Galaxy on Fire – Alliances and its developer, Fishlabs, have been through quite the tumult over the past few months. Fishlabs went through financial trouble and was eventually acquired by publisher Deep Silver, a rising force in the gaming industry known for publishing Saints Row IV and the Dead Island series. Throughout it all, Galaxy on Fire- Alliances has been chugging along: beta tested and released among these turbulent times, the game is now available worldwide and just received a big content update. Kai Hitzer, Marketing Director at Deep Silver Fishlabs took the time to answer some questions about the game’s unique approach and development.
148Apps: Alliances seems to start up a lot slower than what many free-to-play games do: it has a very lengthy and involved tutorial, and doesn’t get into the bulk of the game for some time. Was this a purposeful design decision?
Kai Hitzer, Marketing Director at Deep Silver Fishlabs
Kai Hitzer (KH): Yes, that decision has been made on purpose. If you want it to be, Galaxy on Fire – Alliances can be a very complex game that really sucks you in and offers you a multitude of differing options and possibilities. But at the same time it also allows for a less challenging gaming experience for players who don’t want to get into the matter too deeply, but prefer to focus on the core features and basic actions only. No matter which way of playing you prefer, you always have to know your stuff and that’s why we settled for a rather lengthy and extensive tutorial. Once you’ve performed all the tasks asked for by your Personal Assistant, you will not only be familiar with the most basic gameplay mechanisms, but you will also have earned enough credits and experience points to be well prepared for the transition from your save home instance to the PVP space.
The save home system, which can neither be seen nor attacked by other players, constitutes another important element of the starting phase of Galaxy on Fire – Alliances. To make sure that all players have enough time to become acquainted with the game, we’ve made sure that everyone’s got a secure resort from where they can plan and execute their operations at whatever pace they prefer. Once you’ve mastered the first couple of steps successfully and feel well-prepared for the next round, all you need to do is open up your jump gate and start your endeavors in the “real” galaxy. But even then you will not abandon your home system, but you will still keep it so that you can continue to build it up and use it as the centre of your dealings and ventures.
148Apps: Alliances, with its complexity, feels very targeted to a core gamer audience. Did you feel like this segment was being underserved on iOS? KH: As a company that’s always been eager to bring truly immersive gaming experiences to mobile – in terms of graphics as well as in regard to the depth of gameplay – we have been catering to a rather hardcore-oriented user base for years. And Galaxy on Fire – Alliances makes no exception here. We’ve always said that we wanted to show with GOFA that it is indeed possible to bring free-to-play and hardcore gameplay in accordance with one another. And we still stand by this claim as much as we did when we first proclaimed it.
With mobile devices becoming more and more powerful and capable month after month, we believe that the number of people who want to play demanding core games on their smartphones or tablets will continue to grow constantly. When you’ve got a device with you 24/7 that’s capable of running apps in current-gen console quality, why would you want to use it only to play titles that look and feel like browser or flash games from 10 years ago? Don’t get me wrong, pretty much everyone here at Fishlabs is totally enjoying their occasional dose of casual games as well, but we still believe that there’s more to the mobile platform than just endless runners, match-3s, and physics games.
148Apps: How casual-friendly do you consider this game to be, if at all? KH: As said earlier, one of the beauties of Galaxy on Fire – Alliances lies in the fact that the players can decide for themselves how they want to play it. If they’re looking for a challenging, deeply engrossing hardcore gaming experience, they can join an ambitious alliance (or even form their own alliance) and closely interact with others to constantly widen their reach and fortify their dominion. When you choose to play the game like this, you will be able to coordinate large-scale attacks with dozens of fellow players, command backup troops to secure strategically important positions, carry out feint assaults to throw your enemies’ defense line off balance and actively participate in a vivid community of aspiring star base commanders.
But if you want play a bit more light-hearted and easy-going, you can also stay in your private instance a little longer and then, when you leave it, colonize a couple of planets outside of the areas of war and conflict. There you should be able to progress in a relaxed but steady manner and build up your empire without much interference from pushy players or hostile alliances. So at the end of the day, it’ll be entirely up to you – you can spend 10 hours a day, 10 minutes a day, or anything in between playing Galaxy on Fire – Alliances and you’ll always experience meaningful gaming sessions and make reasonable progress.
148Apps: By making a game that’s complex – at least compared to many of the successful free-to-play games out there – were there any changes to the free-to-play and monetization structure that you felt had to be made because many core gamers are so vocal against free-to-play games, especially on mobile? KH: Personally, I don’t think that F2P mechanics themselves bug the core players, but rather the bad implementation of said mechanics. A lot of games still focus on monetization first and gameplay second. For us, those two aspects have always been on par and we’ve tried our best to bring them in accordance with one another. There’s no denying that we have to sell in-app purchases at one point or another in order for GOFA to become a success. But at the same time, we also want the game to be fully accessible and fun to play regardless of the amount of money you invest.
The formula’s simple: on the one hand, players should be able to undergo a challenging, engrossing, and exciting gaming experience even if they never buy a single in-app purchase in Alliances. But on the other hand, they should also not become invincible overnight just because they spent a hundred or even a thousand dollars on credit packs and limit extenders. Therefore, we’ve set various rules and regulations that make sure that paying customers can indeed proceed faster than non-paying customers, but only to certain a extent. The general rule of thumb is that two non-paying players, who team up and support each in their attacks and defenses, will always be able to stand up to one heavy spender.
148Apps: What did the beta test help you change about the game to make it better? Were there any significant changes that you saw? KH: Listening to our fans has always been at the heart of our efforts, and the closed beta has been of tremendous help for us, providing tons of useful and insightful user feedback over the months. From update to update, Galaxy on Fire – Alliances has gone through dozens of severe changes in all crucial areas, such as game design, balancing, usability, and performance. By evaluating data from the closed beta, we’ve not only been able to fine-tune important aspects such as structure building times, commander level-ups, and mission rewards, but we’ve also been inspired to add all-new features such as carrier names, leaderboards, and structure take-overs. And, of course, the closed beta has also helped us to locate and fix quite a lot of bugs and other issues as well.
A spiritual successor to Pangea Software’s Enigmo series, some of the members of Pangea have teamed up with Team Chaos to bring back the puzzler, and they’ll be chatting with me, Carter Dotson, live on our Twitch channel at 2:00pm Eastern, 1:00pm Central, 11:00am Pacific, 8:00pm GMT. Watch the stream once it goes live below:
If you miss the show, be sure to catch the recap embedded here afterward to catch all the fun. Follow us on Twitch to be notified when we go live next!
One of the finest things about app development is how it opens things up to more than just major studios keen to develop an idea. In increasingly dicey times for those reliant upon others for employment, it’s a particular boon to see and some great ideas can come out of tricky times.
One such game is the recently reviewed Glyph Quest, with its developer, industry veteran and one time lead designer at Bullfrog Alex Trowers, letting me know the background to its development. In his own words, “Leanne [Bayley] (the artist), was working in Plymouth, me in Brighton. We decided to move in together and she’d find a new job up this way. Then we found out she was pregnant and had become completely unemployable. Then I lost my job. Instead of finding a new one, we decided we’d try and make a game ourselves. Could we do it before Sproglet arrived? How hard is it for an 8-month pregnant lady to go through [development] crunch [time]?”
More is explained on Leanne’s blog but Alex was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
148Apps: How did the idea for Glyph Quest come about? Alex Trowers (AT):Glyph Quest was originally a side project for us to tinker about at home while Leanne was out of work. I was a big fan of Dungeon Raid‘s tactile dragging interface (and, more recently, Puzzle & Dragons). Also, I enjoyed the RPG-esque trappings of 10000000. So we kinda threw the rest together. We’re both firm believers in emergent and evolutionary gameplay rather than designing something up front and just implementing it, so a lot of the features we added were very much developed on the fly.
148Apps: How different did you find it going from working as part of a team to a much smaller operation? AT: The amount of freedom afforded to you as part of a tiny team is fantastic. We put whatever we wanted in to the game as there were no people further up the chain with the power of veto. That’s why you’ll find plenty of references to all sorts of things scattered throughout and it’s those little touches that i think help us to stand out. In addition we really didn’t take ourselves or the genre too seriously. Of course the downside is the lack of resources. Glyph Quest was nowhere near as polished as it could have been come launch and things like our lack of config test or thorough QA were easy to call out. Another thing to consider is that while it’s great to have all of that power and control, it does rather mean that the buck stops with you and if it all goes horribly wrong, there’s no-one else to blame. It’s exciting stuff really.
