Marvel and Kabam have joined forces to create Contest of Champions: a fighting game based on the Marvel Universe that sets players against the Collector, who has trapped heroes in crystals. And so, players must beat the Collector’s team to gather crystals and unlock heroes to form their own super-powered team.
During New York Comic-Con I had the pleasure of sitting down with Cuz Parry (the game’s Creative Director) and Writer Sam Humphries to discuss their new creation.
148Apps: Contest of Champions looks like a fantastic fighting game. Could you give us an overview of the story?
Sam Humphries (SH): The comics and the cartoon are very good angles on the Collector. He’s a little badass, very mighty, and inscrutable. His motivations are not always understandable. That’s been a lot of fun to play with because since day one Kabam has been very adamant in keeping the priority on the story and not just make a game to button mash and curse. They wanted to entice players with a really strong story with escalating stakes, reveals, mysteries, twists and turns, cliff hangers, and all that kinda stuff. So having someone like the Collector, we asked “What are his motivations?” “Why is he doing this?” That’s an important mystery that we build over time, and as we pull all the layers back what we’ve come up with is something that, story-wise, stands up against a Marvel Comic, Marvel Movie, and Marvel TV show.
Cuz Parry (CP): In the Marvel Gaming universe there’s this substance called Iso-8. That’s the resource that basically everybody uses in all the marvel games, such as in Ultimate Spiderman you use it to level-up your characters. We’re telling the story where there is this big, powerful weapon: the Iso-Sphere. We go to the source of the Iso-8 and the mystery behind it.
Angry Birds Transformers recently transformed and rolled out worldwide. This run-and-gun title is a hit with young Transformers fans, but the ample references to classic Transformers fandom has also earned it a place in the hearts of long-time admirers of Optimus Prime. Nick Harper (Game Director for Exient Entertainment) and Mika Rahko (Executive Producer for Rovio) kindly took a few minutes to talk to 148Apps about the problems and inspirations that came to them while cross-breeding birds and robots.
SimCity BuildIt has been teased here and there, but specific details have been a bit sparse. That is, until now.
We recently had the chance to ask EA Mobile’s Vice President and General Manager, Jason Willig, some questions about the series’ new mobile outing. I was also able to get a live demo at EA’s recent Naughty & Nice event in New York, so I’ve got some serious impressions to share. After the questions, of course.
Monsu looks to be a cute and cuddly little runner/platformer from Angry Birds alum Boomlagoon. I was able to get my hands on it for a bit and I can confirm that it is, in fact, cute and cuddly. It’s also got a lot of cards to collect and equip, which is a bit different for the genre. Good different, form what I’ve seen.
In between choosing a card to bring into battle, smashing houses while collecting coins, and generally laying waste to those who would oppose me, I had the chance to speak to Boomlagoon’s CEO, Antti Sten, about the interesting hybrid.
148Apps: Would you say Monsu is a runner/platformer with card collecting elements, or a card collector with platformer/runner elements? Antti Sten (AS): It’s like a platformer, endless runner, with this card-collecting aspect. Basically you get to collect 40 different cards, and you can equip three of them at a time. All of them bring this really cool visual and helping aspect to the game, so you can run with these companions and buddies that make it like a whole different experience depending on what cards you choose.
The core game is the runner, of course. You can play the game without the cards but you can’t play it without the running.
148Apps: What was it like to hybridize two very different genres? Were there any particular challenges? Anything easier than you’d expected? AS: We thought we’d have trouble figuring out what the cards would be, because we wanted each of them to be richer than some power-up. There are some like that but most of them are really game-changing. It went pretty smoothly, really. We had a few challenges with other mechanics, like for example the social mechanics. We currently have leaderboards and you can share with other players, but we’ve been trying to figure out what would be the most convenient features to include.
148Apps: Where did the idea for a runner/card hybrid come from? AS: It’s always hard to say specifically when the game idea was born. At one point we were trying to figure out how to make a different kind of endless runner – we had all kinds of ideas, like what kind of controls could you have, should there be attacking – and at one point we started to wonder “What if it was more like a platformer?”
Of course with platformers you’re thinking about Super Mario Brothers, and one of the key aspects of that game is that you can get these power-ups that really change the way that you play the game; for example, when you get the fire flower you play totally differently than when you get the star. We wanted to create something like that with Monsu‘s cards. And of course we went overboard and now we have around 40 of them.
148Apps: Did you learn anything from the development of Angry Birds or Noble Nutlings that helped with the development of Monsu? AS: Simplistic UI is always something that we want to have – let users get straight to the game, and not have too many screens to handle. And of course there’s the graphical style, which we’ve carried over from previous games.
148Apps: I imagine the climate of the App Store has changed a bit since releasing Angry Birds and even Noble Nutlings. Do you think that may have changed the way you approached Monsu? AS: Yeah, I guess that one of the things that really has changed for us is that now we require much more depth. We wouldn’t want to publish a game with just like one mechanic and X amount of challenges or levels, so there has to be some kind of progression – something to fiddle with. That’s one of the things that’s going to be very different from Noble Nutlings.
148Apps: Have there been any trends or reactions you’ve seen in the App Store lately that have you concerned about how Monsu will be received? AS: The genre itself – really casual, easy to play games – there aren’t many that have been all that successful. If you look in the App Store, the Top Grossing games based on revenue are usually like casino, resource management, and licensed games, which Monsu is not. But Monsu is a fun game, and there’s always been room for these types of games!
Thanks to Antti Sten for his time. Monsu is available to download on the App Store now, for free.
iBooks and the Kindle app do a great job of ensuring that there’s always something new to read while you’re on the move. They work well in complementing the traditional physical book. There’s still room for more interactive and animated fare though, such as in the case of Black Jack – an app that declares itself the “World’s First Moving Novel.” Released in episodic chunks of new chapters every Monday and Friday, it’s an interesting new direction to take for the medium. We took the time to chat to its Emmy-winning author, A.R. Witham, to learn more.
148Apps: Why not release the book at once rather than chapter by chapter? A.R. Witham (ARW): It’s an old-school method of building suspense; Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in installments, and I thought that was an interesting way to tell a story that isn’t done much in the 21st century. Black Jack has a very vintage feel to the texture of the pages and animations… a vintage release schedule felt perfect for the story.
148Apps: What’s the reaction to the episodic content been like? Has it been as warmly received as hoped? ARW: The response has been amazing. People love Jack, but for me, their enthusiastic reaction to the side-characters has been the most unexpected surprise. People love Django and Fuji and Valerian and the villains far more than I expected. I’ve gotten drawings of characters from fans, and that kind of reaction is something I really never anticipated.
148Apps: What challenges have there been in converting the novel to a more interactive format? Has it affected how the novel has been written at all? ARW: There were 3 Big Rules to building the Black Jack app: 1) The story had to be good enough to pack a whollop without the animations and effects. 2) None of the animations could interfere with the text; if they didn’t help the readers immerse themselves in the storytelling, they were cut. 3) The book had to feel completely unlike any reading experience anyone has ever had. Once I established those guidelines, it became a great puzzle to solve.
148Apps: Do you think this is the future for novels? Or is there still a place for the traditional format? ARW: I pray traditional novels never die. We all have loved them too much to let them go away. If paper-and-binding is on the decline in favor of screen-reading, I’m okay with that, but a pure tale constructed only with words is the foundation of storytelling; it will always exist, even if it’s just an old man sitting at a campfire telling ghost stories. Digital formats such as the iPad offer a playground for artists to explore the edges of the map and that’s what we are doing with Black Jack. Once you read the first two chapters, you begin to realize there are incredible moments waiting for you. Nobody’s done a book like this before – that’s the fun part.
148Apps: Do you think it’s a method that would work for all genres or does it particularly lend itself to fantasy/sci-fi? ARW: Oh, I could see Divergent, Hunger Games, Neil Gaiman, or Harry Potter working very well with the Moving Novel format, but I think also think Raymond Chandler’s detective thrillers, Cormac McCarthy’s Southern Gothic style or Stephen King’s horror stories could all be a fun ride with a little emotional push at the right moments.
