To go along with our podcast, and the eventual release of Shadow Heroes: Vengeance In Flames, Justin from Allied Games took some time to talk about his life as a game developer, Allied Games, and Shadow Heroes (which you can get on Steam right here).
TorontoGameDevs: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? What kind of gamer are you?
Well, I’m what indie studios tend to call a unicorn. I’m a programmer who can do art. I went to Seneca college here in Toronto for art. After that I studied programing and game design followed up by some business courses where I focused on project management. In terms of what kind of gamer I am, I’m a big time strategy guy. Real time, turn based you name it. I play Civ for hours on end, love Starcraft and Warcraft, The X series and on a larger scale I play Eve every now and then where you really need a lot of cunning to get ahead. I guess I just like games that require a lot of thinking on your feet.
TorontoGameDevs: Want to just share with us a little history about Allied Games, what other titles have you worked on?
Well, we didn’t start as Allied Games. At first, we were Darkwave Studios but after a number of the partners decided to move on due to other commitments or burning out, we reincorporated as Allied Games. In the past we worked on a number of mobile projects. Including Xetrix, a pattern recognition based puzzle game, Yummy Rainbow, a color matching casual game, and Shadow Heroes: Chibi Fight, a reflex based game where the characters from shadow heroes duel each other.
TorontoGameDevs: Getting to Shadow Heroes: Vengeance In Flames, what can you tell us about the game? How does it compare or differ from other strategy games?
Shadow Heroes is not your typical Strategy Game. We started with a concept for gameplay then built a world around it. Not a small world either. We have created a fractured country with a background and history. Generations have passed and mysteries have been uncovered. Shadow Heroes takes place in this fantasy world and has particular impact on the nation of Three Towers. Within the nation of Three Towers, Magic is considered incredibly dangerous and should controlled or destroyed for the safety of all citizens. History is on the nations side as well. The last time a powerful magical artifact fell into untrained hands it twisted the possessors mind and transformed them into a demonic monster who raged havoc on the entire continent. Over the years, Three towers has become more and more strict when it comes to magic. Even those born with ability to use magic where considered dangerous and immediately confiscated by the state to be controlled and monitored for their entire lives.
Other nations don’t take such a heavy stand on the subject. Some train people with an aptitude to cast defensive spells or spells that would help cultivate the lands. All agree that powerful artifacts are too dangerous and should be locked away. Many such artifacts have been locked away in areas known as monasteries. The collection of magical artifacts in these area permeate the land with magical radiation so only those who have been changed by magic tent to live in these areas and protect the artifacts from looters. People changed by magic in this way are known as Andres.
In the campaign you play as the young Garrison Capitan Armas Vilhelmi who is tasked to protect the southern border town of Faircrown from a freespell rebellion. The freespell believe that all magic should be free to use and all magic users should be left to their own devices. They team up with likeminded combatants in violent rebellion and are trying to gain a foothold in Faircrown. It is quickly evident that there is more to this rebellion than meets the eye. The rebels are too well equipped and too well organized and it’s your job to get to the bottom of it.
In terms of gameplay, there really isn’t a lot out there like Shadow Heroes. We don’t have typical resource gathering, tech trees, research or base building. We focus on the streamlined battles. We like to call Shadow Heroes a Real-time Battle Manager. You don’t control any units directly. You can’t order units to move to a location or attack a specific target. Instead you build an army and provide formations. You choose who has what equipment and if they should use it all the time or in short bursts for greater effect. You never really take part in the battle directly. The result is a massive Tug-of-War battle where both sides are trying to constantly push through the other sides army as reinforcements come in waves. That doesn’t stop your job from being frantic as you have to split your attention between setting up the reinforcing army and monitoring what the enemy is building so that you can best counter it.
TorontoGameDevs: You guys are currently doing an Early Access on Steam. What made you go that route? Do you recommend that for other game developers? What have you learned from the experience?
One of the primary goals of early access is to get the community to provide feedback and help shape the game. Going into early access we took this principal to heart. We changed our develop cycle to be hyper agile so that we could quickly act on any feedback we received. We started posting updates every week. Not just development update posts on a website either. Full patches to the game. We take community feedback very seriously. Since we have been working on Shadow Heroes so closely for so long, Things tend to be a bit out of perspective. You know the inner working of the mechanics so learning them is no big deal but to someone who is new to the game it might be completely convoluted.
Would I recommend early access to other game developers? For sure. While there are worries of people not getting the proper impression of your game because it’s not done, most media outlets won’t really look at early access games. That means you basically just get the early adopters who, usually, understand that the game is not finished yet and there are improvements to be made. Even so, you will get people who don’t like your game and that’s completely alright. Look at their feedback and ask yourself how you can make the game better as a result. If possible engage those users and see if they are willing to work with you to make the game even better.
We have learned a lot given that this is our first real venture into the PC gaming market. A few of the major misconceptions that I’d love to share would be that simply being on steam didn’t guarantee that you would be seen. There are so many games on steam and since greenlight adds games all the time, you don’t get a lot of time in the spotlight. I also learned that steam is a lot more hands on than I expected. Unlike systems like facebook, Steam is willing to put in change requests for new features and help you make your game a success. It’s not exactly their primary goal and it can take a long time, but at least the option is there.
Finally, and I get asked this a lot by new developers, is the whole steam greenlight thing. Greenlight is in my opinion incredibly frustrating. I know it sounds strange to hear that but let me explain. When we first went on steam greenlight, we got a ton of votes and everything looked great. Then, out of nowhere, basically nothing. So many people submitted new games in a 24 hour period that we were pushed to page 2 or 3 of the new games on steam greenlight. This was before the new discovery features though so maybe that’s changed. For about 2 weeks we checked on the votes multiple times a day and sat thinking something was wrong. Comparing our game to other titles that went on greenlight the same time as us. Then, again out of nowhere, someone at valve decided to greenlight over 100 games. It was a massive relief but a bit of that triumph had been taken away when we realized just how many games where accepted at the same time as us. It didn’t really leave us knowing if the game was going to be liked by the community or if it was just in the top 100 games on greenlight at the time. With the new discovery systems, I hope that has changed for other developers. I’ll have to see if that’s the case with our next game.
TorontoGameDevs: What is like working at a game developer in Toronto. How has the game developerment scene in Toronto helped you out? Finding talent, etc.
Working at an indie studio in Toronto is what I imagine it would be like working essentially anywhere. We have most of our communications online and deal with people all around the world. The good thing about being in Toronto is the number of tech savvy people there are and people who have experience you lack. In our early days we went to events like MaRS and GameOn events by interactive Ontario where we were able to learn a lot and make connections. The schools in the area also provide great talent. We worked with George Brown to provide internships for multiple students and still go back to some of our old interns for freelance work because we know they can do it. Taking some of the work out of the hiring process means a lot.
TorontoGameDevs: What's next for Allied Games, and Shadow Heroes?
The next goal is to launch Shadow Heroes and see how it does In the market. We are going to be releasing the game episodically later this month and are working super hard to makes sure everything works and the early game tutorials are up to snuff. Anyone who purchases the game right now will receive all the future episodes as well. After Shadow Heroes, only time will tell.
TorontoGameDevs: Any last things you want to share?
A big focus of Allied Games is to help the Indie Community. That’s why we are working with schools, stream our development 3 days a week and actively try and answer peoples questions. So, for anyone out there who has a big idea, wants some insight on the industry or is thinking of the game industry as a career, drop us a message and we will try our best to help. Everything is easier if we work together.
Thanks again to Justin for taking the time to chat with us, and make sure to check out Shadow Heroes: Vengeance In Flames on Steam.