148Apps: What challenges did you come across? AT: Our main challenge was logistics to do with the pregnancy as well as all of the other things that went wrong in real life. For example, it’s not the easiest thing in the world for a heavily pregnant woman to sit at a desk all day. We also had many sleepless nights – either Sproglet would kick Leanne awake or this wisdom tooth (that I’m still waiting to get fixed) would decide that I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. Then there was the roof falling off in the storms and the landlord serving us notice. And we had to have it all done and dusted before Sproglet was born.
148apps: You’ve written extensively about issues with the iTunes submission process [as well as the development process]. How would you improve it? AT: The iTunes side of things was always pretty simple. Convoluted in places, I guess – particularly when it came to IAPs – but the level of documentation and support available went a long way to mitigating that. The main place where things fell over were with XCode and my own complete lack of knowledge about it. Knowing which menu to find the relevant option to enable or disable some game-breaking feature was an exercise in the arcane. A friend and old Bullfrog buddy of mine postulated that you need this barrier to entry in order to ensure that the platform is secure and I kinda agree with him.
148Apps: What do you plan to do next? Besides enjoy fatherhood! AT: Next? Well, the success of Glyph Quest has taken us completely by surprise so we’re coming under increasing pressure to ‘fix’ issues with the first one or perhaps start looking in to a sequel. The plan was always to make Glyph Quest in order to fund a Kickstarter campaign for something much bigger. I’d still very much like to do that, but another Glyph Quest game makes an awful lot of sense. Then again, Sproglet was born at midday today, so I guess all bets are off and the thing I’d like to do next is sleep.
Huge thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations to him and Leanne on the arrival of their baby. Proving to be quite the inspiration given how much they’ve overcome in recent times, it’s the ideal time to try out Glyph Quest, available now on the App Store.
Following the surprise release of TowerMadness 2 last week we thought it was the ideal time to find out more about Limbic Software’s latest title, learn about some of the design process behind it, and discover just how it came to be. What better font of knowledge than that of Co-Founder and CEO, Arash Kesmirian? We caught up with him to find the answers to our questions and more.
148Apps: What made you decide to release a whole new game rather than update the original TowerMadness? Arash Keshmirian (AK): We’ve been building on the original TowerMadness for nearly five years now; it went from having only four simple maps to over a hundred. There were 20 updates, and tons of towers, enemies, environments, and features added. I think this was a big part of why that game was a success – we kept it alive, listened to fans, and added more and more. At some point though, we had to draw the line. We wanted to do significant new things and had to completely overhaul the platform in order to evolve to the next step. A revolutionary new 3D engine, brand new art, sound; I don’t really think anything carried over from the original. Oh, just two things – the muzzle flashes and the lock icons are the same. They were too perfect to toss out!
Another big departure from the original was our emphasis on adding characters to the game. So far there are two – Bo, a brave ram that defends your sheep against the first intruders into the flock and helps beginning players, and Xen, an old, wise, friendly alien that runs the tower laboratory to help you defeat the evil aliens. His motivations are unclear. We spent a lot of time making them come to life with dialogue and sophisticated animation. Our hope is to connect players with the game’s world in a deeper way than before, and we added some little surprises to this effect too, like funny descriptions for all the alien types:
148Apps: It’s been 3 and a half years since the first title was released, how come there was such a significant gap between the releases? AK: Well, because of the constant updates to TowerMadness 1 we didn’t really feel like there was a “gap” for players. But in terms of releases, we had to go explore other ideas and grow creatively before we were ready to come back to TowerMadness and make a proper sequel. In the years that went by, we developed and released Nuts! and Zombie Gunship. We’ve been fortunate to see them grow into massive franchises of their own, and each appeals to a different group of players with different expectations from games.
We did have a few “false starts” with TowerMadness 2, though. We’ve gone through a fair number of rejected design doc ideas that we ultimately decided would be too different, hard to play, or just not that fun. It took a long time to find a vision that worked. About nine months ago we cracked it, and set to work building TowerMadness 2.
148Apps: How has the evolution of iOS since the first game changed the development of TowerMadness 2? AK: The Apple Xcode tools we use to develop our games have been consistently improving over the years – but specifically for iOS, we’ve enjoyed leveraging a lot of new iOS features in TowerMadness 2. For one, we’re making full use of iCloud to let players carry their progress with them from device to device, and ensure nothing is ever lost. Since people tend to invest a lot of time in TowerMadness, this was really important to us. A bit more on the technical side, we’re leveraging a lot of new “under-the-hood” iOS features to provide the graphics and animation you see in the game.
Tower defense games in general are a challenge performance-wise because you have a lot of characters on screen that need to be drawn, animated, and run AI. Our custom engine leverages a lot of iOS optimizations to make this fast and keep framerates solidly at 60fps on modern devices. It screams on A7. As far as experimental features go, I really like playing on the TV with Apple TV and Airplay, so we added iOS controller integration to the game. It seems a bit odd for a tower defense to do this, since it’s quite well-suited to touch, but I think it’s a neat experience on a big screen with a controller and a few friends watching.
148Apps: TowerMadness 2 has been a surprise release on the App Store. Why the secrecy rather than building up hype beforehand? AK: Limbic has always been about experimenting. Back in 2009 we were one of the first free apps on the App Store with TowerMadness Zero, and we’ve innovated in other areas by doing things like split-screen multiplayer, Airplay, and other “tests” well ahead of the curve. Our marketing is no different – we wanted to see what would happen if we dazzled our fans with the release they’d been hoping for, without a tortuous tease beforehand. We’re in an age of game development now where the entire process is laid out for fans, from concept to alpha to beta to release, and we wanted to try the polar opposite for a change. When I was a kid I remember one day coming home from school and finding a brand new SNES game lying on my bed, a totally unexpected gift from my parents. Those were the best kinds of surprises, and I wanted our fans to experience that kind of joy too.
148Apps: Tower Defense games run the risk of being samey, what makes TowerMadness 2 stand out from its predecessor? AK: There are a few things that make TowerMadness and TowerMadness 2 unique. The first major aspect is the free-grid style of tower defense gameplay, which really opens the game up to strategic placement of towers and sophisticated tactics. We combine this with a vast array of tower types and alien types, making each level and each round really different in terms of how the waves play out. We’ve added some interesting gameplay mechanics when it comes to environments, with towers overheating and freezing in different climates. I hope to expand on that in future versions.
Another core aspect of the original TowerMadness was the competitive leaderboards. In TowerMadness 2, we’ve streamlined the score dynamic into a simple level time. If players can send and defeat waves more quickly, they’ll finish the level with a shorter time. We use Game Center challenges to facilitate grudge matches, and this has been a big hit with our team internally.
148Apps: How did the idea of using sheep in both games come about? AK: When Volker, Iman, and I created the first TowerMadness, we originally had concepted it as being cows. I have some limited 3dsmax skills [and] was responsible for all of that game’s artwork. The problem was, I had no idea how to make cute-looking cows. I did have some theories about making cute sheep, though. So I built this guy, and he stuck:
Today, with the talents of our Art Director, Lee, we have a much nicer-looking flock…
Plus, I think it makes a much better story that the aliens are trying to abduct the sheep to knit their emperor a sweater (it was a scarf in TM1). What would they do with a cow? Milk? Steaks? The aliens don’t have mouths, and invade completely unarmed… For all we know, they might be vegetarian pacifists!
148Apps: Thanks for your help and time in answering these questions AK: Thanks for having me. We’re really excited to finally get this out in the hands of players, and we can’t wait to see how the game grows as it evolves.
TowerMadness 2 is out now, and on sale at $2.99 (usually priced at $4.99). The original TowerMadness is also available for those keen to catch up on past hits.
Unsung Story, Playdek’s upcoming tactical RPG, seems to be moving along quite nicely. The Kickstarter project, which only started last week, is already past the halfway point with 24 days to go. I think it’s safe to assume that a fair number of people want to play it, yeah?
