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Preview: The Uncharted Roads of Marco Polo (PC) ~ The Road To Development

4 (1)[15753]Today I have something quick unique to present to you. Not too long ago, I met somebody on a Facebook group about point-and-click adventure games who was developing a new title. The game is called ”The Uncharted Roads of Marco Polo” and it looks extremely interesting to me. I suggested creating an article for the developers and they agreed. So, here we are. I’m writing a preview article for a game that only released some screenshots and a small trailer video. But there is more! I had the chance to talk to one of the developers of this game called Josip Makjanic and we are going to talk about the uncharted road that took him to this development. So, with that said, it’s time to dive into this article and invite you to leave a comment in the comment section with your opinion on the game and/or the content of this article.

 The pitch

So, what is this game about? The developer provided me with a bit more information about the game. Basically, the game is a point-and-click adventure game like Broken Sword and Monkey Island. You can also compare it to Captain Disaster, Another Code R, Time Hollow, Ace Attorney, Professor Layton or the CSI games.

The game takes the player all over various landmarks in Croatia to solve puzzles and have a grand adventure. The story will be based on historic locations and figures. At this moment, the game is in its pre-alpha stage and has over 60 locations planned together with various characters to populate them. The puzzles will be in the style you would find in the Broken Sword or the Monkey Island series.

Pre-Alpha means that the game is in a sort “draft” phase. It means that everything is being prepared to go into the production of the game. Compare it to baking a cake, the moment you plan to bake a cake and make a list of which ingredients you will need and for whom you are making the cake… Those are things you would do in the pre-alpha stage of development. You can read more information about the development cycle on this Wikipedia article.

Personally, I love games that take place in unusual locations around the world. So, this game takes place in Croatia and is being developed by Svarog Interactive. This 4-man team is also based in Croatia. Now, the guys from there also send us a little teaser video that you can find right here:

I have to say, this teaser is extremely impressive. Right away, I noticed that the art style resembled the art style in the first Broken Sword games. Like the Broken Sword games, the locations are extremely detailed and colorful. Unlike the Broken Sword games, the animation like the leaves and the flies on screen… Well, the location feels more alive than ever. I find it rather enjoyable that everything looks quite realistic and those flies, man, they look so goofy I love it.

If you compare the Pre-Alpha video to the screenshots I shared on top of this article, you notice some big differences right away. First of all, the dialogue system looks a lot cleaner. You get dialogue boxes with character portraits on top. Also, you notice that on the bottom right corner, you have a bag. Most likely, this is where your items are going to be stored. So, you won’t have to go to the top of your screen for that. In addition to that, in the right upper corner, you notice that there is a gear icon. This will most likely be a way to go to the pause menu.

Early EnvironmentsSadly enough, since this game is still in extremely early development, there is nothing more I can show you or talk about. I can’t wait to see more and I’m going to follow the development of this game quite closely.

Yet, if you want more and you speak Croatian, you can read this article with one of the developers by 24Sata. Now, there is also this YouTube video where the developer talks about his road towards development. While the video is in Croatian, there are English subtitles provided. Sadly, the subtitles just stop around the 5:11 mark, so there are 2 minutes without subtitles ☹.

Now, before we continue with the interview with Josip Makjanic, one of the co-founders of Svarog Interactive, I want to share some links where you can follow the project as well. They have a Facebook page and Twitter page.

Oliver, Alice & Evil Seagul

Let’s talk

Jonez: Welcome Josip Makjanic, co-founder of Svarog Interactive. Can you give us a small introduction about yourself?

Josip: Hello Jonez. My name is Josip Makjanic, a co-founder and Game Designer in Svarog Interactive.

Jonez: In our conversation over mail you told me that this isn’t your first game. You worked on impressive games like Serious Sam 4 and Serious Sam VR: The Last Hope. Serious Sam is an amazing series from Croatia, your home country. Was it always your dream to develop games?

Josip: Yes. I was always fascinated by it. I started making video games not so long ago, but I sort of designed games in general since I was a kid, by designing them on paper, writing stories and creating concepts. When I lived in a high school dorm I used to make versions of Warcraft, Diablo and even Counter Strike on paper that we played with dice, and people from the dorm would come and play in our room.

I was always fascinated by it and loved creating, so today, with some experience behind and with some good friends by my side, I thought it’s time to start working on our own video games.

