We quiz Gabriel Dobrev about their next turn-based strategy hybrid, the potential return of Tropico and The First Templar.
If you ask gamers about their favourite Bulgarian developer, they’ll probably stare blankly back at you. The former Eastern Bloc nation boasts a growing game playing and making audience though, with Haemimont Games proving the most notable, having previously worked on the last two Tropico games, the First Templar and next Omerta: City of Gangsters. We had a friendly chat with the studio’s CEO in a dark speakeasy in Greater London, to enquire how the studio is doing and what exactly this new game is all about….
Omerta: City of Gangsters is a massive shift tonally from what Haemimont Games have done before, what made you go for the gangster genre?
GD: We always wanted to try something new. It wasn’t about the mechanics though, it was more about the time period and being a gangster that we wanted to emulate. The first thing that we came up with was this turn-based, multiplayer combat based on really quick turns giving players a lot of different options. The first thing that was playable for Omerta was the multiplayer combat, and the combat component was developed particularly with multiplayer in mind, but then we had to find a groove to stitch together these battles and we developed a story to tell about these two brothers. We didn’t imagine Omerta exactly this way when we started; there was a lot of back and forth before we found the game that we wanted to present.
Following a more story led progression for the campaign is quite different for you guys as well. Even Tropico 3 and 4 didn’t have as defined a strong arc…
GD: Well, Tropico 4 especially has a very strong campaign. Typically in most of our games we’re trying to tell a story in addition to what the game is, but this time we put more emphasis on telling the story to the player.
Do you think it’s a bit more obvious this time how the story is made up?
GD: I think it’s better presented, I’d say with this family album type of style. You see it also as well with the missions which are now evolving around the story, rather than being separate from it.
Speaking about the agents in the game, which people recruit for their gang, did you base them on any real-world gangsters?
GD: We wanted to have certain characters and stereotypes so we started there. We modelled their character traits on their visual features. We came up a lot of ideas and cut down to size the ones that we really wanted.
Merging the turn-based combat aspect with the overworld management sim must have been a massive undertaking. Was it as difficult as you thought it would be?
GD: I cannot say that we thought it was easy, but it still turned out harder than we thought. It really was challenging. as philosophically Omerta contains two different games. The rules are completely different and sometimes finding the link between them was something that we really had to do before we could make it work properly. The link that we found was your gang members. These are the people that are present in both worlds, and acting in both worlds.
Did you guys talk with the guys behind Jagged Alliance: Back in Action in order to get the turn-based component to work properly?
GD: No we weren’t in discussion, but everybody on the design team has a lot of knowledge and has played these types of games including XCOM, Jagged Alliance, Gangsters – you name it. Even if you look at the camera, you will notice that it’s very much resembles the 2.5D games that used to be the dominant type of games during nineties. This is done on purpose, we just wanted to give you that feel.
After the success of XCOM: Enemy Unknown it seems that the public is ready for turn-based strategy games to come back in the sort of number they used to be. Is that something you guys feel as well?
GD: I also think that people want a little bit more of those types of worlds in which they can immerse themselves, where everything is working for them in this way. A world where there isn’t a predefined environment, where you have to respond in the proper way in order to move forward. It’s more about offering plenty of things to, where players can choose their own path.
It seems Haemimont aren’t afraid to try new things, as the third-person action game The First Templar, your previous work, was completely different to both Omerta and Tropico. Did making that game teach your studio a lot of lessons?
GD: Absolutely, with The First Templar it was so vastly different to anything we’ve done before that it really was overwhelming, but it was a lot of fun. We had so much to learn and do in such a short period of time, but it was a very, very good experience and we definitely haven’t given up on that genre. We have so many games in the pipeline and so many ideas, but we can’t do everything at the same time. It’s a very different world now I would say, but an interesting one.
The First Templar was a very interesting game but not because it was your first third-person action game. It had a lot of cool ideas and it was set in a time period which most developers shy away from. Would you return to that time period?
GD: We do not have set ideas about which historical periods or types of game [we want to emulate]. For me, it certainly was a very interesting experience, and I definitely want to revisit that. We really liked working on The First Templar, but it was tough in the sense that we hadn’t done that sort of game before – though we were happy with what we accomplished.
Would you revisit those characters or would you do something completely different?
GD: If I had to guess the decision would be that we would do something completely different, but again it’s up to finding the right support with the publishers and finding the right time to put the game out. With Omerta for example we did very well in developing the right game at the right time, and that wasn’t the case with The First Templar. Sometimes this happens, the first city builder based on Rome that we did, Imperivm III: The Great Battles of Rome, came out in a year where there was four city builders based in Rome. One didn’t make it to market, but the rest of them did and one of them was Caesar! The previous ten years no city building games based in Rome have been released, but in the year we brought one out all hell broke loose!
As a CEO do you have to be mindful of that?
GD: Absolutely, absolutely! This is something that you discuss with publishers, but games take time to be done, so when you start there’s no announcement of anything and then all of a sudden it turns out that everybody has the same idea. To release first isn’t the best thing to do. We’re pretty fast when it comes to development time, but sometimes it’s better to be late and wait until later on – it depends. Game development isn’t a clear science, there’s always an element of luck to a certain extent.
Every game you’ve produced over the past ten years has boasted a brilliant soundtrack. Tropico in particular had a fantastic samba vibe. Is that one guy doing that?
GD: No it’s a matter of selection actually. The game has to help you with that though. Tropico has so much music, it’s a whole new world and you can always go there and find new stuff. Especially for Tropico IV, I have the soundtrack in my car when I’m driving anywhere so I can just tap away! Also for Omerta it’s very moody stuff, so the source material itself is suggesting the soundtrack – you just have to go with it.
You picked up the Tropico license and created games in the series, yet it wasn’t originally your IP. Would you be against picking up any other lapsed licenses out there and putting your spin on it, or would you prefer to create your own IP?
GD: Tropico was a first for us in terms of working off somebody else’s IP, but we did pretty well in terms of finding the core idea which makes the game tick and then recreating it. We even had people saying it was the same game but it wasn’t! If you try to play the previous ones youwill see there’s a lot of difference, but still people say it’s the same game which is what we wanted! It’s a very good thing, but we can go in all directions. We definitely don’t insist on creating the settings and the environments that we want.
We get all kinds of ideas that we think will work and then we go to publishers and see if there’s support for this and if they think it will work, as it really isn’t an exact science. Even if you find support for it [from publishers] and they say, “This is going to work” – sometimes it just doesn’t. We’re definitely looking more towards doing original stuff like Omerta with the gangster story.
I think with Tropico that’s specifically the case as the gameplay is so light and energetic, even though you’re playing as a dictator in that game! You can do really horrible things, yet the samba soundtrack just keeps breezing you along…
GD: Also here the music is very light, it gives you this perspective of your actions that yes you’re killing people, but this is a make believe thing. We also try a different music approach for the combat, because the overworld music doesn’t really fit the combat, so there we did something which isn’t really music. We use tiny scores that pop up at all times. Sometimes they seem totally random, and other times they co-inside with actions that you’re doing. So you just move a character, he sees an enemy and the music go da-da-dum! Something bad is about to happen…
I know we’re here to talk about Omerta, but as a massive Tropico fan I have to ask; what’s going on with that series? Is there anything you can talk about?
GD: Um unfortunately not. This is something that the publisher wants us to keep silent for the moment. If they decide to do something we will talk about it. I think Tropico as a world, not so much as a game, has so many opportunities to offer. You can do so much with that world and that setting, but really the opportunities are limitless.
Omerta: City of Gangsters is set for release on Xbox 360 and PC the first half of 2013.
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