Interview with Aloriah

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!


Interview With Konoro Games

A while back I reviewed Konoro Kingdom, and one of the developers was kind enough to do an interview with me. This has been a great opportunity to get a look at the makings of an OSG. Be sure to check out their game!

OSG1: First, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. Could you tell us who you are and what’s your
involvement with Konoro Games?

DW: Thanks for interviewing me, I’m Dominic Watson and I’m the developer amongst other things for
Konoro Games.

What inspired you to make the game? Were you a fan of similar games beforehand?

Originally one of my friends introduced me to Travian in college. I would update my village every morning, all day through class and just before bed every day for a whole year. For my college project I had chosen to create a standard website and after seeing how much more interesting my friend’s projects were, I decided that for university I was going to create my own browser game. When I got to university the task was to learn PHP and create a browser game. Lep was one of the top players from Travian who helped me out from time to time and had once noted that he plans to create his own game. My university project would have been to create a standard browser game and it wasn’t until getting Lep involved that it became so much more interesting.

Can you tell us a little about the development process? Who is “Konoro Games”? How many people have been working on this game, and for how long?

From the start the development process was as simple as me mashing out code to get it done as quickly as possible. After Lep got involved it was more about him explaining his ideas, prioritising what needed to be done, fixed and me getting them done. From a graphical point of view, we had a look for some of the best Travian community skinners and got in contact with who we thought was the best: ‘panbubo’. I had to search him down and use Google Translate to translate from English to Czech. There are quite a few people working on it. I pretty much do the coding, Lep pretty much does game design and balancing, Pavel Beskyd (panbubo) does map, building, village graphics, Andy created the unit mini icons. Work started in January 2009 and I’ve been working about 60 hours a week on top of a full-time job for most of that time!

That’s quite impressive. It seems like most people on your team had played Travian. What’s unique about your game? What sets it apart from Travian and other OSG’s?

I kind of think Lep should be answering this one but in my mind I think the level of depth present in Konoro Kingdom is what sets it apart from the other OSG’s. In Travain you have only a few variants of resource views whereas in Konoro you have a multitude of terrain types, which provide a multitude of resource nodes of different production levels. When you settle a village you’re given control over 5 map nodes, which means the player has to actually think about where hes going to settle. Exploration and Fog of War is also something in strategy games that you don’t see often in Browser games. This has been present from the very beginning as I thought it was something all strategy games needed (being a fan of the Age of Empires series).

Your game also has some pretty interesting characters: where did they come from?

The characters started off as being blobs because they were really quick to make. I was really eager to getting the game coded and didn’t want to spend too much time creating graphics. It wasn’t until other people complimented on how cool they were that we decided to keep them. John Davey turned the simple characters that I had originally created into badass looking characters to make them a little more interesting.

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?

Frustrating is uploading a new piece of code that works fine on the test server, looks fine online, going to bed / making food / watching a movie and getting shouted at by angry players that they’re missing stuff! This is a lot less frequent as things are getting more controlled in terms of error tracking and code uploading.

The most rewarding feeling is when I introduce the game to people I don’t expect to play at all and finding that they’re totally addicted! Once I asked my girlfriend to test the registration. She went quiet for a while, said the characters were cute and wouldn’t go to bed until she had explored her entire view!

I always thought it would be cool to have ‘King of the Hill’ fort type locations randomly placed on the map that clans control and can attack from… but since Lep hasn’t mentioned them since, I don’t think he’s too fond of the idea! We’ve never really had an unexpected reaction from players as we’re talking with them all day through the forum and a public Skype chat anyways.

I’ve mentioned before that a ‘King of the Hill’ type location would be a great addition to Ikariam. Hopefully it will make its way to Konoro. Anything else you’d like to add?

Yeah, I guess I would have to say thanks to all of the people that have taken an interest, helped out with graphics, information, bug tracking and anything else. You know who you are! I’m also working on an interface revamp so you should change it out soon! Perhaps you might also want to interview Lep… he probably has much more to say than I do.

Hah, I just might do that. Thanks again!

Another Article

Gamasutra posted a great interview with Ben Cousins, the general manager of EA’s free-to-play division, which recently released Lord of Ultima. They discuss the game, the genre, Travian, the free-to-play model, etc. It’s great to see the OSG genre getting some exposure in mainstream gaming media.

Based on the poll it looks like most readers would like my to join the next Travian speed server. Most likely this will be an exercise in how quickly Oliver can get wiped out in Travian, but I do plan to take a more aggressive strategy this time, so we’ll see what happens. It doesn’t look like there’s a speed server starting for a while, so I’ll have to find something to do in the meantime…

Finally, the List of Games has been updated once again.


Sid Meier and the 48-Hour Game Contest

Sid Meier, the designer for the Civilization series, recently took part in a 48-hour game-making contest. Motherboard has the video feature. He doesn’t talk much about Civilization or OSG’s, but it’s a really interesting video and sounds like a fun contest.

“The contest, titled ‘7th Annual Wolverine Soft 48 Hour Game Design Contest’, took place at Sid Meier’s alma mater University of Michigan and pits coders and designers against each other in a race to create a game in two days. Sid Meier participated in the contest and made a game called ‘Escape from Zombie Hotel!’. In addition, he judged the games made by the student teams.”

Interview with an Alliance Leader

This week I asked my Ikariam alliance leader if he’d be willing to answer a few questions, and he happily obliged. Here’s my interview with RichHilditch, leader of the JRG alliance on

JRG is currently ranked the #2 alliance on the Eta server and has over 150 members.