Playdek CEO Joel Goodman was gracious enough to answer a few of our burning questions regarding Unsung Story. Specifically questions about the game itself, the Kickstarter project, and the involvement of Yasumi Matsuno.
148Apps: Playdek has one heck of a repertoire filled with a TON of great ports of some classic games. Do you think the mechanics of any of those games, or what you’ve learned while creating them, may have had an influence on what you’ve done with Unsung Story? Joel Goodman (JG): The AI system we have created as well as our asynchronous gameplay mechanics will most definitely have an influence on what we will be able to do for Unsung Story. We also maintain a high quality level for all of our games.
148Apps: A tactical RPG seems like a fairly big change in genre from Playdek’s typical work. Was it a challenge to start developing something so different or was it an idea who’s time has come? JG: It was a ripe opportunity that just sort of happened. When the opportunity came, we jumped at it. Plus tactics gaming fits our wheel house.
148Apps: Was Yasumi Matsuno a part of the project from the start or did you have the basic idea for Unsung Story in place first? JG: Yasumi Matsuno developed the concept entirely from the start. We only asked for a tactics game and he took that request and hit the ground running. It is amazing to see the concepts and ideas he is able to come up with when given creative freedom.
148Apps: Will there be any form of multiplayer mode or is it being designed as an entirely single-player affair? Personally I wouldn’t mind the latter in the slightest. JG: There will be multi-player, but the core experience for the story is single player.
148Apps: It must have been difficult deciding where to place stretch goals for the Kickstarter project. Were there any goals you would shift around if given the opportunity? Any that you wish you could have included in the base game? Are you finding that backers are generally being receptive to them or has there been some pushback? JG: The response has been incredible, and our backers are giving us tremendous feedback on the rewards and goals. We will be making modifications to those as we go based off of the suggestions we are seeing come in.
148Apps: Regardless of how the Kickstarter campaign goes (I’m guessing very well based on how much it’s made so far) Unsung Story will still be coming to mobile, right? JG: Yes, however we hope to get the game into as many player’s hands as possible on their platforms of choice.
We’d like to thank Joel Goodman for answering our questions, and are anxiously looking forward to getting our hands on Unsung Story.
Comic book fans are probably familiar with the work of creator and artist Steve Uy; his work is featured in acclaimed Marvel and DC titles such as Uncanny Xmen, Avengers: The Initiative, and JSA Classified and he’s the artist behind the strikingly beautiful upcoming SRPG World Without End. At the end of last year the rather interesting and visually creative Oasis: Path to Redemption was finally released for iOS and Android platforms, and I caught up with Steve Uy to discuss his new game.
148Apps:You’re an artist for a large variety of comic books titles; what made you decide to venture into video game design and has it been an eye-opening experience from what you are used to? Steve Uy (SU): I believe every comic book creator, at one point or another, wants to make a video game, and every video game guy, if they could, wants to try out comic books. At least that’s always been my experience when I talk to the two groups in conventions, so I’m not really unique in this desire, just in the fact that I actually did it. Everyone has the grass is greener attitude when it comes to the medium.
With comic books, I’m in charge of everything, and the end result is limited only to my deficiencies as an artist. I’ve created worlds for over a decade in a sequential medium, and Oasis is the first step in allowing people to be an active participant in a world I have created. With games, however, the size of the world is limited by things such as budgets so there are still restrictions to what I can do.
As for eye-opening experiences, absolutely! I originally thought Oasis would take 3-4 months to complete, but it took us 9 months and still counting with the android build coming! The game may look small in size, but getting every bit of code right, making sure every single animation frame played at the right tenth of a second, making sure the jump arc and knock back animation and dash speed was right to the exact pixel – those are things that I have always taken for granted. I can’t say enough what a great job my programmer, John Garrison, did to make everything as polished as it came out to be. Oasis turned out to be much deeper than I ever expected and I’m still learning new combat tricks with every new update.
148Apps:Where did the idea behind Oasis: Path to Redemption come from and what is the story behind it? SU: When I was working on World Without End (which I put on hiatus so we could get Oasis out first), all I could think of was that I really wanted to do a side-scroller. If I were to do an RPG, I imagine it would be something like The Adventure of Link; a game that had a traditional overworld but with side-scrolling dungeons. I had an overworld with WWoE but I needed to figure out how to do side-scrollers, and that’s where Oasis came from.
Oasis may be called a runner because the main character runs automatically, but that’s just a game design decision I made to simplify controls, much like how SHMUPS have auto-fire built in. Take everything Oasis has to offer and it’s more similar to a side-scrolling console fighter – albeit far more simplified of course – complete with counters, footsies, and combo delay attacks.
148Apps: When it comes to writing and creating a game, what or who are your influences and was there anything in particular that had a large impact on the idea of Oasis? SU I think the first thing people will notice with Oasis is that it has an ending. All games that have a main character should have an ending.
The first thing I thought of when coming up with a story for Oasis was that I didn’t want it to be like everything else out there, full of in-your-face fun and joy and awesomeness. This game, from start to finish, is bittersweet, melancholic. Every stage shows a little piece of the story in illustrated cutscenes. But those scenes had to be concise and to the point; they had to MATTER to the player without preaching to them. They had to be worth fighting for. This is the story of the last man left in the world trying to revive it just so he can see his lost love again.
If I were to describe Oasis, I’d say it was a cross between Journey, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ninja Gaiden.
148Apps: Are there still plans for the release of World Without End? Can we look forward to this beautiful game gracing our iOS and Android devices anytime soon? SU: To be on the safe side, I can’t make any promises for sure until we know how Oasis fares in the market and we see if we have money to pay the bills. But it’s definitely on the top of me and my programmer’s list of priorities.
148Apps: Is there anything you can take from this experience so far that you would say has prepared you for any future or on-going projects? SU: I definitely overdid it with the parallax layers in the final stage! I didn’t realize that 512 MB of memory would still get eaten up with all the hand drawn art I did for the game! Plus, I did looping worlds with seamless transitions, which meant that all the parallax layers had to end and transition at exactly the right spot on the map. That took months to perfect, and I don’t think the end result looks as good as if I had just drawn non looping worlds with no limitations to my art.
For the future, I would like to be able to make a Metroid-style game someday but touch controls right now are the biggest limitation, and directional onscreen controls used simultaneously with onscreen buttons are definitely not good enough for me.
That said, the engine for Oasis opens up a whole new world for us. If we were to make sequels it would be redesigned in structure. No more looping worlds, probably permanent checkpoints, bosses, air combos – it would be more of an adventure game than a battle runner. I would use everything we made to release a more polished, deeper game, but I have no desire to make the same thing twice.
148Apps: Can we expect more of your beautiful handiwork on our iOS devices again anytime soon? SU: We’re still working on the android versions of Oasis right now, and we’ll probably release a Lite version for iOS later down the line. There are definitely things I want to continue with so it comes down to either Oasis or World Without End depending on how sales go. Obviously, the best way to help make that happen is to buy the game, or my comic books in ComiXology. And of course, keep tabs on my website for any updates.
Ever watch your favorite sports team’s season go down the drain due to injuries? What if I told you a video-editing app for iPad could someday be the reason why your team wins a championship? That’s just what Spark Motion Pro could do, if Dave Gottfeld has his way.
See, what Spark Motion Pro does functionally is to allow its users to shoot videos, then easily annotate them and add commentary. In this case the annotations can include things like stopwatches, a ruler to measure lengths of objects, set to the scale of a control object, an angle measurement tool, and even transparent overlays of another video. Users can easily import videos, rearrange clips, and add their commentary to them, then uploading them to a cloud-based service for others to view. It’s all functionality that – by itself – is perhaps technically solid, but not necessarily revolutionary in and of itself.
But see, sometimes the power of an app is not so much in what it does, but what it allows the user to do. And what it allows trainers and physicians to do is to be able to easily capture video of someone they’re working with, say, an athlete recovering from a knee injury, as Gottfeld demoed to me when I spoke to him. When one client he worked with who suffered an ACL injury, he was able to show using the app’s grid and transparent overlay how a one-leg balance test showed that the person’s non-injured leg was having balance issues during their recovery with the other leg. Using Spark Motion, Gottfeld could easily quantify to his client using the video overlay of the exact problem.