148apps: What’s next after Black Jack?
ARW: By day, I’m a Creative Director, and currently working on launching the brand-new CBS affiliate in Indianapolis in 2015, so that may take a bit of time. For Black Jack, I’m working with the next story in the series, tentatively titled “Red Rover.” And at night, I’m just reading new stories. It’s always fun to find something new.
Thanks to A.R. Witham for taking the time to answer our questions.
Black Jack: A Moving Novel is available now on the App Store for the iPad. It’s currently priced at $5.99 for the full novel, with the first two chapters available for free.
With the release of iOS 8 (finally), Apple has made some noticeable changes on the App Store – bundles, videos, and Testflight integration, to name a few. Many of these additions will make things friendlier for App Store shoppers, but how has it been affecting developers? I asked George Ko (Quantum Sheep), Brandon Pollet (F5 Games), and Nadav B (NAFNA) what they thought of Apple’s changes to the developer submission process, and their answers were rather illuminating.
Surprise! The Rules Have Changed!
With all the changes to the App Store that had been announced back in June when Apple officially revealed iOS 8, it’s not all that shocking to think that there might be a few more boxes to check off when submitting a new app. However, it seems as though there wasn’t a whole lot of forewarning.
According to Pollet, “I didn’t have any real warning about the submission changes. I’m sure the information was out there but I just happened to log into iTunes Connect last week and the entire interface was different.” Nadav had a similar story, and said, “we have been given access to iOS beta 2 as of June 20, yet, as to submission guidelines, I can find no info.”
Out October 2 is Spirits of Spring, an adventure game that features an anti-bullying, pro-friendship message, and there’s a very important reason why you should be excited. It’s from Minority Media, the makers of Papo & Yo, a great game that focused on the tale of a young Brazilian boy and his abusive, alcoholic father. It’s touching and powerfully done, demonstrating how games can tackle some very serious issues. Spirits of Spring looks set to offer a similar experience, this time focusing on Chiwatin, a Native American hero from northern Canada. The boy is tormented by evil giant crows, until he decides to face them in order to restore the balance of nature.
With Spirits of Spring set to be released on the App Store very soon, we took the time to talk to creative director Ruben Farrus to learn more.
148Apps: What was the inspiration behind making Spirits of Spring? Ruben Farrus (RF): I see video games as a great way to express ourselves and to maturely explore complex human situations within a safe environment. Having experienced bullying as a teenager, and having discussed it with my colleagues at Minority, I realized that many of them went through it as well. And like me, many of them had to deal with dismissal when they first tried to discuss it as teenagers.
So, I started imagining an engaging story based on our experiences with bullying. While I was looking for the right setting for this new game, Ernest Webb, a co-founder at Minority, told me some tales from his hometown, located in the Canadian North. Ernest is a Native Cree, and the legends he shared with me involve these profound characters that live in a snowy world. Soon, I realized that these characters and the challenging environment they survive in would make great metaphors for this story.
So, it’s these elements – interesting characters, a fascinating wintery landscape, and bullying – that became the core of Spirits of Spring.
148Apps: The game is said to not be too preachy or overt about its message. How hard was it to maintain that subtlety? RF: From the beginning, I wanted to create a world and characters that players care about and empathize with. From my experience with our previous empathy game, Papo & Yo, I knew that if we can make players feel emotionally invested in the story and its characters, they can find meaning and value in it for themselves.
Bullying is a complex phenomenon – it’s not black and white – and we are not experts in the subject. So, what matters to us is to offer an experience that can help players of all ages explore bullying from several perspectives – the bully’s, the bullied’s, and the bystander’s – so that they can come out of it feeling more capable of discussing it openly.
148Apps: Do you think indie studios are best equipped for dealing with empathetic games and subjects, or do you think such themes could spread to AAA games? RF: In my experience, it is easier to discuss and explore difficult subjects in a small and open-minded team than it is in a large one. As a result, it is also easier to organize a small group around a common vision, because there are less competing interests.
So, when we come up with a story, we are in a good position to design mechanics that help players empathize with the characters in our games. Many larger developers still work the other way around: creating the mechanics first, then dressing them up in a story, making those games mostly about skill and technical difficulty, with characters that are often disposable.
148Apps: Having looked at addiction with Papo & Yo, and now bullying with Spirits of Spring, what difficult subject do you hope to tackle next? RF: We are currently experimenting with ways to apply our empathy game design model to virtual reality experiences. We will have more news on that down the line.
Thanks to Ruben for taking the time to answer our questions. Spirits of Spring is set for release October 2 and will be priced at $4.99. We’ll be sure to have more on it when it’s out.
How do you make an Endless Running game more than just another Endless Running game? By adding real life prizes to it, of course! That’s the thinking behind StupidFast: a game designed for football enthusiasts, and the brainchild of former college football star and current NFL free agent, Taylor Martinez. It all came about due to his career path changing quite drastically and suddenly.
“This past season was my senior season. I tore a ligament in my foot and separated my shoulder – both in the first game. I ended up not finishing the season as Quarterback. After the season, I entered into the NFL draft. I did my pro day at Nebraska and waited for draft day,” explained Martinez, “I ended up going to the Philadelphia Eagles. I went down there and they took a MRI and X-Ray on both [injuries]. They said that they weren’t going to take me any more. My dream was crushed and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to make a football app, and this is what I came up with.“
“I [have] been building apps for four years now,” he elaborated, “I love doing it and have a lot of passion doing it… Stupidfast is different than any other app because it allows users to earn rewards and prizes. This concept is the first of its kind and would allow users to compete and earn rewards.”
Taylor’s lined up some fairly big companies too, with the likes of Sol Republic, HobbyTown, Cutter Gloves, Shock Doctor Mouth Piece, and Black Fly sunglasses all currently on board. Martinez also explained how there will be different console games you can win along with other prizes, including a “GoPro Raffle for every time you share a Kamcord.”
Kamcord support should prove quite a hit with StupidFast too, given its fast-paced nature. Players tap as fast as they can to try to run away from the safety, as well as jump over pillars. A stiff arm can also be employed to break the pillars, ensuring there’s plenty to do.
Martinez explained that, “prizes will be won based on your daily high score, best high score, the achievements [via] Game Center, and playing the football game. Inside the game, if you land on a certain number, you will win that prize.”
Achievements are varied, with awards for getting tackled by the safety and knocking your helmet off, falling on your butt when you hit a pylon, falling on your face hitting a pylon, collecting stiff arms, and passing 50 and 150 points in game.
“Every time you break your daily high score you will have a chance to enter into a raffle,” Martinez went on to explain, “Inside the main menu you can click Earn Rewards, and see what prizes you can win that day and what raffles you can enter into.”
Thanks to Taylor Martinez for taking the time to answer our questions. StupidFast is set to be a freemium game with in-app purchases available for more stiff arms, lives, and ad-removal. It’s set for release September 7. We’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out.
We all take plenty of photos, right? That’s the joy of having a reasonably powerful camera in your pocket, thanks to your trusty iPhone and a bevy of similarly useful apps. Wouldn’t it be great to make some money out of those snaps? While your selfies might not garner much attention, there’s sure to be some great shots that will appeal to someone keen to purchase the rights. That’s the thinking behind PicsaStock, an app that allows you to sell your photos to professional creatives around the world.
Proving to be remarkably simple to do, you can connect your account to the likes of Instagram, 500px, Flickr, and Dropbox, thereby sharing individual photos with the community in the hope of selling them elsewhere. We had a word with head of Mobile Marketing & Press, Lars Poeck, to learn more.
148Apps: Where did the inspiration for PicsaStock come from? Lars Poeck (LP): Before PicsaStock.com we founded YourPainting.de. This is a global gift franchising for customized photo paintings. During this process, we realized the complicated licensing process for photography. We also learned about a huge demand for authentic pictures – by agencies, bloggers, websites and even big brands. But these photos are hard to get. This is a strange situation. We all “produce” pictures like this everyday – everywhere. Each smartphone comes a high-tech-camera – right in your pocket. You are able to do even night shots or long exposure pictures with some photo apps.