I know JRG is a merging of a number of smaller alliances. Can you give us some background on the history of JRG, and how you came to be our alliance leader?

RH: Well to be honest I was invited to an alliance called Ikariam Loyal. It was a small group with some decent members. At first I did not really want to join but gave in because they were persistant. I basically recruited at least 75% of our members by myself as I wanted us to grow.

Eventually we got up to 30th place in overall points and the then Leader just disbanded the alliance. I restarted the alliance and called it Smackdown as I am a WWE fan. We recruited almost 90% of the old members back into the alliance and I vowed I would never give the Leadership spot to anyone else because of what happend. This really worked out because we then had our first merge with Hot Salsa.

We gave them two roles, me and Felippo (Splodge, as many know) him decided this was fair. This brought us up to 20th place overall. Those people stuck around for a while.

Then we tried a merge with AcE. Their leader wanted a Co-Leader role and did not realize that two people could not have the same role. What I mean by this is that the game only allows one actual leader. You can have co-leaders by example but they can’t do the same stuff I can in the game. So this fell apart and they backed out probably kept about 10 of their players.

Next came the merge with J4mROcK. They wanted a Co-Leader role and 2 other roles which we were fine with and also wanted J4mROcK to be in the name so we called ourselves J4mROcK Loyals. Which was a cross between their name and our original roots. I beleive we were now in 10th place overall.

After this was a merge with the Royals. They wanted a Co-Leader and 1 role and this was fine because at the time Splodge was going to be stepping out of the game. So now it was me, Shawk, Dead_Nuh, Feanor, Docarchy and Done. Also we came up with a Senate as well with this merger. Done stepped out of the game now we again had 2 leaders. Now we were in 5th place with this merge I beleive.

Last but not least was the merge with VrG this one was pretty easy as well they wanted a Co-Leader, Co-Home Sec, Co-General and I beleive 3 Senate spots. The reason all these mergers work so well is that all of the alliances had the same vision and most were part of the ELoA. We are now the #2 alliance and hope to someday overtake #1 and keep it that way.

So to sum it up I along with the help of countless others built this alliance from the bottom of the barrell and brought it to the top of the mountain and I am very proud of that.

For those that may not know, could you describe some of things you have to do as an alliance leader? Besides managing your own account of course 🙂

RH: Well, keep the peace between us and other alliances/players. People always are coming to me with diplomatic problems. I try to fix what I can and ask others for help when I need it.

I am always offering my advice to smaller members to help them grow. Actually I pretty often just give smaller members materials and expect nothing in return.

Also look to the future. Like I said I have been at the front of most of these merges not that I was the only one but the preliminary acts were mine I have a thing for 1st place its what I see as my #1 goal on Ikariam.

Also delegate roles. I am the only one who can give or take away roles from people, like Home Sec, General, Diplomat.

Obviously you’re very involved in Ikariam. If you don’t mind answering, about how much time / ambrosia do you spend on Ikariam?

RH: Actually I spent alot more time when I was a growing player than I do now but probably somewhere between 15-20 hours a week. I was probably closer to 40+ when I was recruting players.

As for ambrosia I have never bought any only what ever free ones they have given to us. I grew my account all by myself 🙂

Do you play on any other Ikariam servers, or spend time playing any other games?

RH: I had 6 accounts at one point this was the one that survived. I do have another account on Alpha that we are building kind of the same way Ares is built on Eta. I dont have time to play many other games but my favorite video game series is Zelda.

Where are you, geographically?

RH: I live in the USA Massachusetts in a little town called Millville.

I’ve found one of the most interesting aspects of is that there are players from all over the world. Has this presented any interesting challenges or opportunities as an alliance composed of people who speak different languages and live in different time zones?

RH: Well we are made up of people from all over the world and that is kind of a hard thing to deal with especially when you need an answer quickly. But you adapt to other peoples hours and kind of know when they are online.

As for the languages, not to many problems with that. Sometimes people join who dont speak english but it’s very rare.

Besides “leader”, JRG has many other positions: Diplomat, Generals for each quadrant, etc. How do you delegate these responsibilities? Are there ever any disputes or political intrigue between alliance members?

RH: I beleive we have 14 total roles as of right now for leadership: 3 leaders including me, 2 generals, 2 home secs, a diplomat, and 6 senate members.

Now as far as the other posistions for each division I am not sure on that but we are working on getting more organized with that right now.

Every once and a while we have some issues with what we think we should be doing but for the most part we are all on the same page.

What’s the hardest part of leading the alliance?

RH: Not hurting peoples feelings. Sometimes I step on toes not meaning to, or I tell someone what to do and they take it the wrong way. But it comes with the territory 🙂

What’s the most rewarding aspect of leading the alliance?

RH: Being told by leaders of other alliances that they respect what I have done to build this alliance. But I am humble and aknowledge that I had alot of help to get us here.

Also, seeing smaller members I have been with for a long time surpass my highscore. Allthough its pretty easy to do seing as I have one less space in each town because I have to keep an embassy in each one 😉

Anything else you’d care to add?

Look for JRG to start growing rapidly we need to start to step it up and build our scores. We are in talks with a reward system we may be implimenting very soon to help growth of smaller members so keep an eye out for it.

Thanks again for your time!

RH: Not a problem wow this took longer than I expected lol I need typing lessons! LMAO!!!