Baseball and golf are two extremely mechanical sports, and Spark Motion is perfect for them. The angle overlay can help a golfer analyze where the angle of their swing is, informing them of what they need to focus on to improve. Gottfeld in particular showed how he was able to detect how a certain hip movement was causing knee stress in a baseball batter’s swing. Pitchers are an obvious application for this app: delivery flaws could be detected and improvement over time could be shown as well.
Spark Motion Pro takes full advantage of the convenience of modern technology: as an iPad app, this means that its users can easily shoot and analyze video from wherever. The app’s subscription service comes with cloud storage (which is HIPAA compliant for patient confidentiality) that can allow trainers and practitioners to work remotely with clients who can shoot and upload their own video, which theSpark Motion user can then provide their analysis of and send back. Users can even link up a PayPal account and charge for their services in the app on a per-video basis. This can happen anywhere wi-fi is available.
The more powerful hardware of the latest iOS devices only makes Spark Motion better: the iPad Air can render video with annotations much faster than previous generations, at what Gottfeld reports as a 1:1 ratio of video time to rendering time. Videos can be imported from sources besides the iPad, so video could be shot with a high-end camera on a stable setup, for example. Or for those who want to shoot high framerate video with the iPhone 5s, that is compatible with Spark Motion Pro as well. Perhaps those additional frames could reveal information in the body’s movements that could help prevent a catastrophic injury, or provide dramatic performance improvements.
The app has tons of potential, but it’s already in use in some cases: Gottfeld reports working with the New England Patriots using Spark Motion, and former NFL kicker Matt Stover helps train kickers using the app. And at the recent MLB Winter Meetings, among the headlines of big deals and big fights, Gottfeld got to meet with all the teams in a speed-pitching scenario, and several teams were reportedly interested in the app. They might just be the ones that keep their players healthy on the field, or get the injured ones back sooner, and win more games.
Steadily evolving over the years, Get Set Games‘ Mega Run and Mega Jump have seen quite significant changes. Mega Jump was initially released in 2010 as a premium title, before being made free to play in 2011, alongside the release of similarly free to play Mega Run. Now it seems that things have come full circle with the renamed and remodeled premium titles, Mega Run Plus and Mega Jump Plus.
Given the change of strategy from Get Set Games, we took the time to talk to Derek van Vliet, one of the co-founders of the company, to find out more about the thought process.
148Apps: In the past few years you’ve jumped between premium pricing and free to play, resulting in both varieties catered for on the App Store. How come? Why the change in pricing model? Derek van Vliet (DV): That’s true. Mega Jump started as a paid app in May 2010. Shortly thereafter we ran a couple of “free game of the day” promotions which showed us that the game could earn more as a free app with in-app purchases than it could as a paid app. So in August 2010 we switched it to Free permanently.
Since then we’ve added a number of new monetization features that make it hard to go back to being a premium game (primarily interstitial advertising). At the same time, we heard from lots of players that they would like to be able to buy the game up front and get all of the content in the game and not have to deal with the ads. These new paid versions of Mega Jump and Mega Run serve that demand. They are the same awesome games, but free of ads and all of the additional level packs are available to unlock for free.
148Apps: Do you regret going down the free to play route before? DV: Not at all. We’ve been able to grow a fantastic company in large part due to that decision. We’re going to continue to release games that make people say “I can’t believe this is free”.
148Apps: Have such models affected how games are developed? DV: Indeed they have. It has caused us to have to focus a lot of resources on systems that increase engagement, monetization, and virality. Things like Facebook-connected leaderboards and consumable power-ups. The player-facing components of these systems most often take the form of UI and as such, a lot of our development resources have been focused on enabling us to design and present large amounts of user interface in our games.
It also puts a large emphasis on the importance of being able to change the content of our games at a moment’s notice. So a considerable amount of the effort we put into making games goes into making the experience configurable over the air.
148Apps: What do you think works best between free to play and premium? DV: Regardless of free to play or premium, what works best is delivering a high quality experience to the player. We’ve always strived to produce games that are brimming with fun and humor and we find that resonates with people in both the free to play and premium markets.
148Apps: What do you think the future is for the iOS pricing model? DV: I think we’re going to continue to see free games dominate the top grossing charts for the foreseeable future. That being said, as iOS heads towards 1 billion users, even if only 10% of the money that is spent goes towards paid apps, that will continue to be a large opportunity for premium games.
Thanks to Derek for taking the time to answer our questions. Mega Jump Plus and Mega Run Plus are available on the App Store now, priced at $0.99 each.
EchoChamber is the title hoping to be funded by it. It’s described as a rhythm game with a “unique twist.” It’s a free-to-play local multiplayer title that uses positional audio to get players to follow various cues and perform gestures in time with the music. I took the time to learn more from Cody Lee, co-founder and developer at Little bit Games.
148Apps: How did the idea for echoChamber come about? Cody Lee (CL): The idea for echoChamber came about after playing the game SpaceTeam with friends. It seemed like such a unique and original idea and utilized your phone for multiplayer in a way that I’d never seen before. It kinda blew my mind and I started to think of other ways we could use mobile devices for multiplayer experiences that you couldn’t get on any other platform. I spent a lot of time picturing people physically standing around with friends, trying to come up with games that required that physical space, and that used the capabilities of modern cell phones.
148Apps: Why the decision to be free to play? CL:echoChamber is a multiplayer only game, and is more fun the more people you are playing with. It seemed natural for us to release the game as a free download so people can start playing it as easily as possible with their friends without requiring everybody to commit to purchasing it. We’ll be releasing additional tracks as paid DLC for people who want to extend their experience beyond the base tracks.
148Apps: How hard has it been to implement the positional sound effects? CL: Doing the positional audio itself isn’t too bad. It’s really just a matter of adjusting volume for the different devices to get the desired effect we want. The hardest part has been synching the playback of the track on all of the devices while accounting for network latency. If the sound is out of sync at all, the positional effect is lost, and you get more of an echo. If it’s REALLY out of sync it just sounds like garbage!
148Apps: What other challenges have you faced? CL:echoChamber started out as more of a Pong-like game where sound would move around and players would have to tap their screens to hit the “ball” away. The problem is it’s hard to know when the ball has reached you. It get’s louder so you know it’s closer, but how loud is the “loudest” and “closest”. That’s why we ended up going the rhythm game route. When there’s a set beat, and the ball moves to the beat, it’s easier to know when the sound will “hit”. We’ve since moved away from the Pong aspect of the game and are focusing more on an overall fun musical experience instead.
148Apps: When do you hope to release echoChamber? CL: If the Kickstarter goes well, we hope to release some time early next year. If it doesn’t go well… we’re not sure.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until December 27, with a wide selection of backer rewards to cover everyone’s budget.
Thanks to Cody for taking the time to answer our questions. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on echoChamber‘s progress.
Arguably the most anticipated puzzle game of the year thanks to the runaway success of its predecessor, The Room Two is set for release on December 12. In the buildup to this very exciting time, I had the chance to go hands-on with the game to see exactly what’s to come next week.
Only having had the chance to play the early stages of the game and not wishing to spoil too much, The Room Two is immediately enticing. There’s an easy-to-follow tutorial for those who haven’t yet enjoyed the original (and if so, why not? There’s still plenty of time to lose one’s self to it!), and a gentle introduction to what to expect. As before, puzzles are set to be as tactile as they are logical with a layering of conundrums to keep players busy. The eerie music continues to add plenty of tension to what’s going on. This time there’s set to be a wider variety of rooms to tackle too, which should prove quite enthralling.
The Room Two is set to be the kind of experience where it’s best to go in cold, but it’s looking pretty positive so far. We’ll be sure to bring you a full review next week. For now, we’ve shared a few words with Barry Meade, commercial director at Fireproof Studios, about how development has gone and just how the success of The Room helped pave the way.
148Apps: The first game was commercially and critically very successful. Have you found this adding to the pressure to get the second game right? Barry Meade (BM): Not really, we’re honestly just delighted to get the chance to work on our own games full stop. Having said that I think we’d all be disappointed if the second game doesn’t do better than the first as we’ve put a lot more work into it this time around. But we do honestly feel that if The Room Two is good enough and deserves to do well, it will do well, and that if it fails its because we failed. And so, if the game’s fate is in our hands alone then there’s no point in worrying unduly about outside pressures or expectations. We’ll do the best we can and see how that flies with our audience.
