The Future of Grand Strategy Games: Interview with Professional Game Designer Max Sprin

In an interview with Max Sprin, founder and lead game designer at Alina Digital, he explains what drives him to create a new online strategy game not to appeal to the masses, but to fill a niche in the market that’s been suffering: Grand Strategy Games.

Q: Who/what is Alina Digital? How did this company come into being?

A: The company was founded by me, Max Sprin and it’s named after my daughter. I opened the company the same year my daughter was born and it didn’t take long to decide what I should call it. This is why I designed the company’s logo with a woman’s face in it. I hoped if I gave the company a beautiful woman’s name and used the face and shape of my daughter in the logo this would bring me some good luck.

Q: What is Alina Digital’s mission as a game design company?

A: The idea to create my first game came about, as it usually does for many game designers I guess, because I couldn’t find the game of my dreams to play. I thought it would be faster to just create that game than to sit around passively waiting until someone else did it. Being a new studio makes for some limitations, but I’ve learned that you can create really cool games just with simple codes and a good team. I’m new to the gaming business and haven’t worked in a big game company previously. I’m here now not to build a big business but to create interesting games. I’ll admit that I’m working on something that doesn’t really bring in too much money nowadays — I like strategy games. This is something I want to do for myself — create interesting strategy games. And if other people like them too, this makes me very happy. It’s always great if you create something and other people also enjoy it.

Q: Who are you, where did you come from, and how did you get here?

A: I played my first strategy game when I was 15 or 16. It was Civ1 on DOS. I fell in love with strategy games after I played Civ1 the first time. I remember when I was playing it different ideas came into my head — “Oh, it should be this way,” or “No, it shouldn’t be there, it breaks the balance,” and so on. This happens to me all the time when I play games. I can’t enjoy the game until I feel it’s perfectly balanced in various ways. This kept happening to me until one day I told myself, “Listen, if you think you know better, just do it.” Now I’m finally getting closer to realizing this dream, and I feel really happy about this.

Q: What’s it like having your own business?

A: Alina Digital is not my first business, but all my businesses have been something creative. I developed my organizational skills in high school when I decided to form a hard rock band. I discovered that I’m a shitty musician but I’m a great organizer and leader. I organized the band and set up the shows, and this became more enjoyable for me than actually playing my music. I learned that lesson and years later I organized my own online streaming TV and Internet business. It’s still very popular, but I decided to get into the gaming business. I feel great about designing my own game, but it’s hard to run your own business, especially when there’s a big team involved. Every single person has his or her own personality and sometimes it’s deeply frustrating when someone can destroy what you’ve worked for because of an aspect of his or her character. I can’t call myself a businessman, at least not a good one. I’m more of an artistic person and a team leader. I can organize and lead people to create a project. I’m not as good at selling those products. Right now I’m focusing all my energies into the game’s creation.

Q: What’s the best part about designing games in your opinion?

A: Even if it seems like an easy, simple question that’s really hard to answer. How would Mozart answer if you asked him, “What’s the best part about making music?” I’m not saying I’m a genius in game design like Mozart was in music, but I realize it’s much more than just words. True game design is an art and I believe all people who create art are extremely excited about doing it. True game design is a combination of many things that must be considered. A great game designer must be an extremely intelligent person with plenty of background knowledge and real-life experiences. Without these things it’s like trying to describe what the fresh air in a forest is like if you’ve never been in a forest. How could you resolve an unpleasant situation if you’ve never had the experience of that situation before yourself? Game designers must call upon all their real-life experiences to create their games. This is one of the greatest parts of designing games, when you bring your own life experiences into them.

Q: What has inspired you to become a game designer?

A: A very poor market for good strategy games. There are so few really cool strategy games on the market. Most companies are running their “wallet warriors,” so trying to create good strategy games in this environment is like trying to make good rock or classical music in the age of pop idols. This is why I realized I can’t wait forever for someone to decide to make something that the mass market doesn’t really demand. By that I mean making great Grand Strategy games in an age where fantasy games and zombie thrillers dominate. I decided to make what I like, and I hope more people like me are out there who want to play good, simple strategy games not geared toward massive pop culture.

Q: What is it about The Cold War Era that made you decide this was the game you wanted to make?

A: I have ideas for dozens of different games. Cold War games, WWII games, the Napoleonic wars, the modern economical wars, and many more. I decided to start with The Cold War for one primary reason — there are only two or three Cold War games already on the market. If I wanted to create a WWII game everyone would say, “Oh, yet another attempt by a small-budget studio to create a WWII game.” I hope that the Cold War theme can attract attention from more people because it’s not the kind of game that gets made all the time. This is important for a small company like Alina Digital to get noticed from the start. I’m not sure Alina Digital would get noticed in the WWII strategy game market. There are just too many of them. That was a business-minded reason to go with the Cold War. Another reason is my own attitude toward the Cold War — it was truly a war of intelligent strategy and tactics. I play chess, and I love chess. The Cold War reminds me of a chess game. I also love history, it’s my favorite subject. I guess it’s obvious to see now why I chose the Cold War as the theme for my first strategy game.

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If you want to know more about The Cold War Era and Alina Digital, please Like TCWE’s Facebook page, follow Alina Digital on Twitter, or email Madeline Masters at mcmastersPR@alinadigital.com.
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