October 26, 2020
Games Lift: In Alchymia, players won’t skip the fun
Developer Julia Reberg has a small, but enticing idea: Research alchemy in a fantasy world and find a miracle cure. If you don’t, Zombies will arrive and end the game. But we do not need to worry yet.
It is what it sounds like – in „Alchymia“, players have a go at alchemy. Solo developer Julia Reberg has a quick description of a typical turn in her game: „You buy ingredients from a merchant, maybe send adventurers on an expedition, and then you brew and mix according to basic rules.“ Different ways of preparation are available. If you cook your ingredients, you get a potion. If you grind them, you get a powder. „Effects differ according to what you prepare, and how you prepare it“, Julia explains.
Optimizing for fun
Alchymia is a condensed, turn-based sim-game with roguelike elements. It is meant to be relatively short, but endlessly replayable. Every time players start a new game, all resources are randomly generated. There will be no way of looking up what a certain herb does in a wiki. That is on purpose, Julia explains with a quote from game designer Soren Johnson: „Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game“. As a player, Julia has been guilty of doing that herself. And she is determined not to let it happen here.
Julia’s game is still in the concept phase, a collection of diagrams, and interface mockups. Yet she speaks with clarity about her vision. She wants to pick certain elements that she feels are fun out of other games and combine them into something new. The idea is years in the making. Not only did Julia want to be a witch when she was a child, she also developed a small-scale sim-game while studying for her games master at the HAW Hamburg. She has worked as a game designer at a startup. And when the solo developer wants to consult with someone, she turns to her partner, who also works in game development.
Julia Reberg, solo-developer of Alchymia (Picture: Julia Rogalitzki)
The zombie timer
Alchymia is exactly the game Julia wants to make. If it is beautiful and fun to her, she contends, others may like it, too. But she is explicitly not trying to please everyone. Still, Julia‘s use case is an often heard story: „I like playing strategy and sim-games, but whenever I return after a long break, I don’t remember what I was doing and why. So I start over.“ The story should be instantly familiar to anyone with dozens of half-developed civilizations on their hard drives, stuck forever in the renaissance.
Julia is certainly not the first one to make this observation and to answer by downsizing. Indie darlings like „FTL“ and „Slay the Spire“ have inspired her to make a game that is not exactly light or casual, but that can be played through in a couple of hours. Her idea of a time limit comes with a bit of humor: Having a zombie horde substitute for a curtain. If players do not manage to make their Magnum Opus in time, the undead arrive and it’s all over.
The joy of research
Julia has a philosophy when it comes to designing games: Looking at how things work in the real world and then representing it by distilling it down to its essentials. For Alchymia this means relying on a handful of opposite pairs for defining effects: Magical mixtures will heal or hurt, they will affect mind or body, magic or strength. The joy of trying out new combinations and finding new effects will stand at the center of the game.
While Alchymia is a game now mainly living on paper and in the creator’s head, it already sounds like a strong concept. Right now, Julia is busy developing a functional prototype. It will be thrilling to see how it comes along. Let’s hope Julia gets to mix and match her ingredients just right – before the arrival of any real-world apocalypses.
Julia working on her game inside the Games Lift co-working space (Picture: Julia Rogalitzki)