Jonez: On the road to the developping of “The Uncharted Road of Marco Polo”, you created two other games called “Day in Dementia” and “In Memory”. Both games have a similar concept and art style. As a side note, I have to say that I’m touched by “In Memory”. The story behind it, a game to honor the dead of your mother, I have one word for you: respect. Respect man. Now, I noticed that both games were created in Construct. Are you using the same engine for this game?

Josip: Thank you. 🙂 Both of these games were made in Construct 2, and were created as a personal project. I don’t even know if I could call them games, but rather some sort of experiences that meant a lot to me personally. Marco Polo is being developed in Unity since it gives us more freedom from the technical sides of things.

Jonez: In our conversation, you talk about an open-world RPG. So, this point-and-click game isn’t the only title you are working on? What is this open-world RPG game or is it more a testing ground for possible future titles?

Josip: We are huge fans of Point & Click games and huge fans of RPG’s. We grew up on those games and always wanted to make our own worlds that others can enjoy with us. So, we are working on an open-world RPG system and have stories and concepts, but, we don’t like to rush ourselves, as we know how ambitious and big these projects are, and we would, of course, need a much bigger team. So before it happens, and we hope it will, there are other, smaller projects in mind, but we are going in that direction.

It’s very important for us to first understand how everything works and make many tests so we don’t waste time or get lost in the projects we’re developing, which makes the development much more enjoyable and better organized. So yes, we are making tests and preparations for other projects, but Marco Polo is a priority and is written as a trilogy. We are also huge fans of traditional drawing and animations, so I don’t think we will ever want to part with it. 🙂

Jonez: Now, let’s get back to The Uncharted Road of Marco Polo since that’s the game that I’m previewing with this article. I’m rather curious. Why about Marco Polo? If the game is set in Croatia and Marco Polo is a merchant from Italy. Of course, there is this debate about his birthplace might be Croatian as well… So, why the decision for Marco Polo?

Josip: The game is talking about historic figures and real places, and players will learn so much about Croatia from it, and while the game has many real things people can learn about, it’s story is fictional and we won’t get involved into that debate, but will rather focus on some other, more interesting aspects based on his life, and how to make an enjoyable story and experience in general. 🙂

Jonez: Are you developing this game full-time or are you developing this game on the side like the Corpse Party developers GrisGris? Also, how do you make sure that there is enough budget to create this game?

Josip: We are currently working in our free time, so that means that we also have other jobs, doing freelancing and helping each other out, but we believe that soon we’ll be able to work full time on the game, and when that happens, we will inform everyone about it. If we don’t get a publisher then we will definitely go Kickstarter with playable Demo, Trailer and some other interesting things in mind. So the game’s development is currently going smoothly without too many investments, but we will definitely depend on a publisher or Kickstarter later if we want to finish the game in a reasonable time.

We also don’t want to go on Kickstarter without having some quality content that people can enjoy before considering supporting us. 🙂

Jonez: You told me that there are, including you, 4 people working on this game. Can you tell us a bit more about the team and the talent in it?

Josip: Yes, there are 4 of us and we all have some projects behind us. There is Alen, our technical guy who makes sure all the systems work in general. Devis is our character artist and animator, and Andrija is our manager. I make backgrounds, write a story and making a game design in general, but we are all highly involved in each part of the development so there is a bit of everyone in every aspect of the game. Andrija, for example, came up with the idea of Marco Polo, so we all worked together to make a story that will fit the game’s mechanics.

There will be behind the scenes when it comes out. 🙂

Jonez: And as a final question, I would like to ask what are your favorite parts of being a game developer and what do you dislike in being a game developer.

Josip: I like how rewarding it can be. It sure isn’t easy to make a game and that’s why I started with those small ones. To build strong foundations and to be able to better understand it and move on to bigger projects. 

And the better I understand it and the more I know about the technical side, the more I can enjoy the creative parts of it, so I guess after every day of work you get rewarded with new knowledge and skills, and I find it very enjoyable.

The bad part of the development would definitely be one issue in the industry in general, and that’s the crunch. I’m not talking about a month or two of crunching, but about the developers who crunch for 6 months or more.

It’s not healthy and I believe that the health of those developers should be in the first place and by organizing yourself better before getting into developing a certain project would save many from that.

