An Interview with Artem Yershov of Alawar Entertainment
Earlier this summer, Big Fish Games released Alawar Entertainment’s latest adventure game, “Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light”. Game Producer, Artem Yershov, took the time to sit down with us and answer our questions about the game and its development process.
Alawar Entertainment has specialized in the development, publication and distribution of casual games since 1999. The company has published over 200 titles worldwide and is the largest provider of casual games in Eastern Europe. Today, Alawar works with five internal studios and more than 30 external developers, providing a full range of services that includes game production, distribution and marketing.
Tell us about your recent focus on magic.
Every woman is an enchantress in one way or another. Whether they work their magic on the job or in the home, the women who enjoy our games are attracted to mystical and mysterious things. Last year, we introduced players to the first installment of the Magic Encyclopedia series, “Magic Encyclopedia: First Story”. It was very successful and prompted us to continue the series with “Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light”.
Are “Magic Encyclopedia” sequels being planned?
Yes, we are planning to continue the series with a third installment. I don’t want to reveal too much, but I will say the primary task of the development team is to update the interface and gameplay while maintaining the charm and feel of the first two games. New characters might be introduced, while the characters you already know will get a makeover.
In “Magic Encyclopedia: First Story” and “Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light”, we told our stories using hand-drawn comics. There was a little animation, but not much, and the color palette was somewhat ashen. The cutscenes for “Magic Encyclopedia 3″ (it’s working title) will employ a vibrant color palette and feature film quality animation. We’re very excited about what we’re producing.
How did the idea for the “Magic Encyclopedia” games come about?
When we started working on the first “Magic Encyclopedia”, all we wanted to do was make a simple casual adventure game. We thought it would take us about three months, but we ended up taking more than 10 months to create the game.
Initially, we wanted to create a game centered on the use of magic in different nations. We thought developers and players alike would be interested in the theme. While gathering facts and data for our story, we realized we had enough material to create a more serious game that would give players more than a couple of hours of entertainment.
What was your source of inspiration for the “Magic Encyclopedia” series?
The popular “Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor” inspired us more than any other game, although we did draw some ideas from a number of landmark first-person adventure games. Other sources of inspiration include the “Harry Potter” and “Chronicles of Narnia” books and films.
Tell us about the “Magic Encyclopedia” development process.
One programmer and four artists worked on the first game. They faced a number of challenges. It was actually the second project of Vendel Games, but it was much more labor intensive than “Holly: A Christmas Tale”.
Initially, our designers painted all of the backgrounds on paper with watercolors and gouache, as they were used to doing; however, this was very impractical, as a single background might be composed of so many layers of paint it could weigh several hundred grams.
The original “Magic Encyclopedia” turned out to be quite expensive to produce due to the high cost of the buckets of paint, packages of brushes and bundles of paper we used. Given the second game was going to be larger than the first, we had to explore alternative methods of working. So our developers set out to find a technological solution to creating the artwork.
“Magic Encyclopedia: Moon Light” was created using plotting boards, which sped up the development process considerably. We also increased our workforce to twelve artists and two programmers. This reduced the amount of time it took us to create the game, even though the sequel is twice as long as the original.
What new features did you introduce in the second game?
We enhanced the visual elements considerably, especially the hand drawn comics that tell the story. Also, we animated the settings in which the gameplay takes place. In addition, we expanded the geography of the game by having each mission take place in multiple rooms, with some traveling back and forth between locations required to solve that particular part of the larger quest. Finally, we put more effort into teaching the player how to play and implemented a customized tip tool, which eliminated the difficulties people experienced while playing the first game.
What technological challenges did you face as you expanded on the first game?
I remember a rather humorous situation with a paper crane, which we wanted to use to help the main character travel from location to location. We took a risk in that we decided to use actual stop-motion puppet animation instead of traditional 3D animation. The artists created a paper crane, delineated a blue PVC sheet and, by slowly turning the model, started taking photos of the bird from every possible angle. It was painstakingly slow, but the results were great!
What are your favorite memories from the creation of the first two “Magic Encyclopedia” games?
What I remember most are the first playable builds. It was a tremendous pleasure to see how a picture that had taken shape in someone’s imagination had become a background in the game or a character in the story. I also remember the final weeks of debugging and enhancements on each game, as they were incredibly intense. Even when we were sleeping, we were dreaming we were working on the game.
Any last second comments?
I’d like to thank all of my colleagues who worked on the first two games. Without their active participation, incredible work ethic and belief in the “Magic Encyclopedia” series, the games would not have turned out as well as they did. Thank you, my friends!
Also a huge thank you to all our fans who are playing the Magic Encyclopedia games. Without you, we wouldn’t exist. Thank you so much!