It started in 2002 when the game Soldat was presented to the world. From there on individuals have been gathering around the project, helping it, improving it & creating more. Projects included R, Crimson Glory, Berserker & Link-Dead. Currently ThD is working on Soldat and a new game King Arthur’s Gold.
The full story of ThD:
Coding and design was MM’s strong point so he decided he can also manage to do this alone. What he wanted to do were not worms but life-like soldiers with smooth animations. He was not a graphic artist and the amount of animations he designed would take ages to draw. It seemed impossible to do until he stumbled on a paper called “Advanced Character Physics” by Thomas Jakobsen. Thomas is a Dutch programmer who worked on the hit series Hitman released in 2000. It introduced to the gaming world 3D characters animated not by hand, but by using physics calculations. The results were life-like bodies interacting smoothly with the environment. This was exactly what MM needed.
The work on Soldat had begun. It was the first 2D game to introduce “rag-doll” character physics (which today is a standard in games). It was while coding computer controlled enemies and watching the little soldiers run, jump, shoot at each other and duck for cover – Michal thought “when I add multiplayer support, this game is gonna kill”. After roughly 6 months the game was ready to play. It was released on a Polish game developers forum. After the first few days, even-though the game was loaded with bugs, people started organizing competitive tournaments.
What caught gamers attention was a never before seen blend of side-scrolling action and realistic weapon – player versus player combat. The visuals in Soldat were simple and the game could be run by gamers with old machines. The game was very easy to modify. Quickly people started creating their own mods: including new weapons, maps in space, World War 2 themed skins, and even 2D versions of Counter-Strike maps. The game was downloaded nearly 2,000,000 times. Positively reviewed by nearly all computer gaming magazines, featured on G4TV and received numerous awards including Top 10 in GameSpy’s independent game selection. For many years part of the Electronic Games League. The game was praised for its simplicity and addictive qualities. The only downside were poor graphics. Michal was lucky to have even made any graphics, thanks to Thomas Jakobsen and his paper.
Soldat was constantly updated over the next years. New features were introduced and updated. But MM also had to fight a horde of hackers infesting the game – cheating to gain additional points or trying DoS attacks to take down the entire games server infrastructure. Popularity always has its stake. Luckily some of these hackers “converted” to the good side. For example EnEsCe who stopped developing Soldat hacks and started renting his own Soldat game servers and later on even joined the Soldat development to help with the code.
The game is completely free to play and there was never big money earned. MM managed to survive thanks to player donations and selling small enhancements to the game (like a mini-map or different colored jet flames). A couple people managed to create small business’s around the game by renting servers. One of these people were, except EnEsCe, Ryan Rawdon. Known by the nick “FliesLikeABrick”. He started helping Soldat by renting game servers and creating the SoldatForums, which he is administrator to this day. Ryan’s passion for administering Linux servers led him further to host and maintain all THD game websites and servers.
Around 2008 MM started to depart from Soldat. He released his last version and the project was taken over by EnEsCe.The development now is semi-open source. Meaning if you want to contribute and have the skill you can join the project. Today Soldat’s main coder is Gregor A. Cieslak “Shoozza” with a small group of helpers.
MM’s decision to leave coding Soldat was ignited by the idea of making an evolutionary step from Soldat. Create a completely new game with attractive visuals and a deeper, more tactical gaming experience set in a a post-apocalyptic world. This project was called Link-Dead.
After announcing Link-Dead MM got a quick e-mail from an American living in Australia. He was known in some Internet communities as Sigvatr. He was a pixel artist and an aspiring game developer. MM & Sigvatr decided to team-up and create a game that would rock the gaming world with its innovative ideas, clever mechanics and astonishing visual effects.
Link-Dead’s development was open with frequent news about the production process posted on the official blog. It quickly gathered attention after a series of videos MM posted showing off the games light and shadow effects. Again, like with Soldat’s rag-dolls, this was an unexplored area for 2D games. Link-Dead introduced real-time lights from flashlights, HDR/bloom effects and ambient lighting. On top of that Michal coded an automaton for processing real-time fog and dust effects.
The coding process was long and hard. It took 3 years until the first playable release. The only thing that got the game there was MM’s enthusiasm for the project and the fans support. It was released as an alpha version in late 2010. It didn’t have any of Sigvatr’s graphics. They were made by a Spanish pixel artist Victor Rojo. MM & Sigvatr departed from each other a year earlier. They liked to think of themselves as a heavy metal band making games. And so they split as music bands usually do – because of artistic differences.
The game did not become popular in the first 6 months. Mainly because it was released as a paid alpha (although people could pay whatever they wanted, even 1$). Michal was also struggling with making all the game mechanics “work”. It seemed that there were too many ideas packed in one game and it was difficult for a common gamer to get started in the game. The third reason was that the development cycle was long, with new elements breaking the old ones and introducing new bugs. The praised lighting visuals were a nightmare to code. Time that should be spent on making the gameplay fun was spent on fixing shadow artifacts. After a little more than three and a half years MM had enough. His enthusiasm was drained and his frustration rose when watching his fellow game developers sell millions of copies of games with much simpler mechanics and retro graphics that resembled 1980′s games. It seemed that Soldat’s success was not an accident and its simplicity was its strongest point.
In April 2011 MM secretly started developing a new game. He did not tell anyone about it. Not to his fans, players, not even to his friends and family. The igniting spark to start work on this new game was when MM frustrated with Link-Dead played a recently released independent game called Ace of Spades. Ironically the link to it was posted on the Link-Dead forums by a player. It became clear to MM, that building and fighting is the next big thing.
He wanted to code a game like that in 2 weeks and see if it works. If it didn’t he would return to coding Link-Dead and nobody would notice his failure. Because of this time constraint he had to make the design and graphics simple. He decided on retro pixel graphics looks and classic console gaming mechanics – pack it in a medieval scenery with knights and archers and add multiplayer. It was Soldat with swords and castles.
Still undercover MM assigned a pixel artist to the project called Max Cahill “Geti”. Geti was a graphics guy and game developer popular on the Data Realms forums (Cortex Command game forums). He was the only person to respond to a “pixel artist wanted” ad posted by a mysterious person called “King Arthur”. After exactly 17 days the game was released on a game developers website, much like Soldat. After another 2 weeks Geti posted about it on the DataRealms forums and the games popularity started there.
King Arthur’s Gold was born and with it a new game development philosophy. Soldat’s success was a big surprise for Michal and it took him 10 years to learn why it happened. He now has the ingredients and along with the Transhuman Design will continue work on King Arthur’s Gold and more awesome games in the future.