Heroes of Dragon Age sees EA taking the deep backstory of the Dragon Age series that BioWare helped to create and allowing players to create armies of characters throughout the series’ history, taking part in famous battles throughout the mythology. It’s a free-to-play game currently in testing in Canada, and we’re featuring impressions and a video of it in this latest edition of It Came From Canada!
All the combat is automatic, with players having no real say in what happens: just sit back and watch as everyone takes turns fighting. Players set up their lineup of fighters and then hope that they are advantageous in battle. Although there are strategy elements: using an army of the same type of character will give everyone a boost, and upgrading a character by consuming other ones can help turn even a poor fighter into someone who might help win some battles.
Yes, consuming other characters. Getting new characters is done through a card system, and consuming unused characters (really just a card system without much of the card metaphor) can upgrade a character’s stats. It’s kind of disturbing when it’s characters consuming other characters.
There’s an asynchronous battle element, too. Players can take on other players, or at least their current army, to get rewards. Of course there’s the lengthy campaign to take on as well, which takes players through various challenges with the ability to repeat them to get additional rewards, including premium currency. There’s energy systems for both multiplayer challenges and the singleplayer campaign.
Interestingly, for those who haven’t had much experience with the franchise the game’s language and characters are virtually indistinguishable from a brand new intellectual property, so don’t think that there’s a need to be previously exposed to the franchise to enjoy this one. The type of automatic combat is seemingly meant for a more casual, laid-back experience: it’s something seen in other mobile MMORPG type games as well.
Heroes of Dragon Age does have a high learning curve early on, though – there’s a lengthy tutorial section, which I explore in the video below. If all goes well this should be available internationally very soon, but soft launches are an art, not a science!
Making a first-person shooter with zombies is a safe bet for a game concept, and if Dead Trigger 2 promised to just be more of the same there’s certainly the possibility that it could do just as well as the original. After all, it has zombies and the series’ creator Madfinger is known for its gorgeous-looking games. But Marek Rabas, Co-Founder of Madfinger, says that for Dead Trigger 2, visuals were not the focus. “We didn’t focus on improving graphics quality this time around, instead, our main focus was on gameplay and other aspects of the game.”
This is the first thing that is apparent when playing Dead Trigger 2, perhaps after the still-impressive visuals: it’s a much better experience.
The core concept remains the same: players trying to survive an onslaught of the zombie apocalypse. But something just feels different. Early on, it’s a much more engaging experience. Rabas says “we have changed and enhanced [the] core gameplay. We are monitoring combat intensity and allowing gameplay to adapt to it. We have added bosses in the game and players have to change their behavior in the game when they spawn.” These include enemies like the Vomitron and Kamikaze, powerful enemies that require the player’s full attention as they can kill quickly.
The story missions feature more of a narrative backbone: there’s rudimentary interaction with other characters such as an escort mission early on, albeit with a character who knows how to handle his gun. They’re little things, but they make the game feel less like a soulless collection of missions and more like a game with actual progression. There’s still the assortment of side missions with their own challenges, but the main story mode should be more motivating.
The controls show great promise as well. It’s a version of the dual virtual stick control scheme, but set up with just swiping to move and to aim. Most importantly, aiming is incredibly accurate with the touchscreen to where I had no complaints early on. It’s a Halloween miracle!
Of course, with Apple’s MFi gamepad protocol on the horizon Dead Trigger 2 would be a natural fit. Madfinger loves their gamepads on Android – their games support them, and almost all of the controller manufacturers I met at GDC were demoing the original Dead Trigger on their controller – and Rabas says “Dead Trigger 2 supports MFi gamepads already. We haven’t tested it yet, because we don’t have MFi gamepads here. I hope we will get some before they will release them on the market.” However, the feature should be ready for when the dual-stick gamepads do come out. Until then, the touchscreen on iOS should do a bang-up job for most.
Dead Trigger 2 releases on October 23rd worldwide, and it’s showing great promise as a game that takes a familiar concept and iterates on it to make it possibly the most ideal version of what it could be.
EA Mobile has decided to revive the famous Bullfrog Dungeon Keeper intellectual property for a new free-to-play mobile game. It’s currently testing in Canada, so we hopped on a moose to bring you another episode of It Came From Canada with hands-on video below!
Dungeon Keeper is a two-fold game: one, there’s the dungeon keeping. This involves getting imps to mine for materials and build traps to help keep out invaders. Imps can help expand the dungeon, though certain spots take more time to open up. Of course, these waits can be skipped with gems. The other half of the game is raising units to go in and raid other dungeons, trying to survive the traps that the opposing Keeper has laid down in order to get their stuff. It’s a raid or get raided world.
Thus, in this modern incarnation, the game plays somewhat like a tower defense title: setting up a tricky dungeon with enough traps to keep invaders from getting much in the way of material is important, but so is amassing that army of creatures to go and get more gold and materials from opponents. There’s both campaign missions versus computerized opponents, and more interestingly, dungeons of other players to go raid.
The game does have a sense of humor to it, even to the free-to-play aspects: the demon guiding players jokes about how gems may be controversial. At least it’s somewhat self-aware for a game that would require a $99.99 in-app purchase to pay for three months of the game’s premium service. Of course, that could change before the game’s international launch. There’s also stat boosts and raid protections available to buy to help make surviving this tricky dungeon world a bit easier.
The game seems to be in a fairly polished state at the moment, and EA’s soft launches usually last less than a month, so there’s a good chance that you’ll have a fairly well-formed dungeon by the time Thanksgiving rolls around. Can’t wait till the international launch? Check out our hands-on video below.
NimbleBit and Disney have teamed up to make Star Wars: Tiny Death Star, a Star Wars take on Tiny Tower. Right now, the game is in testing in Australia (you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy) but we were able to sneak past their defenses and get a shot at the exhaust port in this edition of It Came From Australia!
Now, the game at its heart is essentially Tiny Tower but with Star Wars, and that’s a-okay. The game’s formula hasn’t been changed: players build residential levels for new bitizens to live in, and businesses for them to work at. Each bitizen has certain stats for certain job types that makes them more effective at their job, allowing players to earn more credits. One of the key gameplay additions are new Imeperial levels that help to advance the story by collecting Imperial Officers. Otherwise not much has changed, which isn’t a bad thing: there’s the two-currency system, but Galactic Bux can still be earned through VIPs and by completing certain objectives like putting a bitizen in their dream job.
The Star Wars theme is well apparent. Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader have been brought to pixelly life as bitizens, and all the other recognizable Stormtroopers, Rebel soldiers, and much of the non-human life from the series make appearances. The music is all based off of the classic John Williams music but in a light, jazzy theme. That almost justifies the game’s existence alone. The whole game is light-hearted fan service for Star Wars fans who get to build levels of the Death Star after recognizable places and themes – the developers have clearly had fun trying to cram reference after reference into the game. The whole thing is just whimsical.
There’s no telling if the Tiny Death Star will ever be blown up by a plucky orphan from Tatooine, though. The game’s likely to come out soon: it works offline so it’s quite likely that this is just a monetization test, or to see if certain elements play well with a real-world audience. So soon the game should be fully armed and operational for the whole world. Until then, watch our video below.
GT Racing 2 is Gameloft’s first concerted take at entering the free-to-play racing simulation market, one notably established by Real Racing 3 earlier this year. Much like EA and Firemonkeys’ title, Gameloft is currently doing a limited-region test for the game. I practiced my “ehs” and “aboots” and got my hands on this game before its worldwide release, with hands-on video below in this edition of It Came From Canada!
This is a game that quite clearly lives in Real Racing 3’s shadow. This is first apparent visually: the game is going for a detailed, realistic look, and even just the color scheme seems to evoke what Firemonkeys tried to do earlier this year, though blue skies will always be blue skies. However, the game launches with courses that take place at night, including one that takes place on the roads around Mt. Rainier at night.
The game definitely feels much like a simulation: braking is very important so as to not skid out of control. There are braking assists enabled by default, but learning how to drive without them so as to take the proper racing line – which is an actual displayable line in this game – is clearly of great importance.
There’s an asynchronous multiplayer mode which puts players up against the times of other racers to compete for pride, handily quantified in RP, and in-game currency. It’s not apparent on first tests if players are racing against actual ghosts of racers, as Real Racing 3’s Time Shifted Multiplayer claimed to do, or if they’re just racing against their times, as Time Shifted Multiplayer seemed to be in practice. Still, it should be less confusing since it’s a segregated mode from the standard single-player progression, which is packed with a wide variety of race types to take part in. Real cars with some damage have made it in the game as well.
The game is free-to-play, and thankfully there’s no waiting to repair one’s car, just wait timers for upgrades. Of course there are cars and upgrades to buy with the two-tier upgrade system. How well it plays for those who don’t spend is yet to be seen.
GT Racing 2 does seem to borrow a lot from Real Racing 3 at a quick glance, but its little tweaks could make for it to be a satisfying contender for the checkered flag, if not at least finishing somewhere on the podium. No clue on when it leaves the Canadian garages, but it may be soon, if all the server work and monetization balance checks out for Gameloft.
NimbleBit is following up Pocket Planes with perhaps the next-best transportation option: trains. Yes, Pocket Trains is now a real thing coming very soon, and fans of NimbleBit’s simulation games should be at home here with a refreshed take on the Pocket Planes formula when it releases on September 26th.
This is another simulation game, very similar to Pocket Planes in that players must tote cargo around the world. But instead of flying around, they travel along rail lines. Players start on one continent and must earn money by delivering cargo to various destinations, building new rail lines to more cities, trying to become the head honcho among the world’s railroad tycoons. Oh, and there’s a giant underwater rail that goes from Europe to the United States in the Nimbleverse, apparently.
The game has become somewhat simplified versus Pocket Planes in two key ways: one, because trains only travel on rails, the trains can only travel on paths, and only the rails that they have claimed, so a particularly-colored track can only travel on those colored tracks. It makes managing where everything needs to go much simpler. Secondly, there’s no negative costs incurred through travel anymore, though trains do break down and need repairing with coins or parts from time to time.
New train acquisition has been changed as well, with new parts collected through crates that need to be opened by spending bux. The crates contain random parts, with rarer special crates providing rarer parts. This is the kind of system that some developers could make incredibly IAP-driven, but bux and crates appear commonly enough while playing that they actually feel like a part of the game rather than just a monetization tool.
The bitizens don’t play as much of a role in Pocket Trains: they’re mostly just set dressing, and there’s no customization of the conductors, yet. Still, they provide a flavor that makes the game feel quite familiar. As well, there’s plenty of goofy-looking cargo: why not transport giant platforms of balloons or a giant cola bottle?
But overall, it will be interesting to see how well the simplified take on Pocket Planes goes over: it does feel a bit less stressful while still having some strategy in how rail lines should be laid out. The world will see when the game releases on September 26th.
BitMonster, the creators of last year’s Lili, have a brand new game called Gunner Zthat they’ve just soft launched in Canada and three other countries. As such, I scarfed some poutine and readied myself to take down some zombies.
This is an on-rails shooter where players control a gunner who must take out waves of zombies and the occasional human zombie sympathizer driving weaponized vehicles. Why humans are sympathizing with the zombies is unexplained, but it’s rather progressive!
Visually, and in gameplay, there’s a large debt owed to Zombie Gunship and to a lesser extent, Razor: Salvation. The truck players fire from moves periodically between waves with occasional targets to hit while moving, but the majority of the game is fending off zombies from a static position; with the only movement coming from the ability to raise or lower the height of the gunner to get a better angle on the enemies. Lower heights make it easier to get headshots, but higher heights give splash damage weapons like rockets an aiming advantage.
The gunplay is important: the rockets are powerful but limited, and the standard gun has unlimited ammo but is generally only suitable for taking out single enemies at a time. Of course, there’s upgraded guns and rockets to take advantage of, too, along with different color schemes for the trucks. But considering everything’s seen through a monochromatic color scheme, it’s the ultimate cosmetic enhancement.
There’s a good chance that Gunner Z doesn’t see the light of day worldwide for a while. According to BitMonster’s announcement post, they’re not even sure if the game will be free, and they have a lot of tweaking to do with difficulty balance, in-game currency and how it’s handed out, and even how much content is in the game. This may be a longer testing session than some other soft launches, more akin to The Drowning’s several-month test than a server stress test like what Madden NFL 25 wound up doing. This should be an interesting game to follow.
Here we are, on the cusp of iOS 7’s official release. No, the early beta doesn’t count. Now that Apple’s latest mobile OS is almost upon us, the senior staff at 148Apps decided it was a good time to discuss what we’ve been looking forward to the most. With a little speculative wishful-thinking thrown in for good measure, of course.
Jen Allen is most interested in the new Multitasking feature. The ease with which we’ll all be able to close out apps is certainly welcome, but it’s the intelligent tracking that she’s really excited about. “[the fact that] it knows when I use apps most frequently will be great,” she says, “as I’m a creature of habit.”
For the unfamiliar, that means iOS 7 will anticipate when you prefer to use your apps and can update them before you even open them. Like to check Twitter every evening at around the same time? Load it up and your feed will already be up-to-date.
It’s the Control Center that’s been on Carter Dotson’s mind the most. “I love the quick settings panel. It’s long overdue!” he says, “Especially since turning Bluetooth off and on is such a hassle on iOS.”
Imagine being able to access all the simple but incredibly useful features you usually have to dig through menus to find. Well, that’s what the new Control Center in iOS 7 does. By swiping up from any screen – Any screen. Even the lock screen – users can turn Airplane mode on or off, fiddle with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, lock the screen’s orientation, access the flashlight, camera, and more. They totally had me at Airplane mode.
My own (Rob Rich) interests are fairly in-line with Jen’s and Carter’s. I’m super-excited about Control Center, and while I’m not quite as psyched for Multitasking I can certainly imagine how useful it will be. I’m also really looking forward to the Safari update, which will hide most of the extraneous interface elements until they’re needed. I’m also looking forward to the swipe navigation and the smoother Reading List browsing. Heck, even the consolidated tab view has me excited (I’m a tab browser by nature). I only hope they finally increase the tab limit for the iPhone.
Pretty much all of us are looking forward to the improvements to Find My Phone as well. And hoping we never have to use them! Still, giving users the ability to create a custom message that will display on the lock screen, even after a remote erase, brings some peace of mind. As does being able to reactivate the phone so easily (input your Apple ID and password and you’re done) if it’s returned or found. Generally being unable to do *anything* to the phone without the use of your Apple ID and password is nice, really.
I also very much like the idea behind AirDrop. We snap a lot of cat photos at home and being able to share them so easily will be a major boon. Now nothing will stop me from bombarding my wife with adorable kitties while she’s at work! Now I just need Maps to be relevant again and I’ll be all set.
We’ve saved the best for last, though. And because this list is alphabetical by last name. So, what is Jeff Scott’s most anticipated iOS 7 feature? “iOS 8.”
Nah, just kidding. He’s looking forward to the Control Center as much as the rest of us. Also “some parts of the refreshed design, game controllers, and increased security through the iCloud required login when wiping a device.”
And what is he hoping against hope for? Lots of stuff. “I want the AMOLED screen that only lights up needed pixels,” he says, “I want the 44MP camera on the Nokia 1040, multi-user stuff, greater customization options, and widgets. I want developers to be able to trick out a few, simple things, like notifications. I want iCloud to be the end-all cloud service for all of my digital needs, and the iCloud price needs to drop through the floor. But we already know none of that is coming.”
So tell us, what are you all most looking forward to? Is there anything you aren’t sure of that you’d like to see make it into iOS 7? Anything you’d prefer to see left out? Chime in below and tell us your thoughts!
War game fans love tanks. So for the Russian game publisher and developer Game Insight, it seems only appropriate that their next title be a game all about tanks. And with their current focus on mid-core games, Tank Domination should be a perfect fit for the studio when it releases later this year.
Demoed on iPad 4 tablets, I got a chance to take part in several online multiplayer battles with other members of the media, Game Insight’s US staff, and some of the devs – a look at the webcam pointed at them showed them to be focused and determined on the matches at hand.
Tank Domination is a 10-on-10 tank battling game. While Game Insight does focus on free-to-play titles, there’s actual gameplay, not just hands-off simulation! Players drive a tank of their choosing around an open war zone, taking place in a dystopic near future that hopefully won’t come to pass, where mercenaries settle their differences with tanks. Actually, that sounds pretty cool.
Matches are divided into two teams on opposite corners of the map. Each team must try to either take out the other team in its entirety, or to conquer their base, at least in the matches I took part in. There are four types of tanks: light, medium, heavy, and artillery. The lighter the tank, the faster it moves, but the less punishment it can take. The artillery can shoot at enemy tanks that are visible on radar, making the light tanks valuable for scouting out enemies for the heavy hitters to take on. There’s text chatting supported, but the ability to partner up with friends could help out with the cooperative elements. Plus, playing with other people and laughing at them when they’re destroyed is fun.
The game is classified as “mid-core,” bridging the gap between the kinds of free-to-play casual games that have a wide appeal, to the kinds of traditional core games that can be inaccessible to new audiences. The controls are basic, with a single virtual stick to move (and auto-forward option) and a virtual joystick to aim the turret. While figuring out how the tank movement works may take some time, to dive in to it is pretty simple and finding games is clearly meant to be easy. This will help with finding online matches as well – the more seamless, the more populous the multiplayer. The free-to-play monetization aspects come in with currency and credits being earned to buy more shells with different stats, new tanks, and combat enhancements. How free will the game be? That remains to be seen, particularly since the game is clearly still being localized – lots of Russian text remained in the game when I tried it out!
Still, considering that Game Insight is experimenting with a game that features actual, tactical online multiplayer, it’s the kind of advancement in the free-to-play business model that I want to see. There’s no reason why the free-to-play model, which is here to stay, has to exclude the kinds of experiences that satisfy core gamers. Tank Domination, with plenty of tank deathmatches, should definitely be just that.
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.
Halfbrick’s first published title is Band Stars by Six Foot Kid, a free-to-play band manager that shows some promise, or at worst the ability to be amused by random name generators. First seen back at GDC, it’s available right now in Australia, the native country of both developers. I take it for a spin in this installment of It Came From Canada Australia!
The first step to creating a great band is to get a cool-looking band with an awesome name – with nary any great ideas coming to my head, I hit the random name generator a few times, and it came up with “The Black” – simple, succinct, and totally metal. Let’s do this. The goal is to make the band rich and famous by coming up with popular songs, training the band to be better at what they do, and hiring new people to replace the terrible old ones.
Songs are created by assigning band members of different stats to different tasks – imagine the job rankings from Tiny Tower playing a more active role. The band members of Band Stars are multitalented in a way that actual pop stars are often not, being singers, songwriters, multi-instrumentalists, and even willing and able to mix their own tracks. That they even need a manager is kind of a surprise.
Also surprising is that their only real bad habit seems to be energy drinks. Every action undertaken with a band member drains a bar of energy, which can be refilled by letting them rest on furniture or instantly replenished with energy drinks. At least the energy system makes sense as a limiting mechanic here in that a character is actually doing something in-game, rather than it being an arbitrarily-defined limit.
There’s plenty of things to spend the two currencies on. Coins are spent on permanent things like hiring new band members, buying items, and training sessions. Inspirado is used during solos to help raise certain point values on the songs as they’re being created.
How interesting this is long-term and if the monetization gets annoying are still to be seen over time as the game nears worldwide release. Until then, check out footage below of the early days of my band, The Black:
Zynga’s back with another game in their series of -Ville titles. This time, it’s all about building a magical kingdom in CastleVille Legends, currently available in Canada and Australia. I take it for a run in this episode of It Came From Canada!
There’s plenty of the initial hand-holding that many of these building games are prone to have: it starts off by showing everything that’s possible, and giving helpful hints as to what exactly the premium currency, crowns, can be spent on. Because of course that’s necessary. Items that serve as resources can be farmed and used to craft new items which can be sold for gold coins, which help make the castle’s land bigger, which necessitates more gold and more resource farming, and so on ad infinitum. The timers are thankfully short early on, though it’s hard to imagine them staying that way – these games depend on lengthy timers!
Heroes play a key role: they can be sent off on ‘quests’, which means “their avatar disappears for a period of time, after which the player gets a reward.” It’s not a very creative system – signs that anything beyond the idea of questing are not exactly present.
While the game’s mechanics tick off a lot of the “free-to-play gaming by numbers” that many titles have, at least Zynga is focusing on production values here: the art is highly-detailed and everything is well-animated, so it’s one of the nicer-looking experiences of the sort.
The game is currently in testing in Canada and Australia, and it’s likely that its monetization in particular is being put to the test – will this game make any money over time? It’ll be up to how Canadians, Australians, and those pretending to be from there decide it to be. Get a taste of the game now with our video footage.
It was an exceptionally busy time at Gamescom last week for all involved. One such publisher was particularly busy with news and more about three major titles coming iOS’s way courtesy of Chillingo’s fair hand. We take a look at what we know about each one so far.
OK, let’s start with a big one. John Woo, yes, the John Woo of “Hard Boiled” and “Face/Off” has delved into iOS gaming. Console gamers will have already experienced the good but not quite great grandeur of Strangehold and, well, Bloodstroke seems to be following a similar path story wise.
Players control Phalanx’s Elite private security agent Mai Lee as she shoots and slices mostly everything that gets in her way on the streets of Hong Kong and Beijing. With a particularly distinctive visual style, a series of comic book panels penned by Woo himself are set to explain all, amongst the rather blood-thirsty gameplay. Its screenshots are certainly looking quite memorable.
Bloodstroke is set for release later this year.
Find The Line
Remarkably different to Bloodstroke, Find The Line is a much more cerebral affair. Players must arrange lines in a specific order so that they can discover hidden images throughout each stage. It’s not quite as simple as it sounds given that one will have to examine things carefully for any useful clues, but it’s almost certainly going to be very easy to come to grips with.
With neon-style graphics and a very minimalist tone, Find The Line already looks quite memorable. Much like Bloodstroke, it’s set for release later this year.
Feed Me Oil 2
Everyone loves a good sequel, right? Good, because Feed Me Oil 2 is set to build on the success of its predecessor and provide even more entertaining physics-based puzzling.
As before, players must guide gallons of oil towards the oil-gulping monsters. New to this title, though, come underwater puzzles which promise to mix things up suitably well, plus there are new tools such as windmills and boomerangs.
Set for release this Fall, I have a sneaking suspicion that Feed Me Oil 2 will be quite the hit.
We’ll be sure to keep you up to date on each game’s progress. For now, soak up the plethora of cool screenshots below, desperate to tantalize those gaming tastebuds.
After taking a year to experiment with Madden NFL Social, and then pulling it from the App Store never to be seen again, EA Mobile has decided to try again with taking Madden and making it into a free-to-play turducken. Madden NFL 25 is not the 2025 version of Madden, but is instead named in honor of the series’ 25th anniversary (and quite possibly a way to make next year’s version Madden NFL 14 without anyone being the wiser).
This entry in the preeminent series of American football isn’t actually available in America – well, the United States at least – as EA has decided to test the game in Canada first. This is despite Canada playing a weird game of football with only three downs, longer fields, and something called a rouge. This is American football, exclusive to Canada, making this one strange set of circumstances for an episode of “It Came From Canada.”
The opening tutorial reveals that with the touch controls, this is a much simpler game than the full console versions. But all the important functions are there, all done with gestures. Teams can be built and improved upon through card packs, which can add players from other teams to one’s own team. Yes, it would be possible to get Aaron Rodgers on the Bears, sacrilegious though it may be. There’s the ability to play just standard games, but the bulk of the game seems to be set in challenges and missions, with an energy system to boot.
There’s an asynchronous multiplayer mode where it’s possible to take on someone else’s team, but they’re not actually playing defense; it’s just taking turns playing offense against a computer-controlled defense. The personal element comes in taking on their customized team lineups.
It’s likely that this is as much a test of server load more than it is with monetization as many limited-local releases tend to be, so with the console versions of Madden NFL 25 releasing on the 27th, it’s quite possible that this will be available worldwide on or around then. Until then, enjoy our hands-on footage of the Canadian version of the game.
One thing is for sure, the big iOS 7 reveal is going to cause some friction. Users are going to love or hate the new look. It’s very different, very different indeed.
