We had a chance to sit down and have a chat with Alex Poysky who is the lead PR rep and for Super Mal Parit (SMP) who are currently developing the city building/RTS Towns. We were privileged enough to then be joined by the rest of the development team and then all kinds of crazy antics went down! Read on for an exlusive look into the past, present and future of Towns!
IGM: So lets just start off with this, if someone had never heard of your game Towns before, how can you best describe it to them?
Alex: Towns is what you get when you mix dungeon keeper with Diablo and add Dwarf Fortress` extremely freeform system to it… I want to make an interjection and say that our game is nowhere as deep as Toady’s masterpiece, and that we have the utmost respect for his work. I will never claim to clone him, or even try and be him, he is the master at what he does and I am not ashamed to admit it.
IGM: Okay folks so please don’t accuse SMP here of cloning Toady’s ideas – as you can see they are very respectful of their elders! Towns is inspired from a few great games, but was it set up to be the game it is today from the start or are players getting to play a game much different from your original design ideas?
Alex: At first Xavi, the lead developer, was alone until he hired me as a scripter (which I was rather awful at), but I also brought in my own ideas. Shortly after, Ben Palgi (AKA Burningpet) was brought on board as an artist. He has proved INVALUABLE to the team, bringing a serene and clearheaded mind to an otherwise cluttered table.
Xavi and I bash heads over new ideas all the time and Ben is always there to help arrange the pieces. You could say that Towns is what it is because we each bring something different to the fray. We recently hired Sphaz (Artien Bel) to the mix, and he has taken charge of the scripting department.
So you could say things have been evolving. At first it was a city building sim then the dungeon got added, we saw the absurd potential for heroes and random loot as soon as it was in and decided to go for it. Shortly after, the auto production system and the 2.5D viewpoint came into play. We have a series of set goals for each large update and if we manage to make it in good time, we’ll add all sorts of goodies.
IGM: Awesome! Before I begin to pester you about the details on Towns and its future, I just want to get a question in about the small team you work with. From what you have said there are four of you on the team for Towns? Can you tell us about any troubles you have run into as an indie team that other people may want to plan ahead for when trying to make their own games? Anything that you could have changed or prepared for that would have made the creation of Towns any easier?
Alex: Well yes, I am actually well aware of all of the difficulties upon forming an indie team. It took me two years to get the chance to even be a part of a team. Things have changed now, but one can’t forget their humble beginnings. If anyone ever needs help with their game I can offer advice (@alexpoysky), I am more than willing.
People will trash your project, they will take your hard planned and thoughtful series of essays about gameplay ideas and rip it up on forums, do not be discouraged! These people don’t know what it takes to make a game. Find a cohesive team, find people you can trust, and fight; it’s worth it!
IGM: Sounds like solid advice to me, we all know how ruthless the internet can be these days. Towns has evolved from a city sim into a game where players can really forge their own adventure by starting from scratch and building their way up the social ladders until they are ready to seek treasures and fame in the wilderness. Have you guys ever thought about a multiplayer component to the game where players could visit their friends’ town or even create one together?
Alex: Don’t get giddy just yet, it’s still a ways off, but yes, there will be a multiplayer portion. We will have an update in which all we do is plan the multiplayer out properly and execute it accordingly. We will try and give the best multiplayer experience possible, ideally an overworld, or a meta-game of sorts. If the Hero system works as indicated, you might even be able to send heroes to other people’s towns.
Now this is still all very green territory, so please, please, PLEASE don’t judge us if things get a bit off in the end. But multiplayer will make an appearance.
IGM: So this won’t be some cheap addition that many games make just to add the “Multiplayer” tag to their game. You guys will have it all nice and fleshed out to actually be worth something! This is great news and I personally can’t wait. You guys recently released your new version along with a patch for Towns. Can you give us any information on what the team is currently working on, or something to get these hopeful players drooling over a future update?
Alex: Well the next updates will all be tied into the Hero system, it will be the largest chunk of content and may need a few months of work to be feature complete. Basically we will need a few things done before the hero system is 100 % done:
1: A shopping system for the heroes
2: A tavern system to attract external people and heroes, creating a wealth of new gameplay
3: Alchemy and potion system
4: Guild system
5: Quest system
6: MAKE DUNGEONS COOLER!
***Ben “Burningpet” Palgi joined the interview at this point ***
IGM: Now that we have you here too Ben, can we possibly get some details on the art side of the game too? What would you say is your inspiration for the design and can you tell us about anything new you have been working on for Towns?
Ben: Well, the first thing I wanted to do when I came on board was to convey the atmosphere of old-school role playing games, so I looked to various games from the SNES era. The biggest noticeable input of mine that you might see is how close the camera is to the game, unlike many other city building games. This is also done to get the player to be “near” the characters.
IGM: The camera being that much closer is something we really like, it makes the game feel more like a game and less of a sim. You can actually see what is happening and feel more involved too.
Alex: I actually want to applaud Ben’s work here, when he came on board, buildings were the same size as civilians, really… rustic…
IGM: So had Ben not showed up, we could be playing in some strange world where everyone was a giant?
