In this week’s Developer Focus, I was able to speak with Krzysztof Szaton, Game Producer at Artifex Mundi to learn a little more about what makes them tick and how they make such great games time and time again. Artifex Mundi is the studio responsible for fantastic game series like Enigmatis, Nightmares from the Deep & Time Mysteries! When you are done reading the interview below, be sure to try out Artifex Mundi’s latest game Nightmares from the Deep: Davy Jones!!
Where do you see casual gaming headed in the future?
It is a hard question, because casual games are, to a great degree, shaped by the players – they shape them by voicing their opinions and expectations. The future of casual games will depend largely on the players. As for us developers, I assume that no big revolution awaits us, but rather a fascinating evolution. As that relates to Artifex Mundi’s games, I expect that the changes will affect such fundamental elements as the plot and characters. We want to show new paths of storytelling, so that our stories are even more immersive, complex and enjoyable. The heroes will affect the players even more. We will be able to learn more about them, and they will surprise us – they will become more multi-dimensional and unusual.
Overall, I think that players can expect many unforgettable adventures in many unusual worlds.
Why do you think so many great game development studios are located in Eastern Europe?
This is another difficult and interesting question, especially when you answer from the perspective of a person living in Central or Eastern Europe. I think that it stems from a certain mix of “freshness” and “euphoria”. For many years, access to computers and games was considerably restricted for us. There were very few video game companies, and an eagerness to create accumulated in the minds of many talented people in this region. When economic changes made it possible for us to do what we dreamed of doing for a long time – there was an explosion. It turned out that we quickly made up for lost years and brought fresh ideas and solutions to the gaming industry. Also, the labour costs are considerably lower than in Western Europe, which is significant.
What’s your favorite game from your own studio? What’s your favorite casual game?
It is almost like being asked: “which of your children do you love the most?” ;). Without a doubt, Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek was a breakthrough title for our studio, while Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart has sold the largest number of copies. As the producer of the whole “NftD” trilogy, I definitely feel the most attached to this series, even though I know every part “from cover to cover” ;)
As for my favorite casual games, I have to admit that I still like to play our games, especially Enigmatis: The Mists of Ravenwood. You can clearly see how much passion went into every detail of this game – and that’s why I love it.
What mediums do you turn to for inspiration when developing games?
We draw inspiration from everywhere we can. We never know when we’ll find something that will inspire us. Sometimes a book we read becomes the root of an idea at the back of our heads, which grows and waits for the appropriate moment. Usually there are many ideas floating around and the greatest challenge is to select the best ones. An example of a book that inspired us is “The Shipping News” by Annie Prouloux. There was also a movie adaptation starring Kevin Spacey. The citizens of the island where the book takes place hide a dark secret, similar to the citizens of Kingsmouth in Nightmares from the Deep: The Siren’s Call. If you haven’t read the book, I recommend it.
Real life is also a source of many inspirations. For example, we were very impressed by the Giant Redwood tree – they are really exceptional trees. They’ve lived through a lot, they will probably survive us, and, as the name suggests, they are enormous. We like them so much that we set the story of Enigmatis 2 in a park full of such trees. When we worked on the first part of NftD, we needed to come up with the look of the museum. We liked the interior of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, so we drew the inspiration from it. It also appears in “Night at the Museum”.
How do you come up with the villains and antagonists you feature in your games?
The motive comes first, as nothing happens without a reason. Often times, antagonists in stories are one-dimensional. Their role is to be evil and that’s it. Their behaviour is not motivated in any way. But in the real world, there are no inherently evil people (except for producers that remind you about deadlines) – it is usually the result of some major life experiences. This should apply to characters in our games. If we know the motives of a certain character, it is easier for us to tell her story and create an engaging plot. It is very useful to clearly specify the character’s traits. If someone is good and nice, will he poisons the guard in order to escape captivity or try to trick him instead? The character traits of our protagonists influence the actions in the game.
Do you have any favorite “behind the scenes” stories you want to share?
Our most sought-after “actor” is Jim Gibbons from Dark Arcana. Sometimes we laugh that we should organize a contest titled “Where is Waldo… wait… Jim?” Beginning with Dark Arcana, we’ve been “hiding” him in our other games. Hmm… actually, let’s say that the first person who finds Jim in our other two games and sends us the screenshot where he appears will receive a surprise from us.
There’s also a funny story behind the name Cora from NftD2. In Polish, the word “daughter” can be translated as “córa.” Someone made a typo in one of the documents, and “ó” became “o”. This is how “Córy” (or in English, “daughter’s”) turned into the name “Cory”.