Developer Interview: Somnium Games

Somnium Games, Croatian-born indie studio, is the developer behind the lavishly beautiful Inked. Released in April of 2018, Inked stunned players with its unique ink-on-paper art style and its fascinating storyline. Today, Inked continues to delight new players and old, providing gamers a tantalizing taste of what else could be coming from the extremely talented studio. We spoke with Somnium Games to discover more about their history, Inked, and where they might be headed in the future.

Somnium Games

|| What is Somnium Games’ background lore? We know the studio was born in Croatia through the initial partnership of Edi Ferhatović and Matej Orlić. When and how did it grow to its current team?

After the two of us teamed up, we started making mobile games. It was simply a time where there were a lot of simple mobile games which achieved great success, and we wanted to start with something simple – because we wanted to build knowledge on smaller projects.

Soon after, Barbara joined the team, and we started doing several games in parallel, as well as some apps which we did for clients. After about two years of doing this, we decided that we want to move to PC or anything that isn’t mobile for that matter, as we wanted to make a big ambitious puzzle game. After a couple of months, we shelved it and started making a psychological horror game which we started presenting at local game fairs. There we met Lovro and Lovro, who would become our composers. When Reboot Develop 2016 came along we decided to make another game, so we wouldn’t just be presenting the horror game. Inked was already an idea we discussed in the team and decided it’s time to make something out of it, so over the course of two weeks we made a proof of concept demo, which we showcased at the conference. The demo was received extremely well, so much in fact that we concentrated solely on it and started looking for a publisher. During Reboot Infogamer 2016 we met with some people from Starbreeze and started forming the current team. Early 2017 marked the start of the full-scale development of Inked.

|| Why Inked? Inked is a fascinating blend of unique storytelling, jaw-dropping art, and brain-teasing puzzles. How was your first entry initially conceived?

The idea was born on paper while I was doodling in a park. I generally don’t know how to draw, so by drawing simple polygons to waste time I accidentally drew a samurai-like character. Then an idea popped into my head about how cool it would be that he either fights me or that I help him solve puzzles on paper. I took the idea to the team, but we had the horror game going on and so we put it aside for some time. Later on, when we decided we want to make the game, we brainstormed it and it was then that Inked started looking like a full game with a whole story. Eventually, after we started our partnership with Starbreeze we kind of redesigned the whole premise so it ended up being quite different in some aspects.

|| Were there any direct inspirations for Inked? Were there previous titles that featured similar concepts that you were inspired by? Other forms of media?

It later occurred to me that a subconscious spark for the original idea in the park was probably the “Maker vs Marker” animated short which I watched years ago. As for the game as a whole, we drew inspiration from games such as Monument Valley in terms of serenity and the beauty of architecture, The Talos Principle (for its story and philosophical aspect) and others.

|| What is the process like for creating Inked’s superb ink-on-paper art style? It’s rare for indies to take a gamer’s breath away, simply for the art. Is it an especially tedious process to create it? Perhaps all the more rewarding, because of it?

The whole game is 3D, and everything you see is textured by hand. We could have used some shaders and effects which would automatically give us a similar drawn-on-paper effect, but we decided to go for the slow texturing of each object line by line, as it gives us the greatest amount of control, but also something even more important – authenticity. From the moment of the idea’s conception, the main guideline was always that it had to look like it was drawn on paper. The closer we got to that – the better. Also, based on the story, the world of Inked is supposed to be drawn by the Creator, the man who draws The Nameless Hero, and by texturing the game by hand we think we made it believable. Another general idea we had is that the final textured 3D model must look like almost exactly like the concept art since the whole world on paper is supposed to be something an artist would draw.

|| How has fan feedback shaped Inked’s present state? Several large updates have been implemented since the title’s launch. Did player feedback play a role in some of these changes?

Yes of course. People had concerns about the controls and the difficulty of some sections. Because of the experience we wanted players to have, this camera proved to the best option for the majority of things, however, we also have a certain amount of platforming in the game which turned out to be quite difficult for a lot of people. Coupled with some timed sections in the game we realized the game was more hardcore than casual and so we took note of the fans and critics and tried to alleviate these biggest concerns through several updates post-launch.

|| What’s yet to come for Inked? Are there more patches planned, or is Inked where you want it to be?

We feel like there is still work to be done in terms of controls and other improvements. We believe that everything else in the game is on a high enough level, there is just the issue of difficulty and approachability.

|| Are there more wonderful indie entries in the works? It is, of course, too soon to ask – but we can’t help ourselves. Can we start looking forward to your next title yet?

We have several prototypes in the works that we are currently looking for partners for. We learned so much during the development on Inked and we have a lot of very different ideas, so now we have to see which one is the best choice, as we want to make our next project bigger and better than Inked. What those games are is a secret for now, but hopefully early next year we will be able to share something with the world.

|| What ultimately made you move away from creating mobile games? We know that, originally, Edi Ferhatović, Matej Orlić, and Barbara Orlić had success with small mobile titles. Was there a particular reason you moved away from that platform?

It was a combination of several different factors. The biggest one was simply that we wanted to make something bigger, we wanted to tell life-changing stories and at the time we felt like mobile isn’t the best medium for it. On the other hand, after a couple of years, there were a lot of very simple arcade games which garnered huge success, and we felt like the majority of game content was just copies of copies. There were unique titles but they got lost in the sea of everything else. We figured that even though the PC market is full of new titles too, it’s still not crazy as mobile, and that in the PC market indie as a term carries a certain weight and that there is a certain audience for it.

|| As a game developer, what does Somnium Games want to represent? Many studios have a mission statement they adhere to that defines who they are and what they stand for in the industry. What does Somnium Games want to accomplish as a developer?

It is a kind of a funny story because we know what we want to do, and we wanted to write it on our website, but in the end, we opted for the infamous: “We make dope games” tagline that you can see. In reality, we want to make what we call “tightly wound games.” These are games which are as unique as they can be. It has to be a cool premise which then has to have a good story coupled with an amazing art style and challenging gameplay. Everything sort of draws from everything else, mutually strengthening each aspect. We think we managed to do that with Inked, and we will do our best to keep doing that going forward.