Alex: Yes, exactly. I can’t draw stick figures, and Xavi.. well look at version 0.20. It was a MONUMENTAL task, and he has done a stellar job.
Ben: Another thing I wanted to convey was the townsfolk as a peaceful bunch; to contrast them with the horrors that awaits them in the future. Notice that many of them smile, it is almost like playing Farmville. In fact, some may even think, even for a second, that they are playing Farmville, until all the crops come to life, kill you and cook your liver…that’s kind of sharp contrast we’re going for too.
Alex: I actually get scared when a bunch of hobgoblins pour out of the dungeon entrance and maul my little hippy guys.
IGM: I like what you did there, can you tell us anything about what you are working on lately? Any new models or anything that might stand out?
Ben: What you see here is the same principle applied, a lovely pastoral-looking field. We also changed how maps generate. See how the trees are grouped as forests? This was done to help convey that “real RPG world” feel that we wanted.
So we now have trees gathered in forests, rather then just scattered and in the near future, we will also name those forests and mountains, so each mountain will have its unique randomly generated name (so does the forests). This will help, I believe, further convey that RPG world feel.
*** Xavi Canal joins the interview***
Alex: Quick interjection, Xavi Canal, the lead developer and THE man behind towns, just arrived.
Ben: We are not quite sure if he is really a man, we still believe he is an advanced AI that speaks in binary.
IGM: Hopefully his translator works well enough for interview purposes then…
Xavi: Sure, my translator is a bit broken but it will do the job.
IGM: So in that picture like you said, we’re going to be seeing forests with trees gathered as well as the names for locations. Will the names be seen on the minimap, or are there any plans to add markers to the minimap for easy navigation?
Ben: Oh, names on the minimap…well, we havent thought about the minimap. Good suggestion there, but we thought about having small wooden signs in the middle of the forest which, when you hover over them, you could see the name.
IGM: That sounds good enough! Xavi, can you comment on anything you have been working on recently that players should be looking forward to? Also, how would you all say Towns is going as far as general development schedule? Are you on track, behind, ahead, and do you have any idea or set amount of features you want in the game before you think about having the official release?
Xavi: Well, actually, we are working on a lot of mini-features. “Mini” is not a good word, because they are really good features! One example can be the task priority system: the players can prioritize some taks (ie. food tasks) over others. We also are planning to include some kind of path/roads.
About the final release… well, we really don’t know when it will be released, we have a lot of features to add, so, to say a date will put pressure over us.
IGM: Would these roads allow for faster travel or a safer way of getting around? Or are they just to make the town look less barbaric?
Xavi: Well, you said it! Nicer towns and fast walking. We have to tune it really well because citizens right now walk at “full” speed.
IGM: Will they be getting a speed reduction, or will the roads make them walk even faster?
Xavi: Yes, speed will be reduced on the roads. That’s why we have to tune it well. Right now you can spend 2 hours of gameplay just setting your town up. So, if we reduce the speed…well, you see what I am getting at…
IGM: …yeah – it would make things take even longer to get your town started presumably. Have you guys thought of horse mounts, or carriages to make transportation faster down the road?
Xavi: We thought about 3D Worms. Ben, please, explain the 3D Worms idea!
Ben: 3D worms is when everytime we make grand suggestions that are so hard to put in the game, Xavi jumps up and yells – “3D WORMS!”
When he doesnt understand anything, its “BLEEDING EYES”.
IGM: So you guys have your own little code system? That’s great! Would the carriages or transport fall into “3D Worms” then?
Xavi: Taking into account that we don’t have roads right now, it’s closer to the 3D Worms than the current build.
IGM: Also, just to let the readers fully understand…would it be possible for someone to give an example of a “BLEEDING EYES”?
Xavi: Well, Bleeding Eyes is when I make a nonsensical phrase like, “today went the garden to my with kids”.
Alex: BLEEDING EYES! We all scream it out, the first to scream it wins. We are a tight-knit group, even though Xavi can be an asshole…!
Ben: No, he is an advanced robot from the future…and someone just coded it in his program.
Xavi: Yes I am a very advanced asshole ogre-robot.
IGM: Alex, with you being PR and all these days, how do you guys feel about the reception of Towns? Are you happy with the feedback you have received and the direction the game is taking? Is it getting more of a following than you initially had thought it would?
Alex: Yes to everything! We only wanted to make a game we wanted to play, it kind of went huge when we got the whole top 100 on Desura, and of course, the top 10 upcoming games in alpha article on IGM has helped a bunch as well!
We are quite content with how things are going Desura, Gamersgate, and other goodies, as well as the press! You guys rock, seriously, a round of applause for you and everyone on your team, it wouldn’t be possible without all of your hard work!
IGM: Thanks! None of us would be able to do the work, or at least enjoy it if we didn’t have developers like you lot to make it interesting! You guys are a riot, perhaps you should think about doing a developer’s video or audio blog sometimes – we’re sure many players would find it hilarious! Anyway, thanks for answering our questions.
Alex: Not at all! Thank you for taking an interest in us and our game Towns. It’s been a real pleasure.
Hopefully this brings you a bit closer to the people behind Towns and gives you the desire to check out the game and show these crazy developers some support!