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This week’s Series Spotlight takes a look at the exhilarating Hidden Object Puzzle Adventure game series: The Secret Order. I caught up with Steve Ratatics, producer & game designer at Sunward Games to talk about the development of the series’ newest addition: The Secret Order: Masked Intent!

How did you come up with The Secret Order game series?

We started developing the first title of this series under the working title: Sarah Penington. We intended to create an exciting and unique journey for casual gamers. The more we got into the creation of the plot, the more we fell in love with one of the key elements, namely the time travel. It was so exciting to theorize what could have happened if… The more we became absorbed by the story, the clearer we saw the future potential of the plot riding on the wings of imagination. All of us in the meeting room sort of felt from the first day that the story evolved and took on a life of its own. We loved to be led by story and every new twist and idea widened the smile on our faces. The more excitement we experienced creating the plot, the more we deemed the original title of the game too generic – so it was ready to be renamed. That was the day when The Secret Order name was born…

Please introduce yourself & your team

Hi everyone. I’m Steve Ratatics, producer and game designer at Sunward Games. Let me say with some partiality that our game development studio employs ten extremely talented individuals. We are a small team but enthusiastic and persistent. There are people from all walks of life with very different backgrounds. We celebrate diversity every single day and we believe it is a strong driving force for our small studio.

What made you want to be a game developer?

Just like with everyone else, when I was a kid, playing games always made my imagination soar. It so happened that I started to work at an agency as a project manager that started a game development project as a pilot project. The opportunity presented itself, offering the chance to be the part of a team that creates fantastical worlds for other dreamers. Since then, my job is to visit those new worlds every day.

How do you get inspiration for a game?

It might sound banal but for us the primary source of inspiration is the community of casual game lovers. Their feedback, their thoughts, their knowledge, their expectations, their admirable passion for gaming keep us inspired on the daily basis. Reading a positive comment on something we produced can make even the worst day of the week a winner.

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

Well, the development cycle is getting shorter and shorter but there is still a ways to go. The complete creation of The Secret Order Masked Intent took approximately a whole year.

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

Once we released The Secret Order: New Horizon we realized that the programming language we used could not be used anymore, so we needed to leave it behind. This recognition was a big deal for our lives, but fortunately fate brought Artifex Mundi our way with their fantastic Casual Game Engine, called SPARK. With Artifex’s support, our dedicated programmers learned how to use this engine pretty quickly, and I guess we can say that a completely new world opened before us in terms of speed, reliability, and future possibilities.

What is your favorite game at the moment and why?

At the moment my favorite HOPA game is: Dark Parables: The Red Riding Hood Sisters. I guess it is a masterpiece. It is an action packed, fast paced, beautifully drawn game, with twists in an entertaining story.

Any advice for new developers?

Courage, perseverance, innovation, endeavor towards perfection, and I wish that luck be on their side.

What does your development team do that’s different?

I don’t know how other studios work, but if they love doing what they do, if they get up every day with the feeling of wanting to go to work, if they love to entertain, if they want to become a bit more every day, if they do it with passion and humbleness, if so, there is not much we do differently.

As a developer, after shipping a game, do you enjoy playing it just as much as you enjoyed making it?

I must have come from another planet, but I love playing our titles even for the 91st time. I love the scenery, the story, the characters, the minigames, little things, and details that I didn’t notice before. However, once the game is complete and launched there is always a silent sigh and some time without playing it.

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?

Well, you always need to compromise. We don’t sacrifice conceptual things, but minor details, adjustments- things that players might not ever recognize- get abandoned from time to time.

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

There are so many creative and talented teams out there, so there is always something that we handle as a unique idea and then out of the blue we encounter a similar sort of thing in another game. But, it doesn’t definitely mean that you need to throw that idea away or need to change it drastically, since those coincidences usually mean similarities and not sameness. So, answering the question, there was nothing we needed to change dramatically in our games, but similar ideas and approaches appear sometimes.

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

There are many clichés in the game industry and on the top of that, every party in this industry has it own clichés. However, I’ll say one: Cliché: Playing games all day long as a game creator is always fun. Truth: There are a few times a year when it is not, like when you are sick you can’t enjoy it that much. ☺

What do you find is the best approach for starting a new project?

In our case story and characters are the foundations. Whenever we have a brainstorming session, and we have a lot of them, many great ideas arise that we can’t use in our present project. If everybody considers the idea a good one, we save it for later. So, when we are about to start a new project we already have numerous great thoughts to build upon, and the path has basically been appointed.

What do developers think about the people who get mad about a particular aspect of a game?

We would be really dumb ignoring an opinion just because it is a negative one. As a developer who creates games for players, every single opinion matters. Many times negative comprehensive and constructive feedback generates a very positive outcome in the end.

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?

We try to take into consideration as many aspects as possible to avoid such a situation. We continually request feedback from those who don’t live with the project on a daily basis and are very knowledgeable with this genre. Their feedback has helped us to be on track so far.

What do fans of The Secret Order series have to look forward to in The Secret Order: Masked Intent?

If I need to describe in a few words what to expect from our game, I would say: Get prepared for an amazing adventure with a fascinating storyline spiced with wonderful graphics, and spectacular animations and cutscenes. Once you start playing The Secret Order: Masked Intent you can’t put it aside until you find out how this beguiling story ends. ☺

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