It’s a huge problem and something we want to avoid and not be a part of, so that’s one of the reasons for our long preparations and organization before the project even starts. I maybe went a bit off-topic with it, but I believe it’s very important to talk about it

Jonez: And with that, thank you Josip for the interview and the answers! Thank you for answering my silly questions and talking about games and development. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Josip: Here’s a few words for the gamers out there. It is a huge compliment for us to be compared to a classic such as Broken Sword, as we saw many of you talk about it, and we are happy that you love what you see at this stage of development. It will maybe remind you of it, as we see it already do but I just want to say that we don’t want to be another Broken Sword in the end, as Broken Sword is a timeless classic and we don’t want to compete with it, nor I believe we can.

But what I believe is that we can make an enjoyable experience that will make your time worth playing it, a game on its own that we would like to play too, and that’s what we hope to achieve.

We want to make games like they used to be, or at least, make them feel like they used to be, and even though we are not the most experienced studio in the industry, we will give our best to make them worth your time, and try to be better with each one.

Thank you. 🙂

Jonez: And as a closing note, you can follow Josip’s personal projects over at his CrobbitArts Facebook page!

Ending of the article

And with that, I have to call this article a wrap. I want to thank Josip Makjanic for the interview and the material he provided for me to write this article. I’m quite hyped for this game and I can’t wait to play a demo or see more. Yes, I have quite the weak spot when it comes to well-crafted point-and-click adventure games. I love them more when there is a certain charm to it, like with this game.

This game looks to have quite some potential. Currently, we got only some screenshots and a teaser video and it’s already looking quite amazing. So, here is to Svarog Interactive, keep up the good work you guys! You can do it!

So, I’m curious. Do you think that this game is as interesting as I think? Have you noticed something I overlooked? Tell me in the comment section down below. And with that said, I want to thank you for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading this article as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care!

Review: Age of Mythology Extended Edition (PC) ~ And on the 7th day he gamed.

ageofmythologyextendededitionSteam store page

Ah, Age of Mythology. I got introduced to this game when I wasn’t able to understand English. It was at a co-worker of my mom’s house. I was playing the games on the PC I didn’t own. The first time, I played with the Egyptian culture, since I have quite a fondness for the old Egyptian culture. A few years later, I found Age of Mythology in a garage sale. It was a French version, but I didn’t mind. I was finally able to play that one game I played for myself. Back then, my French was better than it is now. It didn’t take long before I found a copy of the Gold Edition with the Titans expansion pack. I played the game quite a lot back then. I even dabbled in online play. Fast forward to 2014 and Age Of Mythology Extended Edition releases. Overjoyed, I start it up and have a nostalgic wave. But, is the game any good and does it still hold up. Let’s find out. 

Tale of the Dragon

To my surprise, in 2016, the game received new content. This new content isn’t too well received if you read the Steam reviews. But, I’m running ahead of myself here. First, let’s take a look at the story of this game. In this game, you play as Arkantos, an admiral from Atlantis. Something strange I have to point out is that the Atlanteans were added with the expansion pack “Rise of the Titans”. 

Anyways, Arkantos gets a mission where he has to help Agamemnon in the Trojan War. Things go south right away and Arkantos’s fierce enemy Kamos tries to boycott him. The story of this game is quite long. It has over 30 missions and it will take you 30 hours to finish the main campaign. If you decide to play the additional campaign the DLC brings, you get a 10 hours additional playtime.

694637-age-of-mythology-extended-edition-windows-screenshot-ordering.png

During the story, you come across various allies and go on a big adventure. The writing in the game is good. Personally, I prefer the stories in this game more than the stories that were told in Age of Empires I & II. The way how they used the mythologies and stories to create one huge story is just amazing.

Something that still holds up from the original is the voice acting. During the story, you come across Greek, Egyptian & Norse missions and each character feels and sounds unique. My favorite missions were Egyptian missions. The reason for that might be because I’m really fond of Egyptian mythology.

But, would I say that the voice acting is actually good? Oh, no. The voice acting is cheesy and over-the-top. And to be honest, I love it. It adds to the craziness of the story and atmosphere. I get the impression that the voice actors had an amazing time in the recording booth. The voice acting just clicked with me and actually made me laugh out loud sometimes.

