The big Interview with
We talked with Tomasz (CEO) and Jacub (Creative Director). Thanks to Kate Urmanowicz, PR Specialist at Artifex Mundi.
Wanna go for a little competition? All you need to do is answering at least three of the 11 questions, Jacbub has about Enigmatis!
Gamesetter: Who is Artifex Mundi and since when is “Artifex Mundi” on the market?
[Tomasz] Artifex Mundi is a relatively young game development studio from southern Poland, on the market since 2007. However, for the first 2+ years of our existence we were having a hard start with many different projects and games and only in 2009 we started our casual games business with the first casual game being launched in early 2010.
Gamesetter: You did choose a very special name for your team. Why? Does it have a meaning for you?
[Tomasz] The name is in Latin and it says „The Artist of the World“. As many young people in Poland and throughout the world we always wanted to create new fantastic worlds and had as ambitious as unrealistic ;) plans for our games—you know, like—world’s best and largest RPG ;)—so we picked the company name we felt fits well into those plans. Well, life‘s tough and so far we’re not working on any RPG game, but the company name stayed as it was invented originally and in fact we like it. Though perhaps it is not the best name from marketing point of view—hard to remember, hard to understand... At least the logo is not that bad (hopefully) :)
[Jakub] In general the name refers to being a game developer—this is one of the most creative jobs one could imagine. Each game has its own world to be created—be it realistic or fantasy, the idea we keep in mind is to treat the act of creation as art. Whenever we receive praising e-mails from gamers, I feel it is worth it.
Gamesetter: Did you always make Casual Games? And if yes, why? What’s so special for you in Casual Games?
[Tomasz] As stated before, initially we had a lot of different—mainly extremely low budget—projects as we had no previous game development experience. These were work-for-hire deals where we were given initial or even exact design and just have to follow it, be it a full game or a part of one. However, we felt that this is no what we like best. We wanted to create our own games—taking responsibility for their success or failure—and so we discovered the hidden-object-puzzle-adventure genre. Though at that times it was rather referred as HOGs, not HOPAs.
What we like best about these games is that they enable us to tell the story and we do like telling stories very much. We put a lot of effort in working on the game storyline which hopefully is visible in games like Enigmatis, Nightmares from the Deep or Dark Arcana.
[Jakub] Apart from the storytelling, with the 2D, hand-painted graphics, HOPA games leave enormous field clear for the artists to show off their talents. The mechanics of these games are uniform, even in the storytelling layer there are certain limits, especially referring to the level of complexity, yet as it comes to visuals, the sky is the limit. While playing a high-quality HOPA game you can look at it as a series of top-notch paintings, which is a value in itself (though a good game should obviously form a coherent single whole in all its aspects, but this is a different subject ;)).
Gamesetter: Why games? Do you have a special bonding to games? Do the artists on your team feel that they can bring in their personal art style in a satisfying way?
[Tomasz] You know, since I was 14 (and I am 33 now) I knew I wanted to make games. I never truly thought I could do anything else in life (as a job I mean ;) ). Jakub, who’s 2 years younger, was there too just from the beginning. I think I feel like the games are an extremely creative thing to do and I guess we are creative. With all its hard moments I think we just like it very much.
As for artists, this is a hard question, but I think our artists like their job even if sometimes they have to sacrifice their own style for the sake of the game. If 5 people are working on the game art, you cannot afford to have it done in 5 different styles you know, so it’s a lot about compromise and working on a common art vision so that everyone can identify themselves with it.
[Jakub] There is also the game design aspect to it: the general idea of a game defines a subset of possible art styles, excluding all others. However, we always discuss it in the dev team (as well as other creative aspects) so that each and every of the team members has his or her own impact on the final product.
Gamesetter: Facebook, Browser, online, Android, iPhone, iPad/iPod – in parts you “serve” them as well. What do you think about this channels, where do you see the future of computer gaming?
[Tomasz] The future is—as always—hard to tell ;) Certainly, mobile market is huge nowadays and we’re among the first companies to bring HOPA games to android devices. However, I think the market is currently greatly diversified, I mean there are really a lot of platforms/places when you can sell/buy (depending on who you’re talking to ;) ) games. With HOPA games, currently PC and iOS markets are largest so if you have a game, you want to be there. However, Android market is growing fast and currently with Microsoft introducing Windows Store for Windows 8 (and our games are already there – we’re first of HOPA developers :) ) —well, we’re very excited about it. We’re definitely not doing Facebook—I think Facebook games are more and more risky. There was a boom for such games 2 years ago, but currently it’s hard to earn money on Facebook games (of course there always are exceptions) and more and more people turn to mobiles rather. But to sum up, I think it’s best if you can have your game played on as many platforms as possible. This is just safe.
