Of Kings and Men – Interview with Florian “Chadz” Hofreither

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Of Kings and Men

Before Of Kings and Men, the team came together on a very different project, the famous cRPG mod for Mount & Blade. We sat down with Florian to talk about how Of Kings and Men really came together.

Our previous mod, cRPG, was done as a simple proof of concept. The name never changed from it’s working title – i simply needed a name for the folder, which was “RPG” because of leveling, and prefixed it with “c” for Chadz, so I would remember it’s mine. It was never planned to become this big, but at a certain point, it became too big to change.

Our team just grew naturally. The first one to join was CMP. He approached me and said “Hey… I found a bug that can be exploited to get millions of gold. You should fix it”
Which was pretty cool because he didn’t abuse it, so I asked him if he would like to have access to my source code and help me out, to which he replied (paraphrasing from memory) “no need, I wrote a decompiler already”. It was obvious that this guy was way out of my league, and I wanted him. Eventually, he gave in and actually worked with the source code.

Every member of the dev team has a unique but similar story – they did something without me asking for it, and I knew that they are a proper fit for the donkeys. We are what looks like a random bunch of people from different countries from the outside, but in reality, we are just the best guys for the job handpicked from the community. Not unlike potatoes.

The biggest inspiration for the combat is Mount & Blade: Warband. We played that game for years, and in many ways, Of Kings and Men is an homage to Warband. However, from a modder’s perspective, Warband had its own unique flaws that were insurmountable to us. The biggest issue we wanted to address is the artificial separation of attacks and blocks. In most melee games, you do either one or the other. But that’s simply not how sword fighting feels like in real-life. Half of our team are HEMA fighters, even participating in tournaments. Attacking and blocking is not a separate move, it’s a fluid transition.

I think Of Kings and Men is the first game to actually capture the spirit of how melee fighting should feel like. We still have a lot to improve, animations, balance, et cetera – But for me, personally, the feeling is absolutely fantastic, and many people doing actual sword-fighting mentioned that this is the closest a game ever got so far to capture the real feeling.

In a year from now, I hope that people will run active communities and feel actual immersion in the game. There’s currently no game that actually feels like the kind of game I want. I want you, and me for that matter, to feel like we are actually living in this feudal world. I see so many games repeating what I consider mistakes, over and over again. Giving the world a medieval look and medieval weapons and expecting the players to automatically create a fully working world is just not working.

We’re using Early-Access because we can iterate around what players are doing and where to take the game after its initial launch. Our plans might change over time and we get better at working as a team. We want to evolve around with our players and grow both the community and grow as a team of developers. That’s the dream we want.

Players are a lot like a stream of water. You can’t control it directly. And it will always take the path of least resistance. This is why we need to carefully place stones in their way to turn this linear stream into a beautiful river. We still don’t know exactly where the stream goes. And it changes over time. And it affects the stones as well, wearing them down, becoming more efficient at overcoming obstacles. This is why we use early access. I don’t believe in finished games. A game evolves together with its players.

In a year I see the Of Kings and Men community deeply immersed in the stories that players come up with. As developers, we provide all the tools to make these stories happen, and players can use them to create their own lore, forged by their own actions.

The biggest challenge in creating the game was developing it while it wasn’t fun to play. This was a point I grossly underestimated. The difference between modding and creating your own game is that the latter requires you to push through a long time of developing without seeing the fun. You know it’s there, somewhere but you can’t feel it yet, and you don’t know when it will be. Stumbling in a maze, blindfolded. We all like to work on fun things, it’s why we can work so hard on this. At Gamescom, I captured myself stalling a player behind me wanting to try the game because I really wanted to finish this round myself. Ever since we’ve reached that point, our development speed got so much faster.

As mentioned above, I believe that Early-Access is the only way that makes sense for us. What I would ask from our community, maybe something that’s not cheesy for a change: respect the other games in our niche, and their fans. Bannerlord looks fantastic, I can’t wait to give Mordhau a try, and we ran into the For Honor devs yesterday who are just as passion driven as we are. They all will be amazing games, and it’s fine to have a favorite, even if it doesn’t match your opinion.

Those of you unsure if you should get Of Kings and Men – wait. I think it’s great what we have at the moment, but you should wait up to the point where you see “This is exactly what I want!” or “I want to be part of this experience”. You should also take into account that the game writes it’s own history. If you join now, you will forever be part of the very first era. Even years from now people will be able to read about your heroic or villainous deeds. You are really shaping this world.

We know exactly that everything we promised is doable. We’ve done most of it before, and the announcement trailer was for us also a technical proof of concept, making sure that the things we need can be done. In general, I would advise everyone considering to buy any Early-Access game – see who the devs are. See if this is a person you could imagine having a casual drink with. I’ve never been disappointed by applying that system so far!

Another two big inspirations from my childhood are Lords of the Realm and The Ancient Art of War. The latter was, as far as I can remember, the first video game I ever played. I remember using an English dictionary as a 6-year-old to figure out what all the things on the screen are supposed to be. For the time it was an amazing game, with a lot of depth and the ability to play in different ways. Lords of the Realm was another game I have very fond memories of, the atmosphere was just beautiful and something I want to recreate. I’m actually reluctant to try the games again, as I’m worried my nostalgic goggles would be lifted. Some things should maybe not be toyed with.