It’s me again with a new game developer interview! So I’ve recently been quite engrossed with a cool indie game called Empire of Ember. A strange mix of Mount and Blade, Heroes of Might and Magic, and Legend of Grimrock, it’s made by a single guy and has rather impressed me. You can pick up Empire of Ember right here by clicking on the image below:
Today I bring you an interview I held with the developer itself, where we discussed several things about the games industry and other enlightening questions!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you do?
I started in the game industry about 20 years ago. About five years ago, I left my job to start Empire of Ember. I work as a programmer by trade but have had to fill many roles for this game.
What does being a game designer actually mean?
It means working incredibly hard to try to develop a popular and cost-effective game design in a very crowded, demanding, and competitive market. And you’ll probably either be a massive success or totally lose everything. It’s very risky, but very rewarding if one can be successful.
There has been a great deal of controversy in recent years about micro transactions in gaming. Not so much an opinion, but why do games tend to cut out content to sell later as DLC and lootboxes? Is it to do with development costs? Or is it time related?
Of course, it’s to make more money. But in their defense game development costs outpace prices as the standards get higher and higher. Compare a $40 game to a $40 game from 10 years ago and look at the difference in graphics quality, detail, and size. The game today may have cost 5X more to make, but still sells for the same price, less considering inflation. It’s partially made up in volume, partly in better tools, and partly in monetization schemes.
Tell us about your current project.
Empire of Ember is like three games in one: First-person large army scale combat, city builder/sharing system, and dungeon explorer. Originally, I did not start out with the intention to make such a large game, but I felt each new system added to how fun the game was and provides a unique experience you can’t get with any other game.
As anyone who creates anything, we must all deal with criticism from consumers. How do you go about it particularly in the prolific and viral standard of gaming today?
I both criticism and suggestions very seriously because it’s how I tell how well Empire of Ember is received and what parts should be improved. I have gotten some criticism I feel is unfair or not well thought out but try not to just be dismissive either.
What advice would you give budding developers into taking the plunge into game design?
Do your homework. Make sure the game engine you want to use supports the kind of game you want to make, at the performance level you want. Make sure the tools you pick work properly before integrating them. Make sure you hire the right people who can do quality work, who will stick it out the whole project.
If you still have time to play video games, what are some of your favorite ones to play?
I get addicted to games too easily so have generally stopped playing. I do plan to play Mount and Blade II: Bannerlord once it comes out of Early Access, as that is one of my favorite games of all time.
What inspires you to do what you do?
At large companies, you tend to have a minor impact on the quality of the project as a whole. I want to make a game that really represents my ideas on game design, a product that I can be proud of, and turn that into a business I can use to support myself and my family long term.
What is the hardest part of your job?
I’ve basically sacrificed the last five years of my life and still don’t necessarily know if the game will be successful enough to justify it. Lost time with my kids, damaged my health in certain ways. Some of this time and pain could have been avoided if I had more experience and better connections when I started the project, so in a way, the hardest part was getting the company going in the beginning.
What was your favorite thing about game development? Is there anything you find difficult or challenging in dealing with the struggles?
Positive feedback from users is great to hear. I also enjoy getting solid feedback on game improvements and being able to implement those to make the users happy. Getting good feedback is the hardest part. Users that leave negative reviews don’t usually explain in a clear way what their issues were, and it hurts sales in the meantime.
What lessons have you learned from your first game?
I have a much better understanding of the Unity engine technically and would have designed things in a way that is easier to update and polish; the tools and code are a little too raw. I also learned if someone is asking for too low wages, it usually is because nobody is willing to pay them more because they can’t do the job. Many times, even until today, I will hire someone because they are cheap, only to have to ultimately redo the work anyway.
What are your future project(s)?
I would love to be able to make a more expansive sequel, maybe with mounted units and an open world. But it depends on the success of the original. It doesn’t have to make all the development cost back because I am also investing in the IP, but at least it has to make a sizable percentage of it.
If you couldn’t be an game developer, what ideal job would you like to do?
If I could pick any job over again, I would have become a doctor. I like helping people.
What is your ideal video game if money and time was no object?
I would still make Empire of Ember and I think the design has nearly everything I could ask for. But would like to make it as a AAA quality production, in a faster game engine so I can also have those thousand-unit count battles I wanted.
Thank you very much for your time, Poleaxe Games! I’ll be writing a more in-depth review of Empire of Ember in good time, and expect me to discuss it during this year’s GOTY articles. I hope everyone enjoyed it and I will be back soon!