Ahead of the release of ZeptoLab’s King of Thieves, we were able to ask ZeptoLab’s co-founder, Semyon Voinov, a few questions about the inspiration behind the game and what that means for the Cut the Rope franchise.
148Apps: What was the inspiration behind combining so many familiar genres into one package? Semyon Voinov (SV): The initial idea was brought up by one of our team members. We created a quick prototype, and suddenly many people around the office were eagerly competing with each other, building their defenses and breaking into the opponent’s dungeons. There was plenty of laughter and cursing in the process – and we immediately realized that the game had the most important component for success: it drives emotion!
You can find plenty of games in the App Store with the strategic “attack and defend” gameplay (including the famous Clash of Clans), but our game is vastly different because of the arcade skills-based experience at its core. It’s something we haven’t seen in any other games and while building King of Thieves, we discovered why: it’s a very challenging type of game to build. It took two years of time, dedication, and extensive testing to create a balanced and highly enjoyable game. Continue reading King of Thieves – An Interview With ZeptoLab’s Co-Founder Semyon Voinov »
Indie games development can be tough, especially when you’ve got a good idea for something but you’re not quite sure what way to take it. Having heard about Booya Squad, a Wisconsin-based team keen to turn their childhood comics into a mobile card battler, we wanted to learn more about their journey.
Booya Squad is a joint effort between Mike Bloom and his brother-in-law, John. They’re currently working on a social card game called Mario Italiano Four Families, but the story starts much earlier than that. Based on a comic book world they created over ten years ago, it’s been a long time coming. In that time, they’ve had to juggle big moves across country, raising a family, job changes, health issues, and many more challenges. The team’s blog explains the full story, such as how Mike skipped on a regular sleep pattern in order to get work done, but we also had a chat with him to learn the pertinent details behind everything.
148Apps: How much have various free internet resources helped you in your quest to go into game development? What would you recommend to other aspiring developers? Mike Bloom (MB): We used the internet to learn how to do everything we needed to know. When we started, we were very naïve to the amount of knowledge and skills we would need to complete the game. So as we progressed through the project we often came upon an obstacle where we needed to learn or come up with something. So we would Google it or search for it on YouTube. We were constantly amazed that if we dug deep enough into these sources, we would always find exactly what we needed. The trick is to use different search phrases. We did this for everything from balancing stats, building a clean UI, all the way to marketing methods.
The idea here is to not be scared to start down the development path because you don’t know how to do everything you will need to do, or better yet you don’t even know what is all needed. Since we went in half blind, we just found the answers when we needed them, and that was actually fun. It was like, oh we have to do that? Well, I’ll do that one, learn the skill and put it to use right away. Continue reading Booya Squad and the Long But Satisfying Path of Indie Development »
One of the more exciting gaming developments that has come about thanks to the rise of tablets and the iPad in particular is the resurgence of the adventure game. Touchscreen gaming lends itself perfectly to this kind of experience, and various indie developers are embracing its potential.
One such development studio is that of Belfast-based Billy Goat Entertainment. The studio is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming title, Her Majesty’s Spiffing, which is a quirky space-based adventure. While the campaign is focused on rewarding PC owning pledgers, there are plans for an iOS release. We took the time to learn more from founder, William Barr.
148Apps: How did Billy Goat Entertainment come about? And why the quirky name? William Barr (WB): The company came about out of necessity seeing as I carelessly decided to leave a job I wasn’t fond of (despite the meagre yet reliable monthly paychecks) and no one else would hire me! As for the name, I’m very much a child of the 90s, a time when every company needed to have some form of anthropomorphic cartoon animal mascot. I’m also incredibly conceited – Billy is of course a common abbreviation of William. These two factors contributed to the choice of name and the fact that we have a Cashmere Goat as our mascot! Continue reading The Challenges of Kickstarting a Project and why Her Majesty’s Spiffing should be Hilarious »
iBooks and the Kindle app do a great job of ensuring that there’s always something new to read while you’re on the move. They work well in complementing the traditional physical book. There’s still room for more interactive and animated fare though, such as in the case of Black Jack – an app that declares itself the “World’s First Moving Novel.” Released in episodic chunks of new chapters every Monday and Friday, it’s an interesting new direction to take for the medium. We took the time to chat to its Emmy-winning author, A.R. Witham, to learn more.
148Apps: Why not release the book at once rather than chapter by chapter? A.R. Witham (ARW): It’s an old-school method of building suspense; Charles Dickens released A Christmas Carol in installments, and I thought that was an interesting way to tell a story that isn’t done much in the 21st century. Black Jack has a very vintage feel to the texture of the pages and animations… a vintage release schedule felt perfect for the story.
148Apps: What’s the reaction to the episodic content been like? Has it been as warmly received as hoped? ARW: The response has been amazing. People love Jack, but for me, their enthusiastic reaction to the side-characters has been the most unexpected surprise. People love Django and Fuji and Valerian and the villains far more than I expected. I’ve gotten drawings of characters from fans, and that kind of reaction is something I really never anticipated.
148Apps: What challenges have there been in converting the novel to a more interactive format? Has it affected how the novel has been written at all? ARW: There were 3 Big Rules to building the Black Jack app: 1) The story had to be good enough to pack a whollop without the animations and effects. 2) None of the animations could interfere with the text; if they didn’t help the readers immerse themselves in the storytelling, they were cut. 3) The book had to feel completely unlike any reading experience anyone has ever had. Once I established those guidelines, it became a great puzzle to solve.
148Apps: Do you think this is the future for novels? Or is there still a place for the traditional format? ARW: I pray traditional novels never die. We all have loved them too much to let them go away. If paper-and-binding is on the decline in favor of screen-reading, I’m okay with that, but a pure tale constructed only with words is the foundation of storytelling; it will always exist, even if it’s just an old man sitting at a campfire telling ghost stories. Digital formats such as the iPad offer a playground for artists to explore the edges of the map and that’s what we are doing with Black Jack. Once you read the first two chapters, you begin to realize there are incredible moments waiting for you. Nobody’s done a book like this before – that’s the fun part.
148Apps: Do you think it’s a method that would work for all genres or does it particularly lend itself to fantasy/sci-fi? ARW: Oh, I could see Divergent, Hunger Games, Neil Gaiman, or Harry Potter working very well with the Moving Novel format, but I think also think Raymond Chandler’s detective thrillers, Cormac McCarthy’s Southern Gothic style or Stephen King’s horror stories could all be a fun ride with a little emotional push at the right moments.
148apps: What’s next after Black Jack?
ARW: By day, I’m a Creative Director, and currently working on launching the brand-new CBS affiliate in Indianapolis in 2015, so that may take a bit of time. For Black Jack, I’m working with the next story in the series, tentatively titled “Red Rover.” And at night, I’m just reading new stories. It’s always fun to find something new.
Thanks to A.R. Witham for taking the time to answer our questions.
Black Jack: A Moving Novel is available now on the App Store for the iPad. It’s currently priced at $5.99 for the full novel, with the first two chapters available for free.
Out October 2 is Spirits of Spring, an adventure game that features an anti-bullying, pro-friendship message, and there’s a very important reason why you should be excited. It’s from Minority Media, the makers of Papo & Yo, a great game that focused on the tale of a young Brazilian boy and his abusive, alcoholic father. It’s touching and powerfully done, demonstrating how games can tackle some very serious issues. Spirits of Spring looks set to offer a similar experience, this time focusing on Chiwatin, a Native American hero from northern Canada. The boy is tormented by evil giant crows, until he decides to face them in order to restore the balance of nature.
With Spirits of Spring set to be released on the App Store very soon, we took the time to talk to creative director Ruben Farrus to learn more.
148Apps: What was the inspiration behind making Spirits of Spring? Ruben Farrus (RF): I see video games as a great way to express ourselves and to maturely explore complex human situations within a safe environment. Having experienced bullying as a teenager, and having discussed it with my colleagues at Minority, I realized that many of them went through it as well. And like me, many of them had to deal with dismissal when they first tried to discuss it as teenagers.
So, I started imagining an engaging story based on our experiences with bullying. While I was looking for the right setting for this new game, Ernest Webb, a co-founder at Minority, told me some tales from his hometown, located in the Canadian North. Ernest is a Native Cree, and the legends he shared with me involve these profound characters that live in a snowy world. Soon, I realized that these characters and the challenging environment they survive in would make great metaphors for this story.
So, it’s these elements – interesting characters, a fascinating wintery landscape, and bullying – that became the core of Spirits of Spring.
148Apps: The game is said to not be too preachy or overt about its message. How hard was it to maintain that subtlety? RF: From the beginning, I wanted to create a world and characters that players care about and empathize with. From my experience with our previous empathy game, Papo & Yo, I knew that if we can make players feel emotionally invested in the story and its characters, they can find meaning and value in it for themselves.
Bullying is a complex phenomenon – it’s not black and white – and we are not experts in the subject. So, what matters to us is to offer an experience that can help players of all ages explore bullying from several perspectives – the bully’s, the bullied’s, and the bystander’s – so that they can come out of it feeling more capable of discussing it openly.
148Apps: Do you think indie studios are best equipped for dealing with empathetic games and subjects, or do you think such themes could spread to AAA games? RF: In my experience, it is easier to discuss and explore difficult subjects in a small and open-minded team than it is in a large one. As a result, it is also easier to organize a small group around a common vision, because there are less competing interests.
So, when we come up with a story, we are in a good position to design mechanics that help players empathize with the characters in our games. Many larger developers still work the other way around: creating the mechanics first, then dressing them up in a story, making those games mostly about skill and technical difficulty, with characters that are often disposable.
148Apps: Having looked at addiction with Papo & Yo, and now bullying with Spirits of Spring, what difficult subject do you hope to tackle next? RF: We are currently experimenting with ways to apply our empathy game design model to virtual reality experiences. We will have more news on that down the line.
Thanks to Ruben for taking the time to answer our questions. Spirits of Spring is set for release October 2 and will be priced at $4.99. We’ll be sure to have more on it when it’s out.
How do you make an Endless Running game more than just another Endless Running game? By adding real life prizes to it, of course! That’s the thinking behind StupidFast: a game designed for football enthusiasts, and the brainchild of former college football star and current NFL free agent, Taylor Martinez. It all came about due to his career path changing quite drastically and suddenly.
“This past season was my senior season. I tore a ligament in my foot and separated my shoulder – both in the first game. I ended up not finishing the season as Quarterback. After the season, I entered into the NFL draft. I did my pro day at Nebraska and waited for draft day,” explained Martinez, “I ended up going to the Philadelphia Eagles. I went down there and they took a MRI and X-Ray on both [injuries]. They said that they weren’t going to take me any more. My dream was crushed and I didn’t know what to do. I decided to make a football app, and this is what I came up with.“
“I [have] been building apps for four years now,” he elaborated, “I love doing it and have a lot of passion doing it… Stupidfast is different than any other app because it allows users to earn rewards and prizes. This concept is the first of its kind and would allow users to compete and earn rewards.”
