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.
Following the surprise release of TowerMadness 2 last week we thought it was the ideal time to find out more about Limbic Software’s latest title, learn about some of the design process behind it, and discover just how it came to be. What better font of knowledge than that of Co-Founder and CEO, Arash Kesmirian? We caught up with him to find the answers to our questions and more.
148Apps: What made you decide to release a whole new game rather than update the original TowerMadness? Arash Keshmirian (AK): We’ve been building on the original TowerMadness for nearly five years now; it went from having only four simple maps to over a hundred. There were 20 updates, and tons of towers, enemies, environments, and features added. I think this was a big part of why that game was a success – we kept it alive, listened to fans, and added more and more. At some point though, we had to draw the line. We wanted to do significant new things and had to completely overhaul the platform in order to evolve to the next step. A revolutionary new 3D engine, brand new art, sound; I don’t really think anything carried over from the original. Oh, just two things – the muzzle flashes and the lock icons are the same. They were too perfect to toss out!
Another big departure from the original was our emphasis on adding characters to the game. So far there are two – Bo, a brave ram that defends your sheep against the first intruders into the flock and helps beginning players, and Xen, an old, wise, friendly alien that runs the tower laboratory to help you defeat the evil aliens. His motivations are unclear. We spent a lot of time making them come to life with dialogue and sophisticated animation. Our hope is to connect players with the game’s world in a deeper way than before, and we added some little surprises to this effect too, like funny descriptions for all the alien types:
148Apps: It’s been 3 and a half years since the first title was released, how come there was such a significant gap between the releases? AK: Well, because of the constant updates to TowerMadness 1 we didn’t really feel like there was a “gap” for players. But in terms of releases, we had to go explore other ideas and grow creatively before we were ready to come back to TowerMadness and make a proper sequel. In the years that went by, we developed and released Nuts! and Zombie Gunship. We’ve been fortunate to see them grow into massive franchises of their own, and each appeals to a different group of players with different expectations from games.
We did have a few “false starts” with TowerMadness 2, though. We’ve gone through a fair number of rejected design doc ideas that we ultimately decided would be too different, hard to play, or just not that fun. It took a long time to find a vision that worked. About nine months ago we cracked it, and set to work building TowerMadness 2.
148Apps: How has the evolution of iOS since the first game changed the development of TowerMadness 2? AK: The Apple Xcode tools we use to develop our games have been consistently improving over the years – but specifically for iOS, we’ve enjoyed leveraging a lot of new iOS features in TowerMadness 2. For one, we’re making full use of iCloud to let players carry their progress with them from device to device, and ensure nothing is ever lost. Since people tend to invest a lot of time in TowerMadness, this was really important to us. A bit more on the technical side, we’re leveraging a lot of new “under-the-hood” iOS features to provide the graphics and animation you see in the game.
Tower defense games in general are a challenge performance-wise because you have a lot of characters on screen that need to be drawn, animated, and run AI. Our custom engine leverages a lot of iOS optimizations to make this fast and keep framerates solidly at 60fps on modern devices. It screams on A7. As far as experimental features go, I really like playing on the TV with Apple TV and Airplay, so we added iOS controller integration to the game. It seems a bit odd for a tower defense to do this, since it’s quite well-suited to touch, but I think it’s a neat experience on a big screen with a controller and a few friends watching.
148Apps: TowerMadness 2 has been a surprise release on the App Store. Why the secrecy rather than building up hype beforehand? AK: Limbic has always been about experimenting. Back in 2009 we were one of the first free apps on the App Store with TowerMadness Zero, and we’ve innovated in other areas by doing things like split-screen multiplayer, Airplay, and other “tests” well ahead of the curve. Our marketing is no different – we wanted to see what would happen if we dazzled our fans with the release they’d been hoping for, without a tortuous tease beforehand. We’re in an age of game development now where the entire process is laid out for fans, from concept to alpha to beta to release, and we wanted to try the polar opposite for a change. When I was a kid I remember one day coming home from school and finding a brand new SNES game lying on my bed, a totally unexpected gift from my parents. Those were the best kinds of surprises, and I wanted our fans to experience that kind of joy too.
148Apps: Tower Defense games run the risk of being samey, what makes TowerMadness 2 stand out from its predecessor? AK: There are a few things that make TowerMadness and TowerMadness 2 unique. The first major aspect is the free-grid style of tower defense gameplay, which really opens the game up to strategic placement of towers and sophisticated tactics. We combine this with a vast array of tower types and alien types, making each level and each round really different in terms of how the waves play out. We’ve added some interesting gameplay mechanics when it comes to environments, with towers overheating and freezing in different climates. I hope to expand on that in future versions.
Another core aspect of the original TowerMadness was the competitive leaderboards. In TowerMadness 2, we’ve streamlined the score dynamic into a simple level time. If players can send and defeat waves more quickly, they’ll finish the level with a shorter time. We use Game Center challenges to facilitate grudge matches, and this has been a big hit with our team internally.
148Apps: How did the idea of using sheep in both games come about? AK: When Volker, Iman, and I created the first TowerMadness, we originally had concepted it as being cows. I have some limited 3dsmax skills [and] was responsible for all of that game’s artwork. The problem was, I had no idea how to make cute-looking cows. I did have some theories about making cute sheep, though. So I built this guy, and he stuck:
Today, with the talents of our Art Director, Lee, we have a much nicer-looking flock…
Plus, I think it makes a much better story that the aliens are trying to abduct the sheep to knit their emperor a sweater (it was a scarf in TM1). What would they do with a cow? Milk? Steaks? The aliens don’t have mouths, and invade completely unarmed… For all we know, they might be vegetarian pacifists!
148Apps: Thanks for your help and time in answering these questions AK: Thanks for having me. We’re really excited to finally get this out in the hands of players, and we can’t wait to see how the game grows as it evolves.
TowerMadness 2 is out now, and on sale at $2.99 (usually priced at $4.99). The original TowerMadness is also available for those keen to catch up on past hits.
Unsung Story, Playdek’s upcoming tactical RPG, seems to be moving along quite nicely. The Kickstarter project, which only started last week, is already past the halfway point with 24 days to go. I think it’s safe to assume that a fair number of people want to play it, yeah?
Playdek CEO Joel Goodman was gracious enough to answer a few of our burning questions regarding Unsung Story. Specifically questions about the game itself, the Kickstarter project, and the involvement of Yasumi Matsuno.
148Apps: Playdek has one heck of a repertoire filled with a TON of great ports of some classic games. Do you think the mechanics of any of those games, or what you’ve learned while creating them, may have had an influence on what you’ve done with Unsung Story? Joel Goodman (JG): The AI system we have created as well as our asynchronous gameplay mechanics will most definitely have an influence on what we will be able to do for Unsung Story. We also maintain a high quality level for all of our games.
148Apps: A tactical RPG seems like a fairly big change in genre from Playdek’s typical work. Was it a challenge to start developing something so different or was it an idea who’s time has come? JG: It was a ripe opportunity that just sort of happened. When the opportunity came, we jumped at it. Plus tactics gaming fits our wheel house.
