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.
One of the consistently most positive things about the rise of the App Store is the ability for one-person developers to get somewhere and release their own titles, under their own steam and hard work. Sacrifices might need to be made but it’s encouraging to see so many creative spirits work so hard at achieving their dreams.
One such person is John Stricker, developer of Captain Casual, a title that he’s declared to be an ‘epic science fiction action adventure comedy’. Its Kickstarter campaign has just launched so we had a word with John about how the project came to be.
Captain Casual’s developer, John Stricker.
148apps: How did the idea for Captain Casual come about? John Stricker (JS): I was doing some pretty intensive work as a software consultant, and at the end of the day it would be difficult to take my mind off of the projects I was working on and get some sleep. I found that imagining stories helped me relax as I was trying to sleep. Maybe this was part of me trying to take my own mind off work, but I liked to create characters that were very relaxed, take-it-easy kinds of people and then imagine them being put into situations where they had to play the role of a hero. Captain Casual started with the idea of putting a laid-back person into the role of a starship captain, so instead of someone like Patrick Stewart playing the role of the captain it was someone more like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.
148apps: Why the name Captain Casual? JS: Because it’s awesome! I mean, why has no one created a game character named this yet? It’s also fun to take the word “Casual” and use it for a character name in a mobile game since in the gaming community there’s a stereotype of mobile games being too “casual” for “serious” gamers.
148apps: Have any other games or other forms of media influence your idea? JS: A lot of the backstory for Captain Casual takes cues from Iain M. Bank‘s fantastic Culture novels, and the comic tone of the game can’t help but be influenced by Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have read countless times). In terms of gaming influences, Bioware‘s RPGs (e.g. the Baldur’s Gate Series, Knights of the Old Republic) have probably influenced me more than any other games. They do such a great job of storytelling, dialog, and gameplay, and while Captain Casual isn’t an RPG, I hope to convey something of the same sense of being part of an epic adventure while playing the game. And, of course, Star Trek in all its incarnations is a big influence.
148apps: How big a game will Captain Casual be? JS: It’s going to be bigger than The Beatles! We’re talking blockbuster, here. You’re probably looking for more of an answer about the game’s length though. In terms of game length, Captain Casual is designed to be a relatively short game, with a full playthrough lasting a couple of hours. The main reason for this is that the story in the game unfolds more like a movie where there is a minimum of repetitive action. Every mission is going to have the player doing something that they haven’t done before. To add challenge and extend the life of the game, there will also be a hardcore mode where if a player fails a level they have to start the game from the beginning.
148apps: Are there any plans for in-app purchases or will Captain Casual be a one-off payment kind of game? JS: There are no plans for in-app purchases as I feel that would ruin the tone of the game. Its hard to keep a sense of atmosphere and engagement when you’re also periodically asking the player for more money. Also, I don’t want the game to be a different experience for different players depending upon how much money they put into the game.
148apps: How hard has it been to juggle your work life and this project? JS: Since April of this year I’ve been working full time on Captain Casual. I am fortunate enough to have a time-limited period (my wife and I have agreed on a one-year limit) to do this, but this is why I really need the extra support from Kickstarter as I have no income at this point. I’ve taken my hobby and made it my work, so in some ways now I feel like I’m working all of the time. Still, it feels great to be able to put so much effort into something I love. Hopefully the Kickstarter will go well and I’ll be able to continue working on Captain Casual full time!
Captain Casual’sKickstarter has just under a month to go, with John asking for a fairly low $5,000 to complete the game. With only a $5 pledge needed in order to have some input in terms of what ship models and color schemes to use, as well as a free copy of the game upon release, that’s a pretty tempting offer if you ask me. Higher pledges offer more benefits, too, with t-shirts, beta invites, and even custom digital images up for grabs.
The campaign is live now, so do consider contributing. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on Captain Casual‘s progress.
For at least the past fifteen years I’ve been bellyaching about the lack of a follow-up to Mutant League Football. The ridiculous (and ridiculously violent) Genesis classic was the perfect football game for someone like myself who enjoys video games but could care less about the NFL. And here we are, twenty years later and it looks like that decade-old dream might come true.
Series creator Michael Mendheim recently began a Kickstarter project to try and fund the spiritual successor to MLF, titled Mutant Football League, and it looks phenomenal. However, the project still needs a fair bit of help. Mr. Mendheim was gracious enough to talk to us about the game, the project, and the future of Mutant Football League.
148Apps: After 20 years it’s great to finally see a successor for Mutant League is in the works. Did the success of other similar Kickstarter projects help to influence your decision to start a fund for Mutant Football League, or was it more of an idea whose time had come sort of thing? Michael Mendheim (MM): Fans have urged me to do this for some time now and it’s also the 20th Anniversary of the original Mutant League Football, so we felt like the timing might be right. We chose Kickstarter because it seemed like it would be our best shot to get the game funded. We launched a couple weeks ago but right now it looks very difficult for us to succeed. So if anyone out there reading this is a fan of the original game, or just wants to play a really fun and violent game of Football where NFL Players are replaced with wise-cracking mutants and monster all-stars, please back us today.
148Apps: Any chance you’d be able to confirm or deny various teams and races that will be making it into the final build? MM: Kickstarter backers will actually be helping choose what types of mutants and monsters we have in the game. We know we want to have some kind of undead, heavy metal type of skeleton players. We’ll also have a variety of Monster characters and Humanoid Mutants – think Road Warrior-esque type humans. We also want to include Battle Robots for more of the technology driven races. These will be big bruising robots that are good at football and even better at obliterating the opposition.
We’re also introducing a new character called, Enforcers. Generally, mutants are big, mean, ugly SOB’s… so what do you do to keep them in line? You get bigger, meaner, even uglier brutes to monster the bejeesus out of them. And that’s exactly what Enforcers are; They don’t catch, they don’t throw, they really have no talent to speak of… they just go after the opposing team’s stars like a wrecking ball. Eventually these creatures are subdued and taken to the penalty box where they are uhm…eliminated. Each team will be allowed to have up to 3 or 4 different race types on their rosters. It’s too early to talk about teams names yet but we know we’re going to have some fun parodying real team names (example: Pittsburgh Steelers = Blitzburgh Stealers).
148Apps: Kill the ref plays are still going to be in there, right? MM: Of course, with a few new twists that I’m not going to mention or else I’m going to have to kill you, too.
148Apps: You’ve recently teamed-up with Run Games Development Studio to source their engine for Football Heroes. Aside from the changes that have already been mentioned – making the gameplay more realistic, less casual, and super fun – have there been any other significant tweaks? I really hope you decide to keep the RPG elements. MM: Run Games provided the game to me, and I spent a lot of time playing and I loved it. I thought it was the perfect stepping stone to create a Mutant League-style game. It’s very easy to play and delivers a lot of fun, but also has layers of depth because of the RPG system that the Run Games integrated into it. We absolutely will be keeping the RPG Elements in the design. We can put these to good use and it will give the game layers of depth for those who want it. More casual gamers can just ignore it and the game will take care of itself underneath the hood. The art direction will look completely different than Football Heroes; Mutant Football League will have a much grittier art style.
By working with Run Games and using their tech as our starting point we will substantially reduce our development risk. Instead of building everything from scratch we can build on top of an existing game, which is already fun and has all the core elements already in place (Dynamic Camera, User Interface, smooth and intuitive controls, consistent frame rates, Online play, AI, Power-ups, RPG Elements, ratings and stats, Audio, Physics and Collisions, etc.).
Mark Brown, perhaps best known for being Deputy Editor over at Pocket Gamer, has just released his first game; Pixel This!, an elegant Nonogram title that he made to try and improve on the other similar games on the App Store. Because of his unique position as both someone who covers mobile gaming, and now someone who made a mobile game – and he did it almost entirely on an iPad using Codea - I was eager to learn more about Pixel This! and the process of its creation.
(full disclosure: Pocket Gamer and 148Apps are owned by Steel Media, which had no say in the promotion or editorial coverage of this game)
148Apps: What compelled you to make Pixel This?
Mark Brown (MB): I just adore Picross (or Nonograms or Griddlers or whatever you want to call them) which is this brilliant puzzle game from Japan that’s all about using logic and deduction to draw a cute pixel art image. I think I accidentally stumbled upon Mario’s Picross on Game Boy, and have loved those puzzles ever since. But I don’t think I’ve found an iOS app that has done the game justice.
They’re usually a bit ugly, or make it hard to control on the teeny tiny iPhone screen. They can be expensive or, if they’re free, jammed with adverts or costly IAPs. So I thought there was room to make something better! Pixel This! isn’t perfect and there’s plenty of room to improve, but I’m really pleased with the result and the feedback.
148Apps: Why go with the free+unlock model on the game?
MB: It’s funny, because I’m a pretty staunch opponent of the free-to-play model, but here I am launching a free-to-play game on the App Store! But I think this is a good way to let people have a go with the game first, see if they can grasp the rules and see if they actually like the puzzles before putting down their cash. It is, I hope, a non-evil free-to-play where you’re not buying hints or lives or anything else that’s going to wreck the balance of the game. It’s just more stuff if you liked the first stuff.
148Apps: Talk about that awesome soundtrack!
MB: Hah! Well, you’ve got to focus on what you know, and I do not know music at all. So I decided to not subject anyone to my pitiful attempts to make a soundtrack, and want to encourage them to play their own music instead. Plus, I’ve always found that Picross is a fun thing to do while listening to podcasts or the radio, so it was super important that audio from other apps would continue playing when you load Pixel This!
148Apps: You made the game primarily on the iPad? How did you do this? What compelled you to work particularly on mobile?
MB: I programmed Pixel This in an iPad app called Codea, which lets you write Lua code on the tablet and then export it to Apple’s developer program Xcode so you can submit it to the App Store. So the only time I used my Mac was to do the graphics in Photoshop and then some final code to get in-app purchases and Twitter support working. It’s really cool to be able to write some code, hit a button, and then be immediately testing the game on one of the devices that the game will eventually be released on.
I’m also a big iPad nerd, and a huge believer in the idea that this whole “tablets are for consumption not creation” thing is totally bunkum. It’s such a wonderful device to use, and the apps are only getting better, more powerful, and more flexible.
148Apps: As someone who covers the mobile space, does making games of your own change the way that you perceive them, and did your perspective as member of the gaming media affect development in any way?
