Lords of the Realm: The Mad God’s Makers

Oryx: does a lot of a charity work. Also, slaying adventurers in their thousands

Recently, a videogame almost destroyed my life, my mind and the possibility of my ever sleeping again. That game was free browser MMO/roguelike/twin-stick shooter Realm of the Mad God, and despite it being a malevolent presence that should be really eradicated from all existence in order to protect the innocent, it’s also fast on its way to being my favourite game of the year so far. (Yeah, I know it was released in 2010, but shut up you dreadful bore). Thus, it was only right that I tracked down its creators and demanded an explanation.

Here, Wild Shadow Studios’ Rob Shillingsburg talks about breaking MMOs’ rules, why they brought in microtransactions, how players have shaped the game – and his top four tips for surviving the Mad God’s realm.

RPS: You have developed the most evil game ever created. Discuss.

I will take that as a compliment!

RPS: More seriously – do you know, as a developer, when you’ve got something so ferociously compulsive on your hands? Is that that something you can actually design, or is it a happy accident?

The goal wasn’t “compulsion” so much as it was “innovative fun”. Alex and I had been disappointed by the lack of imagination shown by MMOs; the slow linear evolution from text MUDs to EverQuest through WoW and all of its modern clones was really unsatisfying to us. It was clear to us that the huge budgets of mainstream MMOs had effectively prevented big innovations. We saw an opportunity to use a small team, 2D and Flash to shake things up by breaking as many MMO ‘rules’ as we could. The result is something with a lot of fresh gameplay, and I think that’s a big part of Realm of the Mad God’s appeal.

RPS: It’s quite a player-shaped game in its way – the trains, the power-levelling, the slang, the loot-sharing and whatnot. How much does its current shape resemble what you intended for it?

Our player community has been extremely supportive. Right from the very start the players were making suggestions, reporting bugs, and (most importantly) letting us know whether they were having fun. They’ve built our wiki, helped us design monsters and at this point players are providing almost all of the new art that is going into the game. RotMG would not be nearly what it is today without our wonderful, patient, generous players.

All that said, in an overall sense the game has evolved more or less as we wanted it to. We designed the game with powerlevelling and trains in mind, in part because those things tend to be discouraged in mainstream MMOs. We developed an early vision for what a co-op action MMO browser game ought to look like, and for the most part, that’s what we’ve built.

RPS: I am, apparently, rubbish at the game. Or, at least, I always die before I can achieve ultimate triumph. Help me! How do you play the game? What are your tactics – class, strategy, goals and whatnot?

We designed Realm of the Mad God to reward practice. Yes, you start out clueless, but we feel everyone can get good at it. In our opinion, this is an important component of the fun. Here are my tips:

1) Learn what your character can do. Every character has a main weapon and a special ability; learn the capabilities and limitations of them. Some characters are fast; others have a lot of armor and health; others have great range or firepower. Pick a character that you are comfortable with. Most importantly, learn how and when to run away or escape to the Nexus.

2) Learn the environment. Always be cautious when approaching a monster you’ve not encountered before. Learn their behaviors. Do they chase you? Do they stay at range? Do they run away while pelting you with fireballs? Do they clump up in groups or are they loners? How tough are they, and how much damage do their attacks do? How many is too many to fight?

3) Play with others. Playing in groups is one of the best ways to explore and learn while staying relatively safe. You’ll get plenty of XP and even if you are not the first one to the loot bag there will be plenty of cast-off items for you to grab as other players upgrade their gear. Best of all you’ll get a chance to run with a team and feel the rush of sticking it to Oryx in a big way. But watch out! It’s still possible to die, even in a big group, and especially in the mountainous godlands at the center of the map. Know your limits, and be ready to bug out if you get into trouble.

4) Keep trying. The cycle of death and rebirth is a big part of the game; everyone experiences it. Take a break if you need one, but don’t give up!

RPS: Let’s talk microtransactions. There are people who will maintain that their mere presence basically makes you Rupert Murdoch – what’s your reasoning for including them, what kind of stuff have you discovered in terms of balancing the game so it isn’t too affected by them, and are they successfully paying for server and development costs and whatnot?

We included optional microtransactions because they seemed like the most convenient, customer-friendly way to pay for the game. Newbies can try the full game for free with no hassles; enthusiastic non-payers help enhance our community by playing as long as they want for free; while our biggest fans, those that passionately love the game, can spend as much as they want, helping us to grow the game over time. We are pleased with the results so far, and while we haven’t yet recouped the costs of working on the game full-time for 20 months with no salary, the game is now on a solid financial footing.