148Apps: How has that success helped with the development of the sequel? BM: Hugely. Whereas The Room had only 1 programmer and 1 or 2 artists on it at one time, The Room Two has had up to 4 programmers and 8-10 artists on it during the course of development. We made The Room Two in the time frame that the design required rather than hurried because we needed to make money by X date or whatever, and we were only able to decide that because of The Room‘s success. But frankly we can’t think of any better way to spend the money we earn than to reinvest it in our creative process. For us financial success means freedom – freedom to do what we think is necessary to make the best version of the game we want to make – not to have to work for or make decisions for somebody else’s benefit.
For instance if we had to work with a publisher, The Room would never have been created at all – it’s a rare publisher that wants to push things forward for gamers and they generally look down on games and developers who do that. No, we needed to listen to ourselves for The Room to happen and thankfully that’s what we did, and put our own savings on the line to do it. Now that it has paid off for us, we’re even less likely to listen to others. We’re in an ideal creative place but we’re very aware that this position depends on us genuinely making novel, new, interesting games that deserve audience attention. I hope we live up to it.
148Apps: How will The Room Two be different from its predecessor? BM: We were all very happy with how The Room turned out as our first game, though the very limited money we had to spend on its development made the game smaller than it deserved to be. So this time around we wanted to give the concept what it deserved in terms of development time, resources, manpower etc. to see where we could take it. In almost every way The Room Two is a more fully-featured game than the first one – taking what worked and building on it, making it deeper, larger and even a bit more complicated. The environments are a lot more interesting, the objects more intricate and interactive.
So it was a harder project to make this time, it had more moving parts, testing it was a bit more fraught etc. but we knew all that going into it – we just wanted to make it bigger and better across the board. Fireproof may never be a flashy AAA developer but as long as we are working on something we are going to make the best damn version of it that we possibly can. It was that attitude which helped us make The Room in the first place and this time is no different. We think its better in every way than the first, let’s hope the audience agrees.
148Apps: After the success of the original, was there the temptation to simplify the game to appeal to a more casual market? BM: Nah. We’re amazingly happy with the audience we have, we have no interest in trying to squeeze squillion$ of dollars from The Room. It would be great to pick up more users with The Room Two as we’ve worked hard to make it as good to play and value-for-money as possible. But for us its very important to make our work with our own sensibilities at the forefront and not to worry too much about what others expect or think. Our audience bought into the love we put in the first game and if we want to please anyone else then it’s those who enjoyed the first game. They will be our toughest critics and rightly so.
As gamers we’ve always believed that if we pleased our own sensibilities and standards first, others will pick up on the care and attention we put into it, whereas if we obviously attempt to chase what other people want or expect, the audience will see through it, smell the desperation and move onto something more honest and interesting. As in a lot of things in life, chasing something indirectly is often the way to catch it, so concentrating on our own wishes for the game and by extension our current audience seems the most reliable and sensible way to attract brand new users into the game.
148Apps: Many players wished they had more time with The Room, will its sequel be longer? BM: Yes, quite a bit longer. A lot of people who played The Room thought it was a bit short but well worth the money they paid, in fact the user ratings are amazingly high for it so we’re hoping that adding a bit of length and depth will keep them just as pleased and perhaps tickle them even more. The curious thing about puzzle games is how mistaken everybody can be about other players experiences. Some player who is a freak for puzzle games generally will play the game and complete it in 1.5 hours and will be convinced the game is actually short. But for every one of those Ninja players we know there’s 5-10 other players who took 3-5 hours to play it, and they have a very different view on the length – any longer and they would feel overwhelmed.
Puzzle games are very different to other games in that sense – the experience they give players depends very much on the personality and brain of those who are playing it. It’s this engagement of the brain that makes them so beloved I think – people’s own imagination takes a very active part in the playing. It might explain all the love the game gets – we’re not the biggest selling game by any stretch but people who have played it really really love the game. We are super thankful for that, I can tell you it makes us sleep well at night knowing it.
Many thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer our questions.
Set for release December 12, we’ll have a full review of The Room 2 that day. In the meantime, why not get reacquainted with The Room?
Cornfox & Bros. and publisher FDG Entertainment’s Oceanhorn has been an anomaly in the rise of free-to-play games on the App Store: it’s one of the few attempts at making a grand-scale game on iOS and priced at an $8.99 cost that few others have dared to try. The game’s launch saw it rocket to #1 in the paid app charts and in the top 10 of the top grossing apps, bolstered not just by its App Store Editor’s Choice but by a pre-release hype cycle that’s rarely seen for mobile games.
Oceanhorn‘s price risk has paid off: the game recouped its production cost in less than a week, seemingly showing that the kind of games with high production values and premium price points can succeed on the App Store. Thomas Kern, Executive Producer of Oceanhorn at FDG Entertainment, spoke to me about the game’s success at its price point.
148Apps: Why launch at $8.99, and that price point specifically? $6.99 has been a more typical “high” price for games on the App Store, and $9.99 is a more “round” number – so why $8.99? Was launching at a premium price point the plan all throughout development? Thomas Kern (TK): We’re not setting prices on trends or from a psychological “round number” point of view. The launch price is related to the production cost and quality of the game. We got lots of emails and feedback about the price and it was all positive. People felt it was the right price and the game has done tremendously well at $8.99. We’re very happy about the success of the game.
148Apps: Was there ever any thought to making the game free-to-play, or incorporating a hybrid model like what Infinity Blade uses? TK:The plan for this game was always to go the traditional premium route, something players are used to from game consoles or handhelds. Oceanhorn is a loving tribute to games we enjoyed in our childhood and we see it as a fan-service to offer the full experience without additional costs.
148Apps: The game was bolstered by Apple’s featuring of Oceanhorn as an Editor’s Choice – do you feel like the game would have done as well without this? TK: When we launched the game it immediately shot up the charts, before Apple even featured it. It was great to see that Apple agreed with many happy users that this game is a milestone in iOS gaming so they featured it very prominently and supported the game’s launch the best way they could. It seems Apple really appreciates efforts like this, after all, Oceanhorn‘s development time was over 2 years!
148Apps: What about the long-term prospects of the game? Can the game continue to succeed at $8.99? TK: It does! We see very healthy sales and we’ve recouped the investment in less than a week. For us and the development team, the game is already a great success.
There is no sale to be expected, Oceanhorn will stay at $8.99 but we’ll add more content to it in 2014 so the value will become even better.
148Apps: Do you think that other games can succeed at high price points? Do you believe that Oceanhorn changed anything with the market? TK: We’ve been contacted by many people in the industry and they’ve been surprised about the success despite the high price point. Especially because the production cost was recouped really quickly. Oceanhorn definitely proves that premium games are not dead and it’s a viable business. We can’t beat some insanely successful Free2Play game revenues, but that was not our plan. Healthy revenues don’t require a position in Top 10 Grossing.
Papa Sangre II is different from other horror games. Recently released for the iPhone, it makes use of gyro and binaural technology in order to create the most atmospheric and chilling experience possible. Featuring the voice of Sean Bean, it’s being talked about as being one of the most remarkable works of art produced for iOS. I caught up with Nicky Birch, Head of Products at Somethin’ Else and executive producer of Papa Sangre II, to discuss their new game.
148 Apps: You’re obviously a company who work with a great variety of media. Was there anything you learned from the development of the original Papa Sangre that you took on board in order to create the greatest user experience possible for Papa Sangre II? Nicky Birch (NB): The two Papa Sangre games are similar but also hugely different. The first was a piece of magic; we wanted a 3D sound game and realized there was no technology to help us, so we had to build it. It was beautiful and a real technical ground breaker. For the sequel we wanted to use more sounds and add to the dramatic narrative feel of the game. We began to think about how we can make a game with more advanced gameplay, have a returning game (achievements) and crucially use the gyro controls system for much more immersive play.
