Interview with Mantas on ArmyGrid
Mantas takes us on a tour of the origin story and history behind the unique game Armygrid, a combination of chess, tower defense and expansion.
Who is Mantas?
My name is Mantas, 34 years old. I work in casino games creation company as a full-time developer. Me and my wife having 2 small kids and renting a house in Lithuania.
My background is not related to programming or gaming - i studied ecology, but not even finished the last semester.
When I was 23, I started first with learning Blender to create 3d assets for a private server of KalOnline. In few months then created my first mini game using Unity, without any programming knowledge.
But only at age of 27 i started to learning real programming, very seriously, studied from Youtube HTML, CSS, JS, Ruby for free. Spent 5 months on only studying programming, 8 hours per day.
I actually had my first online web game when I was learning programming at age 27. It was MMORPG. Few friends played it. But it was like pre-alpha, not nice, with 2D cubes. I made it only for learning purpose. It was online for 6 months only, not marketed anywhere. So for my current game I would say like it's the first serious game for me.
For creating Armygrid, I was inspired by Travian and Tribal Wars. I play a lot of these games and studied their gameplay, why they are fun, how would they be better and apply this experience into my game.
How do you handle everything?
I was working alone for the last 5 years. But now I'm hiring a tester, who works in my office full time. He also studies art and helps me with some simple design changes. For more complex ones I order them from a freelancer. This guy works for me as a freelancer, so I don't have a company yet. But waiting for it. Our culture is like - he offers me a service of testing and other stuff I need, works as a freelancer for me. And I do programming, idea generation.
I always program for the game, working with servers, deployments. And hiring artists. For artists I spent more than 10k eur. Also from freelancers buying music and marketing consulting services. I also hire about 20 testers per month, each paying 10 eur / 30mins gameplay with screen recording. I spend about 20-30hrs / week working with my project.
What is Armygrid?
Hard to describe, as there is no similar game known. It's a mix of Travian, chess, tower defense, and expansion. Over that many years I still didn't find a clear explanation. Players control castles, deploy chess from them, expand further to conquer more castles, then defend their own territory using walls and defensive towers.
How did ArmyGrid start?
First it was ArmyFight. it was an army fights simulation tool, made for such games like Travian and Tribal Wars. So that their text based army fights would be visually animated. But they declined it, as obviously i could handle up to 20k units on page (at first) and the fights were also not nice enough for a public. So, ArmyFight was created from scratch from 2015 until 2017. And then i decided to create my own MMO game which includes these army fights, also from scratch, using HTML5 canvas. So since 2017 im working with ArmyGrid. But these army fights were never nice and I didn't even find a good solution how to make nice 2d army fight animations. So I removed this feature from the game.
Now Armygrid doesn't contain anymore any army fight animations. Because in game player had like 500 fights per day, and watches only 0.1% of these fights. It was also a high load to the server to calculate these fights, and frontend also was replaying the same calculations. Without fights now the game runs faster, just sometimes I miss these animations. I liked them. Just many people suggested to remove these animations from the very beginning of ArmyGrid creation. I didn't listen and wasted like 2,000 hours on fixing, adapting and editing these army fights during development.
What makes ArmyGrid unique?
Well, at first I had like 5+ unique features. But now left probably 2-3. One of them is clearly - the biggest Tower defense area - whole map is seamless, having hundreds of thousands of Towers. They all have validated shots server-side. But it's not like each shot = request to server. Everything is simulated in a way, so that the server is lightweight. Then probably the only one chess based MMO-RTS. I didn't find other chess based MMO games. Some are online, but not in a seamless world where thousands of players play on one single map. Also, any progress in game can be watched by any other player, by teleporting to user's coordinates and checking how he completes private missions. Also, I didn't see other games having such unique way of expanding territory square by square and protecting it with hundreds of walls and towers. One game I've seen a bit close to this, but there was quite limited amount of structures you can build and also limited amount of squares for player. Here is no limit for any structure, owning fields amount, owning Chess pieces on map by single player also is infinite. I think I also missed some more unique features which are not that significant.
