who are you? What is Dawn of the Reapers?

Paul Kiesling: My real name is Paul Kiesling. I’m the head and only remaining founder of Dawn of the Reapers, a Mass Effect mod for Sins of a Solar Empire (Rebellion)

Donut: Great, how did you begin the mod? Did you just sit down and start modelling?

Paul Kiesling: It’s actually a pretty funny story, like three years ago I wasn’t a Mass Effect fan at all. Couple of friends of mine and I went out to local bar for a few drinks and kept talking all night about it and I started to play it and fell in love with the universe. I saw after playing it that it would translate well into a game I knew and loved at the time: Sins of a Solar Empire.

Donut: Everyone knows getting drunk is the best source of inspiration, it is how the Bastion came to be after all. So besides translating Mass Effect to Sins of a Solar Empire, what are your main goals for the mod?

Paul Kiesling: I started this wanting to push the SINS engine to its limits, after being given a reality check by my old coder Zombie. What we did is aimed for accuracy. Everything about we do is about aiming for perfection. My co-lead Skyline and I will spend hours fussying about a stupid little detail on skins. We want that immersive experience that our fans love from the ME universe.

Donut: Not enough devs embrace the lore they go off of. So Dawn of the Reapers is starting to really come along, what part of the release are you most excited for?

Paul Kiesling: Cerberus, they were my dream child. When ME3 came out I had to redo everything. I was lost because i had made so many ships and had no idea what to do with them. Cerberus offered me a conduit to responsibly use and hone my imagination and now they are the most completed faction, and looking to be our first completed one. Everything they are has come from my imagination and im actually really proud of that.

Donut: So after release, what features are you excited to add, if any?

Paul Kiesling: I think multiplayer is going to be our big hit, there are unofficial polls all the time about which faction each person wants to play as. Its always split pretty even across the board but like I said before this mods intent is immersion. So having huge fleets duking out over a multiplayer environment i honestly cant wait to see.

Donut: Speaking of fleets, how do you manage the size of the reapers and pure power they hold? I doubt we will be seeing an equal number of reapers to other factions.

Paul Kiesling: Reaper (Faction) fleets will consist of heretic geth, and collector ships as well which will make up of the bulk of the fleet. Reapers (Units) consist of a smaller part put still important part of the fleet acting as flagships and buff units causing your existing units to operate better. The amount of reapers playable in game will not be as immense as ME but still will allote for some pretty pleasing battles. We are having tons of fun just messing around with it in the alpha right now.

Donut: So what unique features of the game can you tell me about that aren’t already in vanilla.

Paul Kiesling: Reaper indoctrination is one we are working on right now

Donut: Can you flesh that out?

Paul Kiesling: Sure, as in ME Reapers broadcast essentially a field that warps the mind of organics bending them to the will of The Reapers as a whole. Thats what we are doing right now in SINS. Reaper units will possess a passive ability that will start convert lower echelons of an opposing fleet as a prolonged battle continues that “taint” will work its way through the ranks from frigate-cruiser-capital ship. Most battles don’t usually last long enough to convert cap ships but if its big and you have enough reaper units you would be surprised what can happen.

Donut: Damn, scary. So moving on from the reapers, the other two factions are the Citadel Alliance and Cerbreus, correct?

Paul Kiesling: Indeed. Citadel Council and Cerberus. Each containing two subfactions that allow for use of different ships and fighting styles.

Donut: Oh? Can you tell us more about the subfactions? Or how they work at least.

Paul Kiesling: Well we kind of played off the ME universe when designing the subfactions. For the Citadel Council we have Paragon and Renegade subfactions.
Just as the player makes the choice in ME1 to save the Destiny Ascension or let it be destroyed that decision affects your titan.
Paragon gets the Destiny Ascension as the titan while renegade awards the Volus Dreadnought, a funny little easter egg we still giggle about in development, there are more changes between each faction but some hasn’t been hashed out yet.

Donut: Glad to hear the Volus finally have taken their rightful position as masters of the military. So now that we are wrapping up, what do you think the defining feature of the mod is?