148 Apps: What does the term ‘truly innovative’ mean to you as a developer? Do you feel that Papa Sangre II has paved the way for other developers to really branch out and try new things? NB: Fundamentally it means being bold and investing in R&D. Merging creative game designers with adept technologists. Pushing the devices to the limits of what they can do. We have had to reinvent a bunch of game known design archetypes – what is a puzzler without graphics? Or a first person shooter without defined visual clues? It doesn’t come without challenges; our developers and producers are under pressure to deliver and learn at the same time, which is hard but ultimately rewarding work to do.
Producer Tom Green after playing too much Papa Sangre II.
148 Apps: The Papa Engine is a most impressive piece of audio technology. How did the idea come about and how long does it take to put together such an ambitious project as Papa Sangre II? How difficult a process was it to combine the technology of the Papa Engine and the Gyro technology of the iPhone? NB:Papa Sangre II was a huge project which took close to two years to make. The game itself took about a year from early conception to delivery and it was a labour of love for the team of writers, producers, sound designers, developers, and illustrators involved. The other substantial piece of work was the entire overhaul of the 3D engine (Papa Engine) that powers the game. This is what allows you to hear sounds 360 degrees around your head – sounds which can move towards or away from you as designated by the game’s producer.
The Papa Engine is a powerful spatial audio engine that uses sophisticated HRTF processing to produce a binaural audio-scape in your headphones. HRTF processing has been around for years, but doing this on a mobile platform is a new innovation. I am proud to say our audio engineers are true geniuses who have now wrapped this engine up into a reusable API for other devs to use on their games. With regards to the gyro, right at the start of the game design process after Papa 1, it was always our intention for our next game to connect more to the environment the player was in. So the gyro tool was the obvious first addition to add in. Allowing us to augment reality in a clever and possibly more authentic way than games that use cameras and visuals because it lets your mind fill in the blanks. That’s why we always say your mind has the best graphics.
Benedict Cumberbatch did the voice-work for Somethin’ Else’s second game The Nightjar.
148 Apps: Papa Sangre is obviously a game that must be experienced to be understood. Considering how newfangled and unique of an idea it is, was it originally tough to get others on board? NB: We were lucky because of the success of Papa Sangre and our follow up game The Nightjar with Benedict Cumberbatch. We had won some awards and had an audience of players who followed our games as well as lots of support from within the blind gaming community. So we didn’t have to explain the idea to many people; they trusted us to deliver.
148 Apps: What feedback have you received for Papa Sangre II? Do you feel the involvement of Sean Bean as narrator has made a huge difference to the success of the game? NB: We have been overwhelmed with the response for Papa Sangre II – both in blog reviews and also player reviews. At the time of this interview, Papa Sangre II is the highest rated British iOS game of all time (and also the highest rated across the world this year). So that is a real honor and a fantastic response to our team’s passion and commitment to pushing creative and technical boundaries. Having Sean on board has helped that to an extent as he has fans across the world who know him from his movie work and Game of Thrones. Also when you play the game you can hear how great Sean plays his role and his first class performance adds a real edge to the drama.
Sean Bean is the narrator and guide for recent release Papa Sangre II.
148 Apps: What’s the next step for Somethin’ Else? Will the Papa formula be extended for use in any of your other upcoming ideas and can we expect more from Papa Sangre in the future? NB: Having built and refined the Papa Engine that powers Papa Sangre II, we want to experiment with more audio games and see where we can push the technology. Only we hope it won’t take 2 years for the next one – so expect more 3D audio games to come early next year. Wearing our client hat we also make games for brands and broadcasters…but to find out which games are ours may take a spot of detective work.
Many thanks to Nicky Birch for the interview. We can’t wait to see just what Somethin’ Else has in store for the future.
For Jon-Paul Dumont and the team at Disney Mobile, the creation of Star Wars: Tiny Death Star was a balancing act. On one side, there was NimbleBit and their hit game, but also their aesthetic of gameplay and of how they approach free-to-play that forms the spirit of their games. On the other side, LucasArts is very protective of Star Wars, and even with Disney owning the brand now they work diligently to make sure that anything Star Wars fits in with the brand.
Getting to work with NimbleBit for Disney’s internal mobile studio was a dream come true, and Dumont had been in touch about working with them but he couldn’t find a partnership that would work out until Disney bought Star Wars. And how did Tiny Death Star come about? Well, Dumont says “Somebody just sort of blurted out, ‘What about Tiny Death Star?’ and lightbulbs sort of went off and it sort of wrote itself from there on out.”
Once the idea was formed, making a game that would feel true to NimbleBit was key. “The team sat down with the guys at NimbleBit and learned from them, what were the fans of Tiny Tower really excited about? What did they love? What were things that they felt like could be improvements?”
“One of the things that we really loved about Tiny Tower was the delightful randomness of the game, and how you never quite know what the next floor is going to be… who the next character is going to be who gets into your elevator. So we wanted to add to that by taking all these fun, iconic villains and heroes and species of Star Wars and giving you a reason to want to see all of them.”
“Even though we built this internally at Disney, this should feel 100% like a Nimblebit game. David and Ian [Marsh] were involved in the game and they reviewed builds often, and helped us stay within what is really important to them as game makers. The great thing is that we were starting from something like Tiny Tower that was very successful and I think really innovative in the market at the time, so we didn’t really feel the need to reinvent their formula. So in the same way that we were really reverential to Star Wars, I’d say we were really reverential to Nimblebit.”
And making the game fit in with the Star Wars brand was important for them and for LucasArts. “The team started working then with LucasArts to figure out, how do we adapt that fun, humorous, 8-bit style that NimbleBit has over to Star Wars? It was the first at least recent 8-bit game for LucasArts, there was a lot of work and back and forth to make sure that our versions of the characters really worked but still had that tongue-in-cheek style.”
“[LucasArts] are really rigorous, and it makes sense given that Star Wars is a property that has lasted so long, and that they have plans to keep it going for decades to come. They are just making sure that the characters fit and that things are logical within the universe. They’re also making sure that they are making the right creative decisions for the future. They have a kind of legacy to protect. And so when they look at an 8-bit Stormtrooper, they’re trying to figure out not just how does it work for this game, but what does 8-bit mean in Star Wars for next year, 5 years, and 10 years in the future?”
This even came down to making the game make at least some sense narratively. Dumont says “We needed to know even if it’s goofy or silly, like our premise is intentionally, it was important to have that central focus of knowing why is an Ewok on the Death Star? Why is Lando Calrissian around your cantina? So, that gave us a grounding element. It was also really important to the guys at Lucas. They really are the guardians of this legacy of Star Wars. So no matter how silly or goofy the game is, they want to make sure everything fits together. And there are things that we followed along that were important to them. For instance, our game is set roughly in the classical era of Star Wars, which means that characters who died in the prequels are not going to show up in this game. Even for something as cute as this, there are really important sort of structural rules that are important to us and LucasArts.”
“I would not call this game canon, they’re not basing movies on it or anything like that, but having something that fits and makes sense is actually really important to us and we feel like it is important to our audience of Star Wars fans who take things, even goofy things seriously. It is really fun to play around in a version of Star Wars that doesn’t take itself that seriously, so it allows us to have a lot of the fun and lots of fun humor and gags.”
And with Tiny Death Star out now worldwide, players can judge for themselves if Dumont and Disney Mobile found their own balance of the Force between the inspirations from NimbleBit and Star Wars. Thanks to Jon-Paul Dumont for his time.
Occasionally it feels a little too easy to be cynical. To mutter about how the App Store is full of Match-3 puzzle games, freemium city builders, and Angry Birds clones. Luxuria Superbia is a reminder that this really isn’t the case. At least not if one searches for more original offerings.
The game is described as a ‘musical journey from the sensuous to the spiritual’ with its thematic elements being distinctly erotic in nature. At least, that is, depending on one’s perspective of what unfolds. There’s a heck of a lot more to its interpretation than that.
Fascinated by such originality, I took the time to ask the game’s developers, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, a few questions on the subject.
148Apps: How did the idea for Luxuria Superbia come about? Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (AH & MS): The initial idea came to us during a roundtable session led by Brenda Romero on the subject of sex in videogames at the Game Developers Conference. While most of the discussion focused on issues of depiction, we started thinking about it differently: instead of showing naked bodies in the act, we wanted to model the interaction with a game mechanic on the experience of pleasure. And even this early, back in 2008, we already thought of flowers as a visual inspiration.
