Dusan "Duke" Kostic and Aleksandar Kostic (no relation) both dreamed about making computer games as teenagers, and a chance meeting through a mutual friend more than 20 years ago convinced them that they should found their own studio together, Paprikari. Whoever that friend was, casual gamers have him to thank for one of the most succesful casual game adventures of all time: Paprikari’s Mortimer Beckett. Gamezebo caught up with the guys at Paprikari to chat about the studio, Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox, and the upcoming third Mortimer Beckett game.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. First, I have to ask, how did you come up with the name Paprikari?

While we were still working on our first PC game, DDD Pool,  back in 2003, we were sitting in a coffee shop by the river in our hometown of Leskovac, Serbia, and we were brainstorming about the name for our studio. We immediately agreed we wanted something short, yet unique.

After a couple of bland tries, one of us shouted "Paprikari!" as a joke. We laughed for a couple of seconds, and then after a short silence, we said why not? It’s short and unique and the domain name was still available.  We thought it was catchy in our language, because it’s an unexpected name for a company/games studio.

We shook our hands on it, ordered another coffee and so the Paprikari was born.

"Paprikari" is the plural form of "paprikar", which means something like "the paprika guy". It’s a common name for citizens of Leskovac, given to us a long time ago by the people from other cities because at that time there were many paprika farmers from around our town who sold their products in marketplaces all over the country.

Tell about how the two of you met and came to found the studio.

We have known each other for more than 20 years. We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend (thanks Bobby), and from the start we saw we were on the same page. We both loved computers and computer games.  

Soon, we discovered that it was much more rewarding creating games than just playing them. We’ve heard a couple of stories about guys from our country (then called Yugoslavia) who made games and had them published "abroad" in Western Europe. It immediately became our teenage dream.

At that time we both owned a computer called "ZX Spectrum", a mean machine with amazing 48KB of RAM  (yes, 48 kilobytes) and a tape recorder as the storage device.

We started off with a war strategy game. We worked hard for several months and finally finished our first game. We had no contact with foreign publishers, so we sent our work to a local agency who supposedly had the required contacts but we never heard from them again.

The twilight of that computer platform has already past, so it was time to switch to a new one. In the early 90’s THE gaming platform was Commodore Amiga. We made our first casual game (it was a take on then popular Color Lines) and distributed within the software channels in the United Kingdom.

We then started work on a very ambitious point-and-click adventure game. We made slow progress due to other obligations (school and stuff) and finally dropped the development completely.

We were living in different cities 200 miles apart, got non-games related day jobs to pay the bills, one of us (Duke) got married, and life went on.

Fast forward a couple of years later, and we both got the itch again to create games again.  We met up in the coffee shop by the river and began thinking about the name of our new studio . . .  

We hear about a lot of game developers in Russia, for example, but what is the game development scene like in Serbia?

Well, it’s not very developed, though the things seem to be changing for the better. There are a few teams who developed a couple of mainstream PC and console titles in the last few years. I’ve also heard about a few casual games developed recently.

There are surely a lot of talented people here, they just seem to need someone to help them get organized and funded.  

Let’s talk about your latest game, Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox.  What did you learn while making Mortimer Beckett and the Secrets of Spooky Manor that you were able to apply to the second game?

We learned a lot. Most important thing was time management. This type of games requires a lot of resources (mostly time). Doing it with only four hands makes that even a greater issue. We’ve learned how to plan and organize our development process better, and how to prioritize. In the beginning of development of every game, there are many things we want to put in the game, but as time passes we need to drop some features if we want to finish the job in reasonable time.

Our primary goal for each new game we create is to surpass the previous one, so we use those new time management skills not to create the new game in less time, but to create a richer game in the same time.

In this case, the result is that we created Time Paradox in about the same amount of time as Spooky Manor, even though the sequel has twice as much content as the first one.

We also learned a lot after Spooky Manor came out.  We read all the user feedback online on Spooky Manor and analyzed what players liked and disliked most about the game.  We then tried to apply that knowledge in order to make Time Paradox a better game. According to comments we received for Time Paradox, we seem to have succeeded.

But we’re still learning. It’s a never-ending process, and we plan to take the feedback we have gotten on Time Parodox in order to create an even better game experience with the next Mortimer Beckett game, The Lost King.

How did you choose the neat locations that Mortimer visits? Which was your favorite time period to design?

While still working on Spooky Manor, we got bored of the interiors. The whole story happened inside a single house. So for the next game we decided to design the story in a way that will give us most diversity. After a little thought, we realized we can’t get better diversity than having Mortimer travel through space AND time.

As for the individual locations and characters, we just took memories from all the books we’ve read and all the movies we watched, fed it to our imagination and let it run loose.

What’s our favorite time period? Hmm, maybe the pirates.

The music in Mortimer Beckett is great. Tell us about how the audio came together.

Before we formed the Paprikari studio, Aleksandar was working as a freelance artist making TV advertisement videos, music videos and he also created special effects for a couple of Serbian motion pictures. After making a few music videos for a band called "Biber" he became good friend with the band members. So when the time came to hire someone to create music for our second game (Crime Puzzle), we talked to these guys and they were excited to work with us on this project. It all came out great, so we continued working with them on every our game since then.

The band’s music style is mostly "modern ethno", but they’re also versed in other music genres. They say working on music for our games is a welcome distraction and refreshment from their usual work. Whenever possible, the music is played and recorded live in their studio. Rastko Aksentijevic, the band leader, has a degree in classic guitar, so we bought him a real banjo to play the Wild West theme for Time Paradox.

Where do you see the future of casual gaming in 5 years?

Looking at the current trend, the players are looking at a bright future. The quality bar for games seems to be getting higher, while the price of games is getting lower.

I’m not sure how much more the price can go down, but the quality will surely keep rising for quite some time.

As for developers, it’s getting more and more difficult to stay competitive. Large publishers are forming and expanding in-house studios which produce high quality games. They are also acquiring quality independent developers.   It’s getting harder to create a quality, competitive game without investing a lot of resources.

So it looks like the development will concentrate in several large studios, with certain number of independent developers who manage to keep their quality up and costs down being successful.

We personally are doing OK for now. Living in a country where cost of living is not high, and being only a team of two makes our cost of running a business reasonably low.

Mortimer Beckett and the Time Paradox had a cliffhanger ending, so we know that there’s going to be at least one more Mortimer Beckett Game! Can you give us any hints about your upcoming games or the future of Mortimer Beckett?

Since we already knew there was going to be a sequel, the cliffhanger ending was quite appropriate.

We wanted to keep the diversity of locations Mortimer visits, so after the time travelling theme we chose fantasy.

As we speak, Mortimer Beckett is blazing his trail through the kingdom of Zantya. There is so much for him to do, so much strange characters to meet, and when and if he finds the lost king, what then?

Did he marry king’s daughter and stayed in Zantya? Or he went back home and wrote a book of his adventures and got rich?

Or something totally unexpected?  Well, we’ll have to wait and see…

To get updates on the next Mortimer Beckett game, be sure to visit us at Paprikari.com.

Any last words for your fans?

Thank you all for supporting us by playing and loving our games.  It’s proof that we’re on the right path.

Without you we’d be still drinking coffee by the river doing nothing important with our lives.