We haven't had an interview in the newsletter for a few issues, mostly because of other things that have been filling up the space - but this month I'm very happy to present this great interview with Magnus Esko, AKA DeadGlory from the forums, developer for Digital Awakening and author of the superb game The Magic Land.
Please tell us about yourself
My name is Magnus Esko, known a little here and there as Dead Glory. I'm a frequent visitor of
the Real Game Tools forum under that name. I'm 22 and I live in Sweden. Studied technology at
the gymnasium (swedish senior high school) and then 2 years media at the university collage.
Sometimes I wish I remembered more math, trigonometry for example is pretty handy in games
sometimes. I'm currently doing my best to get my own game development company running, Digital
Awakening. The name is registered but not the company itself. I have taken some company
management classes and those I have talked with are very positive about my company.
What first got you interested in gaming and creating computer games?
The first time I ever played a game was before I can remember, it was on my dad's Sharp Z80.
So basically you can say I have played games all my life. I remember playing games on a friends
C64 and then my dad bought me one. It was on those my interest in making games grew. When I
found a game with an idea I liked but a gameplay I didn't like I wanted to change that. Many
games back then were made with unnecessarily difficult controls, not that it have changed much
today. The problem was that I didn't know how to make games nor did anyone I knew, sure I found
some basic code in a magazine that I never got to work cause to me it was just a bunch of text
and numbers as I didn't understand a word english back then.
Since then I have played games on Spectrum ZX, Amiga 500, NES, Sega Master System, SNES, Mega
Drive, PC (386 and up), Mac (Prefoma 630 and Power Macs), N64, DreamCast, PS, PS2 and Game
Cube. Some where mine but most belonged to others. I didn't seriously started to try and make
games until I got in contact with Macromedia Director 4.0 (1993 I think), a 2D multimedia
application with a scripting language (it got 3D now). Before that I never figured out how to
make games cause I didn't know where to start or what I needed. Director offered everything
needed however it was very limited in how it read the keyboard. It worked the way you write
text, first one letter then it repeats quickly. I so wanted to make a platform game but it
wasn't possible, at least not with the same quality.
I started working on a graphical adventure as I loved that kind of games (Monkey Island etc)
and they are mouse controled. I actually managed to get my little character to walk where I
clicked within an area I had specified as walk able and I was very happy. It was hard making
the art for the game, pixel animations etc, as I have never been a good artist. I don't know
when exactly I changed game plans. I got my first own PC at the gymnasium, a 486 laptop.
Everybody got to borrow these as our own. I think that's something other schools should do.
Anyway, I got interested in 3D and decided to use 3D renders for my game. Somewhere during that
year I got interested in RPGs and had this idea about a really advanced RPG system so I
scrapped the adventure game.
The first prototype was a bunch of black numbers on a white screen that only I understood. But
it actually was 2 heroes fighting 4 enemies with life and power and different characteristics
like strength, agility, constitution etc. That was one of the best times in my life, I could
code for hours and hours watching this all come to life. A made a battlefield, woking AI, 3D
animations different attacks etc. It was extremely advanced comparing to any RPG I have ever
seen. TML is actually based on the same core idea but is developed in a different more
simplified direction, more similar to the first RPG idea I had. But school took most of my time
and energy so it never became more then a playable prototype.
Which games had the most influence on your computing life?
Kind of funny but I have never really been amazed by the development of games since I first
started playing. Since I was born there have been a steady change first from bad 2D to good 2D
and then over to bad 3D and now we got good 3D. When I saw Wolfenstine 3D for example I wasn't
amazed, it was a new way of playing games but it didn't stand out that much. There's only one
time I have been truly amazed though and that was when I first saw Halo. It was very different
in terms of visual quality with great detail making it look very alive and believable. I'm
still waiting for the PC version so I haven't played it.
Other great games that have inspired me over the years is Zelda 64 and Soul Reaver for amazing
composition, storytelling, gamedesign and interesting gameplay (sadly the same cannot be said
about SR2). System Shock 2 and Half Life for amazing fealing, detail, storytelling and
gameplay. Crono Trigger for amazing storytelling, playable story depth and interesting
gameplay. In CT you can travel to many different times giving you a complete view of the story
that completely surprises you with it's twists and turns. It's a masterpiece in story telling
and depth of the actual story you play. There's almost no background story that you can't go
back to and see for yourself how things where created. There are some other games as well that
have many good parts but overall wasn't as great as these games.
My all time favorite game ever is Zelda 64. It was an amazing experience both in presentation
and gameplay with all problems everywhere and not getting boring, lots of ppl to talk to, lots
of beautiful amazing places even though the N64 isn't a powerful system. The time switching is
also a lot of fun, being able to play both as a child and a young man is great. And the
swordplay was nice too. No other game comes close.
