AN INTERVIEW WITH ANTOINE MEURILLON OF KAVA GAME STUDIO
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Born in Portugal, but moving around a couple continents, before eventually growing up in France, Antoine Meurillon was a keen fan of playing on the SNES and Game Boy -- until he was about twelve years old. Then, he got a 486DX at home which came with Strike Commander, Doom, Magic Carpet, and Ecstatica. After finishing the first System Shock, he was left in awe of what he had just experienced. He claimed to have never stopped playing games since then.
Now, located in Amsterdam, Antoine spends his free time watching astrophysics YouTube channels, listening to game dev podcasts, and taking photos — some of which are featured below. Fun fact: Although his daily commute took him through the same locations that The Hitman’s Bodyguard was shooting, he unfortunately never caught sight of Ryan Reynolds.
In 2014, Antoine came on board with KAVA Game Studio as a game designer. He met someone who knew someone, who knew someone who knew the founder of the company, Florian Käding. At that point, KAVA had only been around for a year. Antoine eventually became a full-fledged business partner alongside Florian, replacing co-founder Erik Vader — though Vader was, and remains, an avid fan of Call of Combat, released by Florian in 2002. After many years of slowly accruing many fond players of Call of Combat, Florian decided to give his trusty game a makeover.
Antoine is Florian’s right-hand-man, and he has allowed Laurrel Allison from The Overpowered Noobs to get in a few, mostly game-focused, overpowered questions.
ALLISON: Why is the lower right part of the KAVA logo— the second A— busted?
MEURILLON: Wessel, who worked with us for a while, made this logo saying that it needed a video-gamey element to it, so he made it slightly pixelated. This logo has an evil lawyer corporation feel to it, I love it!
What prompted the naming of the company?
In 2013, Florian Kading and Erik Vader founded KAVA together. They both like their last name very much, I guess. In 2014, Erik stepped out for personal reasons, and I stepped in. My last name is Meurillon, but I didn’t feel like changing the company name to KAME...
Whence do your team members hail?
Florian is mostly Dutch. I am mostly French. We are the core developers of Divided We Fall, but there have been a lot of contribution from awesome people from all sorts of places. They are mostly Dutch, Indonesian, English, Scottish, Portuguese, Brazilian, American, and Russian.
Featured as a Staff Pick, KAVA Game Studio launched the Kickstarter campaign in early 2015. The campaign raised over $22,000 (nearly €19,000) thanks to the original fanbase. With the initial goal of €30,000 unmet, how did KAVA bridge that gap and still manage to successfully bring their game onto Steam?
By significantly cutting down costs and investing with our own savings. We promised back then that we would not surrender. So we rolled up our sleeves and fought on every front.
What has been the overall feedback of players who’ve entered the Discord chat?
There is a fair amount of rightful complaining that multiplayer activity is low, and that makes us sad. But we’re confident the final release will turn that around: it will group a lot of players in the same timeslot. Discord is pretty awesome at gathering the community in one dynamic place, it really helped having the most direct type of communication with players.
Are you personally a pacifist, a warmonger, or something in between?
I have to admit that I love the feel of brutal confrontation in some competitive games. I currently play Titanfall 2, which is a constant badass-move-dispenser. I love that.
In real life, recent history seems to have proven that peace is a more viable strategy for most nations. [As] a pragmatist, I don’t see how I can defend warmongering.
Historically, I am fascinated by the personal and political mechanisms behind conflicts. War is an unavoidable aspect of human history. If you like reading, I recommend the Accursed Kings; it is an amazing historical novel that narrates the personal interactions between monarchs and influential personalities which led to the Hundred Years’ War between France and England during the 14th century. Game of Thrones […] took a lot of inspiration from it.
Although video games have been exploring this theme since forever, war has been mostly used as a superficial excuse to virtually kill people and set a dramatic background. Fortunately, there are some narrative games that brilliantly explore things more in depth, like Spec Ops: the Line, or This War of Mine. I am looking forward to more games like that, and there is definitely a trend in that direction.
With our game, we do try to emphasize other themes, [such as] brotherhood, through gameplay. But I feel we can do a lot more, both in Divided We Fall future updates and in the next war related games we will develop at KAVA.
Do you know which war-related games those might be?
These are not much more than ideas for now, but I would like to explore some sort of near future space combat set in a time where humans are just starting exploring the solar system and maybe colonizing [nearby] celestial bodies. I can’t deny that we would draw some inspiration from The Expanse. I would love to come up with the most scientifically plausible space combat mechanic, with a believable political background. With my scientific background, and Florian’s passion for politics (he actually holds a Masters in political science), I think we can come up with a pretty cool game concept. [EN: Sounds like you have all the makings of a sexy 4X-space title.]
What kind of music do you like listening to in order to remain focused on the project at hand (be it work, study, cleaning, or something else)?