Paul Kiesling: Asymmetrical game play. We offer different game-play styles for each faction, something that you don’t see to many mods do. Of course for my boys over at Sins of the Prophets.

Donut: Thank you for the wonderful interview, when can we expect to see the mod?

Paul Kiesling: July 13th 2013, thats our estimated date of release

Donut: Hopefully we can talk again then.

Paul Kiesling is the founder and lead developer of Dawn of the Reapers, an up and coming mod for Sins of a Solar Empire: Rebellion. Dawn of the Reapers can be found at http://www.moddb.com/mods/mass-effect-dawn-of-the-reapers

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Interview with Nicolai Aaroe of the MISERY mod for Stalker: Call of Pripyat

MOD_profile_10_01

Donut: Why don’t you start off by telling us about you and the mod.

N. Aaroe: Personally I am not that interesting. What’s interesting is the dev team and its combination, we come from many parts of the world and we coop in such a wonderful pace.
Globalism can work wonders and MISERY is in my opinion a prime example of just that, everyone in the team is really hyped about creating the kind of Stalker that we really love and will be playing for a long time.

Donut: Of course, you have amassed quite the team. Speaking about the kind of Stalker you love, why did you choose the route the mod has taken?

N. Aaroe: Difficulty, sadness, horror and overall ‘misery’ seemed to die out a bit in the Stalker series. SHoC was (IS) such a great game and CoP introduced several interesting aspects, veteran stalker gamers like myself needed to feel that challenging gameplay once again.
However the mentioned aspects of the original game seemed more flat in CoP which generated huge potential for an atmospheric improvement. But ambitions just kept growing and so did the team upon the release of MISERY, a year ago I would never have thought that this mod would have grown into what it is now.
That is only because of a powerful team effort as we all have different skills and ideas.

Donut: So how did the mod begin exactly? By the sounds of it, it was no where near this size not very long ago.

N. Aaroe: It began right after my release of I Work Alone which is now an outdated compilation mod for CoP, I had the idea of making a ‘black version’ of I Work Alone that was to be designed as a hardcore version of I Work Alone.
But as mentioned the ambitions simply kept growing even back then, so it actually made more sense to simply announce a new modding project. That project was given birth as MISERY 1.0 and it is far more quality packed than I Work Alone although it still have its issues, MISERY is a better mod in every sense of the word. And it introduces so much more content that I Work Alone ever did.
The development of MISERY 1.0 was mainly a one man project gathering material from the best modders around the world and combining it into a full concept. MISERY 2.0 is now a team development between me and these modders.

Donut: I remember playing I Work Alone and then MISERY and not realizing they were the same team, interesting. So MISERY 2.0 is coming out, what is the most exciting feature in your mind?

N. Aaroe: Oh man, there are so many! In general we enhanced so many game play elements like having medics charge you money for their work and batteries now serve a purpose, many people ask for screenshots and in game videos but to be honest there is little difference to notice in these things.
The main update from version 1.1 to version 2.0 will be in the depth of it all. When you’ve played an hour you will begin to feel the depth and care that we implemented in almost every aspect, New Ordnance will also take MISERY into the extremes. To be honest I think that we will present the FPS mod that has the greatest weapon diversity ever laid on the table, If everything works out well you are likely to have a full play through without seeing the same weapon twice.

Donut: Very interesting, so after MISERY 2.0 is released, what do you see happening? Where do you want to go after?

N. Aaroe: I really don’t know. To begin with I will start a full play through of MISERY 2.0 when it releases. A play through that involves a lot of role playing. I might decide to take a break from modding afterwards and actually enjoy gaming instead of constantly altering, editing and testing things in an effort to improve things that I don’t like. I will be playing Metro 2034 and see who in the MISERY dev team that is motivated to continue the MISERY concept.
These have been some extremely busy weeks and we all deserve to kick back and actually enjoy the product that we made.

Donut: Well I wish you luck in that, you certainly deserve a break. So earlier you mentioned that players will never see the same weapon twice, would you like to elaborate?

