Road to the IGF: League of Geeks' Armello

"Our initial pitch for the game was 'Kung Fu Panda crossed with Game of Thrones,'" says Ty Carey, League of Geeks cofounder and Armello art director.

This interview is part of our Road to the IGF series. You can find the rest by clicking here.

Looking a bit like a Redwall board game brought to (virtual) life, League of Geeks' Armello is an indie game with tabletop strategy elements, RPG mechanics, and lots of adorable fuzzy creatures.

The game's striking look earned it an IGF nom for Excellence in Visual Arts this year, and it was also a finalist at SXSW and IndieCade. After an Early Access debut early last year, it saw a successful full-fledged release across PC and PlayStation 4 in September, leading Kotaku readers to name it the Australian Game of the Year for 2015.

Now, with the IGF awards just around the corner, League of Geeks cofounder and Armello art director Ty Carey fills in Gamasutra on the backstory of how the game came to be.

What's your background in making games?

I've been making games since 2000. I was working in graphic design dreaming of making games, when an opportunity arose I moved interstate to take a job at a games company called Torus Games.

I didn't really have a clue how to make games when I started, but I ended up spending over ten years there developing for everything from Game Boy Color to Xbox 360. At some point I was made art director.

Later on I joined forces with Trent and Blake who I had worked with previously; we found we all had a great working friendship and shared similar goals. We formed League of Geeks, wanting to make games on our own terms, and for the last few years we've been crafting Armello.

What development tools did you use to build Armello?

Primarily Unity3D with a few choice plug-ins. Art was constructed in Maya and Photoshop, with the card animation realized in After Effects.

How much time have you spent working on the game?

Many years! Perhaps coming up to five; we spent a year prototyping Armello as a tabletop, pen and paper board-game, then a couple of years working on it part time, and then, following a successful Kickstarter campaign, we came together to do the last few in-house and full time at League of Geeks HQ at The Arcade, Melbourne.

Whatever happened to your plans for a physical tabletop version of Armello

We'd love to do this. Perhaps we can find the right partners and make it happen? :)

So how did you come up with the concept?

The idea evolved out of a few things; our love of board games and Blake wanting to create a game with animal characters. The directors met very early on to discuss the type of game we'd love to make, and the consensus was a turn-based board game that we could sit around playing together with our iPads.

We realized that at the time there were no decent board games out on iOS, and especially graphically, so it seemed a niche we could easily compete in, given our experience.   

Why do you think there are relatively few multiplayer tablet board games available? 

It'd be guessing for me to answer this; probably that it's still a niche with limited budgets and prohibitive technical overheads? Best I can do, sorry!

I get strong Redwall/Mouse Guard/Watership Down vibes here. What inspired the style of Armello, and why?

Blake's a big Redwall fan. I loved the animated movies of Disney and particularly the artist Eyvind Earle, I also really liked Kung Fu Panda (our initial pitch for the game was "Kung Fu Panda crossed with Game of Thrones"). 

Trent and I share a strong instinct for the dark fairytale tone, and wanted a world that could be taken seriously, which had real consequences. We love the darker tone set in early 80's movies, like Dark Crystal, and are huge fans of Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. These are worlds with real dangers, and beauty. 

Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?

I've only played Darkest Dungeon which is of course fantastic, and we're big fans and pals of Red Hook - our Kickstarters were out at a similar time, and we've been influenced by their sense of consistency and design. Otherwise; Kingdom and Her Story are two I'm particularly looking forward to finally playing!

Don't forget check out the rest of our Road to the IGF series right here.

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