The two base campaigns of the game are a blast to play through. I’m also glad that the downloadable short campaign “The Golden Gift” is also added in the Extended Edition. This was a 4-mission long campaign you were able to download from the official website as a sort of update/free expansion.

So, I also played a bit through Tale of the Dragon for this review. While I can understand the negative reception of this DLC, I would still recommend it. Now, there are some balancing issues and the multiplayer with the new Chinese civilization is sometimes quite unstable. But, it provides some new and fresh challenges in the game. I have to admit that I haven’t experimented with them too much since I love playing with the Egyptians the most, but from what I have played; the Chinese look like a lot of fun to play with. If you want a more in-depth review of the DLC, I would recommend that you read Moshfish’s review on it. It’s an amazing summary of what’s good and what’s bad with the DLC and I agree with a lot of it.

I want to add one thing to the Tale of the Dragons review. I don’t know if it’s just me or if other people experienced it as well, but in some missions, I didn’t have background music. Also, I found it a missed opportunity to add additional Asian tracks to the soundtrack.

Something minor that I experienced as well is that when you use a God power, usually a name is display who uses it. In the main campaigns, that’s Arkantos. In Tale of the Dragon, it’s nobody… No name is displayed.

God powers and such

age-of-mythology-extended-edition-windows-screenshot-arkantos

This game plays like your typical RTS game. If you have played games like Age of Empires II or Rise & Fall – Civilizations At War, you will feel right at home. Your main goal is to build your civilization. You do this by assigning villagers various tasks to collect resources or create buildings. With these resources, you can create more units to improve your economy or create an army to defend from enemies or attack them.

There are, including the DLC, 5 different civilizations to play with. The Norse, Greek, Atlanteans, Egyptian and Chinese. Each civilization has it’s unique units and quirks. For example, the Norse has a special cart, the Oxcart, that is a sort of movable drop off point for resources. The Greeks need to have villagers praying to great favors while the Egyptians need to build statues of their gods to create favors. 

The best way to learn how to play with these civilizations is to play through the campaign. By the end, you will know the basics and some advanced mechanics with each civilization. But, if you are totally new to RTS games, there is a “Learn To Play” map where you get the basics of RTS gameplay. You learn how to play with the Greek civilization. The unique elements for each civilization are explained in a cinematic. Now, there is no Greek one and in the Chinese one, some bits take a bit too long.

If you ever want to know more about a unit or a building, you can just click on the portrait. You get a very detailed screen with a lot of information. This information contains the unit’s or building’s things like strengths, weaknesses, and uses. You can also click on “contents” to read a full in-game Wiki. Too bad it doesn’t have a search feature or a better menu system. If this was expanded upon, this would have been an even better tool.

You can play through the campaign on 4 difficulties. I mostly played through the campaign on the normal (moderate) difficulty. I would recommend that you play the game on the Normal difficulty first and decide if the game is too easy to too hard for you and switch if needed. Overall, the game is quite balanced and I rarely had moments where I found the AI was quite unfair.

There are a few unique mechanics in this game. First, let’s talk about a new unit class. Besides your typical triangle of sword, bow, and horse; there is a 4th unit class. Myth Units. These units can be trained in temples and are effective against human units. Each civilization has unique to the mythology of that civilization. For example, centaurs for the Greeks and sphinxes for the Egyptians.

The second unique mechanic is the Titans. When you reach the last age, you can start building a Titan Gate. When this gate is completed, a titan unique to that civilization is summoned. These are huge and powerful units that can be used as tank units to attack the enemy. Now, you can only place this Titan gate once, so if it’s destroyed, though luck. Also, the Titan is quite weak to Hero Units and siege units. So, be careful if you use the Titan.

Now, if you have played Age of Empires III, this mechanic might be sort of familiar. When you advance to the next age, you can choose between various advisors who give you a certain reward when you advance. This isn’t different in this game. When you advance to the next age, you can choose between two minor gods. The god you choose decides which myth unit you can create at your temple and which god powers you can use.

Yes, the final unique mechanic is the god powers you can use. Each civilization has it’s own unique god powers which range from offensive to defensive powers. You can summon earthquakes, spy on the enemy for a limited time, summon a healing spring, have a moment where nobody can attack… There are a lot of them. Most of them can only be used once during gameplay. Some can be used more than once, but they all have a limit.