148Apps: Was Yasumi Matsuno a part of the project from the start or did you have the basic idea for Unsung Story in place first? JG: Yasumi Matsuno developed the concept entirely from the start. We only asked for a tactics game and he took that request and hit the ground running. It is amazing to see the concepts and ideas he is able to come up with when given creative freedom.
148Apps: Will there be any form of multiplayer mode or is it being designed as an entirely single-player affair? Personally I wouldn’t mind the latter in the slightest. JG: There will be multi-player, but the core experience for the story is single player.
148Apps: It must have been difficult deciding where to place stretch goals for the Kickstarter project. Were there any goals you would shift around if given the opportunity? Any that you wish you could have included in the base game? Are you finding that backers are generally being receptive to them or has there been some pushback? JG: The response has been incredible, and our backers are giving us tremendous feedback on the rewards and goals. We will be making modifications to those as we go based off of the suggestions we are seeing come in.
148Apps: Regardless of how the Kickstarter campaign goes (I’m guessing very well based on how much it’s made so far) Unsung Story will still be coming to mobile, right? JG: Yes, however we hope to get the game into as many player’s hands as possible on their platforms of choice.
We’d like to thank Joel Goodman for answering our questions, and are anxiously looking forward to getting our hands on Unsung Story.
Comic book fans are probably familiar with the work of creator and artist Steve Uy; his work is featured in acclaimed Marvel and DC titles such as Uncanny Xmen, Avengers: The Initiative, and JSA Classified and he’s the artist behind the strikingly beautiful upcoming SRPG World Without End. At the end of last year the rather interesting and visually creative Oasis: Path to Redemption was finally released for iOS and Android platforms, and I caught up with Steve Uy to discuss his new game.
148Apps:You’re an artist for a large variety of comic books titles; what made you decide to venture into video game design and has it been an eye-opening experience from what you are used to? Steve Uy (SU): I believe every comic book creator, at one point or another, wants to make a video game, and every video game guy, if they could, wants to try out comic books. At least that’s always been my experience when I talk to the two groups in conventions, so I’m not really unique in this desire, just in the fact that I actually did it. Everyone has the grass is greener attitude when it comes to the medium.
With comic books, I’m in charge of everything, and the end result is limited only to my deficiencies as an artist. I’ve created worlds for over a decade in a sequential medium, and Oasis is the first step in allowing people to be an active participant in a world I have created. With games, however, the size of the world is limited by things such as budgets so there are still restrictions to what I can do.
As for eye-opening experiences, absolutely! I originally thought Oasis would take 3-4 months to complete, but it took us 9 months and still counting with the android build coming! The game may look small in size, but getting every bit of code right, making sure every single animation frame played at the right tenth of a second, making sure the jump arc and knock back animation and dash speed was right to the exact pixel – those are things that I have always taken for granted. I can’t say enough what a great job my programmer, John Garrison, did to make everything as polished as it came out to be. Oasis turned out to be much deeper than I ever expected and I’m still learning new combat tricks with every new update.
148Apps:Where did the idea behind Oasis: Path to Redemption come from and what is the story behind it? SU: When I was working on World Without End (which I put on hiatus so we could get Oasis out first), all I could think of was that I really wanted to do a side-scroller. If I were to do an RPG, I imagine it would be something like The Adventure of Link; a game that had a traditional overworld but with side-scrolling dungeons. I had an overworld with WWoE but I needed to figure out how to do side-scrollers, and that’s where Oasis came from.
Oasis may be called a runner because the main character runs automatically, but that’s just a game design decision I made to simplify controls, much like how SHMUPS have auto-fire built in. Take everything Oasis has to offer and it’s more similar to a side-scrolling console fighter – albeit far more simplified of course – complete with counters, footsies, and combo delay attacks.
148Apps: When it comes to writing and creating a game, what or who are your influences and was there anything in particular that had a large impact on the idea of Oasis? SU I think the first thing people will notice with Oasis is that it has an ending. All games that have a main character should have an ending.
The first thing I thought of when coming up with a story for Oasis was that I didn’t want it to be like everything else out there, full of in-your-face fun and joy and awesomeness. This game, from start to finish, is bittersweet, melancholic. Every stage shows a little piece of the story in illustrated cutscenes. But those scenes had to be concise and to the point; they had to MATTER to the player without preaching to them. They had to be worth fighting for. This is the story of the last man left in the world trying to revive it just so he can see his lost love again.
If I were to describe Oasis, I’d say it was a cross between Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ninja Gaiden.
148Apps: Are there still plans for the release of World Without End? Can we look forward to this beautiful game gracing our iOS and Android devices anytime soon? SU: To be on the safe side, I can’t make any promises for sure until we know how Oasis fares in the market and we see if we have money to pay the bills. But it’s definitely on the top of me and my programmer’s list of priorities.
148Apps: Is there anything you can take from this experience so far that you would say has prepared you for any future or on-going projects? SU: I definitely overdid it with the parallax layers in the final stage! I didn’t realize that 512 MB of memory would still get eaten up with all the hand drawn art I did for the game! Plus, I did looping worlds with seamless transitions, which meant that all the parallax layers had to end and transition at exactly the right spot on the map. That took months to perfect, and I don’t think the end result looks as good as if I had just drawn non looping worlds with no limitations to my art.
For the future, I would like to be able to make a Metroid-style game someday but touch controls right now are the biggest limitation, and directional onscreen controls used simultaneously with onscreen buttons are definitely not good enough for me.
That said, the engine for Oasis opens up a whole new world for us. If we were to make sequels it would be redesigned in structure. No more looping worlds, probably permanent checkpoints, bosses, air combos – it would be more of an adventure game than a battle runner. I would use everything we made to release a more polished, deeper game, but I have no desire to make the same thing twice.
148Apps: Can we expect more of your beautiful handiwork on our iOS devices again anytime soon? SU: We’re still working on the android versions of Oasis right now, and we’ll probably release a Lite version for iOS later down the line. There are definitely things I want to continue with so it comes down to either Oasis or World Without End depending on how sales go. Obviously, the best way to help make that happen is to buy the game, or my comic books in ComiXology. And of course, keep tabs on my website for any updates.
Ever watch your favorite sports team’s season go down the drain due to injuries? What if I told you a video-editing app for iPad could someday be the reason why your team wins a championship? That’s just what Spark Motion Pro could do, if Dave Gottfeld has his way.
See, what Spark Motion Pro does functionally is to allow its users to shoot videos, then easily annotate them and add commentary. In this case the annotations can include things like stopwatches, a ruler to measure lengths of objects, set to the scale of a control object, an angle measurement tool, and even transparent overlays of another video. Users can easily import videos, rearrange clips, and add their commentary to them, then uploading them to a cloud-based service for others to view. It’s all functionality that – by itself – is perhaps technically solid, but not necessarily revolutionary in and of itself.