MB: There are certain things we take for granted as journalists and players of games. We might flippantly say “this game should have iCloud saves and Game Center!!”, without realizing how many weeks of work and testing that all involves. I don’t think I’m going to stop complaining about missing features, slow updates, and missed release dates, mind you! But the experience will definitely color my view of development going forward.
As for the other way around, I think by being forced to play a billion iOS games a week makes me made hyper-aware of what works – and what doesn’t – on the App Store. I hate being nagged by push notifications and I don’t like being asked to review a game every five seconds, so I avoided that sort of stuff. But for the most part, I just feel very lucky to have my dumb little game on the same platform as so many amazing apps from so many hugely talented people. It’s weird and awesome.
With the release of iOS 7, we reached out to Denys Zhadanov from Readdle to discuss how the massive changes in iOS 7 front end and back end impact an app-focused company like Readdle.
148Apps: How do you feel about the change in look and overall design of iOS 7? Was it taken far enough? Too far? Denys Zhadanov (DZ): It’s interesting how the feeling towards iOS 7 evolved with time. Say, when it was announced I was more than excited about it. Especially I enjoyed the layering concept of content, controls and background. iOS 7 is definitely fresh, juicy, and bright. However, this excitement then changed radically because of some design exaggerations. Sometimes I felt that Apple has decided to do something new for the sake of it, rather than making something better. Apple is brilliant at managing our expectations and emotions towards their products. They did put an effort in emphasizing what’s important in iOS 7, that’s why after 2 months of active usage I have to say that I really enjoy it. The GM version is way different from the first beta. It’s finished, complete, and consistent. It’ll be interesting to see the adoption rates, but I think it’ll be the highest in Apple’s history.
148Apps: Have you come across any issues with iOS 7 as a developer? DZ: Readdle apps are well-known for design and user experience. Flat design gives a very limited set of elements to differentiate your product from others. That said, it’s much harder to create iOS 7 app that stands out. Since no-one ever created apps for iOS 7 before, there are no benchmarks. So the main issue for us was to understand how iOS 7 app should look like, how to provide the best experience and how to differentiate Readdle apps from thousands of copycats.
148Apps: How do you expect iOS 7 to affect your apps, if at all? Do you feel rushed to change all of your apps to match the style of iOS 7?
DZ: Since we have 7 major apps, we had to rush in order to submit the updates in time. It is vital to update apps according to the new guidelines and iOS 7 design principles. iOS 6 apps look alienated on the new operating system. iOS 7 affected our app to a great extent. Not only did we have to create a new design, but also follow the logic behind iOS 7 – fast, simple, minimalistic principles. In fact, sometimes we had to create 3 different version of the app and then chose which one to iterate. That felt like creating a new app for the unknown market. Did we feel rushed? Last 3 weeks we’ve been working 14 hours per day with no weekends.
148Apps: What new features of iOS7 are you most excited about taking advantage of in your apps? Is there anything you are able to do with iOS 7 that you were never able to do before? DZ: Background download is the most exciting feature! It will allow our apps to automatically sync documents on the iPad or iPhone with any cloud service (Dropbox, Google Drive, etc). So you’ll always have your files on hands.
Many thanks to Mr. Zhadanov for his time.
About Denys Zhadanov, Marketing Director, Readdle
Holds a Masters Degree in Business and Management from Aston University. BGS lifetime member.
Spent the last 5 years of his life transforming Readdle from a “garage start-up” into a leading iOS company that creates productivity and business apps.
As of now, Readdle is a team of 45 based in Ukraine. 7 major product were downloaded more than 13 million times.
Entrepreneurial type, who works much, sleeps less, and enjoys what he is doing. Avid snowboarder. Believes in spicy food, people, and disruptive technologies.
Brandon Bozzi is the co-founder of Game It Forward, a project that wants to use video games to help raise money for charity. His and Game It Forward’s first game is the quiz game Quingo, where players answer trivia questions to earn points for their choice of charity. The game is available now on iPad, and Bozzi took the time to answer questions about Game It Forward and Quingo.
148Apps: How did the whole Game It Forward concept come about? Brandon Bozzi (BB): I had been working in the commercial games industry for over a decade as a designer and producer of all kinds of games – tabletop, social, core, and casual. During that time, I was following the work of people like Jane McGonigal and Ian Bogost, and quickly became a believer that games were becoming more than entertainment. That they could have a real, lasting social impact. I came to realize though that most social impact games go unnoticed by the masses and thus have little impact at all. So I started Game It Forward to make games that are fun-first and just so happen to make the world a better place. To that end, Game It Forward’s mission is to use the compelling interactive nature of games to support education, science, health care, and a variety of other charitable causes.
148Apps: Why Quingo as the first title? BB: I held a summit last year that brought together people from impactful non-profits with some of the best game designers in the industry to work together to come up with a world-changing game idea. Quingo was the idea that came out of that collaboration. It was the right scope, it was a unique game, it pulled together two very popular mobile game genres (trivia and bingo), and it could have a significant, sustainable effected on the projects that our charity partners were struggling to achieve.
148Apps: How do you set everything up to where players can compete for charity? BB: The more Hope (points) a player earns in the game the more money Game It Forward donates to their selected charity. Players can see how much Hope they’ve donated total and compete with their friends around who has donated the most Hope to a particular project, and around who has the highest score for a game.
148Apps: How do you balance the game to where a player just jumping in will have an idea on which charity to support? BB: We have six charities for our players to choose from: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Kiva, PAWS, Seattle Children’s, Splash, and The Martinez Foundation. These charities represent a variety of causes: health care, micro-finance, animals, clean water for children, and education. The hope is that almost every player will be able to find a cause that resonates with them. Furthermore, each charity is associated with a specific project with a progress bar, so players can see how close each project is to being funded.
148Apps: The game design has an interesting balance where success early on helps make later questions easier – do you counter-balance this in any way with harder questions early on, or is it all randomly-generated? BB: Good eye. As players get more and more answers correct they see fewer and fewer incorrect answers so it’s easier to find all the correct answers as the game goes on. We like how that feels, and how that lets players accelerate towards getting a Quingo (five correct answers in a row). We don’t put harder questions towards the beginning or end of a game, but we do try to have every question have some easier answers and some more difficult ones so that every player is challenged at their own skill level.
148Apps: How do the in-app purchases help with getting more money to charities? BB:Quingo is free to download, so it’s the money that comes from in-app purchases (and ads) that Game It Forward shares with the players’ selected charities.
148Apps: In testing, do you find that the charity aspect helps keep players more compelled or more willing to spend money? BB: We designed Quingo to be a compelling game on its own – a completely entertaining experience separate from its social impact. That said, yes, we’ve found people are more willing to spend money when they feel confident that it’s helping a cause that they care about. And we hope that the charity aspect will help bring the game to the attention of players that will enjoy it, but may not have noticed it otherwise.
With the release of iOS 7 upon us and a whole plethora of juicy new features for consumers and developers alike to enjoy, we took the time to ask some popular game developers just how they feel about it and what features they’re looking forward to getting more intimate with.
Look and Design of iOS 7
The look of iOS 7 is a huge change for many, which explains why so many pivotal apps are changing their appearance; to make sure it ties into the new style of doing things. How about with games, though? And do game developers appreciate such a significant change?
For the most part, it’s been considered a positive change from those we questioned. Andrew Smith of AppyNation and Spilt Milk Studios explained, “I like it! I’m a fan of refreshes – and although when I first saw the new look I wasn’t completely sold, since using it in studio on the betas it’s won me over.” Stephen Morris of Greenfly Studios reinforced that view, emphasizing that the “redefining of the experience… it certainly feels fresh and more efficient.”
Some apprehension was felt, though. As Richard Brooks of Rodeo Games explained, “a veteran iOS user may find it a little jarring at first,” pointing out that, “the new look will split the room,” from his personal experience of showing it to others. Ben Britten of Tin Man Games felt the same, pointing out that some people will love it and others will, predictably, hate it.
It’s not all plain sailing though, as Martin Linklater of Curly Rocket explained, “to be honest the colours are a little garish for my tastes. Maybe in iOS 8 Apple will tone it down a little. It’s not quite got the subtlety that Apple is known for.” Aaron Fothergill of Strange Flavour felt the same, diplomatically pointing out that he’s “getting used to it.”
Even those who weren’t a fan had to admit that they, for the most part, appreciated the cleaner interface.
More positively, few issues have been encountered thus far. For the majority of the people we asked, covering developers such as Hello Games, Hammer & Chisel, AppyNation, Spilt Milk Studios, Strange Flavour, and Green Fly Studios, hardly any issues were reported. The only few problems that did occur related to third-party tools, although noticeably Ben Britten of Tin Man Games found no issues with Unity3D. There were some early day problems with Rodeo Games’s Warhammer Quest as explained by Richard Brooks, “The devices we were testing with were crashing a lot and it was very difficult to get anything working. Warhammer Quest didn’t work at first due to some bugs in the iOS 7 main libraries, so we just had to sit back and wait. After about 4-6 weeks these were dealt with and are mostly good now.”
It’s a pretty positive sign for developers that iOS 7 should prove quite beneficial in the long run, given the limited issues that have been encountered so far.
Concept art of a possible Apple Controller (via PocketGamer)
Arguably most significant of all for many game developers is the introduction of official controller support. How do they feel about it?
“For us, this is the biggest new feature of iOS 7.” explained Aaron Fothergill, “The fact that they’re a standard is the important bit as we can actually design them into our game with the standard features in mind, so we can do it properly. We’ve already got test code in SlotZ Racer, Any Landing, and Apple Dash and we’re just waiting on controllers being available for us to actually test with and perfect the controls before we release games with them in and then we’ll be considering MFI controller as integral design parts of all our games.”
Simon Renshaw, of PUK fame, has similar thoughts. ” I love that its possible to play iPhone games on the big screen with Apple TV mirroring, latency is an issue though, as is battery life, so I kinda hope we’ll see a controller bundled with a magical iPhone-charging HDMI cable!” Martin Linklater also thinks that the controller could be the “real killer feature,” at least once adopted more frequently.
Hello Games’ Sean Murray explained that “touchscreens are great for lots of games – like, I’m really proud of what we managed to do with the touchscreen design with Joe Danger Touch. There are some games that just benefit from buttons and thumbsticks though, and as a gamer, my thumb just feels comfortable sat on a nice analog button. Having officially supported controllers could be fantastic for broadening gaming on iPhones even further than it is today, bringing in the controller snobs like me! We’re working on making something of all this right now, something that makes use of both touch and controller. We’re throwing ourselves into it completely… I think people will be surprised how well it works.”
