In Kingdom: New Lands, players are cast as a king or queen who must roam the vast lands surrounding their castle on horseback in order to expand their empire and maintain their rule. It’s a simple yet engrossing premise, one that’s married with addictive exploration and strategy gameplay and complimented by stunning pixel art style visuals.

The game has won a variety of design awards and now Kingdom: New Lands is available to download on Google Play for NVIDIA SHIELD. In the following exclusive interview, game designer Thomas van den Berg sheds light on the game’s widespread appeal and what it was like to bring it to a whole new audience of gamers on SHIELD.

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How did the development team originally approach the task of enhancing and expanding upon the already fan and critically acclaimed Kingdom—how did you know where exactly to start?

Thomas van den Berg: As with the development of the original Kingdom, ideas flowed quite organically from the existing gameplay, and this is something that is still happening as we continue to support and expand the game. However, Marco (licorice) and I started our brainstorming by asking ourselves what would make the online Flash game into a “full” game, feature-wise.

We figured that it was important to add more of an exploratory aspect—going into the forest—to balance the management activities inside the Kingdom. We took a hint from the fact that almost all players of the Flash game initially would go up to the edge of the forest to see if they could enter it.

What is it about the Kingdom series that has captured the attention and imagination of so many gamers?

TV: Kingdom is a game that does not tell you what to do or how to do it. This leads to a true feeling of discovery when a player figures out how to use a certain game mechanic. Curiosity is a strong drive for players, myself included. By combining that with the core loop of picking up and spending coins, Kingdom gets an addictive quality.

Additionally, by applying the ‘no explaining’ philosophy to the story of the game, we let the player fill in their own narrative, which has also helped fuel the imagination and create a personal connection to the protagonist. This is actually the same explanation used for why Gordon Freeman doesn’t talk.

How much did Kingdom’s community of fans play a role in shaping the content that has gone into New Lands? TV: New Lands’ design is mostly driven by players ‘complaints’ about aspects of the game that were hard to manage. Instead of straight up simplifying those elements, we created new gameplay mechanics that give you an advantage when used right. This is not to be obtuse, but we really believe that some of the joy of this game comes from the fact that it is not always easy to manage.

In addition to that, we directly picked up a few suggestions from players, like the dog and the boat.

In additional to the myriad new features and gameplay improvements, how much bigger is the world for players to explore in Kingdom: New Lands? TV: Well, to be honest, we’re constantly struggling to keep the world as compact as possible for many different reasons. So while the final land gets quite big especially after unlocking all the content, we need to take into account the travel time for both the player and the enemies. I would say the final land is about twice as big as the original game, but I’m currently looking into ways to keep it at that size even when we add more content to the forest.

One of the most alluring things about Kingdom is its gorgeous pixelated art direction. How are Kingdom’s designers able to achieve this vibrant balance between modern and retro influenced visuals when bringing its world to life?

TV: The style that emerged for Kingdom is a consequence of a few basic premises. Because my pixel art animation skills are limited, I adopted a crude but consistent style. A somewhat loose style was the only way to create assets fast enough for an entire game. An important choice in this process has been to use true low-res rendering (e.g. no rotated or scaled pixels) for even more consistency. Aside from that, we went all out, using real-time lighting and even shadows for the clouds. Using layers of fog, haze, and the water in the foreground helps bring the whole scene together. So yes, I think ‘consistency’ is the key word here

What was it like working with NVIDIA and developing Kingdom: New Lands for their NVIDIA SHIELD hardware? TV: NVIDIA gave us a bunch of support, and though it was hectic, compiling to Android was no problem, and the SHIELD hardware is definitely powerful enough to run a game like Kingdom. For other mobile platforms we are going to have to think about whether or not we can keep all the real-time lighting or if we somehow have to tune it down. The other great thing about the SHIELD tablet is its 16:9 form factor, which just makes the game look a lot better than a 4:3 screen.

With Kingdom: New Lands’ launch, what are you most excited about getting into the hands of both fans of the original and new players? TV: I think that New Lands provides a lot of new and unexpectedly fun situations that I hope the players will run into. I hope they experience a sense of wonder when they see all the new stuff and have no idea what’s going on.

Download Kingdom: New Lands
now on NVIDIA SHIELD via Google Play for $6.99.