I had a great chance to meet with the Herokon guys in Berlin and do an interview about the game. I have asked Sebastian Tusk (CTO Silver Style Studios) several questions.
(* click images for full-resolution)
Me: You have successfully released Herokon Online (Open Beta), how long have you been working on the game and how big is the team?
Sebastian: We’re now working around one and a half year on the game. The team grew from 12 to more than 40 people, working in the departments Programming, Art, Game Design, Marketing and Management.
Me: What is Herokon Online about and where does the game idea come from?
Sebastian: With Herokon Online we wanted to create something special. The game uses the “The Dark Eye” license, which is Europe’s most successful roleplaying brand. The game world Aventuria is huge and very complex. Hundreds of rulebooks and books describing cities, flora and fauna, people’s lives, political situations etc. have been released. We are going to build up the entire gaming world, which is a quite big task. Since most of the staff working at Silver Style played “The Dark Eye” during their youth or college time we know the system very well and feel quite connected to it.
Me: Herokon Online is using Stage3D introduced Flash Player 11.Have you build your own engine or do you use a publicly available one. Why?
Sebastian: We’ve built our own game engine called LightStream. Before starting with the project we researched the available graphic engines but found that none fit our requirements. We wanted a unique look that feels like traditional RPGs with hand-drawn and highly detailed artwork and is easily accessible. Based on that, we settled on 2D graphics enriched with the abilities of a hardware-accelerated graphics API.
The main benefit of using Stage3D is the ability to display a full screen window of the animated game world at a high frame rate. We use an advanced texture splatting algorithm to draw a detailed background layer based on a few small textures. Over this we compose the sprites of the maps using a highly optimized batch renderer, which can display arbitrary large textures. This allows the creation of a very detailed game world with low bandwidth and only moderate memory use. Combined with particles and post processing effects we achieve a look that has yet to be matched by a flash based MMO.
Another important feature that Stage3D provides is rendering to textures. We use it to pre-bake the avatars of player and non-player characters that populate our world. While baking we can individualize each avatar to show equipped items and create a wider variety. Stage3D allows us to perform this calculation on the GPU, drastically reducing load times.
Me: How did you create the world?
Sebastian: Technically our game world consists of a large number of maps, which can be instanced for the players. Maps consist of a ground layer, many sprite objects and some particle systems as well as information about accessible regions and where to spawn non-player characters. The ground layer is created by combining several detail textures representing different materials such as earth, gravel, grass or dirt. It also has the capability to render water surfaces. Most of the rest of the world is made up from sprites used for objects and decals like trees, individual stones or buildings. Since we use a streaming approach when loading this graphics from the server, our maps can become quite large without long loading times.
To build the world of Herokon Online, we created a wide set of tools using Adobe AIR and the Flex SDK. Using the same technology for the tools and the game allowed us to reduce wide parts of the client code when creating the tools. Adobe AIR made it easy to deploy the editors to our designers without distributing additional middleware.
Me: What are your next plans?
Sebastian: Currently we are working on expanding our engine to include real 3D objects, especially bone-animated avatars. This will make animations real smooth and allow us to enable even more customization of player characters. The new concurrency API is another interesting thing to explore.
We are also looking forward to the upcoming features announced by Adobe, that will benefit our players, such as ATF texture compression.
But personally I am just dying to get my hands on the next version of Project “Monocle” to optimize the hell out of the game.