Gamesetter: Your development as a company is (imho) a big one. There are huge differences between Joan Jade/Enigmatis/Time Mysteries and Nightmares/Dark Arcana. Have there been changing in the teams or are there other reasons?
[Tomasz] Ah, end here is where the fun begins! I’ll leave this one for Jakub, but I’ll just say that—personally—I feel like there are our old games—Joan Jade, Hospital Haste, Haunted Domains—and our new games, starting from Enigmatis. But let’s let Jakub speak—he’s the main mastermind behind our games after all.
[Jakub] In the gaming industry you either learn and evolve hard and fast or you’re left behind those who do. Our older HOPA games (i.e. Joan Jade and Time Mysteries: Inheritance) are no match to the newer ones. Starting with Enigmatis, which received best reviews (top 15 Hidden Object Games at Gamezebo, Game of the Year nominee at Jay Is Games), following with Nightmares from the Deep, which is our highest commercial success and through our latest games we reached a totally different level—and obviously we do keep making progress. :)
However, obviously apart from the differences in quality, there is a huge diversity in style, especially with respect to the game setting. You’ll time travel and visit 19th century England in Time Mysteries: The Ancient Spectres, then you’ll feel shivers going down your spine being a detective in a realistic, present-time thriller Enigmatis: The Ghosts of Maple Creek, then jump to the world of the Caribbean pirates and play a fascinating adventure in Nightmares from the Deep: The Cursed Heart, dive in the ocean to explore an underwater city in Abyss: The Wraiths of Eden or even end up in a totally twisted, unnatural realm in Dark Arcana: The Carnival. This is our deliberate decision and strategy: we want each of our games to bring something new; we keep doing our best to avoid becoming a factory producing numerous same-old-same-old-yet-another-game-I’ve-already-seen-before HOPAs.
Gamesetter: With Hospital Haste and Haunted Domains you also stepped into click management. Do you consider doing more of this or will you stay with hidden object puzzle adventures?
[Tomasz] Being a straightforward guy I’ll answer this simply—no, we don’t. At least not currently. We feel we’re better at HOPA games and we’re going to stay in this area. Storytelling and adventure gameplay is what we like most.
Gamesetter: Will there be a follow up for Enigmatis or Nightmares/Dark Arcana?
[Jakub] [spoiler alert!] We’re not yet done with the Preacher from Maple Creek and we surely want this story to find its grand finale :) So, yes, there will be a sequel to Enigmatis and Nightmares from the Deep will also emerge as a series soon. I cannot tell if we make a series from all our games though, but we’ll definitely consider it.
Gamesetter: Do you find it more difficult to do series as Time Mysteries rather then stand-alone games?
[Tomasz] The series has its pros and cons. You have to stick to the setting and/or story, so it’s harder at times, but again—you already have some characters developed, some art samples ready etc. So it’s easier. And if the series is successful it’s more reasonable from the business point of view to continue it rather than start a new one.
Gamesetter: Dark Arcana was specially very strong in the combination images/story. How important is the story for you? Who is writing the story? Do you have an author or is it team work? Or (as I’ve heard more often) the game designer?
[Jakub] The story is the most important aspect of HOPA games and possibly in many other genres too. It is the central element which engrosses the player in the game world and pushes her further, craving to learn what happens next. It also has a much higher impact on the other game design aspects than the opposite way round; the story always goes first and its coherence shapes the coherence of the game world and to some extent even the art style. It is also the most difficult aspect of game design—even a simple story is much harder to tell in an entertaining way for the player to play it than for a reader to read it in a book.
As HOPA games are uniform in terms of the mechanics, our designers are able to focus on the story and working with artists on the way it is told (which, in detail, is as important as the big picture). The design process varies to some extent depending on the actual project due to production-oriented circumstances; e.g. in case of Dark Arcana it was much more a team work than in some others. Personally I take part in it in each of our games, but we have several truly talented designers who come up with great ideas and successfully work with the rest of the dev teams to forge the ideas into playable adventures you may enjoy. :)
Gamesetter: Do you look into the games of other developers and do you read critics about other games than yours? For example to not do the same mistakes as others do?
