Senior Writer with the 148Apps Network since June 5, 2010
I'm Carter Dotson, freelance writer based out of Chicago. I've been a fan of portable gaming since the days of the black-and-white Game Boy, but now mobile gaming consumes my life. Along with writing about mobile gaming. Which is why you see all these posts below. Also, check out The Portable Podcast, every Tuesday here on 148Apps.
Join 148Apps’ Carter Dotson and Glu Games on our Twitch channel to see gameplay footage and chat with the developers of Frontline Commando 2, which is now available worldwide on the App Store. We’ll be discussing the game, perhaps getting some tips for PvP, and more! Join us at 5:15 PM EST (4:15 PM CST, 2:15 PM PST, 10:15 PM GMT) on our Twitch page to watch and chat, or watch below. Miss the stream? We’ll have an archive with highlights after the show right here.
Watch the archive here:
Watch the first chapter and get the rundown on weapon upgrades and squadmates:
Find out how PVP works:
See the second chapter of the game and the impressive Human Armor boss:
Tonight, Crescent Moon Games releases their Metroidvania-meets-Minecraft adventure game, Mines of Mars. Featuring procedurally-generated 2D worlds, players must dig through Mars to try and discover the secrets beneath it. Josh Presseisen, founder of Crescent Moon Games, joined me on 148Apps Live on Twitch to discuss the game’s origins, how Crescent Moon’s publishing helped shape the title into something radically different from a year ago, and how PC gamers approach titles in totally different ways from mobile gamers.
Catch the recorded broadcast below. (Pardon our dust -footage may be choppy due to technical issues)
We’re getting the 148Apps Live train started back up in a big way this week! At 4:00pm EST (3:00pm CST, 1:00pm CST, 9:00pm GMT), Kepa Auwae of Rocketcat Games will join 148Apps on Twitch to chat up Wayward Souls – formerly known as Wayward Saga, and as the spiritual successor to Mage Gauntlet. We’ll run through a fresh build of the upcoming game, and chat about what’s gone into the development of the game. And of course, you can ask your questions as well in the Twitch chat.
Galaxy on Fire – Alliances and its developer, Fishlabs, have been through quite the tumult over the past few months. Fishlabs went through financial trouble and was eventually acquired by publisher Deep Silver, a rising force in the gaming industry known for publishing Saints Row IV and the Dead Island series. Throughout it all, Galaxy on Fire- Alliances has been chugging along: beta tested and released among these turbulent times, the game is now available worldwide and just received a big content update. Kai Hitzer, Marketing Director at Deep Silver Fishlabs took the time to answer some questions about the game’s unique approach and development.
148Apps: Alliances seems to start up a lot slower than what many free-to-play games do: it has a very lengthy and involved tutorial, and doesn’t get into the bulk of the game for some time. Was this a purposeful design decision?
Kai Hitzer, Marketing Director at Deep Silver Fishlabs
Kai Hitzer (KH): Yes, that decision has been made on purpose. If you want it to be, Galaxy on Fire – Alliances can be a very complex game that really sucks you in and offers you a multitude of differing options and possibilities. But at the same time it also allows for a less challenging gaming experience for players who don’t want to get into the matter too deeply, but prefer to focus on the core features and basic actions only. No matter which way of playing you prefer, you always have to know your stuff and that’s why we settled for a rather lengthy and extensive tutorial. Once you’ve performed all the tasks asked for by your Personal Assistant, you will not only be familiar with the most basic gameplay mechanisms, but you will also have earned enough credits and experience points to be well prepared for the transition from your save home instance to the PVP space.
The save home system, which can neither be seen nor attacked by other players, constitutes another important element of the starting phase of Galaxy on Fire – Alliances. To make sure that all players have enough time to become acquainted with the game, we’ve made sure that everyone’s got a secure resort from where they can plan and execute their operations at whatever pace they prefer. Once you’ve mastered the first couple of steps successfully and feel well-prepared for the next round, all you need to do is open up your jump gate and start your endeavors in the “real” galaxy. But even then you will not abandon your home system, but you will still keep it so that you can continue to build it up and use it as the centre of your dealings and ventures.
148Apps: Alliances, with its complexity, feels very targeted to a core gamer audience. Did you feel like this segment was being underserved on iOS? KH: As a company that’s always been eager to bring truly immersive gaming experiences to mobile – in terms of graphics as well as in regard to the depth of gameplay – we have been catering to a rather hardcore-oriented user base for years. And Galaxy on Fire – Alliances makes no exception here. We’ve always said that we wanted to show with GOFA that it is indeed possible to bring free-to-play and hardcore gameplay in accordance with one another. And we still stand by this claim as much as we did when we first proclaimed it.
With mobile devices becoming more and more powerful and capable month after month, we believe that the number of people who want to play demanding core games on their smartphones or tablets will continue to grow constantly. When you’ve got a device with you 24/7 that’s capable of running apps in current-gen console quality, why would you want to use it only to play titles that look and feel like browser or flash games from 10 years ago? Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everyone here at Fishlabs is totally enjoying their occasional dose of casual games as well, but we still believe that there’s more to the mobile platform than just endless runners, match-3s, and physics games.
148Apps: How casual-friendly do you consider this game to be, if at all? KH: As said earlier, one of the beauties of Galaxy on Fire – Alliances lies in the fact that the players can decide for themselves how they want to play it. If they’re looking for a challenging, deeply engrossing hardcore gaming experience, they can join an ambitious alliance (or even form their own alliance) and closely interact with others to constantly widen their reach and fortify their dominion. When you choose to play the game like this, you will be able to coordinate large-scale attacks with dozens of fellow players, command backup troops to secure strategically important positions, carry out feint assaults to throw your enemies’ defense line off balance and actively participate in a vivid community of aspiring star base commanders.
But if you want play a bit more light-hearted and easy-going, you can also stay in your private instance a little longer and then, when you leave it, colonize a couple of planets outside of the areas of war and conflict. There you should be able to progress in a relaxed but steady manner and build up your empire without much interference from pushy players or hostile alliances. So at the end of the day, it’ll be entirely up to you – you can spend 10 hours a day, 10 minutes a day, or anything in between playing Galaxy on Fire – Alliances and you’ll always experience meaningful gaming sessions and make reasonable progress.
148Apps: By making a game that’s complex – at least compared to many of the successful free-to-play games out there – were there any changes to the free-to-play and monetization structure that you felt had to be made because many core gamers are so vocal against free-to-play games, especially on mobile? KH: Personally, I don’t think that F2P mechanics themselves bug the core players, but rather the bad implementation of said mechanics. A lot of games still focus on monetization first and gameplay second. For us, those two aspects have always been on par and we’ve tried our best to bring them in accordance with one another. There’s no denying that we have to sell in-app purchases at one point or another in order for GOFA to become a success. But at the same time, we also want the game to be fully accessible and fun to play regardless of the amount of money you invest.
The formula’s simple: on the one hand, players should be able to undergo a challenging, engrossing, and exciting gaming experience even if they never buy a single in-app purchase in Alliances. But on the other hand, they should also not become invincible overnight just because they spent a hundred or even a thousand dollars on credit packs and limit extenders. Therefore, we’ve set various rules and regulations that make sure that paying customers can indeed proceed faster than non-paying customers, but only to certain a extent. The general rule of thumb is that two non-paying players, who team up and support each in their attacks and defenses, will always be able to stand up to one heavy spender.
148Apps: What did the beta test help you change about the game to make it better? Were there any significant changes that you saw? KH: Listening to our fans has always been at the heart of our efforts, and the closed beta has been of tremendous help for us, providing tons of useful and insightful user feedback over the months. From update to update, Galaxy on Fire – Alliances has gone through dozens of severe changes in all crucial areas, such as game design, balancing, usability, and performance. By evaluating data from the closed beta, we’ve not only been able to fine-tune important aspects such as structure building times, commander level-ups, and mission rewards, but we’ve also been inspired to add all-new features such as carrier names, leaderboards, and structure take-overs. And, of course, the closed beta has also helped us to locate and fix quite a lot of bugs and other issues as well.
After Flappy Bird’s surprise success and stunning departure, it seems like a million developers want to make the next Flappy Bird; that next smash viral hit. But too many have taken it literally by making their own Flappy-style games. To make a fun viral hit, it requires many factors to come together perfectly – and not necessarily flapping. Threes is that next Flappy Bird because it nails many of those same factors that make it an effective and successful game.
