Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes

Cateia Games

Posted by Joseph Howse.
First posted on 03 March 2009. Last updated on 19 March 2012.
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Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes
Ivan Vučica, Ivan Bralić, Krešimir Špes, Dejan Radić, and Nenad Kajgana (left to right) pose together for a playful team photo for Cateia Games.
Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes
Ivan Bralić (Team & Development Leader, Art Director, Lead Artist)
Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes
Ante Jelušić (Research, Writer, Level Designer)
Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes
Nenad Kajgana (3D Artist)
Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, Krešimir Špes
Krešimir Špes (Lead Programmer, Development Leader)

Cateia Games, formed in 2003, is a small independent game studio based in Zagreb, Croatia. The company develops and publishes games for the PC (most notably for The Kings of the Dark Age, released in 2005) and portable platforms for the worldwide market.

The Legend of Crystal Valley is the first adventure game developed by Cateia Games. In it, protagonist of the game, a young woman named Eve, receives a worrisome letter from her father, who has lived alone and far away ever since the death of Eve's mother. Eve decides to go visit her father, but on her way she stumbles through a gateway to a strange and diverse fantasy world. The story is inspired partly by Alice in Wonderland.

We are privileged to have an opportunity to interview the development team from Cateia Games: Ivan Bralić, Ante Jelušić, Nenad Kajgana, Neven Jotić, and Krešimir Špes. In the interview, the team speaks candidly about the inspiration behind The Legend of Crystal Valley, the challenges of seeking early feedback from the community, the open source tools used to develop the game, and what the future holds for Cateia Games.

Check out the playful photos of the development team at Cateia Games sent to us by Bralić himself!

The Legend of Crystal Valley mixes high fantasy with the reality of modern Europe. What is the story behind the game's setting? How do the real world and the fantasy world relate to each other in the game?

Ante Jelušić: To define how the real world works in conjunction with the fantasy world would be a major spoiler, because one of the main themes in the game is the way universe and time work. Let's just say that everything is connected, and for every high fantasy concept in the game there is an explanation grounded in everyday "real" world.

During the writing of the game we looked carefully at the heritage of many European countries, and we used their mythology to expand the world of Crystal Valley and connect it to today's state in the world.

The game's protagonist, Eve, is a person who has lost her way: both literally, by tumbling into another world, and figuratively, by becoming separated from her family. What are the challenges in showing the emotional complexities of such a situation in a video game?

Ante Jelušić: I think there is little difference between literature and game lore. From the literary aspect, there is little difference in the way a character is formed. In this case, Eve was created out of need to explore the personality of an ordinary student who got lost in her priorities in life. One day, you are trying to get your college degree, and the next moment destiny pulls the rug under your feet and throws you in a situation where you need to survive without job, without parents and without a clear destination in life. Eve decides to put her life behind, and start searching for answers. The questions that she asks about herself and her surrounding are figuratively and literally questions every one of us has asked ourselves many times during the course of our life.

Nenad Kajgana: Showing emotional complexities in a game is a multilayered task which involves using everything at your disposal to make it happen. Story, characters, environments, music and sounds must fit into a particular emotional picture. And the challenge lies within putting all of those pieces together.

The game's audio suggests a multilayered, otherworldly atmosphere, with a sense of wonder. What is the inspiration for the game's unique atmosphere? For you, what are some of the game's most inspiring moments or places where this atmosphere comes together?

Neven Jotić: The main premise of the Legend of the Crystal Valley game is existence of parallel worlds which is great base for creating atmospheric meditative music with influences ranging from Vangelis to classical composers but also non-human composers and I mean that literally.

Some of my favorite albums are actually composed by planets Jupiter and Earth ("Symphony of the Planets"), thus some of LoCV themes reflect also this otherworldly inspiration. The Legend of Crystal Valley is generally very atmospheric, moody game and also very European game with elements of French, Irish and Slavic folklore and you will definitely feel these influences with every step.

What kind of puzzles and other gameplay will players find in The Legend of Crystal Valley?

Ivan Bralić: LoCV is old school point and click adventure. This means that we use already established gameplay rules. However, we have some innovations like the use of magic. In LoCV you can cast spells in order to solve some puzzles or simply to move forward.

Puzzles are not very difficult – they are more logical. We believe that player should enjoy and relax by playing LoCV and not to get nervous or frustrated by too difficult tasks and puzzles.

A great deal of effort was made to enrich LoCV storyline and dialogs between characters. I hope people will recognize this and appreciate it.

Ante Jelušić: Game design, especially in point 'n' click adventure games, requires extensive research of similar games that have been on the market before. Because of that, player can be sure to find many puzzles and quests that can be structurally found in almost all adventure games that precede The Legend of the Crystal Valley. Then, there is the innovation part of the game. We created and designed some puzzles that have never been seen in previous adventure games.

The Legend of Crystal Valley is the first adventure game from Cateia Games. Compared to The Legend of Crystal Valley, what similarities do Cateia Games' previous and concurrent fantasy games have, in terms of setting, storyline, or inspiration?

