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Ask Anything about FEUDUMS Part 2: Professional Gamer Looks Behind the Curtain
Zikara-Schmidtmann Ferhat Lotfi, is a 37-year- old ex-professional gamer, game tester, and father of three children. He started his gaming career with small regional tournaments in Germany playing Fifa 97, Pinball, Age of Empires before getting more serious with the arrival of Starcraft and Half-Life (where he won both German Federal Final tournaments in 1998). Having moved to Algeria in 1999, he moved on to other games and became Algeria's Counter-Strike National Champion five times qualifing for the ESWC 4 times (2001-04) ; and National Warcraft 3 Champion (and ESWC qualifier) in 2005. His recent play tests have included Paragon, Tom Clancy's The Division and Polaris Sector. While his children take up most of his free time, he still finds time to play League of Legends, Elite Dangerous and CSGO! He is looking forward to Feudums.
This is his email Q&A with Feudums Designer Matyas Suranyi. Enjoy!
Lotfi: What is your job title?
Suranyi: You’d think that would be an easy question, but it’s not. This is an indie studio, so we don’t really hold titles. We just have tasks. When absolutely necessary, I’m called the Game Designer.
Lotfi: What are your responsibilities?
I’m the one-man army behind the game design. I’m writing the whole game (started on it a few years back), from the grand concept to the tiny rules of morale modifiers. If the game ’s concept or rules are seriously flawed or the game concept doesn’t work as a game, the blame is on me. Other than making the game design, I’m supervising and managing the graphic artists (like making sure the game assets have a certain quality and a solid style and that we have all the assets when we need them), and I’m the main GUI designer (I know it could be better!) and one of the main coders of the game. I’m also supporting/managing the marketing guys and any subcontractor we have. Well, like I mentioned, we are indie. I would happily share a couple of these things with others and stay out of their way, but our choices are limited.
As a co-owner of the studio, I also do part of the related financial and administrative tasks. Ultimately, my biggest responsibility is to make the game happen and make the game great.
Lotfi: What is a typical day like for you?
It keeps changing, but lately, I jump into work around 8-10 AM, and work until 6-7 PM. At that point, I rush home - unless I worked from home - and try to spend some quality time with my wife and our two kids (and some time for dinner), then I'm back to work around 9 PM. I usually work until 2-5 AM. Not a typical workday, nor something one could do for years, but it’s my indie dream after all and we can’t let the community nor the team down by not doing everything we can. Also, we have people contributing from around the globe so I can’t limit my availability to just a single timezone. Fortunately, my family is very supportive. And hopefully, my schedule won't stay this way forever.
Lotfi: What do you like most about your job?
Hard question. Maybe being able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, if that makes any sense. Also, the feelgood moments. Seeing that people find the concept interesting and valuable. Our first Backer buying a "Lifetime Backer Subscription" upon reading a couple articles of a game he had never seen working but fell in love with the concept and wanted to help. Members of our community willing to test buggy-as-hell versions to help make it happen. Small victories when we finally solve some ridiculous issues. Generally, I like the job in it's whole.
Lotfi: What types of problems have you encountered most often in the development of Feudums ?
Being an indie means you never have as much time and resources for anything that you'd feel nearly enough. You're in a never ending rush for reaching the next goal before you'd run out of the time and resources and its not a very forgiving territory. If you ignore game tweaking, the game won't give you a good experience and this will alienate everyone but the most hardcore followers. If you ignore finance, you'll run out of money. If you ignore graphics, musics, game atmosphere, the game will feel empty. So it feels like a roguelike survival game - you turn the wrong direction and you're dead or incapacitated. Like mission choices in XCOM. You just can't save everyone. Balancing between all the priorities with scarce resources and still delivering worthy builds in a timely manner is the biggest challenge.
On the bright side, it's also a good thing though. If you have to make hard choices all the time, this can help you to stay focused with the game and the game concept. If everything just feels too costly, you must think twice what should be added and what can be left out (at least for now), where to put your focus, etc. I think that's part of why indie teams can deliver interesting, whole-hearted games. It's similar to the 90s where game designers were restricted by the hardware and had to think out of the box.