Taylor’s lined up some fairly big companies too, with the likes of Sol Republic, HobbyTown, Cutter Gloves, Shock Doctor Mouth Piece, and Black Fly sunglasses all currently on board. Martinez also explained how there will be different console games you can win along with other prizes, including a “GoPro Raffle for every time you share a Kamcord.”
Kamcord support should prove quite a hit with StupidFast too, given its fast-paced nature. Players tap as fast as they can to try to run away from the safety, as well as jump over pillars. A stiff arm can also be employed to break the pillars, ensuring there’s plenty to do.
Martinez explained that, “prizes will be won based on your daily high score, best high score, the achievements [via] Game Center, and playing the football game. Inside the game, if you land on a certain number, you will win that prize.”
Achievements are varied, with awards for getting tackled by the safety and knocking your helmet off, falling on your butt when you hit a pylon, falling on your face hitting a pylon, collecting stiff arms, and passing 50 and 150 points in game.
“Every time you break your daily high score you will have a chance to enter into a raffle,” Martinez went on to explain, “Inside the main menu you can click Earn Rewards, and see what prizes you can win that day and what raffles you can enter into.”
Thanks to Taylor Martinez for taking the time to answer our questions. StupidFast is set to be a freemium game with in-app purchases available for more stiff arms, lives, and ad-removal. It’s set for release September 7. We’ll be sure to let you know when it’s out.
We all take plenty of photos, right? That’s the joy of having a reasonably powerful camera in your pocket, thanks to your trusty iPhone and a bevy of similarly useful apps. Wouldn’t it be great to make some money out of those snaps? While your selfies might not garner much attention, there’s sure to be some great shots that will appeal to someone keen to purchase the rights. That’s the thinking behind PicsaStock, an app that allows you to sell your photos to professional creatives around the world.
Proving to be remarkably simple to do, you can connect your account to the likes of Instagram, 500px, Flickr, and Dropbox, thereby sharing individual photos with the community in the hope of selling them elsewhere. We had a word with head of Mobile Marketing & Press, Lars Poeck, to learn more.
148Apps: Where did the inspiration for PicsaStock come from? Lars Poeck (LP): Before PicsaStock.com we founded YourPainting.de. This is a global gift franchising for customized photo paintings. During this process, we realized the complicated licensing process for photography. We also learned about a huge demand for authentic pictures – by agencies, bloggers, websites and even big brands. But these photos are hard to get. This is a strange situation. We all “produce” pictures like this everyday – everywhere. Each smartphone comes a high-tech-camera – right in your pocket. You are able to do even night shots or long exposure pictures with some photo apps.
So we invented PicsaStock.com as a marketplace and community for authentic photography. Sure, we keep an eye on good quality content. But as you [can] see on platforms like VSCO Cam, 500px, Instagram, or Flickr: there are millions of brilliant photographers out there that do even more than selfies or cat pictures. Some don’t have the slightest idea that they can earn money with their photography. We give them 50% of the sale price. So we invite them all to sell their photography. Our app also comes with features like a nice gallery mode [and] a special color search technology, so you can skip through your own gallery and discover brilliant pictures by other photographers with the app.
148Apps: How many people are currently using the service? LP: We are a very young company. [Note: The company was founded in February 2013, with the site launching in September 2013 and the iOS app following in February 2014] At the moment we have around 25,000 users and photographers on our platform. Some upload hundreds of pictures, some just want to give it a try and upload a few pictures. But it’s amazing to see this growing every day. In our company, we all have a passion for photography. So every morning when we arrive it’s amazing to skip through the new pictures that people from all over the world uploaded on our server.
148Apps: How many photos have been purchased since the site was launched? LP: At the moment we don’t release these numbers. But before I started at PicsaStock, I tested the service by myself and sold 10 pictures with the app. At the moment, we have 1 million approved and curated pictures and photos. Every day we get thousands of new ones. Sure, we can’t accept all of the pictures in terms of keeping up the quality standard. But it’s amazing how many people out there really know how to take a good picture – not only with their smartphones. As a tip for new users: The better you tag and name your pictures, the easier it is for others to find them.
148Apps: How is the service currently funded? LP: As we launched in September 2013, we were supported by an investment from Slamdunk Capital and other early stage angel investors. Now we [have] some more business angels on board.
148apps: Are there any plans for an iPad app for the service? LP: I love the iPad and the tablet size for displaying photography. You can use our app on iPad but it’s not optimized yet for the tablet. We’ve just launched our Android app and plan some feature updates for the current iPhone app. But sure, tablet apps are something we are discussing more and more often.
Thanks to Lars for taking the time to answer our questions. The PicsaStock app is available now from the App Store.
At the time Kurt Bieg, CEO of Simple Machine, explained their reasoning in doing so: “we believe ownership is becoming obsolete, this is our way of inspiring young and old people to read, learn, and ultimately manipulate code that came from a studio known for taking chances and innovating puzzle games.”
A few weeks into making LEX open-source, and given the rarity of this occurring, we thought we’d take the time to follow up with Kurt and see how things have progressed.
One such outcome was this:
Simple Machine’s ‘dream outcome’ according to Kurt, with coder Bill Kendrick having played LEX then used the source code to create a variant for the 8-bit Atari system.
“We don’t have any quantifiable numbers on how many people read it or anything, but this made it real for us. The first point to point cause and effect. Now we just have to buy an Atari for the office so we can play it,” explained Kurt.
Enlightening us on their motivations, Kurt told us about Chupamobile: a site where you can buy game code, press publish, and effectively make money with little effort.
“I was horrified at first, then I showed some of the team, and one person, Anne Peng, our community manager at the time who has since moved on, actually thought it was a good thing. Insta-curious.
Kurt went on to compare the situation to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. “We are moving towards an ownerless society, and the current “clone craze” in games is a path where the lines between who owns what are visibly blurring. What you have is an amazing new way for games to be distributed, where the code is available for everyone to read and learn from. Not everyone has the best intentions, that’s for sure, but we feel like it’s very parallel to the Napster/Metallica issues of early 2000s. Here we have a band that grew to popularity by people copying their songs on blank tapes off the radio, only to sue their fans for the very same behavior a couple decades later. In my view, we’ve been moving towards this sharable culture for quite some time, only now do we have the technology where it has become mainstream.”
One significant issue, however, is the financial aspect of open sourcing. How is Simple Machine planning to stay financially solvent if their code is available to everyone?
Kurt explained, “The answer is, we don’t have an answer yet. We believe that Simple Machine is about being a window to new ideas. With each game we try innovate in some unexplored area, like The Outcast for instance. Open source has huge benefits for everyone involved. I can’t say that we’ve seen any profit lost from doing it. I can say that our hearts are warm after seeing some one interpret LEX and demake it for Atari. You could maybe draw a line and say that open sourcing has connected us directly to more fans and that our reputation has grown in a new direction.
“Overall, we’re happy some people are finding inspiration from our code and that it makes the overall developer/customer experience more than just a money transaction. It’s a bit more of a two way street, and that’s our ultimate goal.”
It’s certainly ambitious and ultimately very positive and selfless of the folks at Simple Machine. It’ll be fascinating to see how things turn out in the long term for them and, of course, we’ll be keeping an eye on their progress and future titles.
Thanks to Kurt Bieg for taking the time to answer our questions. LEX is available now from the App Store, priced at $0.99.
We’re big fans of inkle’s work here at 148apps, even if the lower case “i” does make my Grammar Hat twitch uncomfortably. So, the news of a new project coming from the studio was bound to get us excited. That project is 80 Days, an ambitious narrative-focused game inspired by the work of Jules Verne that utilizes a fairly cool steampunk theme.
Players take the role of Passepartout as he helps (and suffers) Phileas Fogg on their epic journey around the world in 80 days. Set for release this Summer, 80 Days promises plenty of different paths to success with many decisions to take, much like in the Sorcery! series of games. Perhaps most interesting of all, there’ll be a networked live feed ensuring that players can keep track of what’s going on with other players, all in real time.
Fascinated by the general premise, I was able to discuss the game with inkle’s Jon Ingold and Joe Humfrey, as well as the game’s writer, Meg Jayanth, to learn more.
148Apps: What’s the story behind Grammar Girl? What made you decide to embrace that title? Mignon Fogarty (MF): When I was a science editor, I saw my clients making the same mistakes over and over again – little things, such as using “a” when they should use “an” or misusing commas. Podcasting was new at the time, and I decided to also do a quick, simpler writing show because I saw that there were so many people who needed writing help.
Much to my surprise, the Grammar Girl podcast took off right away and essentially took over my life. I worked like crazy for about six months trying to do both Grammar Girl and the science writing and editing, since that work paid my bills, and when I finally got my book deal with Macmillan and we formed the partnership to grow the Quick and Dirty Tips network, I was able to switch to Grammar Girl full time.
The name Grammar Girl just popped into my head and I knew it was perfect right away. I believe it works because of the alliteration and because “girl” is a nonthreatening word. People have a lot of anxiety about their writing, and a lot of the grammar advice out there is delivered in a high-brow or condescending way. Being Grammar Girl sends the message that I’m friendly and approachable.
148Apps: How did Grammar Pop come about? What was the inspiration for creating a game like this? MF: After finishing my last book, I wanted to do something different. People were playing games on their tablets and phones – I was playing games on my tablet and phone – and it seemed obvious to me that there should be a game in which you match words with their parts of speech. In fact, I was incredulous when I looked for such a game and found that it didn’t exist.
So on a plane on my way to Macmillan for a different meeting, I sketched out the initial idea for how I thought the game might work. They wanted to do it, so we went about investigating ways to make it work. I ended up coding it myself with a tool called Game Salad and working with Margo Goody, an artist at Macmillan.
148Apps: How important do you think it is to make learning fun? MF: Grammar Girl is all about making learning fun!
148Apps: What has the feedback from players been like? MF: I get great feedback from parents and teachers who use Grammar Pop and say it has really helped their kids learn parts of speech. It’s not a chore to get their kids to play it; the kids love it and learn parts of speech without even realizing they’re learning.
148Apps: What’s next for the Grammar Pop series of games? Are there any plans for new installments or updates? MF: We came out with a special Winterfest edition for the holidays, and we’re getting bids right now to expand the game with more levels.
Thanks to Mignon Fogarty for taking the time to answer our questions. To find out more about Grammar Girl, check out the Quick and Dirty Tips website.
