Our first “Series Spotlight” turns over the gravestone of one of my favorite Hidden Object game series: Redemption Cemetery. I recently caught up with Vladimir Savenkov, CEO of ERS Game Studios to talk about the development of the newest addition to the series: Redemption Cemetery: Grave Testimony.
In the coming months keep checking back for more “Series Spotlight” articles where we highlight an individual game brand and go in-depth about the inception of the game idea all the way to the execution of the polished final product.
How did you come up with the Redemption Cemetery game series?
Redemption Cemetery started as an interesting concept from Nate Webb, former Senior Director of Developer Relations at Big Fish. The idea was to have the player walk through a graveyard and click on tombstones to open up portals to the past. For example, clicking on a tombstone would send you through a wormhole to the past as a ghost explained, “I was murdered on a dreary November night…”
Isaias Vallejo was the Producer and he wrote up a concept proposal outlining the details of how the game would look and feel. The game would take place in a graveyard where the player was trapped and the only way out was to help the souls in that graveyard rest in peace. Each tombstone would transport the player to a different time and place and the player would help solve murders as a sort of Detective of the Undead.
We took that concept and decided the player would get tired of solving murders so we introduced a new approach – the ghost would present the player with a mistake they made in their life and the player would help redeem them so that they could finally rest in peace. We decided each tombstone would be a novella and gave each novella a unique and mysterious story for the player to explore and solve.
As we developed the story, we decided that the graveyard would have a guardian or guide that would “trap” the player in the graveyard but eventually also require the player to redeem their past. This became the raven in the game and eventually became the symbol for the brand. At one point Isaias joked about calling the game Graveyard: Raven’s Curse to rhyme with Ravenhearst and boost sales – as you can imagine, this was never approved by the team at Big Fish, but we’re very happy about it because Redemption Cemetery is now a very powerful and unique brand for us that we plan to carry forward and grow in the future. If you can think of any interesting novella’s or setting for future games, please feel free to suggest them!
How long does it take for you to design a game from start to finish?
Each of our title takes between 10 and 12 months to complete, from design to launch.
What are the biggest technical challenges when you develop a game?
One of our largest challenges is creating a top quality game while still ensuring that it will play well. While our games may not run on every machine, we have to keep our players in mind and ensure that we reach as many of them as possible. Sometimes, that means limiting the number and length of performance intensive features like cutscenes, which can run poorly on older machines.
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?
We do play games that have launched from time to time, especially when we are looking for inspiration for a sequel.
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?
Of course. Cutting features is a reality of being a successful game developer. Staying on budget and on schedule is a priority, and sometimes that means tough choices.
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?
For our games, we begin with story. We have a large number of ongoing brands, and it’s very important that the story fits within that brand. Our mechanics and gameplay are generally a product of the story, rather than the other way around.
What do you think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game, whether it be story, customization, gameplay, etc. Do you take it personally or ignore it?
It depends on how many players get mad about a certain aspect. If there are many, we take it into consideration for future titles.
Do you ever realize that the game you’re making needs a major overhaul? If so, is there a process to improving a game in the latter stages of development?
Yes. We have a specific process for identifying issues and improving the game as it goes through development. Early on, we have alpha playtesting sessions, with the goal of catching issues early. At a later stage, after making adjustments from alpha, games are sent out in a customer beta survey. If the survey shows us that major changes are still necessary, we always do it.