Consider us fascinated as to what this will mean for Joe Danger on iOS!
Another possible example of a future controller (via PocketGamer)
Andrew Smith is keen, but as he points out “[it's] hardly going to sell the games to more people. The vast majority of iPhone users and gamers are perfectly happy with good touchscreen interfaces, so we’ll be happy to continue to provide those!” Greenfly Studios feels the same way, with Stephen Morris explaining “our mobile games are currently more focused on the casual consumer but it doesn’t mean we’re not open to exploring the new niche!”.
Richard Brooks also found such support less than essential, pointing out that Rodeo Games’ titles are “designed entirely for mobile and tablet devices with touch screens and implementing controller support would make them worse.” A fair point indeed. Jason Citron expressed similar views, explaining how Hammer & Chisel is “laser focused on building original high-quality games for tablets. A big part of that is taking advantage of the unique interaction a large touch screen affords.”
With so many of the best developers doing a great job of providing touch-based interfaces, is there really a need for controllers after five years of perfecting touch controls? Perhaps not, but it’ll be fascinating to see how things develop.
Revamped Game Center
For the most part, the revamped Game Center has been quite appreciated by those we asked. Andrew Smith puts it well, “it’s really neat!” although does admit, while inventing a new word, that the icon is a little un-game-y. Stephen Morris particularly loves that there’s a way to combat cheaters at last, which means “we can focus on providing consumers fun and realistic challenges.” Like any self-respecting iOS gamer, Sean Murray explained “Seeing insane hacked scores on any game makes me sad. I’m… going to really appreciate the added security for score and achievement data, because it’ll hopefully mean there isn’t so much leaderboard hacking.”
Richard Brooks points out what we’ve all been thinking in terms of old Game Center’s looks, “I’m glad they’ve gotten rid of the horrible green felt style though!” because as Simon Renshaw says while describing the old interface as archaic looking, “what young person recognizes the connection between a black jack table and their favorite shooter?”.
So, it’s a fairly positive change for iOS 7 and some of its finest game developers. Understandably, there’s some apprehension as is always the way with such a significant change, but the future is looking pretty bright. In particular, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes of controller support, as well as the new and extra shiny Game Center.
Wahoo Fitness is terribly close to bringing their RFLKT+, the enhanced device that turns an iPhone into an advanced bike computer, to fruition thanks to Kickstarter. With the campaign over on Friday, September 20th, the team took time to answer my questions about the RFLKT+ and how it improves over the original RFLKT accessory.
148Apps: What are you trying to do with the RFLKT+? How are you trying to improve it over the RFLKT? Wahoo Fitness (WF): The RFLKT+ adds in ANT+ connectivity. ANT+ is used in over 60 million devices on the market and is the current standard for wireless technology in the cycling industry. Most cyclists are currently riding with some sort of ANT+ device, whether it be heart rate, speed and cadence, or power. RFLKT+ gathers all this info via ANT+ and then using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) sends the data to the iPhone and integrates it into your cycling App. The iPhone combines the ANT data with GPS info and then BLE’s it back to your handlebar mounted RFLKT+.
148Apps: For those who aren’t well-versed in the specific protocols, why should cyclists, even those already using RFLKT, be excited about RFLKT+ and the ANT+ protocol? WF: It connects the iPhone to basically every cycling sensor on the market. Whether it be BLE or ANT+ the RFLKT+ will harness that data and put it to use in your app and on your handlebars. Makes it extremely easy to get everything you need pre, post, and during your ride all in one place on the iPhone. By allowing cyclists to leave the iPhone, screen off and in the jersey pocket, you keep it safe and save your battery.
148Apps: Why turn to Kickstarter to fund the RFLKT+? WF: It presents an amazing opportunity that you rarely have, to validate demand prior to hitting market. The Kickstarter community provides high level and immediate feedback for your product and your company. It’s one thing if Wahoo thinks they’ve come up with a great idea, it’s another for Wahoo to have thousands of outsiders say prior to the product hitting shelves ‘Yes we want that!’. Two, it also provided a chance for Wahoo to reach beyond the target consumer and out to a more broad group that will also have an important use for Wahoo products.
148Apps: How much does trying to promote and appeal to backers for a fitness Kickstarter compare to other types of Kickstarters, if you’ve researched this? Was the success of something like the Pebble an inspiration to go with crowdfunding? WF: Yes. The Pebble watch kind of put Kickstarter on the map. Its very enticing to think that something can just really hit like the Pebble. Definitely with being something specific to cyclist, you do limit yourself a little more than a smartwatch or say a Bluetooth speaker. But in general cool, smart technology seems to resonate with people on KS.
148Apps: As a company working in the field of fitness technology, how much has the market changed since you launched RFLKT, both in a business and a consumer sense? Where do you see the future going? WF: It’s changing everyday. Sleeker wearables, more data, and most importantly “valuable” data will shape the future. Its not tracking everything, its tracking the data that helps you reach your goals and tracking it in the most seamless way possible. Most people are already running and riding with their iPhone, why also have a $500+ bike computer? The iPhone is the most powerful bike computer on the market when paired with our tools. Harness that power and get your music, text, calls, fitness info, cycling data and run log all-in-one place. No need for syncing, transferring, etc. The iPhone is with you all the time anyway, might as well put it to work.
Thanks to the team at Wahoo Fitness for their time.
2K Drive made its appearance on the App Store yesterday at the price of $6.99. I’m always excited when a new racing game releases, especially when it’s from a company that was founded by people who worked on titles like Project Gotham Racing and Blur. So, being excited about 2K Drive and having some hands-on experience from my time at PAX, I had some questions for the guys at Lucid Games.
I would like to thank Lucid’s Peter O’Brien for taking the time to answer my questions. Alright, lets get into the good stuff!
148Apps: Why did you decide to make 2K Drive? What was the “driving” point? Peter O’Brien (PO): A lot of the devs at Lucid either love driving games and/or cars in one way or another. Some restore them, some race RC’s, others collect coffee table books. But in essence, we love the culture of cars and wanted to bring that to a wider audience by expanding the experiences in an authentic driving game.
148Apps: There must be a lot of love for cars and racing in general within your company. 2K Drive features real-life news from racing websites, which includes videos and photo galleries. What made you decide to add this feature? PO: Yes, there is. Some of that love came out of making driving games for years; others can spot the make and year of a car from a shut line or an engine blip. We wanted to bring the news to a wider audience, a new generation, but we also believed it would expand the idea of the app as being more than a game, giving people a reason to stay in it or come back to.
148Apps: How much studying did you do on other mobile racers during the creation of 2K Drive? There are a lot of favorites out there, including arcade racing games and “real racing” games. PO: We never stop studying the competition, and I trust they do the same. But more importantly, we knew what we wanted to do very early on and we believed in the experience we could create. The most exciting thing for us, however, is that all of this is first generation tech. Others are on their third/fourth and we don’t see ourselves playing too much of a catch-up.
148Apps: How well do you think 2K Drive will compete against other racers and why? PO: We hope it will do well because it offers a different package than its competition, and the handling is authentic. It’s something we think competitors have been scared of doing because of the device, but we just saw as a challenge. Our content is diverse, whether players are off-roading, track racing, stunt driving, or drag racing – no one offers what we do in one package.
148Apps: As I mentioned, 2K Drive features the live news feed along with a number of modes and options for customization. These are important things to have, yes, but it all comes down to the gameplay. What will players like most about racing in 2K Drive? PO: The handling model is so deep that players can spend a lot of time experiencing those features with all of our cars and tracks. We’ve made sure to include what we call ‘burst’ modes, like Car Football or Car Bowling, Hot-laps, race & drifting challenges, a stream of unlocks, and solid customization options for the car and driver.
We also built in a unique multiplayer feature called RaceFace (TM). This allows players skin a photo of their own face onto that of the drivers, so that when they are competing against rivals in the seamless multiplayer system, they will be able to see real friends and players behind the wheel of the cars. It’s like your racing “selfie.”
148Apps: What do you feel will keep players coming back to 2K Drive? What’s going to be the obsession? PO: That’s for the players to decide, but the depth of the handling and wide scope of driving experiences, mixed with the rival system and our daily challenges, offer some compelling reasons to build a 2K Drive habit!
148Apps: 2K Drive features more than 100 events, 25 tracks, and 25 cars for players to experience at launch. I’m curious though, how many cars do you have in your version of the game? Give me a hint about future updates! PO: Ha, that would be telling. We have a few things coming very soon and are looking forward to seeing the feedback so we can refine the experience and deal with any problems. So please, do tell us what you do or don’t like in the game!
148Apps: What’s your favorite dashboard item to add to your vehicles in the game? PO: Believe it or not, the traffic lights. It’s a retro thing!
148Apps: What’s your favorite mode in the game? PO: I’ve got two: Survivor and any racing mode. Survivor is great because you set the target, and you get in the zone when you’re racing any type of event, because, well, it’s racing!
148Apps: Do you try to race a clean race or would you rather get dirty and run an opponent off the road? PO: Clean. But rubbing is racing too!
148Apps: Pick one thing that we didn’t discuss that you would like to share with your fans. PO: We had a small and dedicated team who believed in the company from early on. They made sacrifices to be a part of the project and our future, and without them, there would be no 2K Drive – so thank you. Also, a big thank you to everyone who has bought the game already, the fans who are spreading the word, and the players reaching out to help improve it. We’ll see you on the road!
I would like to thank Peter O’Brien once again for taking the time to answer our questions. I wish you and your team the best of luck with 2K Drive and I look forward to seeing more from Lucid in the future! Thank you!
Everyone loves interactive fiction, right? Ok, I might be a little biased due to my huge love of the genre, but I’m certainly not alone there. Plenty of people love the dark world created by H.P. Lovecraft, too, and his work has proved a fantastic inspiration for many great games and other forms of media. One such title that’s set to capture this spirit is The Moaning Words: a game currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign and looking rather promising.
The game is written by Science Fiction author, Alan Dean Foster, and follows a dark investigation across 18 episodes set to be released daily. Players will be able to shape their own adventure through the choices they make. Uniquely, the app will also offer a form of social adventuring with the ability to share one’s story with others as well as invite friends to unlock new content.