Whats's the hard part of Armygrid?
The biggest issue - nice art. Players still say it's from 2000's, even if I upgraded the art several times. I gave up on this as no matter how nice the art is in other game, after I implement something related, in my game it doesn't look good enough. It looks maybe quite good from close enough. But the game is played from very far away, that player could see as big area as possible to navigate in the map.
How big is the player base?
The alpha release happened in April 2019 and we had about 40K player registrations across 4 servers. We even had over 100 simultaneously online players when the game was on the front page of Kongregate.
Currently I do no marketing, just development. But as the game is in Kongregate, somewhere deeply buried, some players still join. Sometimes getting 3-5 active players per week. But they often quit after a few days, because there is no visual activity and still not clear enough. The idea is unique and I need to teach player how to play - and that is hard.
Players can communicate with each other using Global or Private chat, also alliance chat. Currently there are like 5 long time players who log in once a week or month, already 2 years. But they know that the server can anytime be reset. Just I didn't reset it in the past 2 years.
What is the hardest part of being an admin for ArmyGrid?
Probably deciding balance feature. Balancing is so fun, but also so hard. And when I do mistake, players blame me. I must then fix it in some way, also explain to players, apologise and give rewards. So I always have a fear by releasing a new feature. Because it may break something with balance, or create exploits.
Any funny stories to share?
First time I released the game, i had one "whale" donator, who spent like 300$ for in-game goods. So he was rank1 and bullying everyone else for few weeks. Players kept complaining that I did ruin the game, that player is unbeatable and "eating" all other players in PVP-zone, keeps bullying etc..
So my idea was to get another "whale" who could control this guy and also fix the purchases, that it would be more balanced and not that heave p2w. I had one trusted player and gave him some donation coins, meaning that he "spent" real cash. Looked ok at first, other players thought that he also donated. But after a week he said the truth. And other players were were unhappy, some rage-quitted the game. And it was so hard for me to explain this situation. Apparently, this fake-donator wasn't needed anymore, because normal players got strong enough and as alliance joined together and destroyed that "whale". So this my move was so stupid. I keep regretting this and feel so bad about this my decision. This real "whale" quitted after few months, but not because of that fake-donator (I removed this account quite fast), but because he was alone vs everyone and normal players got strong lately.
Can you already reveal future roadmap steps that you have planned?
As every year, I plan to release the game during summer, but already for the 3rd time I postponed it for a year :) But with the help of tester, I am super motivated, because I work a lot more. So maybe this time I can succeed in releasing the game. Planning to release probably on facebook, .io games lists at first. Then after a year on App stores, after the game is balanced and tested.
Interested to have a look at Armygrid?
1 comments on “Interview with Mantas on ArmyGrid”
Armygrid is my lifetime project. I want to make it good, release not too fast, update and develop as long as I can. I want, that the game would be clear and unique at once. It should look massive, really massive with what you can do. And it should be transparent in that way, that any player could easily spy of what other player does. It actually works like that now.
PvP area - is my final vision of this game. It should give the most joy. Imagine, like you control a country and can expand to all directions, grid-by-grid, protect against aggressive neighbours using defensive towers and walls - without any limit of these (and even the price is small) and watch real-time action in this whole map, scroll through this map and see how active other players are expanding or how alliances are massively fighting - all in real time, piece by piece - thousands of these. And it actually works like that now (just yet too few players, I didn't market the game yet).
This game has even that unique feature - it can be played on any device(supported by HTML5 canvas), also on any screen size and dimensions - including tablets, smartphones, biggest or smallest possible PC screens, mac, linux, or even on smartwatch(if it accidently supports canvas).
So, i wish the game to be successful on my first release. But if it won't be, I won't give up and will continue working with it.