We’ve been careful to keep payments completely optional, and players have responded positively. Our best sellers are convenience and vanity items, such as additional character slots, extra vault space, and clothing dyes.

RPS: What are your plans for extending and improving the game? Will it stay broadly as it is or will there be major changes?

We prefer not to preannounce features because our plans change frequently as we experiment and iterate. But we definitely plan to add more features and content to the game over time. One thing that’s been missing from the game for a long time is a secure item trading interface. But I’m happy to report that, barring major bugs or acts of a Mad God, we hope to have that released in the very near future.

RPS: Have you got a sense of just who’s playing? Is it a dedicated hardcore who know the game inside out, or attracting random types who just want a bit of fun?

We have all types of people playing, and we want to cater to all of them. One way we do this is by making the early game easy and the end game hard. We also try to make it painless to play with friends, but you can solo if that’s what you want to do. We don’t restrict where you can go in the world, so you can seek out a challenge that’s appropriate for your skills.

RPS: Are you more comfortable describing the game as an RPG, an MMO, a twin-stick shooter or what?

RotMG is actually a lot of things. Yes, it’s a twin-stick shooter, a role-playing game, and a massively multiplayer online game. But it’s got elements of roguelikes, bullet hell, 80’s arcade games, Diablo, Zelda and others all wrapped up in a massively cooperative package and made to be played in a browser for one minute at a time or all day long. Our intent was to make something brand new. Our hope is that everyone can find something they like in the game, and we don’t really care what you call it.

RPS: What is Oryx so mad about, anyway?

He’s not so much angry as insane — a raving megalomaniac, a villain everyone can unite against.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Realm of the Mad God is out now. You know who else is mad? You, if you click this link to it. Same goes for this experimental full-screen version.


  1. HeavyStorm says:

    The last question was meant for fun and they didn’t get it. Which is spectacular, if you consider they’ve built one of the most fun games in ages.

    When I first played it (after reading Alec’s post) I was skeptical. I have now achieved level 20 and I spend most of the working hours waiting to play this thing.

    If they asked for money to play, they would be millionaire (good reason for Oryx to be angry).

  2. sonicblastoise says:

    best gaem everrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

    also, the priest is the best class for learning. because you never die.

    until oryx eats your face.

    • JFS says:

      Tell that to my half dozen dead priests. Only one of them actually got his face eaten by Oryx.

    • sonicblastoise says:

      ah…i’m sorry :(

      i’ve been playing war of attrition priest class so far with great success. until oryx ate my face.

  3. felisc says:

    the next step would be “My best RotMG Cosplay : a picturebook by Alec Meer”.

  4. Jimbo says:

    This made me want to play Lords of the Realm.

  5. Nero says:

    I began playing this again (thanks Alec!) and as a wizard I got up to 13 but got lots of nice Priest gear for the next class, sadly I somehow died at level 1 losing all my great gear….. Next time I was a priest I came to level 12 and had a good run but died stupidly. Also got to fight Oryx but got logged out after a while :(

  6. yutt says:

    Interviewee seemed awkwardly serious, and gave wooden, soulless PR-style responses. Fun game, great questions, disappointing interview.

  7. Raiyan 1.0 says:

    I’m surprised we haven’t got a Minecraft mod of this yet…

  8. Poindexter says:

    I made a wonderful discovery yesterday:

    Realm of the Mad God will run in the Steam Overlay browser. So when you get bored of one game, you can play another without leaving it!

  9. therighttoarmbears says:

    Listen, I don’t mean to point out anything awkward, Oryx, but your willy is showing.

  10. Xonolerp says:

    This game is good fun for a couple days, but it’s built around permadeath and that’s a flaw. At the endgame, it’s a contest in one-upping everyone else by having the best gear, the best stats, and those things take a lot of time and effort to garner. This makes permadeath even less acceptable.

    The bottom line is that to die, you need only to make one small mistake – and that *cause* results in an extremely warped, overly-severe *effect*. The frequency of and penalty for death is too large.

    It’s nice if death has meaning beyond “omg my raid wiped,” but that can be accomplished without taking it to the unfun extreme.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      “it’s built around permadeath and that’s a flaw.”

      Actually, I think that’s the whole point of the game.

    • Xonolerp says:

      I’m not sure what you’re trying to say.