So we invented PicsaStock.com as a marketplace and community for authentic photography. Sure, we keep an eye on good quality content. But as you [can] see on platforms like VSCO Cam, 500px, Instagram, or Flickr: there are millions of brilliant photographers out there that do even more than selfies or cat pictures. Some don’t have the slightest idea that they can earn money with their photography. We give them 50% of the sale price. So we invite them all to sell their photography. Our app also comes with features like a nice gallery mode [and] a special color search technology, so you can skip through your own gallery and discover brilliant pictures by other photographers with the app.
148Apps: How many people are currently using the service? LP: We are a very young company. [Note: The company was founded in February 2013, with the site launching in September 2013 and the iOS app following in February 2014] At the moment we have around 25,000 users and photographers on our platform. Some upload hundreds of pictures, some just want to give it a try and upload a few pictures. But it’s amazing to see this growing every day. In our company, we all have a passion for photography. So every morning when we arrive it’s amazing to skip through the new pictures that people from all over the world uploaded on our server.
148Apps: How many photos have been purchased since the site was launched? LP: At the moment we don’t release these numbers. But before I started at PicsaStock, I tested the service by myself and sold 10 pictures with the app. At the moment, we have 1 million approved and curated pictures and photos. Every day we get thousands of new ones. Sure, we can’t accept all of the pictures in terms of keeping up the quality standard. But it’s amazing how many people out there really know how to take a good picture – not only with their smartphones. As a tip for new users: The better you tag and name your pictures, the easier it is for others to find them.
148Apps: How is the service currently funded? LP: As we launched in September 2013, we were supported by an investment from Slamdunk Capital and other early stage angel investors. Now we [have] some more business angels on board.
148apps: Are there any plans for an iPad app for the service? LP: I love the iPad and the tablet size for displaying photography. You can use our app on iPad but it’s not optimized yet for the tablet. We’ve just launched our Android app and plan some feature updates for the current iPhone app. But sure, tablet apps are something we are discussing more and more often.
Thanks to Lars for taking the time to answer our questions. The PicsaStock app is available now from the App Store.
The recent update of Battle Command! has been quite a significant one, adding a new way of working together and sharing resources through a player-driven economy. The update adds a new resource in the form of Darium, which can be used to produce specialized troops and weapons. The unique part of this is that you can only gain the resource by working together and sharing other resources with your alliance mates. It’s a new twist on a familiar format and has the potential to change a lot within the F2P empire building landscape.
Because of that, we took the time to talk to Lead Producer for the game, Greg Mueller, to learn more about how such a significant inclusion came to be.
148Apps: How did you come up with the new resource sharing system? What was the thinking behind it? Greg Mueller (GM): Players in Battle Command! are very engaged with their Alliances. We have a boosting mechanic where players can send free production boosts and building speed-ups to their Alliance mates. This is a very popular feature in our game with close to 1 million boosts sent per day. We know players enjoy interacting with their Alliances, so we designed this new system to add even more depth and interaction to the Alliance play. We also wanted to give players a way to uniquely contribute to their friends in the game so we added the three resource types that can be shared. This way you might have Diamonds and I have Amber and we both benefit by sharing those with one another.
148Apps: In what way do you expect it to change how players interact with each other and play the game? GM: This update will definitely add even more emphasis to being in an active Alliance. Players will be sharing more, chatting more, and helping out their friends in a variety of meaningful ways. It takes the social aspect of the game beyond simply chatting or donating troops. With this new Darium resource players will also be able to build six new offensive and defensive weapons, each of which adds a new layer of strategy to the game.
148Apps: How balanced is it? Will players now be pretty much expected to be part of an alliance in order to be successful? GM: The vast majority of our mid- to high-level players are already in Alliances, so most players won’t have to change the way they play at all to enjoy this new system. We’ve spent a lot of time play testing this both internally and in public beta to make sure we keep the game balanced for players who choose not to join an Alliance.
148Apps: How will the story-arc be affected by this new resource and gathering method? GM: The Darium update comes with its own original story. The update introduces a new class of units and defensive structures that all look, feel, and act very unique. We had a lot of fun with the story and artwork to make these new units feel powerful and mysterious and fun to use.
Thanks to Greg for taking the time to answer our questions.
At this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, fans got the chance to meet and mingle with several of the artists behind Magic Pixel Games and Namco Bandai’s upcoming card battler, Outcast Odyssey. Considering many of these artists have worked on comics in the past it seemed appropriate, and it was also the first time they got to meet each other. We spoke with two of the artists, Warren Louw and Chuck Pires, about their careers, their work on the game, and how posting your drawings on the internet can lead to bigger and better things.
148Apps: How did you begin your careers as artists? Warren Louw: I’m pretty much just a blend between East and West. My style is a combination of Western comic artists like J. Scott Campbell, Michael Turner, and Adam Hughes crossed with some of the artists from the Far East like Tetsuya Nomura’s work on Final Fantasy VII and VIII. and Takuji Kawano who did the art for Soulcalibur. In South Africa, I got to the point where I started developing a style that was being recognized globally. Eventually I was being contacted by the bigger companies out there and started getting my work published. Things just grew and grew from there.
Chuck Pires: Around 14 or 15 I got started mostly doing comic colors. There was a studio called Hi-Fi design that did work for Marvel at the time. They were looking for comic colorists to put some stuff online and at the time all I wanted in the world was to be published so I responded. It was all just separation work, basic colors and layout, anybody could do it. But for a 15 or 16-year-old kid it was my dream come true. That got me more interested in digital art. Continue reading Outcast Odyssey – An Interview with the Artists Behind Namco Bandai’s Upcoming Card Battler »
Touchfight Games is an exciting new indie studio that was co-formed between game journalist and author Nathan Meunier, artist Leonard Kenyon, and programmer Jon Kenyon. Their debut game Go To Bed will be released this fall, and with all the excitement we wanted to get to know Touchfight Games a little better. Nathan, Leonard, and Jon were kind enough to speak to us about their work.
Left to right: Leonard Kenyon, Jon Kenyon, Nathan Meunier
148Apps: What inspired you decide to go from writing about games to creating games? Nathan: I’ve always been a huge fan of indie games in particular. Covering indies was one of my passions early-on in my career, and it’s been a beat that I’ve really enjoyed focusing on throughout the past 8-9 years I’ve spent writing in the games industry. There’s something about the fierce DIY spirit and inherent creativity in independent games made by small studios that’s always resonated with me.
Prior to kicking off a journalism career over a decade ago, I actually dabbled with creating small games using a much earlier version of Game Maker. Back then, the indie scene as we know it today didn’t exist. It was a different world, and I wasn’t equipped to do much of anything with the rough game ideas I was putting together. Given that journalism was my chosen career path, I got a gig working at a newspaper and eventually transitioned into covering the games industry full-time as a freelancer.
It’s been a great run in the games press, and I don’t plan to give up freelancing altogether, but shifting gears to explore developing games has given me an a much-needed creative boost that’s rekindled my passion for games. Also, I live out in the middle of nowhere and am used to working alone, so having an opportunity to collaborate on projects with two other local kindred spirits and my co-conspirators, Jon Kenyon and Leonard Kenyon, has been a blast, too. It’s something that was missing from my freelance routine. Continue reading Go to Bed – An Interview With Touchfight Co-founders on Their Nightmarish “Bedroom Defense” Game »
At the time Kurt Bieg, CEO of Simple Machine, explained their reasoning in doing so: “we believe ownership is becoming obsolete, this is our way of inspiring young and old people to read, learn, and ultimately manipulate code that came from a studio known for taking chances and innovating puzzle games.”
A few weeks into making LEX open-source, and given the rarity of this occurring, we thought we’d take the time to follow up with Kurt and see how things have progressed.
