Heroes of Rings: Dragons War is the latest mobile game published by Kongregate, now available on iOS and Android devices. We sat down with Francisco Martínez, President & Co-founder of Codigames to talk about their development process.
KONGREGATE: Codigames is a small team based in Spain. Can you tell us a little bit about your team’s background and how the company was formed?
FRANCISCO: The idea of Codigames was born in 2012, two years after Apple released the iPhone, and revolutionized the mobile games industry forever. That year, Francisco Marínez and Zacarías Gómez decided to follow their passion and start working on video games. They believed that mobile video games were the next big thing, and they wanted to create a company that could evolve the mobile games and bring great game experiences to smartphones.
A year later, the studio joined Lanzadera, a privately funded start-up accelerator program funded by Angels, a Spanish private investor company.
The award granted Codigames with private funds and the assistance of private investors, and allowed the company to create titles like Empires of Sand, a strategy game, Schools of Magic, an adventure/RPG game, and Dungeon Legends, a classic Action-RPG game.
Currently, there are more than 20 people working on Codigames. Heroes of Rings has been developed by 8 people, including programmers, artists, and game designers.
The people who work in Codigames are passionate about video games. All of them understand video games as a blend of art, technology, and great game mechanics.
We understand game development as a process where players are our bosses, and we work for them. We truly believe that the best games are those that understand their community, and evolve along with the players.
KONGREGATE: What is the environment like in Spain for game development?
FRANCISCO: Spain is a great place to develop video games. The Spanish video game industry is older than you may think. It was born in the '80s, with the 8-bit computers.
Unfortunately, that young industry did not evolve fast enough, and the companies were not able to adapt to the new 16-bit machines that came in the '90s.
Although the video game industry almost disappeared then, the foundations remained. The passion for video games never died. We have learned from the past, and the video game industry is growing again. The environment is full of indie studios and new big players.
It is also easier to start in the video games world because universities now have Bachelor's degrees in video games, and there are also schools with excellent Master's degrees in game design, concept art, or game programming.
KONGREGATE: What has been the biggest moment for the team? Has anything surprised you during your first few years as a company?
FRANCISCO: It is hard to pick only one moment from the past five years.
Releasing a game is always an exciting moment. Behind each game there is a lot of work, dozens of different pieces of concept art, and hundreds of development challenges, but there is also a part of the team there. Sharing the game with the players is the best moment.
After that we are always surprised by players. It is great to find people who like the game as much as you do. And then they start building the community around the game, and players start to connect with other players, and they become friends, they try to meet in the real world, and we know that some of them continue to meet even though they do not play as often as before. Knowing that our games are much more than the game itself is one of the best feelings of working in this industry.
KONGREGATE: Heroes of Rings: Dragons War is a turn-based RPG with a unique battle system and expansive hero collection feature; what is your iteration process for designing core features and what are the important things a developer should think about when creating compelling battles?
FRANCISCO: The first step for designing new gameplay and new core features is playing games. It is the best way to get new ideas. Developing games is like cooking. If you want to be the best chef in the world, the first thing you do is go outside your kitchen, and try new dishes. After that, you get all those flavors you have tasted, and create something new. The best skill to create something new is experience.
When we start working on new gameplay, or a game mode, we do a brainstorming session with all the team members. All people in Codigames are players, and the first meeting is when we all share our thoughts on the games we like. The game designer gathers all the ideas, and starts working on the final design. The final goal is always the same: the core gameplay should be fun.
The battle system used in Heroes of Rings was born from the experience of the team on turn-based action games. They created a first version of the battle, with a few heroes, and some special skills, and then they continue testing things. For example, the bar that shows your turn was not in the first version of the game. In the first version, there were just two turns, player’s turn, and system’s turn. It was fun, but we wanted to make the battles more strategic, so we tried to give one turn per hero, and introduce the bar that indicates who is next. That modification improved the gameplay dramatically.
KONGREGATE: Heroes of Rings features Augmented Reality ARKit from Apple, allowing players to experience their battles in their own space; why did you choose to bring AR into the game and what was the process like for implementing AR features?
FRANCISCO: We were very impressed by the Apple demo of the ARKit when they introduced it in 2017. They showed a great example of how Augmented Reality could add value to a game, and we decided to think of new ways to improve the experience using the ARKit in our next game.
Once we defined the battle for Heroes of Rings, we saw that the best way to do that was to bring the action to the real world, and we started to work to allow players to change the battleground for an arena in the real world.