Continuing with an original twist on the interactive fiction idea, a card game of sorts will also feature alongside numerous riddles and conundrums. Plus, there’s set to be even more options thanks to the free writing tool that will allow users to create their own story! Not bad, eh?
We talked to co-founder and designer, Manea Castet, to learn more about this ambitious project.
148apps: Did any other books, games, or films influence The Moaning Words, besides H.P Lovecraft? Manea Castet (MC): The design of The Moaning Words was influenced by the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books and popular video games Heavy Rain, Baldur’s Gate, and the Dragon Age series. In fact, our interactive fiction is built around different video games mechanisms. These mechanisms were specifically taken into consideration when writing the alternative [choices] and when designing how players interact with the story.
The first influence of our story is H.P Lovecraft’s body of work. Our app is designed to be a tribute to this well-known author. We believe it will please veteran readers of the “Lovecraftian” stories. It will also be a very good start for people who discover the Cthulhu Mythos for the first time. The story, written by Alan Dean Foster, is contemporary and its events will take place in many countries around the globe.
148apps: Some of the Kickstarter pledge rewards involve gaining a pack of gold to use in game, how will these help in game? Are they crucial to progression? MC: In The Moaning Words, gold is the virtual currency. It can be obtained for free through card games for example. Users will not necessarily have to purchase gold to progress. Every time a user wins a card game, he or she will gain gold.
When people purchase our “Curious” Pack on Kickstarter, we will provide a ‘huge pack of gold’ to start with. Players will then experience the game with more freedom at the beginning. However, anyone can experience the whole story and progress through the 18 episodes without having to purchase anything with actual money. As in many free to play games, the players will have access to premium optional content if [they] decide to purchase it.
148apps: Will it be vital to recruit friends in order to progress, or will it be possible to see everything the game has to offer without? MC: Although recruiting friends will never be vital in order to progress in the game, we think this feature is a lot of fun. Friends will help you shape the story in a different and meaningful way. They have the ability to transform your own adventure. They can also give you information about what happened in their story. You can experience the whole story without inviting any friends.
148apps: How open-ended is the story? How many different endings will it offer? MC: The story has 6 different main endings arcs. However, each arc can and will be modified by the player’s decisions. Each one will be drastically modified by previous choices and by the final decisions. Different characters in the story can disappear or become insane for example. The changes can affect the environment on different scale, grand or small.
148apps: How simple will it be to create your own story? MC: At any time in the app, players can access our writing tool for free. They can either use it directly in the mobile app or on their computer. It is a simpler version of the tool we use. We want it to be as complete as possible. Users will be able to write their fiction, add choices, grant mental sanity points and implement card games in just a few clicks.
No development skills are required to create an interactive fiction; the writer will only need to have a clear idea of the kind of interactive fiction he or she wants to write. Writers can publish their stories directly through the app and will be rewarded if the story is well reviewed by other users.
The Moaning Words sounds like it’s shaping up to be quite an interesting twist on an increasingly popular genre. Keen to be a part of it? Take a look at their Kickstarter campaign for the pledge rewards available.
We’ll be sure to keep an eye on its development. It’s currently set for release later this year.
No one really likes in-app purchases, do they? Sure, sometimes the flexibility is great when they’re done well, but far too often it all feels a bit cynically done and to the detriment of the player’s bank balance. How good would it be to have a new system that aims to make things much clearer and much fairer? That’s the idea behind Play Nice, a system set up by UK-based developer, Strange Flavour, and set to be a particularly eye catching part of their forthcoming game, Any Landing.
We had a chat with CEO and Lead Coder, Aaron Fothergill, to learn more.
148apps: How did the idea for Play Nice come about? Aaron Fothergill (AF): We dipped our toes in the freemium games market a few years ago with the free version of Flick Fishing, which went on to earn far more than the paid version had when it was at the top of the iPhone games chart, so it was pretty obvious to us just how profitable freemium could be. The problem was, we also saw some of the crazy side of freemium and noticed a trend in other games that was causing the press to start kicking up stories about games designers “deliberately targeting children” or “iPhone gamer gets sudden $3000 bill” and so on.
As with a lot of other game designers, our initial thought was that it’s really a parenting issue. The controls are in place to restrict your children from auto-buying consumable content and Apple even tells you to set the parental controls. However as the issue grew, we realized that we weren’t thinking the ‘Apple way’. Rather than the industry needing to teach players how to work their phones. If we don’t want players to accidentally run up huge bills while still having the benefits of consumable IAP, we need to redesign how we use consumable IAP to suit the way they play.
From that, we first thought of a simple cap, but realized there were issues with that and the way IAP works and then developed it into what we’ve now got for Play Nice where we can set an upper limit we think is a fair amount players can spend on the game, but where any consumable purchases up to that point are actually deducted from the top price, so you don’t lose anything by trying a consumable item first. (Actually, because of the way the IAP system works, you actually save a few pennies by buying the consumables first)
A work in progress example of how the Play Nice system works.
148apps: How long has the system been in development for? AF: On and off for about a year, mostly using our upcoming Any Landing game as a testbed. It was planned for release in June originally, but then I went to WWDC and saw a lot of shiny new code things I wanted to play with and of course that took us back a few more months.
148apps: What challenges have you guys faced in its implementation? AF: The biggest challenge was working out a way to use the current iOS IAP system to get the specific effect we want in a way that’s not confusing to players (the whole point is that it’s meant to be transparent and fair) and not cause issues in approval.
The other issue is actually in balancing the game itself, as when you’ve bought the ‘full’ IAP package, that effectively gives you whatever power ups you want and would drastically change the game’s balance. So a lot of time has gone into making sure that it actually works well as a game.
148apps: Are you concerned about there being any difficulties getting through Apple’s Approval process? AF: We are. The method is a bit of a jumble under the hood and while it’s not doing anything technically bad as far as Apple’s rules are concerned it could look like it’s trying to abuse the system. Because of that I’ve kept Apple support in the loop to check we’re not doing anything that could be construed as dodgy. It still has to go through approval of course, but we’ve done quite a few unusual new features in the past on iOS, so I’m confident that we can keep everything within the rules.
A work in progress screenshot of Any Landing.
148apps: Will the Play Nice system be opened up to other companies interested in doing things differently from the standard in-app purchase way, or will this be a solely in-house endeavor? AF: This is one feature I’d actually be quite happy if other devs copied it. Once the actual workings of it are out there, it’s pretty obvious (if slightly fun to implement) so we’d be happy if other devs wanted to give it a go.
148apps: What’s your opinion of the conventional in-app purchase system? Are there any titles that you think use it well or particularly badly? AF: In itself, it’s a useful system. There’s a lot of confusion about IAP, especially about consumable IAP (which is the one that is easiest to abuse) and non consumable. For instance, if you wanted to do a ‘shareware’ type game on iOS where you unlock the rest of the game after playing demo levels, that’s entirely practical with a non consumable IAP item. (the only rule is you aren’t allowed to call anything a demo, as Apple doesn’t allow demos on the App Store).
What consumable IAP does well (and where Play Nice aims to improve) is it lets you design a game where the skilled players who like to put a lot of time into their gaming can play through the entire game without paying for anything extra to speed the game up or make it easier, but players who really want to play the game but can’t afford as much time, or aren’t quite as skilled, can purchase upgrades to adapt the game to the way they want to play. This is one reason why freemium is so successful. It doesn’t pitch one game at everyone with specific skill levels and free time, it allows players to choose how they want the game to play. Two of my favorite examples of this are The Blockheads (by Majic Jungle Software) and Nimble Quest (by Nimblebit) which both have an optional non consumable purchase that effectively doubles how fast you play (in The Blockheads it halves the time everything takes to craft and in Nimble Quest it adds red gems that effectively double the rate you collect gems). Both use consumable IAP in a reasonable and entirely optional way that doesn’t force itself on you.
The abusive part is where games focus entirely on being nearly impossible (or actually impossible) to play unless you keep spending money on consumable IAP. They’re effectively targeted at the same people that would be spending a fortune on gambling games, i.e. children and the surprising number of people with compulsive issues.
Any Landing work in progress screenshot.
148apps: Do you think the freemium model is here to stay? AF: Absolutely. Developers can’t make a living on just the paid model and the big developers are making a lot of money on freemium. There’s nothing actually wrong with IAP itself (or freemium for that matter), but some publishers are really going to have to be careful to balance making crazy amounts of money with the risk destroying the system that makes all that money by triggering potential legislation that restricts or bans it if it’s seen as too abusive.
The Play Nice concept has certainly piqued our interest. Anything that helps make things clearer for gamers has to be a good thing. We’ll be keeping a close eye on Strange Flavour’s work and Any Landing’s progress. Thanks to Aaron for taking the time to answer our questions.
Nexercise, the app for tracking exercise among friends, has always been about gamifying the workout tracking experience. But for the recent 2.0 revamp, Nexercise has undergone major changes in order to make it more game-like, and to hopefully make its users more effective in getting out and exercising. With multiple rewards systems like Kiip and Pocket Change, President and COO Gregory Coleman hopes that his app can be a smashing success. I spoke with him recently about what his company is trying to do with Nexercise.
148Apps: With the major revamp to the app, what were your goals in changing and improving the experience?
Gregory Coleman (GC): We wanted to make the entire experience easier, more intuitive, and more elegant. We want new users to quickly figure out what to do and how to do it. We felt like some aspects of the old version created some confusion and friction points.
148Apps: Many of the new features resemble the kinds of rewards and tactics that a lot of free-to-play social games use. Was this intentional? And if not, did you do any further research into how they could help you out?
GC: This is intentional. The key to casual games is that they are quick to use, easy to learn, and fun to play. Our goal is to accomplish the same thing with Nexercise and we deliberately tried to tie into the same psychological components.
148Apps: Have you seen actual users taking advantage of the rewards and social features?
GC: Absolutely! According to surveys of our users and our own internal data, those are two of the most popular aspects of the app.
148Apps: How do you ensure that users don’t try to cheat the system?
GC: If a user allows us to use the smartphone sensors to actually track the exercise session, we give them bonus points. This also allows us to do some pattern matching on the backend to validate the activity and reject cheating. As far as self-reporting, it is an honor system. However, our community tends to police itself and is pretty quick to call out cheaters.
