One of the last games I saw in San Francisco, and technically not even at GDC, still might have been one of the most promising. Dutch developer Game Oven Studios demoed a pre-release version of its upcoming iPad multiplayer game, Bam Fu, at the Indigo event at the Dutch Consulate in San Francisco.
Also serious is the competition: players are trying to tap objects on screen in order to make them their color. This is simple enough when it’s just one-on-one, but when up to four people get in on the action, things get frantic and crazy. Tapping a color turns it to another color no matter who taps it, so it’s often the fault of the player whose color comes ahead in the sequence of the victor for everyone else’s defeat. However, accidentally tapping other players’ colors will happen.
The game can get very physical; while the studio’s previous title Finglewas more intimate and cooperative, this is more competitive, and shoving opponents out of the way is encouraged and inevitable. Part of the fun comes from what happens outside of the iPad! This one is still in the works but shows definite promise in this pre-release form. Pretty much the only thing better than this game at the Dutch Consulate? The view outside the 31st floor window:
Football Heroes, Kickstarted a year ago, is coming to fruition. Michael Marzola, one of the game’s developers, showed off an early build of the game with non-final art, but this title already shows promise. It’s inspired by classic arcade football games such as Tecmo Bowl, with a dash of the brutality of NFL Blitz, and World of Warcraft. Wait, what? That’s because the players on a team can be endlessly customized, with skill trees to help make them play better and avoid more tackles. The game has a long way to go still, but expect to play this one during NFL season.
Bravado Waffle has a new game in the works, inspired by old-school tank battlers like Battlezone. zTanks pits players in an arena with both bots and other players via online multiplayer with the objective to be the last tank standing. Players can fire from their tanks, but have a heat meter that fills up over time. They can jump to dodge shots, though. The game is being built in Unity and could at some point boast cross-platform online multiplayer, though the iOS version does not support that yet.
Another game the studio has in early work is called Blobsters, which is designed to be a 2D physics platformer take on a turn-based racing title like Disc Drivin’. This one is still in early alpha form, and plenty of changes are still in store, but the idea alone shows promise. Both this and zTanks should be releasing later this year for iOS.
The developer who helped bring Sonic CD to mobile platforms in a flawless port is back with a new port, this time of the original Sonic the Hedgehog. Christian Whitehead has brought his remastering touch to the Sonic game that started it all, dramatically improving and modernizing the emulated Genesis version currently on the App Store. Thanks to the rebuilt game’s new native engine, the graphics now support the Retina Display, widescreen, and the iPad. The virtual controls are improved as well, and some minor tweaks and improvements to pathing that will make the game play better than ever.
For extras, there’s the ability to see the US, EU, or JP version of the Sonic 1 cart in the menu, and to play a new Time Attack mode. This revamp releases in April, and will be a free update for those who already own Sonic 1 on the App Store, and will be available on Android as well with gamepad support.
First-person shooters truly built and optimized for mobile are few and far between. Ben Cousins of Shattered Entertainment wants to change that with his team’s new DeNA-published game, The Drowning.
The Drowning is built from the ground up for mobile devices. This is thanks in part to the game’s two minute play session structure; players will always have two minutes to take down as many enemies as possible, with the goal being to score as many points as possible. Thus, getting into Frenzy mode becomes important: getting headshots and melee kills is the way to enter this double-points mode, and keeping up the pace is the way to stay in it. Getting lots of points ensures that more scanvgeable items can be found randomly, these items being used as parts for new weapons and vehicles for traveling through the world. The game does have a main story thread running through it, that players can follow as they progress through.
The controls have been the much-ballyhooed part of the game, and in my playtime, I found that they were easy to pick up on. Swiping looks around, but tapping with two fingers fires, with the actual shot going between the two fingers. Thus, the game allows for enough accuracy to let players fire where they want, but still have challenge for headshots and the like. Tapping on the screen moves to that location, and players can execute a rapid 180 turn by tapping on the bottom of the screen, and can quickly turn to attacking enemies by tapping on the red damage indicators on the side. Finally, those things are really useful!
The game will be free-to-play, and the monetization strategies inclue an energy mechanic for traveling to different levels, the ability to get additional scavenge opportunities, and special weapons that can be bought, though these will be broken when acquired, like most of the game’s weapons; the parts to fix them still need to be found. Ben Cousins pointed out that the game will always be about the gameplay – it’s possible to get new weapons and additional scavenge items, but getting to use them is always about playing the game itself.
How well the title will work long-term and how intrusive the monetization will feel will still require some extended playtime, but for now, The Drowning shows a lot of promise toward changing the mobile FPS. The game is nearly done and will be submitted soon.
I freaking love mech games. It’s just a shame that this is a largely ignored genre on the App Store. Or at least it was, until Small Impact Games took it upon themselves to show it some love.
M3CH looks to be the answer to iOS mech combat fans’ prayers. Of course showing a little love yourself on the developer’s Kickstarter page might speed things up a bit. It evokes a similar feeling to other gritty/semi-realistic mech piloting titles and sports some pretty impressive production values. I had to pry myself away to ask M3CH’s animator, James Rowbotham, about Small Impact Games’ baby.
Were there any particularly major influences in the design of M3CH‘s world? I know it’s not exactly the same but I’m getting a pretty strong Steel Battalion vibe from it.
At the time 3D iOS games exploded, we were playing a very mixed bag of games but fortunately they were all with the same genre, Mechs! We just loved the direction the iOS store was heading, it was screaming for a game with user-friendly touch-screen controls but with the in depth details you get in our favourite mech games.
Surprisingly however, Killzone 2 was a big inspiration in terms of AI and cover based action. What some mech games lack is the use of buildings as cover and enemy’s that work together to out flank you, something we saw that had been untapped in the genre (a lot of open spaces/terrain), so we looked at the great AI in Killzone and their behaviour and found a way to work it into our game.
You folks have done a bang-up job with the control scheme. Was it the product of rigorous testing and polishing or did you know right from the start how you wanted to handle it?
The aim with M3CH since the beginning has been to try and create an iOS game that doesn’t feel like it’s an iOS game, and more like a console experience. Touchscreen controls are notorious for being hard to use and something that we really wanted to nail. We went through a lot of different iterations to get to where we are now; having both shoot buttons on one side, holding down shoot instead of the auto toggle system, putting the shoot buttons on the thumbsticks and a lot more. We are keeping open minded about it and although we are getting later into development if we have an idea for an even better control set then we will be sure to test it out!
Were there any mech designs you wanted to include that ended up being scrapped?
There are quite a few that didn’t make it into the game (we already have 40 different mechs in the game). At the moment we have a mix of legs styles such as reversed legs in the game but [an] animalistic style is something we are keen on in terms of animation and how the mechs behave.
What exactly are your plans for the multiplayer?
We are hitting some technical limitations which means it most likely be 1-on-1 to start with. We would love to get a larger number of players battling at the same time (8v8 is the dream!), especially where the winning players get new weapons unlocked and credits to spend. At the moment its deathmatch style gameplay but we have plans set for objective based multiplayer.
Are you allowed to talk pricing?
It’s still early days but we are hoping for around the £1.99 [$2.99] price range. One thing we are certain of however is that we don’t want pushy monetization and in-app purchasing interrupting your gameplay experience, all mechs and weapons are attainable without too much grinding and we reward dedicated hard working players with big payouts.
How about a release date?
As for a released date, a lot of that depends on the kickstarter campaign, if we are successful then we are aiming for an April release this year.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away,” a young child was enchanted by the Star Wars Universe. In more recent history, that same boy came down with a chronic case of pinball addiction. So you can only imagine how the child rejoiced when learning of Zen Studios’ intentions to meld their passion for pinball with Lucas’ brainchild. If you haven’t read between the lines yet, allow me to clarify that the aforementioned child was me, cleverly shrouded as an adolescent, in hopes of hiding the fact that I am a grown man rendered shamelessly giddy by the proposition of my beloved Star Wars bleeding into my favorite past time. Oh well, so much for that.
Much to my glee, the good folks over at Zen Studios invited me to get some early hands on time with their newest masterpiece: Star Wars Pinball. The base install will be its own stand-alone pinball hub, consisting of a healthy collection of three tables at launch, set to the themes of The Empire Strikes Back, everyone’s favorite bounty hunter Boba Fett, and the animated Clone Wars franchise. Before moving on to the meat of the preview, it is worth mentioning that each of the tables will also be available for individual purchase in the Zen Pinball 2 hub as well, but there are special features associated with the specific Star Wars Pinball app that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Trying to please Star Wars fans has become an increasingly difficult task over the decades. With that in mind, the creative team at Zen has taken every necessary precaution to make sure their tables are the definitive embodiment of the franchise, only featuring a steel ball. Lightsabers, sound effects, and even reasonably similar sound-alikes have been brought in to re-create seminal moments of the series. There is no greater example of this than the Empire Strikes Back table. Players have the opportunity to relive the most important scenes of the film, all while still playing an authentic pinball game. Everything from downing Tie Fighters to dueling Darth Vader are on the list of highlights, so it is certainly not to be missed.
Boba Fett is a character from the Star Wars mythos that has taken on a life of his own. A relative bit character in the original trilogy, fans have clamored to know more about the mysterious masked man. Drawing heavily upon his actions freezing Han Solo in carbonite and the resulting events on Tatooine, the Boba Fett themed table follows the notorious bounty hunter in his manhunts across the galaxy. Featuring a set of bounty missions that can scale in difficulty depending upon the user’s confidence, this is sure to once again be a fan favorite.
The last, but certainly not least of the trio of tables takes place in the fairly recent Clone Wars animated franchise. Tom Kane, the narrator from the television program and film reprises his role, informing the player of their immediate activities throughout the action. Of the three tables in the set, this is by far the biggest opportunity to run up the scoreboards. A big key to success is managing to chain together long combos, thanks to the fluid layout heavily favoring ramp play.
No matter what your level of appreciation is for the Star Wars brand, you will find something to appreciate in these tables. Even those that don’t like the franchise will still find plenty of fantastic pinball shenanigans to enjoy, because they are simply awesome tables to sit down and pick away at. We look forward to seeing what other tables are waiting in the wings for the coming months. Stay tuned for our full review of Star Wars Pinball, coming soon.
Most iOS gamers are familiar with the idea of asynchronous multiplayer at this point; one person takes a turn and submits it, then next person takes their turn whenever they’re able, and so on. Many iOS multiplayer games use this mechanic to great effect these days; Robot Entertainment’s stellar Hero Academy, OMGPOP’s Draw Something, and Playdek’s Penny Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil are just a few examples.
It’s great for playing anything turn-based on the go because it enables players to jump in and make their move whenever it’s convenient for them. Taking a break to get lunch, turning off the phone for a few hours during a long trip, or even taking a break partway through a match are all possible thanks to this particular form of multiplayer.
Real-time multiplayer games are a bit more difficult to execute on iOS devices. Not so much because the technology isn’t there, but because the very nature of mobile platforms creates a different sort of “flow” for users who aren’t tied down to a particular location. And Game Center is still in its relative infancy, so setting up a match among friends typically requires a decent amount of prep work. Especially given the sheer number of titles available for most Apple products these days. Capcom’s Street Fighter IV Volt and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 are both examples of this particular multiplayer type, and both fun games, but setting up a match takes more work than it does on many gaming platforms.
The fast paced nature of the gameplay and the speed with which most bouts are completed fit the real-time online play well, but it still requires players to find a good spot to stop for a moment if they want to get a match or two in. Or they could also always play to their heart’s content while relaxing at home or any other location with proper seating and wireless internet.
Real Racing 3’s Time Shifted Multiplayer is a sort of amalgamation of both asynchronous and simultaneous play, and could very well lead to some significant changes in how we play mobile games with other people in the near future.
“What could we do if we had no limitations?” is the mantra that was used throughout Real Racing 3’s development according to the game’s Development Director, Kynan Woodman. “The answer to that question for many of us,” he said, “is that we would be able to play against our friends and other real people anytime and anywhere.” It might not seem like a big deal but not everyone has the same daily schedule.
Anyone who’s ever tried to play games online with a friends who lives in another state, even one that’s in the same time zone, knows just how problematic it can be at times to try and coordinate. Being able to play with friends without needing to adhere to a specific schedule means everyone can play when they have a moment rather than having to set aside a specific time or possibly turn down an open invitation.
And thus Time Shifted Multiplayer was conceptualized. Without worrying about whether it was “possible” or not, they got to work figuring out a way to combine the accessibility of asynchronous play with the pulse-pounding action of simultaneous play. In essence, it’s meant to be the best of both worlds.
Blazing a Trail
Firemonkeys hasn’t revealed the exact details of Time Shifted Multiplayer just yet, but it has explained the basics of how everything comes together in practice. When a Real Racing 3 player begins a race against someone else it’s not actually a direct competition.
Rather than racing against their opponent directly they’re in fact racing against “… their fully interactive time-shifted double,” Woodman said, “which emulates their performance and skill.” In other words it’s like racing against their ghost, only this particular ghost is tangible. This “non-ghost” can be driven off the track, react to other racers jostling for position, and all the other stuff a real player would do automatically.
Imagine racing against a snapshot of another person; a sort of virtual player that’s compiled from data based around their particular skill level and performance. If left to its own devices it’ll achieve a time similar (if not equivalent to) the player’s original run, but that’s only if it’s left alone. This is, in essence, what Time Shifted Multiplayer is.
It’s never a good idea to get too far ahead of things when it comes to speculation, but it’s also incredibly difficult not to get swept up in all the Time Shifted Multiplayer madness. It’s a technology that combines the two primary forms of online play iOS users have come to rely on for all of their games, and as such stands to create quite a stir once more and more titles begin to adapt similar techniques. Fusing the play anywhere/anytime convenience typical of most mobile multiplayer games with the more directly interactive (and often more competitive) nature of real time multiplayer certainly seems like a brilliant idea on paper.
Firemint (and now Firemonkeys) has been on an interesting road trip up to now; full of all kinds of unexpected detours, the occasional paint job, maybe a trade-in here and there, picking up a few new passengers along the way, and bittersweet goodbyes to those who’ve been dropped off. Of course it’s not over yet. There’s still a lot of road to travel. We’ll have to wait until next month to see how well everything Firemonkeys has experienced and created comes together for the newest pit stop, but the potential is definitely there.
Last time we took a look at the history behind Firemint and its popular Real Racing series. In this post we are going to go into a bit more detail on just how these games came about: design troubles, device compatibility considerations, gameplay mechanics, and ideas that help to define a developer and its products. Enjoy!
Everything To Everyone
A whole lot of iOS gamers are familiar with the Real Racing series. It’s well known (and rightly so) both as an example of the ever-increasing visual prowess of mobile gaming platforms and because it’s just plain fun. But creating something with so much quality and depth takes plenty of effort, especially considering that there are several possible generations of hardware to play it on. It’s quite the list, really, ranging from the original iPhone through the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, and now the 5. And let’s not forget the iPad, iPad 2, 3rd Generation, 4th Gen, and the adorable iPad mini. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the iPod Touch 1-5, either. So that’s, what, like 16 different iOS devices total, right? Each of them with their own limit on supported operating systems. Even ignoring the hardware side of things, that’s still at least five different OS platforms to check for compatibility.
The original Real Racing was developed in 2009: the middle of the iPhone 3G’s life cycle. Since the 3G was built around the earlier generations of iPhone, compatibility wasn’t too much of an issue. Real Racing 2, however, pushed things quite a bit further and gave the team a little difficulty when making it compatible with older devices. The game hit the App Store when the 3GS was still going strong and the iPhone 4 had only recently become available. According to Real Racing 3’s Development Director, Kynan Woodman, “Real Racing 2 was the first game where challenges with legacy hardware arose, but we managed to support everything back to the first iPhone on Real Racing 2.”
Even with a still comparably small list of devices and iOS software to worry about, things were starting to get more complicated. Firemint even went so far as to develop two separate base sets of code for its follow-up racing game: one designed to take full advantage of the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod touch’s specs, and one for everything that came before it. The different codes were then tailored to make the best use of their intended devices as possible by way of including different art assets, using higher framerates, etc.
Real Racing 3, on the other hand, will most likely break with that tradition of near-universal iOS compatibility. A number of older devices are incompatible with iOS 6, and many of them also lack the processing power to manage more demanding games. Compatible devices haven’t been officially announced yet but Real Racing 3 is “… using Open GL ES 2.0 and relies on this for the advanced lighting,” said Woodman. “Everything prior to the iPhone 3GS only supported OpenGL 1.0.” Given the specificity of that statement, it’s looking like support for anything predating the 3GS is off the table. It’s amazing to think that the lighting is what’s primarily responsible for the game’s hardware compatibility. Of course, iOS hardware upgrades are always an option and with each new release, prior versions become even more affordable.
What’s really interesting and even downright commendable about Firemonkey’s approach to Real Racing 3’s development, which began mid-2011, is the way it didn’t let hardware limitations dictate the design. “When we started developing Real Racing 3,” Woodman said, “we started out with a core question: ‘What could we achieve, if we imagine, even just for a moment, that we have no limitations whatsoever.’” It was a question meant to steer (no pun intended) people away from worrying about whether or not their ideas would be feasible on any particular iOS device and get them thinking much more freely.
In other words, they tossed all preconceived limits out the window and let their imaginations run wild. So they got to work creating the racing game they wanted to create, with no consideration as to whether or not the hardware could handle any of it. “We went into this project anticipating hardware as powerful as the iPhone 5,” Woodman said, “so when the iPhone 5 did come along, we were ready.”
The idea was to design the game first, then worry about hardware specs later. It gave the team at Firemonkeys more of a chance to explore their ideas, and to play around with any concepts they could dream up and give them a real shot before deciding if they would work in Real Racing 3 or not.
So they worked backwards; developing Real Racing 3 as they saw fit, then hoping they could find a way to put it on Apple’s current and at the time future hardware. Ideas were given time to be fleshed-out rather than getting the axe early on thanks to the “no limits” approach. This led to the inclusion of an honest-to-goodness rearview mirror to help keep an eye on everyone currently eating your dust, a larger number of racers on the track (22 instead of the previous 16), new events that have never been used in a Real Racing game before that also sadly haven’t been specifically named, and real world racetracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Silverstone.
Incorporating these tracks into Real Racing 3 is something that Firemonkeys is understandably excited about, especially considering all the work that went into the process. Each raceway needed to be thoroughly documented and multiple reference photos had to be taken. Once that step was finished it was time to research each track’s elevation data and use it to create a close digital approximation. It’s not a simple process, but the results are well worth it.
Of course, there’s also the Time Shifted Multiplayer everybody’s been talking about that allows players to race against friends and foes anytime, anywhere. “We didn’t start out with Time Shifted Multiplayer,” Woodman said, “we started out by putting real names on the cars and pretending that we had the ultimate multiplayer mode. It felt great and we worked our way back from there to Time Shifted Multiplayer.” It’s a method that’s resulted in some impressive new software technology that’s garnered a fair amount of attention since its announcement. It may not have ever come into being without such an open approach to design.
We’re still a ways off from Real Racing 3’s February release date, but that hasn’t kept people from talking about it. Not just the pretty graphics or the smooth controls, but also the unexpected surprises such as the Time Shifted Multiplayer which we’ll be taking a look at in the next post in this series. Even so, Firemonkeys is still holding a few of its cards close to its vest. It’s exciting to take a moment to consider just what it is we haven’t been told yet.
The soon to be released Real Racing 3 is on a lot of iOS gamers’ minds these days, especially many of us here at 148Apps. Because of this we thought it would be a good idea to recap the series. In fact, we might have gone a bit beyond that and created a trilogy. First we’ll be taking a look at the series’ history and the history of Firemint, the Melbourne based studio that created the series. After that we’ll be taking a look at the design factors and what when into creating the first two Real Racing titles as well as a little of the third. And in the third part of this series, we’ll take a look at the new Time Shifted Multiplayer found in Real Racing 3.
One of the best-known examples of how far developers can push Apple’s new iPhone 5 hardware is looming just over the horizon. However, it wasn’t always so. Sure the Real Racing series has steadily become pretty much synonymous with near console-quality visuals on mobile platforms, even going so far as to have a permanent spot on the App Store’s Big-Name Games and Racing Games lists, but there was once a time when no one knew the name Firemint. This was around four years ago, when most mobile games were still easily distinguished from virtually every other platform. You know, when Solitaire and box-pushing puzzles came preloaded on everything and acquiring new games wasn’t anywhere near as convenient as it is now. Oddly enough, the developer’s first major innovation wasn’t even based around graphics.
According to Kynan Woodman, Real Racing 3’s Development Director, the original Real Racing was actually more of an experiment than a real game. Specifically they were trying to figure out how to rig up accelerometer steering for a Nokia handset in a way that wasn’t awkward or unnatural. Keep in mind this was back in 2008, and up to that point attempts at such a control scheme would tilt the view along with everything else which wasn’t exactly conducive to a driving game. “To solve this problem we tilted the horizon dynamically to counter your steering of the device,” he said, “so that regardless of where you moved the horizon in the game would match the real world. It seems obvious now, but no one had done it at the time.” Firemint didn’t just find a work-around for a common problem, the team developed a solution that set a new design standard for accelerometer controls.
Building A Unique Race
Once it had the horizon tilting figured out, Firemint began to construct the game that would eventually become Real Racing around it. “There was a lot more to the Real Racing franchise than great controls,” said Woodman, “but it started with that as a key innovation.” As it turns out, innovation ended up being Firemint’s calling card of sorts.
The developer’s second major task was to construct an interior view that the series has come to be known for, “… so players could actually see the steering wheel move as they steered,” Woodman said. It’s a feature that isn’t uncommon in console racing games these days (Codemasters’ Race Driver: Grid is a prime example), but it’s not prevalent in many – if any – iOS racers. The added level of detail, and by extension immersion, goes a long way to enhancing the “simulation” experience.
The decision to create a racing game built around closed tracks was made fairly early on in the cycle, however, but the rest of the design evolved as the game was developed. No one at Firement (now Firemonkeys) expected their project to become such a juggernaut on the App Store or to be the target of much speculation when early gameplay footage (above) was first revealed on PocketGamer in August of 2008. “We particularly enjoyed all the comments from consumers about how it was ‘clearly fake,’” said Woodman. Encouraged by these reactions, Firemint continued its work on through 2009, listening to fan and potential consumer feedback all the while. “We had a good idea of what people would like from the game,” he said, “because we could read comments and talk to press and consumers about it. Although we couldn’t do everything that players would like, we did use their feedback to help us focus the game design.”
Not Just A Racing Game Studio
Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding console-quality visuals and innovations up the wazoo it can be easy to forget that Firemint doesn’t only make racing games. In fact, before Real Racing came out, it was already flying high (*rimshot*) thanks to the success of Flight Control. This casual mobile rendition of a day in the life on an air traffic controller began as a simple experiment concocted by Firemint CEO Robert Murray. It was meant to be a simple design exercise created over the winter break when the studio was shut down for the holidays, but garnered so much attention around the studio that fellow Firemint designers, Alexandra Peters and Jesse West, hopped on board to help turn it into a full-blown game–a good call considering that it’s sold over half-a-million copies in its first month and well over three million to date.
The original Real Racing went on to receive plenty of accolades, including 2010’s Apple Design and IMGA’s Excellence in Connectivity Awards, as well as a Best App Ever Award for Best Racing Game, Best Graphics, and Best Simulation Game in 2009. It’s also sold a whole bunch–and that’s just the first game. Not surprisingly, after Real Racing was launched in June of 2009, work on Real Racing 2 began roughly 6 months later.
The sequel to Firemint’s critical darling turned its fair share of heads as well when it was released in December of 2010. In addition to carrying over all the new concepts and special features that made the original Real Racing so noteworthy, Real Racing 2 added plenty of new items to its pedigree. The career mode was greatly expanded upon by allowing players to earn cash to purchase new cars and even upgrade their current ones. More camera options were added along with a special TV broadcast-style instant replay system. Vehicles were given damage models so that particularly rough races would leave telltale signs all over the racer’s cars. Online save options were added to allow players a chance to carry over their racing career when they installed the game to a new device. It was one of the first games to incorporate Apple’s Airplay technology which allowed players to view their games on their TV, using their iOS device as a stand-in for a controller. Actually, it allowed up to four players to view their games on the bigger screen all at once by way of the special Party Mode.
Last but not least, and in keeping with the whole “innovation” thing, Firemint also managed to include 16 player races (against AI in single player or 15 other people online), which was a first for iOS games at the time and no small feat in and of itself. All of these various features reportedly pushed Real Racing 2’s development costs to over $2 million. So it wasn’t just a first for iOS multiplayer, it was also a first for iOS development costs. Real Racing 2 has received a fair share of success with a combined (critic) Metacritic score of 94 to date along with taking the Best App Ever Awards for Racing and Graphics in 2010. With so many hits on Firemint’s hands, it’s no wonder large publishers like EA took notice.
The following year, Firemint was absorbed into the collective that is Electronic Arts. Some were understandably concerned about the acquisition, as it’s not uncommon for smaller studios to lose most of what makes them special (or get dismantled entirely) once they become a part of a much larger whole. However, Firemint CEO Rob Murray, as well as EA Interactive’s Executive VP, Barry Cottle, were quick to put those fears to rest by recalling the developer’s history. Many of Firemint’s pre-Flight Control and pre-iOS releases (Need for Speed Most Wanted, Madden, etc) were created while under contract for EA Mobile. One could even argue that EA helped to shape the folks at Firemint into the dream team they are today. Getting bought by one of the largest video game publishers in the business while being able to maintain their creative freedom made for an exciting opportunity for the already quite successful developer. But it didn’t end there. In July of 2012, Firemint joined forces with IronMonkey Studios (Dead Space, Need for Speed Undercover) to create Firemonkeys. I hope they braced for all the inevitable Infernape jokes beforehand. Since then, EA’s involvement has most likely influenced Firemint’s/Firemonkey’s pricing structures, but overall it seems like they’ve left the developer to do their own thing, which is to make fantastic games.
A more recent and potentially troubling development was the announcement that Rob Murray–former CEO of Firemint, mastermind behind Flight Control, and Executive Producer at Firemonkeys–would be leaving to spend time as a full-time dad. It’s a perfectly good reason to step down and Tony Lay, EA’s Melbourne Studio GM, has more than enough experience to see Real Racing 3 to its release as the new Executive Producer, but it’s difficult not to have a little concern over what this means for Firemonkeys. Development heads come and go from time to time, as is the nature of the industry, but sometimes major shakeups can be difficult to shake off. There have also been rumblings of another kind of shakeup for Real Racing 3. The App Store is still a tough market to predict when it comes to pricing structure, and it’s rumored that Firemonkeys might do away with the premium price tag for their new racer. In fact, if the rumors are to be believed Real Racing 3 just might be free-to-play. It’s not definite by any stretch of the imagination at this point, but it is possible.
It’s impressive to think that Firemint accomplished all of this–several multi-award winning games, millions upon millions in cumulative sales, and a significant acquisition by a major publisher–in about three years’ time. Where they go from here is anybody’s guess, but with Real Racing 3 looming on the horizon, the future definitely looks exciting, and pretty shiny.
Tomorrow, we’ll delve into the design decisions and what it took to make the premier iOS racing game series, so stay tuned.
Way back in 2009, Crescent Moon Games released an open-world RPG named Ravensword: The Fallen King. After years of titles developed and/or published by the studio, including various other RPGs, it’s returning to its big original hit, and it’s promising to be bigger and better than ever. Meet Ravensword: Shadowlands. Releasing on December 20th, it’s not only going to contain a massive open world, with numerous quests and things to discover, rivaling even console and PC open-world games, but it could be one of the best-looking games on the platform, as evidenced with my time on a near-final build.
The first hours of the game set the tone that this is an open world, and once the opening tutorial scene is finished, it’s open season. A town with dozens of buildings and giant detailed landscapes are immediately available. Want to go on the main quest, to discover what happened to the main character after the battle of Heronmar? Sure, do it. Want to mess around and join a guild, and help random citizens, affecting the character’s reputation? Do that, too. The game won’t say anything about it. In fact, doing a lot of side quests and exploring is highly recommended, because there’s plenty of tough foes that will come in the way, and the game prefers trial by fire. Spoiler alert: trolls and bears are a lot tougher than goblins and deer.
Weapon-based combat is simple: tap the attack button to use a weapon, tap on an enemy to target it, and hold down on attack to raise the shield. It does mean that shielding is not necessarily the most intuitive thing, but it does keep the controls from being overly-complicated. Magical items can add a third button for special attacks, and weapons and items can be set as quick use buttons at the bottom of the screen. In general, the best way to raise a stat like shielding or a weaponry type is to use it, or train it at a guild.
The game is going to be absolutely packed with content, if the sense of scale is anything to be believe: anywhere visible on land may actually be accessible in the game. Even many of the NPCs feature voice acting (usually for their first line), and a voice actor who worked on the Elder Scrolls series provides many of the NPC voices.
iPhone 5 owners are in for a treat: the game looks absolutely stunning, and only stutters occasionally in towns, for example. The build I have is “near-final” so it may or may not be sorted out, though the game is generally quite smooth. The draw distance is unparalleled as well.
Playing Ravensword: Shadowlands for several hours already, it feels like I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game, and there’s still mountains of content to discover. Between the vast landscape to uncover, and stories to unfold, this game could take a long time to truly discover all it holds.
Who doesn’t love a good word game? Nobody, that’s who! With this in mind EA Mobile is working on Word Smack, a new free-to-play spelling puzzler that takes its cues from Mastermind and Hangman.
Word Smack is, at its core, an asynchronous multiplayer word game where the highest score wins the match. Players will have to guess their assigned words using only a couple of hints and their personal spelling knowledge, with proper guesses leading to new words and potentially more points. Once they’ve exhausted their allotted 15 guesses their turn is over, however, so it pays to stop and think for a bit rather than charge blindly ahead. Of course that’s just the first round. The two that follow get progressively more difficult but also yield higher points. So really, it’s the final round that can make all the difference. Assuming someone hasn’t totally botched the first two, anyway.
Word Smack is due out this fall, and it won’t set you back a single pe–y.
Did the Battleship movie get you all pumped up and ready to take on some hostile aliens? Yeah, me neither. In fact it was fairly unimpressive. ClassicBattleship, on the other hand, is all kinds of alright. EA Mobile’s upcoming Battleship Airstrike looks to sit somewhere in the middle, containing the spirit of the classic board game and coupling it with a faster-paced asynchronous multiplayer experience.
Imagine a typical game of Battleship. Each player takes their turn one shot at a time, trying to find their opponent and sink their fleet before they meet a similar fate. Battleship Airstrike ratchets the formula up a bit by allowing players to take multiple shots per turn. In addition to that, special limited use shots can be purchased with money earned through play in order to gain some possible advantages. Advantages such as destroying a ship with a single hit or deploying a kind of artillery sonar that doesn’t cause damage but will reveal vessel locations within a certain number of tiles.
Once a turn is completed – which may consist of several strategic bombings and even paying for repairs on your own damaged (damaged, not destroyed) ships – it’s all submitted to the servers and the opposition is alerted. Typical asynchronous multiplayer stuff, really. It’s more the mold-breaking multi shot turns and special shells (not to mention the possibility of repairs!) that make Battleship Airstrike enticing.
Battleship Airstrike should be out sometime this fall.
I profess I tend to spend a decent amount of time playing virtual solitaire these days, mostly thanks to some ridiculously early commutes. So it’s a game I’m quite familiar with, although I haven’t come anywhere close to mastering it. Why is this significant? Because Popcap is bringing their popular Facebook adaptation, Solitaire Blitz to iOS and I’m expecting to have a grand old time with it.
The rules of Solitaire Blitz are both familiar and totally new. Players still have to empty their cards into piles by following a particular sequence, but suits and linear progression don’t matter anymore. A King can be tossed on a Queen, to be followed by another Queen, then a Jack. Or it could go 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, Ace. But while this might sound like the challenge has been sucked out of the classic solo card game, the fact of the matter is it still makes for an intense game. Mostly thanks to the never pausing 60-second time limit and slots (up to four) for placing cards that have to be unlocked.
It makes for some rather frantic card shuffling as you attempt to spot anything and everything that can get tossed on a pile, attempt to plan ahead to avoid getting stuck, and search out any cards featuring a key icon that will unlock those essential extra card slots. All of this while the clock keeps ticking down. No specifics have been given regarding price yet but we can all look forward to one of the most intense games of solitaire ever this November.
Solitaire Blitz has taken Facebook by storm with vintage Popcap charm and now it’s shuffling its way onto iOS.
After sampling it at Gamescom, I came to a simple conclusion: It’s portable Solitaire Blitz with the ease of touch, and that makes for a dangerously brilliant concoction.
Players are tasked with clearing their screen of cards by putting them into three separate piles, two of which need to be unlocked during play. Power-ups help players along the way and silver is uncovered as their screen starts to empty, adding to their overall points at the end of each hand.
The translation is spot-on. All power-ups are in place including the time boost and bomb. The squeaking worm still shuffles awkwardly when players are about to run out of time. Most importantly, the core gameplay remains as engaging as ever.
It’s simple, fast-paced fun, and a perfect fit for iOS. Solitaire Blitz launches this fall.
Plants vs Zombies: Talking Zombatar
To get us ready for next year’s brain-chomping sequel, Popcap bring us the more light-hearted Talking Zombatar.
The idea is to kit your Zombie out in the most imaginative way possible, be it cool, crazy or flat-out creepy. Beach shorts and shades for the hot weather? Why not. Menacing faces and mutilated bodies? Ripe for a reaping. Over-sized wigs and glittery suits for a night of karaoke? Time to tune up the vocals. Talking Zombatar allows for such stupidity, and even lets players have their favourite phrases repeated in Zombish.
While I only saw a limited range of costumes, I was assured by Popcap that there will be rewards for checking on the app daily and purchasable items that can be paid for with in-game or real currency. Talking Zombatar will be totally free, presenting a new direction for the gaming giant, but this was a lot more fun than I was expecting. It’s out this fall!
What started out as a fun pastime for Hello Games has become something extraordinary.
They hadn’t intended to make mobile games. The whole idea of Joe Danger for iOS came about as a portfolio project using previous assets. As it turned out, the ideas came in thick and fast and now the game is in a near-finished state. Joe Danger Touch is not a port. This has been built from the ground up to make the best use of the iOS platform. At Gamescom, I sampled several levels of varying difficulty.
The first thing that struck me was the lack of a virtual stick. Personally, I think that’s for the best. I’m not sure any developer, even Hello Games, would be able to capture the dexterity a console analog provides and Joe Danger requires. Players will use tap and swipe gestures to perform moves and stunts while Joe automatically rides his bike. While some earlier levels merely require players to tap the screen to vault over obstacles, later on, they’ll need to tap obstacles to remove them from their path, as well as duck under obstructions. They’ll also need to change lanes just like the original game.
Each level has an objective, whether it’s beating the time or collecting all coins, and encourages an immense amount of replay value. Of course, it wouldn’t be Joe Danger without stunts. While airborne, players merely need to swipe the screen to perform all manner of death-defying insanity. In my time with the game, the controls were very responsive and accurate on iPad. There were no hiccups and I quickly felt like a natural after only minutes of play.
With Hello Games’ incredible attention to detail and high standards, there’s no reason to think Joe Danger Touch won’t be one of the year’s best on any platform, let alone iOS.
Lately, there seems to be a Kickstarter project for everything imaginable. One new exciting project is Underground Kingdom.
The project aims to adapt the work of author Edward Packard, namely his Choose Your Own Adventure books made popular in the 1970s. These books have proved very important to many in the past, myself included, both encouraging literacy and demonstrating how much fun reading can be.
Much like the work of Tin Man Games, Choose Your Own Adventure books are all about taking part in an interactive story and making decisions that lead to many different inclusions.
Underground Kingdom isn’t quite under way yet, hence the Kickstarter project. While I for one greatly encourage getting involved with backing the project, we thought it only right to check in with co-founder and project director Felipe Mingo and creator of the Choose Your Own Adventure books Edward Packard and see how they feel about things.
We asked Felipe about the motivation behind bringing back this series of books.
“In (our) search for an app idea,” he explained, “we remembered the Choose Your Own Adventure series. We really loved these books as kids, and thought that it would be great to transport the concept of “gamebooks” to digital. When we looked for digital versions, we didn’t find any quality apps that would deliver a great experience. We wanted something different, with contemporary artwork, interaction, a map to guide your path… That’s when we decided to start working on it and contacted Edward, who was really helpful and licensed us some of his books.”
Asking whether the books, starting with Underground Kingdom, will be original conversions or if there will be any adjustments, Felipe explained that “The adaptations of the story are completely original from Edward Packard books. We made some minor changes to the text so it would adapt to today’s technology. The artwork is totally new.” As you can see from the artwork below, it’s pretty glorious to look at and a great re-imagining of the original’s style.
Edward Packard explained to us that he believes the “imaginative color art and animations…greatly enrich the adventurous experience” while also stating that he’s “delighted, and especially so about delivering them in app form,” as well as the “added interactive features [and] sound effects”.
While the project is still in the early stages, Visual Baker provided us with some examples of concept art and how the devs there plan to incorporate the feel of Choose Your Own Adventure books into app form. It’s looking pretty great, so far.
Since then, developer Turborilla has been hard at work on a new title: Mad Skills BMX with its release date set for August 16. While we’ll be giving it the full review treatment in time for release day, we checked out the official trailer for it and just had to share.
Besides demonstrating that plenty of BMX racing fun should be guaranteed next week, it’s also a pretty entertaining trailer in its own right with a vibrant punk rock soundtrack and edgy animation reminiscent of something you’d see in Beavis and Butthead. It’s not often that trailers manage to tell a simple story as well as demonstrate what to expect from a game, and it’s great to see here.
Check it out below. Hopefully, similar effort has been implemented throughout the game. We’ll let you know how it plays next week.
The winner is Pong World from zGames. This entry, compared to the other two finalists, is the most like traditional Pong. Players can move horizontally on a two-dimensional board just like the classic game, but the hook comes in the ability to use special shots with wacky physics, and paddles that can be customized. zGames wins $50,000 for its game.
Second place is Fong by Eppy Games. The playing field is circular, and players can move all around the circular playing field, but there is a goal on each side. However, players are not restricted to their side of the of the board. Eppy Games wins a $37,500 cash prize.
Third place is Pong Tournament from MadRuse Games. This variant takes place in a three-dimensional arena, where players must protect a two-dimensional goal that isn’t entirely open, but has shield squares protecting it. MadRuse wins a $15,000 cash prize.
The winners were selected by a voting panel including Nolan Bushnell, iOS game developers, and online voters. All three games will be published by Atari, and the developers will receive a revenue share as part of their contest victory.
Just about everyone in the world dreams about having super powers. Flight, strength, x-ray vision, that kind of stuff. While DeNA (think Mobage) and Marvel Entertainment’s upcoming Marvel: War of Heroes may not bestow impossible abilities to its players, it does put them in charge of a slew of iconic heroes.
Assuming the role of a S.H.I.E.L.D agent players will collect cards featuring various Marvel heroes and craft their own super team. Powers and abilities can be fused and upgraded as well, making an already powerful legend even more so. If you’re thinking it sounds similar to the more than a little popular Rage of Bahamut, that’s because it is. And because it’s being crafted by the same developers. Although the story – which is a thing that actually exists in this freemium card game. I know, right? – is all original and comes directly from Marvel itself. As does the art, actually, which is ridiculously awesome.
Marvel: War of Heroes is due to hit the App Store this fall. Anyone with even the slightest interest will be able to check it out for free, but those of us who are already curious can head over to the official website to pre-register. Why? Because it earns a free rare card, among other things. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned from playing similar Mobage titles it’s that rare cards, no matter how useful they might be to my strategy, can pay off big. Also it might actually be really cool.
Firemonkeys, formed from the recent merger of Firemint and Iron Monkey Studios, has announced its first title: Real Racing 3. This sequel to the popular racing series promises to boast more of what made the series so popular.
While only an alpha version was shown off, the footage is all based on in-game visuals, which displays how detailed the cars are going to be in the game. The details won’t come at the sacrifice of cars on the track, as the racing field has been expanded to 22 cars. There’s no confirmation of 22-player online multiplayer yet, though.
To help put the “Real” in Real Racing 3, real-life tracks are going to be in the game, including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Laguna Seca, and Silverstone. New car brands have been added, including Porsche, Audi, and Dodge. No release date was confirmed, other than that it is scheduled to release sometime this year. Check out our video of Rob Murray from Firemonkeys announcing the game below.
PopCap has announced a pair of new mobile titles that will be free-to-play, and expand on its already expansive library of addictive games.
First is Solitaire Blitz for mobile. After the title became a hit on the desktop, and saw a world record broken, iOS gamers will finally get to check out the craze behind this fast-paced solitaire title. It will link up with Facebook for cross-platform high scores, with mobile-exclusive leaderboards and achievements that will unlock new content such as exclusive card decks.
Then there’s PvZ Presents: Talking Zombatar. Once those zombies from Plants vs. Zombies were the player’s mortal enemy, now in this app players will get to raise their own zombie. They will be customizable with various outfits from Crazy Dave’s store. Then, that Zombatar can be interacted with by placing them in photos & videos, and having them repeat words in the zombie language of Zombie-ish.
Both these games will be free-to-play, and are expected to release later this year.
At Casual Connect 2012 in Seattle this week, Gameloft has announced six new titles that will try to cut a wide swath across the casual gaming spectrum.
The potentially biggest game on the list is the My Little Pony game – the series has a wide cross-generation appeal, being a show written for little girls, yet having found an adult male fanbase known as “bronies.” Creating a game that would have the same appeal seems like a tall order. The game will let players build their own Ponyville and play minigames, all featuring characters from the series.
Other games include UNO and Friends, a new version of the card game with online multiplayer that will let players take their games across phones, tablets, and Facebook. Monster Habitat will let players take care of papercraft monsters and the village they live in. Cosmic Colony will have players managing a colony on a mysterious planet. Kingdoms & Lords will be a simulation and strategy game where barbarians must be fended off, with multiplayer battles. Texas Poker for Prizes is exactly what it says on the tin. These games will begin rolling out before the end of summer.
Nicoll Hunt, known on iOS for his work on Hard Lines, has gone solo for his next project: FIST OF AWESOME. Yes, the title is stylized that way, and while I personally generally resent those who feel it necessary to put their title in ALL CAPS, this is necessary. Why, because it’s a game about a time-traveling lumberjack who travels through time and beats things up. Beat up alien-possessed deer in the present? Sure! Beat up possessed dinosaurs and cavemen in the past! Definitely! As well, Nicoll Hunt has seen fit to release not just an animated trailer for the game, but also animated screenshots, because what good is a volcano in the background if it isn’t erupting? Click the image at left to see it animated.
FIST OF AWESOME is planned for release later this year, with a soundtrack by Brendan Ratliff, who did the music for Gun Runner on iOS. FIST OF AWESOME‘s main character was previously known as Jack Lumber, though this is changing due to Owlchemy Labs’ own upcoming game starring a mighty lumberjack, Jack Lumber. Nicoll Hunt ran a contest to crowdsource the new name and now the protagonist is named Tim Burr. Get it? Like timber?
