Interviews

Q&A With Thomas Van Den Berg, Co-Developer Of Kingdom

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Kingdom was an interesting indie game where the player took on the role of a monarch within a 2D kingdom attempting to slowly build up a settlement while fending off enemy hordes at night. Little was taught to the player, instead you had to learn as you played.

I rather enjoyed it, as you can see in my review.

I got the opportunity to toss a few questions toward Thomas van den Berg, better known as Noio. Thomas originally designed Kingdom as a Flash game where it found quite a bit of success. After playing the Flash version Marco Bancale(Licorice) approached Thomas with the idea of porting the game to iOS. Growing pretty excited the two expanded on the original game and then moved to Unity in order to bring it to more platforms, including PC.

Below you’ll find just a few brief questions for Thomas, and his answers. Be sure to check out the game at the official website, and follow Thomas on his Twitter @noionl (and follow me while you’re at it @WolfsGamingBlog)

Baden: How did you come up with the idea for Kingdom, and why go with the pixel art when that has become an almost over-used style for smaller titles?
Thomas: This game wasn’t really planned out from the beginning, so these were not premeditated decisions. It started out from a small seed (king on a horse in a pixel world) and grew from there. I was learning pixel art about ~4 years ago just for fun, which yielded the original horse animation. Then I added the citizens and their interactions (gathering gold) and added a way to interact with them. Adding the enemies happened very late when I realized it needed a goal if it was to be released as an actual game. For the next game, I’ll have to reconsider if pixel art is the way to go, it is still an art style that allows for a very short workflow and to create assets directly without concepting them first. 3D is a lot harder to do for a small team, I estimate.

Baden: Do you feel that games like Kingdom almost have to come from smaller companies, because larger companies would never be willing to even take the risk of funding them?

Thomas: The bigger a game gets, the less experimental it can be. With higher budgets of course you have to play it more safe. Kingdom is a game that doesn’t tell you what to do, and I’m happy that so many people understood that it’s about discovery, but it was somewhat of a gamble.

Baden: We’ve seen the rise of indie titles over the past few years, to the point where even larger companies will describe one of their games as being “indie.” despite a massive budget backing it. What do you think of that?

Thomas: I can’t judge that. Genres are defined by how we use them. ‘Big indies’ can be doing something new and original, ‘true’ indies could be making something stale and derivative. If the term becomes commercial or too broad we’ll find a different word to communicate what we need.

Baden: Kingdom is clearly a game about learning to play it, rather than being taught right at the start. How do you balance a game like that, so that nothing is too obtuse, but at the same time not overly obvious?

Thomas: It was hard to do, but I think many constructive discussions in the team have lead to us finding the right line (or something close to it). I do think our intentions did not always show through. Some mechanics are too often perceived as a bug, and that’s never good. However—in my opinion—this kind of thinking can improve any game, it forces you to think “how can we show this cause+effect without explaining it”. You have to come up with literal audiovisual representations of what’s going on: e.g. coins actually move from one character to the other. Doing this makes any game easier to pick up and more fun, I think.

Baden: A simple question to end: what’s next?

Thomas: We’re going to care for Kingdom for a while, and not make too many plans in the mean time. I have detailed notes on a couple dozen games I would love to make, but I’m a little afraid to use those. I think Kingdom game turned out great because there was no preconceived design document and we just built it as we went along. This method ensures you focus on the problems and magic moments that actually happen, not those you imagined on paper. I’d like to try the same for the next one, but with a slightly bigger team to increase our mileage.

Baden: A pleasure talking to you!

Thomas: Thanks!
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