Question Time: Morgan Lean

Question Time: Morgan Lean

Today’s Question Time is with Morgan Lean, co-founder of Sydney’s Epiphany Games. Epiphany is going through an exciting time at the moment – they’ve just released their first major PC game, a RTS titled Frozen Hearth, and are on a quest to get the game through on Greenlight, solidifying their plans of a trilogy in the Frozen Hearth universe.

We covered a little bit about Epiphany Games’ history earlier on. While Frozen Hearth is the first big game under their belt, they’ve indirectly been involved with over 100 games, getting their start by working on the Gamebryo engine.

By strategically picking which elements of Gamebryo to work on (with a future big release in mind), Epiphany found itself in a position with just the right technology for their desired RTS.

The result is Frozen Hearth, a RTS game bursting at the seams with new ideas. Featuring a human faction with Celtic inspiration, and an invading race of ice monsters, it couldn’t be more asymmetrical if it tried. But if one were to draw comparisons, there are some similarities with Dawn of War and Company of Heroes, especially when it comes to capturing resource points, and the inclusion of a powerful hero unit.

Frozen Hearth’s heroes are a little more powerful than usual though, and some might say it has one foot in the MOBA camp. I found it to be a very fun LAN game, with no lack of interesting new things to try out. It’s certainly one for the core gamers though, placing bold emphasis on micro-management.

Frozen Hearth boasts a coop-capable campaign, and several multiplayer modes. They since been supporting the game with updates, and special events like the Christmas content. You can check out the game’s Greenlight page here, and show the game some support.

I’m keen to find out how the launch has gone so far, what it’s like dealing with Valve, what’s needed in the Greenlight process, and what advice Lean has for an increasingly crowded, yet extremely talented, Australian indie scene. But I’ll leave all that to you guys — take it away!


  • Hey Morgan did you go to a game design university in Sydney? If so what one and do you recommend it. And good luck with trying to get the game greenlit

  • I’m just gunna ask as well since I’m desperate to know (I couldn’t resist mentioning it in the post, heheh), how has the launch of the game gone? What’s the feedback been like?

  • For some reason I’m reminded more of Spellforce than of Dawn of War / Company of Heroes. And the storehouse looks akin to that of Black and White. Looks interesting!

    What’s the campaign like? Build and rebuild on a mission-per-mission basis, or is it something of a grand campaign as in the Total War games? Or are we talking a hero-centric campaign as in Warhammer: Mark of Chaos / Dawn of War II?

    At any rate, all the best! Bring on the green light.

  • Hi swiftym8, no when I started there were no degrees in University for games. But I have had inturns from different places and degrees in game design offer some good skills that employers will need. Sydney has some good coarses as does AIE and Qantmn. Most offer good degrees now. One thing I would do is try to learn some art skills or programming on the side it helps with game industry in general.

  • junglist Feedback from players and form the press has been good and supportive. We knew from the outset that this was a devisive game and therefore would be drawing many opinons. When players tell me they love it I know we did our jobs.

  • Fruitlewp the campaign is design to show you how the play these games, learn how to build your armies and tell the story of a people deprived of their land and force to retreat. I enjoy the campaign Co-Op with friends and I think thats where it is best. Also our AI doesn’t cheat and its still very brutal. The campaign is about the hero but in our game a hero is nothing without his army, he is a badass but he needs a force to really use all his skills.

    Greenlight is important to us, as we feel this game brings somthing to Steam, the comparisons to CoH and DoW are acurate those are games we loved. But what we did here was turn the game around and make it melee focused with a bad ass ice creep mechanic.

  • Hi there Morgan.
    I know how much work goes into producing a game and how much time it takes. If you were to offer your advice for other indie developers, what would you say helped the most in keeping your studio monetarily sustained during the whole development process?

  • jamescanvas good question James, well we sustained our studio through a few avenues investment (this was the hardest avenue), work for hire on other peoples projects (not that hard to aquire but eats into time), middleware development which we successfully built up our engine and capabilities. So I would say think about how much time you need and work out how much time you can lose on other projects.

    We were extreamly lucky in that we partnered with Emergent games that really kick started our company. From that point we did work for hire but we were picky with what we did, we tried to do projects that were strategically aligned and we still do. Right now we are pushing out some games for other people and these games we are building stuff that we will use in our next game.

  • Hi Morgan! Thanks for taking time out for these questions.
    I guess I’m curious about your perspective as an employer.
    As an aspiring 3D artist and animator I guess I’d most like to know what most impresses when it comes to first impressions with an online portfolio.
    Should I balance high poly detailed sculpts with the low poly and practical work I’ve done, or keep it fancy? How can I really show I’m not a one trick pony?

  • Hi revolverace,

    This is a really cool question. So for starters yes you want a mix of high and low poly work. You want the high poly work to show that you know the pipeline for the different programs like Zbrush and Mudbox. You also don’t want to waste those extra polygons so you want that asset to be able to be rigged and animated even if you don’t do it. This will know that you know how topology works on both high and low poly models. Secondly try to show texturing and try to play to your best skills. If hard surface is what you are good at show that and the versitlity of your work. Chances are you will do 70% more hard surface and prop based stuff than characters. Practial work in a game engine is always good. This shows that you know that you don’t just make a model and forget it as an artist in smaller teams your reponsible for getting your art into the game itself. Try to show some in game, some textures. You will want to have your work organised well to because developers like me ask to see it and will pick apart the work as much as we can. We know its all time dependant but if you can make it organised and easy for us it goes a long way to show that you know more than just art and you are ready to start working in a team.