While Threes comes from Asher Vollmer and Greg Wohlwend, developers far more established than Flappy Bird’s Dong Nguyen was, their game still succeeded in large part in spite of traditional ways of being successful. Threes didn’t have a big marketing campaign, and had a non-prominent feature by Apple. Despite this, the game has peaked in the paid games list at number one on iPhone and number two on iPad, having been sticky in the top five for the past two and a half weeks since its launch. It lost its top rank temporarily on iPhone with the release of Card Wars – Adventure Time, but regained it a few days later. Point is, it’s done enormously well despite it not having much in its favor marketing-wise.
Now, whether or not one considers Flappy Bird to be a ‘good’ game, it was a major hit because it was effective at what it did, and Threes is effective in much the same ways.
Both games are very hard to do exceptionally well at. Flappy Bird has punishing physics and little margin for error. Threes is a much more strategic game: there are a lot of systems in place with the cards all moving simultaneously that require a lot of practice – and a lot of patience – in order to master how they work, just like Flappy Bird’s physics.
Yet, despite the challenge these games present, they’re still exceptionally easy to play. Flappy Bird just requires one tap, and makes it easy to restart. Threes just requires swipes, and its addition-based rules are simple enough to glean once learned.
It’s that classic combination of “easy to learn, difficult to master” that makes them tick. As well, there’s just enough chaos involved in the design to make players feel like they have a shot. All it takes is a good card draw in Threes, or a set of pipes that’s manageable in Flappy Bird, and it’s one step closer to a high score. It’s that mix of “out of control” plus “I know I should be doing better” that makes both games so addictively fun.
But plenty of games can get that mix right. What makes them popular? Part of it is the personality: Flappy Bird‘s used a charming semi-flightless bird protagonist and art styles like the obstacle pipes that resembled retro gaming that were endearing in a specific way. Threes’ characters with their voices forge an emotional connection to the player, and it makes them more than just score objects. As well, it’s an accomplishment to unlock higher card values and new characters.
Also, scoring highly in each game feels like a milestone. Flappy Bird‘s scores are a rather literal representation of progress. Threes’ scores are effectively a bit fudged due to their four-or-five-digit nature, but they still represent a clear indicator of progress. Someone gets a higher score because they created more valuable cards. They did better, there was no fudging why they did better. All it takes is to look at the final board of a player to see how well they did and why they did better. This makes it so that players know just what they need to do in general to get better scores. This makes them very shareable.
And the ease of sharing in each game was a key factor in its virality too. Flappy Bird had a tweet button that was frequently used to share scores before it was removed. Still, it offers easy access to Game Center leaderboards, where friends’ scores can be seen. Threes not only tweets out scores, but it also tweets out the image that sums up the score, what the maximum card was, and the final board. It succinctly shows just what happened. And each high score and each tweet is a call to arms – it temps those with the game to try to beat it. And then they share their successes. And all this talk inevitably snags in more people to play, and it just takes off from there because the games are so effective at getting their hooks into the players.
It’s that mix of effectiveness and emotional connection that has made each game become so popular on their own scales. So while Threes might not involve flapping, it is inextricably linked to Flappy Bird regardless.
A spiritual successor to Pangea Software’s Enigmo series, some of the members of Pangea have teamed up with Team Chaos to bring back the puzzler, and they’ll be chatting with me, Carter Dotson, live on our Twitch channel at 2:00pm Eastern, 1:00pm Central, 11:00am Pacific, 8:00pm GMT. Watch the stream once it goes live below:
If you miss the show, be sure to catch the recap embedded here afterward to catch all the fun. Follow us on Twitch to be notified when we go live next!
Continuing our quest to bring you the most interesting new and upcoming releases on our Twitch channel, the developers of Toast Time, the Android-to-iOS action game with lots of bread, will be joining to provide commentary and perhaps some helpful tips on how to be lord of the bread. Catch the broadcast at 2:00pm Eastern, 11:00am Pacific, 7:00pm GMT on our Twitch channel, or watch below when the feed goes live. If you miss the broadcast, don’t fret: we’ll post video of the whole thing with highlights after the show.
If you missed the broadcast, watch the whole archived one below:
Or if you want just a smaller taste, watch me play the survival mode and learn how to use the powerful quasi-hidden technique, the belly flop:
Galcon Legends: Phil Hassey chats about why he decided to resurrect this little-known entry in the Galcon series.
Eliss Infinity: Continuing the theme of App Store hits being resurrected, Carter goes through this resurrection of Eliss, with discussion of other topics like premium games and the fallout of controversial free-to-play games.
