KaM Remake

Developers Interview



Around mid-2014, our moderator The Dark Lord interviewed the KaM Remake Developers: Krom and Lewin. They answer some very good questions that most of us have been wondering about. Check it out below!



Q: For the few people who do not know you: please introduce yourselves!


Krom: I’m founder and programmer of KaM Remake. Creator of KaM map editor back in 2007, if I recall correctly. Now I’m 30 years old, living in Russia, still passionate with programming and KMR.


Lewin: I’m a university student from Australia. I’ve been playing KaM since I was very young when my dad bought the game for me and my siblings. In 2007 I discovered the online KaM community and became interested in decoding the game. I had been learning to program so I decided to write a tool that was missing: a mission editor, which became a success. In 2008 Krom told me about his recently started project KaM Remake based on his map editor. Because he used the same language as me (Delphi) he invited me to join him and I’ve been working on the project ever since.



Q: 140+ players playing KaM Remake simultaneously is not uncommon. Did you ever think the Remake would be so successful? And why do you think it turned out so successful?


Krom: I think it was 2010 when we made first MP version of KMR. Back then seeing someone entering the lobby was already exciting. Did I think there are still so many active KaM players back then? - No. We were just enjoying improving the game and challenging ourselves with new features, one of which was MP. So we were really happy just by being able to actually make it. I think KMR is such a success because of original Peter Ohlmanns creation - KaM TSK. It was KaM that set a direction for the style and gameplay that everyone loved. We are just taking that direction and polishing it in KMR.


Lewin: I got a sense that the project was going to get a lot bigger when we first started testing multiplayer. Back in those days there was no master server and you had to join a game by typing in the IP address of the host. I made a post on the forum saying that I would be testing the game at a certain time and told people to join my IP address. I was expecting maybe 1 or 2 players to join me, but we ended up with over 10 players trying to join, everyone was really excited about multiplayer.


Something that still amazes me about the game is how multicultural it is. We have 24 translations and players from every part of the world. Every month I talk to players from countries I would not have expected to play KaM, given that it was a European game and the original release only had a few translations. China, India, Brazil, Vietnam, The Philippines, Japan, Chilli, Korea, Argentina, Bulgaria, Turkey, to name just a few.



Q: The Remake has been developing for over six years now. What would you consider its best feature?


Krom: The best feature is no doubt - MP. It brought together all the active players. If you allow me to expand the question, the best thing to happen around KaM would be map editors (not one in particular, but all of them). They allowed to mod the game and gave birth to community that really takes part in the game, not just consumes it. In a long run - it was map editors that gave birth to KMR.


Lewin: I would say the modability of the game. Players are always making new maps which keeps the game fresh and lets everyone contribute to the project using their creative talents. Dynamic scripting has taken this even further, it’s great to see people learning to code for the first time through our project, and being able to create something they can share with the community as well as learning a useful skill. We have a great sense of community where everyone can contribute something to the game: translations, maps, scripts, beta testing, tournament organising, coding, answering questions on the forum, cash donations, sound effects, graphics, etc.



Q: People wonder why you do not often play yourselves. Do you enjoy coding for the Remake more than playing it?


Krom: That is actually true xD. I rarely play anything more serious than some casual games and occasional indies (FTL, Pocket Trains, etc). Programming a game is a game of itself, which requires a lot of planning, intuition and even some tactics. We lay out our code as players plan their cities, efficient as possible, avoiding traffic jams, putting similar things together, maneuvering assets and attacking complex problems, sometimes with blitzes, sometimes sieging them. Sounds similar, right ;-)


Lewin: As I said in my answer to the previous question, there are so many ways people can contribute to the project without actually playing the game. For example, map authors who lovingly craft their maps over many weeks, pouring hours of time into their art. This gives them a way to express their creativity and a great sense of satisfaction from seeing others appreciating and using their work. Or players teaching themselves to program by creating a script that others can enjoy. For me programming the game is like that. It’s something I enjoy doing, it’s a way to express creativity and solve problems, and seeing others enjoying and appreciating your work is very satisfying for me. That said, I do still enjoy playing KaM Remake occasionally :)



Q: Knowledge about the game mechanics can take away some of its magic. Do you suffer from this?


