Magna Mundi Developer Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames

Carlos Gustavo and Micheal Myers talk to TPG about their strategy title, Magna Mundi.  You will read about their development process, where the inspiration came from, thoughts on the PC gaming industry and more.  Here is a preview:

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

Michael: I think a lot of publishers are coming to realize that intrusive DRM does more harm than good. Obviously I’m strongly against piracy, but past a certain line, too much DRM can cause people to pirate just to avoid it. And it’s not a matter of if someone is going to break the DRM, it’s a matter of when. Ultimately you’re just hurting your own customers. That’s why we will not be using DRM for Magna Mundi.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Magna Mundi.

Michael: I do bugfixing and adding of features that no one else has time for. I’ve been with the project since August; I’d expressed interest shortly after the project was announced, but Carlos and I decided that it would be better if I didn’t join so soon after the release of my own licensed game.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

Michael: Like (I suspect) many new game developers, I began as a modder. I started modifying Europa Universalis 2 in 2004 or so; as a direct result of that experience, I majored in computer engineering. While in college, I developed an editor for Europa Universals 3 which I believe is still in fairly widespread use among the EU3 modding community. Paradox announced the licensing project for the Europa engine just before I graduated. Of course I applied immediately, and was chosen as the third licensee. I then joined a project begun by one of EU2’s most prolific modders; the resulting game, For the Glory, was released in late 2009.

Where did the idea for Magna Mundi come from?

Carlos: The idea was to implement a different design to Europa Universalis 3, giving voice to the posts of many users in the official EU3 forum.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Magna Mundi?

Carlos: I am preparing a paper exactly about this, but to go to the point I would say the biggest success was to overcome all the challenges along the way and deliver a viable product in the end. The biggest failure was in underestimating during the first year of development the effect that exogenous factors with a perceived strong gravitas could exert over the risky development model (the game has been developed by more than 30 people using a 100% distributed model).

In its current form, how close is Magna Mundi to your initial vision?

Carlos: If you look at the first Developer Diary (Setting the Stage), you’ll see the game follows it to the letter. So, yes, it’s very, very close to my initial vision. In the middle of the project I became aware a simplification of the effects and modifiers would better the whole design, but it would never have been possible to do it then.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Magna Mundi and if you faced a similar challenge.

Michael: That’s always a concern, but we’ve kept up a steady inflow of new beta testers for the last several months to keep an eye on the game from a newbie’s point of view. In fact, I’m still a newbie myself, though I have played EU3 enough to be familiar with some of Magna Mundi’s basics.

We certainly don’t want to get in a situation where only an experienced player can win a war with the AI, but we do want it to still be a challenge after 20 games. Making the AI actually behave differently on each difficulty level is not really feasible in a game with the complexity of Magna Mundi; instead, we give the player certain bonuses on easy difficulty levels and give the AI bonuses on hard levels. (All of these bonuses are fully moddable, of course.) So far I don’t think we’ve had many complaints from beta testers about the difficulty.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Magna Mundi would run on the various PC system configurations?

Micheal: Yes, we’ve had to do some work to allow the game to run smoothly on low-end machines (which several developers use). Our new rendering engine looks nice but means that the game requires more resources than EU3 did before Divine Wind, so we’re trying to optimize it so as not to shut out fans from the days of the mod.

Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Magna Mundi.

Michael: Our artists have done a great job giving the game a period look and feel; by the time you’ve reached the main menu, you’re already immersed in the game. (I wish I could say the same for the music, but I have to admit I’ve never yet played the game with the sound on. One downside of being an indie developer working out of the house is that private work areas are hard to come by.)

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

Michael: For me, the toughest part is the divided attention. With a day job, I come home thinking about work and have to transition into thinking about the game.

How did you go about funding Magna Mundi and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?

Carlos: My company signed a contract with Paradox and a small financial package was included. I also diverted some money from my other professional activities to support the development of Magna Mundi.

Tell us about the process of submitting Magna Mundi to the various digital distribution platforms and if you encountered resistance in doing so.

Michael: Paradox is usually really good about that. For my first game, For the Glory, they had it on all kinds of distribution platforms that I had never even heard of. I think their industry connections are good enough that we really don’t have to worry about distribution.

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 released a demo for Magna Mundi and the difficulties in doing so.

Michael: Well, a demo is an easy way to get the word out. Big studios can release almost anything and people will at least give it a shot just because of the name. We don’t have that luxury. We need people to try it, love it, and pass it on.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Magna Mundi from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Carlos: The interaction is one of the guarantees of success to an indie project of this type.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Magna Mundi professionally?

Michael: I take all reviews seriously, whether professional or enthusiast. If we see a common thread of complaints, that’s a signal that we may need to make adjustments; however, of course, you can’t let feedback distract you from your core goals.

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?

Michael: I like the idea of cooperating to increase visibility; perhaps you’re sacrificing some revenue in the short term, but if your product is really that good, it ought to do much better in the long run thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations. I don’t know that Magna Mundi would do well in a bundle, though, since it’s not geared towards casual pick-up-and-play-five-minutes gaming like many of the others. But it’s certainly something we would have to consider if we had more control of distribution.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Magna Mundi?

Carols: That’s rubbish. Individuals are INVITED to post videos of Magna Mundi over the net.

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

Michael: I like it. It’s a win/win for customers: if you liked the game already, you don’t have to wait for a sequel or a big expansion to get new content. If you didn’t like it (or simply don’t care, as I didn’t care about EU3’s sprite packs), you didn’t have to subsidize that new content for everyone else. The fine-grained “release early, release often” approach has proven to be effective in the open source community; I think it’s reasonable for video games too.

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 and specifically if mods were created for Magna Mundi?

Carlos: I am a modder turned developer so I might be quite suspect here. But I hope that modders pick on Magna Mundi to turn it into a better product. I will be honoured if they feel it is worth to spend their time on a product I designed.

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

Carlos: I am too inexperienced to give advice. I still did not release a single game!

But I’d say first and foremost one should be pragmatic. It’s a product, not an extension of yourself and you’ll not get any score for making it a beautiful piece of technical code, just a functional one. Be stubborn. Place your sights on what really matters, the end of development, and never get distracted by other considerations.

Never surrender. Where there is a will, there is a way. -End

TPG woud like to thank Carlos and Michael for taking the time to offer some great insight into PC game development.  You can check out more on Magna Mundi on the official site.

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