Interview: Emilios Manolidis -- sole developer of Emerge: Cities of the Apocalypse
Emerge: Cities of the Apocalypse is a turn-based strategy game in the veins of Civilization. The player takes the role of survivors across various cities throughout the world as they attempt to rebuild human civilization by taking the world back from the Undead menace.
Bit by bit the player must regain control of a city while trying to hold back the hordes of undead that roam its streets. Research and build new technology, find and hire survivors to help defend and take back the cities of the world, one city at a time.
This week I spoke with Emilios Manolidis, the sole developer of Emerge: Cities of the Apocalypse. We discussed his plans for Emerge, its development, advice for aspiring developers, and more.
Damien Smith: What inspired you to create Emerge?
Emilios Manolidis: For the turn-based part, I was inspired mainly by the Civilization series and also DungeonQuest, an old fantasy board game where players explore their surroundings by flipping adjacent tiles.
The real-time defense part came from Elona Shooter, a rather surreal defense flash game (I cannot find a more apt adjective for a game where you defend your castle from unspeakable horrors like chicken, sheep and exploding jesters).
Smith: The combat when defending in Emerge is unique for a turn-based strategy game. What influenced you in making the decision to have such a feature?
Manolidis: I was never a huge fan of defense games. They seemed a bit small in scope and too repetitive. But what if the defense mechanic was merely a part of a larger project?
What if players have to defend their territory, not as an obligatory round-by-round chore, but as a result of enemy groups roaming a large map that you are struggling to secure?
And what if new enemy types, instead of being introduced every one or two combat rounds, as in most defense games, were tied to player progression in a separate type of gameplay? Soon, other aspects like finding survivors, weapons, and technologies, followed the same path.
While crucial in the defensive part, they are developed and unlocked in the Strategy part of the game. This interweave offers the best of two worlds: Careful thinking and planning ahead, and fast-paced action.
Smith: You solely developed Emerge. What are the advantages of disadvantages of creating a video game on your own?
Manolidis: Advantages: You supervise and execute everything. No delay in decision-making. No meetings, team brainstormings, and lengthy debates. Instant implementations of new ideas without consultation/waiting for the green light from someone else.
No misunderstandings about what that part of the code does or what dimensions this sprite should have. If the programmer is also the artist, you understand better what you need and the only person you have to wait for to get the graphics done is you. Also, minimal expenses!
Disadvantages: You are alone. No task delegation. Very prone to mistakes not noticeable by anyone else early in development, because there is no one else. You have to create graphics? Nice! Put your code in the fridge because you won't be touching it for a long time.
Sometimes brainstorming with teammates may occasionally produce ideas of greater value. Very time consuming. Long-time breaks due to "real life" issues means no aspect of the game is being developed by someone else: Development simply ceases to exist.
Smith: What was the most challenging element of developing Emerge? The complex strategy? The combat? Balancing the game mechanics?
Manolidis: Balancing the game mechanics and making all those separate subsystems work in a manner that one doesn't break the other is the most difficult. Also, creating the infrastructure for modding/DLC/expansion capabilities is much more time consuming than hard-coding stuff.
Last but not least, polishing the game and making it presentable to people other than yourself is, and will always be, time-consuming, often tedious, and generally a state where creativity usually is succeeded by working on existing elements again and again.
Smith: Emerge went through the Steam Greenlight program. What were your experiences with Greenlight?
Manolidis: The game sort of parachuted into the vast sea of indie games, with no prior coverage or visibility. So I was quite anxious in the beginning. But eventually, there was some coverage (including a nice preview from Rock, Paper, Shotgun -- contacting the press in a proper manner helps a lot!).
In the end, the game was well-received by users who bothered leaving their opinion and/or a vote, and in less than a month it was greenlit.
Smith: Can players expect to see further content updates or DLC in the future for Emerge? If so, what can they look forward to seeing?
Manolidis: There has already been an update with bug fixes and new content. You don't have to ask for money for putting a new gun in the game! Players who bought your game among thousands of others deserve the occasional content update!
There are ideas about DLC such as new enemies, classes and items. There isn't a single aspect of the game that can't be further expanded with new content!
As for a proper expansion, there is an idea involving rival factions, who operate on the game map and expand as you do, but making it happen depends largely on the overall reception of the game, as well as how it will have performed in terms of sales.
Smith: Is Emerge just the beginning? Do you have plans for more titles in the future?
Manolidis: Let me just say that a farming game in a town full of dark secrets and mature themes seems very appealing. Also, a 2D platform with elements from the Souls series has been running in circles in my mind since the past few weeks.
Smith: If you could go back and make Emerge from the start again, what would you do differently?
Manolidis: I would slightly increase the scale of sprites used in combat, as well as rewriting some functions for more clarity and better performance.
Smith: Emerge took over four years for you to develop, something which takes a lot of dedication and passion. What advice could you give to aspiring solo developers?
Manolidis: Ignore 99% of the advice other people give you. Interestingly, if my own advice is inside this 99%, we might be looking into a paradox here! But seriously, you may have a prototype game in, say, Construct.
Some people will jump in, "explaining" that Construct is for Losers and Unity is much better. This will happen no matter what, and most of the time you can just ignore it. Hotline Miami was made in Game Maker 8. Guess what? Emerge was made in Game Maker 8, too!
A few years ago, no one would have thought it possible! Play lots of games and take mental notes about what makes a game great. Lastly, read about game design, as well as articles about programming tips and tricks. And if I was to replace all of the above with just one piece of advice: Find a partner...
Smith: Emerge is your first title released on Steam, but are there any other titles, projects, or work in video games that players can look out for that you have created?
Manolidis: Sure! I have an antiquated website here, where visitors will find all my previous freeware games: Tetris clones, a fishing game, a top-down shooter with RPG elements and more! They are not impressive by today's standards, but some will find them entertaining!
Emerge is without a doubt is a prime example of what can be achieved by one single developer. Through dedication, passion and love for video games, a simple idea can become a reality.
I would like to thank Emilios Manolidis for taking the time to talk to me. If you would like to find out more about the game, you can do so through the game's website and Steam store page. You can also find my review of Emerge here on GameSkinny.
The official website has a demo for the game which you can check out before deciding if you would like to play the full version. For fans of games like Civilization and anything zombie related, this may be a title worth checking out.