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!

Tales of Aloriah, IX

And so it ends. Gorogorosama mounted his new-born Sleipnir steed and charged bravely into the Molten Ashland, only to find that the Mother Dragon had already been slain. And who was standing there, sword dripping with ancient blood? None other than my nemisis, Aernoud!

It is very frustrating, but very fitting, to have him slay the beast before me. And while I defeated Aernoud in our first hostile encounters, he was always a couple steps ahead of me. For example, when Boom-Shaka cast far sight to survey the area around where I planned to settle in the Molten Ashland, it seemed that Aernoud was already controlling the neighborhood diamond mine!

And then there was the time early in the game when I asked Ookyaas about joining forces…

It’s also a great feature that everyone gets to see how the final battle turned out. That gives me an idea of what I need to prepare for next time.

Anyway, while it is sad that the game is over, I had a lot of fun and am fairly pleased with my progress. In the end I was ranked at 62, and I think 25th when looking at Civilization Size, which I think is a better indication of how close I was to victory. I had 4 of the 5 Mother Dragon Item Set, had gotten pretty good at skinnging dragons for diamonds, and Rathlin was a virtual Berserker Factory. I also had all the CP and Settlers I needed to enter the final Climate Zone. So close! I also learned a lot about the game and should do even better next time. Mother Dragon and Aernoud, you have been warned!

Thank you all for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed the Tales of Aloriah. Happy 2011!

Cheers,
Oliver

Tales of Aloriah, Seven

Oh noes!

When I logged in and saw that this week, reading “Would you like to continue playering even after the Mother Dragon has been killed? As of today the game ‘starts over’…” I thought someone had already beaten me to slay the great worm, but thankfully it was just a survey about tweaking the end game. So the journey continues!

I finally settled my village in Misty Marshes as promised.

Lucky me, I seem to be pretty close to my old friend Aernoud. And I’ve already been set upon by two Emerald Dragon attacks. Fortunatealy I prevailed. I like to think the Blue Dragon head helped, but maybe it was my 1,500 berserkers and Gorogorosama’s righteous Warcry. Either way, I claimed a Magic Dragon Glyph, so I’m all set to strike into the Molten Ashlands, right after I get 8 more CP. Of course, I only have 7 more levels of Argyll’s Council Hall to upgrade, so I’ll have to pull of some sort of voodoo magic before pressing on.

Speaking of voodoo magic. Gorram. There was an auction in Moyle last night for another Bonzai Tree, which would have given me that CP I need, plus an extra controllable mine. I had it locked up with 18,000 Gold, and a little after 1am, as the clock ticked down the final seconds, I went up to 19,000 Gold just in case of snipers. But gorram:

On the plus side, Soft-foot has been doing a great job sailing around, plundering cities, claiming mines, and siezing lookout towers. I even got the Silver Great Visionary Achievement. Only 6 more lookout towers til Gold! Hopefully this next week will be just as productive.

Cheers,
Oliver

Tales of Aloriah, 110

I’ve been putting off writing today’s Tales of Aloriah, because I was hoping to report that I’d founded my fourth village in Misty Marshes. Unfortunately, the only problem with brining 1,000 Bear Riders along is that they don’t ride very quickly. I’ve already got my spot picked out though, thanks to Boom-Shaka’s “Farsight”. As with Moyle, it’s near a lookout tower, which will save me having to build watchtowers myself. The wildlife don’t look too friendly though. Ideally I’d find something with a Gold Mine nearby, but I don’t know if I have the patience to trudge through the marshes with my Bear Riders.

On my way out of Dry Steppes I passed by Aernoud again. Three Sleipnir Horses, holy smokes. I was happy to let him take on the Dragons himself. I also did the calculations and it seems like I could have taken him if need be, but our paths never crossed. Lucky for him.

Meanwhile, my third hero, Soft-Foot, has been sailing around the Tropical Islands. I figure this is a good place to find players to raid. My ideal targets have a score around 1,000, meaning they’ve made it to the Tropical Islands and have some gold but aren’t really a threat. I had planned on just plundering my way around the entire world and then using a Scroll of Recall, but I didn’t get very far before my inventory got full. Also, I bought a nice Scroll of Town portal, and I figure that’ll be a cheaper solution to get her back when needed.

