Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG was delighted to conduct an interview with Orsolya Toth, Community Manager from NeocoreGames, who developed King Arthur II. You will read about how King Arthur II was created, the differences between self-publishing and working with Paradox Interactive, the difficulties of developing for the PC platform and much more. Here is a preview:
How do you feel about individuals posting videos gameplay videos of King Arthur II on YouTube?
We like them very much! The more gameplay videos are made the more people become interested in King Arthur II. Gameplay videos are great because people can see how the game looks like in action and what exactly they can expect from it. So they can decide if it is something they would enjoy or rather not. And thus we’ll have even more happy customers.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of King Arthur II.
I’m Orsolya Toth, and officially I’m responsible for PR and Community Management at NeocoreGames. But I’m also part of the Testing team and the Support team, so I can say that I know our games in and out 🙂
How did you get started in developing PC games?
I joined the company officially a couple of months before the release of King Arthur – The Role-playing Wargame in 2009. But even before that I helped out with the testing and contributed to the development with my own ideas. I always loved PC games, I started playing very early as a little girl such games as the two 2D Prince of Persia games, Golden Axe, Need for Speed, and later I started playing strategy games like the Civilization series where I started with the first part, the Heroes of Might and Magic series up from the second part, Age of Empires, and alike. And about 10 years ago I fell completely for the RPGs too 🙂 So when my current bosses from NeocoreGames asked me if I wanted to join the team, without hesitation I said yes 🙂 We knew each other from earlier so the job has literally fallen into my lap.
Where did the idea for King Arthur II come from?
From the first game, of course. 🙂 There were still so much potential in King Arthur I, not only in the characters but in the story as well. Or we can talk about our new, twice as big Campaign Map, with all of the first game’s undiscovered lands. For the sequel we still drew a lot from the Arthurian legends and Celtic mythology, but now we had much more freedom to add our own taste and imagination.
The world of King Arthur II is an inherently dark fantasy setting. The major characters and plot elements still come from the Arthurian mythology – namely from the last epoch of Arthur’s reign and the battles in the shadow of the fall of the realm –, which explains the darker undertones. However, unlike the first game that was set in a partly medieval fantasy world mixed with the legends of the British Isles, King Arthur II goes way beyond and uses the Arthurian mythology as a solid groundwork for a more generic, though consequently sinister fantasy saga. The darker atmosphere influences the artwork, the story plots and the available choices in the game.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing King Arthur II?
I think I can say we learned that creating a brand new engine takes a lot of time and effort, even more than you would calculate with in the planning phase. But it is still totally worth it. The first Coretech 3D engine served us well for 3 games but it was already time for a change.
We also had to learn regarding King Arthur II that for a sequel it is entirely impossible to meet everybody’s expectations. We have made plenty of changes to the game mechanics, and it divides our fanbase – some of them welcome these changes, while some others still want to see the first game with a new story. I guess this is something every sequel of a successful game has to suffer from.
In its current form, how close is King Arthur II to your initial vision?
I doubt that there are many game development projects where all the ideas from the early stages of development are implemented in the final game. Sometimes it’s due to the lack of time or budget, but sometimes the reason is that the features that seemed to be a very good idea at first, simply lose out during the gameplay tests.
Basically the features omitted from the final version were sorted out because they were not good enough or did not fit into the gameplay or we weren’t able to develop these features according to our plans. So let’s say we implemented all possible, working ideas we wanted to for the final release.
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 King Arthur II and if you faced a similar challenge.
We faced the same challenge while developing the first King Arthur game, but for the sequel we were already aware of this possible trap. So we were able to avoid it. We used several gameplay testers with different gaming backgrounds to test the difficulty settings for King Arthur II. Now on Casual level even casual players can easily enjoy the game without caring too much about choosing the right tactics and there you are allowed to make several mistakes and still your armies will not suffer from heavy casualties. On the other hand, the Nightmare and Impossible levels offer many challenges even for veteran players and the Normal and Challenging levels suit well for those who have experience with strategy wargames but just want to hang out without too much concentration on the deep tactical mechanisms this game offers for its fans.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring King Arthur II would run on the various PC system configurations?
Oh, yes. Although we love PC and it is the only platform we’ve been developing games for so far, we have bumped into quite a lot of difficulties. On the one hand it provides us unbelievable freedom in developing serious, resourceful elements in our games, but on the other hand the 3 different Windows operating systems spread around the world combined with the many DirectX versions and the countless hardware drivers created such a mess on the software level that is not easy to handle. And we haven’t even talked about the vast number of hardware variations worldwide and the huge performance gap between the different configurations.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for King Arthur II.
