Recently, we sat down for a conversation with Denis Ilyin and Tim Sadovsky of Artogon Games. Artogon Games is located in St. Petersburg, Russia and is responsible for several hit games available on our site including Charma: The Land of Enchantment, Spirit of Wandering: The Legend, Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold, and Treasure Seekers: The Enchanted Canvases.
We wanted to learn more about how Denis and Tim got into game design and where they draw inspiration for their games. They were also kind enough to share some concept art / final designs with us from their Treasure Seekers games.
The Artogon Games Crew
Tell us about the games you played growing up…
We started off playing Sega games. These were older games…different from today’s PC games. Then we moved on to playing games on ATARI computer. Most of all we liked 3D shooter games. Remember Wolfenstein 3D (Wolf 3D)? Doom? Doom II? Well, like most developers we wanted to make cool 3D shooter games. So we started working for game development companies.
Denis worked as a designer and I as a manager. We often talked one–on–one about how we could make cool games. But time passed and new standards for graphics appeared. It became clear that making a really cool game is very time consuming and costly. Thus we understood if we want to make really good games (games that we actually can finish!) we needed to focus on casual gaming. It allows a small team to make a really good game with a reasonable deadline and budget.
Have you considered making a 3D shooter that is designed with the casual gamer in mind?
We had no thoughts about creating any “hardcore” games with a casual orientation. Most of the hardcore games have too much violence (especially first person shooters) for to be fit audience expectations and are too complicated to do in spare time, just for fun.
I think there will never a “casual FPS”. If such a game were created, it would end up either as “trash” or will hardly be able called “FPS”.
Speaking of games we wanted to create in the past, this was not a casual idea but something more like a “Death Track” game with various monsters as riding animals. We created some concept art and even some 3D models, but we were not sure, that Death Track is a good opportunity to make a casual hit game, thus we never did more.
What mediums do you turn to for inspiration when developing games?
Books, movies, folktales, childhood dreams, beautiful and enigmatic places, myths and legends, etc…
Every one of these can work as a starting point for our imagination. Sometimes it is just an existing story we feel is incomplete and we begin to re–imagine it. Thinking up new characters or placing the story’s characters in new situations. Sometimes it is a strong impression from a place we visited. A story about events that happened in this place long ago comes without any additional effort.
Do you have any favorite folktales you want to share?
Of course! Yes! We want to create games about Snow White or Puss–in–Boots. We want to introduce our Russian heros (such as Tsarevitch Ivan or Ilya Muromets) to the world. But we are not a big enough company to allow ourselves to create games with questionable marketing success. Such games might be very beautiful but would have a very limited audience due to their settings.
Not very many people are fans of this stuff. We think most people think of such stories as childish and won’t admit they like such folktales.
When you’re developing a storyline, what does the process look like?
First of all, we make up personages, their temper, and their habits. Then we think up a hook. This can be anything – from the finding of grandmother’s treasure to the journey to ancient Atlantis. But it must always be an Adventure! Finally, we create the starting situation. This can be anything really.
For example, a character can be watching TV and see something unusual in the news or perhaps the postman brings a mysterious letter by without a return address. From there, all we can do is watch how these characters live. In the game we cannot include all of their day–to–day activities.
We are trying to depict the most intriguing and most important situations.
How do you come up with castle designs?
We have visited Petropavlovskaya Fortress in St. Petersburg, Ivangorod, Shlisselburg, Vyborg, and Pskov Kremlin in Russia, and Narva in Estonia. They all provide amazing inspiration. But, as you can see from their names, we have more fortresses than castles here in Russia.
European castles are much more known generally. When someone says “castle” most people imagine a classic European Middle Age castle, not a big heavy fortress. So most of our designs are based on European castles though we modify to be sure the resulting design will correspond to the mood we want to pass on to the player.
Talk about the antagonists you feature in your games.
Every one of our “bad guys” is just a man – or at least was a man in the past. So they have their desires, childhood dreams, goals and are just trying to reach those dreams…sometimes at the expense of others.
Other creatures you can see in our games are usually victims of circumstances. But they too have their characters. They all live in the worlds we create and they live there even when we close the game and turn off the PC. Each has his own story which can be told. Some stories are waiting to be told and some are very ordinary.
Maybe when the time comes we shall tell their stories but not now…
Where do you see casual gaming headed in the future?
We see so called ’casual games’ as the future of PC games. Hardcore players will remain more focused on the XBox or the Play Station, but hardcore players will exist on PC platform as well. As will casual gamers on consoles. But the PC will be dominated by casual style gaming.
Who knows, maybe someone will make a casual online game that will beat World of Warcraft!
How is the global recession impacting your business?
I think in general it is, one way or another, affecting only the large companies with strong linkages to global financial structure. Smaller developers like us aren’t really noticing the changes. We continue to make games; people continue to buy them.
One thing a global recession is causes that isn’t that bad is it brings people back to their roots, their family, and their children. It is important to maintain roots to continue growing when the recession is over.
Why do you think so many great game development studios are located in Russia and Eastern Europe?
“There are many reasons those is in the world…” – Alexander Rozenbaum (Russian bard). One of the key reasons is the labor force in Eastern Europe is more qualified than in the east and less expensive than in the west. The second reason is the specific cultural characteristics, which have a particularly strong influence on the creative components – art and game design. These and many others factors lead to the fact that most games (and not only Casual) are now produced in Eastern Europe and Russia (or at least with the help of resources of these areas.)
Favorite Artogon game? Favorite casual game?
Our favorite Artogon game is undoubtedly Treasure Seekers: The Enchanted Canvases. You will like it, promise!
Inside our company we have people with very different interests (and maybe this is a part of our success) so I cannot name any single game as favorite by all. Personally I like the Final Fantasy series and Denis likes Heroes of Might and Magic.
My favorite casual games are Luxor and Mystery Case Files. The others like shooters and strategy games. We even play Zombie Shooter sometimes.
Any last words for your fans?
We greatly appreciate your very existence. Thank you for your patience, for your comments (both pleasant and upsetting). Our approach is to make games that are a bit different from others in terms of game play. We try to make them as high quality as we can. We are trying to put our creativity and individualism into every game we create. We hope people feel that we really love what we are doing.