Fun For The Whole Family: Elementary My Dear Majesty Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Igor Perepechenko, Aleksey Chernov and Artem Bochkarev from Alawar Entertainment chat with TPG about their 3D HOG title, Elementary My Dear Majesty.  You will read about how EMDM was developed, thoughts on the PC gaming industry and much more.  Here is a piece of the pie:

Elementary My Dear Majesty is very different from the traditional HOGs currently available. Were you in any way nervous about releasing this title?

Aleksey: Currently there are many 2D HOGs on the market. Creating a 3D game was thus a big risk for us. Until the release we feared that gamers wouldn’t appreciate this new approach. It was only when the game made it to the TOP 3 out of TOP 50 games on the Alawar websites; we heaved a huge sigh of relief. I consider this to be a real success!

Artem: The game’s mechanics are indeed unfamiliar to players: we actively use 3D and puzzles (arcade and physics); the setting is not usual for the genre. There are no psychics or murderers and the game’s graphics are more like ones used in children’s games (though the content is rather mature). We knew that many gamers would simply refuse to play this game, since they are already accustomed to completely different HOGs.

However, any gaming genre needs to be experimented with in order to develop fresh ideas in order to provide gamers with a fresh gaming experience. I hope that players appreciate the idea of a good HOG that is both funny and casual. Perhaps they have even discovered new sides to the genre through our game, i.e., understanding that gathering screwdrivers in grim dungeons is not all there is; one can also have fun catapulting sheep! J

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role in the development of Elementary My Dear Majesty.

Igor: My name is Igor Perepechenko and I am the programming supervisor who wrote most of the game code.

Aleksey: I am Aleksey Chernov, a 3D art and animation genius J. In “Elementary My Dear Majesty”, I developed the graphics, animation, story lines and dialogs. This game is our first experience with Hidden Object Adventures and hopefully, not the last.

Artem: My name is Artem Bochkarev, Alawar Entertainment’s producer who deals with PC projects. When I first saw the game’s prototype, its humor and overall theme enchanted me, so it was my pleasure to join in on its development. As a producer, I gave advice on how to best modify the overall gameplay, the mini games, controls, interface and other important details. The developer, Alawar’s DreamDale studio, solely created all of the game’s storyline, characters, dialogs – they were the creative force driving the game’s creation down to the last detail (including the jokes!)! My main goal was to find a striking balance between the developer’s desire to make a funny and original game with players’ demanding expectations for the genre.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Igor: I’ve been interested in games ever since I was a child. In 2001-2002, I worked for Delcam dealing with CAD\CAM systems development. It was then that I learned 3D graphics and decided to try to create games . I wrote a 3D break-out game entitled “The Magic Ball,” and have been developing games ever since.

Aleksey: I’m an architect, but not all of my projects could be implemented for many reasons: fussy project owners, insufficient funds, construction peculiarities, etc. When working on computer games’ graphics, one can completely forget these hiccups: there is no limit to imagination and fantasy involved. Having tried it once is enough to get hooked.

Where did the idea for Elementary My Dear Majesty come from?

Aleksey: We have always wanted to make a game that would be equally engaging for both adults and kids, filled with good humor, no blood  or violence, etc. We wanted a game that would relax and cheer up the players. The idea for “Elementary My Dear Majesty” was born from this desire and it’s up to you to decide if we have succeeded or not.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from developing Elementary My Dear Majesty?

Igor: The project turned out to be a long one. We started creating our own engine, like we have done for our projects, but then decided that it would be better to  buy one. Our choice fell on NeoAxis Engine. Because NeoAxis used C#, we had to switch from C++ to C#, which required us to learn it first.  We are not sorry that it happened in this way. J

In its current form, how close is Elementary My Dear Majesty to your initial vision?

Igor: Its concept is basically what Aleksey initially proposed. It’s a 3D Hidden Object game where it is possible  to view the scene from each side. The concept is the one of a world of floating islands, where the player takes on the role of a detective who must investigate the kidnapping of a princess. We wanted to create a HOG that would stand out from the rest – a game that would “wow” fans of the genre.

Aleksey: I agree with what Igor says.  The game turned out to be pretty much what we thought it would be like. Alawar’s constructive criticism and advice were very helpful. The game became a lot more interesting thanks in part to their help.

Artem: Initially, the game was much more complicated, like some kind of a hardcore fairy-tale. Eventually, we helped to make it a bit simpler and more engaging, so that the players would be more enticed to give it a go and to better understand and enjoy the game as a whole. I believe that we managed to accomplish this and much more.

Some developers admitted that their games were too difficult in the release version because of their expertise in playing the game.  Please give us your thoughts about how you determined the difficulty levels for Elementary My Dear Majesty and if there were any challenges involved.

Aleksey: It’s true that as one creates and tests the game, it seems easy. It came as a surprise when the beta-testers’ opinion of it was that it was too complicated. Afterwards, we spent ample time simplifying the puzzles and tasks. As a result, the levels difficulty decreased several notches! Now, by default, the game starts in simple mode but there is also a hardcore mode available in the options for those willing to see what our game was initially like.

Igor: Although, by Alawar’s suggestion, we introduced the zoom function (to allow players to take a closer look at a scene in order to help locate hidden objects), and a simplified mode with fewer objects to find and an option to skip the puzzles and other tasks.

Were there any challenges you faced in configuring Elementary My Dear Majesty to the various PC systems?

Igor: Yes, every developer faces these challenges. It is impossible to test the performance for each and every possible configuration due to the enormous quantity of variables. We are thankful to the beta-testers for helping us to find most of the bugs. Yet there are still computers where the game will not run or will it will not work as it should. iOS and console developers are lucky because their hardware is more consistent. This gives them the option of testing everything and certainty of what performs best on these systems.  If it works for the developers on iOS and consoles, it will work for the player too!

