9 April, 2011
I love indie games. Sure, I still play big triple-A games, but those can sometimes feel like empty calories. The thing I love about indie games is that they have the opportunity to do something a bit different. They don't have to cater to the lowest common denominator, so they can do things like work with ignored genres or focus, focus on a specific element like A.I., or even try out new types of gameplay. Yes, sometimes you'll find pretentious crap or lazy developers who slop together a game in hopes of cashing in on the trend, but when you find something that scratches your itch it's so awesome. (And usually the indies are more willing to chat with you about their game.)
I was approached by Leszek Sliwko, author of the game Age of Fear. Age of Fear is a fantasy turn-based strategy game. Looks like the kind of thing that would definitely be of interest for people who read my blog, so I figured I'd get Leszek to do a quick interview about his experiences developing the game.
1. Who are you and what is your background? Where are you from?
Hi, I am Leszek Sliwko from Poland, Lower-Silesia region. I have studied on Wroclaw University of Technology and got my Master of Science there. I did few courses in meta-heuristic algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (it was called Computing Logic or something similar then) and found that I really like this area of science.
2. What's the local independent game scene like where you live?
I know few guys who do flash games in their free time, but aside from that I am not aware of any indies in my area :-(
There are few game studios in Poland, like CD Project (The Witcher) or Techland (Call of Juarez), however I would say developing games is not as popular of a trade as in the US.
3. What was your motivation for creating your game? What creative works and other games influenced you?
As I mentioned I am all into AI, but my next big interest are fantasy books. I have read almost all David Eddings and Harry Turtledove's books. Their attention to details and the complexity of their worlds is not something you can find in today's literature. Especially The Belgariad - this is a story of 4000 years old guy's life. And you still want to read it after first 1000 pages :-) I hope I was able at least partially mimic this in Age of Fear's story.
Two games really influenced me: Warlords 3 (low hit points and interesting abilities) and Battle of Wesnoth (story and experience system). Battle of Wesnoth is still my favourite game! I have spend hundreds of hours playing that and many features in AOF were based on what was done in this game. I will even say more - it Battle of Wesnoth implemented ranged attacks and more meaningful magic - Age of Fear will never be created at first place (as I will be busy playing) :-D
4. What was the worst thing that happened during development?
The hardest thing in developing turn-based strategies in AI module. In RTS or shooters computer has advantage of speed or multitasking. In turn-based strategies your game is challenging human brain with his amazing adaptation abilities (perfected over last few million of years) and its save-game button. It's gets especially hard when you want to create non-cheating AI. To give an example - engineers needed about 30 years to create a good chess player. And chess are very simple in comparison to current strategy games.
Age of Fear was originally designed for player to lead up to six characters top, however it was much more fun to have bigger teams fighting each other. Problem was that AI was originally designed to handle individual units only - it was working very fine with small teams (through some simple meta-heuristic optimisation algorithms), but it was totally dumb when it was controlling more characters, who needed to cooperate with each other.
I had to throw the AI module into the bin and start from scratch, but that was really fun work. Today, about 30% of the code is AI module only. In short: planner module creates projects (like KillUnit, HealUnit, ProtectUnit, etc.) and assigns priorities to them (fuzzy logic + influence maps are used). Then units (software agents) pick up the projects where they think they do the best and coordinate project's execution between themselves. The effect is that computer player tries rather to get into better tactical position, than to kill player's units. AI module has been also evolved (by Genetic Algorithm) to optimise weights used on project priorities assignment (but it does not learn anymore).
5. What advice would you give to people working on their first independent game?
Start with good design - I mean really good design - few sheets of papers with ideas are not good enough.
Times for cowboy coders have ended - you just cannot hack together a complex system and hope it will work together. You are doing software application and you need software engineer's approach - there is no easy way around it. Object-oriented design, event-driven architecture, unit tests, etc. - those are your best friends :-)
You will also need a team or you can outsource parts of work - but make sure to describe everything in details. Contractors are very motivated, but they cannot read your mind.
I often have read that you should start with small project - I don't agree. You should start with something that interest you and only then you will have determination to finish it.
Thanks for sharing your insight!
Looks like an interesting game. The graphics aren't spectacular, but it's about what you expect from an indie game. Leszek asked me to play before, but it was during GDC so I didn't get much time. I hope to sit down and spend a bit more time with it soon.
If you are interested and you buy now, there are a few discounts you can take advantage of:
50% off price in first week (until 17th April)
25% off price in second week (until 24th April)
Visit the site http://www.age-of-fear.net/ for more information.