N. Aaroe: Thank you.
Okay, let’s take a Makarov PM. It can be found in a dark corner in a basement. All rusty and corroted but it works and it is free loot/weaponry. This handgun can also be bought in a never before used form for a lot of money. Obviously it rarely jams and it may even have some preinstalled upgrades right from the factory in its modern production line. Later on you might be able to trade a camouflaged version of the Makarov from a Freedomer. Or a lone Stalker that is packing a customized version of a Makarov with enhanced alluminium interiors for light weight. The same gun but in different forms. Most vanilla weapons in MISERY 2.0 will be featured in 3-5 variations.
This gigantic workload has just been implemented and we are now about to test whether this breaks memory consumption in the game or not. It it does we just tone it down a bit. As simple as that.

Donut: Mhmm, sounds good. So one complaint you often got was that the game was too hard or difficult or simply not ‘fun’ enough, how do you respond to these people?

N. Aaroe: This mod is not for everyone. It is not designed for the community, for popularity or any economic gain. It is a product of a Stalker loving team and we just share our mod with the world.
If people hate some challenging aspects of it and it breaks the game for them too bad, but then again, I find myself (and others) time and time again willing to assist on how to edit simple files to shape it more into their personal preferences. A mod will never be perfect. It will never please all of us.
MISERY in particular seems to have its haters as well as its extremely supportive fans.

Donut: A respectable position. Well look at the time, it looks like it’s time to wrap it up. One last question, if you could add one thing to MISERY that you know you won’t get in before the patch comes out, what would it be?

N. Aaroe: Time runs fast when you enjoy a good conversation huh?
I have a long list of those things. If these were to be written in published form I am confident that I would feel the pressure to add them in, but then impatience would arise as the release would have to be prolonged yet again so I think that I will keep these to myself for now. But rest assured that the ideas are there… but is the team for a MISERY 3.0 production (myself included)?
We will have to see about that …

Donut: Thank you for your time and good luck with the mod.

N. Aaroe: I respect people with a mature approach to the world of gaming and the gaming itself, thank you for an interesting interview.
I hope that you find my answers worth your time.

Best regards
Nicolai
/on behalf of the MISERY dev team

Nicolai Aaroe is the lead developer of the award winning mod: MISERY, for the game Stalker: Call of Pripyat. Misery can be found at http://www.moddb.com/mods/stalker-misery

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Interview with Mark Johnson of Ultima Ratio Regum

D2

Donut: Right, so do you want to tell us who you are and a bit about URR?

Mark Johnson: Certainly. My name’s Mark Johnson. I’m 23 and from the UK. By day I’m working on a doctorate, and by night I’m the one-man team behind a game called ‘Ultima Ratio Regum’, which is Latin for ‘the last argument of Kings’ (roughly), a phrase used to refer to warfare (like Clausewitz’s bit about ‘war is policy by other means’, etc). It’s a kind of… world/history simulator, roguelike-like, somewhere between Dwarf Fortress, Civilization, Tomb Raider, Europa Universalis, and a bunch of other things. It’s the first thing I’ve ever coded (not even a ‘Hello World’ before this project) and, despite the common wisdom to never start on a huge project, it’s been going fine so far for the last 2 years. It also has a big ‘generative art’ component, too, which there will be more of in the next release.

Donut: Heh, inspiring. So what do you think are the big definitive features of URR?

Mark Johnson: I think one aspect is greater breadth of generation than most other games, particularly artistically – it can generate landscapes, planetary systems, entire heraldic emblems (next release), flags, religious icons, and that kind of stuff. I’m really interested in seeing how many “graphical” aspects I can assign to procedural generation, whilst still using (slightly expanded) ASCII/ANSI. Otherwise, a massive world, a lot of history, and (in the future) a lot of political/social aspects, which is where it intersects with my academic world (or when it will intersect, anyway)!

Donut: How deep do you plan on making your politics? Will we be seeing basic standard things such as stabbing a king to mess with the kingdom or will it go deeper, like Crusader Kings 2 or books and shows like A Game of Thrones.

Mark Johnson: That’s a big question. Well… with the history generation, so far, I’m trying to include all the features I want to be in the “real” game later down the road. So kings can be poisoned, stabbed, die in battle, knocked off the throne, drown on in ill-fated voyage; there might be challengers, pretenders to the throne, regents who try to seize power, etc. Civilizations range from monarchies to theocracies and chiefdoms to stratocracies, and vary in other ways – for example, civs have different marriage customs. Some are monogamous, some have polyamory/andry/gyny, and that affects court politics. Anything I think of politically, I’ll add to history gen first, then get it working “in-game”, as it were, afterwards. A bit of history gen I need to work on soon is stuff around rebellions, revolutions, secession, etc etc…

Donut: Interesting. Let’s move on, army building and large battles seems to be something you are interested in. How far do you think you will go to this? How will the game even handle such large battles?

Mark Johnson: In terms of “how far”, I’d like to get battles with several hundred a side, at least. In terms of how the game will handle, that’s the tricky one. Basic AI tests I’ve done have been fine up to a hundred or two, but with complex AI that not just need to fight, but calculate damage, command, and handle things like NPCs moving between map grids, spawning, blah blah blah… I might have to have a system whereby the more soldiers present, the simpler the AI, but I’d rather avoid that route. Although there will be a lot to calculate, I’m *hoping* that won’t slow battles down too much, or if it does, all the gory detail will make up for it!

Donut: Interesting, how will the player be involved in this? I assume they can lead armies, but how will you make managing an entire army pratical and enjoyable?

Mark Johnson: The player can indeed – and that’s the real question! Practical, I don’t intend to allow the player to be omniscient over the battlefield, and I think that’s quite a new idea, and I’m interested to see how it plays out. You’ll only be able to see what you can see, and will have to send out riders, ask for reports, etc etc, to find out about the rest of the battlefield. On the other hand, I think that should really increase the subjective scope (as it were) of the battle, because the player will only witness a part at a time, even when in charge. Horses, I expect, will be pretty important for a commanding player to get around quickly.

Donut: If the player can only command via riders and such, how drawn out will battles be? I assume since you are going down a realistic route that a wound or two will take down most soldiers. How will you prevent battles from ending in a matter of minutes?

Mark Johnson: From the CPU slowdown, naturally!
Or, for a real answer, wounds will be pretty deadly, but armour will offer a lot of protection. A lot of battles I’d have to have play out in different stages, have reinforcements, falling back, etc – I’m hoping that while “everyone run forward and stab things” will result in a quicker outcome, both the player (and AI) should be able to gain a lot more by being more careful/thoughtful with troop deployment, etc. And just the time taken to attack, issue orders, move across terrain, etc etc

Donut: Haha, good to hear. Speaking of realism, you recently just dropped almost all fantasy from the game. How has this changed your plans for the game or made some more difficult? Do you hold regrets?

Mark Johnson: All high fantasy/low fantasy is gone, though there will be remain a few “anomalies”, to use my current phrase! Anyway, good question. It’s changed my plans towards something much less like DF than it first was, for starters – in hindsight, I did begin very DF-esque, but I’ve noticed nobody has said URR was really DF-like in months, since I dropped the fantasy elements, focused on the generative art and politics elements, and pushed for a clear historical period (i.e. dawn of gunpowder). As for regrets… no, I don’t think so. I like a good fantasy roguelike as much as the next person (who likes fantasy roguelikes), but I feel the direction I’m now taking is so new, the interest/excitement of pursuing that route more than makes up for it.

Donut: Of course, I think most people can’t honestly say they didn’t think of Dorf Fort when they first saw the game. You mentioned dawn of gunpowder, does this mean you are setting the game in a renaissance period?

Mark Johnson: Oh yeah, I mean DF is certainly a big inspiration, even if I’m now careening madly away towards uncharted lands. I have a blog entry mostly written, actually, about my inspirations – some would surprise, I think! Anyway, yes, it’s set roughly between 1600 and 1700, but with some alternate history elements, so a few historical events are “earlier” and some “later” than they happened in the real world, but I’m trying to make URR very un-determinstic, and stress the trillions of different ways the world could have turned out.

