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Interview with Viqua Games

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

The team from Viqua Games took some time to answer some questions via email all the way from Thailand . Thomas and the Magical Words is nominated this year for Innovation in Visual Art.

Who are you and what was your role on Thomas and the Magical Words?

CS: My name is Chanon Sajjamanochai. I was the producer/project manager and lead programmer for Tommy and the Magical Words.

TP: My name is Treerat Pinnarong. I was the graphic designer, responsible for all the graphics in the game including both stills and animations

NS: My name is Niwatchai Singtiantrakul. I was the programmer responsible for the gameplay programming.

Congrats on making it into the IGF finals. Is this your first attempt at entering the competition?

CS: Thank you! Yes, it is. And we're extremely happy that we made it.

What made you decide to enter Tommy into the IGF?

CS: Basically, we thought that the game we were developing was pretty unique and we thought our production quality was pretty good. Also we believed that if we could get a finalist place it would be a great boost for the company - which it already has been I have to say. So thank you so much IGF staff and judges!

How do you view this year's competition? Do you think the IGF is heading in the right direction?

CS: The quality level of games in the competition has been going up every year. And this year is no exception. Just look at the finalist games, all of them are amazing. And there were so many great games that didn't get a finalist position. So definitely the IGF is going in the right direction as it is attracting all the best independent developers.

How did the idea for Tommy come about?

CS: We saw successful word games like Bookworm and other games like it, and thought that we could come up with a unique word game with a new mechanic. And Tommy is what we came up with. Niwatchai is actually the person who first came up with the idea.

NS: I was thinking of the gameplay rules of SCRABBLE and somehow it hit me that instead of just laying down words to basically just fill up the board, how about laying down words to create a path like a bridge for a character to walk on? It just immediately made sense.

How much did the game evolve from its original inception? What drove this evolution?

CS: A great question! The basic concept of the game, which is to create paths using words to get the main character to the end of the map, was there since the beginning. But initially we had lots of other crazy ideas, such as the idea of "enemies" walking around and Tommy would walk around and fight them while you played. Laying down words would heal Tommy and enable him to release powerful spells onto the enemies. We had to cut that idea because of the massive art requirements it would have caused.

TP: There were many changes and adjustments. Some characters were cut out, some graphics weren't used. The ending was also changed. And many parts of the gameplay rules changed too. Most of the changes came from discussion in the team, with the aim to make the game both as fun and as easy to understand and play as possible.

What prompted the fantasy setting for the game?

CS: Treerat was the person who suggested the theme and came up with the story.

TP: I am personally fond of fantasy and magical worlds and stories, and the team agreed on using the theme. Using a fantasy theme enabled us to use our imagination freely in designing the world that Tommy lives in so that it is unique.

CS: We thought it would be a good fit. How else could you have a character walking around on letters laid down by the player? The story book theme and interface also fitted in nicely and was a logical choice.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

CS: I think the special items in the game are all very useful, and there is a strategy in using them together. Using the hammer together with magic tiles for example can help you get out of tight spots and also lets you pickup the maximum amount of items from the board.

NS: I like the all the animations Tommy does. It gives character to the game and makes the game, which is a word game, feel more like an RPG.

TP: I like the way that the magic pets in the game gives useful items to the player when the player helps them. We wanted to somehow tie that part of the story into the gameplay experience and wanted the player to feel good when helping the pets.

During the development of Tommy, what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

CS: Most of the problems were timeline and scheduling problems. We found that we sometimes under-estimated the time of some tasks, because we didn't put in buffer time in case of design or graphical changes and adjustments. So we learned a lot in that respect.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of Tommy?

CS: We used SVN for version control and Visual C++ for coding. The game was built using our custom game development library (vqlib). It uses DirectDraw and MMX alpha blending and uses a dirty tiles system for better frame rates.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

CS: I'd say having an artist working in-house (as opposed to on contract), since it is a lot easier to control the quality of the visuals of the game and ensure a consistent look and feel. And since the visuals are such an important part of how people perceive the quality level of a game, it really helps. And are artist does phenomenal work too!

TP: Just having good concentration and focusing on the task helps me do my job best.

How long has Viqua Games been around? What's a brief history of the company?

CS: Viqua Games is the label we use for our games. The company name is ViquaSoft. ViquaSoft was founded in 2002. In the early years we did mobile games, but eventually we didn't feel it was what we wanted to do. So we began focusing on PC downloadable games and Tommy and the Magical Words is our first game.

Not too many developers can say they hail from Thailand. What's it like developing games over there?

CS: The main problem is proficiency in English, as it is the key to all the knowledge on the internet and also all of the marketing opportunities. English isn't our native language and it becomes a barrier for people who aren't proficient in it. Also there aren't many game development companies here and the industry is still very young. Both of these issues makes it pretty hard to find skilled game developers. But there still are many skilled game developers, many of whom are working in the mobile game development industry. We hope to take part in building skilled game developers here at Viqua Games.

NS: There are many barriers, such as the general lack of good resources for learning how to develop games and for advanced topics.

How difficult does the time difference make in working with companies here in the US or even in Europe ? What works best to help alleviate this issue?

CS: It's not too difficult, I'd say its just a small inconvenience. Email helps a lot but sometimes the time difference limits you to only 1 correspondence a day. So if real-time communication is needed, you just need to find a time slot that is convenient for both sides. 9PM here and 9AM over there in US could be OK for both sides for example. Europe is a little better because both sides can still get immediate responses from their emails most of the time. Real-time voice communication and web conferencing is very useful and extremely simple these days using software such as Skype. Best of all its free, so there's no need for long distance overseas telephone charges.

What's next for Viqua Games?

CS: We can't talk about any games specifically right now, but generally, expect more great games at a faster rate of development. In the meantime, don't forget to try out Tommy and the Magical Words at http://www.viquagames.com! And thanks a lot for the interview. We had a great time answering the questions.

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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