Krom: Not at all. Game mechanics are a static knowledge, while in-game thats a real-time challenge. The actual game is very complex (2.5mb of code and growing), so even knowing some bits perfectly (how much ticks a Serf needs to pick up a ware from inside the house) does not help to macromanage. Magic happens when changing view from close to distant, the game suddenly becomes alive by itself. It’s just like knowing chemistry or quantum mechanics interactions does not help to understand life, although we all are just some organized and interacting bits of matter guided by very few laws. ;)


Lewin: I find this happens with most games after I’ve played them for long enough. When you haven’t played for long and don’t understand all the mechanics it can seem magic and more immersive (discovering the way the game reacts under different situations). But after you’ve played for a long time you notice patterns and understand the mechanics, then the game seems more simple and predictable. I think at this point the game moves from being a more aesthetic experience (oh look pretty graphics!) to being a tactical/logical experience (how many farms do I need to have the perfect balance?). A good game like KaM has very complicated and intricate dynamics so even when you understand the mechanics it doesn’t spoil the experience of the game because there are still strategies and tactics waiting to be discovered. Programming the game can speed up this process of understanding the mechanics, but it’s still possible to have a good understanding without programming the game. For example, skilled players know the right ratios of buildings to make much better than I do. I think skilled players with a good understanding of the game would “suffer” from this even more than I do.



Q: Despite the name 'KaM Remake', the Remake actually has some new features that TSK and TPR did not have. Not everyone is happy with these; are there any changes you regret?


Krom: To me TSK was and remains the golden standard to the KaM game. When KMR was in its early years I planned to reach TSK state and work from it. In that sense TPR was just one of possible ways the game could be expanded (albeit not perfect). Of course TPR had some good parts and some that were less fitting into TSK. So we took doubtlessly good ones (fisherman, non-hireable troops, speedup), but we also expanded TSK with new things that were not found in TPR - market, scripting, more of MP features. What I want to say, is that once KMR reached TSK state it has no intent of reaching TPR state.

What do I regret changing? I don’t think there’s such a thing that we can’t tweak. F.e. Market, it was imperfect at the beginning and caused a lot of heated games and discussions. Now the Market is okay and although it does not plays a key role in the game, it is a nice addition. We are trying to not add features that can’t be tweaked or rolled back (f.e. Town Hall or Siege Workshop), we need to be sure something fits before we add it, we don’t add something blindly just for the adding of it.


Lewin: I personally don’t regret any of the changes we’ve made. I think Krom’s answer covers this question sufficiently.



Q: On the other hand: some of the old features were removed. Will we ever see siege weapons or the town hall back in the game?


Krom: As explained in previous answer - repeating TPR features was never a goal, so proper question would be “.. some of TPR features were not added ..”. They were not added because we think they don’t fit into the TSK.

Complex economy is one of the core KaM treasures, TH is just a big cheat that will allow to pump out troops by trading everything for gold and killing the rest of economy. New features should compliment the game, not butcher it’s parts. In that perspective it’s safe to say, TH in its current form will not be added to KMR. Maybe if we or community comes up with idea how to add TH to existing game mechanics, maybe then it will be added, but I don’t see adding TH as a goal in itself.

Siege Workshop and SW have a chance I think. Although they don’t fit in graphically, they can aid in making the late game more interesting by enriching siege tactics.

Tom has asked about Barbarians in KMR: Initially Barbarians were introduced in TSK as an uber-weapon, super warriors whose trust player gained along the campaign (missions 9-10?) and for that he received them at some later mission starts as a bonus. They were a powerful ally and could not be hired in TSK. IMHO they were intended to be so special, similar to other games that had things player could not posses: WarCraft/StarCraft heroes, C&C, etc. They can still be used by mapmakers and spawned by scripts in KMR.


Lewin: The town hall won’t be implemented like it was in TPR, and I haven’t seen another suggestion for it that I liked. The siege workshop might get implemented, if balanced properly it could add an interesting mechanic to the game to have catapults that are slow and need protection but can destroy buildings quickly. I still don’t really like the way they move without anyone pushing them but I guess we could ignore that.



Q: What is your fondest memory of Knights and Merchants (either from the original game or from the Remake)? :)


Krom: There are many. One of the more emotional ones was from TSK few years after it was released, when I played tutorial mission (map was smaller back then, without armies and blue AI iirc) and I was just exploring the map with builders, discovering waterfalls, swamps, hills and ridges, deserts (remember, there were no map editors nor cheats to reveal maps back then), it was joyful like exploring a real world. Eventually I have revealed like 80% of it, without building a town, and then all of my serfs and builders have died one by one. That was an end, there was no way of returning it back to busy KaM life.. That made me so sad to see that in ever-busy KaM there’s no one left alive in the whole map and only trees and grass are slightly touched by the wind..


Lewin: When I was very young I once played the tutorial in TSK for over 24 hours in total (over a few weeks). I had built my massive village on every part of the map and mined all the stone mountains. I enjoyed building without the stress of battles.



Q: What will the future hold for Knights and Merchants fans?