One such outcome was this:
Simple Machine’s ‘dream outcome’ according to Kurt, with coder Bill Kendrick having played LEX then used the source code to create a variant for the 8-bit Atari system.
“We don’t have any quantifiable numbers on how many people read it or anything, but this made it real for us. The first point to point cause and effect. Now we just have to buy an Atari for the office so we can play it,” explained Kurt.
Enlightening us on their motivations, Kurt told us about Chupamobile: a site where you can buy game code, press publish, and effectively make money with little effort.
“I was horrified at first, then I showed some of the team, and one person, Anne Peng, our community manager at the time who has since moved on, actually thought it was a good thing. Insta-curious.
Kurt went on to compare the situation to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. “We are moving towards an ownerless society, and the current “clone craze” in games is a path where the lines between who owns what are visibly blurring. What you have is an amazing new way for games to be distributed, where the code is available for everyone to read and learn from. Not everyone has the best intentions, that’s for sure, but we feel like it’s very parallel to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. Here we have a band that grew to popularity by people copying their songs on blank tapes off the radio, only to sue their fans for the very same behavior a couple decades later. In my view, we’ve been moving towards this sharable culture for quite some time, only now do we have the technology where it has become mainstream.”
One significant issue, however, is the financial aspect of open sourcing. How is Simple Machine planning to stay financially solvent if their code is available to everyone?
Kurt explained, “The answer is, we don’t have an answer yet. We believe that Simple Machine is about being a window to new ideas. With each game we try innovate in some unexplored area, like The Outcast for instance. Open source has huge benefits for everyone involved. I can’t say that we’ve seen any profit lost from doing it. I can say that our hearts are warm after seeing some one interpret LEX and demake it for Atari. You could maybe draw a line and say that open sourcing has connected us directly to more fans and that our reputation has grown in a new direction.
“Overall, we’re happy some people are finding inspiration from our code and that it makes the overall developer/customer experience more than just a money transaction. It’s a bit more of a two way street, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
It’s certainly ambitious and ultimately very positive and selfless of the folks at Simple Machine. It’ll be fascinating to see how things turn out in the long term for them and, of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on their progress and future titles.
Thanks to Kurt Bieg for taking the time to answer our questions. LEX is available now from the App Store, priced at $0.99.
Avid book readers will appreciate the dilemma. You want to buy a new book but do you want a physical copy or an e-book that you can more easily take with you while you’re out and about? Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages, making it a tough call.
There’s a newly launched service that aims to solve this problem, though. It’s called BitLit, and it hopes to revolutionize things when it comes to your ability to read whenever, however. Currently, over 120 publishers have signed up to the service with nearly 20,000 books available through it. A pilot deal has just been signed with HarperCollins, while other publishers such as O’Reilly and Angry Robot are also on board.
The way it works is that you simply take a photo of your book cover, write your name on the book’s copyright page, take a snapshot of that, then send it through for your ownership to be validated. Then an eBook comes through in return; one that can be used on all of your devices – such as an iPad, Kindle, Kobo, or Nook.
We took the time to ask the firm a few questions to learn more about the service.
148Apps: How does the funding model for BitLit work? How do publishers gain from this approach? BitLit: When a publisher offers the eBook for free, then it’s free (as in beer) for everybody, we take no commission and the user gets a free eBook (who doesn’t like free stuff). About 30% of the eBooks in BitLit are free. If the eBook isn’t free, then BitLit takes a small commission from the sale — that’s how we keep the lights on and servers running.
The upside for publishers and authors is twofold: Firstly, print books that include a free/discounted eBook sell almost twice as well in bookstores than books that don’t include a bundled eBook. Secondly, for books that people already own, there is the opportunity for an incremental upsale — less than 1% of readers purchase titles at full price in both print and digital formats, 48% of readers say they’re willing to pay slightly more to get both formats. Currently you can only buy print or digital; BitLit lets the author capture value on the reader who wants both.
148apps: Are there any plans for it to be possible to validate your purchase without writing in the book? BitLit: We ask our users to validate the book by writing in it is so that the book can’t be returned to a bookstore. But we know that readers sometimes don’t want to have their messy writing in their book. For these folks, there’s the option of using an Ex Libris book stamp to mark that the book is theirs.
148apps: How long does the process take before you can download a copy? BitLit: If you have neat handwriting the process takes about 30 seconds. If the automated algorithms can’t recognize your hand writing, then it might take up to 15 minutes for a human reviewer to validate your print edition. We deliver eBooks via email download link, so even if you use BitLit on your smartphone to validate the book, you can be reading on your iPad in less than a minute.
148apps: What plans are there for expansion to cover more titles? BitLit: We have a dedicated content acquisition team whose job is to get in touch with publishers. We already have some great publishers like HarperCollins, O’Reilly, and Angry Robot on board… and we’re in talks with a lot of other great publishers that we hope will be joining soon. Stay tuned.
Thanks to the folks at BitLit for answering our questions. The app is available now and is a free download. To check what books are eligible, you can consult the BitLitwebsite.
You can lose yourself in contracts with fine print and hundreds of pages legalese. Abe Geiger, Ceo of Shake Inc., wanted to simplify it all and make legal documents less scary. Shake is an app that creates legal documents by offering templates or allowing users to create their own by answering a few simple questions. The app is designed to walk small business owners through the process using simple language and allows the parties involved to sign the document electronically.
In a day and age where people sell items on Craigslist or want to loan a friend some cash, not everyone can find the time or the money to hire a lawyer for every small transaction. Shake makes these smaller contracts possible. The Shake blog also offers a ton of educational posts about legal issues and contacts.
After learning about the Shake app at the Northside Tech festival in Brooklyn, we had the pleasure of speaking with Abe Geiger. about Shake‘s history and its future.
148Apps: What made you decide to make an app specifically designed for legal documents?
Abe Geiger (AG): My background was in start-ups and small businesses in the New York and Bay area, and I saw that a lot of entrepreneurs paid a lot of money for legal documents. I wanted to get rid of the headaches of creating contracts and simplify the language using plain English. I wanted to make Shake as easy to use as possible.
148Apps: How secure is the user’s information with Shake?
AG:Shake‘s security has high standards. Using encryption and password protection, it is more secure than most email where you would be sending a document around to be signed. We are planning on increasing the security in Shake for Business with a new feature that allows you to take a picture of the person along with their signature.
148Apps: What sort of expansions or updates do you see for Shake in the future?
AG: We are currently working on a lot of updates right now. We should have Shake available for Android coming very soon, and we are working on Shake for the web. We have introduced a pilot, business-focused mobile app for parties who already have their own contracts. We’re working with 15 different partners currently to create Shake for Business with forms like photo releases and sale contracts. It will have premium features for small and medium businesses.
Thanks to Abe Geiger for taking the time to answer our questions.
We’re big fans of inkle’s work here at 148apps, even if the lower case “i” does make my Grammar Hat twitch uncomfortably. So, the news of a new project coming from the studio was bound to get us excited. That project is 80 Days, an ambitious narrative-focused game inspired by the work of Jules Verne that utilizes a fairly cool steampunk theme.
Players take the role of Passepartout as he helps (and suffers) Phileas Fogg on their epic journey around the world in 80 days. Set for release this Summer, 80 Days promises plenty of different paths to success with many decisions to take, much like in the Sorcery! series of games. Perhaps most interesting of all, there’ll be a networked live feed ensuring that players can keep track of what’s going on with other players, all in real time.
Fascinated by the general premise, I was able to discuss the game with inkle’s Jon Ingold and Joe Humfrey, as well as the game’s writer, Meg Jayanth, to learn more.
After Phil Hassey’s release of BREAKFINITY, the fast-paced endless Breakout game, he’s taking another stab at the world of free games: by releasing a free version of Dynamite Jack, his explosive 2012 action game – creatively entitled Dynamite Jack Free. While plenty of developers are starting to release free ad-supported games thanks to Flappy Bird‘s success, this is one of the bigger attempts at such a release. As such, I spoke to Phil Hassey about what he’s doing with Dynamite Jack Free.