148Apps: Do you encourage certain behavior patterns for users?
GC: Yes. Our mechanics are based heavily on the psychology of exercise. We reward behaviors that are scientifically proven to make people more successful in living an active life (exercising first thing in the morning or on Monday for example).
148Apps: What are your plans in the near future for the app?
GC: We’re looking very heavily at integrations with the other tools that our users use. We currently integrate with the RunKeeper app and are evaluating what, if any, other tools we want to connect with.
The Rich Dad Company, which promotes books, seminars, and now interactive media based off of the financial teachings from the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” which has sold 30 million copies (but not without its criticism from financial writers), is taking its message to mobile with the launch of Rich Dad Interactive. Their first app is a learning app called Clutch, and with it and future apps, they’re returning to the idea that sparked “Rich Dad Poor Dad:” teaching through gaming elements, or gamification.
Clutch is a learning app that will “take the physical [aspects] of Rich Dad, turn it into a mobile app, and gamify it a little bit, and teach people [in] the way that we’re all really learning today, through videos like YouTube, through activities, using social media and being able to share…’bragging rights,’ or what class you took or what investments you made,” according to Director of Technology Shane Caniglia. He says that gaming elements are there and play a key part of what Clutch will be, with social media functionality, “there’s unlock features in there that you have to make it through certain phases in order to unlock the next, and the last thing, I think the most importantly, the ability to simulate the experiences of investing in real life through Clutch as a tool.”
Gamification is nothing new to the Rich Dad Company – author Richard Kiyosaki and his wife Kim (an author of financial books herself) created a board game in the mid-90′s called Cashflow 101 that tried to teach the income philosophies he espouses: namely, having assets that generate more income than one’s expenses in order to be independently wealthy. Ironically, Caniglia says that when Kiyosaki “created the board game, the lessons didn’t necessarily translate from the game to the players. So he actually wrote the book as, this is kind of a funny story, as a marketing brochure to support the lessons in the game.” And then it wound up succeeding as a New York Times bestseller and kind of supplanted the gamification that was attempted with the Cashflow 101 game.
But with Rich Dad Interactive, it’s a return to that kind of gamification strategy. Times have changed, and gamification is a more robust concept, and that’s what Clutch will try to do. It’s adaptable, too: Caniglia says “we created it as a framework, so we can plug any type of content that we want in it, so it’s completely flexible and agile in that world, and that was a mission of ours from a tech standpoint.”
Caniglia sees this move to apps like Clutch and the upcoming mobile version of Cashflow 101 as key for the future of Rich Dad. “The general population just does not have an interest in attending seminars. The transition for us to digital is actually a fairly easy one – it’s the only way the brand can survive, number one. Number two, because we started out really as a board game… it’s a very easy transition for us to take our IP and turn it into these fun, interactive tools that we can now deploy on the mobile platforms. So the time is right for Rich Dad in order to reinvent itself as a brand but also to get to a younger demographic that, their lives are built around their mobile devices.”
With the recent release of Sci-Fi themed Endless Runner, RunBot, we took the time to get to know more about its studio, Bravo Games, and what makes the team tick, by asking a few questions of producer, César Ríos Oruña.
148apps: You’ve previously worked on some licensed titles such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Power Puff Girls Snowboarding, how different is it working on those compared to original titles? César Ríos Oruña (CRO): Working on original IPs definitely has some additional challenges that you don’t face when working on licensed titles.
Let’s use RunBot as an example. When starting development of RunBot, we started with a “white paper”, having to define everything from the bare basics. How does the game look? What’s the game’s theme? How does it feel? You have so many options that you can get lost and spend a lot of time trying to figure where to go next. But don’t get me wrong, despite being a big handicap this is one of the best parts of making video games – we have the freedom to create whatever we want. In a licensed game, the story and background are already there, you just have to adapt it to the game.
For RunBot, from the very beginning, we had a slick futuristic city in mind for the setting and a powerful agile robot for the main character. And this is where another risk pops up: you don’t know 100% if that is going to work. If you are making an example; a Kung Fu Panda game from the movie, you already know that the characters are cool, people like them and everything is perfectly matching, because somebody has already done that job for you.
And then you have the validation process. This is a good news/bad news situation, as with a licensee, you get their help to make the game reflect their existing successful brand. But this can often lead to an iterative process that can delay the development team badly. As an independent, you can stop iterating whenever you want preventing the team from bleeding out, but you don’t have this great help that a third party can give to the team.
With RunBot, we decided for a mixed approach – we provided our IP and game development, and Marvelous Games provided the publishing support and game advice to help make the finished game we have today.
148apps: As you’ve made many different kinds of games, do you guys have a particular favorite genre? CRO: One of the great things of working on mobile platforms is that you can easily jump from genre to genre. Doing this keeps the team motivated and learning something new each day, absolutely indispensable to not getting stagnant creatively.
There are two genres that we are specially comfortable with: Cars/bikes (anything with an engine and wheels) mixed in with whatever game mechanic, and runners. Runners are especially good for mobile devices due to their simple controls and short play sessions. Some say that when you finish a game you just want to rush to another, the further the genre the better, but we are so comfortable with runners that after finishing RunBot we are still working on adding even more cool stuff based on feedback from our users. Adding cool things to a game always feels great!
148apps: Are you able to reveal any information on your future Marvelous Games’s published titles? CRO: The first game created within the Bravo – Marvelous alliance is RunBot, that just hit stores. Right now we are focused on improving it and we plan it to do it for a while. But I can tell you that we are also working on a number of other titles with them and we are extremely happy. Sorry I can’t be any more specific about games or dates, but this alliance is going to bring great titles to stores, I’m pretty sure about that.
148apps: How is GemWars’ (promised to be a ‘mixture between Warcraft and Clash of Clans‘) progress coming along? It looks a really intriguing mix of genres! CRO:GemWars is one of those titles that has become a bit “all-in”. We’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and the concept has been evolving since 2010. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been working on it full-time since that date, but it has been growing slowly since then until it’s the HUGE game that is right now.
As you can imagine a lot of effort has been put into GemWars. The idea is to take the concepts of city management, exploration, and real-time battles and mix it in a fantasy medieval theme. The amount of content (3 sides, 64 controllable units, 36 buildings, spells, equipment, heroes…) is big and getting bigger; we’re continually adding things. We are still in production, but I can’t provide any estimated release date, but when we do, we’d love to share more info with you.
While I’m busy keeping my fingers crossed for more info about GemWars, RunBot is out now and it’s free to download. Thank you to César Ríos Oruña for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more about the studio and its past work, check out their website.
Behold Studios, creators of the IGF-nominated Knights of Pen & Paper are in the process of making their second game, Chroma Squad; a turn-based manager game that is heavily-inspired by the “sentai” shows of the 80′s and 90′s – such as Power Rangers. And of course, it will feature plenty of the pixel art that helped to define Knights of Pen & Paper as well.
148Apps: How did the idea of Chroma Squad come about? Saulo Camarotti (SC): After making a project like Knights of Pen & Paper, with a lot of references from our childhood, we thought that we could make a game with a theme that inspired us very much when we were ten. So, after thinking about the sentai team, we realized that we could go meta-language with it, and that came to the idea of managing a sentai TV studio.
148Apps: What are you attempting to do with the gameplay of Chroma Squad that you didn’t do with Knights of Pen & Paper? SC: We want more depth. We know that Knights is a great game, but it’s limited when you try to customize your experience. In Chroma Squad, we want that the player could customize everything in his studio, and make a sentai team of his dreams. So we’re planning in skill trees, items, color and jumpsuits options.
148Apps: Why go with Kickstarter for Chroma Squad? Did the popularity of Knights of Pen & Paper push you in one way or the other with this decision? SC: Yeah sure! We wanted to make a game with the help of the community. With a Kickstarter project we would listen to all feedback and promote a game where the community felt that they belong to it. We want to create a nostalgic experience, and for that, we need all the help. With the previous experience with Knights, we managed to get a lot of posts and reviews in major websites, and this was one the biggest reasons for our project success on Kickstarter.
148Apps: Now that the Kickstarter is a success, do you feel any different pressure in developing this game versus Knights of Pen & Paper? SC: Sure thing. When we did Knights, no one knew that the game was being developed, and no one had great expectations from our team. But now, we need to deliver what they expect us to. We really hope that we don’t frustrate any one =) For us, the game is already awesome!
Why target PC platforms before mobile this time around? SC: We wanted to make a deeper experience, and for that we wanted to use a bigger screen for the game. That’s why we’re just releasing it for PC, Consoles, and Tablets.
Thanks to Saulo for his time. If you’re interested in helping Behold Studios to get Chroma Squad (hopefully out in December of this year) funded, head on over to their Kickstarter page!
When ZigZaGame‘s Dragon Island Bluewas released on the App Store, many iOS gamers heaved a sigh of relief. It was (and arguably still is) the closest thing we’ve got to Nintendo’s exclusive monster-collection RPG series, while providing more than enough of its own unique gameplay elements to stand on its own. Now, just under a year later, we’ve got Hunter Island to look forward to. We recently had a talk with Ryan Kelley, COO of ZigZaGame, about Dragon Island Blue‘s reception, and what he and the rest of the team hope to accomplish with this spiritual successor of sorts. And I have to say, things are looking good so far.
148Apps: Would you consider Hunter Island to be a sequel to Dragon Island Blue, or something like a spiritual successor? Ryan Kelley (RK):Dragon Island Blue should get a separate sequel sometime in the future. We’ve been building a collection RPG engine for the past 3 years. We released Dragon Island Blue approximately a year ago, then spent the last year improving the engine based on user feedback, which led to Hunter Island.
148Apps: Were there any lessons/techniques/etc you were able to apply to Hunter Island after working on Dragon Island Blue? RK:Dragon Island Blue had 3 major sources of critical feedback: lack of a gripping storyline, lack of visual appeal (especially the interface), and the lack of updates (new content). Just in case some of the readers are considering picking up Dragon Island, I would like to note that it has an average overall rating of 5/5 Stars in the U.S., and we gave it our absolute best at the time. For Hunter Island, we wrote an engaging main story separate from side quests, added NPC interaction, and more importantly added a grand goal for each section of the game which directly ties in with the overall story. As a result, the game feels less of a chore although the actual story is 10 times longer.
We also overhauled the entire UI, changed the monster art direction, and implemented a tile-based map system. The new map is also a solution for updates. In Dragon Island, each section of the map was a large image, so the more maps we added, bigger the file size. This is a serious issue for iOS Apps because of the 50MB over-the-air download limit. However, in Hunter Island, whatever new world we decide to add in an update would be generated from tiles already existing in the game.
148Apps: Aside from the story and visuals, what is it you think will really set Hunter Island apart from its predecessor? RK: The tile based map system enabled us to make the map a whole lot bigger and exciting. In terms of size, this game is at least 10 times larger. Aside from that, we added what’s called a Bonus Attack system. Monsters are able to act twice in a row if they trigger this bonus action (similar to critical hit in most games). Each unique monster in Hunter Island has a random “grade” assigned to it ranging from S to E, with S monsters having the highest probability to perform a Bonus Attack.
We also introduced many new skills designed to make battles more strategic, such as chain attacks that splash damage to enemies of the same element, ally attacks that get stronger when you have monsters of the same element in your party, and playful ones like Roulette which kills a random monster in battle, friend or foe. Since the game eventually allows you to add 30+ monsters in your party, the combat feels like a mix of traditional RPGs and Collectible Card Games. A lot of the monster skills were inspired by games such as Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh. Another huge addition is the online component. While you can complete the full single player story offline (no pay wall), we are introducing online missions and online multiplayer via game center which was one of the most common requests. In online missions, players compete to beat dungeons and maps added regularly to get a special prize monster.
148Apps: Do you think fans of Dragon Island Blue might be less interested in the more “cutesy” style of Hunter Island? And if so, is there anything they can look forward to that you think will change their minds? RK: The “cutesy” style was actually another common request made by players. Also, there are plenty of cool-looking monsters at higher levels and rarities. Even if you are not a big fan of the style, we believe that the depth and scale of the game will satisfy fans of Dragon Island Blue looking for a similar but greatly improved game experience.
148Apps: I don’t suppose there are any Easter Eggs hidden in Hunter Island for fans of the first game to stumble upon, are there? Any returning characters, monsters, or the like? RK: There are a couple of monsters that came from Dragon Island Blue, like the Unhappy Bird. Also, the game offers something special for Dragon Island players. In the first town, there is a little tombstone that you can tap on. It will ask the player a question related to Dragon Island. If you answer correctly, a special exclusive monster will crawl out to join your team. We have a few more throwback monsters planned for online mission rewards as well.
Major thanks all-around to both Ryan and the rest of the team over at ZigZaGame! If you’d like to keep an eye out for Hunter Island – and really, why wouldn’t you? – it should be hitting the App Store sometime in September of this year for $0.99 (Universal).
An insect’s life is harsh and dangerous. However it can also be quite beautiful, as is evidenced by the upcoming bug-riddled hidden object adventure, Morphopolis. This gorgeous looking story of an aphid grub trying to rescue its friend has been in development since July of last year, and it’s still in early alpha, but things looking really nice already. We were able to talk with Dan Walters and Ceri Williams, the game’s authors, about what to expect when we visit this lovely/brutal world.
148Apps: Morphopolis is certainly gorgeous. Where did you get your visual inspiration from? Dan Walters (DW): The art style emerged over a five week workshop during which we experimented with different techniques alongside developing the game narrative. We aimed for a hand-drawn aesthetic using rich, saturated scenery that suits the genre of game. Intricate line drawings and ink wash techniques had been used previously by Ceri while producing architectural drawings and we wanted to see how they would suit a more organic subject. Ceri Williams (CW): We used macro photographs that we took to build up a catalog of source images and investigate the depth of field effects seen at that scale. The content was drawn from these photographs and was heavily inspired by watching old David Attenborough documentaries on plants and insects.
148Apps: Aside from the “painting come to life” quality of the graphics, what do you think will set Morphopolis apart from other hidden object games? DW: The game is all about metamorphosis. Between each chapter you change through metamorphosis or inhabiting the bodies of larger insects. In each chapter, as you grow in size, the scale of the world you are in shrinks so that more becomes visible.
Taking narrative from the environment, creating places through the division space, and evolving this world as your awareness of scale, mechanics, and inhabitants change. These are concepts we discovered in architecture school, but they can be handled so much more playfully in an illustrated world. CW: The tone of the game aims to strike a balance between the beauty of the close-up natural world with the captivating visceral qualities of the insect kingdom. Familiar, but increasingly alien as you peer closer; we want Morphopolis to appeal to the inquisitive. We are trying to tap into the almost universal experience of being toddler/child and peering closely in the grass or plant pots and seeing a tiny world of insects and plants. This experience is both fascinating and beautiful and also slightly scary and gross which is the balance we are trying to strike with the game.
148Apps: I’m a little afraid to ask, but what do you mean by “a parasitic crusade?” DW: You’re right to be slightly afraid! In Morphopolis you will take the role of an aphid grub and as part of the gameplay you parasitically inhabit larger insects. This metamorphosis allows the narrative and complexity of the world to develop as the game progresses. In each Chapter the new body that you occupy allows you to interact with the world in a new way and gets you closer to achieving your goal of rescuing your companion. CW: There is nothing gratuitous about this metamorphosis as the game is designed to be accessible to all ages but we want to capture that sense of fascination and discovery found in nature documentaries that show the realities of the world.
148Apps: About how many different kinds of bugs do you think will be in the final build? Do you have a particular favorite as far as artistic rendition or just general species goes? CW: There will be about 20 types of creature in the game with the players’ character also changing between each of the chapters. I’m personally a fan of the stag beetle but this is possibly because this piece of artwork has remained almost unchanged from the very first test illustrations. DW: Without revealing too much, some of the bugs in the later chapters are quite amazing. By this point in the game it becomes apparent that perhaps this organic world is not quite as natural as it seems and the bugs begin to reflect this sense that there is a greater intelligence to the Morphopolis world. CW: I’d love it if players chose to keep the game on their screens as a kind of insect vivarium screen-saver. I’m a fan of bugs and insects but I’d like to categorically say that no spiders will feature in Morphopolis!
148Apps: How long do you think it may take the average player to complete Morphopolis? Will there be any incentives for players to jump back in once they’re finished? DW: The time to complete the full game will vary greatly but we expect an average of 5-6 hours with players able to easily dip in and out if they choose. CW: We hope that players will enjoy the experience and not feel that they have to rush through the game. Hidden object sets and puzzles overlap one another in a way that allows the player to progress at their own pace and in the order that their exploration leads them. Because of this we expect that replaying the game will not result in repeating an identical process. DW: There are some features that we are exploring at the moment such as a system of randomizing the positions of certain hidden objects. We don’t feel that this will be necessary given the type of experience we are aiming to get across with the game however.
Thank you very much, Dan and Ceri, for taking the time to talk with us. If Morphopolis sounds like the kind of thing you’d like to play, you can sign up for early Mac/PC access or preorder all versions at once right here on the official website. Otherwise you can wait until later this summer when Micro Macro Games brings the iPad version to the App Store.
As a huge fan of interactive fiction thanks to a childhood full of Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure books, it’s been a pretty exciting time on the App Store of late. Besides Tin Man Games’s steady conquering of all things Fighting Fantasy, the release of Sorcery!, and Visual Baker’s Underground Kingdom, things have been kicked up a further notch.
Founder of the series, R.A. Montgomery and publisher, Shannon Gilligan.
That’s thanks to the latest Kickstarter campaign, focused on Choose Your Own Adventure books aimed at younger readers and now known as Choose ‘Toons. With the Kickstarter just launched, we took some time to chat to Shannon Gilligan, publisher at Chooseco.
“Choose ‘Toons are interactive cartoons, plain and simple. There are very abbreviated amounts of text at the choice points, but that’s it. Otherwise, you are watching an animated story, with choices!” explained Shannon.
The first app is based on Your Very Own Robot in which the reader uses their parents’ robot lab to put together a robot named Gus, leading to some entertaining mishaps. While Shannon told us that there are some “slight amendments and additions”, the app is set to follow the book “pretty faithfully”.
“It was interesting to adapt because I actually found that typical cable or Saturday morning cartoons are much more physically violent than what’s in our books,” Shannon noted. “It has something to do with watching vs. reading I think. And it’s nothing new. I watched Roadrunner as a kid and it’s quite violent, sometimes to the point of sadism. Our eyes are trained to be entertained which might demand certain kinds of less cerebral plot points.”
So, young readers and their parents should have nothing to worry about when it comes to the content of this forthcoming adaptation!
The Kickstarter comes with some fairly typical pledge awards, as well as some rather exciting high-end ones such as being able to pay to have one’s voice featured in the app. Most thrilling of all, though, has to be the one-off $10,000 pledge. Unlike anything else I’ve seen before, it gives the buyer their very own Choose Your Own Adventure for real. Throughout the campaign, backers and followers will be asked two questions each week, which will eventually lead to the adventure of a lifetime. While Shannon explained that Antarctica is out because of costs, pretty much everything else is up for grabs. Adventurous spirit and $10,000 to spare? You know what to do.
On a serious final note, anything that encourages kids and their families to read together has to be a hugely positive step. Even better, for this series, it looks set to combine nostalgia for the parents with new discoveries for the kids. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this Kickstarter’s progress. For now, check out the campaign page if you’re interested in participating or you fancy a $10,000 adventure of a lifetime. The campaign ends on September 12.
Ever had the idea for an app, but felt like the lack of programming and design ability was a bit of a non-starter? Well, 13-year-old Daniel Singer has made an app. He’s the designer of Backdoor, a chat app that lets users chat with their friends anonymously, trying to get clues to guess who they are. It’s available now on the App Store.
This isn’t even Daniel’s first thing that he’s helped to design: he helped create YouTell.com, an anonymous feedback site. He says that helped lead to the creation of Backdoor. “One day during a meeting, I was kind of thinking about how you reply to feedback, and if you reply a lot, that turns into a conversation. And from a conversation, the best platform to do that would be a messenger, and [on] iOS. And that’s kind of how it all started.”
While he has a limited iOS programming background at the moment, he’s more a design person, and he just started mocking up Backdoor after having the idea. “I’m primarily a UI designer, so I immediately kind of hopped into Photoshop and just started messing with that.”
