Bisser Dyankov, designer on Omerta – City of Gangsters, discusses the several topics of development including player feedback, DRM, piracy the success and failures of Omerta and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Omerta – City of Gangsters.
Bisser Dyankov, Game Designer at Haemimont Games. I took part in the overall game design, mission scripting, story development, strategy and city design, combat mechanics design; I also did some production tasks and most recently, did a lot of interviews.
How did you get started in developing PC games?
BD: My personal story as a gamer is and always will be associated with PC gaming. Haemimont Games is traditionally a PC developer. Our first game – Tzar: The Burden of the Crown was published for PC in 2000. Our first Xbox title – Tropico 3 – was out in early 2010 (the console version). So it is a matter of history, more or less. Also we have a background in RTS and city building strategies, which are natural for the PC platform.
Where did the idea for Omerta – City of Gangsters come from?
BD: The guys at the design team are fans of turn-based combat games, most of them also play table-top RPG games like Dungeons and Dragons. We always wanted to create a turn-based game. The gangster setting was settled with the publisher – Kalypso Media. It was a welcomed outcome, as we also like noir films and novels, and the peculiar atmosphere of gangster stories. Both classical (like the proverbial Godfather) and modern takes on the genre (Boardwalk Empire), provided further inspiration.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Omerta – City of Gangsters?
BD: Right now a lot of the comments about Omerta – City of Gangsters are about the lack of depth in the strategy aspect of the game. The whole system was redesigned three times. We tried different combinations in the emphasis between the strategy and the combat aspect of the game. We finally tried to make those two elements equal, but it is only frank to say we could have done it better.
On the other hand, a lot of people thanked us for developing a gangster-themed game with both tactical and strategic aspect. We struck a chord there. We believe the players enjoyed the theme of the game, the presentation, the music.
In its current form, how close is Omerta – City of Gangsters to your initial vision?
BD: I frankly couldn’t tell now. When you pass through so many stages of implementing an idea, developing a prototype of it, testing, tweaking, scrambling, implementing a new idea, new prototype, more testing, comparison, etc., etc., you try to embrace the current version as hard as you can. Given the short development schedule, you simply attach yourself to the latest (working) version of the game and just do you best to make it as good as possible, implementing elements from earlier design, scrapping others, and in the end we can barely keep track which element from which “version” of the game is. After all, there is only one version of every game, and it is the latest version.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Omerta – City of Gangsters and if you faced a similar challenge.
BD: We at Haemimont Games usually make the other mistake, and it is setting the difficulty for our games too low. Difficulty is a tricky issue, as you try to make your game both challenging for the hardcore players and welcoming for the newcomers. We believe that it is better to have our games a little bit easier than punishing for the players. However, the hardcore players are more vocal.
I now think, especially regarding the turn-based combat games, that gamers currently expect more hardcore challenges. XCOM implemented elements of this idea with the permanent death of squad members, and Firaxis were hailed for it. It is a trend that we, as hardcore gamers ourselves, welcome.
Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Omerta – City of Gangsters would run on the various PC system configurations?
BD: We have a very solid IT department, with years of experience behind their backs. Thanks to our proprietary engine, we did not have such difficulties.
Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Omerta – City of Gangsters.
BD: We did heavy exploration of various influence sources including recent shows as Boardwalk Empire (they have wonderful sets!) and earlier classics dated back to 1940s.
Furthermore we did research on the Atlantic City looks back in 1920 – 1940s and stumbled upon a huge collection of photos from postcards with detailed imaging of the spectacular parts of the city, like the Steel Pier, the Marlborough Hotel and the like.
The specific art style of the characters and the comic strips was designed by Tzviatko Kinchev, concept character artist, and the moment he presented the concepts, it was a unanimous decision that this would be the art style.
The music was chosen from a paid service to suit the peculiar Prohibition-era mood.
Can you tell us why you chose to release a demo for Omerta – City of Gangsters?
BD: Our typical practice is to produce a demo which will be both available for Steam download and distribution to journalists for preview purposes. This allows everyone to try our games in advance and make an informed decision about buying them.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Omerta – City of Gangsters from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
BD: As developers we are always keen on players’ feedback. After all, ultimately they determine whether our games are worth their time and money. So we are constantly on the lookout through forums, comments lists, user reviews, etc., on anything that will give us a better perspective how the players respond to our product.
We identify large-scale issues which would improve the game substantially and discuss them with our publisher.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Omerta – City of Gangsters professionally?
BD: Game journalism is a tough profession; there is never enough time and the games keep piling up, especially if you work in a high-profile media. However, the critique of a journalist is always valuable, because they are usually guys with tons of experience and have a very broad perspective. So usually feedback from reviews is very useful to us, even when we clearly see that a journalist has not identified our game the way we identify it.
Press feedback, especially negative feedback, is very important, because it usually hints at deeper problems, which we try to address and avoid in our next titles.
How do you feel about the various indie bundle promotions and the “Pay What You Want” pricing methodology?
BD: Keeping in mind that Omerta – City of Gangsters is not an indie game, we as developers are thrilled at the current boom of indie publishing. It gives a new breath to our industry which is much needed in a world of a similar million-budget titles.
What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?
BD: Piracy is there, and it will not go away – we think it is obvious, especially from our perspective as a studio based in Eastern Europe. Games have to reinvent themselves and offer payment/service methods to mitigate the piracy – but it will not go away. DRM is not the answer, but we will see more and more efforts in promoting the DRM approach. Not only Omerta – City of Gangsters, but all of our products are targeted by piracy. We think this is unavoidable.
How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Omerta – City of Gangsters?
BD: We believe that videos themselves provide more publicity to our games. We are happy with it. We keep a close eye on gameplay videos of our games published by experienced players to understand difficulty and presentation issues. So, if you are posting a gameplay video, please, record your voice comments!
How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?
BD:DLCs can be amazing, if thought out and produced properly. There are cases like that on the market and we hope as the DLC practices mature we will see even more great DLCs in the future.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Omerta – City of Gangsters?
BD: We are happy and proud to see mods of our games. This means that a substantial amount of players have enjoyed our game so much that they decide to invest time and skills into developing it for free! From our perspective, this is amazing. Ultimately we can be only happy when the players embrace our games and develop them beyond our ideas.
What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
BD: Do your best, and never give up!
We thank Bisser for his insightful comments and wish him all the best moving forward. You can pick up Omerta – City of Gangsters via Steam.