When game designer Matyas Suranyi was asked to give his ‘two cents’ about the current state of gaming, he did more than talk. Suranyi called up an old friend and together started their own indie game company, 2 Pence Studios, and began work on a game – Feudums – which promises to be his career opus.
Suranyi went into the project with a vision of a completely free game to both play and win. He had first-hand experiences with other games on the market where you get close to the finish line only to find you had to shell out money to win.
“I’ve played a lot of time- and money-intensive games in the past, but we’re putting a lot of effort to keep Feudums from taking this route. Long story short, there are no units or in-game options that can be bought for money. This game will offer the same challenge for every player,” he said.
Feudums is a FTP, social, casual MMO strategy game which can be played on a variety of platforms including Macs, PCs and certain tablets including iPads. It will have settings which will allow single or multi-players options as well as potential different end-game options.
“This game would never be made by one of the large game companies. Only an indie would even think of making something like this work,” he said.
Instead 2 Pence will make its money on in-game ads, subscriptions, hosting private worlds, and some cosmetic customization, such as more options when designing a personal coat of arms.
“We came into this project with two rules,” Suranyi said. “First, there are simply no game objects defined by the design that could be turned off for free gamers or offered for money. That means that you won’t find units, improvements or balance-breaking features that cost real money. In every game world, all players will have access to the same units, improvements and options. Money can’t make you a winner; strategy can. Even in the end-game, a free gamer won’t have any disadvantages nor will he be buried in constant micromanagement. He’ll have the same features to keep things clean as everyone else.”
“Second, all games have well-defined winning conditions right at the start. The game will always end in ‘X’ turns, or sooner, if one of the various winning conditions are met. Winning conditions will be similar to what a typical single player strategy game offers, so there will be multiple ways to win a world – battling your way over everyone to be the undisputed king is just one of the options. Also, there are accomplishments that will give you persistent rewards – so you can slowly develop your dynasty through the game. Both the winning conditions and game length are clear before a game starts.”
Feudums promises to be an active social environment for players seeking it. Gamers can invite their friends and set them up as their vassals giving new players immediate protection for their fledging fiefdom.
According to Suranyi, “Becoming a vassal is not a disgrace but an opportunity. Your allegiance to your liege consolidates your position and offers protection at the cost of some authority and freedom. But it’s a bargain price, if you find the right group of players to join.”
“A good liege,” he continued, “knows there isn’t a stable realm without loyal vassals and there won’t be any loyal vassals without mutual respect and aid. Most lieges will tend to offer a win-win situation so they don’t have to watch their back all the time.”
Even if you don’t have friends to invite you into a game, it will be easy to become a vassal. In game, you can offer an oath of fealty to someone in your vicinity – or to any crowned King, regardless of physical distance.
“I think we’ll see new or casual players offer oaths to more advanced players, for both protection and tutoring,” Suranyi noted. “Having vassals comes with a lot of benefits for a developed dynasty, so no doubt there we’ll see experienced players offer counselling and protection for a player’s loyalty.”
Just as it was in medieval times, there is a price for a liege’s protection. When you sign up as a vassal, you could lose some control over part of your land, depending on your liege’s whims. In addition, your liege will collect part of your regular income as a tax and you would be expected to help out in his military campaigns.
Since a large vassal base can help a player achieve victory, it’s not surprising Suranyi is trying to tie the game into various social and game networks.
“Most players will probably quick-start a game by accepting a knight service request from an active player, probably but not necessarily, a real-life friend,” Suranyi explained. “Such offers can be sent over social and gaming networks or via email. The request will spell out the terms for the player joining in, such as the lands ceded to the new player to establish a base of regular income.”
The flow of new players into the game will not unbalance the game, even if they join late in the game, because their lands come from existing claimed land. In the same way, game play will not be affected if players drop out. Those lands would just revert back to the player’s liege.
“New players appear on inhabited land, on the same side. No balance issues. It also means there won’t be servers which start with 40-thousand players and ends with 2000 with an average distance of 100-150 hexes between them like a lot of games do,” he said. “I believe our system will make it easier to maintain a constant flow of players during the whole game session, making late game more interesting and less repetitive.”
“We developed the game system to be a working ecosystem. You won’t ever grow to the point that it feels like your whole life is micromanaging every village and town unless you want that. The game rewards delegation through the vassal system. For example, you get lands but then lease them to smaller players as vassals. They tend those lands and give you part of the income and their armies. Under certain conditions, you can take the lands back, or the vassal can revolt, so it’s also about a healthy relationship.”
The whole structure is a pyramid with the liege at the top point and various vassals under him or her who each have their own vassals. However, just because you might be on the lower end of the medieval totem pole, doesn’t mean you don’t have options.
“The game supports different levels of game involvement. You can decide to remain unnoticed, sit back, and use your area’s resources to build and farm or you can branch out and invite others to join you as your vassal and grow,” Suranyi said. “There are different goals and challenges depending on how you play. The in-game economy and the vassal system guarantees that players playing on any scale are equally important both for us and for the community. Casual and hardcore gamers will live in symbiosis in Feudums.”
