Codeminion talks about Saqqarah (and other things)

It takes a very special game to earn a perfect 5 out of 5 score from Gamezebo, and Codeminion achieved that rare honor with their magnificent puzzle game, Ancient Quest of Saqqarah. We wanted to learn more about what makes this Polish game studio tick, so we spoke with its co-founders, Konrad Olesiewicz and Maciej Biedrzycki.

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It takes a very special game to earn a perfect 5 out of 5 score from Gamezebo, and Codeminion achieved that rare honor with their magnificent puzzle game, Ancient Quest of Saqqarah. We wanted to learn more about what makes this Polish game studio tick, so we spoke with its co-founders Konrad Olesiewicz and Maciej Biedrzycki.

Please tell us little bit about yourselves and how you came to found Codeminion.

Codeminion started out as only two people: Maciej and Konrad, who founded the studio. We have known each other since primary school and we always wanted to make computer games. It is very satisfying for us that we have managed to fulfil what you could call a "childhood dream."

When we began college, we decided to team up and started working on some projects in our spare time. For a few years we tried to make a pretty big game which we failed to complete. However, it was a true fountain of knowledge for us. Based on our experience we decided to start out with something smaller. Thus Pteroglider was born.

Having little commercial success, we tried again with Magic Match… which turned out to be the bull’s eye. We managed to make a really fun game of which we are proud to this day. Currently, there are five people working here – still small but always more than two.That would be: Jarek our programmer, Michael our web designer and e-commerce guy, and last but definitely not least, Tom – our designer.

Where does the name Codeminion come from?

Well, to be honest it’s just a name we came up with a few years back. We had a few requirements for it. We wanted it to sound unique and "serious." We did all of the stuff for our games ourselves at the beginning, but we felt programmers ‘at heart’, so we wanted to have something with ‘code’ in there. Yeah, we figure it is a bit scary, maybe if we were to choose a new name today it could have been different, but we like it the way it is.

You recently scored a huge hit with the puzzle game Ancient Quest of Saqqarah. Please tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind this game.

We are both great fans of "The Mummy" movie and we always liked the Ancient Egypt theme. We knew we would like to make a game with that style, quality, soundtrack… and, of course, the epic intro. It was a very hard part of the game to make, as the production process was very complex, but we are quite happy with the results. We also always try to add a bit of humor to our games, because you can’t take yourself too seriously in the game biz, so we introduced Khufu – the blue talking ape. We know that humor is very subjective thing, but each time we hear the line "I’m Khufu, the Magical Monkey from the Undergrounds Oasis” we crack up.

Tell us about the SaqPacks. Why did you decide to do them, and will you be releasing any more?

We strived to design Saqqarah to be the ultimate puzzle experience, with its number of varied gameplay types. Having one game that virtually consists of seven others, we hoped that our gamers would play it extensively. Despite the fact that the basic Saqqarah features more than half a thousand levels, we figured they could still want more. Especially since some of the gameplay types were unique  (like the second temple) and there are still no substitutes. It is hard to tell at the moment, but there are good chances of us releasing another SaqPack as Monkey Monarchs proved to be a success.

So far, you’ve remained committed to puzzle games instead of jumping on the hidden object and time management casual game bandwagons. What is it about making puzzle games that you find so appealing?

To be honest, we are not big fans of time management and hidden object games and we feel comfortable in the match-3 genre. So we welcome all die-hard puzzle fans to stick around with us. We, of course, understand that the tastes are changing and we do not intend to make the same thing over and over again, but we believe that there is still a lot to improve and innovate. Even when it comes to the classic puzzle games.

What do you think about other gaming platforms like the iPhone, Nintendo Wii or Nintendo DS? Would you ever consider developing games for any of them?

We consider them very exciting platforms and although "casual" on Wii and DS is a bit different than ‘casual’ we are used to, we definitely believe that there is space for the classic casual games out there. As for the iPhone, we believe we will be seeing more games we already know from the portals there, as the race begun a few months back. When it comes to development, we doubt we would start doing in-house porting but we are open to licensing of our games.

On your blog, Casual Games Harmony, you have been very vocal about developer rights, especially when it comes to exclusives and receiving proper credit for your games in press releases. Now that a few months have passed since that post, what are you feelings? Do you think it’s gotten harder or easier to be a casual game developer?

Of course, some time has passed but our view on the market is pretty much the same. In our opinion the portals use their position and the rising competition among developers (we get more and more quality games) to leverage their position. It is their absolute right as companies to do so, but we believe that in the long run it will result in less diverse portfolio of products for the gamers.

For example: if HO [hidden object] games sell – they’ll promote HO games more. And since there will be less other things to play then, HO games will continue to sell on the basis that there will be very little choice. It’s a self-sustained circle that leads to narrowing the diversity of the games we get. We had the chance of observing the same process in the ‘traditional’ game market.

Your studio is based in Warsaw, Poland. What’s the game development scene like there?

We do have a lot of game development companies in Warsaw, but we were the first one to start making casual games. Actually, we were the first Polish company that made a classic casual game. Apart from us, there are three other casual games developers whose games appeared on the portals. It is very funny, as most people think of central-eastern Europe as the Eldorado of casual games development. Yes, this is partly true, but you’d have to exclude Poland. We are not saying we are lonely, but still, our business is considered a curiosity.

What is your favorite game that you have been involved with?

This would definitely be Magic Match. We had a blast doing it and it had this ‘garage’ feel of doing something out of thin air, as back then we only had two computers tucked in one room. Besides, we were still studying and computer science can get very boring at times, so it was a great way to spend our time. Well, it is true we did not have much of a life while working weekends and nights but it was a very stimulating experience.

What are your favorite games from other developers that you are playing right now?

One of our favorites are: Peggle from Popcap, Treasures of Montezuma from Visual Shape (also one of the inspirations behind Saqqarah) and we also tried out SPORE from Maxis lately.

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

It will be just like today, but there will be about 150 more Dash series games ;). But seriously, we predict that there will be more online games and the production values will be even better. Obviously the games are becoming more complex too. For example: gamers that already played many previous HO games will need a bigger challenge in the next ones, but those gamers who just came into the fun might feel a bit intimidated by the difficulty of the current titles.

It is very interesting to see how this will evolve, but if it goes this way some games stop being casual anymore. We might see a similar mechanisms to those in the traditional games market. Bigger, better, more expensive and harder to develop games.

Can you give us any hints about upcoming casual games or projects that you’re working on?

Unfortunately, we cannot give any details at the moment. For more than a month the team is in the process of measuring the potential awesomness of the project we are about to begin, but it is to soon to tell anything more. We encourage everyone to visit our web site from time to time and see if nothing new comes up.

Any final words for your fans?

Of course! On behalf of the whole team we would like to thank every one of our gamers for sending us some really great letters of encouragement and for supporting us and our efforts to bring good games to life. We hope we will continue to bring lots of fun to you in the coming years, so stay tuned!