Everyone likes an underdog story, but fewer enjoy being the underdog themselves. For developers Georgi Rakidov and Lyubomir Iliev out of Sofia, Bulgaria the creation of their game “Strength of the Sword Ultimate” gets a little too close for comfort.
These two developers came together under the studio name Ivent Games to create their vision of a 3D brawler and fighting game that focuses on tactical decisions and skill based combat. Their humorous and somewhat self-deprecating Kickstarter campaign page combined with the very polished looking game materials has earned them a nice collection of backers with more coming in daily.
While the story seems to have a happy ending that culminates in their more than successfully funded project, we took an opportunity and sat down with Rakidov and Iliev to learn more about the rocky road that led to the development of “Strength of the Sword Ultimate”.
Jesse Tannous: Tell me a little bit about the origins of this game project, where did it start and how did it progress to become the project we see on Kickstarter today?
Georgi Rakidov: A few years back I was part of a Dagger Games studio as we worked on a couple of games called “Hazen” and “Dimensity”. Being part of that taught me a lot, but it also fueled my desire to strike out on my own. I had an idea of the game I’d like to make, what it would feel like, what it would look like, so I thought outsourcing my graphics to a freelancer and then putting the game together by myself would be all that needs to happen.
Turns out it wasn’t exactly that simple, but it also introduced me to this wacky hyperactive 3D artist that just wouldn’t stop bugging me on ways to improve my original concept. I had little choice, I had to make him a partner. Little by little he was becoming vital to the core process of designing the experience. We shared the same core vision of an enjoyable but hard to master fighting system stripped of any fat or repeatable elements in its design, and his perspective derived from an artistic background was foreign but complementary to mine.
A match made in heaven as far as game development goes. And we lived happily ever after. Except we didn’t. Between then and now was the hard part. At first it was a remote partnership, he and I living about two or three hundred kilometers a part. That was proving inefficient so I uprooted my family moved to the capital, we were making a go of this, and there was no turning back. Working all day everyday-family, sleep, and food moved to the background as we raced against running out of funds. And we lost, the money ran out and we were ‘just three months to completion’. I’m putting quotes around that because it became somewhat of a saying amongst myself, Lyubo, and all our close friends and family.
We freelanced a bit to get survival money, and we kept going. Actually we repeated that procedure more than a couple of times. And it always was ‘just three months to completion’. That ended up being years, because every time we got room to breathe, we used it to dream bigger – improve the graphics, revisit the move list for the player, give every enemy in the game his own move list, give them a AI hive mind that would adapt to the player’s style, etc. There was always something we’d like to do better. In the end, we finally launched the game on the PSN. Happy ending. Except it wasn’t.
Somehow we had picked the most unreasonable date for a no-marketing indie game launch out of the whole year. You see, no one would end up covering it, because we launched on the same day as E3, only the biggest news event on the game industry calendar, and for the cherry on top – it was the E3 that next gen console launch dates and details were announced. In making the game as good as we can, we ended up a bit too late for it to be relevant, because its platform was rapidly becoming yesterday’s news. We didn’t have the marketing savvy to combat this, we were stunned. Soul-crushingly defeated by our own timing. Nothing could be done about it. The End. Except, you guessed it, it wasn’t.
Forward a year or so, Kickstarter was making the news constantly, helping people get funding for their dream project. We looked at it, and we looked at our project, this could be our second chance to make a first impression. We got back to the drawing board, pulled out the old idea notebooks, we looked to our fans’ suggestions on what would make the game better. And this is where we are now – the ULTIMATE form of our game is getting funded, even more, stretch goals are being met, thanks to more than 1400 backers worldwide. It’s a dream come true.
JT: You joke about how for a two man team you should have created a much simpler pixel art game, but instead went with the much more complicated 3D hack n’ slash adventure you’ve created. Why did you decide to tackle such a difficult project and what has helped you get through the initial phases with just the two of you?
Lyubomir Iliev: Georgi’s idea resonated with me. He was passionate about the same kind of games I was. We knew what we love to play and wagered that it would also be fun to create. And it was. There will always be difficulties, no matter the scope of the project, but if you’ve set your sights on a goal you really care about, those difficulties seem easier to move past. Georgi painted a pretty grim picture of the days back then, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything, we accomplished what we set to, and we both grew better for it. What helped the most in the beginning was the absolute faith in one another. We knew so little of the other person’s field that we were left with just the blind belief that he would deliver the goods, and that’s exactly how it happened.
JT: What sort of partnerships do you have in place to help the two of you manage this enormous project and the server maintenance?
GR: First of all, classifying the project as enormous is erroneous. At its core it’s an arena fighting game and that’s it. Its multiplayer modes are limited to a couple of players per session. And its battle mechanics are already pre-established in its earlier incarnation on the PS3. That’s not to say that we’re seeing it as a cake walk, or that no steps were taken to bring expert opinion and assistance to the issue of multiplayer. I’m just saying we got it covered. I believe that the right person to help us has already presented himself. On his own request I won’t be disclosing his name, but he has a solid background in server-side solutions and is a very dear friend and supporter of the project from the beginning. As an addition, being Greenlit by Steam will allow us to look into Steamworks, which will undoubtedly be of tremendous help to providing the best networking quality to those that decide to play via the Steam service.
JT: With so much polished content left to create what are your estimates about how long it will take to get a playable alpha or beta testing stage released to backers or the general public?
LI: We’re aiming at June for the first stage of beta testing on PC/Mac/Linux. June 5th was the original launch date on PS3. So it would be nice to commemorate that by killing off some of our backers and beta participants in Dark Mode. Open beta stages will be in the months to follow as we polish the game for an autumn release, if everything goes according to plan. As for consoles, we are looking to being ready for release on Vita and Wii U by December, but launch dates there will be subject of negotiation with Sony and Nintendo. We’re currently unable to project anything for PS4 and Xbox1 since that stretch goal is not even on the horizon and we’re not willing to jinx it.
JT: By all accounts this project seems almost too big for a two man team, what do you believe makes you capable of releasing this title and following through on the promises made to backers?
GR: We didn’t just make up some promises to get people hyped up. Everything that’s in the Kickstarter proposal is something we plan on delivering. We’ve done the hard part already, we developed the base game, and we developed the tools to expand on it. I realize that a lot of people have backed us because they like how wacky and rough around the edges we are, or because they kind of like to help the little guys reach for their dreams, but we’ve put the necessary work in, we’ve estimated how long the road ahead is, and we won’t be disappointing a single backer. Kickstarter and the people that found us on it were nothing but wonderful to us, we will, in turn, deliver what we owe.
Rakidov and Iliev’s studio Ivent Games touts the slogan, “It never gets easier, you just get better,” and with an origin story like “Strength of the Sword Ultimate,” many will likely agree.