Thomas van den Berg Discusses The New Kingdom
By Julie Morley
Recently, I had the pleasure to speak to Thomas van den Berg about the sequel for Kingdom, which now is being funded through a Kickstarter campaign. The original kingdom was a sidescrolling game released on the PC about a year ago. Since then, it’s build up quite the reputation and acquired a lot of attention on the internet. The fans have spoken, it’s time for a sequel.
Cliqist : For our readers who aren’t too familiar with Kingdom, could you tell us a little bit about it?
Thomas van den Berg : Kingdom is a pixel art exploration/strategy game that has been available on the web since October of last year. The focus is a kind of quietly minimal gameplay that consists of building a stronghold to protect you and your citizens against the threats of the night, while discovering and enjoying the surrounding environment. I am collaborating with Marco Bancale from Licorice.is on a sequel to Kingdom for iOS.
Cliqist : What inspired the idea for the original Kingdom in the first place? Are these influences evident in the gameplay?
Thomas van den Berg : To be really honest, the game started only with an animation of the horse that the King rides on, even before there was any idea of gameplay. I was contributing a little bit to the Pixen drawing tool at the time, and the horse was a kind of test animation I did in Pixen. Then, slowly, I built a world around it. First the King and the grass, then the water reflections, then some characters with interactions (things like: “archer shoots bunny”, “bunny drops coin”). It was always my idea to just create a couple of these interactions and see what kind of world would emerge from it. The more explicit gameplay elements (“build a wall to stop the trolls”) came much later.
Cliqist : What made you want to recreate Kingdom, making it bigger and better?
Thomas van den Berg : The feedback on Kingdom has been so overwhelmingly positive and encouraging that I decided to stick with it. And I don’t mean just this game, but making games in general. There are many other projects that I’d love to work on next, but it feels like Kingdom has a lot of untapped potential and deserves a little more polish. Working on the sequel has only made me more enthusiastic, I actually can’t wait to play it myself.
Cliqist : Why did you want to make the Kingdom sequel for iOS (and possibly Android) instead of PC/Mac right away?
Thomas van den Berg : At first Kingdom for iOS was just going to be a straight port (with bug fixes) of the Flash version. In the process of sketching out the port it became clear to us how much room there was for more fun gameplay elements. When I’m working on the game now, I do feel like it would look gorgeous on a desktop monitor too, so a desktop version is definitely not off the table. Actually, at the time of writing these answers we decided we’re adding the PC version as a stretch goal. If we make it that far, we will make sure to release for PC as soon as we can.
Cliqist : I personally am in love with the art style and atmosphere created in Kingdom. Going by the images posted on the Developer Log, the sequel is even more beautiful than the first game. I’m curious, why design the game in a pixel art style?
Thomas van den Berg : What I really like about creating this kind of pixel art is that it forces you to create your visuals in a different way. You have to think about which combination of coarse pixels will yield the best illusion of a certain object, instead of modeling an object by its shape and color realistically. It’s a little bit like impressionism. Another cool thing about a game at this resolution (only about 400×250 pixels) is that you can do things you could never do (computationally) at high resolutions. We’re really trying to push that aspect with a lot of real-time dynamic visuals for the sequel.
Cliqist : I’m looking forward to the AI improvement in the sequel since it was a little problematic in the original game. What changes can we expect to happen to the AI?
Thomas van den Berg : I have always wondered whether people really hated the A.I. or if it was one of the things that makes the world feel real. I can be honest here and say that the A.I. was really quite dumb in computational terms (the code is open source, it is no secret that it contains quite a few calls to random() ). However, if a player calls one of the citizens “dumb” because he “decided to go out at night”, that’s actually a compliment because that player is ascribing some human characteristics to that guy. So I really do want to keep the illusion that the citizens have their own free will, while at the same time giving them a better sense of self preservation. I think I have found a beautiful solution to this, that doesn’t turn them into typical RTS troops standing still until the enemy is in range. This subject always reminds me of a discussion about the behavior of the player’s pet in Black & White vs Black & White 2. In the original, the pet was quite fickle, perhaps due to bugginess. For example—even if you thought you trained him to be good—your pet would sometimes still go and eat your worshipers. I think a lot of that was “fixed” in Black & White 2, and it made your pet a lot more deterministic, but less lifelike.
Cliqist : What other responsibilities will players be concerned with in the sequel? In the original, the concentration was equipping weaponry and making the fortress more secure. But with the incorporation of weather patterns and the additional threat of fire, I’m curious about what we need to brace ourselves for.
Thomas van den Berg : It is going to be awesome. I am not exaggerating when I say the scope of this sequel is probably about 10 times that of the original. I’m planning a lot of “oh sh#&” moments that the player might or might not be prepared for. One example is truly different creeps, not just a bigger version of the same creep ;). I’m hoping to create a game that allows the player to discover new gameplay elements during the entire natural gameplay/survival arc. Another new feature is that the player can actually explore the surrounding forest to uncover some of the back-story of the land and perhaps get a little help or find items to bring back to the Kingdom.
Cliqist : With the addition of exploration, will we be able to expand our kingdom to separate areas now? Such as creating a secondary fortress in a different location.
Thomas van den Berg : This time around, the player really will have to expand and set up a solid economy to resist the threats from the forest. I’m balancing the game to encourage the player to expand, but I’m also adding content so that the Kingdom is actually made of something: houses, farms, towers, etc. The Kingdom might consist of different strongholds and defensive lines, but I decided not to introduce separate castles because the player—the King—can only tend to one Kingdom anyway.
Cliqist : Is there a general release date already in mind for Kingdom?
Thomas van den Berg : We’re currently aiming for the end of 2014. If we make our stretch goals and go for a simultaneous cross-platform release, that might postpone launch a bit. I really feel like we can build the game in that time, but there are all these jokes like the ninety-ninety rule so maybe I’m being too optimistic.
Cliqist : If you had to sum up Kingdom in 5 words, what would they be?
Thomas van den Berg :
Gold is how you talk.
You can learn more about Kingdom by heading over to it’s Kickstarter page. Funding continues until June 5th.
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[author image=”http://cliqist.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/julie.jpg” ]Julie Morley is a freelance writer and comic artist from Spring, Texas. She attended the Academy of Art University for two years, studying Animation and Illustration. Whilst here, she learned about writing comic scripts, storyboards, and general storytelling. Since leaving college, she has been working on personal comic projects, stories, and illustrations. She aspires to release a self published comic within two years. For the majority of her life, she has been playing console games, typically being third-person shooters and sandboxes. Her favorite game of existence is Dark Cloud II (Dark Chronicle) and her favorite Indie game is Gone Home.[/author]