148Apps: Many of the games that have gone with the free-with-ads route are simpler games: ones like Flappy Bird, and your own BREAKFINITY. Why take this route with a deeper game like Dynamite Jack? Was BREAKFINITY‘s performance a motivator in this regard?
Phil Hassey:Dynamite Jack came out almost two years ago, so it’s sales have run down pretty thin at this point. Since I did all the work to set up ads in BREAKFINITY it was pretty trivial to set up Dynamite Jack with the same thing.
I am really curious how well it will do. It’s definitely totally different from your typical ad supported game. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if the free crowd is ready for this kind of experience or not!
148Apps: Why did you go with the continues-as-monetization IAP system?
Phil Hassey: I’m not really an ad monetization guru or anything, since BREAKFINITY is my first ad supported game, and it’s only been out for over a month. Over the past year I had given thought to doing a F2P version of Dynamite Jack, with various ideas like “buying bombs” or whatever. However, changes like that would have seriously impacted the gameplay in ways I wasn’t too excited about.
So doing the continues is nice, because it doesn’t change the gameplay at all. If anything it makes the death experience sightly more intense because the penalty for death is greater than in the paid version of the game. I think the monetization will actually make the game have a slightly greater emphasis on stealth than the paid version.
148Apps: You have an IAP for unlimited continues for $4.99. Was there any thought given to making this a higher price than what the main game is available for?
Phil Hassey: About 6 months ago I changed the iOS price to $4.99 for the paid version. So the IAP for unlimited continues just matches that. I upped the price on Dynamite Jack because I think it’s a solid game and people definitely get their $4.99 of entertainment out of it. Some of the players who have gotten into the game have played for hundreds of hours thanks to the community maps.
148Apps: Is there a particular threshold where you see this being worth the time and effort put into it?
Phil Hassey: I really only spent a couple days putting this together, so it doesn’t need to do a whole lot to break even on my time. But really, in terms of being an experiment with how well a hard-core iOS game works in the ad supported market, the answer to the question “Will this work at all?” is going to be worth finding out.
If it’s found that you can make more heavy games and support them through ads, we might see more games going that route. Or maybe we’ll find out that this sort of game just works best as a paid-only title.
148Apps: If this is successful, do you fear that perhaps it could be part of a movement where players expect more free games, monetized primarily with ads? And if so, do you think that it is good for the App Store market?
Phil Hassey: I think anything that helps indies find new ways to support their art is great! The more avenues there are to being able to make games full-time the more chances there are that great games are going to be made. Another great thing about ad supported games is how they can reach a wider audience. People who don’t have the means to purchase paid games can play free ad supported games.
148Apps: Depending on how this does, would you ever consider releasing a future game initially with a free version like this? Perhaps even one of the Galcon games?
Phil Hassey: I’m still working on Galcon 2, which is going to be F2P. I’m still working out the details, but my experiences with BREAKFINITY and Dynamite Jack FREE are certainly giving me more insight into how to make it work out. I expect Galcon 2 will contain “earn more Galcoins by watching videos” options for those who want more in game currency but don’t have the means to pay for it.
Isolani, the latest first-person shooter from DeNA and Scattered Entertainment, creators of The Drowning, is a curious game. It tries to bring a story-based FPS into the structure of games like Candy Crush Saga, particularly with recharging lives and a linear progression, as opposed to the mission-based structure of The Drowning. David Simard, a producer on Isolani with Scattered Entertainment, took some time to answer questions about the game.
Frank Condello is the solo developer behind Chaotic Box, now well-known for dEXTRIS, which has surpassed one million downloads and become one of his most popular games. Condello has been at work on the App Store for years now, but this stands as one of his biggest releases yet. Condello was gracious enough to take the time to answer some questions about dEXTRIS, and what it means for him.
148Apps: What was the impetus behind bringing the Transport Tycoon back now in 2014? Chris Sawyer (CS): The latest mobile and tablet platforms were perfect for the game with their power, high resolution screens, and touch screen interface. It just made sense to bring the game to these platforms.
148Apps: Did mobile change the way that you approached the gameplay of Transport Tycoon? CS: We set out to keep the complex and detailed gameplay as unchanged as possible because that’s what’s at the core of Transport Tycoon, and the technology in modern mobiles and tablets allowed us to do that. We improved the user experience with the touch screen interface and enhanced display of the game world as well as other in-game information.
148Apps: What is the one aspect of the 1994 game market that you think 2014 needs? CS: A reliable way for players to find the good games amongst the not-so-good. In 1994, the information about new games was quite limited, but also very thorough. By reading magazines, you could find out which games might appeal and which were worth spending money on. Nowadays, there are so many games being sold (or given away) and marketed in so many ways, it’s very difficult for the good games to shine based on merit rather than clever advertising or social media manipulation.
148Apps: Conversely, what would the 1994 market be improved by something in 2014? CS: Back in 1994, there was only one way to publish games, which was selling boxed products through a publisher and distributor. Now there are dozens of ways of publishing games and most of them mean a more streamlined and cheaper distribution channel.
148Apps: Free-to-play is obviously a huge deal now, but Transport Tycoon has launched at a premium price. Why was this chosen? CS:Transport Tycoon always was and still is a premium game. It is a game with considerable detail and depth of gameplay, and making it free-to-play with in-app purchases would have ruined the depth of the game. We wanted players to be able to become immersed in the gameplay and not be faced by frustrating restrictions or demands for payment while playing.
148Apps: Has the premium price worked out for the game? CS: It is working out for the game, but it’s proving a challenge as we’re perhaps the first to try publishing such a detailed strategy game as a fully-paid app. We have also published a free Lite version with limited gameplay, which helps a lot too. The Lite version allows players to get a feel for the game before moving towards purchasing the full version. We’ve also found that keeping the game well-supported is important. The development team is continuing to fine tune and enhance the game with regular updates and support for players.
148Apps: iOS versus Android, what do you see as the biggest difference between the overall worlds of games on each platform? CS: The main difference is the distribution model on each. iOS is considerably more controlled and streamlined and Android is less controlled, but each has their own benefits.
Bush League is, on its surface, a curious game: it’s essentially a baseball take on Puzzle Quest, featuring crude parodies of famous players and figures around the sport, using performance-enhancing drugs that serve as the game’s special powers. But it’s the creator of the game that is particularly noteworthy. Dirk Hayhurst is a former baseball player who’s become an author of several best-selling books about his life in baseball and some of the things that fans don’t necessarily see about the culture. He’s also become a provocative analyst, and was part of the post-game show on TBS for the 2013 MLB playoffs. And now he’s a game developer, and he took the time to talk to me about this baseball parody he’s helped to create.
The genesis of Bush League came about when Hayhurst noticed that “There’s no good baseball game out there that kind of trolls baseball. You have all these scandals every year, but you never to seem to have a game that has all these players and all the drama they get into. And it’s such a big thing right now in Major League Baseball to get caught using steroids, right? I thought, why can’t we just make a game where you have to use steroids to win, and just troll the entire industry? I’m kind of like a black sheep of the baseball world anyways, and I always have kind of shown the other side of it, I thought, this is a great premise for a video game. Let’s make Candy Crush with steroids.”
The hook to Bush League is in the way that it tries to parody baseball. Famous players and other figures around the sport both past and present are the opponents that populate the game, and their personalities and dialogue make light of things that, say, MLB: The Show or RBI Baseball 14 would never touch.
Hayhurst’s unafraid to make fun of situations that he was involved in. There’s one character, Purcey Tweeps, who parodies David Price of the Tampa Bay Rays. Hayhurst criticized Price’s performance after a playoff game he lost, and Price insulted Hayhurst’s playing career and said “SAVE IT NERDS.”. Purcey in the game makes reference to social media and to the nerds comment. Everything is a bit crude and over-the-top, but meant to, as Hayhurst says, “troll baseball” and “[service] that idea that baseball takes itself too seriously and needs a good mocking every now and then just to keep things even.”