Of course, at any point or after binge watching too many episodes of HBO’s Game of Thrones, you can decide you want to break free of your liege to strike out on your own or even knife him in the back.
“You can do that,” Suranyi explained, “but there are consequences if your reasons aren’t valid. If you can persuade enough vassals to abandon their liege and join you, it could cause a civil war.”
“And it works both ways. You have to remember that as a liege lord, you retain de jure authority over all territories of your vassals. You could reclaim them if you want although there are penalties if you don’t have a reason. In addition, you have the rights to reject a vassal of your vassal if you don’t want a particular player to join your faction. This kind of direct authority makes the relationship complex, intimate and challenging.”
Turns in Feudums are tick based but what each tick means may be different in each world.
“Since this is a strategy game, we didn’t want to make it a click or timing contest and wanted to give players time to think about their next move,” Suranyi said. “For MMO mode, most ticks will be somewhere between 5 and 30 minutes per tick, but that could be easily tuned up or down based on the beta testing experience.”
“For single and multiplayer, it can be whatever the game owner chooses. We know for sure that there will be speed runs, where 1 tick equals 1 second, making it practically real-time. But that will be more of an exception than the general case.”
Players decide their moves between ticks and then all moves are finalized at the same time. Among the many options players have are moving units, fighting, and building or terrain improvements, working on diplomatic skills, changing tax rates or the focus of an area’s industry. You can also stack orders whenever you want.
Once the tick concludes, the game advances to the execution phase – which lasts only a couple seconds. The game server queues up all orders which are executed simultaneously in the server-queued order. After the plans are executed, all players are sent results.
“This will not be a boring text-only log,’ Suranyi explained, “but an animated recap which has all the movement and other changes recorded. You’ll be able to watch it over and over if you want. If you missed multiple turns, your recap will contain all the relevant changes to you since you were last online, so you will have everything you need to plan your next move.”
Armies will have their own initiative ability and set movement speeds and will move and fight accordingly.
“Each unit will have a certain level of autonomy, as you can give them basic orders, stack them, and off they go,” Suranyi said. “We even set up some default tactics for lazy gamers, such as whether to evade or pursue hostiles in sight. It’s like Civ or Endless Legend in that units have an area of control. If a hostile gets into yours, you’ll have a chance to react.”
“If two or more hostile armies meet, there will be a battle. Battles take several ticks, so they aren’t calculated in an instant. It’s important as this allows both you and your enemy to call for help and allies can join in.” Each tick, damage is calculated for the battle and you see an estimation of the battle’s length.
“I think this is where our war aspect is better than it is in a Tribal Wars-like game. You have battles that lasts several ticks, and you have marching plans that are programmed routes and lists of orders for units. These together, and the fact that you can’t have an unrealistic big army – because levies aren’t standing armies – means you’ll need your vassals for bigger campaigns. This makes war a highly cooperative and competitive event and it, again, rewards careful planning.”
Suranyi has built in a great element to aid player’s war planning.
“So you can, say, plan your units’ moves on the map, set some rally points along the marching route, and add targets. Then you share your plan. Any allied forces that are joining on a rally point will automatically follow the same plan, even if it’s changed over the course of the military campaign. So it’s an easy yet effective way to lend your armies to your ally or liege, and also a great way to collaborate and plan several waves in advance.” He further explained, “You could plan, for example, that troops should gather on a rally point for a certain amount of ticks, or until they’ll raise an army that has more than a pre-determined amount, before all proceeding together.”
The diplomacy aspect in the game has its roots in some of the classics, Suranyi admits. “A lot of the diplomacy system is related to hardcore single-player grand strategy games such as Crusader Kings 2, but it is fine-tuned for a MMO experience.”
Suranyi, a 32-year-old Hungarian native, grew up on the classics. It all started when his poor family managed to snag a used Commodore 64. From there, he graduated to a used Amiga 500, taught himself some basic BASIC and eventually went on to study computer programming at the university level. But it’s that period of his life, when he played such games as Defender of the Crown and Lords of the Realm, that he wants to recreate with Feudums.
“I’ve played a lot of games, and I think taken some of the best features from them and made them better, at least I hope so.”
Meanwhile, Suranyi’s friend, Imre Darics, is making his mark in the game writing line after line of code to make it tick. He worked for years at an online game company before he got the phone call from Suranyi outlining his game idea.
“Since we first started work on this game, we’ve changed where we live, changed how we work, how the project is financed, the size of the team – everything but the game idea. It is bold and brilliant, and we deeply believe that this game will be a great success,” Darics said.
Both Suranyi and Darics plan for early 2016 game debut, hopefully by February. This year, they still have plans to release a game map editor, create a game and community platform, run a Kickstarter campaign to raise some initial funds and host a beta test. According to Darics, both the game platform and map editor will be released soon, maybe as early as mid-October.
Get game updates on their Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/feudums).