Behind the Game: Totem Tribe

By Erin Bell |

After developing a string of puzzle games including Emerald Tale and Jewel of Atlantis, Enkord decided it was time to make something different. Really different. Enkord’s CEO Yaroslav Yanovsky talked us through the highs and lows of working on Totem Tribe‘s ambitious blend of adventure, strategy and hidden object gameplay.

Prior to Totem Tribe, Enkord was best known for puzzle games like Svetlograd, Emerald Tale and Jewel of Atlantis. Why did you decide to change gears and create a strategy game – and a particularly complex and deep one at that?

At that point I was so tired of making derivative games and I felt like there was not much sense in making clones. We had some success with Emerald Tale, which was pretty different from everything else, but we decided to move even further.

I had this idea about real-time strategy (RTS) game without tedious resource management and easy to get into, so we started with such a prototype. Soon we felt that strategy alone wasn’t interesting enough, so we decided to make it into more of an adventure with exploration missions like in core RTS games, and that added more depth.

We continued to elaborate on our concept and added a lot of the cool stuff you see in the game now, such as the ability to return to previous islands, quest-related interaction with units and structures like breaking the ice with fire towers or hunting crows with archers. Therefore, the game is a result of a non-stop creative process. We had been adding various features here and there for maybe over a year until we decided to freeze what we had and finish it.

What was the inspiration behind the gameplay and story?

I played a lot of games, but my main source of inspiration for the story were Japanese RPG games like older Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger in particular – this is  one of my all-time favorites, and we were trying to make something as epic in form of casual game. Speaking about gameplay, I can name Majesty and Dungeon Keeper as somewhat similar "hardcore" games.

How would you describe the development process overall? Easy? Difficult?

It’s creative. We have this philosophy here at Enkord – unrestricted creativity. That’s why we self-fund all of our projects and never work for hire. It was pretty smooth as everyone truly enjoyed what they were doing, but it wasn’t moving as fast as we expected. I don’t think development process was hard, because Gleb (the other guy who made a lot of stuff on this game like programming, scripting, level design) pretty much worked on his own, coming with a lot of great ideas and implementing it in code right away, so I just reviewed what had been done and made notes or suggestions. I didn’t restrict his creativity in any way, even if it required more time and resources. This way development of this game was rather like an art, not a job.

Are there any funny or interesting stories that you can share about the game’s development?

The funniest stories for us usually start after we release our game, and such was the case with Totem Tribe. The first version of this game had 1 gem missing that prevented players from reaching secret Guardian Moon level. Honestly, our latest games are quite complex and have so many different items and features that no matter how hard we test them there is always a thing or two missing. We released the first version of Emerald Tale without 4 coins, first version of Svetlograd without 1 doll, and now with Totem Tribe we were like, "We have to triple-check everything so as not to make our mistake yet again," and in the end we still missed it, unfortunately.

Of course we released version 1.02, which had everything fixed, and sent that version to portals, but not all of them care much about updating since they have dozens of games released daily. Therefore, if any of you people have the older version purchased from somewhere else, please forward your purchase confirmation to Enkord using the contact page, explain your problem to us and we will give you a free key to unlock version 1.03 from

What aspects of Totem Tribe are you most proud of, and why?

I guess that would be difficulty. We hit the right spot. Of course there are some tough moments, like abscence of hints for last item, and so on, but in general I think it is fine. A lot of people curse us for making it too hard and tedious, but they still are hooked and continue to play. Not many casual games today give you such conflicting feelings! It reminds me of playing some of the old hardcode games on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), when you hate it and cry about the inability to pass a certain level, but you still play it over and over. Totem Tribe is much like old hardcore NES game in many respects, except aligned to current market realities.

What was the most challenging part of developing and releasing Totem Tribe? Is there anything you would do differently if you had a second chance?

The most challenging part started after we had released this game. We realized that the marked has changed dramatically, and some portal partners that were nice to work with back in the day are not as excited about our games anymore. We had a strange moment with Big Fish Games – they refused to promote our game because it was featured on GameHouse earlier. This and some other moments forced us to reconsider our game strategy. I think in the future we will release new games on our own website and then only hand our games over to portals at least 3-4 months after selling from our own website.

Gamezebo readers seem to be going crazy over Totem Tribe. How has the reaction been from gamers in general? Was it what you expected?

That was totally unexpected. I had no idea that this game will generate so much buzz here on Gamezebo and on a number of other places. I think this is a good sign for us – we should start building a community around this game right now, because such a loyal community will allow us to survive and continue making similar games.

Above: A "really old (ugly) Totem Tribe screenshot" from early in the development process. Below: The final, polished version.

You’re planning to expand with some community features for Totem Tribe fans. Can you elaborate on what ideas you have for the site? Any idea when we’ll see them?

At this moment we are tweaking our website to make more social. We have added forum as we get a flood of requests and/or questions about the game. It’s empty right now, but expect feedback from developers directly if you post questions there.

Now we also added news/blog section on front page to communicate to our players and post regular news about games that we have in development right now.

We are not faceless corporation, we are bunch of guys that love their work and now it’s time to talk about it and move closer to our players. The site is a bit of a mess right now, but we will fix all broken things eventually, so if you are Totem Tribe fan – this will be the right place for you.

Any plans for a Totem Tribe sequel?

I would love to make one. We have so many ideas that were cut out from original game, but of course it will depend on the commercial performance of the original. If we are about to make a sequel we are not going to just milk the original. The true sequel will be way more big and epic, if at all.

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