While the folks at Mighty Mill explained how they thought going freemium without hassling players would “maximize potential users and only those that would love it would pay something”, they’ve found themselves in an awkward situation. Last week, the developer announced that Tanuki Forest in its free guise had achieved 8.72k downloads but a mere $65.52 before Apple took its cut. With not much chance of being able to survive on such low earnings, the firm took the difficult decision to increase the asking price for the game to $1.99, I chatted more to Jake Gumbleton to see just how they felt about how things have turned out.
148Apps: What do you wish you’d done differently with Tanuki Forest‘s initial release? Jake Gumbleton (JG): If we were doing things over we would research F2P a lot more carefully and had a more informed decision about the relative merits of indie premium vs F2P monetisation. As you (and a few others) pointed out in your review of TF, the game was very unaggressive with its freemium monetisation. It basically never asks you for money and everything in it can very easily be acquired without ever spending actual money. We went free so that we would have no barrier to entry and achieve the largest possible amount of players. We hoped those players who loved the game would buy the currency doubler as a thanks. This behaviour is true of forum users etc. but maybe not so true of the wider, more casual games player.
148Apps: Did you consider adding more intrusive in-app purchases at any point? JG: Not pre-release, no. We really did not want to taint the experience of Tanuki Forest. The game has an immersive, absorbing style and we did not want to harass players to make purchases. After the hard truth of seeing that the game was basically only going to make enough money to buy us lunch we, of course, discussed potential changes and improvements to the in app purchasing.
We would never want to take our games to a very aggressive place with monetization but I do think there is a lot of potential to improve the ‘retention game’ of Tanuki Forest. We have consulted a few F2P experts and have a list of things that we would love to implement in TF that would give the players much more reason to return to the game for more from one play session to the next.
148Apps: Do you think going on sale upon first release would have helped? JG: I think it might have made us slightly more money but not enough to really change our circumstances. The only real potential benefit would have been that the game would have been perceived as more premium than it was? I think the same elephant in the room is still there whichever way a small indie dev chooses to go, free or paid: Getting meaningful amounts of visibility with the App Store players is extremely difficult indeed.
148Apps: Why did you opt for $1.99 rather than $0.99? JG: Two reasons: to give us room to go on sale if we want to at a later date and also, in my reading up of F2P monetisation since release, I have read a few times that at the low end of price points it makes very little difference to the number of purchases that get made. The difference in units bought at $0.99 or 1.99$ is pretty negligible. $0.99 does not have the relevance that it did before the dominance of free games since there are so many free games now.
148Apps: Have things improved financially yet? JG: We are making more money than we were as a free app but still virtually nothing. The big problem now is that Tanuki Forest has dipped in to obscurity just like all apps do after a few weeks on the app store if they don’t go viral. All of our coverage through reviews etc. happened while we were paid. Once an app dips in the charts it submerges in the million other apps and that’s pretty much that!
148Apps: Has there been any kind of backlash? JG: None at all. People have been incredibly supportive. Ultimately, gamers can’t really be angry for being early adopters and getting the game for free. If it was the other way around I can see reasons for people to be annoyed.
148Apps: What do you think you’ve learned for future titles? JG: To push ourselves to have enough originality and content to ensure we can confidently go indie premium up at $5 or so. If Tanuki Forest had been something bigger than a runner we would have just gone the indie premium route straight off the bat. Our next game will be more original and idiosyncratic of us as developers and we will ensure it has enough content to be a real premium indie app like Sword & Sworcery et al.
148Apps: What do you think of the App Store economy? Does it work for developers or is it a consumers’ market? JG: It works just fine if you are Supercell! As a small developer unless you go viral or make a masterpiece then you are in a pretty impossible position. Obviously the guys at the App Store submissions department must face a deluge of content every day. From their point of view I can see why they go for more known quantities. The only games that break the trend and get the features are pretty much the very best games. So my rather obvious advice to indie devs out there is to make sure your game is utter brilliance.
Thanks to Jake Gumbleton for taking the time to answer our questions. Remember folks, if you love playing a free game, sometimes it’s a good move to buy an in-app purchase or two from it. Not all games are so desperate for your money that they’ll push you into it. That doesn’t mean that the developers behind it don’t need to be able to eat!
We at 148Apps can’t help but be fascinated by new developers – particularly new developers who have struck out alone, stepping away from their AAA development days. After all, it’s a big risk so they deserve some attention, right? One of the latest teams to arise from such creative bravery is Mighty Mill: a UK based 2-man and a bit team made up of James Trubridge, director; and Jake Gumbleton, art director; with help from Leavon Archer for sound and music. With plenty of experience under their belts, they’ve just released their first title, Tanuki Forest, so we felt this was the ideal time to learn more. Jake was all too happy to answer our questions.
Jake Gumbleton and James Trubridge.
148Apps: What made you decide to go it alone and set up Mighty Mill? Jake Gumbleton (JG): We launched Mighty Mill Games, after a decade each in the traditional game development world. There are two main driving forces behind this: Firstly is creative freedom. In larger organizations, the chain of approval is often daunting and you see so many great ideas get snipped away, particularly in the very conservative ideology that many big budget games are constrained by due to the money at stake on them. Working in a small team has always been our favorite work environment. It just breeds creativity and allows ideas to bounce around and grow.
We also wanted to be there to see our kids grow up. We read somewhere that most men’s dying wish is that they had spent more time with their kids when they were young. We both have children that have been born during [the] making [of] Tanuki Forest. Mighty Mill hopefully allows us to be with them when it matters the most in those early years. We get to play with our kids and experience all their firsts while still making our business work and grow for us.
148Apps: Where does the name Mighty Mill come from? JG: We are based in Long Eaton near Nottingham, England, and the place used to be a big textiles town so it is full of mills. Naming a company is harder than making games. The mills in Long Eaton are not actually windmills, but shhhhhh!
148Apps: How did the idea for Tanuki Forest come about? JG:Tanuki Forest has shifted a great deal since we began on it. It actually started as a brave experiment in asymmetrical multiplayer on the iPad but in the end it just was not fun enough. The aesthetic of the game comes from my fetish for Japan and Studio Ghibli in particular. A few years back I was lucky enough to go to Japan and visit both Nara and the Ghibli museum. It all had a big impact on me, which really came out in the aesthetic and feel of Tanuki Forest. Nara is so brilliant. The deer there have free reign. My wife and I had breakfast in our room one day with deer munching on the grass outside the open window. It was amazing.
I love character design and wanted to develop a main character who was super appealing. I still do not know what he is exactly.
148Apps: What are the most significant differences between working on an AAA project compared to something of Tanuki Forest‘s size? JG: I think specialization is the single biggest factor. Working with a very small team, you just have to do everything so you are constantly forced outside of your area of expertise. There are bits that you love to do but there also lots that you would really prefer not to! Having so little manpower also forces you to make some pretty hard decisions about what you can attempt to do.
The thing we enjoyed the most is the speed that you can iterate at. During our prototyping phase you get to say “what if we do ‘x’?” and then just do it right away. It allows you to really iterate fast and is great fun.
148Apps: What challenges did you face during development? JG: The hardest challenges are the decisions where you have little expertise but the results will make or break the success of the game. Our two hardest things to decide were: do we go with a publisher, and should the game be paid or free. We have opted for no publisher and to go free.
Tanuki Forest is very charming and quite understated for an infinite runner, and although our revenue will have to come from IAP we have nothing to aggressively drive this in the game. Our sincere hope is that people who love the game will spend a little money in the shop. This decision was so hard for us to make as F2P has a real stigma to it for an indie dev. I hate games that constantly bug me to buy stuff! In the end we felt that it was the right way to go for Tanuki Forest as it is an infinite runner. Larger future projects will probably be done on the paid model.
148Apps: What’s next in the pipeline? JG: We have piles of game concepts just waiting for us to add water and watch them grow. Some of these contain robots. We have our fingers crossed that Tanuki Forest will be a first step towards a very exciting future.
Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer our questions. Tanuki Forest is out now and is free to play. There really is no reason why it’s not worth downloading, as it is rather charming.
One of the finest things about app development is how it opens things up to more than just major studios keen to develop an idea. In increasingly dicey times for those reliant upon others for employment, it’s a particular boon to see and some great ideas can come out of tricky times.
One such game is the recently reviewed Glyph Quest, with its developer, industry veteran and one time lead designer at Bullfrog Alex Trowers, letting me know the background to its development. In his own words, “Leanne [Bayley] (the artist), was working in Plymouth, me in Brighton. We decided to move in together and she’d find a new job up this way. Then we found out she was pregnant and had become completely unemployable. Then I lost my job. Instead of finding a new one, we decided we’d try and make a game ourselves. Could we do it before Sproglet arrived? How hard is it for an 8-month pregnant lady to go through [development] crunch [time]?”
More is explained on Leanne’s blog but Alex was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
148Apps: How did the idea for Glyph Quest come about? Alex Trowers (AT):Glyph Quest was originally a side project for us to tinker about at home while Leanne was out of work. I was a big fan of Dungeon Raid‘s tactile dragging interface (and, more recently, Puzzle & Dragons). Also, I enjoyed the RPG-esque trappings of 10000000. So we kinda threw the rest together. We’re both firm believers in emergent and evolutionary gameplay rather than designing something up front and just implementing it, so a lot of the features we added were very much developed on the fly.
148Apps: How different did you find it going from working as part of a team to a much smaller operation? AT: The amount of freedom afforded to you as part of a tiny team is fantastic. We put whatever we wanted in to the game as there were no people further up the chain with the power of veto. That’s why you’ll find plenty of references to all sorts of things scattered throughout and it’s those little touches that i think help us to stand out. In addition we really didn’t take ourselves or the genre too seriously. Of course the downside is the lack of resources. Glyph Quest was nowhere near as polished as it could have been come launch and things like our lack of config test or thorough QA were easy to call out. Another thing to consider is that while it’s great to have all of that power and control, it does rather mean that the buck stops with you and if it all goes horribly wrong, there’s no-one else to blame. It’s exciting stuff really.
148Apps: What challenges did you come across? AT: Our main challenge was logistics to do with the pregnancy as well as all of the other things that went wrong in real life. For example, it’s not the easiest thing in the world for a heavily pregnant woman to sit at a desk all day. We also had many sleepless nights – either Sproglet would kick Leanne awake or this wisdom tooth (that I’m still waiting to get fixed) would decide that I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. Then there was the roof falling off in the storms and the landlord serving us notice. And we had to have it all done and dusted before Sproglet was born.
148apps: You’ve written extensively about issues with the iTunes submission process [as well as the development process]. How would you improve it? AT: The iTunes side of things was always pretty simple. Convoluted in places, I guess – particularly when it came to IAPs – but the level of documentation and support available went a long way to mitigating that. The main place where things fell over were with XCode and my own complete lack of knowledge about it. Knowing which menu to find the relevant option to enable or disable some game-breaking feature was an exercise in the arcane. A friend and old Bullfrog buddy of mine postulated that you need this barrier to entry in order to ensure that the platform is secure and I kinda agree with him.
148Apps: What do you plan to do next? Besides enjoy fatherhood! AT: Next? Well, the success of Glyph Quest has taken us completely by surprise so we’re coming under increasing pressure to ‘fix’ issues with the first one or perhaps start looking in to a sequel. The plan was always to make Glyph Quest in order to fund a Kickstarter campaign for something much bigger. I’d still very much like to do that, but another Glyph Quest game makes an awful lot of sense. Then again, Sproglet was born at midday today, so I guess all bets are off and the thing I’d like to do next is sleep.
Huge thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations to him and Leanne on the arrival of their baby. Proving to be quite the inspiration given how much they’ve overcome in recent times, it’s the ideal time to try out Glyph Quest, available now on the App Store.
For the first episode, which we worked hard to get off the ground and figure out the various technical problems, I, Carter Dotson, interview Trent Polack of Team Chaos, who just released the online multiplayer dragon battler Dragon Trials. Trent and I discuss the genesis of the game, including the connection with long-time iOS developer Pangea Software, and chat about what went into Dragon Trials‘ various elements to try and make it special.
Watch the recap of the Twitch stream on YouTube below, and please subscribe to our Twitch channel to be notified of when we go live! The show will be evolving over the coming days, weeks, and months, and your feedback will be vital to make the show be perfect.
Following the surprise release of TowerMadness 2 last week we thought it was the ideal time to find out more about Limbic Software’s latest title, learn about some of the design process behind it, and discover just how it came to be. What better font of knowledge than that of Co-Founder and CEO, Arash Kesmirian? We caught up with him to find the answers to our questions and more.
148Apps: What made you decide to release a whole new game rather than update the original TowerMadness? Arash Keshmirian (AK): We’ve been building on the original TowerMadness for nearly five years now; it went from having only four simple maps to over a hundred. There were 20 updates, and tons of towers, enemies, environments, and features added. I think this was a big part of why that game was a success – we kept it alive, listened to fans, and added more and more. At some point though, we had to draw the line. We wanted to do significant new things and had to completely overhaul the platform in order to evolve to the next step. A revolutionary new 3D engine, brand new art, sound; I don’t really think anything carried over from the original. Oh, just two things – the muzzle flashes and the lock icons are the same. They were too perfect to toss out!
Another big departure from the original was our emphasis on adding characters to the game. So far there are two – Bo, a brave ram that defends your sheep against the first intruders into the flock and helps beginning players, and Xen, an old, wise, friendly alien that runs the tower laboratory to help you defeat the evil aliens. His motivations are unclear. We spent a lot of time making them come to life with dialogue and sophisticated animation. Our hope is to connect players with the game’s world in a deeper way than before, and we added some little surprises to this effect too, like funny descriptions for all the alien types:
148Apps: It’s been 3 and a half years since the first title was released, how come there was such a significant gap between the releases? AK: Well, because of the constant updates to TowerMadness 1 we didn’t really feel like there was a “gap” for players. But in terms of releases, we had to go explore other ideas and grow creatively before we were ready to come back to TowerMadness and make a proper sequel. In the years that went by, we developed and released Nuts! and Zombie Gunship. We’ve been fortunate to see them grow into massive franchises of their own, and each appeals to a different group of players with different expectations from games.
We did have a few “false starts” with TowerMadness 2, though. We’ve gone through a fair number of rejected design doc ideas that we ultimately decided would be too different, hard to play, or just not that fun. It took a long time to find a vision that worked. About nine months ago we cracked it, and set to work building TowerMadness 2.
148Apps: How has the evolution of iOS since the first game changed the development of TowerMadness 2? AK: The Apple Xcode tools we use to develop our games have been consistently improving over the years – but specifically for iOS, we’ve enjoyed leveraging a lot of new iOS features in TowerMadness 2. For one, we’re making full use of iCloud to let players carry their progress with them from device to device, and ensure nothing is ever lost. Since people tend to invest a lot of time in TowerMadness, this was really important to us. A bit more on the technical side, we’re leveraging a lot of new “under-the-hood” iOS features to provide the graphics and animation you see in the game.
Tower defense games in general are a challenge performance-wise because you have a lot of characters on screen that need to be drawn, animated, and run AI. Our custom engine leverages a lot of iOS optimizations to make this fast and keep framerates solidly at 60fps on modern devices. It screams on A7. As far as experimental features go, I really like playing on the TV with Apple TV and Airplay, so we added iOS controller integration to the game. It seems a bit odd for a tower defense to do this, since it’s quite well-suited to touch, but I think it’s a neat experience on a big screen with a controller and a few friends watching.
148Apps: TowerMadness 2 has been a surprise release on the App Store. Why the secrecy rather than building up hype beforehand? AK: Limbic has always been about experimenting. Back in 2009 we were one of the first free apps on the App Store with TowerMadness Zero, and we’ve innovated in other areas by doing things like split-screen multiplayer, Airplay, and other “tests” well ahead of the curve. Our marketing is no different – we wanted to see what would happen if we dazzled our fans with the release they’d been hoping for, without a tortuous tease beforehand. We’re in an age of game development now where the entire process is laid out for fans, from concept to alpha to beta to release, and we wanted to try the polar opposite for a change. When I was a kid I remember one day coming home from school and finding a brand new SNES game lying on my bed, a totally unexpected gift from my parents. Those were the best kinds of surprises, and I wanted our fans to experience that kind of joy too.
148Apps: Tower Defense games run the risk of being samey, what makes TowerMadness 2 stand out from its predecessor? AK: There are a few things that make TowerMadness and TowerMadness 2 unique. The first major aspect is the free-grid style of tower defense gameplay, which really opens the game up to strategic placement of towers and sophisticated tactics. We combine this with a vast array of tower types and alien types, making each level and each round really different in terms of how the waves play out. We’ve added some interesting gameplay mechanics when it comes to environments, with towers overheating and freezing in different climates. I hope to expand on that in future versions.
Another core aspect of the original TowerMadness was the competitive leaderboards. In TowerMadness 2, we’ve streamlined the score dynamic into a simple level time. If players can send and defeat waves more quickly, they’ll finish the level with a shorter time. We use Game Center challenges to facilitate grudge matches, and this has been a big hit with our team internally.
148Apps: How did the idea of using sheep in both games come about? AK: When Volker, Iman, and I created the first TowerMadness, we originally had concepted it as being cows. I have some limited 3dsmax skills [and] was responsible for all of that game’s artwork. The problem was, I had no idea how to make cute-looking cows. I did have some theories about making cute sheep, though. So I built this guy, and he stuck:
Today, with the talents of our Art Director, Lee, we have a much nicer-looking flock…
Plus, I think it makes a much better story that the aliens are trying to abduct the sheep to knit their emperor a sweater (it was a scarf in TM1). What would they do with a cow? Milk? Steaks? The aliens don’t have mouths, and invade completely unarmed… For all we know, they might be vegetarian pacifists!
148Apps: Thanks for your help and time in answering these questions AK: Thanks for having me. We’re really excited to finally get this out in the hands of players, and we can’t wait to see how the game grows as it evolves.
TowerMadness 2 is out now, and on sale at $2.99 (usually priced at $4.99). The original TowerMadness is also available for those keen to catch up on past hits.
Steadily evolving over the years, Get Set Games‘ Mega Run and Mega Jump have seen quite significant changes. Mega Jump was initially released in 2010 as a premium title, before being made free to play in 2011, alongside the release of similarly free to play Mega Run. Now it seems that things have come full circle with the renamed and remodeled premium titles, Mega Run Plus and Mega Jump Plus.
Given the change of strategy from Get Set Games, we took the time to talk to Derek van Vliet, one of the co-founders of the company, to find out more about the thought process.
148Apps: In the past few years you’ve jumped between premium pricing and free to play, resulting in both varieties catered for on the App Store. How come? Why the change in pricing model? Derek van Vliet (DV): That’s true. Mega Jump started as a paid app in May 2010. Shortly thereafter we ran a couple of “free game of the day” promotions which showed us that the game could earn more as a free app with in-app purchases than it could as a paid app. So in August 2010 we switched it to Free permanently.
Since then we’ve added a number of new monetization features that make it hard to go back to being a premium game (primarily interstitial advertising). At the same time, we heard from lots of players that they would like to be able to buy the game up front and get all of the content in the game and not have to deal with the ads. These new paid versions of Mega Jump and Mega Run serve that demand. They are the same awesome games, but free of ads and all of the additional level packs are available to unlock for free.
148Apps: Do you regret going down the free to play route before? DV: Not at all. We’ve been able to grow a fantastic company in large part due to that decision. We’re going to continue to release games that make people say “I can’t believe this is free”.
148Apps: Have such models affected how games are developed? DV: Indeed they have. It has caused us to have to focus a lot of resources on systems that increase engagement, monetization, and virality. Things like Facebook-connected leaderboards and consumable power-ups. The player-facing components of these systems most often take the form of UI and as such, a lot of our development resources have been focused on enabling us to design and present large amounts of user interface in our games.
It also puts a large emphasis on the importance of being able to change the content of our games at a moment’s notice. So a considerable amount of the effort we put into making games goes into making the experience configurable over the air.
148Apps: What do you think works best between free to play and premium? DV: Regardless of free to play or premium, what works best is delivering a high quality experience to the player. We’ve always strived to produce games that are brimming with fun and humor and we find that resonates with people in both the free to play and premium markets.
148Apps: What do you think the future is for the iOS pricing model? DV: I think we’re going to continue to see free games dominate the top grossing charts for the foreseeable future. That being said, as iOS heads towards 1 billion users, even if only 10% of the money that is spent goes towards paid apps, that will continue to be a large opportunity for premium games.
Thanks to Derek for taking the time to answer our questions. Mega Jump Plus and Mega Run Plus are available on the App Store now, priced at $0.99 each.
EchoChamber is the title hoping to be funded by it. It’s described as a rhythm game with a “unique twist.” It’s a free-to-play local multiplayer title that uses positional audio to get players to follow various cues and perform gestures in time with the music. I took the time to learn more from Cody Lee, co-founder and developer at Little bit Games.
148Apps: How did the idea for echoChamber come about? Cody Lee (CL): The idea for echoChamber came about after playing the game SpaceTeam with friends. It seemed like such a unique and original idea and utilized your phone for multiplayer in a way that I’d never seen before. It kinda blew my mind and I started to think of other ways we could use mobile devices for multiplayer experiences that you couldn’t get on any other platform. I spent a lot of time picturing people physically standing around with friends, trying to come up with games that required that physical space, and that used the capabilities of modern cell phones.
148Apps: Why the decision to be free to play? CL:echoChamber is a multiplayer only game, and is more fun the more people you are playing with. It seemed natural for us to release the game as a free download so people can start playing it as easily as possible with their friends without requiring everybody to commit to purchasing it. We’ll be releasing additional tracks as paid DLC for people who want to extend their experience beyond the base tracks.
148Apps: How hard has it been to implement the positional sound effects? CL: Doing the positional audio itself isn’t too bad. It’s really just a matter of adjusting volume for the different devices to get the desired effect we want. The hardest part has been synching the playback of the track on all of the devices while accounting for network latency. If the sound is out of sync at all, the positional effect is lost, and you get more of an echo. If it’s REALLY out of sync it just sounds like garbage!
148Apps: What other challenges have you faced? CL:echoChamber started out as more of a Pong-like game where sound would move around and players would have to tap their screens to hit the “ball” away. The problem is it’s hard to know when the ball has reached you. It get’s louder so you know it’s closer, but how loud is the “loudest” and “closest”. That’s why we ended up going the rhythm game route. When there’s a set beat, and the ball moves to the beat, it’s easier to know when the sound will “hit”. We’ve since moved away from the Pong aspect of the game and are focusing more on an overall fun musical experience instead.
148Apps: When do you hope to release echoChamber? CL: If the Kickstarter goes well, we hope to release some time early next year. If it doesn’t go well… we’re not sure.
The Kickstarter campaign runs until December 27, with a wide selection of backer rewards to cover everyone’s budget.
Thanks to Cody for taking the time to answer our questions. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on echoChamber‘s progress.
Arguably the most anticipated puzzle game of the year thanks to the runaway success of its predecessor, The Room Two is set for release on December 12. In the buildup to this very exciting time, I had the chance to go hands-on with the game to see exactly what’s to come next week.
Only having had the chance to play the early stages of the game and not wishing to spoil too much, The Room Two is immediately enticing. There’s an easy-to-follow tutorial for those who haven’t yet enjoyed the original (and if so, why not? There’s still plenty of time to lose one’s self to it!), and a gentle introduction to what to expect. As before, puzzles are set to be as tactile as they are logical with a layering of conundrums to keep players busy. The eerie music continues to add plenty of tension to what’s going on. This time there’s set to be a wider variety of rooms to tackle too, which should prove quite enthralling.
The Room Two is set to be the kind of experience where it’s best to go in cold, but it’s looking pretty positive so far. We’ll be sure to bring you a full review next week. For now, we’ve shared a few words with Barry Meade, commercial director at Fireproof Studios, about how development has gone and just how the success of The Room helped pave the way.
148Apps: The first game was commercially and critically very successful. Have you found this adding to the pressure to get the second game right? Barry Meade (BM): Not really, we’re honestly just delighted to get the chance to work on our own games full stop. Having said that I think we’d all be disappointed if the second game doesn’t do better than the first as we’ve put a lot more work into it this time around. But we do honestly feel that if The Room Two is good enough and deserves to do well, it will do well, and that if it fails its because we failed. And so, if the game’s fate is in our hands alone then there’s no point in worrying unduly about outside pressures or expectations. We’ll do the best we can and see how that flies with our audience.
148Apps: How has that success helped with the development of the sequel? BM: Hugely. Whereas The Room had only 1 programmer and 1 or 2 artists on it at one time, The Room Two has had up to 4 programmers and 8-10 artists on it during the course of development. We made The Room Two in the time frame that the design required rather than hurried because we needed to make money by X date or whatever, and we were only able to decide that because of The Room‘s success. But frankly we can’t think of any better way to spend the money we earn than to reinvest it in our creative process. For us financial success means freedom – freedom to do what we think is necessary to make the best version of the game we want to make – not to have to work for or make decisions for somebody else’s benefit.
For instance if we had to work with a publisher, The Room would never have been created at all – it’s a rare publisher that wants to push things forward for gamers and they generally look down on games and developers who do that. No, we needed to listen to ourselves for The Room to happen and thankfully that’s what we did, and put our own savings on the line to do it. Now that it has paid off for us, we’re even less likely to listen to others. We’re in an ideal creative place but we’re very aware that this position depends on us genuinely making novel, new, interesting games that deserve audience attention. I hope we live up to it.
148Apps: How will The Room Two be different from its predecessor? BM: We were all very happy with how The Room turned out as our first game, though the very limited money we had to spend on its development made the game smaller than it deserved to be. So this time around we wanted to give the concept what it deserved in terms of development time, resources, manpower etc. to see where we could take it. In almost every way The Room Two is a more fully-featured game than the first one – taking what worked and building on it, making it deeper, larger and even a bit more complicated. The environments are a lot more interesting, the objects more intricate and interactive.
So it was a harder project to make this time, it had more moving parts, testing it was a bit more fraught etc. but we knew all that going into it – we just wanted to make it bigger and better across the board. Fireproof may never be a flashy AAA developer but as long as we are working on something we are going to make the best damn version of it that we possibly can. It was that attitude which helped us make The Room in the first place and this time is no different. We think its better in every way than the first, let’s hope the audience agrees.
148Apps: After the success of the original, was there the temptation to simplify the game to appeal to a more casual market? BM: Nah. We’re amazingly happy with the audience we have, we have no interest in trying to squeeze squillion$ of dollars from The Room. It would be great to pick up more users with The Room Two as we’ve worked hard to make it as good to play and value-for-money as possible. But for us its very important to make our work with our own sensibilities at the forefront and not to worry too much about what others expect or think. Our audience bought into the love we put in the first game and if we want to please anyone else then it’s those who enjoyed the first game. They will be our toughest critics and rightly so.
As gamers we’ve always believed that if we pleased our own sensibilities and standards first, others will pick up on the care and attention we put into it, whereas if we obviously attempt to chase what other people want or expect, the audience will see through it, smell the desperation and move onto something more honest and interesting. As in a lot of things in life, chasing something indirectly is often the way to catch it, so concentrating on our own wishes for the game and by extension our current audience seems the most reliable and sensible way to attract brand new users into the game.
148Apps: Many players wished they had more time with The Room, will its sequel be longer? BM: Yes, quite a bit longer. A lot of people who played The Room thought it was a bit short but well worth the money they paid, in fact the user ratings are amazingly high for it so we’re hoping that adding a bit of length and depth will keep them just as pleased and perhaps tickle them even more. The curious thing about puzzle games is how mistaken everybody can be about other players experiences. Some player who is a freak for puzzle games generally will play the game and complete it in 1.5 hours and will be convinced the game is actually short. But for every one of those Ninja players we know there’s 5-10 other players who took 3-5 hours to play it, and they have a very different view on the length – any longer and they would feel overwhelmed.
Puzzle games are very different to other games in that sense – the experience they give players depends very much on the personality and brain of those who are playing it. It’s this engagement of the brain that makes them so beloved I think – people’s own imagination takes a very active part in the playing. It might explain all the love the game gets – we’re not the biggest selling game by any stretch but people who have played it really really love the game. We are super thankful for that, I can tell you it makes us sleep well at night knowing it.
Many thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer our questions.
Set for release December 12, we’ll have a full review of The Room 2 that day. In the meantime, why not get reacquainted with The Room?
Occasionally it feels a little too easy to be cynical. To mutter about how the App Store is full of Match-3 puzzle games, freemium city builders, and Angry Birds clones. Luxuria Superbia is a reminder that this really isn’t the case. At least not if one searches for more original offerings.
The game is described as a ‘musical journey from the sensuous to the spiritual’ with its thematic elements being distinctly erotic in nature. At least, that is, depending on one’s perspective of what unfolds. There’s a heck of a lot more to its interpretation than that.
Fascinated by such originality, I took the time to ask the game’s developers, Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn, a few questions on the subject.
148Apps: How did the idea for Luxuria Superbia come about? Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (AH & MS): The initial idea came to us during a roundtable session led by Brenda Romero on the subject of sex in videogames at the Game Developers Conference. While most of the discussion focused on issues of depiction, we started thinking about it differently: instead of showing naked bodies in the act, we wanted to model the interaction with a game mechanic on the experience of pleasure. And even this early, back in 2008, we already thought of flowers as a visual inspiration.
This idea was something we developed and expanded upon during a long research and prototyping project codenamed Cncntrc. This linked the sensations of the body with the rational and spiritual experiences of early science and mythology. We were especially looking at Geo-centric models of the universe and their links with religion (as the planets in our solar system are named after Roman Gods). We were very fond of this connection between heaven and earth, between sensual pleasure and mystic ecstasy. But the subject matter became so big — we were literally trying to make a game about everything — that it became impossible to capture all of it in a single game.
So we decided to make multiple games based on this research. Luxuria Superbia is the first one. As a first game, we wanted it to be simple and easy to enjoy. So that we would have a solid basis to expand upon later.
148Apps: Did anything else inspire you? Such as a film or game, or other form of media? AH & MS:Luxuria Superbia is structured a bit like tunnel shooter games, of which Rez is a stand-out title that we love. But instead of antagonism and destruction, we wanted to focus on love and creation. It’s funny how similar mechanics can mean such different things when tweaked a little.
Keita Takahashi’s Noby Noby Boy encouraged us to embrace a whimsical and joyful play experience. And Erik Loyer’s Strange Rain influenced the flow of the game.
Not exactly an inspiration, but Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey kept popping up in our reference material. The symmetry of the cinematography, the tubes and hallways, the sentient invisible being inside of the computer and the surreal cosmic ending all seem to have their links with our little game.
Discovering the paintings by Aimei Ozaki really helped us decide on the visuals. And the work of Georgia O’Keeffe supported our desire to fuse human sensuality with the shapes of flowers.
And then there’s architecture. Cathedrals like Saint Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and the Borobudur temple in Indonesia were the source of our desire to deal with a journey from the sensual to the spiritual. The intricate design of the domes of Islamic mosques stimulated the use of circular symmetry in the game. The interior of some German rococo churches, like the Wieskirche in Steinbaden, inspired the blank versus color dynamic. And the central hub in the game was modeled after Marie-Antoinette’s Temple of Love in Versailles.
Other than that, we really love some kitschy movies with charming innuendo like Barbarella, Zardoz and Flash Gordon. A lot of the humor in the game was inspired by those.
148Apps: It’s quite the departure from your other games. Was this deliberate? Do you have a particular genre preference? AH & MS: We’re too restless to want to fit into any one genre. With our previous games we have indeed explored the narrative side of games much more. But for us the creation of an environment and atmosphere is always more important.
Since the original idea for Luxuria Superbia came to us so long ago, it is not meant to be a deliberate departure as such. But the way we approached the design was very much inspired by the intentions for our future creative production as laid out in our Beautiful Art Program. The main idea being that we want to try harder to connect to our audience, to give more people access to the joy and beauty we see in our games.
The fact that we have leaned toward the dark side in our previous work with games about death and loss of innocence and so on, is actually a coincidence. We are interested in many topics and have in fact already made a very joyful game with The Endless Forest. With Luxuria Superbia, we wanted to share our love for life, the joy and beauty that we find in existence. So pleasure became the “story” that we wanted to explore in this one.
148Apps: Is there a way of completing it? Or is it solely about the experience? AH & MS: Oh yes! The delight you bring to each flower (or tunnel or level) in the game is expressed in a three ring rating and collected in a column in the garden (the central hub of the game). So to complete the game, one would collect all three rings for all twelve flowers and complete each column.
But the game does not push you too hard to achieve this. The focus of play is very much on the journey and not on the destination.
148Apps: What do you hope that players will gain from playing the game? AH & MS: Joy and an experience of beauty. These are not trivial matters to us. They are all-important. Deep joy is more important than knowledge. Beauty is more important than truth. The experience of beauty and joy makes us better, kinder, gentler people.
From my brief time with it so far Luxuria Superbia sounds bewitching, mostly because it is. It’s like precious little already out there and very imaginative. Set for release later this week, we’ll be sure to keep an eye on it.
Thanks to Auriea and Michael for answering my questions.
Ever wanted to play Super Smash Bros. while on the move? Of course! Anyone with sense would want that! While Nintendo haven’t quite made the move to mobile just yet (but we can hope, right?), that doesn’t stop a similar experience from hopefully coming to iOS soon, courtesy of zGames. That title is Fright Fight, a horror-themed game inspired by Mario’s brawling ways.
The zGames team.
As is increasingly common these days, Fright Fight‘s development is being supported by a Kickstarter campaign which has just launched. As the project page explains, the hope is that Fright Fight will be the first 3D cross-platform mobile fighting game, with the plan being to port it to systems such as OUYA and Nvidia Shield as well as iOS and Android. Free-to-play, many of the pledge rewards relate to the acquisition of in-game coins or the unlocking of characters in order to give early backers an extra edge. It’s shaping up to look pretty good so we had a word with Game Designer, Pavel Shtangeev, to learn more.
148Apps: Inspiration has clearly been taken from Super Smash Bros. but what other games have inspired Fright Fight? Pavel Shtangeev (PS): Devil May Cry series: Additional inspiration for [the] battle mechanics, Diablo series [for the] RPG elements, Pokemon series for some gameplay elements and RPG mechanics, Awesomenauts [for some of the] gameplay elements, world and level design, art style. A lot of other games have minor influence on the game: Marvel vs. Capcom, DOTA, Quake III, etc. The list can go on forever.
148Apps: Has anything non-gaming related inspired it? Such as in terms of the choices of characters available? PS: A lot of classic horror novels and movies influenced our decisions for worlds to include and characters to add. Still, we added twists to most of them. For example the vampire character is a combination of Carmilla from a classic novel of the same name and a mad variant of Luigi Galvani.
148Apps: How long has Fright Fight taken to develop? PS: Right now, it’s been 9 months in development.
148Apps: What challenges have you faced with making Fright Fight cross-platform? PS: Unity3D makes things much easier, but certain problems still occur. These problems are mostly related to different form-factors of devices. NVIDIA SHIELD uses hard buttons instead of gestures so we put some tweaks here and there and remade all menus to fit both control schemes. OUYA uses bigger displays and this requires more advanced camera behavior, etc.
148Apps: The trailer suggests there will be RPG elements to Fright Fight. Can you elaborate on these? PS: The game introduces a lot of classic RPG elements to the fighting formula: stats, skills, perks, etc. Right now, all characters already possess a full set of stats that can be upgraded through the course of the game. Moreover, each character is packed with an individual skill tree that allows customization of his attacks and play style. We have plans to introduce even more RPG elements by adding gear with different skins, items, and accessories and create pets that can aid characters in battle.
Thanks to Pavel for taking the time to answer our questions.
With the game already offering 3 different arenas, 4 different characters, and a fairly strong gesture-based control scheme, Fright Fight is shaping up nicely. Hopefully, by meeting its Kickstarter goal, the game will soon enjoy bot AI, and if the goal is beaten, new characters and arenas. For now, why not check out the teaser trailer and consider supporting the campaign?
Candy Crush Saga meets X-Com meets Game of Thrones? It’s an impressive mix of genres and ideas, and it forms the basis for a new title called Pocket Titans. A turn based RPG puzzle adventure game, Pocket Titans certainly sounds pretty exciting. Its origins are quite something too, having been conceived by veteran developers, John Payne & Ian Pestridge. Between them, they’ve worked on a number of console releases, including Herdy Gerdy, In Cold Blood, SEGA Rally, Reservoir Dogs, and Dead to Rights: Retribution.
For the past 18 months, the pair have been working on Pocket Titans in their spare time, all in the name of flexing their creative muscles. With the game set for release soon, we took the time to find out more.
148apps: Where did the inspiration for Pocket Titans come from? John Payne (JP): There were a few different strands of inspiration which led to Pocket Titans. I’ve always been a fan of RPG fighting mechanics like the semi-turn-based Final Fantasy battles, or the group dynamics of big World of Warcraft boss fights. My original idea was to do a game which was a series of these massive fight moments without the RPG story and running around in between. Then I got in to Zoo Keeper on my iPhone (entirely my wife’s fault), and I mean really in to it, in a way I’d not really experienced with match 3 games before. The game play felt really tactile, and moving through levels with just a little bit of story felt right. I’d always been a fan of the old X-COM games (not knowing at the time that there was a brilliant new one coming out that year!) and games like Advance Wars, and those three strands came together to form the idea for Pocket Titans. It’s the class based RPG battles of World of Warcraft, the tactile movement and easy pick-up play of a match 3 and the tactical positioning of X-COM.
As John says the game condenses many of the elements associated with RPGs and has been developed to be very accessible. I took recognisable fantasy motifs and caricatured them, resulting in a look that ‘feels’ familiar and yet ‘looks’ unique and full of spirit.
148apps: How difficult has it been to find the spare time to create Pocket Titans? IP: The short answer is not very difficult at all. We believe that if you had fun making a game it shows through. The players can sense that freedom and enjoyment. So we promised ourselves that we would focus on having fun and avoiding stress.
JP: The great thing about a home project is you can park it for as long as you need to when life gets in the way. During development there were weeks when I didn’t really do anything on the game, and weeks where I’d do an hour or two most nights, it fitted in around everything else. I set myself a rule very early on that I’d never let it distract me from my day job and in the end the whole process was fun and relaxing. The game’s been 99% finished for quite a while so its certainly the most relaxed end to a project I’ve ever had!
IP: We both have similar family situations and day jobs. I’ve generally been using the couple of hours I’d usually spend watching TV or a movie after the kids have gone to bed to jump on the PC and create some artwork. Ultimately, we enjoy making games, so this has been a great experience.
148apps: What challenges have you faced during the production? JP: Early on in development it became clear I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself, especially when I realised quite how bad my programmer-art was. At that point I almost gave up on the project and probably would have if I hadn’t shown it to Ian.
IP: I loved the game from the moment I saw John’s early prototype. The greatest challenge was translating the aesthetics of the world we both imagined onto the moving tile mechanic, it’s that challenge that first attracted me to John’s concept and has kept it so interesting.
148apps: How different is it working on a personal project rather than as part of a big studio? JP: I’ve been lucky enough to work with lots of talented and creative people in my day job and I love every minute of it. That said, creating Pocket Titans has given us a chance to do something that’s just ours, without any other stakeholders or any outside direction. It was great fun to make but also a little bit terrifying now people are playing it other than our friends!
148apps: Will there be any micro-transactions within the game? JP: The best way to play the game is to work through story mode looting weapons and armour from the Orcs and Skeletons you defeat. But we’ve also got multi-player battles in there and if people want to tool up to level things out with their friends we’re not going to stop them. You can use gold you collect during quests to grab any items you’re missing and if you really want to make things easy you can buy a bit of gold, but we hope people play through the whole story as there’s some amazing battles at the end that you don’t want to miss!
Thanks to John and Ian for taking the time to answer our questions.
Pocket Titans is set for release later this month. We’ll be sure to track its development. In the mean time, why not check out the beta trailer below? It’s looking pretty sweet.
One of the consistently most positive things about the rise of the App Store is the ability for one-person developers to get somewhere and release their own titles, under their own steam and hard work. Sacrifices might need to be made but it’s encouraging to see so many creative spirits work so hard at achieving their dreams.
One such person is John Stricker, developer of Captain Casual, a title that he’s declared to be an ‘epic science fiction action adventure comedy’. Its Kickstarter campaign has just launched so we had a word with John about how the project came to be.
Captain Casual’s developer, John Stricker.
148apps: How did the idea for Captain Casual come about? John Stricker (JS): I was doing some pretty intensive work as a software consultant, and at the end of the day it would be difficult to take my mind off of the projects I was working on and get some sleep. I found that imagining stories helped me relax as I was trying to sleep. Maybe this was part of me trying to take my own mind off work, but I liked to create characters that were very relaxed, take-it-easy kinds of people and then imagine them being put into situations where they had to play the role of a hero. Captain Casual started with the idea of putting a laid-back person into the role of a starship captain, so instead of someone like Patrick Stewart playing the role of the captain it was someone more like Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski.
148apps: Why the name Captain Casual? JS: Because it’s awesome! I mean, why has no one created a game character named this yet? It’s also fun to take the word “Casual” and use it for a character name in a mobile game since in the gaming community there’s a stereotype of mobile games being too “casual” for “serious” gamers.
148apps: Have any other games or other forms of media influence your idea? JS: A lot of the backstory for Captain Casual takes cues from Iain M. Bank‘s fantastic Culture novels, and the comic tone of the game can’t help but be influenced by Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books (which I have read countless times). In terms of gaming influences, Bioware‘s RPGs (e.g. the Baldur’s Gate Series, Knights of the Old Republic) have probably influenced me more than any other games. They do such a great job of storytelling, dialog, and gameplay, and while Captain Casual isn’t an RPG, I hope to convey something of the same sense of being part of an epic adventure while playing the game. And, of course, Star Trek in all its incarnations is a big influence.
148apps: How big a game will Captain Casual be? JS: It’s going to be bigger than The Beatles! We’re talking blockbuster, here. You’re probably looking for more of an answer about the game’s length though. In terms of game length, Captain Casual is designed to be a relatively short game, with a full playthrough lasting a couple of hours. The main reason for this is that the story in the game unfolds more like a movie where there is a minimum of repetitive action. Every mission is going to have the player doing something that they haven’t done before. To add challenge and extend the life of the game, there will also be a hardcore mode where if a player fails a level they have to start the game from the beginning.
148apps: Are there any plans for in-app purchases or will Captain Casual be a one-off payment kind of game? JS: There are no plans for in-app purchases as I feel that would ruin the tone of the game. Its hard to keep a sense of atmosphere and engagement when you’re also periodically asking the player for more money. Also, I don’t want the game to be a different experience for different players depending upon how much money they put into the game.
148apps: How hard has it been to juggle your work life and this project? JS: Since April of this year I’ve been working full time on Captain Casual. I am fortunate enough to have a time-limited period (my wife and I have agreed on a one-year limit) to do this, but this is why I really need the extra support from Kickstarter as I have no income at this point. I’ve taken my hobby and made it my work, so in some ways now I feel like I’m working all of the time. Still, it feels great to be able to put so much effort into something I love. Hopefully the Kickstarter will go well and I’ll be able to continue working on Captain Casual full time!
Captain Casual’sKickstarter has just under a month to go, with John asking for a fairly low $5,000 to complete the game. With only a $5 pledge needed in order to have some input in terms of what ship models and color schemes to use, as well as a free copy of the game upon release, that’s a pretty tempting offer if you ask me. Higher pledges offer more benefits, too, with t-shirts, beta invites, and even custom digital images up for grabs.
The campaign is live now, so do consider contributing. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on Captain Casual‘s progress.
For at least the past fifteen years I’ve been bellyaching about the lack of a follow-up to Mutant League Football. The ridiculous (and ridiculously violent) Genesis classic was the perfect football game for someone like myself who enjoys video games but could care less about the NFL. And here we are, twenty years later and it looks like that decade-old dream might come true.
Series creator Michael Mendheim recently began a Kickstarter project to try and fund the spiritual successor to MLF, titled Mutant Football League, and it looks phenomenal. However, the project still needs a fair bit of help. Mr. Mendheim was gracious enough to talk to us about the game, the project, and the future of Mutant Football League.
148Apps: After 20 years it’s great to finally see a successor for Mutant League is in the works. Did the success of other similar Kickstarter projects help to influence your decision to start a fund for Mutant Football League, or was it more of an idea whose time had come sort of thing? Michael Mendheim (MM): Fans have urged me to do this for some time now and it’s also the 20th Anniversary of the original Mutant League Football, so we felt like the timing might be right. We chose Kickstarter because it seemed like it would be our best shot to get the game funded. We launched a couple weeks ago but right now it looks very difficult for us to succeed. So if anyone out there reading this is a fan of the original game, or just wants to play a really fun and violent game of Football where NFL Players are replaced with wise-cracking mutants and monster all-stars, please back us today.
148Apps: Any chance you’d be able to confirm or deny various teams and races that will be making it into the final build? MM: Kickstarter backers will actually be helping choose what types of mutants and monsters we have in the game. We know we want to have some kind of undead, heavy metal type of skeleton players. We’ll also have a variety of Monster characters and Humanoid Mutants – think Road Warrior-esque type humans. We also want to include Battle Robots for more of the technology driven races. These will be big bruising robots that are good at football and even better at obliterating the opposition.
We’re also introducing a new character called, Enforcers. Generally, mutants are big, mean, ugly SOB’s… so what do you do to keep them in line? You get bigger, meaner, even uglier brutes to monster the bejeesus out of them. And that’s exactly what Enforcers are; They don’t catch, they don’t throw, they really have no talent to speak of… they just go after the opposing team’s stars like a wrecking ball. Eventually these creatures are subdued and taken to the penalty box where they are uhm…eliminated. Each team will be allowed to have up to 3 or 4 different race types on their rosters. It’s too early to talk about teams names yet but we know we’re going to have some fun parodying real team names (example: Pittsburgh Steelers = Blitzburgh Stealers).
148Apps: Kill the ref plays are still going to be in there, right? MM: Of course, with a few new twists that I’m not going to mention or else I’m going to have to kill you, too.
148Apps: You’ve recently teamed-up with Run Games Development Studio to source their engine for Football Heroes. Aside from the changes that have already been mentioned – making the gameplay more realistic, less casual, and super fun – have there been any other significant tweaks? I really hope you decide to keep the RPG elements. MM: Run Games provided the game to me, and I spent a lot of time playing and I loved it. I thought it was the perfect stepping stone to create a Mutant League-style game. It’s very easy to play and delivers a lot of fun, but also has layers of depth because of the RPG system that the Run Games integrated into it. We absolutely will be keeping the RPG Elements in the design. We can put these to good use and it will give the game layers of depth for those who want it. More casual gamers can just ignore it and the game will take care of itself underneath the hood. The art direction will look completely different than Football Heroes; Mutant Football League will have a much grittier art style.
By working with Run Games and using their tech as our starting point we will substantially reduce our development risk. Instead of building everything from scratch we can build on top of an existing game, which is already fun and has all the core elements already in place (Dynamic Camera, User Interface, smooth and intuitive controls, consistent frame rates, Online play, AI, Power-ups, RPG Elements, ratings and stats, Audio, Physics and Collisions, etc.).
With the release of iOS 7 upon us and a whole plethora of juicy new features for consumers and developers alike to enjoy, we took the time to ask some popular game developers just how they feel about it and what features they’re looking forward to getting more intimate with.
Look and Design of iOS 7
The look of iOS 7 is a huge change for many, which explains why so many pivotal apps are changing their appearance; to make sure it ties into the new style of doing things. How about with games, though? And do game developers appreciate such a significant change?
For the most part, it’s been considered a positive change from those we questioned. Andrew Smith of AppyNation and Spilt Milk Studios explained, “I like it! I’m a fan of refreshes – and although when I first saw the new look I wasn’t completely sold, since using it in studio on the betas it’s won me over.” Stephen Morris of Greenfly Studios reinforced that view, emphasizing that the “redefining of the experience… it certainly feels fresh and more efficient.”
Some apprehension was felt, though. As Richard Brooks of Rodeo Games explained, “a veteran iOS user may find it a little jarring at first,” pointing out that, “the new look will split the room,” from his personal experience of showing it to others. Ben Britten of Tin Man Games felt the same, pointing out that some people will love it and others will, predictably, hate it.
It’s not all plain sailing though, as Martin Linklater of Curly Rocket explained, “to be honest the colours are a little garish for my tastes. Maybe in iOS 8 Apple will tone it down a little. It’s not quite got the subtlety that Apple is known for.” Aaron Fothergill of Strange Flavour felt the same, diplomatically pointing out that he’s “getting used to it.”
Even those who weren’t a fan had to admit that they, for the most part, appreciated the cleaner interface.
More positively, few issues have been encountered thus far. For the majority of the people we asked, covering developers such as Hello Games, Hammer & Chisel, AppyNation, Spilt Milk Studios, Strange Flavour, and Green Fly Studios, hardly any issues were reported. The only few problems that did occur related to third-party tools, although noticeably Ben Britten of Tin Man Games found no issues with Unity3D. There were some early day problems with Rodeo Games’s Warhammer Quest as explained by Richard Brooks, “The devices we were testing with were crashing a lot and it was very difficult to get anything working. Warhammer Quest didn’t work at first due to some bugs in the iOS 7 main libraries, so we just had to sit back and wait. After about 4-6 weeks these were dealt with and are mostly good now.”
It’s a pretty positive sign for developers that iOS 7 should prove quite beneficial in the long run, given the limited issues that have been encountered so far.
Concept art of a possible Apple Controller (via PocketGamer)
Arguably most significant of all for many game developers is the introduction of official controller support. How do they feel about it?
“For us, this is the biggest new feature of iOS 7.” explained Aaron Fothergill, “The fact that they’re a standard is the important bit as we can actually design them into our game with the standard features in mind, so we can do it properly. We’ve already got test code in SlotZ Racer, Any Landing, and Apple Dash and we’re just waiting on controllers being available for us to actually test with and perfect the controls before we release games with them in and then we’ll be considering MFI controller as integral design parts of all our games.”
Simon Renshaw, of PUK fame, has similar thoughts. ” I love that its possible to play iPhone games on the big screen with Apple TV mirroring, latency is an issue though, as is battery life, so I kinda hope we’ll see a controller bundled with a magical iPhone-charging HDMI cable!” Martin Linklater also thinks that the controller could be the “real killer feature,” at least once adopted more frequently.
Hello Games’ Sean Murray explained that “touchscreens are great for lots of games – like, I’m really proud of what we managed to do with the touchscreen design with Joe Danger Touch. There are some games that just benefit from buttons and thumbsticks though, and as a gamer, my thumb just feels comfortable sat on a nice analog button. Having officially supported controllers could be fantastic for broadening gaming on iPhones even further than it is today, bringing in the controller snobs like me! We’re working on making something of all this right now, something that makes use of both touch and controller. We’re throwing ourselves into it completely… I think people will be surprised how well it works.”
Consider us fascinated as to what this will mean for Joe Danger on iOS!
Another possible example of a future controller (via PocketGamer)
Andrew Smith is keen, but as he points out “[it’s] hardly going to sell the games to more people. The vast majority of iPhone users and gamers are perfectly happy with good touchscreen interfaces, so we’ll be happy to continue to provide those!” Greenfly Studios feels the same way, with Stephen Morris explaining “our mobile games are currently more focused on the casual consumer but it doesn’t mean we’re not open to exploring the new niche!”.
Richard Brooks also found such support less than essential, pointing out that Rodeo Games’ titles are “designed entirely for mobile and tablet devices with touch screens and implementing controller support would make them worse.” A fair point indeed. Jason Citron expressed similar views, explaining how Hammer & Chisel is “laser focused on building original high-quality games for tablets. A big part of that is taking advantage of the unique interaction a large touch screen affords.”
With so many of the best developers doing a great job of providing touch-based interfaces, is there really a need for controllers after five years of perfecting touch controls? Perhaps not, but it’ll be fascinating to see how things develop.
Revamped Game Center
For the most part, the revamped Game Center has been quite appreciated by those we asked. Andrew Smith puts it well, “it’s really neat!” although does admit, while inventing a new word, that the icon is a little un-game-y. Stephen Morris particularly loves that there’s a way to combat cheaters at last, which means “we can focus on providing consumers fun and realistic challenges.” Like any self-respecting iOS gamer, Sean Murray explained “Seeing insane hacked scores on any game makes me sad. I’m… going to really appreciate the added security for score and achievement data, because it’ll hopefully mean there isn’t so much leaderboard hacking.”
Richard Brooks points out what we’ve all been thinking in terms of old Game Center’s looks, “I’m glad they’ve gotten rid of the horrible green felt style though!” because as Simon Renshaw says while describing the old interface as archaic looking, “what young person recognizes the connection between a black jack table and their favorite shooter?”.
So, it’s a fairly positive change for iOS 7 and some of its finest game developers. Understandably, there’s some apprehension as is always the way with such a significant change, but the future is looking pretty bright. In particular, it’ll be fascinating to see what comes of controller support, as well as the new and extra shiny Game Center.