Krom: We’ve made a post about next release features recently, so thats probably it. Big plans .. let me think .. KMR has almost reached its plateau, there are no new big features to add (apart from SW perhaps). Stand-alone AI (one that builds a city and commands its army) is quite hard to improve and is probably not worth the effort. Dynamic scripting is already there. Other big things won’t probably fit into TSK world and/or require ton of missing graphics (ships, etc.). So maybe we start looking outside of the box, you know ;-)


Lewin: Krom has already covered KaM Remake developement so I’ll give a different answer. I would personally like to see more community events like tournaments, as well as new scripts to add some variation to the game. For that reason I’d like to implement features like spectating and multiplayer file transfer that can help with these things. Imagine having a KaM World Championship with most games live streamed and commentated by members from the community. That would be awesome.



Q: Will there ever be a 'real' release? So far, every release is a demo. When will we see KaM Remake v1.0?


Krom: We had plenty of real releases by now xD.  “Demo” is just a word in a title, but I got used to it, labeling versions as “Economy Demo”, “Market Demo”, “Multiplayer Demo”, “Scripting Demo”. It all fits to the title quite nice. I agree with Lewin, maybe it’s time we remove that word from the title.


Lewin: The term “demo” worked well early on in development, but it doesn’t really fit any more. Demos are usually a reduced functionality sample version of a product. Hopefully that’s not giving the wrong impression or putting anyone off trying the KaM Remake. I guess it would be better if we switched to a conventional number based versioning system.



Q: Will the Remake ever be finished? And what if it is?


Krom: Already kind of answered that in #9. KMR is not a true remake (in a sense of being a clone). We could keep on remaking till we reach complete identity to the original and stop there, but we chose a different, more interesting path – to improve and polish, improvements and polishing are endless.


Lewin: I imagine we’ll keep fixing bugs and adding minor features for a while yet, although it may start to slow down. Also, keep in mind that the Remake is fully open source so somebody else could easily create their own version or continue development. Even if the game development itself stops that doesn’t mean there won’t be anything new for fans. New maps and scripts are being created all the time, and the community can organise tournaments and other events.



Q: A common reason not to implement things is lack of artwork. Have you ever considered to hire (for example with the money from the donations or GOG sales) someone to make additional graphics for the Remake?


Krom: For almost any idea there are usually several reasons why it can’t be implemented: mechanics, spirit, graphics, balance, etc. (why we don’t want to make fish replenish, or walls, or something else) Along with different reasons “why not” for different ideas , there’s usually one thing in common, one which is most noticeable to an eye and one that non-gamedesigner sees first – missing graphics. Why don’t we hire someone? Firstly we have a great community out there whose members helped us a lot already (Market, icons, menu bg, fonts, many things), secondly there are free resources (some mp icons are from those) and thirdly we can make some of the missing graphics ourselves. The fact is, I can’t recall something that was so well-planned and fit the game for what we would miss only the graphics part of it. Usually thats many things not fitting and graphics is just only one of them. Having graphics without other parts is like TH or SW or Alpha houses - we are still not adding them because of other reasons.


Lewin: Making any new units/houses consistent with KaM’s art style would be difficult, and I doubt we could afford to hire an artist for long enough to make anything worthwhile. I also don’t necessarily think the game needs new units/houses, it already has a lot.



Q: Now and then people keep ask about an account system and a ladder that shows who are the top players. What do you think of this?


Krom: Great idea, but it would take a lot of planning and effort to do. Main stopper on this one is that this is a big thing, like MP back in the days. It is a new field for us (verification, security, etc.) and it needs a lot of planning and work to be done in different parts before those parts can be connected to work together. I’m not sure we have enough energy for that now.


Lewin: It would be a lot of work to implement and require more ongoing maintenance than the current system. It would be a nice feature, but at the moment I don’t think it’s worth the effort.



Q: What do your family and friends think of KaM Remake and its success?


Krom: Those who are not familiar with video gaming are pretty much clueless. To them KMR is not much of a difference from the Minesweeper. Others are quite impressed by KMRs longevity and its success. Many ask why I’m doing this for free and not making money of it, not selling it? Well, apart from all the obvious reasons, I also explain, that my dividends from KMR are not financial: I get a lot of experience in different fields, I’m enjoying it as a hobby and it also looks good on my resume.


Lewin: I’d say they are fairly impressed by it. I often get asked why I’m giving away my work for free instead of trying to make money. Some people find it hard to understand that this is a hobby project and I’m not in it to make money, I’m in it to learn and get satisfaction out of seeing others enjoying my work. I don’t think I’d enjoy it as much if I was aiming to make money from a project like KaM Remake, and I’d far rather be happy than rich.