By Kieron Gillen on October 1st, 2008 at 6:21 pm.
It’s been a bubbling indie favourite over the last few years in its Beta state. Mount & Blade is arguably the greatest horse-based combat game ever, a medieval open-world game with true freedom and genuinely pretty nifty. Having finally reaching V1.0 and its commercial debut, we thought it time to talk to TaleWorld’s lead developer, Armagan Yavuz, about the long journey from inspiration to release
RPS: Could you talk about the moment of conception of the game? Was it a Eureka moment, or did it grow from games that you love?
Armagan Yavuz: Initially we wanted to make a game where sword fighting felt like you were actually involved by using your reflexes; parrying, feigning, etc. Then, while we were working on that bit, we wanted to add more aspects of medieval combat such as horseback fighting, and interesting and realistic archery. At another level, we wanted to make the general gameplay like a sandbox game because we do love those kinds of games. Sid Meier’s Pirates!, in particular, inspired the feel we were trying to create in Mount & Blade. Pirates! had a unique randomness about it that would make the player feel like he was having a completely new experience each time he played the game, and we strived to give Mount & Blade that same sense of freedom and replayability.
RPS: Mount & Blade’s most obviously unique feature is how it handles horse-based combat. Why do you think horses have been so badly treated in games so far?
Yavuz: Horse-based combat is a difficult feature to build into a game, because it requires some very complicated gameplay mechanics. We really wanted to incorporate horseback combat into Mount & Blade, though, to add another dimension of gameplay and give players a better idea of the exciting realism of medieval combat- no potions or spells, just the adrenaline rush of speeding toward your enemy on horseback and taking him out with a lance or sword. So we really took the time to develop the horseback element of the game to make it as realistic as possible.
RPS: What sort of games inspired you as creators? And linked to that, why did you decide to create games anyway? What do you love about them?
Yavuz: As I mentioned before, we were very much influenced by the feel of Sid Meier’s Pirates!, along with other games such as Darklands, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, Elite 2, and older Koei strategy games like Ghengis Khan. Each of those games does certain things very well, but we are especially fond of having lots of freedom and replayability.
RPS: Could you talk a little about Turkey as a gaming country. What’s it like? I’m a British writer, but generally speaking, I feel in the games press the American cultural position is kind of assumed to be the default one. What’s the differences? What’s notable about it?
Yavuz: I would say that many Turkish gamers tend to favor PC-based gaming, although consoles are catching up in recent years. I guess we are closer to Europe than we are to US in that regard. Also gamers in Turkey tend to prefer multiplayer games over other types. All in all we probably aren’t very different from most other countries.
RPS: You’ve used an unusual model to support development – the paying for access to the full beta, with that allowing you to play the final version. How has that worked for you? Was it enough to fund development entirely or are you going to still require it to be a big hit now? Would you use it again or recommend it to other developers?
Yavuz: When we first tried to pitch Mount & Blade to several publishers, we weren’t having much luck at all, so we decided to try to continue development by allowing consumers to download the most recent version of the beta and pay us for that content. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the game really caught on, and we developed a wonderful fan base early on that spread the word about Mount & Blade and kept us going until we were fortunate enough to get publishing assistance from Paradox Interactive. This system may not work for everyone, but some independent developers who have difficulty partnering with a larger publisher may find that the best way to get their game “out there” is to deliver it directly to the fans, even if it’s a first look at a game that is still in development.
RPS: Freeform open world games are one of the major themes of the last five years. But Mount & Blade kind of shows how much many of those games are really on rails, in terms of the things you can do as a player. What is it about the more open approach which appeals to you?
Yavuz: We like the feeling that we are in charge of our own destiny in a game. In a typical, fixed storyline game, you will go through the game and at the end, you may feel that it was a good story. But still, you know that it was the story every other player experienced. There was nothing really special with your experience. But with a well designed freeform game, you will know that all the challenges you faced, all the interesting game moments were unique to you. When you finish the game, you will know that your game experience was your own doing, and you went through your own personal story. Nothing beats that feeling.
RPS: Was there a moment when you were developing where you suddenly realised “Oh wow! This is actually going to work!”?
Yavuz: It took us several years to come up with the first commercial beta version that we offered to the players. Until that time we were very concerned that all of this would not work and we would have to close the shop and go do something else to earn our living. But after creating that first version we put a few messages on some boards and started to see what would happen. The first day or so nothing much happened, but then news of the game started to go like wildfire through lots of forums on the internet. The players were blissfully supportive and lots of people seemed to enjoy the game a lot, and we kind of realised, “Yes, this may actually work!”
RPS: And related to that, what are you most proud about the game?
Yavuz: The mods and the mod community. Mount&Blade has arguably some of the best mods developed for a computer game. Of course the mods are not our own doing, but seeing all that creativity and energy, and feeling ourselves as a part of that is a wonderful thing.
Mount & Blade is available now on GamersGate. The demo can be found here.