Belgian indie developer Edouard a.k.a Elivard has quit everything to pursue his ambitions and create the city-builder of his dreams titled Earth of Oryn. He has told us about this journey, the desire to stay independent, and drawing inspiration from classic games and Tolkien’s world.

Small village, big dreams

Elivard (or simply Eli) is a 30-year-old aspiring indie developer, living in a small village located in a French-speaking area called Wallonia. He first came up with the idea to make a video game when he was around 14-15.

“I made a game called Warnation, and the goal was to build a city and attack other players,” he recalls. “It may be the ancestor of what I’m building today. The code was awful but the game had enough success to motivate me.”

After making a few more hobby games, Eli worked on various side projects in the mobile, electronics, and web fields. “I have a professional background in iOS and Android native development of like 7 years,” he notes.

In attempts to balance work, family life, and his hobbies, Eli eventually quit his main job to fully focus on creating Earth of Oryn. “It’s too hard for me to keep motivated when you only work on the weekend and after the main job, because the game is not evolving fast enough and it feels like you will never see the end,” he says.

Trying to make a story-driven city builder with infinite customization options

Eli started working on Earth of Oryn around two years ago, with the full-time development spanning 9-10 months. Drawing ideas from games like Cossacks: European Wars, Age of Empires, SimCity, and Roller Coaster Tycoon, he wants to offer his own take on the long-running genre.

“I want to create a game where the customization is infinite,” Eli says. “That’s also why the game view is orthographic. I feel like it’s the best way to create a versatile building system that is easy to use.”

With Earth of Oryn still far from launch, Eli hopes to make a game where players will be able to create things from scratch using a wide range of building possibilities. “For example, you can build a wall block by block and engineer it to resist the best against attackers,” he explains. “Then reuse it to build ramparts and reuse these ramparts again to build a castle.”

Eli calls the first two titles in the Roller Coaster Tycoon masterpieces. He is hoping to recreate the feeling of spending hours with the game on pause and then testing the ride you created.

On the strategy level, Earth of Oryn is also a kingdom management game where players will have to create different units and control the space to survive the sieges, while taking on the role of a peaceful leader, bloody dictator, or even religious inquisitor.

“There will also be campaigns and the game will be story-driven with narrative composants,” Eli adds. “It’s an element that is rarely found in city builders, and that’s a pity.” That’s probably why he also cites Tolkien’s works as one of his biggest inspirations, saying that he loves the complexity and the level of detail of the Middle-earth world.

One of Earth of Oryn’s early prototypes

Learning Unity and working on improving in-game systems

When he chose Unity as the engine for Earth of Oryn, Eli had to learn the entire framework from scratch. Despite the initial challenges, he is happy with this choice, saying that the engine is “well built, easy to learn and has a great community to help you when needed.”

Eli has already reached visible progress, improving the game’s mechanics and visuals compared to early prototypes (especially when looking at the water). 

When working on Earth of Oryn, he generally focuses on the vertical slice, building base mechanics and creating playtest levels. “It provides the possibility to release a demo and get feedback from players quickly,” Eli explains. “I always come up with new ideas and like to try them.”

Right now, he tries to build a playable demo of the game once a month. The next step will be expanding core systems and adding more features, but this phase is yet to come.

Taking all his ambitions into account, Eli still has a lot of work to do. And creating a system to control characters’ in-game behavior and actions has been one of the biggest challenges so far. “For example, what about a warrior that is fighting on the field but [is] also sleepy or hungry. Does he have to flee in order to fulfill his needs or possibly starve fighting?”

Eli has to solve all these issues before launch while also working on optimization and keeping the code clean as the game gets bigger. It is not an easy ride, but he still has time to polish all the systems.

Getting through hard times and trying to stay independent

“Quitting everything to build a game and following your dream is not the most popular thing to do here in Belgium,” Eli says, adding that most people still consider game development a hobby and not something serious.

However, he has a super supportive girlfriend who encourages him on this journey. Another thing that helps Eli get through some hard times is his passion. “If I can make it my long-term professional activity, I know that I’ll never feel like I’m working again. Worth it?”

While this might be a great motivational driver, Eli will probably have to find some funding to keep working on the game like a Kickstarter campaign or a publishing deal. “I have never worked with a publisher,” he says. “I’m clearly not against the idea but I will try to stay as independent as I can.”

Eli is now working solo while looking for a digital artist to illustrate the game’s story and create a better user interface. Earth of Oryn is expected to launch in the third quarter of 2023.

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