Series Spotlight: Mystery of the Ancients

Posted by Conor Murphy on October 31, 2012 in Game Development -- Share:

In today’s Series Spotlight, we let you in on our chat with Alexander Alekhin, Lead Game Designer of Mariaglorum Studio. We wanted to discuss the origin of the Mystery of the Ancients game series and hear more about his new game Mystery of the Ancients: Curse of the Blackwater. Make sure to give it a try when it comes out later this week!

Please introduce yourself & your development team…

My name is Alexander Alekhin, I am a lead game designer for Mariaglorum. It’s been six years since I started working in game development and I’ve been working for Mariaglorum since it’s been founded in 2009. Our company it quite small, there are only 21 people there. Most of the people here are pretty young and we enjoy working together. We often have after work activities such as camping & happy hours! I believe that every one of us enjoys coming to work every morning and feels at home in the office. That helps a lot especially when you have to stay here late to finish the project.

Mystery of the Ancients - Skeleton Ship

How did you come up with the game series?

We all live in the normal world without magic and the paranormal, and games can be the best way to immerse yourself in a world of fantasy, where the impossible is possible. This is why we chose a supernatural theme for our Mystery Of The Ancients franchise.

What made you want to be a game developer?

It’s always been my dream to develop games. I love reading detective stories and I’ve always wanted to write an interactive detective book. So creating a game fits here well, it gives me an opportunity to fully express myself in a visual, interactive format.

Mystery of the Ancients - Evil Tree

How do you get inspiration for a game?

A while ago we played Dire Grove from Big Fish Studios, and decided that we want to make something similar or even better. We hope we succeed.

How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?

Our most recent project took us 13 months, but in the future we hope to finish games in 9 months.

Mystery of the Ancients - Sea Serpent Mystery of the Ancients - Sea Serpent

What are the biggest technical challenges when you develop a game?

I use a pen and pencil when I draft the game and when I run out of paper, the whole process stops… Just kidding. But really -I would like our team to expand, sometimes we just don’t have enough people to implement all the awesome ideas we have.

What is your favorite game at the moment and why?

As I mentioned earlier, I absolutely love MCF: Dire Grove, because of its unique atmosphere. Another game I’d like to mention is Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker. It is very different from everything else on the market. It is very adult and gloomy too – I don’t like childish games that look like fairy tales.

Any advice for new developers?

For the very first project, I would recommend people not to try to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes cloning a successful title would work better than trying to come up with something new. Casual games is a pretty established field and there things that will work and most of them have already been solidified.

Mystery of the Ancients - Prison Cell

What does your development team do that’s different?

We are very proud of our game quality. We polish every little detail in our game to provide the customers’ experience they deserve.

As a developer, after shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it? Or when it’s shipped do you take a sigh of relief and forget about it, knowing you don’t need to worry about it anymore?

Neither. Sure, by the end of the project we are pretty tired, but not from the game itself, but from the routine work that needs to be done to ship the project. However, I would say that even after a couple of months, I still enjoy playing my project.

Mystery of the Ancients - Bridge Sketch

Have you ever had to sacrifice a feature you really didn’t want to give up to keep a game in budget or meet a deadline?

Yes, quite a few. In our most recent projects, we have more than 300 3D animations and cut scenes and we wanted to make even more, but it is really time consuming, unfortunately.

How many ideas have you had to abandon or drastically change because someone beat you to the punch?

There are quite a few examples here as well. For example I think that the beginning of the game, where the car arrives to the closed gate is my invention, but a lot of developers beat me to it!

If you could remove one cliché from the Video Game industry, what would it be?

Similar to question 12 – every other game now starts at the gate of the creepy mansion and there probably is a ghost inside.

Mystery of the Ancients -  Dungeon

What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project? Do you think about the story (or characters or style etc.) you want to get across or do you worry about mechanics and gameplay first?

Since most Hidden Object Games have similar mechanics, we think about the story first and we also pay a lot of attention to the setting/art style to make it visually pleasant for our customers.

What do devs think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game, whether it be story, customization, gameplay, etc. Do they take it personally or ignore it?

We take it seriously, and try to implement changes and adapt in future projects. No one can please absolutely everyone, but we can always try our best to do so.

Do developers ever realize that the game they’re making needs a major overhaul? If so, is there a process to improving a game in the latter stages of development?

Thankfully, we’ve never had to do it and hopefully we never will. But if we had to do so, that would cause a lot of complications. When the art for the game is done, recreating it is expensive, both in terms of money and time.

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Conor is a Marketing Manager with Big Fish, working out of the Seattle office. In his spare time he enjoys watching science documentaries and playing old school adventure games. Get in touch with him on Twitter! or Google+