Emiliano from indie studio Hammer & Ravens took the time to share with us some details on his exciting up and coming project, Empires In Ruins, an edgy take on the strategy game genre that’s not afraid to break some rules in order to ensure a solid experience.
Heres what Emiliano had to say…
PO: First off, tell us a little about your studio, how did you get in the games industry?
E: Hello guys, Emiliano here, chief in charge of Hammer&Ravens. Well, team-wise we are quite a colourful bunch. Our studio is based in Tallinn (Estonia), and our 7-member team features people from Italy, Greece, Latvia and Germany.
Me (Programmer) and George (3d artist and co-founder) we got started with games development as a hobby during our stay in Estonia more or less 5-6 years ago. I think the idea came at around 4 am in a pub. Then we kept on building on top of that ‘till the hobby became a job and here we are, freelancing now and then to pay for the game production, and the rest (most) of the time working on our first big game (5 years in development now) Empires in Ruins.
PO: What games inspired you to get into game design and development?
E: Well, there are two genres that personally got me saying “I would love to make video games” since I was probably 11 or 12. Point ‘n’ click adventures and strategy games of all kind, turn-based and RTS.
When we got into games development and Unity, around 2012, P’n’C didn’t feel like the best choice in order to learn how to make games. We felt that by getting started with a strategy game we would probably have had a much harder time, but we would have managed to learn what real development is.
The inspiring games are therefore the big classics I played throughout the years: the Warcraft and Starcraft series, the various Age of Empires and Empire Earth, all the Civilization games, etc. As for the P’n’C, that as said, might not have inspired our current game but definitely played a role in getting me interested in making games, the list is endless and contains most of the classics as the Monkey Island series, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Flight of The Amazon Queen, The Dig, Day of Tentacle, etc.
PO: Where did the idea/concept for your current project Empires in Ruins come from?
E: Empires in Ruins itself comes from a very specific “dissatisfaction” I felt. I often played Tower Defense games this last decade and, as much as I loved the basic concept of “stripped-down” strategy they are based upon, the vast majority of them felt far too casual and shallow to me. I dreamed of a geekier TD game that could merge more features from strategy games into the core gameplay. Plus, I am a sucker for military fantasy and grim, low magic fantasy atmospheres, so this is what went into the big cauldron before design time.
The game is basically a plot-driven strategy game, where the main map and campaign are handled in a 4X-style, you conquer, improve and lose provinces while the plot develops around you in a turn-based style. You fight your battles on real-time maps (26, ready as we speak) where TD meets RTS gameplay, all influenced by the actions taken in the main map (upgrades, officers, research, main character skills, etc.).
In terms of visuals, we went for a revision of a classic out of the 90s (and of many strategy games of the time): pre-rendered 3D used in-game as 2D sprites. It’s an extremely time-consuming workflow, but it allows us to produce modern high-quality visuals (a battle map terrain is built out of an 8k atlas) while retaining that sort of nostalgia feeling we love.
Po: How is the development of the game currently going?
E: It’s going very well I would say. There is, of course, a large amount of work, and being self-financed, it’s often necessary to take a one-month break, do enough freelancing to pay for food, rent, assets, etc and then go back to the game ASAP. We’ve already got a lot of things finalized, but also a lot of them still to complete.
We took some “bold” decisions in terms of atmosphere and music that also influenced the whole game design; the testers this far have loved them, but we still don’t know how the big public will take it once the game is out. Decisions as for the choice of using a quite rude language and a quite dystopic society (inspired by Military fantasy classics as Malazan Book of the Fallen and Black Company) that mixes modern and medieval touches.
Music was also another big “bet”. Instead of going for the classic orchestral background fantasy music (that, to be honest, has no character in 90% of the games), we decided for Folk metal instead. We already have a full 7-tracks album written and recorded for us by the Red Dew Hellpipes, where distorted guitar meets bagpipes, contrabasses and accordions. A little sample of the OST can be listened to here: http://soundcloud.com/reddewhellpipes/empires-in-ruins-1
PO: What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards so far?
E: I think the biggest challenge in a self-produced project of this length and size is to have an unshakeable faith in it. A single moment of weakness, lack of faith or lack of dedication is enough to have things starting falling apart and slow down. A lot of beautiful looking Indie projects of the last few years seem to have failed because of that.
I must say that we have been extremely lucky with the team we put together, and we are marching compact towards release like a phalanx, each one sustaining the next one in the line. On the technical side, the challenges are of course many, but none insurmountable. Among them gameplay design (from paper to a pleasant game there are often discrepancies), Optimization (2D high res graphics can be far more demanding in terms of memory and CPU than one would expect), a proper UX and UI system (requires a lot of rounds of beta testing), etc.
PO: What can you tell us about Empires in Ruins, what can we expect when the game launches?
E: Well, let me give you some numbers to start with so that it might start making lights on what is in the game
- 17 towers (2 Scouts, 6 Archery, 6 Artilleries and 3 Temples)
- 11 unique abilities for towers (Poison arrows, Boiling oil, Caltrops, Dog Kennels, etc.)
- 5 Buildings (Resources production, Barracks, etc.)
- 21 enemy units, each with unique abilities including Sappers, Gliders, Steam Tanks, Bears and Witches
- 26 battle maps with 4 different terrain styles many of which with special events (playing time of each 20 to 30 minutes)
- 6 cooldown abilities for the player
- 10 characters on the main plot, starring as main one an alcoholic grumpy infantry Sergeant, Hans Heimer.
- Campaign and Arcade mode with 3 difficulty levels
We are really taking our time in making all this click together, I’ve been reading somewhere a quote from Shigeru Myamoto that says “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”, and having put some many years of work into this, we rather prefer it to take longer than releasing it in an unpolished state. We want the game to have some ballsy memorable character, therefore putting into the settings as much effort as we put into the game design, and making sure the two of them make sense together.
PO: Are there any plans for the future regarding the game that you can share with us?
E: Well, one idea we are already playing with a lot, is the fact of releasing free DLC’s with additional maps for the arcade mode after the release. We spent months designing a procedural way of producing maps so that it will allow us to provide the players with free content to extend the replayability of the game. But of course, this is all long-term planning, first, comes the full game release.
PO: When can we expect to see Empires in Ruins go live?
E: As said above, we wanna take the time it takes to make it as polished, tested and robust as possible. We deem the beginning of 2018 a realistic time for release, maybe February, but it can also take one or two months more, it’s all about when the game is ready and presentable. With the amount of daily releases and the hunger for quality from the gaming crowd, if you don’t nail perfectly day 1 with an indie game, it will be all uphill for the game after that.
PO: Finally, is there anything you would like to say/add?
E: Well, first of all thank you guys for the interview, then for whoever might be reading this, if you got some interest in our story, game and approach to it, and you think you might wanna spend some hours in a grim corrupted place, leading a ragtag army against greater odds, please don’t hesitate to follow us.
Seeing people interested in what we do is a satisfaction and a constant fuel for our effort. Also, should you be a developer, we put some technicalities of what we are doing as videos, articles and tutorials, who knows, you might find that helpful!
Cheers and see you soon, – Emiliano, Lead Dev H&R
We would like to send a huge thank you to Emiliano for taking the time to speak with us and share his current project. We’re certainly looking forward to the release of Empires in Ruins and will have more coverage as the game approaches its launch.
You can find out more about the studio and Empires In Ruins via the links below.
H&R Twitter: www.twitter.com/Ham_Rav
EiR Twitter: www.twitter.com/EiR_TD
If you’re an indie developer with a current project you’d like to share with us and our audience then please get in touch via our social media channels.