It’s been an exciting journey for NGD Studios, and Master of Orion marks the perfect opportunity to reflect on the studio’s history and accomplishments.
Making Games When was the studio established? How has it grown over the years?
Andres Chilkowski NGD was founded in 2002 with an idea that most thought impossible: to build the first MMORPG made in Latin America. In 2007 after almost 5 years of development we released Regnum Online (now known as Champions of Regnum). Making Regnum was an amazing feat as we had to build our own engine and our own MMO server technology with a team of ten developers.
Making Games What noteworthy projects have you released?
Andres Chilkowski Regnum became very popular in Latin America but was also localized in five languages. It reached a big audience in Germany as it is a very player driven and PVP focused MMORPG. We also released Bunch of Heroes, and Finn and Jake’s Epic Quest on Steam, the former was a self-published top-down shooter with over the top action and humor while the later was an action-adventure title based on Cartoon Network’s fantastic IP, Adventure Time.
In 2013, we started working on our next MMO which was a top-down action based MOBA in a heavy metal inspired Sci-Fi setting. That project and our ambitious track record are what I believe caught Wargaming’s attention.
Making Games How did you come up with the idea to develop a new Master of Orion game? How did it start?
Andres Chilkowski In 2013, we met with Wargaming and they felt right away that our studio shared some DNA with theirs. We are, like Wargaming, a passionate development team from a remote country in the world (as far as the video game industry goes), daring to build its own MMORPG against all odds. Victor Kislyi himself told me that he felt that NGD was »just like Wargaming before hitting it big time with World of Tanks«.
After those initial meetings, we met several times over the course of 2013 as both companies wanted to work together. While we were pitching an MMO in one of those meetings something magical happened.
We are big fans of the original Master of Orion games; and knowing that Wargaming had acquired the rights we added a fake slide for a Master of Orion game to one of our pitches as a joke. After the pitch, Victor told us that they were looking for someone to do a Master of Orion reboot, taking the game to new heights while being true to the original’s soul and legacy. He asked us if we were up to it. We shouted YES in a second!
Making Games How many people worked on Master of Orion initially? How many are there now?
Andres Chilkowski Our full team has been dedicated to this project since we started in 2013. At the beginning, we were 25 developers and grew to over 50 in the course of a year and a half. Right now we are 40+ developers working on the game, since much of the artistic work is done and we moved to pre-production of our next project(s).
Making Games How long did it take the team to create a playable prototype?
»We are dealing with a powerful force: nostalgia.«
Andres Chilkowski We spent three and a half months working on an interactive prototype to convey the look and feel of the game. We needed to show that we had the »firepower« to make a great rendition of the game at current AAA standards for turn-based games. The game is very different now to that original prototype, which was much closer to the originals with no Star Lanes and turn-based combat. It ultimately had to be discarded in favor of a better and more modern approach.
Making Games Had you been thinking about rebooting Master of Orion for quite a while?
Andres Chilkowski As a fan of the original games and as a game developer who understands how relevant and loved the original games still are to this day, I always dreamt for a great comeback for Master of Orion. Anyway, being the ones at the helm of such endeavor was way beyond our wildest dreams.
Making Games What is different about working on Master of Orion from other projects?
Andres Chilkowski Even though we have previous experience working with big IPs (such as Adventure Time), a project like Master of Orion comes with a greater deal of responsibility. Not only because of the fans great expectations, but also because we are dealing with an iconic game in the history of our industry.
We had a solid foundation of game design to start from, full of clever and well balanced mechanics. But some of these mechanics did not stand the test of time very well, as the industry has matured in the last two decades and now reaches broader demographics. Staying true to the soul of the original games, keeping the high level of depth and strategy, while making the game more accessible and giving it a great rhythm, pacing and flow has been a great challenge.
Making Games How has the work process changed following the partnership with Wargaming?
Andres Chilkowski We have always been a lean very agile team with quick prototyping skills. Of course we had to refine our processes as we doubled the team in size, but we tried to play to our strengths.