Please discuss how you developed the art, design and soundtrack for Elementary My Dear Majesty.

Aleksey: The graphics are really important. The first way to understand and get acquainted with a game is by looking at screenshots. A lot of gamers will ignore the game if the graphics do not impress them. That is why our game design is so amazing! J I believe that everyone will love the bright fairy-tale worlds – we certainly did our best to make it impressive! Each new level contains an intricately detailed island suspended in the sky. Each one has its own special features and inhabitants. We toiled for many long months in order to get them “just right.” A lot of effort was put into compatibility. In 3D, to create stunning images that are compatible to all PC configurations is no easy feat, but we succeeded! J

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being an indie developer?

Igor: Being on call all the time and working late into the night is tough. I know that it is not healthy, but I am a night owl, so I do my best work after dark when everyone else is asleep and I can fully concentrate on programming. Many Indie developers are like me – we like the night! J

Aleksey: Quite often, as I’m so absorbed in creating a new level, or I am working on some task that commands all of my attention, I forget to eat and sleep. Sleep might interrupt the flow of creativity. J

How much pull do you have when establishing sale and regular prices through digital distribution channels? Did you research similar titles when trying to come up with the launch price?

Artem: The specifics of our distribution are that all games are priced the same for all applications, except for a Collector’s Edition. Usually, all HOGs are distributed in their premium version. With regards to this game, we decided not to follow the standard scheme. We didn’t even plan on issuing the expensive CE variant: the game is just too unusual and we want as many players as possible to be able to purchase it. We could then receive enough feedback to decide whether or not we should continue our work in this domain.

For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does. Why do you think this trend is occurring? Tell us why you released a demo for Elementary My Dear Majesty and the difficulties you experienced in doing so.

Igor: Do you mean the trial version? Well, first of all, the trial version release is the result of the indie games distribution scheme (try before you buy). Second, I believe that it is only fair to let the player download and see if the game appeals to him or her before deciding to purchase it. I believe that such a distribution scheme is fairer than to just let people base their choices on CD covers and reviews, only to find out that the game was not to their liking.

Aleksey: As I see it, large studios should advertise via mass media so that the customer can make an informed decision after viewing a number of trailers and reading reviews. In our case, a good demo video is the best advertisement!

How important is it to get instant feedback about Elementary My Dear Majesty from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Aleksey: Feedback is important. The sooner we find out about certain problems, the sooner that we can fix them.

Igor: When developers know for sure what players like and dislike in games, they can then use their preferences to influence their future projects such as adding attention grabbing features and avoiding those that are not well liked.. Feedback is great especially when it’s detailed and includes more than just a simple “wow, this game is cool!”

15. How much value do you place on the opinions of those who professionally review Elementary My Dear Majesty?

Igor: The reviewers write articles for gamers to read, so their opinion affects the way people will perceive the game. Hopefully, the reviewers will like our creation.

Aleksey: We greatly value their opinions. Many people decide to buy a game based on these reviews. We always pay attention to what the reviewers have to say and strive take into account their opinions for future projects.

How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology? Would you be interested in contributing to a project like that in the future?

Artem: I really like all the initiatives from indie bundle and support them. This is a simple and honest approach. I think it could be interesting to see our products included in such a collection.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole is dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

Artem: The over-intrusive DRM and paranoid pirate protection irritate me. There is a line that should be observed: as soon as the game activation becomes even the slightest problem for a legally acquired copy, this is wrong. Limiting the number of installations and associating them with a certain system will definitely lead to problems and limitations for many players. The main principle of casual games should be observed: no one should ever experience frustration or troubles. The purchasing of a game  must be quick, easy and enjoyable (enjoyable when the player receives bonuses like free add-ons, etc., for purchasing the legal version). It is definitely important to make good games worth paying for!

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Elementary My Dear Majesty?

Igor: We are not the US citizens, so it’s hard to comment on this. In my opinion, people who make videos about games and then upload them to YouTube should be allowed to do so – it is, their right. Personally, I like such videos and I sometimes watch videos about other games. I oppose any such limitations.

Aleksey: If this video may help players to complete some levels in the game, then why not?

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

Artem: The very idea of DLC is absolutely great. Ten or fifteen years ago, I would have been thrilled if any DLCs for my favorite games had been released! Now, unfortunately, along with the DLCs that add new story lines, modes or content, very expensive add-ons with a couple of new outfits or some useless stuff is also included.  There is also an extremely dishonest practice of only being able to really enjoy a game after having purchased a couple of important DLCs. I believe that all developers should stop viewing DLCs as a just means of earning extra money. This should be a reward to loyal players, like a way to show the game world in more detail and to provide more pleasure. This is the approach I like.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders. How do you feel about the online modding community in general? Were there mods created for Elementary My Dear Majesty?

Igor: EMDM is not a game that requires mods. Mods are for shooters and strategies. I’m okay with the idea of mods, since people may add their own content to a game, something that they feel the game lacks..

What advice can you give to up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the field?

Artem: Of course they should create great games! Seriously, they must clearly define their target audience from the get go and from then on constantly keep them in mind while creating the game (because the game is made for the players and not just for the developer’s own fun!). In addition, they must seek out a publisher that fully understands how to work with their particular target audience This will allow the developer to conveniently forget about all the other activities surrounding the game such as promotion, and distribution, so that they can then concentrate solely on producing and implementing the most daring and unusual ideas.

Igor: My advice is to work hard. Choose the genre and what to develop wisely, because then you’ll have to stick with it until finished. And good luck!

Aleksey: We can also use some good advice!J – End

We would like to thank everyone at Alawar for responding with such detailed answers.  You can pick up  Elementary My Dear Majesty.from the official Alawar site.

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