This idea was something we developed and expanded upon during a long research and prototyping project codenamed Cncntrc. This linked the sensations of the body with the rational and spiritual experiences of early science and mythology. We were especially looking at Geo-centric models of the universe and their links with religion (as the planets in our solar system are named after Roman Gods). We were very fond of this connection between heaven and earth, between sensual pleasure and mystic ecstasy. But the subject matter became so big — we were literally trying to make a game about everything — that it became impossible to capture all of it in a single game.
So we decided to make multiple games based on this research. Luxuria Superbia is the first one. As a first game, we wanted it to be simple and easy to enjoy. So that we would have a solid basis to expand upon later.
148Apps: Did anything else inspire you? Such as a film or game, or other form of media? AH & MS:Luxuria Superbia is structured a bit like tunnel shooter games, of which Rez is a stand-out title that we love. But instead of antagonism and destruction, we wanted to focus on love and creation. It’s funny how similar mechanics can mean such different things when tweaked a little.
Keita Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy encouraged us to embrace a whimsical and joyful play experience. And Erik Loyer’s Strange Rain influenced the flow of the game.
Not exactly an inspiration, but Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey kept popping up in our reference material. The symmetry of the cinematography, the tubes and hallways, the sentient invisible being inside of the computer and the surreal cosmic ending all seem to have their links with our little game.
Discovering the paintings by Aimei Ozaki really helped us decide on the visuals. And the work of Georgia O’Keeffe supported our desire to fuse human sensuality with the shapes of flowers.
And then there’s architecture. Cathedrals like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Borobudur temple in Indonesia were the source of our desire to deal with a journey from the sensual to the spiritual. The intricate design of the domes of Islamic mosques stimulated the use of circular symmetry in the game. The interior of some German rococo churches, like the Wieskirche in Steinbaden, inspired the blank versus color dynamic. And the central hub in the game was modeled after Marie-Antoinette’s Temple of Love in Versailles.
Other than that, we really love some kitschy movies with charming innuendo like Barbarella, Zardoz and Flash Gordon. A lot of the humor in the game was inspired by those.
148Apps: It’s quite the departure from your other games. Was this deliberate? Do you have a particular genre preference? AH & MS: We’re too restless to want to fit into any one genre. With our previous games we have indeed explored the narrative side of games much more. But for us the creation of an environment and atmosphere is always more important.
Since the original idea for Luxuria Superbia came to us so long ago, it is not meant to be a deliberate departure as such. But the way we approached the design was very much inspired by the intentions for our future creative production as laid out in our Beautiful Art Program. The main idea being that we want to try harder to connect to our audience, to give more people access to the joy and beauty we see in our games.
The fact that we have leaned toward the dark side in our previous work with games about death and loss of innocence and so on, is actually a coincidence. We are interested in many topics and have in fact already made a very joyful game with The Endless Forest. With Luxuria Superbia, we wanted to share our love for life, the joy and beauty that we find in existence. So pleasure became the “story” that we wanted to explore in this one.
148Apps: Is there a way of completing it? Or is it solely about the experience? AH & MS: Oh yes! The delight you bring to each flower (or tunnel or level) in the game is expressed in a three ring rating and collected in a column in the garden (the central hub of the game). So to complete the game, one would collect all three rings for all twelve flowers and complete each column.
But the game does not push you too hard to achieve this. The focus of play is very much on the journey and not on the destination.
148Apps: What do you hope that players will gain from playing the game? AH & MS: Joy and an experience of beauty. These are not trivial matters to us. They are all-important. Deep joy is more important than knowledge. Beauty is more important than truth. The experience of beauty and joy makes us better, kinder, gentler people.
From my brief time with it so far Luxuria Superbia sounds bewitching, mostly because it is. It’s like precious little already out there and very imaginative. Set for release later this week, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on it.
Thanks to Auriea and Michael for answering my questions.
Ryan Mitchell has been diligently releasing some fairly under-appreciated gems on the App Store for quite some time now. Of particular note are Necromancer Rising, a first-person dungeon crawler, and Mission Europa, a far more refined first-person dungeon crawler with a really creepy atmosphere. And now he’s working on what can best be described as a Dungeon Keeper-like titled Cursed Realms.
We contacted him recently and he was gracious enough to speak to us at length about his new project, and tease a little bit about a possible Mission Europa sequel. Please note that all of these images are from a pre-alpha version and that the look/style/etc are, naturally, subject to change.
148Apps: What made you decide to start developing Cursed Realms? Ryan Mitchell (RM): I had finished Mission Europa and I was looking for the next big challenge. I wanted to develop a universe that is so encompassing any storyline is possible. As Stargate allowed its viewers to escape any rules or bounds, I wanted the same. Thus the Cursed Realms universe began.
148Apps: Why something akin to Dungeon Keeper rather than a follow-up to Mission: Europa? RM: I wanted to create a more mainstream type game while also creating a new game engine. I constructed a new Shader and Opengl ES 2.0 based engine. Alas, my scope of work exploded far broader then I originally intended. I LOVE Mission Europa and do plan on a sequel in the future. The update would be using the new engine which includes a LOT of online components. I would like to have some systems where users create scenarios and the like. User created content REALLY blows open a game even if it is just a simple base defense like clash of clans.
148Apps: I know you’ve been working on Cursed Realms for quite a while, so it couldn’t have been in response to EA’s upcoming Dungeon Keeper release. RM: Not at all. This is an after-work endeavor, and for quite a while my main job ate into my night time dev time. I also am married with two kids in sports and we all are in Brazillian Jujitsu. However, I have dropped a lot of activities and am pouring more time into developing again. That along with a scope of game that ballooned far bigger then I expected. However, that is a main reason for the switch to a Clash of Clans type game mixed with Dungeon Keeper. I am culling back some of the scope to not only make the game better but get it done sooner.
148Apps: Why the sudden switch from Dungeon Keeper to something more Clash of Clans-y? And how significantly will this shift affect what’s already there? RM: The current game had been in alpha testing developing game play when I was introduced to Clash of Clans by a friend who does not play any games at all. His addiction blew me away. I then realized I needed to change several things in Cursed Realms to make it most importantly more fun and addictive, then secondly to make it more appealing to a wider audience. The gameplay will be immensely sped-up in multiplayer and maybe single player (single player is taking a backseat now). This speed up conforms to the devices strength of popping your device open and jumping into a game for a short break or while waiting on something.
The online element and crowd sourcing gameplay is [also] very important. The ability for people to build, defend, and destroy other bases and minions explodes the content level. Then being able to take over your own minion in 3D and personally take on another players base adds a new level to this type of game. Another concept I saw as very important is a purchase model where players with more money then time can accelerate their play and help support future games I make.
All assets were unchanged really just database adjustments. I just had to clean up programmer interfaces and expose them to the users. My scene graph based engine really is quick to prototype and create new game-types. So the change accelerated completion instead of delaying.
148Apps: Do you think long-time Dungeon Keeper fans will love, hate, or be indifferent to the change? RM: I think it will be an amazing upgrade into the new century. I played the old Dungeon Keeper extensively before starting Cursed Realms and it helped remove a level of nostalgic awesomeness I had in my head. It is still a GREAT game and one of the best classics ever. However, we have some really interesting new tools now. And back then we could not fit the 486 in our pocket for quick game sessions. As far as to whether fans will enjoy it I will not release Cursed Realms until my testers say it is ready and it is awesome.
148Apps: Even though it’s going to be more Clash of Clans than Dungeon Keeper, do you think there might still be a chance for players to jump in to their minions’ heads and play from a first-person perspective from time to time? RM: ABSOLUTELY! That is one of the biggest differences from base defense games. Here you can be a part of your army. You also fight THEIR army. And in reality it is about 70% Dungeon Keeper I would say. The engine can support an immense number of characters on screen and this leads to epic battles of which you can wade through with your weapon in hand. The Clash of Clans thing is the purchase model.
148Apps: Going back to Mission Europa, is there anything you’ve learned since creating it (and while working on Cursed Realms) that you’d consider incorporating into an update/rerelease/sequel/hypothetical game that will never actually exist? RM: I am a FPS RPG fan at heart and Mission Europa 2 is on my radar. This time with user created content and worlds tied into Cursed Realms as they are tied together in the storyline currently. The main thing I have learned is marketing/price models are 90% of the battle these days and the little guys have a really hard time getting noticed. Along with the pricing model of free with in game purchases is the best way to fund development which is not free; music and assets cost money, not to mention software and hardware.