But see, sometimes the power of an app is not so much in what it does, but what it allows the user to do. And what it allows trainers and physicians to do is to be able to easily capture video of someone they’re working with, say, an athlete recovering from a knee injury, as Gottfeld demoed to me when I spoke to him. When one client he worked with who suffered an ACL injury, he was able to show using the app’s grid and transparent overlay how a one-leg balance test showed that the person’s non-injured leg was having balance issues during their recovery with the other leg. Using Spark Motion, Gottfeld could easily quantify to his client using the video overlay of the exact problem.
Baseball and golf are two extremely mechanical sports, and Spark Motion is perfect for them. The angle overlay can help a golfer analyze where the angle of their swing is, informing them of what they need to focus on to improve. Gottfeld in particular showed how he was able to detect how a certain hip movement was causing knee stress in a baseball batter’s swing. Pitchers are an obvious application for this app: delivery flaws could be detected and improvement over time could be shown as well.
Spark Motion Pro takes full advantage of the convenience of modern technology: as an iPad app, this means that its users can easily shoot and analyze video from wherever. The app’s subscription service comes with cloud storage (which is HIPAA compliant for patient confidentiality) that can allow trainers and practitioners to work remotely with clients who can shoot and upload their own video, which theSpark Motion user can then provide their analysis of and send back. Users can even link up a PayPal account and charge for their services in the app on a per-video basis. This can happen anywhere wi-fi is available.
The more powerful hardware of the latest iOS devices only makes Spark Motion better: the iPad Air can render video with annotations much faster than previous generations, at what Gottfeld reports as a 1:1 ratio of video time to rendering time. Videos can be imported from sources besides the iPad, so video could be shot with a high-end camera on a stable setup, for example. Or for those who want to shoot high framerate video with the iPhone 5s, that is compatible with Spark Motion Pro as well. Perhaps those additional frames could reveal information in the body’s movements that could help prevent a catastrophic injury, or provide dramatic performance improvements.
The app has tons of potential, but it’s already in use in some cases: Gottfeld reports working with the New England Patriots using Spark Motion, and former NFL kicker Matt Stover helps train kickers using the app. And at the recent MLB Winter Meetings, among the headlines of big deals and big fights, Gottfeld got to meet with all the teams in a speed-pitching scenario, and several teams were reportedly interested in the app. They might just be the ones that keep their players healthy on the field, or get the injured ones back sooner, and win more games.
Steadily evolving over the years, Get Set Games‘ Mega Run and Mega Jump have seen quite significant changes. Mega Jump was initially released in 2010 as a premium title, before being made free to play in 2011, alongside the release of similarly free to play Mega Run. Now it seems that things have come full circle with the renamed and remodeled premium titles, Mega Run Plus and Mega Jump Plus.
Given the change of strategy from Get Set Games, we took the time to talk to Derek van Vliet, one of the co-founders of the company, to find out more about the thought process.
148Apps: In the past few years you’ve jumped between premium pricing and free to play, resulting in both varieties catered for on the App Store. How come? Why the change in pricing model? Derek van Vliet (DV): That’s true. Mega Jump started as a paid app in May 2010. Shortly thereafter we ran a couple of “free game of the day” promotions which showed us that the game could earn more as a free app with in-app purchases than it could as a paid app. So in August 2010 we switched it to Free permanently.
Since then we’ve added a number of new monetization features that make it hard to go back to being a premium game (primarily interstitial advertising). At the same time, we heard from lots of players that they would like to be able to buy the game up front and get all of the content in the game and not have to deal with the ads. These new paid versions of Mega Jump and Mega Run serve that demand. They are the same awesome games, but free of ads and all of the additional level packs are available to unlock for free.
148Apps: Do you regret going down the free to play route before? DV: Not at all. We’ve been able to grow a fantastic company in large part due to that decision. We’re going to continue to release games that make people say “I can’t believe this is free”.
148Apps: Have such models affected how games are developed? DV: Indeed they have. It has caused us to have to focus a lot of resources on systems that increase engagement, monetization, and virality. Things like Facebook-connected leaderboards and consumable power-ups. The player-facing components of these systems most often take the form of UI and as such, a lot of our development resources have been focused on enabling us to design and present large amounts of user interface in our games.
It also puts a large emphasis on the importance of being able to change the content of our games at a moment’s notice. So a considerable amount of the effort we put into making games goes into making the experience configurable over the air.
148Apps: What do you think works best between free to play and premium? DV: Regardless of free to play or premium, what works best is delivering a high quality experience to the player. We’ve always strived to produce games that are brimming with fun and humor and we find that resonates with people in both the free to play and premium markets.
148Apps: What do you think the future is for the iOS pricing model? DV: I think we’re going to continue to see free games dominate the top grossing charts for the foreseeable future. That being said, as iOS heads towards 1 billion users, even if only 10% of the money that is spent goes towards paid apps, that will continue to be a large opportunity for premium games.
Thanks to Derek for taking the time to answer our questions. Mega Jump Plus and Mega Run Plus are available on the App Store now, priced at $0.99 each.
EchoChamber is the title hoping to be funded by it. It’s described as a rhythm game with a “unique twist.” It’s a free-to-play local multiplayer title that uses positional audio to get players to follow various cues and perform gestures in time with the music. I took the time to learn more from Cody Lee, co-founder and developer at Little bit Games.
148Apps: How did the idea for echoChamber come about? Cody Lee (CL): The idea for echoChamber came about after playing the game SpaceTeam with friends. It seemed like such a unique and original idea and utilized your phone for multiplayer in a way that I’d never seen before. It kinda blew my mind and I started to think of other ways we could use mobile devices for multiplayer experiences that you couldn’t get on any other platform. I spent a lot of time picturing people physically standing around with friends, trying to come up with games that required that physical space, and that used the capabilities of modern cell phones.
148Apps: Why the decision to be free to play? CL:echoChamber is a multiplayer only game, and is more fun the more people you are playing with. It seemed natural for us to release the game as a free download so people can start playing it as easily as possible with their friends without requiring everybody to commit to purchasing it. We’ll be releasing additional tracks as paid DLC for people who want to extend their experience beyond the base tracks.
148Apps: How hard has it been to implement the positional sound effects? CL: Doing the positional audio itself isn’t too bad. It’s really just a matter of adjusting volume for the different devices to get the desired effect we want. The hardest part has been synching the playback of the track on all of the devices while accounting for network latency. If the sound is out of sync at all, the positional effect is lost, and you get more of an echo. If it’s REALLY out of sync it just sounds like garbage!
148Apps: What other challenges have you faced? CL:echoChamber started out as more of a Pong-like game where sound would move around and players would have to tap their screens to hit the “ball” away. The problem is it’s hard to know when the ball has reached you. It get’s louder so you know it’s closer, but how loud is the “loudest” and “closest”. That’s why we ended up going the rhythm game route. When there’s a set beat, and the ball moves to the beat, it’s easier to know when the sound will “hit”. We’ve since moved away from the Pong aspect of the game and are focusing more on an overall fun musical experience instead.