It is like being in the battle, giving orders to your heroes. When we first tried it we found ourselves as part of the game, and that was a great feeling. We think players are enjoying this mode as much as we do.
KONGREGATE: The characters and animations in the game are beautiful! Can you tell us about your team’s artistic inspiration? How many artists work on Heroes of Rings?
FRANCISCO: The artistic inspiration comes from manga and anime, with little touches of European cartoons.
We wanted to create a game with the Japanese style we see in the movies from Studio Ghibli, or games like The Legend of Zelda. Of course, we are not Japanese, and we did not want to just imitate that artistic vision, so we let our Western background be part of the creation process. The result is beautiful blend between the Japanese animation and European cartoons.
The artistic team of the game is formed by three incredible artists who created the concept art, modeled all the characters and scenarios, and animated the heroes. Being a small group was an advantage, because all of us quickly understood the artistic style we wanted for the game. That’s why there are almost no differences between the concept art and the final 3D models.
Furthermore, since they worked so close, they shared feedback all the time. The concept artist gave feedback on the animations and the 3D models, but the animator and 3D modeller also participated in the design of new characters. I think that this symbiosis is one of the secrets of the great graphics of Heroes of Rings.
KONGREGATE: This is the sixth title by Codigames; what things did you learn from your prior titles that and how did that influence Heroes of Rings?
FRANCISCO: You always learn something when you launch a new game. I think that the most important learning from our previous titles is how important it is to pay attention to your players, but not only to their feedback. I am talking about understanding them with data, and how they interact with your game.
Of course it is important to review all the suggestions and ideas they send. They usually have great ideas to improve your game. However, if you base your decision only on the feedback you receive, you are only paying attention to those players who interact with you.
If you want to really know your players, you have to try to see the whole picture, and that includes gathering information from all players: those who contact you, and those who love your game but do not send their feedback.
Sometimes you want to build a new game mode, or introduce balance changes in the game, and it is easy to decide to do that because of the feedback you get from players. But before doing anything you have to “ask” all your players. You have to understand what game modes are the most played, and where your players are spending their time.
During the soft launch of Heroes of Rings we did some testing with different game modes and several information layouts. We kept those game modes players liked the most, and we changed the user interface until we found the one that players prefer.
When you start working on a game, it is “your game,” but once you share it with other players, the game belongs to all of them. I think it is important you understand that as a developer. Sometimes you will not share players’ choices, but that does not mean you can just ignore them. You have to always be aware of what they like in the game, and what they would change, and use that information to keep the game evolving.
KONGREGATE: What advice would you give to young developers who are just starting out?
FRANCISCO: I think the most important thing you have to do is be sure about what you want to do. You need to know who the players will be in your games, and focus on what you want to do. It will be hard, but your goals must be clear from the beginning, and you have to be perseverant.
Some of your games will not be successful, but you can use that experiences to learn and make better games.
If you want to do action games, focus on that, and, if you fail the first time, do not try any other genre. Just learn from that failure, and make a better action game.
Another important thing is to get used to data and analytics in order to understand players. As I said, one of the lessons we have learnt is that it is important to know all your players, and you can do that using analytics.
Nowadays you can know if your game is fun, or if the players would pay for it, by testing it in a real environment before launch. You can test new features, and use the analytics to see how the players react to them. At the end of the day, you need to understand what the game means for your players, and you have to be able to create the best game experience for them.
KONGREGATE: Now that the game has launched worldwide, what is next Heroes of Rings and Codigames?
FRANCISCO: We think there is a lot of content to discover in Heroes of Rings, but we have a lot of ideas to keep evolving the game.
The first thing players will see is the limited-time events. Players will be able to compete to obtain exclusive rewards only available during the events.
We are also working to include raids, and the option to play them with your friends. Currently you can summon a boss for yourself and your friends, but you play on your own. This will be a new game mode, with bigger challenges, and a great way to share your adventures with your friends.
Players are already asking for clans, and, of course, we thought about this feature when we designed the game. However, we are not ready yet to include clans in the game. We want clans to be an important part of the game, and that means we will not include them until we develop and test some exclusive features for them.
About Codigames, we are already working on a new game. We love Battle Royale games, and we have been working for some months to design a game experience that brings all the fun of this genre to mobile devices.
We are using our real-time technology and our experience to build a Battle Royale game that feels great while playing on your tablet or phone. I cannot share any more details right now, but we are very happy with the current internal tests we are doing.