If you want to read more in-depth about how this game works, I recommend that you take a look at this website: http://aom.heavengames.com. It’s a huge website containing very detailed information and strategies on how to play this game.

Most of my time has been spending in this game playing random matches versus the AI of this game. In the past, I was quite skilled in this game. I knew most of the keys to quickly and efficiently create my base and build up my army. While I love the economic play in this game, I’m horrible when it comes to balancing my army. Since I played a lot with the Egyptian civilization, I don’t know a lot about the other civilizations.

If it’s not clear by now, I think that the gameplay in this game is excellent. The campaign has quite a lot of challenges but just playing on a random map versus the AI is quite a lot of fun as well. There are some things I would love to change about this game but there is a very active modding community providing a ton of mods in the workshop fixing bugs and fixing most of the issues I have with this game.

Let’s dance

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The soundtrack of this game is amazing. The soundtrack is orchestrated and uses an amazing mix of various instruments.

Each civilization has it’s own unique theme and unique tracks. Also, the developers enjoyed themselves way too much with naming these tracks. The main theme of this game is called “A Cat Named Mittens” and one of the most relaxed and most chill tracks is called: “Eat Your Potatoes”.

Together with very good sound effects, the audio of this game is a hit. To this day, when I listen to the soundtrack casually, I remember how the villagers sound and other sound effects. Something I really like is how the sound effects are played in stereo. So, if you move a unit from the left to the right, you will hear your unit in your left speaker.

Now, the rest of the presentation of this game isn’t that great. Don’t get me wrong, the game looks great and the theming is very well done but some character models look out-dated. While I personally don’t mind that much, I feel like this extended edition could have done a lot more than just simple widescreen support. The additional visual polish isn’t much to write home about. Just look at this Imgur library created by NecessaryDerp from 2014 where the graphics from the original are compared to the Extended Edition: https://imgur.com/gallery/L8WEE

Am I saying that the game looks ugly? No, I’m not. Like I said before, the game still looks great. The improved visuals for the liquids like water and lava are quite pleasing to the eye. And to be honest, the only moment I find the graphics dated is when you are extremely zoomed into the map. Also, thanks to the magic of Steam Workshop ingratiation, you can use a lot of mods to improve the visuals to your liking.

In the past, the online community of this game was quite alive. There were a lot of people playing this game. I remember that were at least 100 different lobbies. Nowadays, the online community of this game is dying. The day I publish this review, there were only 5 lobbies. It’s a shame since I played some great game mods online. From King of the Hill to a sort of Dota clone.

There is one thing I really dislike in this game and that’s the save and load menu. Now, it works fine but I wish it displayed more information. For example, if you were playing a random match or if it’s a save in a mission/scenario. I haven’t found a mod that’s able to solve the issues I have with it.

A nitpick I have with this game is with the map. I love how you can rotate the map holding the CTRL-key down, but there is no identification on what position it was originally in. It’s a minor thing.

Something that frustrates me the most is that this game doesn’t receive additional patches. The updates stopped in 2016. Yet, the developers keep updating Age of Empires II HD. This game could use a lot of minor polishing updates but the focus of the developers is on their other products.

So, that’s everything I wanted to say about this game. I think it’s time for a conclusion.

Conclusion

The bad:

-The visuals are just okay.

-The Tale of the Dragon DLC misses some polish.

-The in-game wiki could have been so much better.

-The save menu should display more information.

-Dying online multiplayer community.

The good:

+ A lot of unique mechanics like Titans and God Powers.

+ You can use mods.

+ Amazing and addictive RTS gameplay.

+ Amazing soundtrack & sound design.

+ Cheesy and over-the-top fun voice acting.

+ Good story.

+ …

Final thoughts:

I might be blinded by nostalgia and quite biased while reviewing this game. But, I think this game still holds up well. Yet, I fell in love with this game the first time I played it. I have a lot of fond memories with this game and reviewing the game just makes me want to replay the game some more.

This game isn’t perfect and could use some polish to fix those last bugs and improve some models, especially the human units. Yet, the charm of this game is something else. The over-the-top voice acting and endless replay value make this game a must-play for every strategy and RTS fan.

The original reception of this game was poor, but thanks to the patches, this game has improved quite a lot already. If only Skybox Labs kept updating the game, then I would give this game a higher score.

Now, that’s everything for this review. Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, take care and have a great rest of your day.

Score: 70/100