148Apps: When do you hope to release echoChamber? CL: If the Kickstarter goes well, we hope to release some time early next year. If it doesn’t go well… we’re not sure.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until December 27, with a wide selection of backer rewards to cover everyone’s budget.
Thanks to Cody for taking the time to answer our questions. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on echoChamber‘s progress.
Arguably the most anticipated puzzle game of the year thanks to the runaway success of its predecessor, The Room Two is set for release on December 12. In the buildup to this very exciting time, I had the chance to go hands-on with the game to see exactly what’s to come next week.
Only having had the chance to play the early stages of the game and not wishing to spoil too much, The Room Two is immediately enticing. There’s an easy-to-follow tutorial for those who haven’t yet enjoyed the original (and if so, why not? There’s still plenty of time to lose one’s self to it!), and a gentle introduction to what to expect. As before, puzzles are set to be as tactile as they are logical with a layering of conundrums to keep players busy. The eerie music continues to add plenty of tension to what’s going on. This time there’s set to be a wider variety of rooms to tackle too, which should prove quite enthralling.
The Room Two is set to be the kind of experience where it’s best to go in cold, but it’s looking pretty positive so far. We’ll be sure to bring you a full review next week. For now, we’ve shared a few words with Barry Meade, commercial director at Fireproof Studios, about how development has gone and just how the success of The Room helped pave the way.
148Apps: The first game was commercially and critically very successful. Have you found this adding to the pressure to get the second game right? Barry Meade (BM): Not really, we’re honestly just delighted to get the chance to work on our own games full stop. Having said that I think we’d all be disappointed if the second game doesn’t do better than the first as we’ve put a lot more work into it this time around. But we do honestly feel that if The Room Two is good enough and deserves to do well, it will do well, and that if it fails its because we failed. And so, if the game’s fate is in our hands alone then there’s no point in worrying unduly about outside pressures or expectations. We’ll do the best we can and see how that flies with our audience.
148Apps: How has that success helped with the development of the sequel? BM: Hugely. Whereas The Room had only 1 programmer and 1 or 2 artists on it at one time, The Room Two has had up to 4 programmers and 8-10 artists on it during the course of development. We made The Room Two in the time frame that the design required rather than hurried because we needed to make money by X date or whatever, and we were only able to decide that because of The Room‘s success. But frankly we can’t think of any better way to spend the money we earn than to reinvest it in our creative process. For us financial success means freedom – freedom to do what we think is necessary to make the best version of the game we want to make – not to have to work for or make decisions for somebody else’s benefit.
For instance if we had to work with a publisher, The Room would never have been created at all – it’s a rare publisher that wants to push things forward for gamers and they generally look down on games and developers who do that. No, we needed to listen to ourselves for The Room to happen and thankfully that’s what we did, and put our own savings on the line to do it. Now that it has paid off for us, we’re even less likely to listen to others. We’re in an ideal creative place but we’re very aware that this position depends on us genuinely making novel, new, interesting games that deserve audience attention. I hope we live up to it.
148Apps: How will The Room Two be different from its predecessor? BM: We were all very happy with how The Room turned out as our first game, though the very limited money we had to spend on its development made the game smaller than it deserved to be. So this time around we wanted to give the concept what it deserved in terms of development time, resources, manpower etc. to see where we could take it. In almost every way The Room Two is a more fully-featured game than the first one – taking what worked and building on it, making it deeper, larger and even a bit more complicated. The environments are a lot more interesting, the objects more intricate and interactive.
So it was a harder project to make this time, it had more moving parts, testing it was a bit more fraught etc. but we knew all that going into it – we just wanted to make it bigger and better across the board. Fireproof may never be a flashy AAA developer but as long as we are working on something we are going to make the best damn version of it that we possibly can. It was that attitude which helped us make The Room in the first place and this time is no different. We think its better in every way than the first, let’s hope the audience agrees.
148Apps: After the success of the original, was there the temptation to simplify the game to appeal to a more casual market? BM: Nah. We’re amazingly happy with the audience we have, we have no interest in trying to squeeze squillion$ of dollars from The Room. It would be great to pick up more users with The Room Two as we’ve worked hard to make it as good to play and value-for-money as possible. But for us its very important to make our work with our own sensibilities at the forefront and not to worry too much about what others expect or think. Our audience bought into the love we put in the first game and if we want to please anyone else then it’s those who enjoyed the first game. They will be our toughest critics and rightly so.
As gamers we’ve always believed that if we pleased our own sensibilities and standards first, others will pick up on the care and attention we put into it, whereas if we obviously attempt to chase what other people want or expect, the audience will see through it, smell the desperation and move onto something more honest and interesting. As in a lot of things in life, chasing something indirectly is often the way to catch it, so concentrating on our own wishes for the game and by extension our current audience seems the most reliable and sensible way to attract brand new users into the game.
148Apps: Many players wished they had more time with The Room, will its sequel be longer? BM: Yes, quite a bit longer. A lot of people who played The Room thought it was a bit short but well worth the money they paid, in fact the user ratings are amazingly high for it so we’re hoping that adding a bit of length and depth will keep them just as pleased and perhaps tickle them even more. The curious thing about puzzle games is how mistaken everybody can be about other players experiences. Some player who is a freak for puzzle games generally will play the game and complete it in 1.5 hours and will be convinced the game is actually short. But for every one of those Ninja players we know there’s 5-10 other players who took 3-5 hours to play it, and they have a very different view on the length – any longer and they would feel overwhelmed.
Puzzle games are very different to other games in that sense – the experience they give players depends very much on the personality and brain of those who are playing it. It’s this engagement of the brain that makes them so beloved I think – people’s own imagination takes a very active part in the playing. It might explain all the love the game gets – we’re not the biggest selling game by any stretch but people who have played it really really love the game. We are super thankful for that, I can tell you it makes us sleep well at night knowing it.
Many thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer our questions.
Set for release December 12, we’ll have a full review of The Room 2 that day. In the meantime, why not get reacquainted with The Room?
Cornfox & Bros. and publisher FDG Entertainment’s Oceanhorn has been an anomaly in the rise of free-to-play games on the App Store: it’s one of the few attempts at making a grand-scale game on iOS and priced at an $8.99 cost that few others have dared to try. The game’s launch saw it rocket to #1 in the paid app charts and in the top 10 of the top grossing apps, bolstered not just by its App Store Editor’s Choice but by a pre-release hype cycle that’s rarely seen for mobile games.
Oceanhorn‘s price risk has paid off: the game recouped its production cost in less than a week, seemingly showing that the kind of games with high production values and premium price points can succeed on the App Store. Thomas Kern, Executive Producer of Oceanhorn at FDG Entertainment, spoke to me about the game’s success at its price point.
148Apps: Why launch at $8.99, and that price point specifically? $6.99 has been a more typical “high” price for games on the App Store, and $9.99 is a more “round” number – so why $8.99? Was launching at a premium price point the plan all throughout development? Thomas Kern (TK): We’re not setting prices on trends or from a psychological “round number” point of view. The launch price is related to the production cost and quality of the game. We got lots of emails and feedback about the price and it was all positive. People felt it was the right price and the game has done tremendously well at $8.99. We’re very happy about the success of the game.