The dark and dim tone in our art is something that comes from our artists by nature. Besides that, the ideas of the producer and the images he has in mind about every little part of the game also have a big influence on the general art style. A little summary about how we create the artworks:
It all starts with a discussion among the producers, designers and concept artists. After that there are more possibilities to create an art. The most traditional way is that a graphic artist paints or draws it on paper or on PC, but they also use screenshots or parts of them, and in some cases – mostly by portraits – they also take some photos of the team members and create the in-game arts using these pictures. It’s a lot fun and it’s very useful. Thus they can make more realistic arts, when the character is holding a sword, a shield or anything else it’s always better to have a real person who is holding something of the similar weight and shape, so that on the artwork every part of the body feels very real and at the right place. After all of that the artists work on the rough material a lot, trying everything to it that is on their mind, they also add their own unique taste, and this is how concepts and in-game arts are born here at NeocoreGames. If you want to read more about how our Morgana art was created for King Arthur II, you can visit our DevBlog and read about the “Birth of an Enchantress” here.
In King Arthur II we created a general AI that was able to handle all situations in all the battles of King Arthur II. So the level design was merely about tactical planning on the battlefields: where to place hills and rivers, the strategic locations and deployment zones and what terrain and weather should we add for the battle. Generally there were two very important factors in-game design: on the one hand we wanted non-scripted battles, with as much freedom for the player as possible and on the other hand we wanted to add the story-oriented, chapter-based objective system. Our aim was to create a playable and exciting mixture of these factors, and provide the gamers the freedom they need, but also put them into a fascinating background story, that makes the game even more fun.
The composer of the first game, Gergely Buttinger rejoined us, and he created the soundtrack to King Arthur II and I think I can easily say that it’s even better than in the first game.
What were the differences in self-publishing your first title, King Arthur I as opposed to King Arthur II?
This time we were backed by Paradox Interactive, the game’s publisher. However, the first King Arthur game was indeed self-published at the time of its release and the toughest parts were definitely the wrong planning of the development time which is very common in indie development and the uncertainty and doubt that surrounded the final stages of the development where the lack of funds gave us an extremely hard time. But it was finally worth it as King Arthur turned out to be very successful both among the community and the media.
How did you go about funding King Arthur II and did you receive financial or emotional support from friends and family?
With King Arthur II it was a lot easier as it was funded by the publisher, Paradox Interactive during the development.
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 King Arthur II and the difficulties in doing so.
I think the big budget studios don’t release PC demos because they don’t feel they need to. They spend so much on advertising their games that they don’t need to increase awareness at every possible opportunity and people already know who they are, what kind of games they pass onto the market, so they already trust them that they will get something good for their money. On the other hand, in case of indie titles, I think people simply don’t know what to expect, so they prefer trying a demo first to make sure they spend their money on something they will enjoy.
We released a demo for King Arthur II so people can try to see if their computers can run the game properly even if they are uncertain after checking the system requirements. It’s also good if they check whether they like the gameplay or not, so they’ll become happy players of the game after the purchase.
How important is it to get instant feedback about King Arthur II from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
We are always listening to feedback, they are very important for us because they help us improve the game. There are several improvements we’ve made in King Arthur II using the feedback we received from players and we also appreciate the reports about any occurring bugs, of course. The official game forum, the social networks and the developer blog are all very good platforms for being in touch with the community.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review King Arthur II professionally?
We always read carefully and take into consideration the feedback from the media, it affects the general opinion about the game, the sales numbers and sometimes our future projects as well.
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?
Actually we haven’t thought about it yet, as the first King Arthur was released before these indie bundles became really popular and since then we have not released an independent title. Right now I don’t think we will take part in such a project in the near future, but who knows?
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
I think the best way is rather rewarding people if they actually buy the game. And also, to convince players with the quality of the game that it is worth of their support, so the developers and publishers can continue creating games for them.
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
Generally the games are full and completely enjoyable without the DLCs but I guess it’s really cool that players, who really enjoy the main game, can extend it with buying extra content. Also, when a developer company is working on a game for years, there are many great ideas, which they need to cut from the story but later they can work it out in one or more DLCs. It gives special experience and depth to your gameplay for a smaller amount of additional money than the original game was cost. So I think DLCs are very good both for the players and for the creators of the game.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for King Arthur II?
Due to the tools we use for creating our games, unfortunately none of our titles have been mod-friendly thus far. So we don’t really have any connection with modding communities. But I think it is always nice if people want to spend their time with creating game mods.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
In case of developing one’s own idea into a computer game, we have some advise: be persistent in all circumstances, do many tests and keep your ears and eyes open for feedback. Start with a smaller project, where you’ll get fast and effective feedback directly from the gaming market. As the digital distribution becomes more and more popular, it’s much easier to reach the gamers with smaller games as well, so it’s a huge opportunity for new game developer companies.
In case you want to join an already existing company, then show them what you’re capable of – a well-functioning mod, a demo version of an idea (concentrating mainly on one thoroughly developed feature) will help you a lot, if you don’t have the necessary working experience yet.
And good luck! – End
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