While Hayhurst financed the development of the game and his name is on it, he didn’t just slap his name on it – he played an active role in development. “I was in charge of the art direction, the music direction… all the powers, I had to nest all the AI development, I had to decide the way it was going to look, the way it was going to feel, I had a say in all of that. At times I frustrated the guy doing the code, but it was a learning experience. And so there were things that I learned taking a shot at making a game that I never would have learned had I pursued a degree.” Hayhurst says he realized his strengths were “the writing, and designing the characters and how the game should feel, and my coder had his strengths, which was taking all these wild ideas I had, parsing them down, teaching me the ropes, and making them work in the actual game.
Hayhurst doesn’t want Bush League to be a static product either: he wants to, over time, update the game to incorporate other notorious events and scandals as characters and powers. He says he would love to tackle other sports in a similar way.
But given that he’s created this media career for himself, is Hayhurst afraid of the blowback that could come from this parody of the sport and its players that he’s created? He says “I don’t think of the church of baseball as some holy sacrament that everyone has to be reverential to, especially guys like me that didn’t have long careers. This kind of stuff deserves to get picked on a little bit, because it’s quite ridiculous when you think about it. I have always done that. And I understand because I’m in the sports entertainment field, I’m criticizing the sports entertainment field. I’m not criticizing these individual players, I’m criticizing the Franken-player that we’ve made out of them by knowing very little about who they are and taking what we know publicly and hyping it up, and turning it into something it isn’t. That is what I’ve always done, and that’s what got me on TBS and ultimately keep it from it at some point, but that’s who I am, and that’s the style that I like to work in.”
Thanks to Dirk Hayhurst for his time. Bush League is available now.
Even the most organized of people will admit that it’s messy and often cumbersome to organize one’s paperwork. It also feels increasingly outdated with more importance placed upon digital storage than ever before. This is where digital assistant of sorts, FileThis, comes in handy.
It’s an app that’s part of a smart file management system that can grab your digital statements, bills, and other important information for you, before filing it all away safely for later reference. Supporting over 300 different account connections and a Smart Labels system sure to make it easier to organize things, it should be an ideal solution for those keen to have a paperless life.
With FileThis having been in development for the past couple of years, we were able to have a chat with CMO, Martin Stein, to learn more about why you should pay attention to this service.
148Apps: What was the inspiration behind the service? Martin Stein (MS):FileThis is based on a personal experience of founder and CEO Brian Berson. He and his brother had to move their mother to an assisted living facility, where they were overwhelmed by working through 20 years of her paperwork. Brian realized that while living in the 21st century, in a digital world, we all are still faced with a lot of paperwork. Even worse, some documents are available digitally and some documents come to us in the mail in paper format. Important information is scattered all over the place.
The idea behind FileThis was to give the control back to the consumer: to help them save time with their daily paperwork by getting all their statements automatically and storing them where they want, not leaving them scattered around the web, or on bank or insurance websites. That’s why FileThis is a digital mailbox and filing service – much more than just a digital filing cabinet.
FileThis is about saving time and convenience: in order to automate the process as much as possible, we developed features such as email check-in, FileThis Drop (a dropbox style folder on your desktop), or our iPhone app that lets users take photos of receipts or documents and turn them into PDF files within the FileThis Cloud. FileThis is about freedom of choice. We let our customer decide where they want to store their data.
FileThis is also about privacy. Because our product is a freemium service, we depend on upgrade sales based on connections and don’t mine or resell customer data, and never will. That is an important differentiator between us and other “free” services.
148Apps: Given the amount of sensitive information involved, how secure a service is this? MS:FileThis is a read-only service that uses bank-level security (256-bit encrypted data and communication). We also apply bank-level security practices besides encryption: this includes auditing, logging, and back-ups. We utilize third-party services to test our service for security issues – including scanning our ports, testing for SQL injection, and many other potential security weaknesses. We have also received the Verisign security seal as well as the McAfee Secure badge.
148Apps: Are there any plans to expand to other countries? MS: With fetching and delivering digital statements at the center of the service, we are focused on the US market at this time. But, we will let you know when FileThis expands to other markets.
148Apps: Are there any other plans for expansions or new features that you’re able to divulge? MS: The FileThis app for iOS has just been released. With first maintenance release from last week we improved the image capturing and added a flashlight mode.
Thanks to Martin Stein for taking the time to answer our questions. FileThis is available now from the App Store.
Rather impressively, FileThis is free to use for those who want to use up to 6 account connections with updates running once a week. For those who want a more powerful service, they can opt to pay $2 per month for up to 12 connections or $5 per month for up to 30 connections, as well as a daily update. That sounds like a pretty good value for the money to me, thanks to its timesaving potential.
148Apps: What’s the story behind Grammar Girl? What made you decide to embrace that title? Mignon Fogarty (MF): When I was a science editor, I saw my clients making the same mistakes over and over again – little things, such as using “a” when they should use “an” or misusing commas. Podcasting was new at the time, and I decided to also do a quick, simpler writing show because I saw that there were so many people who needed writing help.
Much to my surprise, the Grammar Girl podcast took off right away and essentially took over my life. I worked like crazy for about six months trying to do both Grammar Girl and the science writing and editing, since that work paid my bills, and when I finally got my book deal with Macmillan and we formed the partnership to grow the Quick and Dirty Tips network, I was able to switch to Grammar Girl full time.
The name Grammar Girl just popped into my head and I knew it was perfect right away. I believe it works because of the alliteration and because “girl” is a nonthreatening word. People have a lot of anxiety about their writing, and a lot of the grammar advice out there is delivered in a high-brow or condescending way. Being Grammar Girl sends the message that I’m friendly and approachable.
148Apps: How did Grammar Pop come about? What was the inspiration for creating a game like this? MF: After finishing my last book, I wanted to do something different. People were playing games on their tablets and phones – I was playing games on my tablet and phone – and it seemed obvious to me that there should be a game in which you match words with their parts of speech. In fact, I was incredulous when I looked for such a game and found that it didn’t exist.
So on a plane on my way to Macmillan for a different meeting, I sketched out the initial idea for how I thought the game might work. They wanted to do it, so we went about investigating ways to make it work. I ended up coding it myself with a tool called Game Salad and working with Margo Goody, an artist at Macmillan.
148Apps: How important do you think it is to make learning fun? MF: Grammar Girl is all about making learning fun!
148Apps: What has the feedback from players been like? MF: I get great feedback from parents and teachers who use Grammar Pop and say it has really helped their kids learn parts of speech. It’s not a chore to get their kids to play it; the kids love it and learn parts of speech without even realizing they’re learning.
148Apps: What’s next for the Grammar Pop series of games? Are there any plans for new installments or updates? MF: We came out with a special Winterfest edition for the holidays, and we’re getting bids right now to expand the game with more levels.
Thanks to Mignon Fogarty for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about Grammar Girl, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips website.
Roadhouse Interactive recently announced the upcoming Warhammer 40,000: Carnage. Roadhouse is typically known for free-to-play games of the mid-core variety, meaning that they target more of a traditional PC/console gamer audience, as opposed to a casual one like many of the simulation and casino games that free-to-play has become known and often reviled for. But Roadhouse is going to release Carnage as a paid game. I spoke with Tarnie Williams and Kayla Kinnuen of the Vancouver studios recently to discuss just why they went this route.
First off, they say that they wanted to put together a cohesive game experience that players could just sit down and enjoy. “We really wanted to put together a game that didn’t have an energy mechanic… or any social pay walls, because we really wanted to deliver a great experience with players… you could buy this game, and if you wanted to just punch through the game in one sitting, ten hours, twelve hours, whatever it takes you, you can do that. You don’t have to wait for status bars to refresh or invite five friends to pass this gate. And we think that the gamers that want this game will really respect that, and I think that the price point supports that.”