148Apps: Was there ever any thought to making the game free-to-play, or incorporating a hybrid model like what Infinity Blade uses? TK:The plan for this game was always to go the traditional premium route, something players are used to from game consoles or handhelds. Oceanhorn is a loving tribute to games we enjoyed in our childhood and we see it as a fan-service to offer the full experience without additional costs.
148Apps: The game was bolstered by Apple’s featuring of Oceanhorn as an Editor’s Choice – do you feel like the game would have done as well without this? TK: When we launched the game it immediately shot up the charts, before Apple even featured it. It was great to see that Apple agreed with many happy users that this game is a milestone in iOS gaming so they featured it very prominently and supported the game’s launch the best way they could. It seems Apple really appreciates efforts like this, after all, Oceanhorn‘s development time was over 2 years!
148Apps: What about the long-term prospects of the game? Can the game continue to succeed at $8.99? TK: It does! We see very healthy sales and we’ve recouped the investment in less than a week. For us and the development team, the game is already a great success.
There is no sale to be expected, Oceanhorn will stay at $8.99 but we’ll add more content to it in 2014 so the value will become even better.
148Apps: Do you think that other games can succeed at high price points? Do you believe that Oceanhorn changed anything with the market? TK: We’ve been contacted by many people in the industry and they’ve been surprised about the success despite the high price point. Especially because the production cost was recouped really quickly. Oceanhorn definitely proves that premium games are not dead and it’s a viable business. We can’t beat some insanely successful Free2Play game revenues, but that was not our plan. Healthy revenues don’t require a position in Top 10 Grossing.
Papa Sangre II is different from other horror games. Recently released for the iPhone, it makes use of gyro and binaural technology in order to create the most atmospheric and chilling experience possible. Featuring the voice of Sean Bean, it’s being talked about as being one of the most remarkable works of art produced for iOS. I caught up with Nicky Birch, Head of Products at Somethin’ Else and executive producer of Papa Sangre II, to discuss their new game.
148 Apps: You’re obviously a company who work with a great variety of media. Was there anything you learned from the development of the original Papa Sangre that you took on board in order to create the greatest user experience possible for Papa Sangre II? Nicky Birch (NB): The two Papa Sangre games are similar but also hugely different. The first was a piece of magic; we wanted a 3D sound game and realized there was no technology to help us, so we had to build it. It was beautiful and a real technical ground breaker. For the sequel we wanted to use more sounds and add to the dramatic narrative feel of the game. We began to think about how we can make a game with more advanced gameplay, have a returning game (achievements) and crucially use the gyro controls system for much more immersive play.
148 Apps: What does the term ‘truly innovative’ mean to you as a developer? Do you feel that Papa Sangre II has paved the way for other developers to really branch out and try new things? NB: Fundamentally it means being bold and investing in R&D. Merging creative game designers with adept technologists. Pushing the devices to the limits of what they can do. We have had to reinvent a bunch of game known design archetypes – what is a puzzler without graphics? Or a first person shooter without defined visual clues? It doesn’t come without challenges; our developers and producers are under pressure to deliver and learn at the same time, which is hard but ultimately rewarding work to do.
Producer Tom Green after playing too much Papa Sangre II.
148 Apps: The Papa Engine is a most impressive piece of audio technology. How did the idea come about and how long does it take to put together such an ambitious project as Papa Sangre II? How difficult a process was it to combine the technology of the Papa Engine and the Gyro technology of the iPhone? NB:Papa Sangre II was a huge project which took close to two years to make. The game itself took about a year from early conception to delivery and it was a labour of love for the team of writers, producers, sound designers, developers, and illustrators involved. The other substantial piece of work was the entire overhaul of the 3D engine (Papa Engine) that powers the game. This is what allows you to hear sounds 360 degrees around your head – sounds which can move towards or away from you as designated by the game’s producer.
The Papa Engine is a powerful spatial audio engine that uses sophisticated HRTF processing to produce a binaural audio-scape in your headphones. HRTF processing has been around for years, but doing this on a mobile platform is a new innovation. I am proud to say our audio engineers are true geniuses who have now wrapped this engine up into a reusable API for other devs to use on their games. With regards to the gyro, right at the start of the game design process after Papa 1, it was always our intention for our next game to connect more to the environment the player was in. So the gyro tool was the obvious first addition to add in. Allowing us to augment reality in a clever and possibly more authentic way than games that use cameras and visuals because it lets your mind fill in the blanks. That’s why we always say your mind has the best graphics.
Benedict Cumberbatch did the voice-work for Somethin’ Else’s second game The Nightjar.
148 Apps: Papa Sangre is obviously a game that must be experienced to be understood. Considering how newfangled and unique of an idea it is, was it originally tough to get others on board? NB: We were lucky because of the success of Papa Sangre and our follow up game The Nightjar with Benedict Cumberbatch. We had won some awards and had an audience of players who followed our games as well as lots of support from within the blind gaming community. So we didn’t have to explain the idea to many people; they trusted us to deliver.
148 Apps: What feedback have you received for Papa Sangre II? Do you feel the involvement of Sean Bean as narrator has made a huge difference to the success of the game? NB: We have been overwhelmed with the response for Papa Sangre II – both in blog reviews and also player reviews. At the time of this interview, Papa Sangre II is the highest rated British iOS game of all time (and also the highest rated across the world this year). So that is a real honor and a fantastic response to our team’s passion and commitment to pushing creative and technical boundaries. Having Sean on board has helped that to an extent as he has fans across the world who know him from his movie work and Game of Thrones. Also when you play the game you can hear how great Sean plays his role and his first class performance adds a real edge to the drama.
Sean Bean is the narrator and guide for recent release Papa Sangre II.
148 Apps: What’s the next step for Somethin’ Else? Will the Papa formula be extended for use in any of your other upcoming ideas and can we expect more from Papa Sangre in the future? NB: Having built and refined the Papa Engine that powers Papa Sangre II, we want to experiment with more audio games and see where we can push the technology. Only we hope it won’t take 2 years for the next one – so expect more 3D audio games to come early next year. Wearing our client hat we also make games for brands and broadcasters…but to find out which games are ours may take a spot of detective work.
Many thanks to Nicky Birch for the interview. We can’t wait to see just what Somethin’ Else has in store for the future.
For Jon-Paul Dumont and the team at Disney Mobile, the creation of Star Wars: Tiny Death Star was a balancing act. On one side, there was NimbleBit and their hit game, but also their aesthetic of gameplay and of how they approach free-to-play that forms the spirit of their games. On the other side, LucasArts is very protective of Star Wars, and even with Disney owning the brand now they work diligently to make sure that anything Star Wars fits in with the brand.