    • Kdansky says:

      Imagine there to be no perma-death, but instead a 10 minute debuff (forcing you to log out or keep to low level areas). What would happen? The server would be flooded with Level 20 characters in neigh perfect gear, and the trade channel would be spammed in everyone’s “looking for “. Soon enough, everyone would leave. Because really, what’s the point?

      Rotmg is about getting there, not about being there. It’s not a game where you want to one-up the Joneses, like WoW.

      It’s also the first game I have ever endorsed perma-death. And I’ve been playing games for a solid 20 years now.

    • Nick says:

      the fact you can lose everything easily is part of the appeal.. it also gives those things greater value.

    • ArcaneSaint says:

      It provides a bit of a rogue-like risk/reward system: ie. yes I could separate from this group trying to get to that goodie-bag first, but that might wipe my progress, while on the other hand I oculd remain in the safety of the group but not get the item

    • Lamb Chop says:

      Only problem i see with permadeath is not actually permadeath but that once you have reached level 20 you have to suicide your character if you’re interested in playing another class and oftentimes I’m more excited in a new ability than my sweet gear. So it often feels like the achievement of being able to play the endgame loses its luster because you gain the bonus of a free character slot – for me losing a char at 19 is 10x worse than at 20 and I’ve thrown away multiple dragonscale armors just to start the new unlocked guy. I love the game so much, but I’d like to be excited about being able to take on endgame stuff, but I just either kill my char or avoid the special god encounters like the plague – and it makes the endgame less fun. But lord knows this model is better than a traditional MMO, and it might be impossible to get every facet right.

    • djbriandamage says:

      I really like the permadeath. It’s a relief to let go and try something new.

  11. Xonolerp says:

    The game is built around permadeath – of course it would be less fun without it. I’m saying if the game wasn’t designed with it in mind it would be a lot better.

    • Xonolerp says:

      i cannot into comment reply

    • Sirbolt says:

      I’m not sure what you mean. Wouldn’t it then be just more of the same? Why would it be more fun if there was no permadeath? There is still progression.

  12. Daniel Is I says:

    There are only 2 complaints I have with the game:
    1. Only one character slot available for free.
    2. Unless you always have 1 eye on your health bar, it’s very hard to tell that you’re low on health in a large group.

    I’ve only seen Oryx once and got 1-shot by him after a very confusing 30 seconds. I popped into a realm around level 10 and suddenly the screen started shaking and I was teleported right to him.

  13. Calneon says:

    I got to level 17 before dying, didn’t have any urge at all to play again, just seemed to spam one spell at enemies while running around trying to get to the boss monsters before other players. Am I missing something?

    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      Perhaps it just doesn’t appeal to you? Hey, it happens.

    • Vinraith says:

      This is one of those games that people describe as “compulsive” and “addictive,” I’ve noticed I never develop attachments to game that are described that way. Mind you, I get “addicted” to games, just not the ones other people seem to get “addicted” to. I can spend hundreds of hours playing Morrowind or Europa Universalis, but Peggle (fun thouugh it is) bores me to death after 10 minutes. Realm of the Mad God didn’t do a thing for me, but clearly a lot of other people love it. More power to them, I say, I’ll go back to compulsively playing Sword of the Stars and everybody will be happy playing what they’re playing.

    • Wilson says:

      @Calneon – I played it until Level 2-3 or something pathetic, and I thought I should try it again at some point to see if I can see the game that people like, but it doesn’t really appeal. I got the same impression you did, and if you played to 17 I guess it doesn’t change much if you don’t like it from the start. I like the concept of the game, just the actual execution here doesn’t do it for me. Still, it’s cool that a little indie thing is getting the players to really do a game like this.
      @Vinraith – I’m pretty sure that someone somewhere has described Europa Universalis as ‘addictive’. What’s one more turn syndrome if not basic compulsion to keep playing :)

      EDIT: Though, of course, EU has no turns. Duh duh duh… but you get my meaning.

    • Calneon says:

      The one part I did find OK was a spider dungeon I found around level 14, which was more challenging than normal because of the huge amount of spider s and the boss at the end. I didn’t find another one of those before I died though. Probably a good thing the game doesn’t appeal to me because I have too many games left to play that I’ve actually payed for :P.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      I think it comes down to whether you enjoy the gameplay mechanics or not. There’s not much to it aside from grinding monsters for the XP / Equipment / Stat potions, and the (near-)death experiences, but for me that’s proved really compelling.

