Image courtesy of Quite OK Games

How the three-person team behind Laysara: Summit Kingdom found a new spin on city-builders

Mike Williams |
August 15, 2023
Maciek Pryc is a co-founder of Quite OK Games, where he is responsible for programming and game design. He started his gamedev journey over 10 years ago and spent most of it working as a gameplay programmer on games such as Get Even and Ancestors Legacy.
For many games in the city-building genre, it’s about expanding your city or settlement across wide, flat plains. Laysara: Summit Kingdom, which recently received an Epic MegaGrant, trades in that idea for a different angle on city building entirely. Instead, your settlements in Laysara live perilously on the side of tall mountain peaks. Players have to utilize the limited space and survive the harsh weather conditions, like the beautiful, but harrowing, avalanches.

Quite OK Games was founded as a two-person team of veteran game developers. Designer and programmer Maciek Pryc and artist Michał Kubas decided to use their expertise on their own game, eventually adding programmer Paweł Oberc to the roster. Now the team works to bring Laysara: Summit Kingdom to life as the studio’s debut title.

We spoke to Maciek Pryc about the inspirations behind Laysara, developing the game’s impressive weather system, and how Unreal Engine and other tools help the three-person team  work like a much bigger studio.
 

What can you tell us about Quite OK Games as a studio?

Maciek Pryc, Developer & Owner:
We’re a three-person indie studio from Poland. I started the studio with Michał because after years of working in the game development industry, we wanted to try something fresh and new. We had no idea if we could pull this off, but there was only one way to find out, so we just went for it.

We believe in fast and many iterations, not pushing for final content when half of the game is still missing, keeping our technical debt in check, and work-life balance. Also, we don’t like to take ourselves too seriously.

Can you explain the concept behind Laysara: Summit Kingdom?

Pryc:
Shortest possible answer: mountain city builder. In Laysara, the players are tasked with establishing and developing settlements in harsh mountain conditions. The main focus of the game is economy: resource management, fulfilling needs of a three-caste society, and crafting efficient transport networks.

The game doesn’t have a military aspect, but features some survival elements, like avalanches and weather breakdowns. The aesthetics of the game are inspired by the Himalayan region, which influences architectural designs, soundtrack, and lore.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
Laysara: Summit Kingdom is the studio’s debut game. Can you explain why this was enticing to you as an initial title?

Pryc:
Well, I grew up playing Zeus: Master of Olympus and I love strategy games, so choosing the genre wasn't really a thoughtful decision. When working on an RTS game in my previous company, I realized that systems-heavy games don’t necessarily need that much hand-crafted content, which usually takes tons of time to make. This made me believe we can actually develop a decent city builder with such a small team.

Were there any other media or real-world works that inspired the development of Laysara: Summit Kingdom?

Pryc:
Obviously, the historical architecture from Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan is our big inspiration. We don’t aspire to depict it 100% accurately, as we’re by no means experts in the matter, but our fictional universe is heavily influenced by these regions.

You can’t really see much of such aesthetics in video games, which is a real shame if you ask me. I don’t think Laysara has a chance of reaching as many people as Avatar: The Last Airbender, but you never know.
Laysara: Summit Kingdom has a distinctive aesthetic and musical style, which feels inspired by real-world cultures. Can you talk about how you landed on this overall aesthetic?

Pryc:
This is an effect of a long and deliberate brainstorm we had back in the day. We knew we wanted to make a city builder with verticality playing an important role in the gameplay, so we explored a bunch of possibilities for the setting: building gold mines in cold and unexplored 18th century Alaska, having ladybug-riding gnomes with cities crafted from mushrooms around tree trunks, or building circles of Hell. There is no such thing as ideas that are too weird during brainstorming!

At the end of the day, we felt like mountain scenery with building designs inspired by architecture from the Himalayan region was the best choice. It gives the game a very unique visual character, which also very clearly communicates how the gameplay will differ from other games in the genre—and all of it is possible to contain in a single screenshot. That was our goal from the very beginning.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
Does building on steep, high mountains change the mechanics of a city builder?

Pryc:
Yes! We believe that the game setting cannot be just a gimmick without any impact on the gameplay. In a well-designed game, the game mechanics are coherent with the depicted world; one thing enriches the other. Papers, Please set in a country with a Western democratic system wouldn’t work nearly as well as the original did.

First of all, establishing a town in high mountains means limited building space, you can’t always place a lot of buildings near to each other—therefore we’ve got quite a lot of tools like bridges, shafts, and carriers for creating complex transportation systems.

Another thing is height: the higher you go, the less fertile land becomes, which is represented by the varying production output of agricultural buildings. It is still worth it to expand upwards, as only there you can find deposits for many valuable resources.

And avalanches. Can’t really forget about avalanches.
 
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games

Considering each mountain offers different challenges, how do you add variety for the player?

Pryc:
There are quite a few moving blocks that make playing on every single one a different challenge.

First of all, the layout of the gameplay regions: they can have different shapes and sizes, which affect how you can develop and expand your city. There is also a matter of vegetation zones, meaning in some maps you will have plenty of space for farming, but in others, you will have to rely on breeding animals and/or trade.

Another thing is resource availability: you won’t find every resource deposit on every map and the quantity will also differ. We’ve also got a few buildings which you can place only near the rivers, which can be tricky if there is only a small amount of water on any given map… or none at all.

Last, but not least, weather conditions and placement of the snow accumulation spots, which result in spawning avalanches. On every mountain, you have to carefully examine which parts of the map are subject to avalanche hazards and decide what’s the best way to address that particular case.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
In your official trailer, the small mountain city transitions through multiple seasons. Can you talk about iterating on the weather system and how it affects player cities?