    The balance over all should be 50/50 if you have 4 characters 2 high, 2 low.

  • Thanks for you previous reply Morgan.
    It seems your studio has quite a stronghold on things at the moment, so I was wondering what your biggest goal for Epiphany is for the coming year? I love seeing companies flourish in Sydney and would love to hear of your plans to cement Epiphany’s role in the industry!

  • what other future games style are you guys planning as your future projects? And are they going to be related to FH?

  • Thanks jamescanvas. We have several goals to achieve this year, one support Frozen Hearth, two pre-production on the next game in the trilliogy Aki and Plizkin. And three support our local industry as best we can by making great games and tools. We have a really nice product we are working on that will help Indi developers make their games better and create communities around their games that we built for ourself. This is still in development but we are using it for our own games. Secondly we want to be generating the revenues to do bigger and bigger games until we reach our ideal size. We did a lot last year, total of around 9 games worked on or released and we have alot to do this year.

  • Andrei,

    Thanks for the question Andrei, we are supporting Frozen Hearth. Working on the design of a Console Co-Op RPG Aki and Plizkin. Working on a few mobile games. And we are working on an unannounced title. All these titles help us with the technology which we need for our large MMOrpg which is in pre-production early stages. The games do all tie into Frozen Hearth in some way some more the others, Aki and Plizkin basically tells the story of two fugatives running from the executioners in the world of Ammora. In this game there is every chance that the Danaan could make an appearance to help cement the game. We also want to do sequals to Frozen Hearth eventually but thats a while down the track.

  • Hi Morgan,

    I’ve been a part of the Australian industry myself for close to 10 years, and in that time I’ve seen it change rather dramatically from quite a few largish studios to now being dotted with lots of smaller ones. Where do you see the Australian scene heading over the next 10 years? Do you think we’ll see an eventual return to where we were with larger studios, or do you think it’s changed permanently?

  • Hi Morgan, The game looks amazing and seems like a good mix of familiar and innovative new mechanics. What’s the best way you’ve found so far to build an audience?

  • WhitePointer

    I see that it will be a mix of small studios from 1 or 2 man medium studios will be around 5-12 and large will probably be around 50 now. I think that the pace of tech is different now, and the games are different and this has different needs for staffing. I do think there will be on aggregate more games released out of the country and this will keep expanding. The difficult part is dealing with getting some investment happening in the industry Govenment has done some but private investors are doing very little. We don’t have a publisher for example in Australia that would spend money here. I do think its changed permanently but Australia is no the only place this has happened, massive 500 staff studios are becoming a rare beast now.

    The other thing is the spiraling cost of AAA titles, this will crash at some point why 2012 saw a large number of 200m games not do expectations even though the industry was ok. The emergance of new platforms is also an unknown, who knows where the VR stuff will take us and maybe we could see a few large studios emerge. Its a complex question and the factors are multitude and varied. 2010 was a brutal year to get funding for any large projects let alone games.

    We need to see corrections in markets across the globe the China currency valued correctly too all these things will happen over the next 10 years. What I can say is that the games industry in Australia with a little luck and support from Govenment can make an international contribution to the market.

  • Sebastian Gray,

    Hi, I would say being responsive to support and help, getting on Greenlight and talking about the game and some of the features we are adding like internet play (its quite hard to do this well, and we are trying to build somthing nice thats why its taking a while). Secondly its telling people what we want to do, we got lots of interest in the fact that we have multiple games. We want to work with the community to make the best games we can its hard and brutal and I sleep very little because I’m across 4 time zones but answering someones support question goes along way to good will. Players like you can help us too, if you like what we are doing share it around. I think that is how we got futhur up the Greenlight ladder purly form social networking.

  • Hey Morgan,

    What’s with that slow elevator in our building. Has it always been like that?


    One of the guys on Level 2

  • Its been really slow ever since I moved in. I remember back in 1874 in the summer of brutal hail of nails. The elevator got damaged when a rogue programmer attempted to fuse his mind with that of a demented sheep. After repeated head butting the elevator broke but was fixed later by man named duck pants.

  • I’ve heard varying opinions on this one. If I’m applying for a job in 3D or animation for games, which is generally more important to the employer: experience and proof of competence in the field, or a university degree? I’ve heard from some people that if you have an impressive portfolio, that’s all employers will generally base you on. I’d like some confirmation of this or of the opposite.

  • Hi Toasty Fresh,

    Proof of competence with a show reel and actual assets or game trumps everything. However, its good to see a degree because it means you have some extra knowledge about other stuff like game design or programming. Most employers only look at portfolios but its important to have source files because decerning employers will look at the work itself in Max or Maya. So the answer is D all of the above, and keep working on that portfolio through out your career.

  • You’re awesome answering all these questions Morgan!

    I was just wondering though, what advice you have for someone aspiring to make it into the industry that isn’t an animator like all these other guys here. I’ve just been accepted into this degree and I’m probably more interested in the technical, programming and well anything but visual arts, but given the scarcity of jobs in the industry I’m really trying to look into what will maximise my appeal. I have plans to expend on my programming skills in my gap year before uni, but should I be working on creating a portfolio?

    Also what does it take to become a director or make it into a managing position in the industry?

  • Hi Mr Unicorn,

    Ok, cool well I would program as much as you can in C++, C#, shaders whatever learn as many languages as you can. Go work with teams intern do what ever you can. Games is incredibly competitive but if your good and can learn, get fast at what you do you can make games in Australia and can find the work you need to do.

    To get into management its tricky be a lead for a while and show that you understand all the other side of the business.

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