      If you think about it too much you realise that you’re just playing so you can play a little better next time… but isn’t that what all MMOs do? :P

  14. Emil.BB says:

    @Calneon: Yes. Your immortal soul.

  15. FKD says:

    Question on unlocking characters..to get to the next tier it looks like you need 2 types unlocked.. so say for Huntress (which I would like) I need both a Hunter and a Rogue to level 20. Does that mean I get one of those to lvl 20, die and make the other to 20? Or do I need to buy a second and possably third char slot?

    • Mozai says:

      @FKD To unlock the Huntress, you must once have been a lvl 20 Hunter at some point in the past, and once have been lvl 20 Rogue at some point in the past. That’s more than a mouthful, so they probably write just “Prereq: Rogue 20, Hunter 20” on the screen.

    • FKD says:

      Ahh thanks! That is exactly what I was looking for! :D

  16. Reddin says:

    The problem I have with the game (apart from the character killing lag I experience from time to time) is that what is a pretty good difficulty cure to lvl15 or so quickly becomes a cliff face when the game tries to send you after Cubegods and Skullshrines.
    And trying to grind gods out at lvl20 doesn’t sound inviting to me at all. Soloing seems like suicide to me, but in groups the chances of getting something out of it seem non-existant.

    What I’m asking for is some more reasonable high level and endgame goals I guess. I enjoy getting to lvl20, but once I reach that my only option seems to go on a suicide run, so I can then get another character to 20.

    • Dave Mongoose says:

      There comes a point (around level 15) where you start getting ‘Hero Quest’ monsters like Cube Gods and Skull Shrines which eventually start the final Oryx encounter, but those are best ignored in favour of the mid-range monsters like slimes. Even level 20 characters can drop like flies against those monsters if they haven’t got good equipment and boosted stats.

      At level 20, ranged classes can solo gods quite easily if you’re careful not to pull too many. Melee characters have it a lot harder even with their high defense, since you can’t dodge at near-point-blank range, especially with low speed. Rebinding the nexus key to something nearer WASD (so you don’t have to reach for it) is a lifesaver when things get chaotic, and it’s definitely somewhere to apply the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach.

  17. PFlute says:

    I’m surprised they claim to sell a lot of dyes. Dyes/patterns seem to be very poorly priced/thought out to me, as they’re not persistent in a game where running through a character in one day isn’t unusual, and they still cost almost a dollar per. If they were persistent at their current price point, I wouldn’t mind. It could actually be quite fun to collect a bunch of them and palette-swap freely as you play.

    • Dworgi says:

      I’ve bought patterns for some of my characters, because the endgame is about investing heavily in a character. If I spend 100 gold (~80p) on something that makes this character look unique compared to all the other ones, it’s because I believe it’s going to NOT die, or at least not very quickly.

      Yes, it seems dumb, but because it’s about permadeath the bits between the deaths are that much more precious. If there wasn’t a hard reset every couple of days/weeks for me, I’d have become bored ages ago. But because my characters that I’ve invested in have died I’ve just buckled down and decided that THIS TIME I’ll accomplish great things.

  18. Derpentine says:

    Coming from someone who spent far too many years playing UO only to start playing EVE as a second job, I expected to be completely underwhelmed by this(because I like to go full aspie). Someone pasted the link in irc two weeks ago and for about an hour and a half every day I’ve played, felt bad for playing it and told myself nevar again… and then played the next day anyway.

    It pulls a lot of simple stuff from UO, or at least the more fun zuluhotel freeshards, something that I have missed; the acceptance that people both want to solo and to go all 40 man zergswarm is very nice to see. I mean having classes which are basically intended for solo play, but also come into team stuff is really something more devs should understand. The scaling of the mid levels could do with some love (sometimes those trains are stationed :(, even if the rapetrain havent brakes)

  19. OctaneHugo says:

    This game has taken over my life since I read these stories. It’s so much goddamn fun, and I like the way the microtransactions work – the only way it feels limiting is that you can only keep 6 items in your vault. Beyond that, it’s all optional stuff like clothing patterns. Of course, you can buy health potions, but you find them plenty anyway. Very great game, very well made, very well run.

  20. AshEnke says:

    We don’t restrict where you can go in the world, so you can seek out a challenge that’s appropriate for your skills.

    Too bad they’re adding level-requierements for items in testing right now…

  21. Ziv says:

    I can’t play the game. It is really annoying, either it doesn’t connect or it won’t load the map when I’m in there.
    The onlyb time I managed to play was using my friend’s laptop and my phone’s internet.

  22. nik says: