Happy New Year from OSG1. Late last year the guys at Devillusion Entertainment, makers of the browser game Aloriah, set aside some time to talk to me about their game and the development process behind it. It’s a great interview and I can’t thank them enough for giving us some insight as to all the work it takes to give us something to do while procrastinating. Alright everyone, enjoy!
OSG1: First, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Could you introduce yourself and tell us what your role is in Devillusion?
DW: My name is Daniel Westerberg and I’m the CEO and Lead Programmer of Devillusion. My current responsibilities in Aloriah are programming the game client and the overall realm architecture programming. The realm is the part that takes care of the accounts, i.e. login and registration process and such.
OSG1: I understand that Aloriah came about after Jonas Wikberg and some others were inspired by Travian at University. Could you tell us more of this story? What was the process of going from inspiration to forming a company and creating a game?
DW: Jonas and I went to school together during our university time and that’s where we met each other. We played Travian for a while but got bored really quick. Travian offers very little depth and I would never played the game more than once since there are very little dynamics in the game, everything is almost the same all the time. That was also the main reason to why we started thinking about doing our own game. The general idea was something like “what if we combine the dynamics and interactions of a “real game” and put it in a browser based game?”. The question was why noone had done something like this before? All the games on the market were almost the same and just more or less copies. This motivated us to thinking we could bring a new generation of browser games to the market and that was the start line for our work.
OSG1: Can you tell us a little about the development process? Who is “Devillusion Entertainment AB”? How many people have been working on this game and for how long?
DW: After we came up with the idea we had a long period where we just wrote a huuuge document containing all of our ideas and the concepts behind each and every one of them. This took us about 6 months and after that everything was clear to us: this would be a new masterpiece! We contacted a friend of ours, Jacob Westman, who is an interaction and layout designer and asked if he would join us (imagine if it would just be programmers working on this project, omg!). We worked together for about 6 more months prototyping everything and trying our ideas out. After that we realized that it was time to form a company and do this for real! We founded the company in the beginning of summer 2009. The name “Devillusion” was decided almost instant. That name had been in my head for many years and I always wanted to start a game company with that name. Devillusion is a combination of the words “development” and “illusion”. The thought behind that is that we develop things so good you might not be sure if it’s real; “Making illusions come alive”. Another plus is the word “devil” that gives a nice touch to it!
When we founded the company it was just us three. We got in touch with an old friend of Jacob, Nicolas Chifflet, who is a graphical artist and he decided he wanted to work with us so he was hired just a couple of days after. His unique graphical style is another thing that really sets Aloriah apart from other games. It’s a nice combination of vivid colors and a comic touch mixed together with raw brutality and epic story telling.
We worked together for another year, releasing an alpha and a beta version along the way. We came in contact with a friend of Nicolas, David Åhlander, who is a musician and by that time we decided it was time to bring some music into the game. He was the perfect guy and he and Nicolas started working on the intro video together and the result got pretty awesome as you all know! He has been working on some in-game music after that that we will soon release in the game.
The game was released 1st of September 2010, almost a year after the first alpha version was released. All and all it took us about 2 years from scratch to public 1.0 release. The game is never finished though and we constantly work on improving it all the time of course.
OSG1: One of the key features in Aloriah, and what really sets it apart from Travian, is being able to move around on the world map. It seems a little inspired by Heroes of Might and Magic. What led to adopting this to an online strategy game, and what were the biggest challenges, either technically or from a game-play standpoint?
DW: I’ll let our game designer Jonas Wikberg answer to these.
JW: Well, games from the Heroes of Might and Magic-serie (HoMM) have had unique and interesting game elements even from the beginning. One thing that has separated them from other strategy games is the turn-based approach. They have also had a very distinguished map interaction and system for heroes and armies.
After playing Travian for a few rounds it really felt like the world was very static and that much more could be done to browser game to make things more dynamic. The thoughts echoing in our heads were “Why isn’t there a browser game more like HoMM out there? Why don’t we make one ourselves?” So by taking Turn-based concepts from HoMM and browser game concepts from Travian-like games and merging these together we kind of ended up with Aloriah.
The transition of taking concepts from a turn-based game into a slow time strategy game (such as Aloriah) is pretty smooth since both of these genres have a lot in common and both work along timelines that put no real pressure on the user time-wise. What has been difficult has been how to implement good interaction methods for the user to control the armies on the map. When playing a normal strategy game usually both the left- and right mouse button are used – but in a browser game users expect to only use the left mouse button.
Initially we used an interaction method where we switched the mouse cursor and set their interaction in a certain mode after they clicked some kind of ‘lay-command’-button, but it became frustrating for our users since they didn’t understand or like that they could not interact in their normal ways in this mode. Eventually we developed a better system – the one we have now – which lets users still interact with the game like they usually do without switching mode. If they want to lay commands they first need to have an army selected and then simply hold the left mouse button on the cell that they want to go to or explore – kind of like what we have seen in adventure such as Full Throttle or the Monkey Islands-series earlier. However, neither of this is standard in any way in a browser– but once the users have learnt how to do this they seem to think it works pretty smooth.
Apart from this we are constantly working hard to improve the map interaction and the clarity regarding this for the players. Since our map is more dynamic than games such as Travian we can’t simply let players pan the map around with their mouse since we need to make sure that the latest active content is shown if they choose to load a part of the map. We have however a lot of ideas on how to make scrolling the map easier, as well as showing a better overview of the world for the players. We hope we can get these into action in a patch not too far away.
OSG1: What else is unique about your game? Why should players play Aloriah instead of another browser-based strategy game?
JW: There are several things that differs Aloriah from many of the other browser-based strategy games!
– Aloriah has very clear goals and is driven by the Scenario that the server is running. The current available scenario is that the world is invaded by Dragons. Everyone on the server work together (very much like Ahn Quiraji worked in World of Warcraft) to do their best to contribute in the war. Players can also follow the progress of the world from the scenario page and estimate how close players may be to ending the world by reaching the end goals. Hopefully we will get time to add more scenarios and thereby doubling or tripling the lifetime of the game – maybe one where the Gods venture down onto the world and start wreaking havoc themselves?
– All your progress isn’t really lost when a server resets – you may lose your current civilization but your account has still earned different achievements during the ongoing round which does have an in-game positive effect in-game in future rounds. You could say that the goal of this system is to somewhat tie the different scenarios and rounds together into a campaign.
– The game looks different and feels different depending on your playstyle – if you choose to be good you will have a friendly-looking interface and your villages will be brimming with flowers and light. On the other side if you choose to play evil things will look cruel and pools of blood and skulls will be there and about in your villages. I can’t say much about the other races yet – but presumably they would have their own unique interface as well. The goal is to create different users experiences very much like Starcraft 1 and 2 have managed to create distinct a visual feeling, sound setting and game play style for each race.
OSG1: Where did you find players to start alpha testing? Did you just use your friends or did you make announcements to browser-based game sites or..?
DW: We actually used a lot of friends and their friends and so on. We managed to get a small hype before the release, at least within our network of friends. We were talking to people many months before the release and making them aware that “soon! Soon…” they would be able to play this awesome game that we all had been waiting for! When the alpha version was released we were all very excited and everything went very smooth the first hours. We were very happy and the players started joining and the game ran just fine without any major problems. It might be important to note that the game was not near as extensive as now of course! You couldn’t even fight with other players! 😉
OSG1: Since the game was made public, what’s been the most frustrating part as a developer? What’s been the most rewarding? Is there anything in the initial game concept that didn’t make it into the Alpha, or perhaps that has changed as a response to the players?
DW: The most frustrating parts are without a doubt when something goes wrong. Every now and then a bug pops up of course but I mean when things are going really wrong. When we are testing the material it all seems to run fine but once uploaded to the live server you start seeing problems immediately, it doesn’t seem to matter how much testing you do! This is of course a natural part of software development but still a frustrating one!
Another thing that is really frustrating is when things outside of our area go wrong, like network failures or server providers that go down. Players sometimes get so angry when something isn’t working, and it’s our responsibilities to fix these problems and make everyone happy again. Players often complain about the time they lose or the advantage they can’t keep control of but in the end they usually becomes more happy than before when we fix the issues.
The most rewarding things are the feedback we get from our players. We have always worked closely with our community and they have a lot to say about the game. They are involved in the process and this most often make them very happy and it gives us a very good picture of what the game should be like. Lot of ideas that have been implemented in the game comes from our players.
When we released the alpha the game had maybe 10% of the content it has today, maybe even less than that. We thought we could reach for the skies immediately but we soon understood that we had to take it a little bit slower. The beta was something we were very happy with, this was more or less a complete game compared to the alpha.
The development progress in the game has been constantly moving since the first day and we are working all day long to try to implement all our ideas, there are still things to come!
OSG1: Do you have any tips for my upcoming fight with the mother dragon?
DW: Haha, well I can’t spoil too much of the fun! There are some tricks I could share such as composing your army with regards to the elements in the game. I don’t know much more than that, I haven’t even had a chance of trying to slay the Mother Dragon myself except in our test environment! Perhaps Jonas Wikberg could give you some suggestions in the forum; he is the designer after all!
Oh, just a quick one before I forget: try to take her down as quick as possible once you are fighting her! That is all I can say 😉
OSG1: Anything else you’d like to add?
DW: I want to take this opportunity to once again thank all our players for their effort in helping us developing one of the best browser games ever! You are what drive us doing what we do!