Road To The IGF: Thomas Bahon, Ankama (Dofus)

This latest 2006 Independent Games Festival interview chats to Thomas Bahon, co-developer of French strategy MMO Dofus, which is nominated for both the Innovation In Visual Art and Seumas McNally Grand Prize awards at the 2006 IGF.

Over the next few weeks, Gamasutra will be presenting a regular 'Road To The IGF' feature, profiling and interviewing each of the finalists in the 2006 Independent Games Festival main competition. Today's interview is with Thomas Bahon of French developer Ankama, the developers of the stylish PC and Mac strategy-MMO Dofus, which is nominated for both the Innovation In Visual Arts award and the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the 2006 IGF. The developers' description of this notably alternative title explains:

"Dofus is a 2D Tactical MMORPG with turn-based fights. Players evolve in a Heroic Fantasy universe, featuring cartoon like design and full of humor. They are looking to find out the 6 Dofus - Magic dragon eggs - which deliver absolute power to their owner. Dofus also has hundred of features and a large variety of quests, items and original spells."

We chatted to Bahon about the genesis of this unique-looking strategy MMO, as well as some of the developer's favorite other IGF entries:

Q: Tell us a bit about your background in the game industry, when your developer was founded, your location, your previously developed games?

Dofus character art

Ankama was created in May 2001 by Anthony Roux, Emmanuel Darras and Camille Chafer. At the beginning, it was a communication agency, making websites… However, our objective was to gather money in order to develop video games. Everything has been thought out and developed in our studio in Northern France (Lille).

Dofus is our first game at all, so development and tests have taken time as we were developing and learning at the same time. Indeed, none of us had real professional experience in the game industry.

Q: Tell us a little about your game - genre, how long it took to make, what it was inspired by, why you wanted to make it?

The development of Dofus started less than 4 yeas ago and lasted about 3 years (including 1 year of beta tests). The international version (English language) was released five months ago. But development for Dofus has no end, indeed, improvement, new contents and features are regularly through updates (major updates every 3 months and a lot more minor ones)

With Dofus, we wanted to make something that would set the game apart from other MMO games. The atmosphere and graphic style of Dofus is much inspired by Japanese animation, manga, cartoons and comics (both Japanese and European) and also by arcade games.

We have developed a style in line with the atmosphere we wanted to create, that is to say fresh, lively, humoristic and breezy. Indeed, Dofus, although it is a role-playing game, does not take itself seriously and is full of off-beat humor.

Dofus screenshot

Q: What was the smartest thing you did to speed development of your title, and the dumbest thing you (collectively!) did which hindered development?

The best thing we have done, in my mind, is the map editor. It has helped us to standardize map creation and add all the features (landscape, combat features, path finding, collision detection…) using a very quick and simple interface. It allows 2D artists to spend more time on the graphical aspects of the game rather than on technical ones.

In contrary, the dumbest thing was that we did not forecast such success. Indeed, at the beginning we did not have any advanced customer support tool and felt quickly overwhelmed. The worst was the size of the world: it has become crowded rapidly and we have had to create a lot of new maps, quests, features, etc. to face the “gamers' invasion” of the Amakna's territories.

Q: What do you think of the state of independent development? Improving? Changing for the worse or the better?

The development of the Internet has allowed independent developers to display more easily what they have to offer and more and more independent games will be able reach a continuously bigger audience. The risk, however, is that a game is easily lost in the bulk of video games developed.

Q: What do you think of the concept of indie games on consoles such as the Xbox 360 (for digital download) or on digital distribution services like Steam? Is that a better distribution method than physical CDs or downloads via a website/portal?

Sometimes ago, we looked for information on how to develop a game for consoles, and it put us off a bit. For Nintendo or Sony, it is completely impossible. Regarding the Xbox, it does not seem to be completely impossible but very hard.

Regarding the distribution, portals like Steam are a real chance for small developing teams that would not have any chance to grow alone.

Although it was not our objective, developing a game independently has proved to be interesting and we are quite happy to sell it ourselves. We are not against distribution partnership, but for the moment we are 100% independent and I must admit we enjoy it.

As we also edit an artbook and mangas now, I can say working with distributors is often harder than working with editors.

Q: Have you checked out any of the other IGF games? Which ones are you particularly impressed with, and why?

We like:

-The humor of Dad 'N Me
-The great job done by Dodge that Anvil's team with regards to the constraints of working with Shockwave
-That Darwinia reminds us of the movie Tron.

Q: What recent indie games do you admire, and what recent mainstream console/PC games do you admire, and why?

We really like Savage; it is incredible what this indie has achieved in terms of graphics compared to blockbusters. Regarding mainstream games, we are fans of MMORPGs, so we would say the World of Warcraft, Guild Wars and City of Heroes (opinions are diverse among the team)

Dofus in action

Q: Do you have any messages for your fellow contestants or fans of the IGF?

We hope that every competitor will be rewarded, if not with one of the IGF prizes, then at least by the recognition of video game players.


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