What first drew you to DarkBASIC? Did you find the language easy to pick up?
About 2 years ago I was thinking how wonderful it would be if there was some app that could
make simple 3D games. Oh, how much fun I could have with an app like that. But silly me of
course there was no such app. By accident, I think, I found 3DRad that was such an app. The
problem was how bulky the whole thing was, not a pure programming language but a weird mix of
wysiwyg and a strict scripting system. Director is much more open in it's source like DB is.
I found the demo of DB 1.06 on a CD that came with a game design book (Game design theory and
practise, a good read). Happily surprised that it was a 3D engine with a language very similar
to Lingo in Director. I quickly remade what I had done in 3DRad and was happily surprised by
the easy language and how much smoother the exact same program ran in DB. I looked at what the
latest version 1.09 had to offer and there it was, sliding collision. All I needed and the rest
Approx. how many projects have you started in DarkBASIC and then aborted? Will you revisit any
One. The game I started on in 3DRad. I teamed up with a friend of mine that is an amature
writer working on a RPG world. I was interested in a short story he had written that took place
in his world. I wanted to try making a little game based on the same part of the world. During
that time I was studying hard and I didn't have much time on my had. When I proudly had made my
own extremely simple landscape editor the multiplayer contest was announced and I aimed for a
first place as the price was DB Pro.
I won the contest with Cyber Control Alpha but after that I had no time nor energy to work on
games for as long as I studied. Then came the A-Sock-Ellipse contest and since DBP was delayed
I thought I should should make a little game for that contest, The Magic Land. I also made
Player for the RGT contest. And suddenly DBP was announced to be released earlier then I
expected so I changed the plans with TML to become more advanced and take use of DBP. My friend
went back to studying and we talked about me building up a reputation first and then aim to
make our game a full scale game. So yes, I plan to revisit it =)
Where did the inspiration for your latest game come from?
It's actually a mix of all RPGs and action adventures I have ever played. I have taken the
strategy most common in PC RPGs and mixed it with the semi turnbased system you find in many
console RPGs and then added a 3rd person camera similar to action adventures.
The games that inspired me most are Septerra Core (PC) and Crono Trigger (SNES). You can see
the similarity with my battle GUI and the one in SC. SC also got a party mana pool, I didn't
like that so much but that inspired me to make party experience level instead of individual
levels. And CT really screams for character movement.
Did you work on the project on your own or in a team?
I worked with an excellent tracker, Jan Streuff. That guy can sound like a complete orchestra.
Wasn't much work for him to do. One of the tracks in TML is an old masterpiece he had already
made then we have the main menu track and the battle track. We kept contact through email.
With some easy techniques it's very possible to talk about many things at the same time in
emails. Keep everything divided into paragraphs with blank rows between and then reply between
the paragraphs always clean out old text that is no longer needed to keep the email easy to
read. It's surprisingly how few that actually does this but it helps keeping an active dialog
over email. It's very important for the game designer to be able to point out exactly what
he/she means. Take music for example, when I want something changed I specify exactly where in
time I mean. With art arrows, circles and text/numbers on an image is a good idea unless a
smaller image showing only the interesting area is enough.
During development did you hit any significant problems that you found work-arounds for?
Things that really got you stumped but you overcame.
Oh yes. All of them where due to Dark Basic Pro's early stage. I don't want to go through them
all here cause I can't remember them all. Some I worked around some got fixed, some got added
and required new workarounds. And now with patch 4 I find that I had to take back a workaround
and things that I had to do differently now works the way I first wanted them to work. And some
stuff I couldn't work around now works. Thanks to Lee who have been working hard fixing all
those bugs. I never stoped working due to a bug and that's what's most important to do. Either
do it some other way or work on another part of the game until a patch is released to fix the
The graphics and effects in your game are very good - what tips or suggestions do you have for
other DB programmers? Are there any things they can do to ensure their program looks good even
if they aren't naturally artistic?
Thank you =) Well, I'm not a good artist myself but I know a few tricks. The first thing I
would suggest is getting DBP as it's way more powerful then DB thus allowing you to add much
more detail to your games. The style I have chosen for TML is very colorful, the colors
actually makes simple things look better. If you have very bright colors and a low ambient
setting you can keep the game very simple.
Another thing is to concentrate on what's most visible and add a lot of detail where it
counts. In TML the sky and the landscape fills out most of the screen almost through the whole
game. It's important that they are made well. The sky I made in Lightwave, it have a tool
called SkyTracer. Spending some time figuring out how it worked resulted in the sky you see in
the game, it can do more realistic skies but that wouldn't match the rest of the game. However
it's an expensive app that most bedroom coders cannot afford. But it's an excellent app for
game creation and I'm only scratching the surface so far.