Almost every kind. Pink Floyd, Nine Inch Nails, Wagner, CocoRosie, Die Antwoord, Massive Attack and a lot of lesser known stuff like Emika, the Flashbulb, Fuck Buttons, Saycet, Lazerhawk, Kadebostany… At the office, I like to play (video)game OSTs on the speakers until someone throws a keyboard at me [such as] Machinarium, Shadow of the Colossus, Transistor, Fallout (1&2), Portal, Homeworld, the Dig, No Man’s Sky, Grim Fandango, Interstate ‘76, Super Meat Boy…
You had been involved with cinematography for several years. You helped create some solid material. What drew you to shift your professional interests from film to video games?
My real profession used to be scientist in a high-tech medical imaging company [EN: Half-Life 3 confirmed] and I did work with cinematography as a weekend hobby because I needed some creative outlet, back then. Probably because I am a long time avid gamer, this creative outlet turned into videogame-making, which soon turned into more than a hobby. The medical industry was really interesting, but, surprisingly, the video game industry is actually more innovative.
Video games are awesome. It’s a very young and sometimes immature medium, but I believe it has an amazing future, not just for entertainment, but also for education and awareness. A recent article claimed that video games could have a huge impact on promoting critical thinking in the world.
Why has Florian been so keen on the World War II theme in his games?
Florian is a huge history nerd. World War II is probably one of the most dreadfully fascinating conflicts in human history. In the long run, we want to explore specific parts of the conflict, like some early war assault in Belgium. We have to focus on getting the competitive aspects of the game first, but we intend to continue developing updates after Divided We Fall is released.
We decided to go for WWII in order to match Call of Combat’s original setting. (Perhaps) Divided We Fall could have worked decently well in a WWI setting. Hell, it could work in a Star Wars setting, where Stormtroopers would have really low hit chance… We did actually have a silly April fool’s version of that complete with in-game music.
What elements were kept when the design moved from Chain of Command to Call of Combat to Divided We Fall?Did you solely wish to upgrade Call of Combat, or is Divided We Fall the replacement?
I think there are three elements that carried over the games: the balance of action and strategy, the emphasis on teamplay, and the WWII setting. The action is the instant gratification element that makes you want to come back (or makes you super frustrated…). The strategy and emphasis on teamplay is the part that pushes you to create bonds with your teammates and learn to play efficiently with them. This is the part that makes this game really special; a lot of the game revolves around the idea of camaraderie.
Call of Combat was built on an aging platform which was difficult to maintain. Divided We Fall was rebuilt completely from scratch, using Unity -- and a lot of custom made systems around it -- to accommodate its online community systems like leaderboards, clans, global chat...
The name change of the game occurred fairly recently. (This makes it seem like it’s a completely different game rather than just an upgrade) What propelled you to change the name altogether?
The first version of Call of Combat came out in 2002. I think it was a good name back then. But Call of Duty came out one year later.
In 2014, having a game called Call of Combat seemed misleading as players might think it’s some sort of opportunistic shovelware. So we needed a new name and we went for something a little bit dramatic which states the importance of teamplay in the game.
What sort of research did the team conduct to ensure that Divided We Fall remained true to the history on which it was based?
The art team [performed] a lot of visual research. For instance, we started making cylindrical hay bales, you know, those big, yellow, [maki]-sushi-shaped things that you often see in the countryside. But we realized that the machines that congregate hay like that didn’t exist during WWII. We still have some Normandy countryside mood boards lying around somewhere.
What prompted the addition of multiple grenades within the game? Wouldn’t it be easier to spam the opponents with grenades rather than strategic positioning for optimal firearm range?
Heritage from the good old Call of Combat.
One of the strengths of the original game was its balanced mix of action and strategy. The core of the strategy and teamplay was enabled by the cover system, giving you time to prepare your next move with your teammates, even when facing enemy fire. The “nade battles,” as the veterans call it, used to be at the core of the action: it was an instant gratification mechanic while firearms had a more supporting role.
Following a lot of new player feedback during the Early Access, we noticed that this could become a “veterans vs new players” issue. We mitigated that by making firearms significantly more useful to use -- but we also improved the fun of nade battles.
When Call of Combat had its early release in 2002, a cult following began growing, amassing over one hundred thousand people across the years. Knowing that you had such a loyal base, did it affect how the team operated when creating the remastered version of Divided We Fall?
The original community was the main motivation behind this initiative! There was a lot of contribution to the original game with community management, design of the point system, bug reporting, and event organizing. Although many of the community has moved on with their lives, we had tremendous help during development with suggestions, bug reports, and discussions on future updates.
[To develop] while maintaining a playable version of the game can be challenging, since it means that nothing can stay broken for longer than the interval between two public updates. But the good part is that we get constant feedback.
During the course of our discussions surrounding this interview, you decided to postpone launch of Divided We Fall. How did this decision come about, and what does it mean?
We decided pretty quickly:
"Hey, how about a delay?"
"Hmm, yeah, that sounds about right."
"Okay, let's release later."
And a delay is a very smooth and easy thing to do for us, since we don't have a publisher or contracts that force us on any date. It's just about deciding on the time that, first of all, feels realistic for all the features we want to have on release. Second of all, we want it to make sense on the marketing level. We’re trying to avoid busy periods with many other releases and such. Also, there's a feature that started out as an experiment but ended up being something that could really boost the release. The extra few weeks will help us iron it out. Although, it's still a secret feature :]