Donut: Mhmm, so I take it gunpowder won’t be making a show than?

Mark Johnson: Gunpowder will, but rarely – the game is set so that once it finished history generation, it will stop when only a few civilizations have figured out gunpowder technologies. I intend to balance gunpowder weapons, however, so that it’s not a big “improvement” in warfare, but more a shift towards a very different kind.

Donut: I think many people will be surprised that the game isn’t as early as it initially seemed. Now, you are currently working on religion. How will religion effect the player outside of politics? Will we see the RPG standard of gods simply giving the player goodies? Do gods even exist in the URR world?

Mark Johnson: Gods do not exist, but that doesn’t mean people don’t believe they do. If you do what a god “wants”, then those who follow that god may reward you. Whilst in the real world the religion/cult distinction is a subjective one, for gameplay reasons, I’ve made the two very separate. Religions are mostly on the international relations/grand strategy level, and deal with diplomacy, crusades, etc, whilst “cults” are mostly on the micro level, and deal with worships of specifics gods from a pantheon, or similar. If you find a cult, say, that worships a god that is generally depicted as wielding a sword (generated deity images are another future plan), and you do something to honour that god, the cult may give you particularly rare swords, artifacts  etc. I like the god mechanics of Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup, and I wanted to have something similar, but where the gods weren’t actually present!

Donut: Will we see evil gods? Cults based around doing evil things and such?

Mark Johnson: Oh yes – you can absolutely count on it.

Donut: While we are on the subject of evil. How black and white will things get? To use Dorf Fort as an example, goblins live around torturing people and being greedy while other races are much more benevolent.

Mark Johnson: Mostly grey, I hope. Civilizations will always offer justifications for their actions. One future mechanic I’m interested in is that the “legitimacy” (this is a big theme in my academic work) of states will be dependent upon the kinds of explanations/discourses they give out for their actions – if they can justify what they do, their citizens will be happier going to war. “We need to defend our homeland” is, crudely, rather more compelling than “I, the King, desire a new holiday resort – you, plebs, must give your lives to secure it”. Obviously a daft example, but I’m sure you get what I mean!

Donut: Very interesting. How will peoples personalities effect things? Will we see kings who are just greedy for land or tend to have sadistic streaks effecting foreign policy?

Mark Johnson: Yes, absolutely – currently when historical figures are generated, they are given preferences for war, art, music, diplomacy, defense  attack, etc etc. These values are modulated by general civilizational preferences – a bloodthirsty tyrant is more likely in a militaristic civ – but there’s still a lot of variation. Again, though, a warmonger in a pacifist civ will have a tough time convincing his/her people…

Donut: I love it. How will player kingdoms work if they are there at all? Will it be like Mount and Blade where you have to take over a city and then announce yourself as a king?

Mark Johnson: If you mean kingdoms players set up, they can’t, though I intend to allow players to take control of an existing kingdom (or queendom, caliphate, khanate, hagiocracy, empire, dominion, whatever). I’m not yet sure about that, as raising a full “army” without state support will probably be very, very difficult. There will be city-states, though, and maybe I’ll implement something similar with them. Large-scale military activity will be generally as part of a war, not action in itself. That’s a good way to put it.

Donut: So we wont be seeing new kingdoms and such pop up? Will players be able to become vassals of existing kingdoms and possibly end up rebelling and taking control through that?

Mark Johnson: I don’t think new kingdoms will appear, no. Hmm… it’s honestly too early to say. “Very possibly” is the best response I can give for now on that one! Actually, yeah, a kingdom “fracturing” sounds more like something I might add.

Donut: Hah of course, sorry my personal dreams of Game of URR is starting to cloud my interview. Let’s move on.