The landscape in TML is made with a 500x500 array and a 100x100 matrix, that wouldn't be
possible in DB as it have a limited matrix size. The higher detailed matrix is important to get
good shape. I have made an editor that allows me to modify the matrix as I want. To make it
look good you must spend every part of it some time, the more shape you can put into it the
more interesting it will get. A tool that really helps is my smoothing tool that allows me to
smooth out an area by holding down the mouse button over it. My editor works on 1 or 9 nodes.
It's the micro adjusting that makes it look good. It's also important that the editor you use
can rotate the normals so that the catch the light correctly. Mine is a little messed up but it
does the job. And finally a few good seamless textures that repeats well. The textures I used
in TML comes from Dark Matter but I have tried to remove everything that stands out and made
them more colorful. They no longer look like the original ones. Making texture fades is very
important, sharp lines between the textures don't look good at all. Fades can be done in a
regular art app but there are apps made in DB that can do this as well.
Objects also need to get some detail to look good. Though the objects in TML is pretty simple
they still have some detail. A house for example isn't a box with a triangle prism on top. Make
holes for the door and windows, make the roof bigger then the house and things like that. Also
pay attention to textures. Make sure they are scaled properly and rotated correctly. To make
better textures yourself you can render a model and use it as texture, that's how I made the
textures for the roves and the walls.
An final advice. Spend some time on your models and textures, it really pays of. If you like
me aren't a good artist then let a model take a day or two. And you have to decide what you is
satisfied with. If you are satisfied with a lower quality model then you won't do better. I
know it's hard to look at your own work and say this isn't good but if you accept what you do
you won't try to do better. With TML I have settled with less then I want sometimes as I don't
have the time but some parts I have pressed myself to do better.
Are there any other DB creations you've seen that really impressed you or spring to mind?
I know it's old and I know it's not being worked on anymore but the all time DB favorite of
mine (excluding TML) is still Equilibrium. It had excellent gameplay and the
graphics/presentation where amazing for being made in DB1. Judging incomplete games these are
the only things you can judge them by. For me gameplay and presentation is equally important to
make a good experience. A game that also appeals to me in Indi's Dvarven Tale. I know the game
is very detailed and the graphics looks really promising. All I'm hoping for are a good and
interesting gameplay and a good story.
What would you most like to see added to DBPro?
Most? Do I have to chose? The DX8 3D format (.x) have RGB settings for
ambient, diffuse, specular and emissive and also percentage settings for
glossiness, specular level and opacity. These settings works for each
surface and can be changed in most, if not all, 3D programs. Using these
settings can give the surface the look of any material like plastic, metal,
cloth or glass, even lit laps. Taking advantage of this means incredibly
improved graphic quality in any DBP game and anybody can easily learn how
to do this, anyone with some 3D experience probably knows already. However,
the only settings I can get to work in DBP is diffuse (surface color) and
emissive (self lit). Since DBP have a DX8 engine I would like it to take
full advantage of the DX8 3D format.
Oh, and is LWO and LWS (Lightwave formats) loading too much to ask for? =)
What's next? When can we expect another hit showcase entry?!
I'm not sure when or how it will be announced, so I don't want to give away
too much. What I can say is that I'm planning to take DBP on a spin in the
wonders of BSP and maybe shader technology as well as a deep dive into the
world of multiplayer gaming. This time around I will build the whole engine
from the ground up instead of making a prototype and then develop it to a
final game. I have used the prototype way as I found it useful due to lack
of experience. The work on TML have given me the experience needed to make
a better foundation. The advantage of building a good foundation is that it
allows for changes to be made much faster resulting in a higher quality
through the whole game and maybe cutting in development time. Another thing
I have learned making TML is how hard it is to estimate the time needed for
the game. It's hard to plan everything that needs to be made, how to make
them and what problems you will encounter. And I don't know how much time I
have every week to work on my next game. And I need a little break before I
Please add in any comments you'd like to make, any pearls of advice to share with others or
even programming tips.
Start small and stick to your projects. Finishing a project is the most challenging part of
game development. Set a goal of what the game will be and how you intend to reach that goal.
It's very easy to get stuck adding new features or rewriting parts. You may get stuck with a
game that doesn't develop, this takes a lot of creative energy as you don't get that kick of
seeing your creations getting life when things starts to come together. You may end up
abandoning your project. Completing a project give you more energy and experience to complete
the next one. So don't add or change things that cannot be done quickly. Save that for the
sequel. And don't start making that huge game of your dreams first. Build up some experience
and skills first, there's a lot to learn during your first games. Also try to figure things out
yourself, it's the best way to learn as it sticks better and it learns you how to solve
problems on your own.
And keep your eye on my site. My job is to entertain you and hopefully you will like what I
have to offer =)
You can find Magnus's site at http://digaw.com/