Getting to work with NimbleBit for Disney’s internal mobile studio was a dream come true, and Dumont had been in touch about working with them but he couldn’t find a partnership that would work out until Disney bought Star Wars. And how did Tiny Death Star come about? Well, Dumont says “Somebody just sort of blurted out, ‘What about Tiny Death Star?’ and lightbulbs sort of went off and it sort of wrote itself from there on out.”
Once the idea was formed, making a game that would feel true to NimbleBit was key. “The team sat down with the guys at NimbleBit and learned from them, what were the fans of Tiny Tower really excited about? What did they love? What were things that they felt like could be improvements?”
“One of the things that we really loved about Tiny Tower was the delightful randomness of the game, and how you never quite know what the next floor is going to be… who the next character is going to be who gets into your elevator. So we wanted to add to that by taking all these fun, iconic villains and heroes and species of Star Wars and giving you a reason to want to see all of them.”
“Even though we built this internally at Disney, this should feel 100% like a Nimblebit game. David and Ian [Marsh] were involved in the game and they reviewed builds often, and helped us stay within what is really important to them as game makers. The great thing is that we were starting from something like Tiny Tower that was very successful and I think really innovative in the market at the time, so we didn’t really feel the need to reinvent their formula. So in the same way that we were really reverential to Star Wars, I’d say we were really reverential to Nimblebit.”
And making the game fit in with the Star Wars brand was important for them and for LucasArts. “The team started working then with LucasArts to figure out, how do we adapt that fun, humorous, 8-bit style that NimbleBit has over to Star Wars? It was the first at least recent 8-bit game for LucasArts, there was a lot of work and back and forth to make sure that our versions of the characters really worked but still had that tongue-in-cheek style.”
“[LucasArts] are really rigorous, and it makes sense given that Star Wars is a property that has lasted so long, and that they have plans to keep it going for decades to come. They are just making sure that the characters fit and that things are logical within the universe. They’re also making sure that they are making the right creative decisions for the future. They have a kind of legacy to protect. And so when they look at an 8-bit Stormtrooper, they’re trying to figure out not just how does it work for this game, but what does 8-bit mean in Star Wars for next year, 5 years, and 10 years in the future?”
This even came down to making the game make at least some sense narratively. Dumont says “We needed to know even if it’s goofy or silly, like our premise is intentionally, it was important to have that central focus of knowing why is an Ewok on the Death Star? Why is Lando Calrissian around your cantina? So, that gave us a grounding element. It was also really important to the guys at Lucas. They really are the guardians of this legacy of Star Wars. So no matter how silly or goofy the game is, they want to make sure everything fits together. And there are things that we followed along that were important to them. For instance, our game is set roughly in the classical era of Star Wars, which means that characters who died in the prequels are not going to show up in this game. Even for something as cute as this, there are really important sort of structural rules that are important to us and LucasArts.”
“I would not call this game canon, they’re not basing movies on it or anything like that, but having something that fits and makes sense is actually really important to us and we feel like it is important to our audience of Star Wars fans who take things, even goofy things seriously. It is really fun to play around in a version of Star Wars that doesn’t take itself that seriously, so it allows us to have a lot of the fun and lots of fun humor and gags.”
And with Tiny Death Star out now worldwide, players can judge for themselves if Dumont and Disney Mobile found their own balance of the Force between the inspirations from NimbleBit and Star Wars. Thanks to Jon-Paul Dumont for his time.
Occasionally it feels a little too easy to be cynical. To mutter about how the App Store is full of Match-3 puzzle games, freemium city builders, and Angry Birds clones. Luxuria Superbia is a reminder that this really isn’t the case. At least not if one searches for more original offerings.
The game is described as a ‘musical journey from the sensuous to the spiritual’ with its thematic elements being distinctly erotic in nature. At least, that is, depending on one’s perspective of what unfolds. There’s a heck of a lot more to its interpretation than that.
Fascinated by such originality, I took the time to ask the game’s developers, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, a few questions on the subject.
148Apps: How did the idea for Luxuria Superbia come about? Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (AH & MS): The initial idea came to us during a roundtable session led by Brenda Romero on the subject of sex in videogames at the Game Developers Conference. While most of the discussion focused on issues of depiction, we started thinking about it differently: instead of showing naked bodies in the act, we wanted to model the interaction with a game mechanic on the experience of pleasure. And even this early, back in 2008, we already thought of flowers as a visual inspiration.
This idea was something we developed and expanded upon during a long research and prototyping project codenamed Cncntrc. This linked the sensations of the body with the rational and spiritual experiences of early science and mythology. We were especially looking at Geo-centric models of the universe and their links with religion (as the planets in our solar system are named after Roman Gods). We were very fond of this connection between heaven and earth, between sensual pleasure and mystic ecstasy. But the subject matter became so big — we were literally trying to make a game about everything — that it became impossible to capture all of it in a single game.
So we decided to make multiple games based on this research. Luxuria Superbia is the first one. As a first game, we wanted it to be simple and easy to enjoy. So that we would have a solid basis to expand upon later.
148Apps: Did anything else inspire you? Such as a film or game, or other form of media? AH & MS:Luxuria Superbia is structured a bit like tunnel shooter games, of which Rez is a stand-out title that we love. But instead of antagonism and destruction, we wanted to focus on love and creation. It’s funny how similar mechanics can mean such different things when tweaked a little.
Keita Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy encouraged us to embrace a whimsical and joyful play experience. And Erik Loyer’s Strange Rain influenced the flow of the game.
Not exactly an inspiration, but Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey kept popping up in our reference material. The symmetry of the cinematography, the tubes and hallways, the sentient invisible being inside of the computer and the surreal cosmic ending all seem to have their links with our little game.
Discovering the paintings by Aimei Ozaki really helped us decide on the visuals. And the work of Georgia O’Keeffe supported our desire to fuse human sensuality with the shapes of flowers.
And then there’s architecture. Cathedrals like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Borobudur temple in Indonesia were the source of our desire to deal with a journey from the sensual to the spiritual. The intricate design of the domes of Islamic mosques stimulated the use of circular symmetry in the game. The interior of some German rococo churches, like the Wieskirche in Steinbaden, inspired the blank versus color dynamic. And the central hub in the game was modeled after Marie-Antoinette’s Temple of Love in Versailles.
Other than that, we really love some kitschy movies with charming innuendo like Barbarella, Zardoz and Flash Gordon. A lot of the humor in the game was inspired by those.
148Apps: It’s quite the departure from your other games. Was this deliberate? Do you have a particular genre preference? AH & MS: We’re too restless to want to fit into any one genre. With our previous games we have indeed explored the narrative side of games much more. But for us the creation of an environment and atmosphere is always more important.
Since the original idea for Luxuria Superbia came to us so long ago, it is not meant to be a deliberate departure as such. But the way we approached the design was very much inspired by the intentions for our future creative production as laid out in our Beautiful Art Program. The main idea being that we want to try harder to connect to our audience, to give more people access to the joy and beauty we see in our games.