[Tomasz] Of course we do. We try to play as many games as possible, read the reviews and try to weigh what players like and what they don‘t like. It’s not always simple as the reviewers look not necessarily at the things as players. Also, even if we have a lot of reviews from players like on Big Fish Games portal, this not always is truly representative. Only small percentage of players write the reviews and we often call them “hardcore casual players“—they not necessarily share the same feelings about games as the majority who does not write the reviews. However, in general we read everything we find about our games and as much as possible about the games of other hopa developers.
Gamesetter: What are your favourite games (beside your own ;))?
[Tomasz] I like games with a strong storyline, possibly a little more mature than most. So, Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove, Drawn series... I guess I liked Song of the Phoenix very much as well. Awakening series—though personally not my favourite—is also extremely well-made in my opinion.
[Jakub] Speaking about HOPAs, for my very personal, subjective taste, it would be Mystery Case Files: Dire Grove (which was the main reference for Enigmatis), Shiver: Vanishing Hitchhiker and also Drawn. Moreover, I admire Boomzap for their creativity, though it would be hard to pick any specific game among so many they made. Leaving my personal taste aside and thinking more as a designer, I praise Blue Tea Games for their deep understanding of what appeals to our audience as well as for the perfection in many aspects of their games.
Gamesetter: What would be the perfect game for you?
[Tomasz] A game combining a strong story like Enigmatis with the gameplay fun of Song of the Phoenix or House of 1000 Doors might get somewhat close to perfection. But Jakub will be more competent to answer this question :)
[Jakub] Mixing a strong story with great gameplay (and obviously wonderful art and music)—sounds like a plan! ;) A true masterpiece comes when all these aspects work together and there is another thing mixed in: the one which makes the players feel that undefined “something more” about the game and feel real emotions, being totally engrossed in the immersive adventure. There’s no clear recipe for this; you may achieve it either just by successfully mixing the listed elements, you may also risk more difficult design goals, e.g. by contrasting a creepy storyline with seemingly soothing, beautiful setting, thus achieving a unique suspense—following MCF: Dire Grove as a perfect reference, this was the main design goal of Enigmatis. However, it is still far from being a perfect game—this specific goal has been achieved, but there were so many other things we did wrong that I could speak of them for hours. Here comes the evolution and learning I mentioned before: the following games are better in other aspects and the true ideal is yet to be achieved.
Gamesetter: You are an European Team. The biggest market for Casual Games is the American one. Do you see a difference between this two markets? And if so, do you try to find a balance to make your games fit for both sides?
[Tomasz] We have most feedback from American players—thanks to Big Fish Games mostly—so it’s easiest for us to make the game appeal to American audience. However, I don’t feel there is a big difference in audience tastes between Europe and America in case of HOPA games. Generally, games that perform well in America also perform well here in Europe and vice versa.
Gamesetter: What are you plans in the future (if you don’t want to talk about the shop/forum/independence from BFG yet, just forget this question, maybe we can talk about this later)?
[Tomasz] Well, we’re working on several titles at the moment, we’re considering different approaches to distributing them so they might not get Collector’s Edition on BFG depending on what approach we choose. We’re also thinking ahead and preparing something special for our fans... But this will still take us several months so I cannot speak more about this project yet :) I can only say we will stay on HOPA market for a while still!
Gamesetter: How important is translation to you? For you, is it an issue when playing a bad translated game?
[Tomasz] Honestly, we need to trust our partners—be it BFG or G5—as they translate ou games and I hope they do it right. We don’t have the resources or people who could check all the translation themselves. Personally when I play a Polish translation and see it’s translated badly, I get discouraged definitely. I like the language to be used properly, be it English, Polish, German or any other. So, again—I hope our publishing partners translate the games well.
Gamesetter: What do you think about gamers? Do you think, that gamers should be more critical with games? Or just play, what is offered, as development is a progress and sooner or later claims and criticisms will be fulfilled anyway?
[Tomasz] I think we cannot demand anything from the gamers. The gamers are our customers. It is us who need to fulfill their needs, not otherwise. We love reading positive comments about our games—It gives us a huge motivation boost, yes it does, but we know there will be some negative comments too, we respect them, read them carefully and think what we can do better next time.
[Jakub] Respect for the players is what every designer must always bear in mind. We do not necessarily share the same tastes for games as our customers, but the understanding of the players’ needs is the key to success. Like Tomasz said, they are our clients, not the other way round.
[Tomasz] As for reviewers, well... :) Of course we sometimes do not agree with the reviewers. It’s not that we think all our games are 5 star hits, absolutely not, but sometimes we feel we are treated really unjust... Like there is a review on Nightmares from the Deep on a major casual site where the reviewer criticized the game’s storyline and storytelling in general strongly and after reading a lot of players’ reviews we feel—well, we’re quite sure about it—that he was absolutely wrong. But we never do anything about it (consider this answer a small exception), this is reviewer’s right to write his or her feelings even if we and most of the players feel completely otherwise.
Gamesetter: What do you think about feedback? Do you like to get direct feedback from people playing your games?
[Tomasz] We love direct feedback! The more opinions we have on early stages of production, the more good ideas and feedback we can still put into the game. We try to gather as much feedback as possible when prototyping our games, especially for the gameplay and the storyline. We will be implementing new ways of getting feedback on our games on early stages of development. Perhaps you’ll be even able to help us with that? :)
Gamesetter: How long does it take to make a game like Nightmares or Dark Arcana?
[Tomasz] Development time is currently about 12 months. Depending on various circumstances it may take a bit longer (Nightmares from the Deep) or a bit shorter (Dark Arcana).
Gamesetter: Can you give us a number, what it costs to do a Collector’s Edition?
[Tomasz] For business reasons I cannot give exact numbers, but this games are definitely not small projects and to develop a really good game is not a simple task. Let’s say that 100000 eur is typically not enough – so yes, if people don’t want to buy our games, we’re in serious problems. Considering that dev gets less than 50% of total game revenues (and often much less) we need to attract a lot of people so the game is profitable for us. And everyone knows what happens to a company the projects of which are not profitable :(
[Jakub] I’d like to clarify one thing: a CE is not necessarily better (and, consequently, more costly for the developer to create) than some SE games. As you may have noticed, both Dark Arcana and Abyss have been released as SEs—let’s call it a kind of a political decision—though the players’ reviews and ratings way surpass many of the CEs (currently 4.6 and 4.8 out of 5 average rating respectively), clearly showing the quality of these games is on a top CE level. There may be other great SEs out there and thus for any players I highly recommend having a look at all games, not just CEs, because they might miss some really great games otherwise.
Gamesetter: How fast is the technical progress in the games business. Is it hard to keep up for your programmers for example?
[Tomasz] Technical progress is fast and strong as usual. New platforms, new OS versions, new hardware etc.—more and more often. However, I daresay Artifex Mundi is a leading company in case of technology among HOPA developers. We are one of the first companies to enter Android stores—Google Play and Amazon Store—and we are on Windows 8 at the launch time. You’ll also see our games on Windows Phone 8 smartphones very soon.
Gamesetter: What kind of question has never been asked in interviews, even though you would love to answer it? And if there is a question, would you give us this special answer?
[Tomasz] Can’t think of anything. Perhaps Jakub...
[Jakub] We pay much attention to detail in our games, e.g. adding some minor story-related elements in the graphics, including true facts from the real world in the background, e.g. in a newspaper or on a plaque—or just adding some funny texts in the dialogues. Referring to your question, I’m always glad whenever anyone notices this, as it shows how deeply the games engross her. Play Nightmares from the Deep or Dark Arcana for the dialogues and, coming back to the tiny details, have you wondered why [spoiler alert!] in the bonus adventure in Enigmatis there are dozens of corpses in the cave and then in the main game the cave is clear? The game actually answers this minor question as well as many others!
Gamesetter: Is there anything you would like to say to the players out there?
[Tomasz] I’d like to thank players for all great—positive and negative—feedback we receive from them. And I’d like to say that if anyone wants to tell us something about our games, what you like or not or what emotions did it trigger or (hopefully rarely) what bugs you encountered—I encourage you to contact Artifex Mundi. You can be 100% sure we will read your opinion and try to do better next time. Our role is to deliver the games that the players like and hopefully we’ll be able to do it in the next installments from Artifex Mundi. Keep your fingers crossed for us! :)
[Jakub] The moments I read praiseful e-mails from the players are the moments I realize it’s all not only about making money—and the moments I read critical reviews are when I realize how much more we still have to do to improve our games! For both of these, huge “Thank you!”, our customers!
I’d also like to take this opportunity to apologize those who post questions on Big Fish Games’ forums and don’t receive answers: we keep reading each and every of the posts there, doing our best to answer what we can, though the forum rules prevent us from referring to numerous subjects in any way. In any case, you can find us at www.artifexmundi.com as well as https://www.facebook.com/artifexmundi—feel free to contact us whenever you like! :)
Tomasz and Jacub, we really thank you for this fantastic interview!