Our process was simple: We tried to reach a playable game as soon as possible, then we gathered feedback from a lot of talented people (including devs of the original games, great designers at Wargaming and other advisors like Soren Johnson who was the lead designer on Civilization 4). We iterated quickly to deliver a new playable build and so and so forth.
»The game is very different now to that original prototype.«
Making Games You guys (NGD and WG Labs) are located all over the world – Argentina, Cyprus, Austin. Did it hamper the work process? How do you communicate? What is your idea-to-development workflow?
Andres Chilkowski Communication is not a problem nowadays thanks to email, chat, videoconferencing etc. We even flew to Austin and Cyprus, where we would stay for a few days to discuss the vision and evaluate the progress of the project. The real problem was to deal with the cultural differences between Americans, Argentines and Russians (Belarussians and Ukrainians, too).
Each culture has different management styles, design/thought processes, colorful ways to discuss about passionate topics and even very different perceptions on the strengths of Master of Orion. Navigating these differences was one of the most fun and rewarding parts of the project.
Making Games Master of Orion 3 was met with mixed reviews. What was learned from this and what is being done differently this time?
Andres Chilkowski Master of Orion 3 is, in a way, a typical tragic story found in our industry: A passionate development team with great ambition and a struggling publisher that rushed the game to the market trying to cut its losses, praying for the IP to become a hit.
We believe that they added a lot of complexity and set too ambitious goals – trying real-time 3D tactical battles for a 4X game while developing a software 3D renderer is a good example of that. The mod scene actually fixed a lot of the problems for the rushed release, so Master of Orion 3 is a much more playable game now than when it was released.
Making Games Can you talk about your vision for this series?
Andres Chilkowski Bring the legend back, preserve its soul while taking the production values and accessibility to today’s standards. That was the vision that guided us.
From a game design point of view, we believe that turn-based games have a certain inherent rhythm: Every turn the player is making small and big decisions with short term and long term goals in mind. Moving units, building structures, diplomatic encounters, technological breakthroughs, random events. If these happen with a certain rhythm, then the game resonates with the player generating that »One More Turn« craving that good 4X games are known for. Achieving this rhythm was our main design goal.
Making Games Is there any extra pressure when working on a licensed property to please fans?
Andres Chilkowski We always knew that the IP was a double-edged sword as we are dealing with a powerful force: nostalgia.
There are people who just wanted Master of Orion 2 with HD-3D-graphics. On the other side some people want something completely innovative. Neither would have been a competitive Master of Orion game in today’s market.
»We added a fake slide for a Master of Orion game to one of our pitches as a joke.«
Making Games What’s the hardest/most rewarding thing about working on the game?
Andres Chilkowski Tactical Battles was probably the most difficult part of the game. We went through several prototypes including a turn-based mode that proved too slow and did not scale well for the end game. Going real-time did the trick. It’s fast, it scales to huge battles with hundreds of ships and looks awesome. But even after deciding to do real-time battles, it was very hard to balance the level of interactivity. Too much player control could have killed the purpose of the strategic 4X simulation. Too little would not be Master of Orion. We believe that we found a nice balance there.
Making Games What does the future hold for the NGD team?
Andres Chilkowski Most of our team will be committed to Master of Orion for the rest of 2016, but we are already thinking about how to combine our previous experience in massive online games with our newly achieved expertise in deep strategic gameplay. We hope to be able to make an announcement soon!
Making Games Is there anything you’ve learned from the process of working on Master of Orion that you’d tell other aspiring developers?
Andres Chilkowski Making a unicorn is not just strapping a horn to a horse.
Interview: Sebastian Weber
About Andres Chilkowski
is Co-Founder and CEO of NGD Studios.
Andres Chilkowski is the co-founder and CEO of NGD Studios, with over 18 years’ experience in the video game industry. He’s worked on over 30 published games across a range of PC and mobile platforms, all of which were developed in Argentina. As passionate gamer and huge fan of Master of Orion, he campaigned for the opportunity to help reimagine the game, which saw NGD Studios partner with Wargaming.