Now, the game won’t be without in-app purchases, but Roadhouse claims that “it makes for something that can be used, but it’s all on your ability to play.” This decision to design the game this way may be in part because it won’t be paid everywhere. Roadhouse claims “there are places that cannot support a premium model. Certain territories just won’t buy it. But we believe that, actually, in a number of western countries, there’s actually an aspect of free-to-play fatigue in some cases, and there’s some interest from players to have robust experiences. And we’re trying to deliver one of those. To be frank, I’m really excited at what we’re delivering.” As well, they claim that with the free-to-play version that some markets will get that “both aspects of the experience as well as the manner in which players are allowed to consume and unlock content will be different.”
As well, this sort of “paymium” model, which games like Infinity Blade have used, have paved the way for the acceptability of games that launch with a paid price but also in-app purchases. According to Roadhouse, they claim that “there’s an expectation, for especially those small percentage that are spending lots of money, they want the ability to, at times, push further ahead or circumvent some of the design that’s been put in to place, and to be able to move at a different pace.”
“So fine, we understand that. But I think there’s also a big chunk of gamers, who when we look at the Warhammer 40,000 audience, they are gamers. And we have a lot of people in that are who are interested a full experience, without being limited to playing for six minutes. So we didn’t want to limit it in that way.”
And gamers that pick up the game will likely have a lot to play with over time: the plan is for the game to launch with 50 levels, and for updates down the road to possibly multiply the content of the game by four times what it launched with. And while they are working with Graham McNeill to craft the game’s story and world, they say “we think the title stands alone on its gameplay. And its structure, and its campaign, and its story, even if you didn’t have the Warhammer 40k brand on it, someone who’s never heard of Warhammer 40k is still going to be able to engage with this title, and still have a satisfying and rich experience as they go through a very detailed and rich world and have that experience.”
But ultimately, while Roadhouse is taking a different path for the company with this, they say “We’re not [saying] go kill free to play. It’s absolutely a viable business model, there’s lots of reasons to do it in lots of cases. But in this case we’ve chosen a different path and one we believe is very viable.”
Warhammer 40,000: Carnage is expected to release this May for iOS and Android. Thanks to Roadhouse for their time.
While the folks at Mighty Mill explained how they thought going freemium without hassling players would “maximize potential users and only those that would love it would pay something”, they’ve found themselves in an awkward situation. Last week, the developer announced that Tanuki Forest in its free guise had achieved 8.72k downloads but a mere $65.52 before Apple took its cut. With not much chance of being able to survive on such low earnings, the firm took the difficult decision to increase the asking price for the game to $1.99, I chatted more to Jake Gumbleton to see just how they felt about how things have turned out.
148Apps: What do you wish you’d done differently with Tanuki Forest‘s initial release? Jake Gumbleton (JG): If we were doing things over we would research F2P a lot more carefully and had a more informed decision about the relative merits of indie premium vs F2P monetisation. As you (and a few others) pointed out in your review of TF, the game was very unaggressive with its freemium monetisation. It basically never asks you for money and everything in it can very easily be acquired without ever spending actual money. We went free so that we would have no barrier to entry and achieve the largest possible amount of players. We hoped those players who loved the game would buy the currency doubler as a thanks. This behaviour is true of forum users etc. but maybe not so true of the wider, more casual games player.
148Apps: Did you consider adding more intrusive in-app purchases at any point? JG: Not pre-release, no. We really did not want to taint the experience of Tanuki Forest. The game has an immersive, absorbing style and we did not want to harass players to make purchases. After the hard truth of seeing that the game was basically only going to make enough money to buy us lunch we, of course, discussed potential changes and improvements to the in app purchasing.
We would never want to take our games to a very aggressive place with monetization but I do think there is a lot of potential to improve the ‘retention game’ of Tanuki Forest. We have consulted a few F2P experts and have a list of things that we would love to implement in TF that would give the players much more reason to return to the game for more from one play session to the next.
148Apps: Do you think going on sale upon first release would have helped? JG: I think it might have made us slightly more money but not enough to really change our circumstances. The only real potential benefit would have been that the game would have been perceived as more premium than it was? I think the same elephant in the room is still there whichever way a small indie dev chooses to go, free or paid: Getting meaningful amounts of visibility with the App Store players is extremely difficult indeed.
148Apps: Why did you opt for $1.99 rather than $0.99? JG: Two reasons: to give us room to go on sale if we want to at a later date and also, in my reading up of F2P monetisation since release, I have read a few times that at the low end of price points it makes very little difference to the number of purchases that get made. The difference in units bought at $0.99 or 1.99$ is pretty negligible. $0.99 does not have the relevance that it did before the dominance of free games since there are so many free games now.
148Apps: Have things improved financially yet? JG: We are making more money than we were as a free app but still virtually nothing. The big problem now is that Tanuki Forest has dipped in to obscurity just like all apps do after a few weeks on the app store if they don’t go viral. All of our coverage through reviews etc. happened while we were paid. Once an app dips in the charts it submerges in the million other apps and that’s pretty much that!
148Apps: Has there been any kind of backlash? JG: None at all. People have been incredibly supportive. Ultimately, gamers can’t really be angry for being early adopters and getting the game for free. If it was the other way around I can see reasons for people to be annoyed.
148Apps: What do you think you’ve learned for future titles? JG: To push ourselves to have enough originality and content to ensure we can confidently go indie premium up at $5 or so. If Tanuki Forest had been something bigger than a runner we would have just gone the indie premium route straight off the bat. Our next game will be more original and idiosyncratic of us as developers and we will ensure it has enough content to be a real premium indie app like Sword & Sworcery et al.
148Apps: What do you think of the App Store economy? Does it work for developers or is it a consumers’ market? JG: It works just fine if you are Supercell! As a small developer unless you go viral or make a masterpiece then you are in a pretty impossible position. Obviously the guys at the App Store submissions department must face a deluge of content every day. From their point of view I can see why they go for more known quantities. The only games that break the trend and get the features are pretty much the very best games. So my rather obvious advice to indie devs out there is to make sure your game is utter brilliance.
Thanks to Jake Gumbleton for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember folks, if you love playing a free game, sometimes it’s a good move to buy an in-app purchase or two from it. Not all games are so desperate for your money that they’ll push you into it. That doesn’t mean that the developers behind it don’t need to be able to eat!
Game creation is not easy. Edmund Koh and Personae Studios want to change that with the upcoming PICS Tower of Defense – a way for players to make their own tower defense levels, and eventually their own tower defense games, as a way to lower the barrier that comes between having an idea for a game, and actually creating it.
The app’s concept was born from his studio’s previous game MechWarrior: Tactical Command. Koh says “People were asking for more missions after we released [the game]… so we realized that with all the suggestions on what we should do, we should just open it up and let people make their own games… basically facilitate people to make games in their own genres. The intention with PICS Towers of Defense is that it would be the first in a series of game creation tools.”
The plan for PICS Towers of Defense is to start the game off with level creation only, but eventually, the idea is to let people create full-fledged games with narratives and progression that they define. However, it will be possible to customize all sorts of details, such as attack power of towers and enemies, and even whether the game will be a standard mazing game or an open-field one like Fieldrunners.
Koh says that, “With game development, essentially what you’re doing, most of the time, you’re just guessing what the audience wants… the approach that we’re taking is that we’re gonna ask people what do you want, and let them do it.”
One of the features for creation that they’re working on is to be able to modify levels that other players have created. Koh puts it like this: “If I gave you a clean sheet of paper and asked you to design a car, the chances are, very few people are able to do it. Whereas, if I ask you, what’s wrong with your car and what would you want to change on it, I’m sure you can come up with a lot of things.” So, powered by this philosophy, Personae is aiming to make attributable changes to levels, and to help make creation easier for people.
The way that PICS Towers of Defense intends on making money right now is through theme packs for levels and towers: the game is expected to be a free download, but additional theme packs will be available as in-app purchases, and there is talk of crossovers with other games to get theme packs into this creation tool. Koh says, “We want this to be more of a community-driven platform where people could write in suggestions on what kind of theme packs that they would want to see, and we’ll try to create it for them.”