Oh! And I won my first auction. Bought myself a an Ornamental Dagger. I won’t say how much I ended up paying for it… I had to hit the sack a few hours before the auction ended and didn’t want to be sniped… Anyway, I found that my biggest problem when trying to get everything together for a 4th village was the build time, so hopefully this will help speed up my construction times. Wood Sacrifice 24/7 baby.

Alright folks, we’re getting pretty close to the Mother Dragon now. Next week will probably be pretty intereting. I’m taking a trip to Kiev this weekend, but hopefully that won’t distract me from subduing the Misty Marshes and grabbing some glyphs.

Cheers,
Oliver

Plagiarism 101

So, what is the latest in world of online strategy games? I’m glad you asked. Here I’ve collected some recent news that I stole from other people.

Guzzer posted about the start of Aloriah’s new server. What was great about the post is he included a really good summary of what he learned from the first round. Anyone wanting to succeed in this browser game should definitely check it out. Hopefully he won’t mind if I post it here:

1. Focus should be on civilization build only with scenario points farming on the side. Once built up, you can catch up on scenario points quite easily.

2. Expand as fast as you can, take the risk! You do not need to send an overwhelming force with your settlers as you can just dodge mobs on the way. Once you establish a new village, the hero protective skill, wall, moat and towers will aid your village defense greatly.

3. It is a pve race to the Mother Dragon. Anything else slows you down.

Next, Inside Social Games adds their own Clash of Kingdoms. Christopher Mack echoed that “…a strong cooperative play element makes this particular strategy game feel a bit different” but seemed to be overwhelemed by the breadth of the game. I wonder what he would say about Ministry of War, which was a little much even for me.

Speaking of online strategy games set in ancient China, Gamasutra posted a case study about Kingory which is a pretty interesting read. I think this is an important quote that more game developers should strive for: “The simple idea that drives Kingory? We just wanted to make it fun.”

Finally, I started to check out yet another Facebook game, Urban Warfare. I don’t think I’ll find the time to go more in-depth though, because honestly, it’s not that good. Christopher Mack strikes again with a review on Inside Social Games, this time adding something I’d never considered before that is true for pretty much every online strategy game: “For some unexplained reason, everyone in the universe of Urban Warfare is at war with everyone else.”

Cheers,
Oliver

Upcoming Week

Just wanted to give a quick post to say I’ve started checking out a new Facebook game, Glory of Rome. Of course, I still need to put my thoughts together about Trade Nations and Clash of Kingdoms, not to mention an interview with Aloriah coming up this week! The world of Online Strategy games is keeping me on my toes!

Tales of Aloriah, the fifth

This week has been all over the board in Aloriah. Last week I founded my village in the Dry Steppes. Boom-Shaka spent the first part of the week exploring the nearby area. I quickly grabbed all the obelisks that I could see and had to venture into the fog of war, so decided to check back in a few hours. WARNING: The fog of war is dangerous!

What would be very helpful is if each Army had some sort of behaviour setting, such as “If you see three armies of black dragons, run the heck away!” I really didn’t want the obelisk that badly. This behaviour setting could work both ways as well. With Boom-Shaka dead, and my only Hero Sanctuary (to raise him) back in Athenry, the exploration fell to Gorogorosama. This time I was exploring a Ruins when I accidentally crossed paths with player Pdimi and killed him. I have a lot of respect for that player, roaming around Dry Steppes with half the recommended troops. But, in the land of Aloriah, there is but one law: try to kill anything you bump into. Pdimi and I are at peace now though.

Boom-Shaka’s demise actually worked out quite well. I found out that in order to plant a village in the Misty Marshes, it’s recommended that you have a Blue Dragon Head, which you gain by cutting it off the Sapphire Dragon’s body. The same Sapphire Dragon I saw swimming off the coast of Moyle two weeks back! This time I had enough Berserkers to slay the beast, so Boom-Shaka took to the sea. After a day of relaxing near Moyle I spotted the dragon. It took a couple tense hours to chase him down, but last night I finally got what I came for.

Now there are two issues I have to deal with. First, I need enough CP to found my next village. The manual says I need 35, but my City Hall panel says I need 15. Which is it? Also, when hunting for the Sapphire Dragon I grabbed a lighthouse occupied by Aernoud. He was quick to dispatch my 5-berseker scouting party, but also sent me a nice message: “Please leave my towers alone.” Having attacked me twice in the first week, Aernoud seems like a bully and I’m tempted to tell him to bugger off. But apparently he’s a moderator on the forum and is still a touch stronger than I. Thoughts?