I was fortunate enough to get a hands on preview of The Curse and things are shaping up to look pretty great. 100 puzzles will be available to the player, with a creepy nemesis by the name of Mannequin linking everything together.
Puzzles are a varied bunch. While some puzzles will require players to piece together complex jigsaw pieces, others require careful lateral thinking to slide blocks together or draw a set number of lines to block off certain sections. Word based puzzles also feature with plenty of riddles to confound the old gray matter. The bite sized nature of these puzzles lend themselves perfectly to the iOS format and it’s a great sign of how quickly ‘just one more puzzle’ turns into another half a dozen.
Don’t expect an easy ride, though – there are some real brainteasers within the selection and The Curse should prove quite an enjoyable challenge to puzzle fans.
The Curse is set for release this summer. Expect a full review on 148apps when it hits the App Store.
As someone who’s played lots of iOS games and by extension sampled lots of virtual control schemes, external control attachments such as the iCade intrigue me. Tapping the screen is fine and all, but sometimes having physical buttons to press can make a world of difference. Lots of other people seem to think so, too, which aeis why these kinds of peripherals have a place in the market. It’s all well and good for portable play, but what about when I’m at home? Sure AirPlay allows users to game on their TV, but the iOS device is still the primary control. Which is exactly why we have brilliant entrepreneurs like the folks at Cascadia Games (the creators of Cavorite) creating stuff like the GameDock.
The GameDock will essentially be an iOS console, with all the awesomeness that implies. Users simply have to plug their iPhone or iPad into the dock, which is in-turn connected to the TV via an HDMI cable, and start playing any iCade supported titles on the big small screen. The handy dashboard app allows users to select their desired game via the connected controller, so they don’t even have to get off the couch. And just in case anyone wants to use the GameDock but doesn’t have a TV (or at least one with HDMI inputs), everything can be played right on the connected iOS device.
Cascadia Games’ Kickstarter for this most glorious of add-ons is just past the halfway mark for its $50,000 goal. With 35 days to go, there’s plenty of room for more backers. Come on, you know this is an awesome idea.
Over the weekend, details have emerged regarding Peter Molyneux and 22 Can’s first iOS game: Curiosity.
Peter Molyneux is a name that will be very familiar to many PC and console gamers. Known for his outlandish and over-enthusiastic statements, pre-release, he’s been responsible for some of the best games out there from the Populous series to Theme Park and Theme Hospital. He’s also been behind the Fable series of games, one of my personal favorites, but also a series that has been overpromised frequently.
Having left Microsoft and Lionhead Studios in March to begin work at new company 22 Cans, Molyneux has just announced details regarding Curiosity.
The title is set for release on August 22 and will focus on players hacking away at a giant cube, made out of 60 million different shapes. It’s all in aid of finding out exactly what’s underneath all those cubes. Initially, only the player who hits that final blow will find out what’s inside, hence the name: Curiosity.
It’s best thought of as a social media experiment with 22 Cans studying how this news will spread.
It gets stranger, still, with the prospect of in-app purchases funding everything. A Q&A Session at Indie conference, Rezzed, has reported that players will have to buy a limited number of chisels that will improve their tapping strength. While most of these chisels will be inexpensive, a diamond chisel will also be available, priced at an eye-watering $50,000.
It’s frankly pretty bizarre stuff. Will it work? Only time will tell, but we’ll be sure to keep up to date on developments as Curiosity could prove to be a fascinating experiment.
Do let us know how you feel about the in-app purchases involved. Would you ever consider spending so much on this kind of app?
We know that the game is based on Casey’s Contraptions, developed by Snappy Touch and Mystery Coconut. Rovio officially licensed the game from the developers, and it is no longer available on the App Store. Also, Rovio renamed the game to Amazing Alex and added a new art style. It should play similarly to Casey’s Contraptions, where players try to build Rube Goldberg contraptions to complete a goal and collect stars. There will be 100 levels in 4 different environments with 35 different types of objects in total. The video below also mentions free updates.
The level creation and sharing aspect is going to return to Amazing Alex – and it’s likely that the sharing will be more integrated than it was in Casey’s Contraptions, where it was a browser-based solution. Will the sharing be cross-platform, though? We do know that the game will be multiplatform, with a launch on iOS and Android worldwide on July 12.
The biggest thing to speculate on is if this will launch as a paid game, or if Rovio will try to go the free-to-play route. Angry Birds Space launched a free ad-supported version alongside premium versions for Android, though the iOS releases were solely paid versions at launch. Truly, the biggest speculation is what will Rovio change in the game? Will it still be as enjoyable as Casey’s Contraptions? Possibly even better when given the Rovio touch? That is the one thing that cannot be answered until the game is finally in players’ hands.
The original Fishing Joy has proven to be hugely successful across Asia since its release in the second half of 2010, but that popularity hasn’t translated very well to the Western world. With the release of Fishing Joy 2 later this week, we got a chance to check it out and see if this edition will tempt more of the world this time round.
Fishing Joy 2 isn’t actually anything like a fishing sim, despite the name. Instead, it’s a glorified shoot em up aimed at the casual market. Players are presented with an underwater scene with an array of different sea creatures floating around. A tap of the screen unleashes a tirade of bullets and, well, that’s about it.
There’s variety in the form of different weapons that can be used, each with different powers and strengths, but it’s a subtle change that doesn’t really change the basic structure of what’s expected of the player.
Fish are valued differently according to their size with the player given coins for each capture. A multiplier affects how many coins are gained with these pieces leading to gaining levels. It’s a simple enough mechanic with levelling up leading to new scenes to shoot amongst.
Ultimately though, there’s little point to Fishing Joy 2. It’s very pretty to look at and cute in its own way, but there’s seemingly no real draw to returning to it. I found myself playing it till I ran out of coins (which means no more bullets until a refresh or in-app purchase) then leaving disinterested. Lack of structure sometimes doesn’t matter but in the case of Fishing Joy 2, the addition of challenges would have benefited it greatly. As it stands, the action is never-ending but also lacking a strong purpose other than to pass the time.
Regardless, it’ll be fascinating to see how casual gamers across the world react to such a laid back game when Fishing Joy 2 comes out July 12th.