Platforms Unlimited: XperimentalZ Games’ new ultra-challenging, procedurally-generated platformer works out a bit better with some tips and tricks from the developer who joined in the chat while Carter played.
The story of Lumo Developments begins with an ending; specifically the demise of longtime UK-based game developer Blitz Games. Steve Stopps, who used to work at Blitz and now works with publisher Kumotion, got a text that the laid-off workers now found themselves at a pub across the street from Blitz and were enjoying one last hurrah together. Steve found himself talking to Nic Williams and Jonathan Evans, nicknamed Jogo. And in the drunken haze of Blitz’s last hurrah, Stopps threw out a suggestion: why not come together to form their own studio? Williams had worked on Paper Titans, one of Blitz’s mobile titles that won an Apple Editor’s Choice award. Jogo worked on Kumo Lumo, a Chillingo-published title that picked up similar accolades.
It would have been easy for that idea to just fall by the wayside, but they kept talking. In the weeks that followed, that idea slowly became reality, and now the three of them along with Chris Allen have formed Lumo Developments.
The studio has quietly been working on a new game, Lumo Deliveries. They’re not quite ready to reveal too much about it, but they’re ready to reveal their team to the world and to put their mission statement out there: they want to succeed on mobile with their original vision.
Now, many who follow the mobile scene know that many independent developers are moving away from mobile to go to PC and even consoles. PC might be a ‘dying’ platform in some eyes, but the gaming market is still growing. But Lumo Developments isn’t afraid of mobile and it will be a target for the studio.
Steve Stopps says, “Mobile is our future. I don’t think we’ve even scratched the surface of touch screens and how tactile that makes gameplay.” Jogo adds, “I think that’s pretty much where my head is as a designer. It’s been waiting for mobile for about 12 years and now it’s happened. I just really like games that come with you and are with you in your life, rather than games that sit in the corner of your room and demand all your attention.”
“I love making games that are sort of with you, and where you are and interrupting you. I enjoy designing games that you actually move stuff around with a directness, you poke at little characters, and other very direct interaction with it rather than clicking on buttons and being abstracted from game experience. Definitely mobile is sort of a big part of what we’re about as creative people and what our next game is going to be.”
And they’re not necessarily scared of free-to-play either. Stopps says, “It’d be foolish to make a game for mobile at the moment without being respectful of what that audience wants. That audience clearly is saying they want them to be free at the point they download them…[developers] aren’t understanding how the majority of people play mobile games. They’re a secondary game, not your primary experience.”
“So the challenge for us is to give something to people they can download as a snack…and then make an experience they can really bite into so they then can choose to spend money in the universe we create for them. Make a game that’s good enough to make them choose to spend money. I think that’s where a lot of developers go wrong. They make games that they wnat to make or they make it purely for a commercial aspect. I don’t think it can be either of those things. You have to make something you believe in as a developer but something for your audience and for your players.”
But of course, even this somewhat pragmatic approach to business doesn’t mean that Lumo Developmentss will try to just copy what everyone else is doing. Stopps says, “I always thought if you got a game universe that looks like nothing else that’s ever been created, and someone who thinks about someone’s experience playing that game, then we’d get that piece of magic. It’s about being respectful to that time playing the game and how they’d play it.”
“From the second players start playing our game, we want to draw them into our world, and get them to understand more about Nic and Jogo’s crazy minds.”
Threes is kind of a hard game to explain in words, and it’s even harder to explain why it’s a game worth playing in words. However, with its pedigree – from creators Asher Vollmer (Puzzlejuice) and Greg Wohlwend (Solipskier, Hundreds, Ridiculous Fishing) – and some pre-release hype thanks to an a mention as IGF honorable mention, and just general ‘buzz’ around the game from those in the indie community and in the know, it looks promising. But for those who aren’t in the know, just why Threes is so anticipated is still a mystery.
Greg and Asher got on the 148Apps Twitch channel to discuss the game, how the idea and design evolved over time, and just where the game’s great voices (unfortunately not heard on the video due to a bug) came from. Plus, they give plenty of great tips and help on the way to setting a new high score.
Watch the entire archived broadcast:
As well, watch the highlight of the high score run from the video:
This week Rob Rich and myself, Carter Dotson, decided to play and discuss three games that released this week: Bloodstroke, Rocket ROBO, and Trambo. Watch the recorded version of the whole show below:
As well, watch the footage of individual games below:
Bloodstroke: Chillingo published this stylish action game with involvement from John Woo. We discuss just where the Woo influences come in to this game, along with why the protected characters could be doing more work:
Rocket ROBO: This game was an Editor’s Choice winner, and it looks mighty polished, but what helps make it worthy of high praise?