The fact that we have leaned toward the dark side in our previous work with games about death and loss of innocence and so on, is actually a coincidence. We are interested in many topics and have in fact already made a very joyful game with The Endless Forest. With Luxuria Superbia, we wanted to share our love for life, the joy and beauty that we find in existence. So pleasure became the “story” that we wanted to explore in this one.
148Apps: Is there a way of completing it? Or is it solely about the experience? AH & MS: Oh yes! The delight you bring to each flower (or tunnel or level) in the game is expressed in a three ring rating and collected in a column in the garden (the central hub of the game). So to complete the game, one would collect all three rings for all twelve flowers and complete each column.
But the game does not push you too hard to achieve this. The focus of play is very much on the journey and not on the destination.
148Apps: What do you hope that players will gain from playing the game? AH & MS: Joy and an experience of beauty. These are not trivial matters to us. They are all-important. Deep joy is more important than knowledge. Beauty is more important than truth. The experience of beauty and joy makes us better, kinder, gentler people.
From my brief time with it so far Luxuria Superbia sounds bewitching, mostly because it is. It’s like precious little already out there and very imaginative. Set for release later this week, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on it.
Thanks to Auriea and Michael for answering my questions.
Ryan Mitchell has been diligently releasing some fairly under-appreciated gems on the App Store for quite some time now. Of particular note are Necromancer Rising, a first-person dungeon crawler, and Mission Europa, a far more refined first-person dungeon crawler with a really creepy atmosphere. And now he’s working on what can best be described as a Dungeon Keeper-like titled Cursed Realms.
We contacted him recently and he was gracious enough to speak to us at length about his new project, and tease a little bit about a possible Mission Europa sequel. Please note that all of these images are from a pre-alpha version and that the look/style/etc are, naturally, subject to change.
148Apps: What made you decide to start developing Cursed Realms? Ryan Mitchell (RM): I had finished Mission Europa and I was looking for the next big challenge. I wanted to develop a universe that is so encompassing any storyline is possible. As Stargate allowed its viewers to escape any rules or bounds, I wanted the same. Thus the Cursed Realms universe began.
148Apps: Why something akin to Dungeon Keeper rather than a follow-up to Mission: Europa? RM: I wanted to create a more mainstream type game while also creating a new game engine. I constructed a new Shader and Opengl ES 2.0 based engine. Alas, my scope of work exploded far broader then I originally intended. I LOVE Mission Europa and do plan on a sequel in the future. The update would be using the new engine which includes a LOT of online components. I would like to have some systems where users create scenarios and the like. User created content REALLY blows open a game even if it is just a simple base defense like clash of clans.
148Apps: I know you’ve been working on Cursed Realms for quite a while, so it couldn’t have been in response to EA’s upcoming Dungeon Keeper release. RM: Not at all. This is an after-work endeavor, and for quite a while my main job ate into my night time dev time. I also am married with two kids in sports and we all are in Brazillian Jujitsu. However, I have dropped a lot of activities and am pouring more time into developing again. That along with a scope of game that ballooned far bigger then I expected. However, that is a main reason for the switch to a Clash of Clans type game mixed with Dungeon Keeper. I am culling back some of the scope to not only make the game better but get it done sooner.
148Apps: Why the sudden switch from Dungeon Keeper to something more Clash of Clans-y? And how significantly will this shift affect what’s already there? RM: The current game had been in alpha testing developing game play when I was introduced to Clash of Clans by a friend who does not play any games at all. His addiction blew me away. I then realized I needed to change several things in Cursed Realms to make it most importantly more fun and addictive, then secondly to make it more appealing to a wider audience. The gameplay will be immensely sped-up in multiplayer and maybe single player (single player is taking a backseat now). This speed up conforms to the devices strength of popping your device open and jumping into a game for a short break or while waiting on something.
The online element and crowd sourcing gameplay is [also] very important. The ability for people to build, defend, and destroy other bases and minions explodes the content level. Then being able to take over your own minion in 3D and personally take on another players base adds a new level to this type of game. Another concept I saw as very important is a purchase model where players with more money then time can accelerate their play and help support future games I make.
All assets were unchanged really just database adjustments. I just had to clean up programmer interfaces and expose them to the users. My scene graph based engine really is quick to prototype and create new game-types. So the change accelerated completion instead of delaying.
148Apps: Do you think long-time Dungeon Keeper fans will love, hate, or be indifferent to the change? RM: I think it will be an amazing upgrade into the new century. I played the old Dungeon Keeper extensively before starting Cursed Realms and it helped remove a level of nostalgic awesomeness I had in my head. It is still a GREAT game and one of the best classics ever. However, we have some really interesting new tools now. And back then we could not fit the 486 in our pocket for quick game sessions. As far as to whether fans will enjoy it I will not release Cursed Realms until my testers say it is ready and it is awesome.
148Apps: Even though it’s going to be more Clash of Clans than Dungeon Keeper, do you think there might still be a chance for players to jump in to their minions’ heads and play from a first-person perspective from time to time? RM: ABSOLUTELY! That is one of the biggest differences from base defense games. Here you can be a part of your army. You also fight THEIR army. And in reality it is about 70% Dungeon Keeper I would say. The engine can support an immense number of characters on screen and this leads to epic battles of which you can wade through with your weapon in hand. The Clash of Clans thing is the purchase model.
148Apps: Going back to Mission Europa, is there anything you’ve learned since creating it (and while working on Cursed Realms) that you’d consider incorporating into an update/rerelease/sequel/hypothetical game that will never actually exist? RM: I am a FPS RPG fan at heart and Mission Europa 2 is on my radar. This time with user created content and worlds tied into Cursed Realms as they are tied together in the storyline currently. The main thing I have learned is marketing/price models are 90% of the battle these days and the little guys have a really hard time getting noticed. Along with the pricing model of free with in game purchases is the best way to fund development which is not free; music and assets cost money, not to mention software and hardware.
148Apps: Care to elaborate on the connection between Mission Europa and Cursed Realms any further? Might that mean that players could control, say, a faction of hellish machine/human demon hybrids? RM: Your actions in the end of Mission Europa also had a significant impact on the fabric of the universe which is Cursed Realms. Here is a small design snippet:
The Abaddon – A horrible mechanical race possessed with souls converted from living flesh. One weakness of this race is their poor connection to their equipment. The souls that run them seem to have a loose connection thus they have a hard time controlling them. They are however HIGH in armor to compensate. The Abbadon have wormholes to the north. They sweep entire galaxies harnessing the organic life, and some think souls for their evil.
Cursed Realms doesn’t have a definitive release date yet, but once it’s been given the green light by testers it will hit the App Store for free. In the meantime, you can keep track of the game’s progress on the official development blog or soak up the lore on the wiki. Thanks so much to Ryan Mitchell for taking the time to talk with us.
Ever wanted to play Super Smash Bros. while on the move? Of course! Anyone with sense would want that! While Nintendo haven’t quite made the move to mobile just yet (but we can hope, right?), that doesn’t stop a similar experience from hopefully coming to iOS soon, courtesy of zGames. That title is Fright Fight, a horror-themed game inspired by Mario’s brawling ways.
