Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates: Exploring Another Life

September 6, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska



Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates: Exploring Another Life

September 6, 2013 — by Mariia Lototska

Mososh was created in 2010 by Christian Primozich when his previous company, Challenge Games, was acquired by Zynga. He is passionate about working in a creative environment that encourages everyone to try their best, and has a love of games and comics. He talks about Cyberpunks vs. Syndicates, his third MMO.
Christian Primozich working in his office

Where Did CvS Come From?

Cyberpunks vs Syndicates (or CvS for short) is the third web-based MMO I’ve done after hitting the indie scene as Mososh. CvS has been in development for about two years, as I’ve been running and enhancing my previous title, Chronicles of Herenvale, in addition to doing the development on the new game. Mososh is largely me plugging away – days, nights, weekends – doing design, writing and development, as well as customer support, server administration, accounting and all those other things associated with running a business – gah!

The inspiration behind CvS can be found in old-school titles like Syndicate Wars, tabletop games like Shadowrun, books like Snow Crash, and movies like The Matrix. There’s something alluring about that dystopian image of the future where the hacker dons the role of hero to fight against corporate corruption. I myself am a hacker. I want to be a hero. CvS lets me explore themes that are personally relevant and inject my own perspective into them. That is the fun part.

What Makes A Mososh Game?

Early Concepts Sketches
A few early sketches of CvS

Finding the right artist is a key to the quality of my games. I suppose it’s a reflection of what appeals to me when I choose what game to play. I won’t work with anyone whose art I’m not looking forward to getting in my inbox. At my last company, one of the developers used to say getting art from our lead artist was like Christmas. That’s how the player (or me) should feel when they see new stuff, whether that’s exploring new areas, finding new gear, or fighting new enemies. It’s important I find an artist that really has the same eye for detail that I have, as well as a distinctive style that’s going to set the game’s visuals apart from (and hopefully above) games of a similar play style.

I’ve chosen to work on web-based MMO’s for the last six and a half years, because I like to combine aspects of adventure games with asynchronous PvP and co-op features like guilds. Players will often gravitate towards one aspect, but expanding beyond a single dimension gets more people involved. Multiple aspects also give them somewhere to go if they get bored with one part of your game (as opposed to loading up someone else’s game).

What’s With The Web?

One of the challenges of being an indie developer is distribution, which is why I love the idea of web apps because they are accessible. Developing on the web ensures you can reach the widest possible audience and take advantage of open publishing platforms like Kongregate and Facebook. Without platforms like Kongregate, I couldn’t do what I love to do.

All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool.

I wrote my first game on a TRS-80 back in the 80’s, but I really dove deep into development during the explosion of the Internet in the 90’s. I’ve written Java, C, Perl, Visual Basic, C# and most recently PHP. I’ve written stand-alone apps, libraries, and web apps. I’ve listened to debates rage about which language is the right language, but I don’t think that’s the point. All of these languages are largely just tools. You can build crap with the right tool and something amazing with the wrong tool. You learn that quality is largely not dependent on the tool when it comes to software.

So what are my tools? L-inux + A-pache + M-ysql + P-hp = LAMP. One of the best things about LAMP development is how free it is – no really, it costs zero dollars. That isn’t to say it doesn’t have its downsides, the biggest being the complexity (or perhaps perceived complexity), as most developers don’t have a lot of experience with web technologies. Running a web server, a database server and gluing everything together can be a bit daunting at first. The good news is services like AWS and Rackspace have made running servers in the cloud relatively inexpensive, easy to set up, and very test friendly in that you can launch and tear down servers quickly. There are also tools like MAMP that really help when getting your development environment set up. Personally, I use HTML and Javascript as my front-end. However, that can limit some elements of the game. Animation is challenging at best and real-time synchronous play can be difficult. You have to adapt the gameplay with these limitations in mind.

Why Did It Take So Long?

I started on the idea of doing CvS in 2011. I had been running my fantasy RPG, Chronicles of Herenvale, for about six months and figured it was time to think about my next title. Running a live game and working on a new one can be a real challenge, though. There are always bugs to be fixed, improvements to be made and new features and content to be added. I put together some rough ideas and set out to find someone to breath life into them.

Early Examples
Early concept designs of female characters in CvS

I found an amazing artist, Don Ellis Aguillo, through craigslist in the summer of 2011. Craigslist has worked really well for me in finding talented contractors in CA. I live in Austin, TX, and we just don’t have the density of art talent the West Coast does. He put together some concepts based on my descriptions, and we were off to the races! But it turned out to be a marathon, not a sprint. My original asset list doubled, then tripled as I didn’t have time to really develop the game – and I didn’t want to lose all of our momentum.

Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

Early 2012 didn’t actually show much progress on my new game, as I was spending a lot of time in Herenvale. Through the summer and fall, I buckled down and concentrated on constructing CvS based on top of the framework I had built for Herenvale. I then started adding features and modifying other features until I was buried (again!) – so much for a late 2012 release.

Finally in the Spring of 2013, I set aside a lot of time to focus almost exclusively on CvS. I was still adding quests, items and other things to Herenvale in addition to answering support emails, monitoring the servers, etc. Days of essentially uninterrupted time were necessary to finish work on the new game. That meant putting things I usually took care of every day on hold for days at a time or just checking email in the morning, or any other means I could find to focus. Focusing is crucial to building anything, but can be so hard in this tech-driven, interrupting world!

By June, I was ready to run a beta of CvS for some of my hardcore Herenvale fans – it’s great to have players who are willing to help. By end of July, I was ready to launch! That last push is so hard, but so rewarding when you reach the finish line.

Final Character Art

Shall We Play A Game?

CvS can be played here. The game is also on Kongregate and Facebook. I love connecting with other game developers, and I’m happy to share my experience, especially if it’s helpful. It’s almost time to figure out what I’ll be working on next if I can fit something in between running two live games.

You can reach Christian on Twitter!


Mariia Lototska