Trambo: This platformer looked intriguing, and its unique quirks, along with some help from a member in the chat helped convince of us of one thing: don’t mess with the Finnish people, because they have giant deathrays and space bootcamps.
The Super Bowl is this Sunday, and as always, there are plenty of apps that can help you watch the game or enrich the gameday experience. Appropriately enough, here are six apps; with an extra app that’s not necessarily football-related but could make a Super Bowl party more fun.
Fox Sports Go: If, for whatever reason, you can’t get to a TV but have an iPad with you, Fox Sports’ official app will be streaming the Super Bowl on iPads. iPhone and iPod users are out of luck, and the app requires login with one of six supported TV providers, so not everyone can take advantage of it. But for those in the Venn diagram of “able to watch Super Bowl on iPad” and “need to watch Super Bowl on iPad,” Fox has got you covered.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2013-10-01 :: Category: Sports
SportsCenter: Maybe you just want to follow the score of the game while it’s happening, checking stats and whatnot. ESPN’s app is one of the best for that, and its push notifications ensure that no important sports news goes missed. So if, say, you get stuck working on Super Sunday but want to know when a team scores, this app will keep you in the know.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2009-06-02 :: Category: Sports
NFL Mobile: Another way to get scores is with the league’s official app. This boasts the advantage of also having game highlights, streaming video, Super Bowl commercials, and even support for those actually at the game or in New York with iBeacon support. [Editor's Disclaimer: If in New York, please don't use the app while on the "toboggan run."]
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2010-09-09 :: Category: Sports
NFL Connect: The one thing the NFL playoffs are missing is the “game-within-a-game” of fantasy football. This app might fill some of that void during the Super Bowl: compete with friends by guessing which events will happen first to get points and filling out your 4×4 bingo card. Look, it’s either this or fantasy Puppy Bowl.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2011-11-11 :: Category: Sports
Foodie Recipes: Look, you could order pizza and wings for Sunday, or you could cook some frozen appetizers. Boring. Why not do something a bit more creative, like make the food yourself. This app provides some fancy recipes for gameday like beer cheddar waffles. I’ve never had one, but as a Chicagoan I love decadent food, and I want one.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2012-11-10 :: Category:
Seamless: So let’s say you try to make a beer cheddar waffle and you fail miserably and now the kitchen’s messed up as though Octodad rolled on through – like what would happen if I tried to make one. You’ll need a backup plan. Don’t just call a pizza chain: use this app to find plenty of nearby places that deliver, including perhaps off-the-beaten-path ones that might be able to bring food before the game ends! Huzzah!
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2010-07-17 :: Category:
Spaceteam: Look, do you really want to watch a freezing Bruno Mars perform at the halftime show? Or watch eons of pregame coverage? You’ll have far more fun if you gather together some iOS and Android devices for this fun party game, which now has an experimental 8-player mode available from the upgrades menu. There’ll be more yelling and screaming than when a big play happens in the 4th quarter.
Arash Keshmirian of Limbic Software joined me, Carter Dotson, to chat about TowerMadness 2 while I played. He discussed the surprise release, how the rise of free-to-play monetization has affected the way that players see challenges in games now, and he gives plenty of helpful tips to beat the game’s harder levels.
Watch the recap of the entire show here:
As well, you can watch highlights from the show below:
The first level that proved to be a real hindrance was 1-7, Double Cross. After a few attempts, I got some helpful attempts from Arash to try and topple the alien menace:
After beating a few challenging levels in a row, I was feeling confident, so Arash challenged me to tackle Invasion mode on level 1-9, Serpentine:
For the first episode, which we worked hard to get off the ground and figure out the various technical problems, I, Carter Dotson, interview Trent Polack of Team Chaos, who just released the online multiplayer dragon battler Dragon Trials. Trent and I discuss the genesis of the game, including the connection with long-time iOS developer Pangea Software, and chat about what went into Dragon Trials‘ various elements to try and make it special.
Watch the recap of the Twitch stream on YouTube below, and please subscribe to our Twitch channel to be notified of when we go live! The show will be evolving over the coming days, weeks, and months, and your feedback will be vital to make the show be perfect.