To commemorate the release of Nightmare Realm: In the End, I spoke with lead designer Vladimir Fokin about how the Nightmare Realm series got its start! After reading the interview below, treat yourself and celebrate the new year a day early by checking out Nightmare Realm: In the End!
Please introduce yourself & your development team…
Hi, I’m Vladimir Fokin, producer and game designer at Wargaming.net. I work at one of the development centers for Wargaming.net called Lesta Studio. We are the team behind the Nightmare Realm series.
How did you come up with the Nightmare Realm game series?
In fact, the original title for the first game in the series was Magic Story. All of our artists were women – so fantasy worlds full of magic and wonder seemed nearly inevitable! Still, we were afraid our game would be labeled as childish and cartoony, both with the visuals and story. We were considering different options until one day our original game designer came up with that classic “what if…” idea. He told everyone about an image in his head: the main protagonist waking up at night to disturbing knocking at her door and feeling a strange anxiety – “something wicked this way comes.” And – click! It was just the thing we needed. This kick-started the whole story that sprang out of this little episode.
Furthermore, we wanted to develop a serious story, not just about dark mysteries and a fantasy world, but also about family relationships, parental love, children’s creativity, and a sense of guilt. We intended not to make just another video game, but to tell a story that gets players thinking. And we hope to keep it up in our future releases!
What made you want to be a game developer?
Since I got my first ZX, an early gaming system, I knew that games would become a huge part of my life. But it was not just about games themselves–the stories behind them were something that I was hooked on. While playing all those adventure titles, from Codemasters’ Dizzy, to Lucas Arts’ Day of the Tentacle, I always wondered – what’s next? What will developers pull out from their bag of tricks? Even today I feel like a kid who used to stare at the illusionist’s performance and now dares to repeat his tricks, introducing something new to the process.
And another thing that is really important – “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” If there is a job that keeps me up all night and still makes me happy in the morning when I open the office door again – well, that’s it. And it can’t be any other way while working as a part of a team as passionate as ours.
How do you get inspiration for a game?
I always loved the quote from Terry Gilliam – “If you’ll have to say things, you have to know things”. It’s not right to be isolated just within the area of games – if you are, you mostly copy and remodel some older game developer’s ideas (though playing other games is critical – it’s always better to learn from other people’s mistakes). The trick is to expand your field of interest to the max. Read books. Watch movies. Visit museums. Travel. Share opinions. It’s nothing new, but it works. I know I may sound very trivial, but inspiration is actually everywhere; the trickiest thing is to see it and remember at the right time. So just keep your eyes and ears wide open.
How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?
It’s always too long. It used to take us twelve months minimum to complete the game, but there’s always some post-release stuff that distracts us from the creative process a bit – localization, other platform ports, etc. To avoid this in future, we decided to expand our team a bit so it could handle two projects simultaneously. Hope we’ll be able to proudly present you more great games next year!
What is your favorite game at the moment and why?
Well, lots of them actually. Many really good adventure games recently released in Germany- like Deponia which is made in keeping with the best traditions of old Lucas Arts and Sierra titles: hilarious and very creative. Czech studio Amanita design (the maker of Machinarium, which I suppose is one of the best things that happened to computer games within the last decade) came up with the beautiful hand-crafted Botanicula. But if you want me to name just one, I’d say “To the Moon.” This is a really unique project; more of an interactive novel with some gameplay elements. It was made by just one man, Kan Gao, and may not have the most attractive art I’ve seen in video games, but the story is so utterly emotional that I forgot about visuals within the first twenty minutes. Really, it was the first game that actually made me cry, and I’ve seen a lot of them. A real gem.
Speaking of Big Fish games, my favorites are still the same: Phantasmat, Stray Souls, Drawn series and Shiver: the Vanishing Hitchhiker. Art style, visuals, tension, story – they have it all. But what I love these games for most is their unique ability to draw you in so you forget about real life in no time. Their only flaw is that they leave you desperately wanting more in the end!
Any advice for new developers?
Surprise your players. Make them jump out of their chairs, make them laugh, make them cry. Make them come back for more of the real emotions they experienced the last time while playing your game. And don’t be afraid to share your ideas, even if they look too weird at first sight, with your team members. We’re here to entertain people, so who knows which crazy idea will break big next?
What does your development team do that’s different?
We are painstaking. We are perfectionists. At times we are dull beggars when it comes to the gameplay or story consistency. On the other hand, we have great respect for every team member’s opinion. Sometimes it becomes a real pain to alleviate everyone’s doubts about the story. Still, it brings us some benefits in the end: we hopefully avoid ugly plot holes and weird gameplay decisions. Moreover, every team member knows that he can take part in discussing any part of the game he feels he needs to; thus they feel more immersed in the development process.
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?”
Well, to be frank we have a very critical approach to our game. After the months spent on testing our game, implementing new features, renewing the visuals – we just get used to seeking only flaws. And so, it becomes even worse after the release because there will still be some things we could do better, which look like an eyesore to us. But then a couple of months pass, we start a new project, and when we somehow see the previous game it goes something like, “Hey! It looks pretty good! Why didn’t we play it earlier?”
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?
Sure thing. For both Nightmare Realm games we had a huge amount of fantasy drawing world concepts. I think it was somewhere around ten or fifteen. But at the end of this leap of imagination there was always a budget man with huge scissors in his hands. We really wanted our players to see all of these worlds in the first two games, but there is always a moment when somebody’s gotta say, “enough.” Well, the good news is that we already have materials for our future games, which we’ll definitely share with our appreciative Big Fish audience.
How many ideas have you had to abandon or drastically change because someone beat you to the punch?
The ideas floating around the world provoke something like a “cluster effect,” where two people working independently on some matter can get the very same results. The game development industry is not an exclusion. I can remember at least one fantasy world concept that we had to ditch. We considered making a picture of a train going nowhere in total darkness. First, we needed to find out what was happening, then find the engine man, fix the radio, find a way to stop the train – all that jazz. Imagine our surprise when we first saw “Timeless” release! After having a brief look at its first location we understood – the whole concept needed to be buried. It was great luck that we hadn’t made any final art yet! I can also remember some game concepts that were quite similar to our ideas, but hey – do we need to give them all away now? We still can rework them beyond recognition, leaving just the cool original ideas they surely have!
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?
I maybe sound like a support service manager once again, but every opinion is really important to us. We monitored our previous games’ forums thoroughly and will definitely do this after Nightmare Realm: In the End releases. We always want to make our game a bit better, and our players are the ones who can help us to do so. And if the feedback is negative – we’re ready for a bitter pill that will make us stronger. Still, all our artists are girls though, so don’t push too hard on them – they are so easy to offend!