This is the first of a multi-part post about the origins of Siralim. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time now, and I hope you’ll find it interesting!
If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably played a Siralim game before. What most of you don’t know is that the first-ever Siralim game started out much different from what it is today.
Did you know Siralim was first released for sale via the Humble Bundle widget, and people were forced to purchase the game using that widget directly from our website? That’s because Steam wouldn’t accept us on their store. Yes, that was back when you couldn’t simply throw down $100 and immediately gain the right to sell your game on Steam. Back then, we had to run a Steam Greenlight campaign not unlike running for Prom King or Queen, where fledgling developers over-promised and under-delivered on their offerings with the hope that gamers would give these games enough positive votes to catch Valve’s attention.
Siralim was in the top 10 best-voted games for nearly 8 months before Valve decided to let us through. Other games with a fraction of the votes were accepted before Siralim was, and all I can figure is that Valve knew the game was too rough around the edges even for their low, anime-porn-game standards. And frankly, I can’t help but agree with them.
Let’s start with a game trailer you’ve probably never seen before. In fact, this unlisted video only had about 500 views before I tore it down in embarrassment. Don’t tell anyone I’m sharing it with you, ok?
Damn, right? Every now and again, whenever I start to feel a slight tinge of pride for my work, I like to watch this video to bring me back down to earth. Nothing keeps a man humble quite like realizing he created this… thing.
As you can see, the spirit of Siralim has always been there – but it was so rough around the edges and had so many strange design decisions that I had no choice but to give the game a complete overhaul. While I waited patiently for Valve to accept Siralim on Steam, I worked 80 hours per week for 8 months to improve the game.
Let’s start by taking a look back at the most apparent issue the original game had: the graphics.
The graphics were originally drawn by one person who goes by the name “Bynine”. I contacted Bynine about this project before I even wrote my first line of code for Siralim. I found some of his work on DeviantArt, and a lot of his samples included his own versions of Dragon Warrior Monster sprites – perfect for Siralim since that’s what the game is based on.
I still prefer many of Bynine’s creature sprites to the ones that are in any of the Siralim games to this day. They perfectly captured the retro feeling I was hoping to attain, and I think those creatures looked like something you would have found in another Dragon Warrior Monsters game on Gameboy Color. Most people seemed to enjoy these graphics as well. Unfortunately, aside from the creature sprites, everything else was really… rough. As you can see, the overworld sprites had strange proportions (take special note of the Fiend in the arena shown in the trailer above), the realm graphics were hard on the eyes, and just about everything else was inconsistent with the rest of the game.
Please realize that I’m not writing about this to talk down on Bynine’s art style – in fact, I’m pretty sure I specifically asked him to draw them that way, and regardless, I still keep tabs on his work and am amazed at how far he has come as a graphics artist since he worked on Siralim so many years ago. He was still in high school when he drew all the art for Siralim, and it’s amazing that he managed to find time to balance schoolwork, graduation, and to create art for a massive RPG all at once.
Unfortunately, all that remains of Bynine’s work in any of the current Siralim games is the Dumpling. It was his own, custom creature that he created when we first started working together. I wanted to keep that creature as a tribute to the artist who helped bring my childhood dream to life.
The only art that Bynine didn’t draw were the spell effects for Siralim’s 100+ spells. Those were instead drawn by JC, who I’m still happy to work with to this day. JC has worked on every single game I’ve ever created. Right now, he’s working on art for another game we have in the pipeline called The Negative.
Eventually, Siralim was selling enough copies on Humble Bundle that I managed to scrounge up a decent enough budget to hire a “professional” (those are ultra-sarcastic quotation marks) artist. His name was Oleg, and he did some great work for Siralim. Most of his art is still included in all the Siralim games to this day. He drew all the castle tiles and all the objects/walls/tiles for the original 8 realms.
Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out with Oleg because, despite allowing him to name his own price on everything he drew, I had to literally beg him to get any work done. He also wouldn’t accept PayPal or anything like that, so I had to wire the money directly to his bank account. Unfortunately, he lives in Russia… so for security reasons, I had to drive all the way to my bank, wait for a banker to become available, and then sit there for up to an hour while they grilled me with questions about why I’m sending money to Russia. That’s not a fun process when you live in an area with snowy, icy winters like Ohio. It’s also not fun to be treated like I fell for a Nigerian Prince scam every other week.
Eventually, I got tired of both pleading with Oleg to do any work and needlessly driving to the bank in the middle of a snowstorm, so I decided to part ways with him. Oleg caused more stress for me than any other aspect of my career, and I can’t even begin to describe how relieved I was to find a replacement for him.
During this time, I also found another graphics artist named Andreas who would re-draw all the battle sprites and overworld sprites for the creatures in Siralim – over 200 in total! That was no small undertaking, especially since I needed these to be done in a hurry – after all, I could only convince my friends and family for so many months that I wasn’t working on a dead-end project. Andreas worked hard to deliver the goods as quickly as possible, and I’m very satisfied with how most of the creatures turned out. The majority of his work is still found in all the Siralim games, as he drew hundreds of the original creatures found in Siralim and Siralim 2.
And, since I have no sense of moderation, I also asked Andreas to draw another 100 creatures to be added to the game as a free, content expansion update. I like to think that all 18 players really enjoyed that update.
If you enjoyed this post, check back next Thursday for part 2! I’ll talk about why I originally thought the Siralim soundtrack was ripped from a Final Fantasy game, and discuss why I had to re-draw and re-code the user interface 6 different times.