IGF Factor 2012: Realm of the Mad God

Not him. Not him again. Anyone but him.

Today in our ongoing series of chats with (almost) all the PC/Mac-based Independent Games Festival 2012 finalists, it’s my personal nemesis, the micro-MMO/twin-stick shooter Realm of the Mad God – nominated for the Technical Excellence prize. Here, Wild Shadow Studios chat about their and its origins and future, getting away from boring MMO combat, and the most important question of all.

RPS: Firstly, a brief introduction for those who may not know you. Who are you? What’s your background? Why get into games? Why get into indie games?

We are Alex Carobus and Rob Shillingsburg, founders of Wild Shadow Studios. We met ten years ago when we both worked at Google as software engineers. We’d both wanted to do games since we were kids, and after leaving Google we decided to go for it.

RPS: Tell us about your game. What were its origins? What are you trying to do with it? What are you most pleased about it? What would you change if you could?

Realm of the Mad God started as an entry in a TIGSource competition called Assemblee. It was a two month, two part contest: in the first month, artists, musicians and sound effects people would create game assets. In the second month, the game designers and engineers would use the contributed assets to create a game.

Alex was inspired — totally blown away — by a set of sprites he noticed during the first month of the contest. He envisioned a permadeath fantasy bullet hell MMO based on the sprites. We wrote code like crazy for a month and launched the game on January 10, 2010. It’s been up continuously since then, gaining new features every few weeks.

Our goal was to overturn a lot of the conventional wisdom about how to design and build MMOs, and we feel we succeeded wildly at this. We made a real MMO with only two people. We showed that MMO combat doesn’t have to be boring hotbar stuff — it can have highly satisfying action, shooting, and dodging. We made permadeath work. We made 2D work. We made grouping utterly frictionless. We got new players into the game with a single click. We ignored overused mediocre features like NPCs, quest text, and loot vendoring.

The great thing about developing an MMO is that you can change or add on to the game any time you like. Realm of the Mad God is not the same game that we launched — it’s way better now, because of all the player feedback we’ve folded into the game. Since launch we’ve added dungeons, new character classes, hundreds of items and monsters, bank space, pets, clothing, clans, with plenty more to come. It’s really exciting…

RPS: What are your feelings on the IGF this year? Pleased to be nominated? Impressed by the other finalists? Anything you worry has been overlooked?

We felt quite honoured to be nominated. We have always looked to the IGF finalists as a source of inspiration and it’s a great feeling to be counted among them this year. As always, the finalists are super strong.

RPS: Which game (other than your own) would you like to see take the Grand Prize this year?

We are rooting for Spelunky, big-time. It’s one of Alex’s all-time favourite games, and its developer Derek Yu was the driving force behind the Assemblee competition that gave Realm its start. Go Spelunky!

RPS: How do you feel about the indie scene of late? What would you like to see from it in the near-future?

Over the last few years the indie scene has exploded. Widespread broadband, Flash, iOS, Android, Steam, Unity, Kongregate, PlaySpan and others have given indies the tools they need to get their stuff in front of a lot of people and actually make a living doing cool new games. Asinine, employee- and customer-hostile behaviour by big game companies has led a lot of talented people to strike out on their own. The result is a vibrant landscape of amazing new games, exploring areas that the big companies won’t venture into. It’s terrific.

That said, we would like to see more indie MMOs. There are a few out there, but they are not nearly as common as, say, indie puzzle platformers.

RPS: And how does the future look for you, both in terms of this game and other projects?

Realm of the Mad God has a very bright, profitable future. People are really enjoying themselves in the game and there is a lot more content on the way. However, there are plenty of other games we want to make, and so we have begun transitioning to other projects. We are currently exploring different options around how to give the game the most support and the best possible future.

RPS: If you could talk to the monsters in Doom, what would you ask them?

*parrot voice* AWWWK! Polly want a chainsaw?

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Realm of the Mad God is out now, and free to play.


  1. Meat Circus says:

    I love this game so much I can never play it again.

    • Maldomel says:

      Same here. This game si too good and too addictive for me.

  2. AmateurScience says:


    Seriously, this is the kind of game where ‘just 5 minutes’ results in you resurfacing 12 hours later with RSI and a hunchback.

    As Meat Circus says ‘I love this game so much I can never play it again.’

    Too true.

  3. Unrein says:

    I’m usually not a graphics whore, but… jumpin’ motherfucking Jesus this game is ugly.

    • Creaturemagic says:

      1.Click the link.
      2. Play the game.
      4. Profit!
      The Graphics matter little once you are playing, it’s that good :)

  4. syndrome says:

    “That said, we would like to see more indie MMOs. There are a few out there, but they are not nearly as common as, say, indie puzzle platformers.”

    Erm, networking? Experience with server-side design and development (with vulnerabilities in mind)? The fact that your game logic is on server? Network scalability and experience with designing stuff without bottlenecks (there is always a bottleneck)? Ping, lag, issues that arise from geolocation? Technical decisions to shard and/or flock? Lack of UDP on cheapest game dev platforms?

    There are numerous technical and technological reasons why noone sane begins with an MMO. Besides, MMOers are like gamblers: they actually LOVE to play simple slot machines, anyone trying to develop a proper game for them is a fool. Until I see otherwise.

    I have an awesome concept for a fantasy Civ-alike MMO, but it will stay in my drawer for a while. In the meanwhile, I should become Notch (minus weight, and oh minus Stockholm).

    • Shuck says:

      Yeah, indie would-be MMO makers need the sorts of tools that make platformers so easy to make. There have been a few attempts, but what I’ve seen so far has failed, badly. (e.g. “Multiverse” which was completely unusable and broken.)

  5. deke913 says:

    Holy crap. This game is not what I expected. Imagine if you will if an rpg from the Gameboy era married to the game Galaga or Asteroids and they had a love child. It is simplistic and very fast while never feeling cheap. It controls very well also, and makes you want to go just… a little… further.

  6. Casshern says:

    Played this game way too much, had to force myself to stop playing it so addictive.

  7. golem09 says:

    I only boomarked this blog one week ago and DOES IT PAY OFF.

    I didn’t think I could find a game this addicting so fast after finishing Binding of Isaac 100%. This will make a nice bridge between now and the release of the Isaac Addon, when I will delete my old save.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Actually, “it does pay off” is very appropriate, from RPS.
      With RPS articles, my wallet feels much more free than it was before. There doesn’t seem to be a week without an interesting new game.

  8. voidburn says:

    I find it way to expensive. The game is amazing, but for starters, if you want a second vault chest to store items (only 8 slots per chest) and a second character slot, it’s 1100 ingame currency, which translates to 10$. The micro transactions aren’t all that micro. The initial 5 bucks I would dump on it should get me to a comfortable place, from which then I can consider buying more convenience stuff.

    Game: amazing
    Micro-T shop pricing: terrible

    • cafe says:

      Same here, I would have spent 10-15 bucks on this game because it’s so cool but the pricing model is crazy!

    • HothMonster says:

      “The initial 5 bucks I would dump on it should get me to a comfortable place, from which then I can consider buying more convenience stuff.”

      Shouldn’t the initial 0$ you spend on it let you decide how much you want to spend on it? I have played it on and off for months and never felt handicapped by the single chest and character slot.