Ritter founded Prairie in 2004 with producer and level designer Lara Engebretson. Planning for the game commenced almost immediately, but it wasn’t until the company settled on GarageGames’ Torque Engine that development began in earnest. After a period of almost 1 year, with a team of 35 people, the game launched late last year. Prairie Games describe the game as:
“Minions of Mirth is a no-monthly-fee MMORPG! Persistent world with 14 diverse regions, hundreds of quests, thousands of monsters, day/night cycles, and realistic weather. 12 unique races and 16 classes for thousands of playable combinations. Single player, epic battles, player guilds, two hour original score, and more!”
Gamasutra contacted Ritter via email to discuss the title, and its entry in the IGF.
What is your background in the games industry?
I have been creating games professionally for a decade. I co-founded the Canopy Games development studio where my technology powered 12 retail titles. A sampling of my previous titles include Midnight Outlaw: Illegal Street Drag, Hot Rod: American Street Drag, Harley Davidson: Wheels of Freedom, I Was An Atomic Mutant, Desert Rats, Kawasaki: Fantasy Motocross, and StreetJam.
When was Prairie Games formed?
Prairie Games, Inc has 2 fulltime staff: Josh Ritter and Lara Engebretson who formed Prairie Games in 2004. [Head of Business Development] Randel Reiss joined the company in 2006. Lara Engebretson is a talented producer and game developer. Minions of Mirth is her first shipped title.
What inspired Minions of Mirth, and why did you decide to make it?
I've wanted to make role-playing games from a very early age. I collected RPG rulebooks as a kid and poured over them. I also played games like Ultima IV, Bard's Tale, and the Gold Box D&D series. I wasn't really content playing games and usually set out with a disk editor to pick apart how they worked. I spent considerable time as a kid programming my C64 in basic and assembly. This was all geared to making role-playing games.
I was programming games professionally when the first MMORPG titles hit the market. Within a few hours of playing, I knew I wanted to develop them. The trick was in figuring out how to as a sole programmer with very limited money.
What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?
Minions of Mirth launched in December 2005 and has been live for 9 months at the time of this interview. We have patched the game numerous times since the game's release with lots of new content and features. This is made possible by the game's Live Update functionality which is just great for releasing new versions. It also allows us to improve the game and raise our expectations of it.
I didn't really have any expectations for the game at launch. It was all too much of a blur. I wanted the game to succeed. My definition of success was in paying our bills. It's done that and we're also able to continue working on it. It's definitely lived up to my expectations.
Why did you decide to make the game free, and how do you to profit from it?
Minions of Mirth has Free and Premium Editions. The Free Edition allows players to explore the entire world though has limitations on their character's development. The Premium Edition is $29.95 and automatically installs itself as a small patch to the Free Edition.
The Premium Edition adds considerable value to the player. A partial list of features include: multi-class characters, playing an evil character in the Minions of Darkness realm, using premium equipment, joining/creating player guilds, and playing on additional MMORPG servers.
This model has proved quite successful. It also limits piracy as you must authenticate with a valid registration to our servers. The game features no-monthly-fee for online play which is hugely popular.
What attracted you to the Torque Engine, and what has the experience of using it been like?
I was very excited when I found out the Tribes 2 engine was going to be made available for $100. Once the engine was released, I immediately bought a source license and started playing around with it. The engine is extremely powerful and in that power comes some complexity. I personally found very little difficulty in modifying the engine to our needs.
I believe that GarageGames is the single greatest resource for independent game makers on the planet. They have matured from "4 guys in a garage" to a company with many dedicated employees, associates, and community members. Prairie Games is excited to work with these guys in the future. In short, the experience has been great.
What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?
The Minions of Mirth community is the most interesting thing about our game. We have a wonderful community of RPG aficionados which is growing every day. If it wasn't for them, the game wouldn't be a success nor would it feel so alive.
Minions of Mirth takes this to an extreme by engaging the community in the game's development itself. We recently launched the "Minions of Mirth Community Development Group". This empowers talented community members with full source code access and a project management web interface. They directly coordinate with Prairie Games to improve the game. It's a lot of fun!
How long did development take?
I researched various technology for a couple years before we began production. I also generated a number of game prototypes. We settled on the Torque Game Engine from GarageGames on January 17th, 2005. The game launched on December 15th, 2005. This is a period of 11 months.
What was the development process like?
Minions of Mirth's development was a blur of fear, work, and stress. The work schedule was extremely rigorous and focused. It was like living in a cult. We were highly motivated, and stressed, by the fear of impending financial doom. Did I mention that it was a blur of fear, work, and stress?
We had alpha, beta, and gold milestones. We contracted with some extremely talented artists: Magnus Blikstad, Christophe Canon, and Ronald van Deurzen. We hit the alpha milestone running and immediately got alpha testers onboard. There was a great synergy between the alpha/beta testers and it felt like we were working on something really innovative.
Over the 11 month development, we really found our confidence. The fear gave way to hope and a great feeling of accomplishment.
What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?
I think the combination of direct sales over the internet and new advances in affordable game technology make the situation quite good. I think indie games have an easier time innovating due to risk reduction in production. I also believe that large scale game development, with millions of dollars, and hundreds of people waters down a game with endless design directives. I think this is why we're seeing gorgeous games with extremely little in the soul department. You can make lots of beautiful content with money. Inspiration is harder to come by...
Which recent indie games do you admire, and which recent mainstream titles do you admire, and why?
I admire Spiderweb Software, the company. In fact, their success is what lead me to believe any of this was possible. In regards to mainstream titles, I think there is a great difference between being entertained and having admiration. I have been entertained by Battlefield 2, GTA3, Civilization IV, and Oblivion. I can't cite a recent mainstream game that I have admired.
Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?
I am proud to have our title listed alongside other great indie games. It looks like another great year for the IGF!