When Reigns first dropped in 2016, it caught game developers by surprise not only for being a successful narrative game on mobile, but also because it reinvented the interaction mechanics of Tinder for gameplay purposes.
In late 2017, developer Nerial and publisher Devolver Digital surprised everyone again by announcing a sequel: Reigns: Her Majesty. It turned out to be a really interesting subversion of the first game's monarchial madness, introducing a Queen as the player character and creating a more streamlined progression system with a new deck full of colorful character cards.
Since we ourselves by charmed by the design of Reigns: Her Majesty, we invited lead developer Francois Alliot onto the Gamasutra Twitch channel to discuss the game's development, and his partnership with former Gamasutra editor Leigh Alexander. We've transcribed some meaty, useful quotes for your perusal below, but you can also watch our full interview in the video above.
Bryant Francis, Editor at Gamasutra
Alex Wawro, Editor at Gamasutra
Francois Alliot, Creator, designer, writer and programmer of Reigns: Her Majesty at Devolver Digital
"The most important skill I've got as an indie developer, I think, the ability to organize my project and know when it's going to be finished."
Wawro: In moving from one project to the next so quickly, what were you able to learn about the process of putting together a game like this, that maybe other developers could learn from?
Alliot: Something that I learned relatively early, something I think is very important for other indie developers that I think is essential, is I know how to finish projects. When I start something, I have a good idea of what I want to do. I give myself a sort of deadline. That's very important when we do especially indie games, I think, if you don't have a sense of what you are trying to achieve in terms of time, production and putting all this together, it's going to be difficult to finish.
So that's the most important skill I've got as an indie developer, I think, the ability to organize my project and know when it's going to be finished.
Francis: I'm going to interrupt the gameplay to ask a question about what I'm looking at right now. I encountered this on my phone and I actually thought my phone was breaking for a moment.
You're actually doing a really cool flicker animation here, which as you encounter this celestial character, the All-Mother, I wanted to sk about how in this game you designed certain interactions to be diegetic to the device? Because this whole thing started swiping left or right like you're looking at prospective romantic partners on Tinder, and this game seems to have evolved, and to actively be interested in the physicality of the device that you're playing on.
And I understand that these games are sort of meant for mobile, even though we're playing on Steam right now. Can you talk about that decision a bit, how stuff like this came to be, because it really helped set the mood.
Alliot: I think it sort of came from the original idea, which was that Tinder is a toy. It's a dating app, but they forgot it's a toy. It's nice, it has a very good flow in it, and that's what I built the game upon.
Everything in the game helps the player define the pace. In the game you can swipe very quickly or you can take your time, and we adapted everything around that, like the sound and music, stuff like that, they all come to support the pace you define for your reign.
And after that, we did things like, in the iOS version of the game you've got vibration. I really like the way you can transmit a bit, like when you got the glitch you just showed before, when you got that glitch the phone sort of tries to break. I like that, it's like a ghost in the machine.
Wawro: What do you think it is that animates Tinder? What is the ghost in the machine that makes that app so endlessly entrancing to you, and what is it that you think makes it a good vehicle for games?
Alliot: I think it's this sort of very strange idea, that you can infinitely swipe between people you might be interested in. An infinite supply of people you could date. And that's very fascinating if you think about it. It's very dark in some ways. You're trapped in this loop, this infinite way of swiping. That's why we had the Devil in the first Reigns, to sort of translate this idea that you're trapped in this swiping gesture.
Wawro: Let's talk about that really annoying part at the end, that part about figuring out where you're going to sell it, how you're going to sell it, who you're going to market it to. How do you do that, given that you seem to not be a big fan of it. I know that you have a publisher, which I'm sure helps. But given the small size of your team, and the unique vibe of a game like Reigns, how do you get it in front of the people that will like it the most?
"For an indie developer, it's easy to forget that some people are better than [us] at making a lot of stuff. You've got this age of the indie developer that's supposed to do everything. I don't want to do everything! It's not my job."
Alliot: Indeed the publisher's very important, especially for me because for Reigns, I needed Devolver to get the traction around the game, and they do a lot of things that I really don't like to do, like marketing. It's not my job really, I'm not very good at it.
Especially for an indie developer, it's easy to forget that some people are better than ourselves at making a lot of stuff. You've got this age of the indie developer that's supposed to do everything. I don't want to do everything! It's not my job.
Regarding communication with the marketing, what was very important was to have a publisher that had managed something like Downwell. Because Downwell was a mobile game that worked very well on PC and Steam at the same time. So Devolver managed this thing that was never seen before, creating a successful game both on mobile and on Steam as a premium game.
That was the model I wanted for Reigns, because I knew it worked very well for PC too, and also because we needed to reach towards YouTubers, streamers, and they don't play mobile games that much.
And I understand very well it's not perfect for YouTubers, it's not the right format. It's a lot easier to plug your thing on Steam, and YouTubers stream on Steam. It makes a lot of sense, it's not practical to just play on your phone. So that was very important, and Devolver did a lot to reach out to that audience, and to sell mobile games too.
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