October 1, 2011 9:00 AM | Michael Rose
How many games do you know that still have an active player base nearly 10 years after the original release? How many of those originally had just one developer?
Polish 2D side-scrolling multiplayer shooter Soldat was released in August 2002, and still now receives updates to keep its fanbase happy.
The game sees players fighting each other in a variety of battle arenas with a huge range of weapons from the realistic to the very silly, and takes huge inspiration from the likes of Liero and Worms.
Developer Michal Marcinkowski began solo work on Soldat at the end of 2001, but now has a team of over half a dozen people keeping it chugging along. What exactly is the secret to his success?
"I think Soldat is simply a great game," he told sister site Gamasutra. "I don't do much myself other than paying bills for hosting the websites and servers and mentoring the new developers."
"It's the Soldat community that develops and maintains the game now. People love the game, so they join in coding, moderating, organizing tournaments and hosting modded servers with cool new features that keep the game fresh."
Although Soldat's 10-year anniversary is on the horizon, it doesn't feel that long at all to Marcinkowski, who is now considering what can be done to mark the occasion.
"I hadn't realized so much time has passed until recently," he laughs. "It made me think. First of all that I'm old. Secondly that I should do something spectacular like release a sequel or at least a port of it to all the new devices like iPad."
"I don't have time to do it myself though, so I'm willing to listen to some serious partnership offers to make that possible."
The Polish developer has noted in the past that he simply does not have the time or resources to port the game over to over platforms -- however, he admitted that the idea has been swimming around his head more recently.
"For a long time I wasn't interested in doing that," he said. "It seems like a drive for cash, which isn't the reason I'm making games. Also I'm not a fan of console controllers but I'm starting to change my opinion about them."
"I have some ideas how to make Soldat work there. I still don't have time but I can find money. So again, it would be nice to form a partnership with somebody serious -- I have plenty of non-serious offers, you wouldn't believe how many offers I had from people wanting to make Soldat 2!"
Right now, however, Marcinkowski has another project on his mind. On paper, King Arthur's Gold isn't the biggest step forward from Soldat, but bring all its elements together and you have a rather intriguing multiplayer experience.
"King Arthur's Gold is a game taken straight from my childhood dreams when I used to sketch little knights and archers and forts on a piece of paper," explained Marcinkowski. "I made a multiplayer game where you can actually build a castle and then switch to playing as a knight and go destroy your enemy's castle."
"It's very similar to Soldat in the sense that it is a PvP 2D side-scroller, but it has destructible terrain and there are swords and arrows instead of guns because the game is set in medieval times. So you can build catapults, forts, pits, traps, retracting bridges and everything that makes a game amazing fun while playing with 30-60 people on a server."
The game was released via digital distribution platform Desura's new Alpha Funding project and, just as Soldat before it, is building up quite the following. Marcinkowski believes that the combination of building and fighting against other players online is the key to ultimate enjoyment, based on other inspirational releases.
"The game's name is from an old SNES game King Arthur's World. It was a 2D RTS with a similar theme. Although my game is mainly a multiplayer action game that borrows some real-time strategy elements like resource management and building," he told us.
"The second inspiration is Ace of Spades which was probably inspired by Minecraft. Ace of Spades made me realize that fighting and building is the ultimate game. You can't get more fun than that in a computer game."
On the topic of Minecraft, Marcinkowski is excited to see how the alpha funding angle works out in the long run for his game. "[Alpha funding] is probably the best thing that has ever happened in the computer game industry," he stated.
"When I released Soldat 10 years ago there was no such term as indie game, or alpha funding or whatever. There was shareware. People released time limited demo versions of their games and sold full versions."
"But until they sold it they pretty much had to live off their savings or make the games after hours. I was sort of a pioneer of alpha funding because I didn't have anything to sell. I released Soldat for free. Yet I managed early on to start selling an enhanced version of the game while I was still developing it. That kept me alive and still pays my bills until today."
Marcinkowski revealed to Gamasutra that King Arthur's Gold is selling even better on Desura than Soldat originally did.
"Alpha funding is amazing because now everybody can have the awareness, that you don't have to work after-hours or work with a publisher to make a game," he explained. "You can do the same as I did. Sit in your bedroom and code a game you wish yourself to do."
"If people like the idea of your game they will send you cash so you can survive while making that game. No longer do you have to rely on publishers and their salaries. I hope more people realize this and start making their own games. I want to play more great independent games."
The Polish developer has found himself pushed towards indie releases in recent years, and notes that he is clearly not alone. "I am personally sick of the mainstream games," he admitted. "For somebody that has been a gamer since being four years old it is an absolute horror to see what games have become."
"They have nothing in common with fun, which is the only thing games are meant to be. The recent success of Minecraft shows that millions of people are also sick like me. They are saying 'Hey, you don't have to watch an interactive-overproduced-movie, you can actually have fun in a game and be creative and do stuff.'"
This, to Marcinkowski, is the crux of the matter -- games are meant to be fun, and if this is true for a particular release, that will shine through.
"I am making games because I want people to have fun," he concluded. "I hope alpha funding will bring more games that I want to play."