How’d he get started with design in the first place? He says “a few years back” (keep in mind that he’s thirteen, almost fourteen years old) that he “wanted to create a gaming youtube channel, because I was in to it at the time, so you had to like make a website and a channel design and all that, and so I had to learn the skills to do that, and from there I wound up liking the skills more than the actual YouTube page, and I kind of pursued those further, primarily with design.”
In speaking over the phone with Daniel, his youth is apparent, both from the way he speaks like a typical teenager, and in how he describes how he uses Backdoor: “One of my friends played a prank on me, which was quite funny, which was, I was sitting down at a table and they said “look behind you, it’s me” – and it was complete strangers and I looked behind them, and it was funny. I ended up using clues and I kind of guessed that it was someone I knew and not some random stranger. That was fun.”
But also, he has a maturity to his voice – his voice was deep enough that I was a bit skeptical if he was still thirteen, which he technically is – he turns fourteen soon – and of course, what he’s doing is something that people twice his age are trying to do with startups. He also has a youthful optimism toward what is available with technology that he an do with it: “The skills and the resources are pretty widely available and free as well to the most part. To learn programming and design, in 30 days of your Photoshop free trial, you can learn quite a bit, and then if you’re into it and go ahead and get a student plan, which is not that much. It’s really openly available to learn.”
“I tried looking for a teacher, and there really aren’t for design as far as I was able to find, unless you went to art school, but that’s a college, a conventional course. I ended up teaching myself a lot about design.”
And by going out and learning how to do all of this himself, he’s way ahead of even many adults who have the inkling in their head “Maybe I could create an app…” because he just did it.
Recently announced, Trouserheart looks like quite the quirky, DeathSpank-style fantasy action game. Notably, it’s a game that is being published by established Finnish games studio, 10tons and developed by similarly established and Finnish firm, Dicework Games. With our curiosity piqued, I was able to talk to 10tons’s Jaakko Maaniemi about how the union came to be, and just what players should expect when the game is released next month.
148apps: Why is it called Trouserheart? Jaakko Maaniemi (JM): It’s awesome you ask about the name, as we put some serious effort into coming up with it. We wanted to achieve all kinds of things with the name, and we’re very happy with Trouserheart. We wanted the name to be short, preferably one word – Trouserheart is ok in that regard.
We obviously wanted the name to be catchy, memorable and distinct, as there are hundreds of games released every day. As the name was your first question, I believe we succeeded here as well. The name also had to communicate the lighthearted, humorous tone of of the game. Check! Trouserheart is also the name of the game’s hero, King Trouserheart.
Finally, we wanted to [be] associated [with] the fantasy genre. The something-heart is a pretty well known fantasy convention, all the way from King Lionheart and Braveheart to hit games like Battleheart and Kingdom Hearts. Trousers also feature in the game’s storyline, but we’ll talk about that in detail later.
148apps: Will Trouserheart be a story-led game? JM: Trouserheart is not very story driven, apart from the clear setup and rewarding conclusion. The reason is that Trouserheart’s gameplay is very short form. In other words, a single session of Trouserheart is just a couple of intensive minutes. There’s not a whole lot of time, nor point, in cramming a lot of storytelling in there. And we’re concentrating 100% on making the gameplay as great as possible.
148apps: What inspiration led to the game? JM: We wanted to make a game that’s simple, easy to pick up and fun to play. It takes literally about five seconds from the start of each session to be in a fight with monsters, knee deep in your next quest. Seasoned gamers can probably name titles Trouserheart reminds them of, but there’s no single source of inspiration in that regard.
Visually, we wanted to make Trouserheart look instantly familiar, but with a recognizable quirky tone. The kind of blocky look works well with the gameplay. The bright colors and clear shapes also help the game look clear on the smaller screens of mobiles.
148apps: Are you able to discuss any of the features within the game? It looks quite hack n slash style in the screenshots, is that the case? JM:Trouserheart is definitely hack’n slash. In fact, hacking and slashing is basically the only interaction there is in the game, although you do a few kinds of different things with the whackage. We’re especially proud of how well we’ve nailed the virtual controllers. They’re really good. We’ve always been annoyed by how many bad implementations of virtual controllers are out there, and one of the driving factors in creating Trouserheart is that we wanted to do virtual controllers right.
We should also mention that Trouserheart is as relaxed and easy-going as a good hack’n slash game can be. We hope that if Trouserheart is the first hack’n slash game someone plays, they’ll enjoy it.
148apps: What motivated 10tons to go into publishing rather than development? JM: 10tons has been around for ten years now, and so far we’ve published around two dozen titles we’ve developed ourselves – and we’ll definitely keep developing games in the future as well. We’ve released games on most mobile platforms and know our way around different markets so we already had a nice toolset for publishing games. Both Dicework Games and 10tons are located in Tampere, Finland, so we had a chance to see the game very early in development. We immediately liked Trouserheart’s concept, instant accessibility, and style. A bit later it we found ourselves in a position where we could help each other: Dicework needed resources to finish and launch the game to realize its full potential and 10tons was dreaming of an easy-going fun mobile game that would also work with gamepads.
Thanks to Jaakko for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s great to see indie developers working together towards a common goal. We’ll be sure to cover Trouserheart in more depth when it’s released in September.
It can be tough to please a demanding parent. Sometimes it feels like the only way you can truly make them proud is to give them the world – or at least a world. And that’s exactly the kind of problem Captain Bubblenaut is facing. The only way to earn his father’s (Admiral Pop’s) respect is to take over the planet ERF and destroy all the ERFLINGS inhabiting it. Thankfully, Captain Bubblenaut designer and AAA game industry veteran, Dean Tate, has taken time out from his busy ERF-destroying schedule to try and explain all of this craziness to us.
148apps: Where’d the idea for Captain Bubblenaut‘s gameplay come from? Was it a product of the inspiration provided by games like Tiny Wings and Jetpack Joyride, or was it more of an instantaneous “Eureka!” moment? Dean Tate (DT): Originally Owen [Owen Macindoe, doctor of computer science] and I started by asking the question “What sort of skill-based actions are really fun to human beings?” and I think at the time I’d read something about how, evolutionarily, humans have succeeded as a species by being really good at judging parabolic arcs. ie. if you’re a caveman and you’re good at throwing a rock or a spear at a mammoth, you’re gonna go far, baby. For that reason, humans really enjoy judging parabolas, and if you look around, there are many, many games based on that concept that are very successful (eg. the Worms series, Scorched Earth, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and so on) as well as pretty much every type of sport ever conceived (football, basketball, golf, and on and on and on). So, weird way to come at the design of a game, right? We basically started with that blank slate, asking ourselves the question “what sort of game can we make about parabolic arcs?” Strangely enough the only game we really looked at closely in the beginning was Wave Race 64, which is all about looking at ocean waves (parabolas, kinda) and being really good at riding them on your jetski. A lot of our early prototypes were about water and waves.
148apps: It looks like you had a lot of fun coming up with all the different ERFLING designs. Was there a limit on how many you could add to the game or did you just run with it and see how far you could go? DT: The only limit was my time and energy. It took around a year of experimentation to land on a set of rules and guidelines that allowed me to quickly create new ERFLINGS. Once I had those down pat, and a huge list of types that I wanted to create, I just aimed to crank out 3 or 4 new ones every week or so, and did so through to now. I probably redesigned each one around 2 or 3 times. We’re shipping with around 90 designs, and I’d love to do another 90 and release them in an update some time.
148apps: Aside from experience, are there any particular insights from working in AAA development that you think might benefit your work as an indie developer? DT: For me it’s just design process. I learned a lot in AAA about design iteration fundamentals, philosophy, etc. How to fail fast and “find the fun”. How to tackle new design challenges. In some ways I think that allows me to work fast, but then I also think a lot of the more talented indies out there who don’t have AAA experience have an advantage in just being scrappier and more focused in their work than I am.
148apps: Between the music by Chris Remo (Thirty Flights of Loving, Gone Home), sound by Danny Baranowsky ( Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, Canabalt), your own design experience (Bioshock, Bioshock 2, Rock Band), and Owen’s programming skills, it sounds like you’ve assembled an amazing team! What’s it like having so many well known (and super-talented) people working together on Captain Bubblenaut? DT: It’s great! It’s part of why I wanted to become indie. I love everyone I’ve met in this community and am thrilled to get to work with some of them, and hope to work with more!
148apps: Do you have any reservations about this being your very first iOS release? DT: Only that the market is very crowded and it’s hard to stand out. From my perspective as a creator and a designer, I feel like my best chance of success is in building something that is high in quality, original, built to take advantage of the unique aspects of the iPhone, and most of all, FUN. For me I think that’s the best way to succeed.
Our thanks to Dean Tate and the rest of the team for all their hard work (past, present, and inevitably future)! Captain Bubblenaut will start exterminating ERFLINGS at the end of this month. If you’d like to help the little guy out, the full game (no IAPs) will only set you back $1.99.
Two things are a constant with dwarves, regardless of the fictions they appear in: they’re incredibly sturdy, and they have a thing for digging. TinkerHouse Games has taken these two concepts and run with them to create Dwarven Delve. Billed as an “action puzzle crawl,” it’s a combination of elements that tasks players with rotating entire sections of dungeon as they attempt to guide a small band of dwarves to the treasures within. It’s a unique and interesting concept we wanted to learn more about. Fortunately, Mark Jessup (Creative Director and Lead Designer for TinkerHouse Games) was on-hand to answer our questions.
148Apps: So what led to the creation of the world’s first action puzzle crawl? Mark Jessup (MJ): I really like pipe puzzle games like Pipe Dream and old-school top-down dungeon crawls. One morning when I was half-awake, the two merged and did a merry jig. When I was finally ambulatory I wrote it down immediately. Lane built the physical prototype in two days and had the first digital prototype a week later. He was a ninja. We were both really fired up about it and hit the ground running.
148Apps: I noticed some of the abilities seem like they’d work really well together (i.e. the Tinkersmith’s Hovermine and the Wayfinder’s Echo Lure). Was it tough to balance? MJ: Thanks for noticing that combo so quickly! It’s one of our favorites and the ideal we’re shooting for with regards to other ability combos down the line. So far, the biggest trick hasn’t been with individual or combo effects, as much as cooldown durations and the frequency of enemy spawning. None of the abilities or their power progressions threaten game balance in themselves, but they should be meaningful moments in the level, not just something you spam. And of course, we have to have a steady but not overwhelming number of enemies to keep you on your toes and make those abilities count.
