A while back we got the chance to talk with the peeps from Wildfire Games and find out a bit about their project 0 A.D.
Wildfire Games has been around for a while and even had their incredibly popular Age of Empires II mod ‘Rome at war’ featured on the cover disk of PC Powerplay and Gamestar. No small feat for an indie team working on a shoestring budget. Currently the Wildfire team is working exclusively on 0 A.D. and it looks impressive. I’m keen to get involved in the beta myself.
What gave you the idea for creating an open source game like 0 A.D. ?
0 A.D. started out as a closed-source, proprietary game, about a decade ago, that was meant to be available at no charge. We had wanted to mod Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings but ran into obstacles modding an existing game, so we figured we might as well build an engine from scratch. We had an urge to innovate in the Real Time Strategy genre, adding features such citizen-soldiers, automatic unit upgrading, more realistic naval warfare and more. Quite clearly, we underestimated how long that would take, especially since we’re all volunteers. Over time, attracting new developers became a difficult, time-consuming task, and development started to slow down, putting the whole project in jeopardy.
So, when 0 A.D. went open source in July 2009, we set out to lower the barriers to entry, making it easy for people to check out our project and see if it interests them. On top of that came some nobler reasons, including our wish to share the tools and code we had developed by then, and our opinion that gamers should be allowed to learn how their games work, change them, share them and redistribute their works. Hence, in short, not only did we feel an urge to innovate and share, we also felt gamers should have the freedom to tinker, and to this day we hope a lot of gamers tinker with 0 A.D.
So far the open source release seems to have been a big boost for the project, and we have witnessed a really exciting increase in the number of contributors and the pace of development over the past two years.
What is 0 A.D.’s involvement with Wildfire games?
0 A.D. is currently the only project being developed by Wildfire Games and has been so for a few years now. Essentially, Wildfire Games is a fancy name for “the 0 A.D. development team”. We hold on to our moniker because it bears a historical connection to Wildfire Studios, the modding team that was our predecessor.
What is it like developing a game for multiple platforms? Is there a department for each OS?
Nope. Some of our contributors test the game on multiple platforms, and some of them develop on both Windows and Linux. The different flavors of Linux have all sorts of idiosyncratic problems with installing and running 0 A.D., so we rely on contributors who know certain distributions well in order to solve problems with packaging and running 0 A.D. Having said that, Mac OS development has unfortunately been lagging behind for lack of contributions, and we invite Mac developers to help us make some progress on that platform.
How do you fund the game, after all the game is free…
Expenses like web hosting are generally paid for by donations from our fans. We put in our own spare time for 0 A.D. and, with one notable exception, expect no compensation for that. The exception is that some $3,000 from the same source of income have been set aside for full-time development of the codebase within the next few months. We decided to invest in having one programmer be more deeply involved in 0 A.D. for a few weeks to really propel it forward. That said, the game is free of charge and always will be. No advertising, no catch.
How do you make money as an independent gaming studio making free games?
We don’t, 0 A.D. is not for profit. We’re just doing it for fun, to gain experience, for the educational value and more.
What obstacles do the 0 A.D. game developers face? Perhaps on a day-to-day level, and perhaps on a larger scale?
There are quite a few, but let’s discuss three. First, we are a group of volunteers from all over the world, in very different timezones, contributing in several different fields. Coordinating everybody so that we’re on the same page can be challenging. It requires effective management and good communications. We have weekly IRC meetings and forums to help cope with that for team discussions. (Our conversations can get pretty silly, which is awesome.)
Next, it can be tricky to get 0 A.D. to look and work the way we expect it to, at least the first time around. For example, one of the most important engine components, named “Simulation”, was implemented poorly at first. Simulation is in charge of changing the state of each entity in the “world” represented in the game, like handling harvesting resources, doing damage to stuff and handling death. It was difficult to debug any part of the game, and that deterred any potential new programmers from joining. Thankfully, a Wildfire Games programmer fixed this almost alone over a few months, and those troubles are now long gone. (On a similar note, quite a bit of the early 0 A.D. art, such as the Roman building set, is not up to par with later contributions and will be redone in due course).
Last but not least, we would also like to attract new contributors willing and able to help complete 0 A.D. Our general approach to this is to release regularly and often, and keep letting the world know about our progress. Since August 2010 we have released an alpha version every 70 days on average, and we intend to keep releasing more alpha versions at about the same frequency (or slightly greater) until the game is feature-complete. If any developers out there are reading this, you are welcome to get involved.
How do you manage to hold an organisation like wildfire games together. Is it a crime of passion or do you have carefully structured and organised internal politics ?
We have a few departments, which are really teams of volunteers dedicated to different fields (art, programming, sound etc). The work of each team is coordinated and overseen by a department head. Our project lead, Erik Johanssen (aka feneur), is our chief coordinator, but generally we make decisions by team consensus.
Have you considered developing FPS or RPG games or is RTS your specialty.
We haven’t considered any other games, we’d be quite happy to finish 0 A.D. first.
How long does it take to develop a game from concept to release.
The concept for 0 A.D. was first put into writing in 2001, and we’re still not done yet. We hope to finish the game by 2012, and with recent developments, that seems reasonable.
What does it take to get involved with a wildfire games game. Can anyone join up or are you looking for particularly skilled individuals.
How can people help wildfire games out donations or support?
Paypal donations to 0 A.D., no matter how small, are always welcome here.
We’d like to thank the people over at Wildfire Games, especially Aviv, who we first made contact with. 0 A.D. is an excellent project and I hope we can all get behind them as they work towards beta. Feel free to ask questions in the comments and I’ll be sure they get passed on to the Wildfire Games team.
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