Andor’s Trail isn’t just a bona fide Android exclusive, it’s also an experiment in open-source game design that anybody who knows how to code can get involved in. So while this intensely old school RPG might be extremely traditional when it comes to mechanics – want a starter quest? How about punching some rats? – it’s an exciting new prospect for a smartphone game if you approach it from the development side.

I’ve lost a couple of afternoons to playing it this week, so I thought it would be a nice idea to catch up with the game’s developer, Oskar Wiksten, to find out how the idea came together.

Oskar! Can you tell me a little about yourself?

I’m 33. I live in Stockholm with my girlfriend, and I work as a software developer at a consulting firm. My background in programming comes from starting to learn gwbasic when I was eight years old. As you might know, most programming languages are based on English, and of course at that time I didn’t even know English, so I just typed in code verbatim from magazines and books that we had at home. An early form of code-sharing I guess. Later, I learned C++, got an Amiga and got somewhat involved in the demo-scene, started learning some assembler coding while trying to code the type of games that I myself enjoyed playing.

Have games always been a big inspiration, then?

My background in gaming comes mostly from having spent too much time when I was young playing games such as Baldur’s Gate and the early Fallout games. RPGs has always been a favourite of mine with regards to gaming. During university, I also started getting interested in open-source, mostly as a user but later also as a contributor. I spent some time contributing to a few online open-source RPGs such as Daimonin and Eternal Lands. Open-source is really something that I am passionate about.

Is that where the idea for Andor’s Trail came from?

The main driving force for me when starting the project was the same as I guess a lot of great projects come from, which is often categorized as “scratching an itch”. I searched around on Android Market for a good open-source RPG that I could play on my HTC Desire to relax, and possibly contribute some code to. After having concluded that there were none that matched my criteria, I started toying with making my own. Originally, I had no idea it would be the success it has been today, or how popular it would become. I had imagined that maybe a few hundred people would try it, and never that hundreds of thousand of people would.

My intention was from the start to release it as an open-source project, mainly to help other game-developers on Android to have some code to look at, and to help others get some ideas about potential solutions for common problems. I really like the fact that Andor’s Trail can help other people get excited about coding games for Android.

Was it always going to be an RPG?

Considering how much I enjoy RPGs myself, the question of what type of game it was going to be was never a tough choice for me. Personally, I enjoy the type of RPGs that make you think more than the hack-n-slash type of games, so that’s what I was initially aiming for, and it still is. Whether it turns out that way or not is up to the player I guess – you can still choose your own adventure in Andor’s Trail, sort of, even if combat is a major part of the game.

Does Andor’s Trail feel like a true collaborative work?

The development of Andor’s Trail is mostly collaborative, even if I spend the majority of the time out of everyone that works on it. Some parts are completely done by other people, such as the maps, and some parts are done completely by me, such as the storyline and quests. To increase the speed of development when releasing new versions, we would really like to add a few more people helping with writing dialogue and quests, since that is what currently makes up for the majority of the time spent between releases. The parts that are developed collaboratively are the parts that I think turn out to be
the best ones. The maps done by Michael Schmid and Ian Haase (along with other people) continue to amaze me to this day, the level of detail that they have put into them is just astonishing. Their excellent work is a major part of the success of the game overall I think.

On the subject of contributions, I should also mention the hard work done by all of the translators that make the game accessible to an ever wider audience of players. We have translations for Russian, Italian, French, German, Hebrew and Portuguese, of varying degrees of completeness. We have even seen the beginnings of a Thai translation. Translations are a great example of something that I could not have done myself had this been a non-open-source project, and a great benefit to the players in the end.

Also, there is a lot of time and energy spent discussing issues about game changes and how we should implement or balance certain features, such as the skill system that was introduced in v0.6.10. The discussions that take place on the forum at andorstrail.com are also excellent contributions in themselves, even if they are not code or content per se. I am so thankful for all the clever ideas that people come up with and take their time to post as improvement suggestions on the forum. All of those ideas help improve the game and make a more enjoyable playing experience for the players.

In total, we currently have 41 people or websites mentioned in our “authors” section of the game, but there have been a lot more people than that involved in the development process if we were to count all ideas, bug fixes and spelling corrections that people all around the world have helped with.

How close is the game to being complete, or is that a term that doesn’t make much sense for this kind of project?

I think it does make sense in that there will be some day we release a version that we feel confident about calling v1.0 . Maybe I put too much meaning in version numbers, but I guess that’s common in a lot of open-source projects. My idea of what v1.0 for Andor’s Trail is that the player should be able to complete the main storyline. Considering the type of world we have chosen for Andor’s Trail, it could literally be an endlessly large world with side-quests after that, provided that there is enough scripted or machine-generated quests available. Regarding how near we are a version where the player can complete the main storyline, I think that we still have a lot of work to do. The main storyline will take the player through the major cities of Nor City and Feygard, which will take a lot of time to create. As stated earlier, the activity that by far takes the most time when preparing a release is writing all the dialogue for quests, and dense, large cities such as what we have planned for Feygard and Nor City will taker a lot of effort to create since there will be a lot of NPCs that the player will be able to talk to, and several quests that should be available.

What does your current developer wish list look like?

High on my wish list for things that I would like to spend some time coding after having completed the current batch of dialogue and quests is an in-game world map. That’s something that I think would benefit the players a lot, with having access to a view of what parts have been visited and not, and the locations’ relative location to each other. I’m not sure whether that will be ready for v0.6.11 or some later version, it all depends on how much time the creation of dialogue and quests takes.

I would also like to explore the possibility of extending the combat system to something similar to what the early Fallout games had, with different types of attacks. For example, an aimed attack that takes longer to perform, but has a higher chance of hitting the target, or a power attack that deals more damage but has less chance of succeeding.

Also, story-wise, I would like us to implement more of the main storyline, and the different factions that we have introduced this far. Without giving out too many spoilers, I would really like us to explore more of the moral dilemma that the Feygard / Nor City conflict will bring, and the reaction that the player will have to that. Those that have played the game this far will be familiar with the fact that the player’s actions have consequences, and I would really like the consequences of the player’s choices in the main story to be visible.

Andor’s Trail is available on the Android Market right now.