148Apps: Are there any later skills you think are particularly cool that you wouldn’t mind sharing? MJ: Well, it’s still early in development, so I really shouldn—okay, you talked me into it. Our dwarves’ abilities are augmented over time by rediscovering their history; ancestral relics and lineage. So our Tinkersmith will eventually find a relic from the Age of Automata called the Gloam Mag. It upgrades her hovermines so that they shoot towards enemies in any adjacent hex, threatening a much larger area.
One of the Spellforger’s more powerful relics is called The Oculus of Maddening. It changes his ranged attack into a domination effect, so he can turn a group of enemies into monster-eaters. It’s quite fun.
148Apps: Was it always the plan to have a team of six, or were there originally more/fewer dwarves? And if there were initially more, were there any classes that you regret having to cut out? MJ: Actually, the biggest decision we had to make early on was whether the game would be centered around a small cast of characters or a large group of units that you essentially built into warbands. It was a fundamental design decision, obviously. We decided to go with the small group because the story is a very important part of the game for us, and we thought we could tell a better one with a small cast that you got to know and helped evolve over time. And for the record, we also realized the dwarven unit model would likely be much easier to monetize and more lucrative in the long run. But we didn’t do it because we really thought it wouldn’t let us design the best game experience. There’s nothing wrong with free-to-play in itself, but it wasn’t right for this game.
Fools? Possibly. But fools who love dwarves.
148Apps: I really like the concept behind character “leveling.” Was this Lineage system always the plan or was it something the game grew into over the course of its development? MJ: The lineage leveling system definitely grew out of conversations over time around the office. When we were thinking about the warband approach, finding your ancestors actually unlocked new units, which was cool, and gave the player something more satisfying than just getting a better score. And the idea of a lineage tree showing progress was a visual concept we really wanted to keep. So when we went towards the character approach we realized we could still keep that concept. Each dwarf is a member of a clan that extends back into the dark of history. Discovering the forebears and accomplishments of their clan makes their own abilities increase.
Our thanks to Mark Jessup for his time, and to the entire team at TinkerHouse Games for working on the first ever action puzzle crawler. Assuming everything goes according to plan with Dwarven Delve‘s Kickstarter funding it should be breaking ground on your iPad (sorry, iPhone owners) in December for $4.99. It’s apparently going to be a big month for dwarves.
Ever wanted to start up a tech firm? Got an idea that seems stupidly awesome and original? Or just fancy running a business, warts and all? There’s a fairly safe and inexpensive way of experiencing that life coming to iOS later this year. That title is Hipster CEO, a game which challenges players to “take an idea from their dorm room to Wall Street, Zuckerberg-style”. We had a word with Dublin-based developer, Ger Kelly, on his vision for the game and just how it came to be.
Ger (left) and his business advisory team.
148apps: Where did the idea for Hipster CEO come from? Ger Kelly (GK): Well firstly I have a huge passion for tech startups – I love reading about the causes behind startups’ success and failure, exciting new technologies, marketing techniques, stuff like that. Whenever I tell someone I work in a startup they always say that they’d love the opportunity to do just that. I wanted to give people a taste of what running a startup company is like – fun but difficult. It isn’t all air hockey tables and free beer but when it works, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Secondly, I was a video game addict as a kid – particularly sports/business simulations like Championship Manager and Theme Park. I always felt games like that were different in the sense that you were especially proud of what you did – like bringing some low-tier football team all the way to the Cup Final – you always wanted to tell your friends. Even now one of my fondest teenage memories is winning a league title with my favorite football team – which probably says a lot about my adolescence! I felt that there was room for a tech startup simulator in the same vein.
The name came about when a friend called me a total hipster because I guess I can be a little snobby about my musical taste at times. I had a few other ideas for a title but people really reacted really well to Hipster CEO so I went with it.
148apps: The idea of the game seems pretty lighthearted, will that continue throughout the game? GK: The Hipster element of the game is simply a veneer, the game will create the experience of building a tech startup as closely as possible. I think the Hipster shtick appeals to a lot of people in a fun way and I want people to have fun playing this game. However, the gameplay will be firmly rooted in reality so there won’t be any “wacky” investment offers tabled or disgruntled developers setting fire to their desks. On second thoughts I might include that last one!
Stuff like the Social Network movie and TV shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank makes every man and his dog feel like they could grow a startup company into a huge success but, as anyone who has ever built a startup will know, it’s a lot of hard work. There are so many things you need to get right to build a winning product: quality development, creative marketing, and of course sales. It might sound crazy but so many tech startups out there have no sales strategy starting off – Hipster CEO will encourage players to start making revenue from day one.
Players will need to get the right balance of these three in order to succeed, all the while keeping their staff happy, handling investors, and dealing with the media. That sure seems like a lot but trust me that’s what a startup CEO has to deal with on a day-to-day basis!
I hope my app puts a smile of the face of those who play it because they feel rewarded not just because of some jibe at hipsters.
Where the magic happens – part of the Project 51 group – a creative collective in Dublin
148apps: Will the game solely be quite text focused, or will there be more game-style graphics too? GK: I really wanted to have a basic graphics pane which displayed your character, your employees, your office and stuff like that but it’s just not feasible for the first version. Like being able to see your little team graduate from your parent’s basement to some swanky, playground-esque office would be awesome. I have some design skills but nothing on the level that would be required for proper animation so I’ve had to shelve that idea for now. It will probably be one of the first things addressed if the game takes off.
I think Championship Manager showed that you can just have words and numbers on the screen and still create a totally immersive experience.
148apps: Will it be a one-off payment game, or will there be in-app purchases involved?
There will be a one-off payment and the option to get additional investment via in-app purchases. I want to stress, however, that you don’t need to make any in-app purchases after getting the app in order to build a great startup – it’s merely there as an option. I’d actually prefer if players declined the option to take investment completely and slowly but surely built a solid company but I know there’s people out there who will just want to get to a certain level as fast as possible.
148apps: Is there a way of completing Hipster CEO? Or is it more open ended than that? GK: It’s open ended. Each character in the game (including you as CEO) has certain stats that will grow and shrink based on their performance. If your company goes broke you’ll have the option to build another startup with the skill set you’ve developed. Most entrepreneurs fail with their first few startups so it may take players a few different cracks of the whip before they really hit the big time. It’s totally possible of course that they have a huge success of things and start getting acquisition offers to decide upon.
There will be an online leaderboard of all the players worldwide so you can see how you measure up as a CEO in the game. I’ve a lot of long term ideas for the game too – like inviting the top players around the world to become virtual venture capitalists in later versions of the game which other people can pitch to.
Sounding a pretty intriguing idea, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Hipster CEO‘s progress. Further information is also available at the game’s site. It’s hopefully set for release in October. Thanks to Ger for taking the time to answer our questions!
The semi-futuristic story of Greg’s search for his missing girlfriend Chloe has been a long time coming, but after two years in the making Lost Echo is finally on its way to the App Store. Soon players will be able to lead Greg through a number of different 3D environments as he tries to figure out where Chloe disappeared to, and why no one else seems to think she ever existed. We asked Nick Konstantoglou and Vagelis Antonopoulos of KickBack Studios to tell us a little bit more about their long-running (and intriguing) project.
148Apps: Lost Echo looks quite striking. What were some of your inspirations for its visual style? Nick Konstantoglou and Vagelis Antonopoulos (NK/VA): Thank you! We have a background in Architectural Visualization, so we knew we would put emphasis on lighting. That’s central to the style. We might have broken some kind of record for the amount of time we spent baking and tweaking lightmaps for an iOS game. We also researched a lot of modern architecture. For example the park (which is featured a lot in the trailer) is partly inspired by the HighLine park in New York. We went through quite a few iterations until we recognized the elements that fit the world we imagined. We wanted a world that looked slightly futuristic but realistic enough that it’s believable. There are also some shapes that are repeated throughout the game for story reasons (although it’s quite subtle).
148Apps: I also noticed that Lost Echo is supposed to work with older iOS devices, going all the way back to the iPhone 3GS. How in the heck did you manage that? NK/VA: We started making the game 2 years ago. Supporting 3GS back then was normal and expected. But since this is our first game, we failed where all new developers fail. Planning! This was supposed to be a smaller project, but we started adding features and then it became something more ambitious. All rookie mistakes, we know how to plan things better now. Although since we didn’t give up and actually finished the game it was probably a good thing! So we kept the 3gs support in. We added a bit more to the graphics later on as time went by and we considered dropping the support for older devices at some point, but then we found that keeping it wasn’t that hard. After we had written the shaders to perform within our expectation and with some self control with the polycounts, getting it to run nicely on older devices was not that hard. Unity being a great engine helps as well.
148Apps: Were there any particular point-and-click games or series that you were keeping in mind while you were developing Lost Echo? NK/VA: Well, not really. We love all the classics, for example Monkey Island. They are parts of our childhood and they are great games. They also have some elements that are very outdated now. But there is some of that old-school adventure spirit in our game. More recently we played a lot of Phoenix Wright. We can’t say we kept it in mind during development, but we did note how the dialogue presentation was great for smaller screens, very readable, and the variable text speeds gave it a lot of character.
148Apps: Should players expect traditional, item-centric puzzles (i.e. Monkey Island) or more self-contained head scratchers (i.e. Myst)? Possibly some sort of combination of the two? NK/VA: A combination. There are item puzzles, dialogue based puzzles, and self contained puzzles/minigames. We wanted variation in our game and there are slight shifts in style throughout the game, to keep things interesting.
148Apps: Is Lost Echo going to be a self-contained adventure or were you thinking of adding episodes/chapters later on? NK/VA: We are… not sure. There is definitely room for more stories, but the story arc that starts with this game, ends with this game. You have to understand, this is our first game and we didn’t (well, still don’t) know what kind of reception we would get, so we didn’t want to plan to make, say, 3 episodes/games and then be unable to make more than one. It’s also a pretty big game, much larger than the average episodic game and it took us a long time to develop. We’ll say this though, we would love to add a bit more to this game. We do have a small story that serves as a prequel to the game that we would love to add it to the game. But to be able to do that it will mean that the game will sell “well enough”.
We really appreciate Nick and Vagelis taking the time to answer our questions, and we’re looking forward to figuring out what happened to Chloe ourselves. Adventure game fans and lovers of psychological thrillers can check out Lost Echo when it’s released later this month for $2.99