Interview with Leszek Sliwko

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I recently reviewed Age of Fear: The Undead King. Although I decided that it’s a fantasy strategy game (as opposed to an RPG), there’s a sequel due to come out around the end of the year that may muddy those waters a bit. With the review behind me and only a few details about the upcoming sequel in front, I decided to email the game’s creator, Leszek Sliwko, seeking answers. Luckily, Leszek was kind enough to sit down and respond my questions over email.

Hit the jump for the games that inspired Age of Fear’s mechanics, details about the sequel’s multiple branching campaigns, and the developer’s one (surprising) regret about Age of Fear: The Undead King.

Hey Leszek, thanks for taking the time to chat with me. Can you tell me a little about your studio?

Hey Craig, honestly speaking my studio is where my laptop is. My friends, who helped me develop Age of Fear, work the same way and we share code repository (thus everyone has access to latest resources/code).

What is your background? What got you into making games?

I am professional software developer. I have been freelancing for a while and one contract involved writing a strategy game. The project was quickly abandoned for the lack of potential profits, but I liked turn-based strategies and I picked it up.

What are your favorite strategy games?

Battle of Wesnoth, Fantasy Wars, Panzer General and Warlords 2. So far my favourite is Battle of Wesnoth. It’s great game, however the ranged attacks and magic system are pretty basic. The main drive for Age of Fear was to make tactic combat more interesting (positioning, artillery support, unique skills, etc.)

Where did you come up with the idea for Age of Fear? Did any games in particular influence its design?

I guess Battle of Wesnoth, Warhammer and Warlords 2 have their impact. However, the design evolved later on and current game iteration is far away from what it was initially. There were many improvements and features between 1.0.0 (initial release) and 1.4.5 (current version): multiplayer, new units, new battles, items, graphics improvements, evolve-able attributes, etc.

Where did you get the idea for free movement, specifically? Was that from playing tabletop strategy games where you move units with a ruler?

I have have played Warhammer quite extensively several years ago – you are using ruler there.

The problem with grid/hex system is every unit has the same size, it’s not possible to reflect situations like few small infantry units taking on big target. In Age of Fear, group of small goblins can easily immobilize and kill lone knight. However, if knight has few footmen protecting his back, the situation will be reversed. That’s the kind of challenges you will find in Age of Fear.

I remember seeing characters in Age of Fear: The Undead King gain certain attributes based on things they did in combat (e.g. “Skeletons Slayer” or “Goblin Slayer”). However, it was never made clear in the game what (if anything) these attributes actually did. Will that change in the sequel?

Slayer provided +1 Attack bonus against certain creature type/race (like all zombies). It is small bonus, but as we did not have evolution system – it urged player to keep his soldiers alive (or raise them in case of Undead).

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Tell me about the sequel. What’s going to be different?

Like I mentioned above, there were many features between initial version and current one. Sequel is mainly new story (much less linear like current one). There will be whole new army set and probably editor (but not immediately).

In sequel there is already more than 80 units and over 100 skills/attributes. The whole new army set (Chaos Demons) will offer strategy based off summoning and destruction spells. IMO, the most interesting unit so far is Will-O-Wisp, which can take control over hostile unit and then jump to another enemy (if current host is killed). If used properly, Will-O-Wisp is real killer. But there is always a mage who can dispel energy from Will-O-Wisp, rendering it helpless…

Another meaningful difference are branches in single player campaigns. In Age of Fear player could find 90% of content in single play-through, in sequel, player will need 3-4 plays to visit everything. Also, we have hidden several bonus levels/units and few Easter Eggs.

We are also experimenting with RPG-like leveling system, where unit can exchange experience points for various upgrades (bonuses to statistics and also special skills). It’s based off players’ feedback, thus I am not sure in which direction it will go.

You mentioned branching campaigns. How will the game branch: from making choices in between battles, from accomplishing (or not accomplishing) certain objectives within battles, or some combination of the two?

There are both types:

– certain battles could be lost and it did not mean the player ends game. For example – try to lose first battle in human campaign. Or better try to lose it twice for Easter Egg :-)
– in AOF2, the player will be given a choice what to do (i.e. attack castle straight away or prepare for nightly assault). In sequel there is 40+ possible battles in both campaigns, but player needs to win like 12-13 battles (in each campaign) to finish game.

Can you give an example of a time when the campaign branches?

Few examples:

– Mission 5 (Krill vs human patrol). if battle is lost, Krill is resurrected as Wight (great bonuses vs human and orcs, but Lich is not available later in game)
– Mission 7 (Krill vs orcs), losing battle starts bonus level (Krill vs Human vs Orcs) – my favourite level anyway

What did you learn from releasing Age of Fear: The Undead King?

I have learned how to build proper and flexible architecture, how to enforce modules separation, how to be good team coordinator and how to motivate people. Those skills come very handy in my job and it’s hard to acquire them without practice. Thus I think any aspiring programmer should have its own project.

Money-wise, being indie is hard, especially when you are lacking marketing muscle. It takes thousands of development hours and the result will not always be like you imagined. Nowadays, people are expecting to pay very little or even none for games and it’s hard to make reasonable profit. Also piracy does not help.

Is there anything you would do differently if you had it to do over?

Not really, maybe settle for simple geometry like grid instead of free movement. It would be much simpler to implement.

Thanks for your time.

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