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Kingdom is one of the most amazing indie games on Steam right now. It all started a a small Flash project for the browser and quickly grew into an iOS-game with a very modest Kickstarter campaign. However later game developers Noio (Thomas van den Berg) & Licorice (Marco Bancale) partnered with good guys from Raw Fury and released the game as a full-blown Steam single player game. Two developers managed to create an amazing project that has amazing visuals, great atmosphere, unusual gameplay & slim budget. We’ve talked with Thomas about the game and discussed its production.
Kingdom is a 2D side-scrolling strategy/resource management hybrid with a minimalist feel wrapped in a beautiful, modern pixel art aesthetic. Play the role of a king or queen atop their horse and enter a procedurally generated realm primed to sustain a kingdom, then toss gold to peasants and turn them into your loyal subjects in order to make your kingdom flourish. Protect your domain at night from the greedy creatures looking to steal your coins and crown, and explore the nearby, mysterious forests to discover curious and cryptic artifacts to aid your kingdom”. – a quote from the description of the game on Steam.
Getting into Game Development
My name is Thomas van den Berg, I’m from the Netherlands and I work from Amsterdam. Together with Marco Bancale (www.licorice.is) we built Kingdom. I mucked about in Flash for a long time: tiny projects in my free time and some work as front-end developer. The positive reception of “Kingdom Flash” was what made me decide to try gamedev after graduating my MSc A.I.
New Kindgdom VS Flash version
To me they really feel like two different games. In retrospect the Flash game looks like a proof-of-concept, from which we decided to build a “real” game which is now on Steam. This consisted of adding content and making sure the mechanics work as intended. For example, there was really no point in expanding the castle in the Flash game, even though it was possible to build extra walls. Looking at the current game it feels like almost the well-rounded thing we envisioned at the onset of this project. But that’s what updates are for!
Game Design Through Economy of Game Elements
Introducing new elements is just as hard as working with a small set. Limitation breeds creativity and such. The Flash game had only one action, because that’s just where we ended up at. And many games have only one action. Instead of only one button to jump, we have only one button to pay. We decided to stick with this single action mechanic from the beginning and it’s been a lot of fun for us to elaborate on that and solve problems. The biggest problem at the moment is controlling the economic feedback. Some players are dirt poor and others get so rich they really don’t care about coins anymore.
Well, the game is hardly “huge”. It’s all set on a level plane, so the challenge of generating a procedural map is much easier than in 2D or 3D environments. The map is built out of “building blocks” that are randomly laid out side-by-side.
These “blocks” each contain a single item like a statue or other structure. Then the game figures out which sections of ground need which kind of vegetation and plants that. Finally it adds stubs for towers and walls in the sections where those are allowed, to prevent overlap.
The Inner Workings of AI
The game is based on this relatively simple simulation of your citizens. The citizens basically do a single thing depending on whether it’s day or night, and the combatants respond to immediate threats. When the citizens need to distribute, the game’s core computes the best division of labor using a top down “Job Assignment” algorithm.
This makes them slightly omniscient in that regard. For example: a worker all the way on the left will ‘magically’ know that there’s a worker doing his job all the way on the other side of the map. Other than that they are often perceived as being ‘stupid’, but it’s important that they are predictable, because you have no direct control over them. Rough edges and bugs aside, if they do something bad, it’s usually in response to an action from the player.
To illustrate: if you send your workers out by queuing construction at night, that’s a risk you’re taking, but they will obey the command. If they were to make a decision to stay inside based on whether it’s dangerous outside, we would have to relay this decision to the player and explain it. This is hard to show and makes the citizens’ behavior harder to predict. So like you said, the mechanics are quite straightforward to allow you to manipulate them for more (or less) effective results.
Working with Pixel Art
Kingdom started out as a little animated pixel art world that I built while learning pixel animation, just as a relaxing pastime. It’s a style of art I can build and still have time to do programming. I really like making low res art because I can take a kind of trial and error approach and learn along the way. Kingdom’s art is rough, but it’s consistently rough and the engine glues it together with lighting and FX. Another nice bonus of rendering at a low resolution is the performance benefit. Realtime lights, reflections, and other shader-based effects are no obstacle at all.
Building the Atmosphere
We definitely knew what we were looking for, the game is slow moving at times and it’s extremely important that it’s a pleasure to soak up the environment. The look of the game has slowly improved over the course of development as we changed the details to form a consistent natural world. ToyTree—who did our music and sfx—perfectly picked up on the atmosphere and created our great soundtrack and sounds. One of the things that bothers me personally is the way the game looks after you’ve cut down a lot of trees and expanded the Kingdom, there really is too little detail in the ‘plains’ to replace the much richer forest. It’s one of the things I’d like to work on.
Doing Kickstarter Campaign
Looking back, the Kickstarter budget was really modest, and for that budget we would definitely not have made the game we have now. Then again, the Kickstarter was about making an iOS port of the Flash game. Joining forces with Raw Fury (publisher) has been absolutely great. They worked just as hard on their side as we did on the game, and we would’ve gotten nowhere without them. Working with a small team means we really have to focus on the game itself, and Raw Fury picked up all the other stuff so we were able to do exactly that.
How to make everything work? Just maek gam! Such manage, very promote! I really don’t feel like I’m in a postion to give important advice yet. I am lucky in that I can write code and make a kind of art, which has allowed me to apply my vision to every aspect of the game. This way I never ‘got stuck’ and I can pour all my energy into the game, though that’s definitely no guarantee for success.