The zGames team.
As is increasingly common these days, Fright Fight‘s development is being supported by a Kickstarter campaign which has just launched. As the project page explains, the hope is that Fright Fight will be the first 3D cross-platform mobile fighting game, with the plan being to port it to systems such as OUYA and Nvidia Shield as well as iOS and Android. Free-to-play, many of the pledge rewards relate to the acquisition of in-game coins or the unlocking of characters in order to give early backers an extra edge. It’s shaping up to look pretty good so we had a word with Game Designer, Pavel Shtangeev, to learn more.
148Apps: Inspiration has clearly been taken from Super Smash Bros. but what other games have inspired Fright Fight? Pavel Shtangeev (PS): Devil May Cry series: Additional inspiration for [the] battle mechanics, Diablo series [for the] RPG elements, Pokemon series for some gameplay elements and RPG mechanics, Awesomenauts [for some of the] gameplay elements, world and level design, art style. A lot of other games have minor influence on the game: Marvel vs. Capcom, DOTA, Quake III, etc. The list can go on forever.
148Apps: Has anything non-gaming related inspired it? Such as in terms of the choices of characters available? PS: A lot of classic horror novels and movies influenced our decisions for worlds to include and characters to add. Still, we added twists to most of them. For example the vampire character is a combination of Carmilla from a classic novel of the same name and a mad variant of Luigi Galvani.
148Apps: How long has Fright Fight taken to develop? PS: Right now, it’s been 9 months in development.
148Apps: What challenges have you faced with making Fright Fight cross-platform? PS: Unity3D makes things much easier, but certain problems still occur. These problems are mostly related to different form-factors of devices. NVIDIA SHIELD uses hard buttons instead of gestures so we put some tweaks here and there and remade all menus to fit both control schemes. OUYA uses bigger displays and this requires more advanced camera behavior, etc.
148Apps: The trailer suggests there will be RPG elements to Fright Fight. Can you elaborate on these? PS: The game introduces a lot of classic RPG elements to the fighting formula: stats, skills, perks, etc. Right now, all characters already possess a full set of stats that can be upgraded through the course of the game. Moreover, each character is packed with an individual skill tree that allows customization of his attacks and play style. We have plans to introduce even more RPG elements by adding gear with different skins, items, and accessories and create pets that can aid characters in battle.
Thanks to Pavel for taking the time to answer our questions.
With the game already offering 3 different arenas, 4 different characters, and a fairly strong gesture-based control scheme, Fright Fight is shaping up nicely. Hopefully, by meeting its Kickstarter goal, the game will soon enjoy bot AI, and if the goal is beaten, new characters and arenas. For now, why not check out the teaser trailer and consider supporting the campaign?
Candy Crush Saga meets X-Com meets Game of Thrones? It’s an impressive mix of genres and ideas, and it forms the basis for a new title called Pocket Titans. A turn based RPG puzzle adventure game, Pocket Titans certainly sounds pretty exciting. Its origins are quite something too, having been conceived by veteran developers, John Payne & Ian Pestridge. Between them, they’ve worked on a number of console releases, including Herdy Gerdy, In Cold Blood, SEGA Rally, Reservoir Dogs, and Dead to Rights: Retribution.
For the past 18 months, the pair have been working on Pocket Titans in their spare time, all in the name of flexing their creative muscles. With the game set for release soon, we took the time to find out more.
148apps: Where did the inspiration for Pocket Titans come from? John Payne (JP): There were a few different strands of inspiration which led to Pocket Titans. I’ve always been a fan of RPG fighting mechanics like the semi-turn-based Final Fantasy battles, or the group dynamics of big World of Warcraft boss fights. My original idea was to do a game which was a series of these massive fight moments without the RPG story and running around in between. Then I got in to Zoo Keeper on my iPhone (entirely my wife’s fault), and I mean really in to it, in a way I’d not really experienced with match 3 games before. The game play felt really tactile, and moving through levels with just a little bit of story felt right. I’d always been a fan of the old X-COM games (not knowing at the time that there was a brilliant new one coming out that year!) and games like Advance Wars, and those three strands came together to form the idea for Pocket Titans. It’s the class based RPG battles of World of Warcraft, the tactile movement and easy pick-up play of a match 3 and the tactical positioning of X-COM.
As John says the game condenses many of the elements associated with RPGs and has been developed to be very accessible. I took recognisable fantasy motifs and caricatured them, resulting in a look that ‘feels’ familiar and yet ‘looks’ unique and full of spirit.
148apps: How difficult has it been to find the spare time to create Pocket Titans? IP: The short answer is not very difficult at all. We believe that if you had fun making a game it shows through. The players can sense that freedom and enjoyment. So we promised ourselves that we would focus on having fun and avoiding stress.
JP: The great thing about a home project is you can park it for as long as you need to when life gets in the way. During development there were weeks when I didn’t really do anything on the game, and weeks where I’d do an hour or two most nights, it fitted in around everything else. I set myself a rule very early on that I’d never let it distract me from my day job and in the end the whole process was fun and relaxing. The game’s been 99% finished for quite a while so its certainly the most relaxed end to a project I’ve ever had!
IP: We both have similar family situations and day jobs. I’ve generally been using the couple of hours I’d usually spend watching TV or a movie after the kids have gone to bed to jump on the PC and create some artwork. Ultimately, we enjoy making games, so this has been a great experience.
148apps: What challenges have you faced during the production? JP: Early on in development it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself, especially when I realised quite how bad my programmer-art was. At that point I almost gave up on the project and probably would have if I hadn’t shown it to Ian.
IP: I loved the game from the moment I saw John’s early prototype. The greatest challenge was translating the aesthetics of the world we both imagined onto the moving tile mechanic, it’s that challenge that first attracted me to John’s concept and has kept it so interesting.
148apps: How different is it working on a personal project rather than as part of a big studio? JP: I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of talented and creative people in my day job and I love every minute of it. That said, creating Pocket Titans has given us a chance to do something that’s just ours, without any other stakeholders or any outside direction. It was great fun to make but also a little bit terrifying now people are playing it other than our friends!
148apps: Will there be any micro-transactions within the game? JP: The best way to play the game is to work through story mode looting weapons and armour from the Orcs and Skeletons you defeat. But we’ve also got multi-player battles in there and if people want to tool up to level things out with their friends we’re not going to stop them. You can use gold you collect during quests to grab any items you’re missing and if you really want to make things easy you can buy a bit of gold, but we hope people play through the whole story as there’s some amazing battles at the end that you don’t want to miss!
Thanks to John and Ian for taking the time to answer our questions.
Pocket Titans is set for release later this month. We’ll be sure to track its development. In the mean time, why not check out the beta trailer below? It’s looking pretty sweet.
It is now Summer, what a wonderful time, so I bring you news, that will mostly rhyme. Oceanhouse Media want to kids to read, whilst home this season, so thus there’s a sale, if you needed a reason. Over twenty apps, now cheaper to get, most down a dollar, others further yet. They’re about science concepts, aimed at ages […]