148Apps: Care to elaborate on the connection between Mission Europa and Cursed Realms any further? Might that mean that players could control, say, a faction of hellish machine/human demon hybrids? RM: Your actions in the end of Mission Europa also had a significant impact on the fabric of the universe which is Cursed Realms. Here is a small design snippet:
The Abaddon – A horrible mechanical race possessed with souls converted from living flesh. One weakness of this race is their poor connection to their equipment. The souls that run them seem to have a loose connection thus they have a hard time controlling them. They are however HIGH in armor to compensate. The Abbadon have wormholes to the north. They sweep entire galaxies harnessing the organic life, and some think souls for their evil.
Cursed Realms doesn’t have a definitive release date yet, but once it’s been given the green light by testers it will hit the App Store for free. In the meantime, you can keep track of the game’s progress on the official development blog or soak up the lore on the wiki. Thanks so much to Ryan Mitchell for taking the time to talk with us.
Ever wanted to play Super Smash Bros. while on the move? Of course! Anyone with sense would want that! While Nintendo haven’t quite made the move to mobile just yet (but we can hope, right?), that doesn’t stop a similar experience from hopefully coming to iOS soon, courtesy of zGames. That title is Fright Fight, a horror-themed game inspired by Mario’s brawling ways.
The zGames team.
As is increasingly common these days, Fright Fight‘s development is being supported by a Kickstarter campaign which has just launched. As the project page explains, the hope is that Fright Fight will be the first 3D cross-platform mobile fighting game, with the plan being to port it to systems such as OUYA and Nvidia Shield as well as iOS and Android. Free-to-play, many of the pledge rewards relate to the acquisition of in-game coins or the unlocking of characters in order to give early backers an extra edge. It’s shaping up to look pretty good so we had a word with Game Designer, Pavel Shtangeev, to learn more.
148Apps: Inspiration has clearly been taken from Super Smash Bros. but what other games have inspired Fright Fight? Pavel Shtangeev (PS): Devil May Cry series: Additional inspiration for [the] battle mechanics, Diablo series [for the] RPG elements, Pokemon series for some gameplay elements and RPG mechanics, Awesomenauts [for some of the] gameplay elements, world and level design, art style. A lot of other games have minor influence on the game: Marvel vs. Capcom, DOTA, Quake III, etc. The list can go on forever.
148Apps: Has anything non-gaming related inspired it? Such as in terms of the choices of characters available? PS: A lot of classic horror novels and movies influenced our decisions for worlds to include and characters to add. Still, we added twists to most of them. For example the vampire character is a combination of Carmilla from a classic novel of the same name and a mad variant of Luigi Galvani.
148Apps: How long has Fright Fight taken to develop? PS: Right now, it’s been 9 months in development.
148Apps: What challenges have you faced with making Fright Fight cross-platform? PS: Unity3D makes things much easier, but certain problems still occur. These problems are mostly related to different form-factors of devices. NVIDIA SHIELD uses hard buttons instead of gestures so we put some tweaks here and there and remade all menus to fit both control schemes. OUYA uses bigger displays and this requires more advanced camera behavior, etc.
148Apps: The trailer suggests there will be RPG elements to Fright Fight. Can you elaborate on these? PS: The game introduces a lot of classic RPG elements to the fighting formula: stats, skills, perks, etc. Right now, all characters already possess a full set of stats that can be upgraded through the course of the game. Moreover, each character is packed with an individual skill tree that allows customization of his attacks and play style. We have plans to introduce even more RPG elements by adding gear with different skins, items, and accessories and create pets that can aid characters in battle.
Thanks to Pavel for taking the time to answer our questions.
With the game already offering 3 different arenas, 4 different characters, and a fairly strong gesture-based control scheme, Fright Fight is shaping up nicely. Hopefully, by meeting its Kickstarter goal, the game will soon enjoy bot AI, and if the goal is beaten, new characters and arenas. For now, why not check out the teaser trailer and consider supporting the campaign?
Candy Crush Saga meets X-Com meets Game of Thrones? It’s an impressive mix of genres and ideas, and it forms the basis for a new title called Pocket Titans. A turn based RPG puzzle adventure game, Pocket Titans certainly sounds pretty exciting. Its origins are quite something too, having been conceived by veteran developers, John Payne & Ian Pestridge. Between them, they’ve worked on a number of console releases, including Herdy Gerdy, In Cold Blood, SEGA Rally, Reservoir Dogs, and Dead to Rights: Retribution.
For the past 18 months, the pair have been working on Pocket Titans in their spare time, all in the name of flexing their creative muscles. With the game set for release soon, we took the time to find out more.
148apps: Where did the inspiration for Pocket Titans come from? John Payne (JP): There were a few different strands of inspiration which led to Pocket Titans. I’ve always been a fan of RPG fighting mechanics like the semi-turn-based Final Fantasy battles, or the group dynamics of big World of Warcraft boss fights. My original idea was to do a game which was a series of these massive fight moments without the RPG story and running around in between. Then I got in to Zoo Keeper on my iPhone (entirely my wife’s fault), and I mean really in to it, in a way I’d not really experienced with match 3 games before. The game play felt really tactile, and moving through levels with just a little bit of story felt right. I’d always been a fan of the old X-COM games (not knowing at the time that there was a brilliant new one coming out that year!) and games like Advance Wars, and those three strands came together to form the idea for Pocket Titans. It’s the class based RPG battles of World of Warcraft, the tactile movement and easy pick-up play of a match 3 and the tactical positioning of X-COM.
As John says the game condenses many of the elements associated with RPGs and has been developed to be very accessible. I took recognisable fantasy motifs and caricatured them, resulting in a look that ‘feels’ familiar and yet ‘looks’ unique and full of spirit.
148apps: How difficult has it been to find the spare time to create Pocket Titans? IP: The short answer is not very difficult at all. We believe that if you had fun making a game it shows through. The players can sense that freedom and enjoyment. So we promised ourselves that we would focus on having fun and avoiding stress.
JP: The great thing about a home project is you can park it for as long as you need to when life gets in the way. During development there were weeks when I didn’t really do anything on the game, and weeks where I’d do an hour or two most nights, it fitted in around everything else. I set myself a rule very early on that I’d never let it distract me from my day job and in the end the whole process was fun and relaxing. The game’s been 99% finished for quite a while so its certainly the most relaxed end to a project I’ve ever had!
IP: We both have similar family situations and day jobs. I’ve generally been using the couple of hours I’d usually spend watching TV or a movie after the kids have gone to bed to jump on the PC and create some artwork. Ultimately, we enjoy making games, so this has been a great experience.
148apps: What challenges have you faced during the production? JP: Early on in development it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself, especially when I realised quite how bad my programmer-art was. At that point I almost gave up on the project and probably would have if I hadn’t shown it to Ian.
IP: I loved the game from the moment I saw John’s early prototype. The greatest challenge was translating the aesthetics of the world we both imagined onto the moving tile mechanic, it’s that challenge that first attracted me to John’s concept and has kept it so interesting.
148apps: How different is it working on a personal project rather than as part of a big studio? JP: I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of talented and creative people in my day job and I love every minute of it. That said, creating Pocket Titans has given us a chance to do something that’s just ours, without any other stakeholders or any outside direction. It was great fun to make but also a little bit terrifying now people are playing it other than our friends!
148apps: Will there be any micro-transactions within the game? JP: The best way to play the game is to work through story mode looting weapons and armour from the Orcs and Skeletons you defeat. But we’ve also got multi-player battles in there and if people want to tool up to level things out with their friends we’re not going to stop them. You can use gold you collect during quests to grab any items you’re missing and if you really want to make things easy you can buy a bit of gold, but we hope people play through the whole story as there’s some amazing battles at the end that you don’t want to miss!
Thanks to John and Ian for taking the time to answer our questions.
Pocket Titans is set for release later this month. We’ll be sure to track its development. In the mean time, why not check out the beta trailer below? It’s looking pretty sweet.
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.
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