Every single pixel of iOS7 has changed. It’s the flat design that we have been hearing so much of, but with lots of points of flair thrown in too. It could be described as all of these: bright, square, flat, layered, colorful. It seems to borrow inspiration from Windows Phone, with Sir Jonathan Ive’s take on what it should have been. If you haven’t seen it already, here’s an example of what the flat design of iOS 7 looks like:
iOS 7 has included many of the features people have been clamoring for while ignoring a few others. Apple, as always, needs to innovate without compromise. This means add features without compromising the user experience. Not just the experience of the expert users, but of all users. Everyone should be able to use iOS without confusion. Here are a few of the key updates:
The new look of iOS simplifies and removes what is known as skeuomorphism, or making digital things look like real live items. Think the leather in calendar or the felt in Game Center. The flat design simplifies will helping users get the info they need. During the presentation, Craig Federighi repeatedly noted the lack of wood, felt, and stitching in the new iOS. He is obviously not a fan of the old look. Apple has much more on the new design of iOS 7 in their iOS 7 Design page.
iOS 7 includes some much needed features like quick access to radio on/off buttons, multiple page folders, and new gestures to make navigation faster. It also includes an updated multitasking tray that shows what apps are open along with what the current screen looks like for that app.
Air Drop is the feature in iOS that allows sharing between multiple iOS and OS X devices. It allows quick and easy sharing of items like images, movies, etc. Pulling up the share sheet will show a new option for Air Drop that allows you to pick from users nearby to share the item with.
iCloud updates were a necessary item to check off the list for iOS 7, and Apple did some good updates to iCloud features this time around. For one thing, iOS will securely share your keychain (passwords, credit card info, etc.) between your devices including OS X devices. This will hopefully lead to users with stronger passwords as the need to remember this is no longer needed.
iCloud Photostreams now allow sharing of videos as well as allowing multiple users to add items to a Photostream (finally!).
A few months ago we posted a (decidedly pretentious) open letter to Apple about theft. While I don’t think our letter was the reason that Apple finally did something about the issue of stollen iOS devices, it would be awesome to think it did.
Under iOS 7, Apple iOS devices will now require the iCloud user login to activate a wiped device once it has been activated with that account. This means that if a thief tries to wipe the phone, or if a user wipes a phone due to it being lost, before it can be re-activated, whomever has it MUST login with the original iCloud login, or it won’t activate. Fantastic, thanks Apple!
App Store updates were minimal, but of obvious interest for readers of this site, so we’ll include them here. The only real new feature mentioned, besides the new iOS7 look, is a new Apps Near Me feature. This feature shows the apps that are popular near the current location.
Another feature that will be interesting to see how it’s implemented is age-appropriate apps. The Kids section now has a curated age-range section for apps for kids of a certain age.
In addition, iOS 7 will automatically update the apps, when updates are available, if the user wishes.
One big feature, an no other real mention of gaming at the keynote, in spite of this being E3 week.
We heard rumors at GDC that Apple was asking developers about their interest in game controllers. Now we know what has come of that. iOS 7 will have support for Game Controllers that are specifically made for iPhone/iOS. It will be interesting to see what this really means now that it’s been made official. We’ve already seen the (now dead) Gameloft Controller that was officially supported by iOS.
Multitasking for All
Apple has updated the multitasking for apps to include all apps, with some restrictions. This multitasking allows the app to update in the background, but not run constantly. Which would, of course, ruin battery life. But iOS 7 should allow intelligent multitasking to let apps update at certain intervals and when the timing is right like when the phone has a good signal. It is also designed to group the updates — so when the power consumption spikes for the background updates, multiple can be done at once to keep the battery impact to a minimum.
Apple really needed to deliver the updates for iOS 7. While we don’t know all of the details yet – like what SDK changes have been made, we do know that the interface has been greatly improved. We’ll have more in the coming days and can expect more new features to surface.
iOS 7 will be compatible with iPhone 4 and later, iPod Touch 5th gen and later, and iPad 2, iPad mini and later.
All in all, I think it’s a significant update, well done, thoughtful, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. It will be out in the fall for iPhone, iPads, and iPod touches.
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.