The plan is for the game to release at some point in the second quarter of 2014, though the initial release will not be the be-all end-all of the game, with more features down the road. And perhaps if the game does well, then more genres could be added to the PICS brand. But for now, Koh and Personae have their hands full with this ambitious app, which in its current state definitely delivers on its promise. But making it widespread and accessible will be the key to the game’s success.
We at 148Apps can’t help but be fascinated by new developers – particularly new developers who have struck out alone, stepping away from their AAA development days. After all, it’s a big risk so they deserve some attention, right? One of the latest teams to arise from such creative bravery is Mighty Mill: a UK based 2-man and a bit team made up of James Trubridge, director; and Jake Gumbleton, art director; with help from Leavon Archer for sound and music. With plenty of experience under their belts, they’ve just released their first title, Tanuki Forest, so we felt this was the ideal time to learn more. Jake was all too happy to answer our questions.
Jake Gumbleton and James Trubridge.
148Apps: What made you decide to go it alone and set up Mighty Mill? Jake Gumbleton (JG): We launched Mighty Mill Games, after a decade each in the traditional game development world. There are two main driving forces behind this: Firstly is creative freedom. In larger organizations, the chain of approval is often daunting and you see so many great ideas get snipped away, particularly in the very conservative ideology that many big budget games are constrained by due to the money at stake on them. Working in a small team has always been our favorite work environment. It just breeds creativity and allows ideas to bounce around and grow.
We also wanted to be there to see our kids grow up. We read somewhere that most men’s dying wish is that they had spent more time with their kids when they were young. We both have children that have been born during [the] making [of] Tanuki Forest. Mighty Mill hopefully allows us to be with them when it matters the most in those early years. We get to play with our kids and experience all their firsts while still making our business work and grow for us.
148Apps: Where does the name Mighty Mill come from? JG: We are based in Long Eaton near Nottingham, England, and the place used to be a big textiles town so it is full of mills. Naming a company is harder than making games. The mills in Long Eaton are not actually windmills, but shhhhhh!
148Apps: How did the idea for Tanuki Forest come about? JG:Tanuki Forest has shifted a great deal since we began on it. It actually started as a brave experiment in asymmetrical multiplayer on the iPad but in the end it just was not fun enough. The aesthetic of the game comes from my fetish for Japan and Studio Ghibli in particular. A few years back I was lucky enough to go to Japan and visit both Nara and the Ghibli museum. It all had a big impact on me, which really came out in the aesthetic and feel of Tanuki Forest. Nara is so brilliant. The deer there have free reign. My wife and I had breakfast in our room one day with deer munching on the grass outside the open window. It was amazing.
I love character design and wanted to develop a main character who was super appealing. I still do not know what he is exactly.
148Apps: What are the most significant differences between working on an AAA project compared to something of Tanuki Forest‘s size? JG: I think specialization is the single biggest factor. Working with a very small team, you just have to do everything so you are constantly forced outside of your area of expertise. There are bits that you love to do but there also lots that you would really prefer not to! Having so little manpower also forces you to make some pretty hard decisions about what you can attempt to do.
The thing we enjoyed the most is the speed that you can iterate at. During our prototyping phase you get to say “what if we do ‘x’?” and then just do it right away. It allows you to really iterate fast and is great fun.
148Apps: What challenges did you face during development? JG: The hardest challenges are the decisions where you have little expertise but the results will make or break the success of the game. Our two hardest things to decide were: do we go with a publisher, and should the game be paid or free. We have opted for no publisher and to go free.
Tanuki Forest is very charming and quite understated for an infinite runner, and although our revenue will have to come from IAP we have nothing to aggressively drive this in the game. Our sincere hope is that people who love the game will spend a little money in the shop. This decision was so hard for us to make as F2P has a real stigma to it for an indie dev. I hate games that constantly bug me to buy stuff! In the end we felt that it was the right way to go for Tanuki Forest as it is an infinite runner. Larger future projects will probably be done on the paid model.
148Apps: What’s next in the pipeline? JG: We have piles of game concepts just waiting for us to add water and watch them grow. Some of these contain robots. We have our fingers crossed that Tanuki Forest will be a first step towards a very exciting future.
Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer our questions. Tanuki Forest is out now and is free to play. There really is no reason why it’s not worth downloading, as it is rather charming.
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.
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!
One of the finest things about app development is how it opens things up to more than just major studios keen to develop an idea. In increasingly dicey times for those reliant upon others for employment, it’s a particular boon to see and some great ideas can come out of tricky times.
One such game is the recently reviewed Glyph Quest, with its developer, industry veteran and one time lead designer at Bullfrog Alex Trowers, letting me know the background to its development. In his own words, “Leanne [Bayley] (the artist), was working in Plymouth, me in Brighton. We decided to move in together and she’d find a new job up this way. Then we found out she was pregnant and had become completely unemployable. Then I lost my job. Instead of finding a new one, we decided we’d try and make a game ourselves. Could we do it before Sproglet arrived? How hard is it for an 8-month pregnant lady to go through [development] crunch [time]?”
More is explained on Leanne’s blog but Alex was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
148Apps: How did the idea for Glyph Quest come about? Alex Trowers (AT):Glyph Quest was originally a side project for us to tinker about at home while Leanne was out of work. I was a big fan of Dungeon Raid‘s tactile dragging interface (and, more recently, Puzzle & Dragons). Also, I enjoyed the RPG-esque trappings of 10000000. So we kinda threw the rest together. We’re both firm believers in emergent and evolutionary gameplay rather than designing something up front and just implementing it, so a lot of the features we added were very much developed on the fly.
148Apps: How different did you find it going from working as part of a team to a much smaller operation? AT: The amount of freedom afforded to you as part of a tiny team is fantastic. We put whatever we wanted in to the game as there were no people further up the chain with the power of veto. That’s why you’ll find plenty of references to all sorts of things scattered throughout and it’s those little touches that i think help us to stand out. In addition we really didn’t take ourselves or the genre too seriously. Of course the downside is the lack of resources. Glyph Quest was nowhere near as polished as it could have been come launch and things like our lack of config test or thorough QA were easy to call out. Another thing to consider is that while it’s great to have all of that power and control, it does rather mean that the buck stops with you and if it all goes horribly wrong, there’s no-one else to blame. It’s exciting stuff really.
148Apps: What challenges did you come across? AT: Our main challenge was logistics to do with the pregnancy as well as all of the other things that went wrong in real life. For example, it’s not the easiest thing in the world for a heavily pregnant woman to sit at a desk all day. We also had many sleepless nights – either Sproglet would kick Leanne awake or this wisdom tooth (that I’m still waiting to get fixed) would decide that I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. Then there was the roof falling off in the storms and the landlord serving us notice. And we had to have it all done and dusted before Sproglet was born.
148apps: You’ve written extensively about issues with the iTunes submission process [as well as the development process]. How would you improve it? AT: The iTunes side of things was always pretty simple. Convoluted in places, I guess – particularly when it came to IAPs – but the level of documentation and support available went a long way to mitigating that. The main place where things fell over were with XCode and my own complete lack of knowledge about it. Knowing which menu to find the relevant option to enable or disable some game-breaking feature was an exercise in the arcane. A friend and old Bullfrog buddy of mine postulated that you need this barrier to entry in order to ensure that the platform is secure and I kinda agree with him.
148Apps: What do you plan to do next? Besides enjoy fatherhood! AT: Next? Well, the success of Glyph Quest has taken us completely by surprise so we’re coming under increasing pressure to ‘fix’ issues with the first one or perhaps start looking in to a sequel. The plan was always to make Glyph Quest in order to fund a Kickstarter campaign for something much bigger. I’d still very much like to do that, but another Glyph Quest game makes an awful lot of sense. Then again, Sproglet was born at midday today, so I guess all bets are off and the thing I’d like to do next is sleep.
Huge thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations to him and Leanne on the arrival of their baby. Proving to be quite the inspiration given how much they’ve overcome in recent times, it’s the ideal time to try out Glyph Quest, available now on the App Store.