Mark Johnson: Haha – not a problem, and I hope to meet *most* of those dreams, though I can pretty confidently say “new” kingdoms are a no, but kingdoms emerging from existing kingdoms might be valid. Though, actually, now I think about it, I’d have to rework a bit of history gen…

Donut: So we no longer have different humanoid species, but with colonialism being a part, will we see certain races being looked down upon? Sort of like how Europeans saw the American Indians as less human than them, or even animals.

Mark Johnson: Yes – colonizing races/nations/etc will generally not be particularly well-disposed to those being colonized. Again, far future goals, but I’d really like to have some aspects around colonialism, and the colonized/colonizer (is that a word?) dynamics, and perhaps have the game generate various forms of troubled relationships between races, based on history, perceived slights, wars, etc etc. I will either totally omit description of skin colour from NPC descriptions, or have it tailored to climate – not sure yet.

Donut: How will colonialism work? If a player starts out on the primitive continent, will they be able to sit on a mountain and watch the colonists land in boats? Or will it be settled before worldgen?

Mark Johnson: Some areas will have been invaded/colonized, some won’t, in worldgen – my intention currently is that you will not be able to start in a non-modern region of the world, though I fully want you to explore them. It’s that kind of seafaring, exploring, mercantile feeling I want to evoke – of having the technology and the inclination to seek out the rest of the world, but having no clue what’s actually there. It would have been nice to let you start in any civ, but then I would have to reveal all civilizations to the player up-front to let them choose. This way, the “modern” civilizations are revealed, the player chooses, but any other civs (unless already discovered) remain hidden. I’d like the game to start with maybe 2/3rds of the average world map revealed/”discovered”, and the rest is up to the player or NPCs.

Donut: So how will the game handle the boats than? Will you be able to hop on it, and then be whisked away on what is basically a moving building for several months? Naval combat?

Mark Johnson: AH, boats. Boats are a big one. Naval combat is, hopefully, going to be a huge part of the game one day. Boats I’d like to range from canoes to Ships of the Line. I’m still working on how it’ll all be represented, though, but I have some ideas…

Donut: Sounds great, well two more questions when we hit the twenty mark. Right on time too. So let’s get more general, what features do you most want to expand upon you have yet to tell us about?

Mark Johnson: Hmmm. I’ve said a lot about the generative art aspect, naval warfare, exploration… at the moment, anyway, the next release is focusing on history and civilization generation, and some early dungeons (in the broad sense, meaning temples, tombs, ruins, etc). The dungeons, of course, don’t have any monsters, but I’m working on some interesting (and I hope reasonably innovative) ideas to keep dungeons interesting without a combat aspect, which I’ll be gradually revealing over the few months as I work on them.

Donut: Can’t wait, to end it. Where do you see the game going in a year?

Mark Johnson: In a year from now, there will probably have been two more releases. The first will bring civilizations (in the abstract, no cities or whatever yet), flags, religions, families, heraldry, and 1600-1700 years of history per generated world, along with some early dungeons with a few features present – these are partly to get some actual gameplay in, and partly to get feedback on how they work, design, what’s in them, etc. The release after that I expect to heavily continue work on dungeons and the like. This next release might have some more mechanics – food, sleep, etc – or that might be the release afterwards. Hard to say at this point. Either way, all my focus at the moment is between the “flavour” stuff, i.e. history and everything around it (which will in the future have a big gameplay aspect, though doesn’t yet) and the early gameplay around dungeons, particularly at the moment in terms of getting buildings to spawn, getting interiors to match exteriors, generating layouts that are more interesting than your average Nethack level (not to disparage a game I love, but the level generators are far from fascinating). The first glimpse of the first URR building will in fact be in the next devblog entry upload, so I’m not going to say exactly what it is, though the information will be up in a couple of days!

Donut: Great. This has been an awesome first interview, thank you for your time.

Mark Johnson: You’re welcome! I enjoyed it too. Do let me know when you upload it!

Ultima Ratio Regum is an indie rogue like by Mark Johnson that can be found at http://www.ultimaratioregum.co.uk/game/

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One small step for the Bastion

Hello! This blog is going to contain reviews on indies and such, and other gaming related goodies. More to come later as I finish up the first content, expect less boring posts very soon!

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