The most important [feature] is Vassalage, because, in my opinion, it offers a unique, flexible and clever answer for the typical MMO issues, like limited player interaction, game balance issues for late arrivals, casual and hardcore player differences and barely supported social gaming, while at the same time it addresses other issues - like the question of newbie tutoring - too. Being a core element, it is also tightly and seamlessly integrated into other features, from diplomacy to warfare - creating a robust, unique system where every feature is naturally connected to the others.
Lotfi: What is the hardest challenge you have had to overcome — and how did you approach it?
Honestly, there is no "hardest challenge". It's a constant challenge. Consider the complexity of the project - a moddable MMO strategy for multiple platforms? That's really not a typical indie scope. The whole project is a grand challenge.
Lotfi: What is one thing you wanted in Feudums but won't be put in? Why?
There are dozens of concepts that were cut from the initial version and would add new layers to the game. Some others were cut as it turned out they would not fit to the focus of this game. But I honestly think the game will fly rather than die so we can add those layers as later (free) expansions. I just hope it won't feel like Civ 5 before the expansions - good, but a bit sterile. Rather like a rather complex and complete experience.
Lotfi: Many other strategy games fail when it comes to their diplomacy aspects. How will Feudums get it right?
The core idea is that for every action there is a reaction. In diplomacy, it happens through the Proper Reason system.
Diplomatic actions are validated against Feudums' "Code of Chivalry" (which players might just follow as humble and strictly as real medieval lords did theirs in their time). The Code basically defines "proper situations" for diplomatic actions - like when it's proper to declare on someone or to break an agreement. But it's not mandatory to follow it.
So, as a player, you're free to do whatever action you wish, the game won't say no. You can break agreements, violate treaties, ignore promises. But on the other side, it will always come with a price.
That price can be significantly lowered or free if you have a Proper Reason to do that certain thing. At the same time, if you didn't have a Proper Reason to do something, it may offer other players a Proper Reason to have you sanctioned. In certain situations, even a proper action can offer Proper Reasons to other parties. Think of by properly declaring on a rival liege, his allies will also get a Proper Reason to declare on you.
Vassals are normally obliged to follow their liege's diplomacy - but again, it's not forced on them by the game, rather, the liege, worse case, the other vassals get Proper Reasons to have them sanctioned if they refuse to follow a diplomatic decision.
It's also important that Proper Reasons offer choices. Opportunities. But no reactions are set in stone, giving players more territory for scheming.
Lotfi: Of all the cool features in Feudums, what are the top two or three in importance and why?
The most important is Vassalage, because, in my opinion, it offers a unique, flexible and clever answer for the typical MMO issues, like limited player interaction, game balance issues for late arrivals, casual and hardcore player differences and barely supported social gaming, while at the same time it addresses other issues - like the question of newbie tutoring - too. Being a core element, it is also tightly and seamlessly integrated into other features, from diplomacy to warfare - creating a robust, unique system where every feature is naturally connected to the others.
If I would pick another two, I'd say being tick-based and using the strong seasonal rhythm of life throughout all the aspects of the game are the most important features, as these three (with vassalage) define the core basics of the game more than anything else. Tick-based is important to understand why we aren't a reflex game - unlike almost every MMO strategy. You will have time to make decisions - not too much, but your campaign won't fail on your low APM (action per minute) like in a Starcraft match nor you can "snipe" units by sending in your command at the appropriate millisecond. If you fail, it'll happen due to the opponent's superior strategy or your inability to react to changes.
Seasons are important due to their influence on agriculture, industry and warfare - and these are also connected. Seasons encourage you to think like medieval lords and generals did - in periods and seasonal campaigns.
Lotfi: Why do the MMO build first? Why not just come out with the single or multi-player first?
It's easy; we think Feudums is a social game and it works the best with a lot of people. :) It's not the easiest path as we need to care with the technical difficulties coming from the MMO setting, but game concept wise it seemed to be the best choice.
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