Saturday, 3 June 2017

Interview with H&R Studio, currently developing Empire in Ruins

I interviewed Emiliano, founder and lead developer/manager of the H&R studio.  He was born and raised in Italy, but has spent the last 10 years living across Europe (France, Germany, Estonia).  In 2012, during  the stop-over in Estonia, he met George – and an Indie dev adventure was born!

1 - So tell us a little about your team

We're a quite colorful bunch, spread out across Europe and with the studio based in Tallinn, Estonia. We got started as a hobbyist 2 man team almost 5 years ago, then in the last year and half we found some more likeminded people, and production started skyrocketing.

·         Emiliano (Italy) - Project Manager, Lead Developer and Designer
·         George (Greece) - Artistic director, 3d Generalist
·         Konrad (Latvia) - Illustrator, concept artist
·         John (Greece) - 3d Rigging and animation
·         Alexandros (Greece) - 3d Modeling and textures
·         Marcus (Germany) - SFX crafting and audio management programmer
·         Alessio (Italy) - Static 3d assets modeling
·         Yannis (Greece) - Marketing and texts

Additionally, we have a couple of external technical "advisors" for UX/UI and for C# related technicalities, and a 4-elements folk metal band for the soundtrack, the Red Dew Hellpipes.

2 - You're currently working on "Empire in Ruins" - could you tell us about that game?

Empires in Ruins is the thing that has occupied every single minute of our free time for the last few years. It's basically a story-driven mix of 4X, Tower Defense and RTS genres.

You take the role of a grumpy alcoholic Sergeant, Hans Heimer, and you try to quell the rebellion in the Western Marches of the Principality of Koth.  As your superiors in the capital don't seem to have much faith in the campaign, you get assigned a small ragtag army led by a bunch of unruly officers, and therefore to win the day you will need to resort to ambushes and dirty tricks rather than direct assaults.

You rescue the provinces from the enemies by fighting TD/RTS-like battles (26 maps), and then you manage your conquered provinces through officers, research and building assets, in 4X style.

Meanwhile, not everyone in your principality seems to be sharing the same agenda, so you will find yourself knee deep into a political struggle of factions that the you would have gladly avoided.

3 - What part of gamedev have you found to be most challenging?

Well, beside the obvious technical problems of a project this large (art coherence, story writing, optimization, gameplay mechanics quality and balance, etc.), I think the real challenge is to maintain an unshakeable faith in being able to reach the target (before dying of old age!). Dedication has to be a daily state of mind when a project spans years of work, I am not being dramatic about this, it really is so!  

Projects this long take a toll on personal life, free time, incomes, etc., so you really need motivated people to get to the end of them. I can't even start telling you how lucky I feel with the tough and focused team we have. We like to think of ourselves as a juggernaut, aiming for release day with a quality product in our hands while trampling obstacles that are on our way.

4 - On the other hand, what part(s) of gamedev do you find most rewarding?

Well, one is the fact of seeing your own dream growing up in your hands, and the satisfaction of seeing the effort you put into it paying off in quality and quantity. Let's face it, everyone that makes games, specially indies, is just grabbing by the horns a childhood dream, what could be nicer than that?

The other one is the feedback of people. You throw hours and hours of your work and thinking out there, to public display, and then wait, excited as a teenager on the first date. And when positive feedback (and I gotta say, most of the feedback we gathered in these years is very positive), man, it's a unique feeling really. Worth every ounce of sweat.

5 - Is there anything that makes Empire in Ruins stand out from other strategy games we might have played?

Well, I think that for one, we took a steep but rewarding way in order to give the game a well-defined character. I am one of those players (it changed, when I was young I minded much less), that can't play a game without character for too long, no matter how brilliant everything else.

That is what we are trying to avoid in EiR. Strong characters, mostly corrupted, nasty and rude, a sort of grim sarcasm wrapping it all up, then quite unique visuals (don't get me started on this cause I could talk about it for hours ;) ) and even the soundtrack, as we have a band composing folk metal music specifically for the game. (little preview of the music here)

Besides that, and this is really something we care for a lot, the mix of gameplay is also something that personally I never saw anywhere else. We did try to keep it deep enough to satisfy strategy geeks (like me) but avoiding going too deep into micromanagement. We also quite like the alternating of turn based management with fast paced real time battles (worry not, they have active pause available), most of which fought on the premise that probably the enemy is stronger than you to start with. I think all together, if well balanced, this might make for a quite peculiar strategy game.

6 - What sort of games / developers / development teams have been your inspiration?  (In terms of this game and becoming developers in general)

Well, I can talk mainly for myself (Emiliano) in this. It all began on Amiga, then I said for the the first time the sentence "I want to make videogames" after playing Monkey Island (I know it's not a strategy game, but a 12 years old kid had to get the dream started somewhere).

Then came the 90s RTS era. Warcraft, Starcraft, Red Alert, Age of Empires, etc etc. That can be seen as the real inspiration behind all of this I guess. I was never really into the game development scene, so I am one of those that barely know the names of a handful of famous developers or game designer.

I could mention Ron Gilbert, but it's just because of Monkey Island ;)

7 - When can we expect to see Empire in Ruins available to download?  Also, from where?

Empires in Ruins gets daily closer and closer to seeing the light of day(finally!). I would say that if nothing strange happens, the end of summer beginning of autumn will be the time. But quality comes first, I think that rushing it in the final months would be the best way to waste the work of years.

As for where, for sure Steam (we're already greenlit since almost one year and half, see shameless self-promotion link), then we will definitely try Gog, and most of the online stores that will decide to accept us.

8 - If you could give other aspiring indie devs just one piece of advice that you view as most important, what would it be?

Be realistic, be creative, prepare for hell :D I think that summarizes pretty well. Nowadays hundreds of games get released each month, quality is for sure essential to get your game in a spotlight, but the whole side struggle to achieve visibility really requires patience and perseverance. That said, come and cover us with love or insults anytime in our public pages:
·         on Twitter
·         on Facebook
·         on IndieDB

Thanks Emiliano for a great interview and I can certainly identify with what you say about the hardships of the indie life – as well as the rewards!  We look forward to the release of Empire in Ruins. 

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