AurumDust Studio Interview

Chris Picone is joined by AurumDust Studio’s Nikolay Bondarenko and Sergey Malitsky in this interview that revolves around AurumDust’s recently released narrative RPG Ash of Gods: Redemption. The interview is quite in-depth and touches on such topics like the team’s Kickstarter experience, the mistakes they’ve made during the game’s development, Sergey Malitsky’s stories, and more. A few snippets:

CSH: Let’s hear about AurumDust first. I gather your team consists mostly of Bearded Russians, but I also notice there are a few South Africans amongst you. So how did you all meet, and how did the studio form?

Nikolay: Igor, our art director, and I have known each other since 2005, back when we had both just started working for Canadian Streko Graphics. I also met our game designer a little less than 10 years ago, when we worked together on a children’s educational project. The rest of the team also knew each other in one way or another. But while working on this game, I was constantly asking people to help us – animators of students who had free time, acquaintances and friends. It works like this – hey, what’s up, check out what kind of project we are working on, do you want to join? Repeat 100 times to find 1 person. 🙂

CSH: Although still small by AAA standards, your team is fairly comprehensive for an indie developer. Tell us a bit about each of you and your roles in the studio? Did you have to hire any extra help?

Nikolay: Each team member is a one-man orchestra. There is no strict specialization either among artists or developers – if you can do something faster than your colleague or you can help someone – do it. Either way, many on the team have 10+ years of experience when working with games or IT, and this always gives competence in different areas. And yes, we hired or asked for free help from a few dozen people, to work on animation and sound effects, and other things. Localization in Ukrainian, Italian, German, French, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean is all due to the invaluable help of enthusiasts. My role: “Make everything work.” Find all these people, introduce ourselves, help everybody to work together, build processes. Limit creativity, act as an arbiter where necessary.

CSH: You mentioned that many of your team has ten or more years’ experience. What other games have you worked on?

Nikolay: All of us have worked with games for a long time, with titles such as: Aura 2: The Sacred Rings, Dead Reefs, Cradle of Magis, King’s Bounty, Royal Quest, GameNet platform, and many more. Our core team is Nikolay Bondarenko (the Studio Head), Dmitry Erokhin, Igor Podmogilnikov, Alex Bogomolets, and Max Fomichev. We are living proof that Slack and the ability to communicate effectively are enough to get the job done.


CSH: I hesitate to bring this up because I know you must be sick of hearing it, but given the circumstances I feel it is somewhat inevitable. Visually and in terms of gameplay, AoG shares a lot of similarities with The Banner Saga (TBS). Was Banner Saga one of the game’s influences? What other games had an influence?

Nikolay: Yes, TBS had a big influence – and I think I’ve been talking about it on every occasion for the last few years. Visually – both games are animated realism. TBS is based of the work of Disney artist Eyvind Earle. In our case – it is Ralph Bakshi and cartoons made by SoyuzMultfilm. We used the traditional animation technique the way they used to do it in SoyuzMultfilm and several animators from that company have worked with us. We have also used the color pallette base on their animation. Still AoG is not TBS. I might be naive, but I honestly think that guys from Stoic had created a new genre of games – they have discovered a European face for the Japaneses visual novels with cinematic dialogues, they have set a great example on how to show the adventures of a group of people, and finally added tactical game on top of it. The Darkest Dungeon was referenced in the narrative structure, management of strixes in the game, and possibility of permanent death for all the characters. Visual novels (classic ones) are all about the variety of story – just check out our Steam page and see what people tell about the game. It’s arguable, but there are several pages of different stories already – with different endings, heros, tragedies. I am sure we have managed to let the person write his own story. In the combat system we have adopted elements from Final Fantasy, King’s Bounty, Heroes of Might & Magic — from collectable card mechanics, to cooldown system and how it works, damage balance, classes specialization.

CSH: Having played both TBS and AoG, I totally agree that one is not a clone of the other – in my opinion, the similarities are mostly aesthetic. Thematically, the games are worlds apart. We’ve already discussed Terminum to some extent, and I don’t want to go too much further into it and risk spoiling any of the story’s secrets for those who haven’t played it yet. So, Sergey, tell us about some of your other stories?

Sergey: The novel that was born with the game Ash of Gods, was for me already the beginning of the seventh cycle and the ninth big story if you count the individual books. These are all fantasies with all the diversity of the fairy tale genre. “Arban Saesh” is the story not about a man in another world, but rather one returning to his own. “Code of Death” is a book about the consequences of epic witchcraft, and “Nothing Personal” is an action book in a multiverse, “The Ashes of the Gods,” which echoes the game in name only, although it has some similarities in the plot, the “Stones of Mitutu,” which is a large and still incomplete story of the collision of the worlds and, finally, “The Confession of the Damned” – the series that I postponed for the AoG project. These are all standalone stories.

CSH: Are their plans to have your other books translated? Or turned into games?

Sergey: That would be a new experience. I had worked on stories for games earlier, but not to such an extent. If I could, I would happily play a game in my other universe, “Arban Saesh.” And, please, that is a universe that should be translated.

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Val Hull
Val Hull

Resident role-playing RPG game expert. Knows where trolls and paladins come from. You must fight for your right to gather your party before venturing forth.

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