Nenad Kajgana: Actually the LoCV is our first fantasy game with KoDA being a medieval strategy game and Tibor being developed after LoCV. LoCV and Tibor are very different games in terms of gameplay, setting and overall presentation. Tibor, a classic arcade platformer, is based on a short children's story by Damir Civrak and follows a young boy bitten by a vampire on a quest to save himself and his village. So naturally LoCV has a more complex world, characters and story while in Tibor you get to jump around... a lot...

What are some examples of video games and other mass entertainment that are popular in Croatia? To what extent do Croatian gamers have access to video games from the rest of Europe and from North America?

Nenad Kajgana: With Croatia being in the middle of negotiation talks to join EU, I can say that everything popular in the western world is popular in Croatia, as well. So yes, we play WoW, Crysis, watch Hollywood movies and listen to Brittney Spears ;)

In terms of access, you can find almost all popular AAA titles in the stores in Croatia - be it for the consoles or the PC. However finding anything that is not AAA is difficult, although one can always order from the Internet. Lately some of the less popular games have found their way to the market through being sold in the newspaper distribution at an affordable price.

Ivan Bralić: Somehow Cateia Games has a silly thought that we should create something that is different than the most of pop-culture mainstream stupidities.

Some members of your team started out in the game industry by developing free and open source video games. How had this experience affected you and your team's approach to game development?

Krešimir Špes: Involvement in open source projects has broadened our perspective. We try to support open source operating systems and use open source libraries in our projects as much as possible. In fact, LoCV is made using entirely open source tools and libraries.

You maintain an active forum where you post pre-release artwork of your games to seek feedback. How much effect does this feedback have on your artwork decisions? Beyond the forums, how much community involvement and feedback do you get on your games?

Nenad Kajgana: Feedback is important to us since we are not making games for ourselves and want for as many other people to enjoy them.

We give priority to feedback revolving around gameplay rather than artwork because we want for our games to play smoothly. Not to say that artwork isn't important to us but gameplay is a more universal thing since people can have different taste for art but nobody has a taste for bad gameplay.

Up to now most of the feedback we have gotten was from our friends and family.

Community feedback is very low at the moment since we are not that popular and haven't yet made a significant effort in trying to organize our community. I hope we will change that in the near future.

Krešimir Špes: Feedback on the forum has been rather scarce so far so it has not affected our artwork decisions much in the past. Anyone is open to comment on the posted artwork and these comments carry a significant amount of weight on our artwork decisions.

Ivan Bralić: I appreciate all comments and critics from the community, but honestly I don't sympathize with forums at all. I really don't enjoy answering people's posts.

But, please, visit our forum (http://games.cateia.com/forum/) – your comments are (still) welcomed.

Cateia Games has previously focused on developing games for Windows only but is now expanding to other platforms, including Mac and Linux. Why, now, are you branching out into other platforms? What are the challenges of developing for a multiplatform release?

Krešimir Špes: Since we are mostly using open source tools and libraries, developing for Linux and MacOS is not that big of a problem. We have plenty of experience using and developing for these systems so that not porting our games to those platforms would be just plain stupid.

The biggest challenge to developing for Linux or the Mac would be getting familiar with those systems. They are similar to Windows but under the hood, they are quite different, which steers most game developers away in my experience.

The rewards are obvious, more platforms -> more users -> more revenue and popularity.

Cateia Games was an early adopter of the Python-Ogre 3D engine. Why did you choose this engine rather than other third-party game engines? How were game assets and resources handled and managed by Python-Ogre 3D engine?

Krešimir Špes: Python-Ogre is a Python wrapper for Ogre3D engine.

We chose Python because it greatly simplifies development and significantly reduces the time it takes to develop code. Since a Python wrapper for Ogre exists and works great, we knew we had a winner!

If I am not mistaken, we are the first company to use Python-Ogre for commercial products, and we are very happy with our choice.

Ogre3D, the underlying C++ library, is responsible for the graphical rendering of 3D characters and effects. We had previous experience using Ogre and are quite happy with it. Although it lacks some of the qualities of commercial grade engines, it is free and open-source.

To give something back to the community we decided to develop the Theora Video plugin for Ogre, which we are also using in LoCV and releasing that code under an open-source license.

What does your company name, Cateia, mean?

Nenad Kajgana: Cateia is some sort of a medieval thrown spear or mace, I don't know for sure. However I have a fantasy of it being a "mace"... you know, because it rhymes with "face". So Cateia is a flying mace that hits you in the face. ;)

Ivan Bralić: Nenad obviously has some imagination (which is great since he's the lead artist!), but Cateia is actually a Latin term for a weapon – sort of a boomerang – used by ancient Celtic tribes in Europe.

Aside from The Legend of Crystal Valley, what other game projects are currently being planned for development? Will there be a sequel to The Legend of Crystal Valley?

Ivan Bralić: Actually, we are currently working on several projects. We are preparing materials for our second casual game - action adventure. We are also working on materials for a new adventure game. We still need to finish our WW2 strategy game World under Siege: European Front.

Additionally we are working on another game, but it's a bit too early to talk about that. Basically, we have very big plans for 2009. We are going to release several games this year, hopefully for both PC and Mac as well as iPhone and Nintendo DS.

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