Pryc:
The basic concept is simple: most of the time the weather is mild with maybe some rain or snow, but nothing that would disrupt the working of the city. However, from time to time, a big weather event is about to happen. The player will get a heads-up to prepare, and then a massive snowstorm or hurricane will strike, applying gameplay modifiers that will make surviving this time a challenge.

Changing weather is one of the first systems we had in place. We’ve got a data table with all weather conditions defined by parameters such as light color, fog intensity, particles, post-process settings, and many more. We’ve got debug commands to change the weather in runtime, so we can easily see how it feels to play in any certain conditions. As the development of the game goes on, Michał makes sure all of the weather setups make sense, tweaking values in the data table if necessary.
 
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games

Speaking of weather, the most devastating weather condition in Laysara: Summit Kingdom is the avalanche, which spreads down the mountain and across player cities with impressive physics. Can you talk about the process of adding avalanches?

Pryc:
This is a perfect example of how simple solutions with a lot of tweaking and fine-tuning can bring really good results. In terms of visuals, the avalanche front consists of particle emitters that are being moved down the mountain. If the avalanche spreads, new emitters are spawned on the sides of the front. The avalanche’s snowy trail is based on the render target, which is updated on the CPU by the same code which moves particle emitters.

The logic for moving the emitters is divided into two stages: if the avalanche front is over the gameplay area, it just travels down and spreads. If it is over a cliff or rocks, it moves accordingly to its movement direction and the normal vector of the terrain below. One line trace, a few vector operations, and a lot of hand-picked parameters’ values make it look organic.
 
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games

As a city-builder, one of the key aspects is the actual buildings. Can you explain the process of designing assets that look great and readable whether the player is zoomed in or all the way out?

Pryc:
We started by determining the most common camera position during a playthrough, when the player is actually performing their tasks, not just watching the graphics on close-ups. We put our focus on having buildings communicate their functions clearly from this view.

We have categorized buildings based on a few key characteristics, and then choose visual means to show these characteristics. This way, we ended up with roof colors indicating the caste associated with any given building and building shapes hinting at their function, like distribution buildings being the only rounded ones. This approach really helps with orientation in the city landscape, even if you are not fully conscious of it. The last thing we found out is that incorporating a single unique element into a building design makes it easier to memorize, like big beer vats in the brewery or oversized churn in a butter production facility.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
When it comes to the details, we of course add them to make models look good when seen up close, but Michał is always making sure that those details won’t obstruct the overall building designs.
Why was Unreal Engine the right fit for Laysara: Summit Kingdom’s development?

Pryc:
Diving into the development of a full-scale city builder with only a handful of people, we knew from the very beginning that working efficiency would be crucial for us. Unreal Engine’s ecosystem provides us with a ton of tools and frameworks that we can just use from the get-go, without compromising the final quality of the game.

UE is also the engine that we happen to have the most experience with, so the decision took us about 30 seconds. And it was the right one, no doubt about it, we wouldn’t be able to make Laysara if not for the Unreal.

Were there any other Unreal Engine tools that were helped in the creation of Laysara: Summit Kingdom?

Pryc: Besides the "standard" ones, we find editor scripting possibilities very useful. Being able to efficiently make your own custom-made tools in Blueprints is great, we use them to automate the process of putting together mountain elements on a map and to quickly import assets, also assigning proper textures, creating material instances, and more based on the imported file names.

You also used third-party plug-ins and tools to help with content generation in Laysara: Summit Kingdom. Can you talk about using those plug-ins with Unreal Engine?

Pryc:
The best example of this is the usage of the Houdini Engine plug-in for generating 3D models of the mountains.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
Our process for creating a mountain starts from iterating over its basic shapes in Unreal’s editor, where an HDA script can transform these basic shapes into a simplified model of a mountain, which can already be used as a blockout map for testing during the game. If we are happy with the mountain layout, we can go forward and generate a full-fledged mountain model.

This task is performed in the Houdini Engine, where the high-density geometry is generated and then further processed by applying erosion. All necessary textures, masks, and UVs are also created, alongside information for the game logic—such as resource deposits locations—which are exported as .csv files, and then imported into the engine.

Members of your studio have worked previously for larger studios. Can you talk about how that experience helped you with developing Laysara: Summit Kingdom?

Pryc:
Working for AAA studios allows you to learn workflow and pipelines for creating top-quality assets while not disregarding the technicalities, which then directly affects the game’s performance. In such environments, you need to make every single vertex, texel, and material instruction count—this mentality helps us maintain reasonable performance on the GPU side.
Image courtesy of Quite OK Games
One other, very specific thing is managing outsourcing: preparing clear and comprehensive briefs, giving specific feedback in a respectful way, and making sure the commission’s results fit in well within the game, not just look good on their own.

On the other hand, it’s not always sunshine and roses, adapting to our new indie reality can be challenging at times. For example, when we catch ourselves thinking about how to improve and scale up a pipeline or procedure which works perfectly fine for us, but would actually cause problems with a team 10 times larger.

What tips do you have for other aspiring developers looking to make their first game?

Pryc:
Manage your expectations—you probably won’t make a second Minecraft, but that’s alright. Making a game is a journey, full of ups and downs, but it’s worth enduring to the end, as there are tons of things to learn from a full development cycle. It’s usually better to start with something simpler (no MMORPGs!) and actually finish it.

Remember, it’s all about growing as a game developer and learning from your mistakes. And enjoying the process is the way to go.

Thanks for your time, where can people learn more about Laysara: Summit Kingdom?

Pryc:
Thank you for having me! You can find Laysara on Steam (there is demo available): https://store.steampowered.com/app/1823950

If you would like to chat, you can catch us on our Discord server: https://discord.gg/USEKsNGzMG

Best of luck with your projects!

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