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.
With the recent release of Sci-Fi themed Endless Runner, RunBot, we took the time to get to know more about its studio, Bravo Games, and what makes the team tick, by asking a few questions of producer, César Ríos Oruña.
148apps: You’ve previously worked on some licensed titles such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Power Puff Girls Snowboarding, how different is it working on those compared to original titles? César Ríos Oruña (CRO): Working on original IPs definitely has some additional challenges that you don’t face when working on licensed titles.
Let’s use RunBot as an example. When starting development of RunBot, we started with a “white paper”, having to define everything from the bare basics. How does the game look? What’s the game’s theme? How does it feel? You have so many options that you can get lost and spend a lot of time trying to figure where to go next. But don’t get me wrong, despite being a big handicap this is one of the best parts of making video games – we have the freedom to create whatever we want. In a licensed game, the story and background are already there, you just have to adapt it to the game.
For RunBot, from the very beginning, we had a slick futuristic city in mind for the setting and a powerful agile robot for the main character. And this is where another risk pops up: you don’t know 100% if that is going to work. If you are making an example; a Kung Fu Panda game from the movie, you already know that the characters are cool, people like them and everything is perfectly matching, because somebody has already done that job for you.
And then you have the validation process. This is a good news/bad news situation, as with a licensee, you get their help to make the game reflect their existing successful brand. But this can often lead to an iterative process that can delay the development team badly. As an independent, you can stop iterating whenever you want preventing the team from bleeding out, but you don’t have this great help that a third party can give to the team.
With RunBot, we decided for a mixed approach – we provided our IP and game development, and Marvelous Games provided the publishing support and game advice to help make the finished game we have today.
148apps: As you’ve made many different kinds of games, do you guys have a particular favorite genre? CRO: One of the great things of working on mobile platforms is that you can easily jump from genre to genre. Doing this keeps the team motivated and learning something new each day, absolutely indispensable to not getting stagnant creatively.
There are two genres that we are specially comfortable with: Cars/bikes (anything with an engine and wheels) mixed in with whatever game mechanic, and runners. Runners are especially good for mobile devices due to their simple controls and short play sessions. Some say that when you finish a game you just want to rush to another, the further the genre the better, but we are so comfortable with runners that after finishing RunBot we are still working on adding even more cool stuff based on feedback from our users. Adding cool things to a game always feels great!
148apps: Are you able to reveal any information on your future Marvelous Games’s published titles? CRO: The first game created within the Bravo – Marvelous alliance is RunBot, that just hit stores. Right now we are focused on improving it and we plan it to do it for a while. But I can tell you that we are also working on a number of other titles with them and we are extremely happy. Sorry I can’t be any more specific about games or dates, but this alliance is going to bring great titles to stores, I’m pretty sure about that.
148apps: How is GemWars’ (promised to be a ‘mixture between Warcraft and Clash of Clans‘) progress coming along? It looks a really intriguing mix of genres! CRO:GemWars is one of those titles that has become a bit “all-in”. We’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and the concept has been evolving since 2010. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been working on it full-time since that date, but it has been growing slowly since then until it’s the HUGE game that is right now.
As you can imagine a lot of effort has been put into GemWars. The idea is to take the concepts of city management, exploration, and real-time battles and mix it in a fantasy medieval theme. The amount of content (3 sides, 64 controllable units, 36 buildings, spells, equipment, heroes…) is big and getting bigger; we’re continually adding things. We are still in production, but I can’t provide any estimated release date, but when we do, we’d love to share more info with you.
While I’m busy keeping my fingers crossed for more info about GemWars, RunBot is out now and it’s free to download. Thank you to César Ríos Oruña for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more about the studio and its past work, check out their website.
Recently announced, Trouserheart looks like quite the quirky, DeathSpank-style fantasy action game. Notably, it’s a game that is being published by established Finnish games studio, 10tons and developed by similarly established and Finnish firm, Dicework Games. With our curiosity piqued, I was able to talk to 10tons’s Jaakko Maaniemi about how the union came to be, and just what players should expect when the game is released next month.
148apps: Why is it called Trouserheart? Jaakko Maaniemi (JM): It’s awesome you ask about the name, as we put some serious effort into coming up with it. We wanted to achieve all kinds of things with the name, and we’re very happy with Trouserheart. We wanted the name to be short, preferably one word – Trouserheart is ok in that regard.
We obviously wanted the name to be catchy, memorable and distinct, as there are hundreds of games released every day. As the name was your first question, I believe we succeeded here as well. The name also had to communicate the lighthearted, humorous tone of of the game. Check! Trouserheart is also the name of the game’s hero, King Trouserheart.
Finally, we wanted to [be] associated [with] the fantasy genre. The something-heart is a pretty well known fantasy convention, all the way from King Lionheart and Braveheart to hit games like Battleheart and Kingdom Hearts. Trousers also feature in the game’s storyline, but we’ll talk about that in detail later.
148apps: Will Trouserheart be a story-led game? JM: Trouserheart is not very story driven, apart from the clear setup and rewarding conclusion. The reason is that Trouserheart’s gameplay is very short form. In other words, a single session of Trouserheart is just a couple of intensive minutes. There’s not a whole lot of time, nor point, in cramming a lot of storytelling in there. And we’re concentrating 100% on making the gameplay as great as possible.
148apps: What inspiration led to the game? JM: We wanted to make a game that’s simple, easy to pick up and fun to play. It takes literally about five seconds from the start of each session to be in a fight with monsters, knee deep in your next quest. Seasoned gamers can probably name titles Trouserheart reminds them of, but there’s no single source of inspiration in that regard.
Visually, we wanted to make Trouserheart look instantly familiar, but with a recognizable quirky tone. The kind of blocky look works well with the gameplay. The bright colors and clear shapes also help the game look clear on the smaller screens of mobiles.
148apps: Are you able to discuss any of the features within the game? It looks quite hack n slash style in the screenshots, is that the case? JM:Trouserheart is definitely hack’n slash. In fact, hacking and slashing is basically the only interaction there is in the game, although you do a few kinds of different things with the whackage. We’re especially proud of how well we’ve nailed the virtual controllers. They’re really good. We’ve always been annoyed by how many bad implementations of virtual controllers are out there, and one of the driving factors in creating Trouserheart is that we wanted to do virtual controllers right.
We should also mention that Trouserheart is as relaxed and easy-going as a good hack’n slash game can be. We hope that if Trouserheart is the first hack’n slash game someone plays, they’ll enjoy it.
148apps: What motivated 10tons to go into publishing rather than development? JM: 10tons has been around for ten years now, and so far we’ve published around two dozen titles we’ve developed ourselves – and we’ll definitely keep developing games in the future as well. We’ve released games on most mobile platforms and know our way around different markets so we already had a nice toolset for publishing games. Both Dicework Games and 10tons are located in Tampere, Finland, so we had a chance to see the game very early in development. We immediately liked Trouserheart’s concept, instant accessibility, and style. A bit later it we found ourselves in a position where we could help each other: Dicework needed resources to finish and launch the game to realize its full potential and 10tons was dreaming of an easy-going fun mobile game that would also work with gamepads.
Thanks to Jaakko for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s great to see indie developers working together towards a common goal. We’ll be sure to cover Trouserheart in more depth when it’s released in September.
It can be tough to please a demanding parent. Sometimes it feels like the only way you can truly make them proud is to give them the world – or at least a world. And that’s exactly the kind of problem Captain Bubblenaut is facing. The only way to earn his father’s (Admiral Pop’s) respect is to take over the planet ERF and destroy all the ERFLINGS inhabiting it. Thankfully, Captain Bubblenaut designer and AAA game industry veteran, Dean Tate, has taken time out from his busy ERF-destroying schedule to try and explain all of this craziness to us.
148apps: Where’d the idea for Captain Bubblenaut‘s gameplay come from? Was it a product of the inspiration provided by games like Tiny Wings and Jetpack Joyride, or was it more of an instantaneous “Eureka!” moment? Dean Tate (DT): Originally Owen [Owen Macindoe, doctor of computer science] and I started by asking the question “What sort of skill-based actions are really fun to human beings?” and I think at the time I’d read something about how, evolutionarily, humans have succeeded as a species by being really good at judging parabolic arcs. ie. if you’re a caveman and you’re good at throwing a rock or a spear at a mammoth, you’re gonna go far, baby. For that reason, humans really enjoy judging parabolas, and if you look around, there are many, many games based on that concept that are very successful (eg. the Worms series, Scorched Earth, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and so on) as well as pretty much every type of sport ever conceived (football, basketball, golf, and on and on and on). So, weird way to come at the design of a game, right? We basically started with that blank slate, asking ourselves the question “what sort of game can we make about parabolic arcs?” Strangely enough the only game we really looked at closely in the beginning was Wave Race 64, which is all about looking at ocean waves (parabolas, kinda) and being really good at riding them on your jetski. A lot of our early prototypes were about water and waves.
148apps: It looks like you had a lot of fun coming up with all the different ERFLING designs. Was there a limit on how many you could add to the game or did you just run with it and see how far you could go? DT: The only limit was my time and energy. It took around a year of experimentation to land on a set of rules and guidelines that allowed me to quickly create new ERFLINGS. Once I had those down pat, and a huge list of types that I wanted to create, I just aimed to crank out 3 or 4 new ones every week or so, and did so through to now. I probably redesigned each one around 2 or 3 times. We’re shipping with around 90 designs, and I’d love to do another 90 and release them in an update some time.
148apps: Aside from experience, are there any particular insights from working in AAA development that you think might benefit your work as an indie developer? DT: For me it’s just design process. I learned a lot in AAA about design iteration fundamentals, philosophy, etc. How to fail fast and “find the fun”. How to tackle new design challenges. In some ways I think that allows me to work fast, but then I also think a lot of the more talented indies out there who don’t have AAA experience have an advantage in just being scrappier and more focused in their work than I am.
148apps: Between the music by Chris Remo (Thirty Flights of Loving, Gone Home), sound by Danny Baranowsky ( Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, Canabalt), your own design experience (Bioshock, Bioshock 2, Rock Band), and Owen’s programming skills, it sounds like you’ve assembled an amazing team! What’s it like having so many well known (and super-talented) people working together on Captain Bubblenaut? DT: It’s great! It’s part of why I wanted to become indie. I love everyone I’ve met in this community and am thrilled to get to work with some of them, and hope to work with more!
148apps: Do you have any reservations about this being your very first iOS release? DT: Only that the market is very crowded and it’s hard to stand out. From my perspective as a creator and a designer, I feel like my best chance of success is in building something that is high in quality, original, built to take advantage of the unique aspects of the iPhone, and most of all, FUN. For me I think that’s the best way to succeed.
Our thanks to Dean Tate and the rest of the team for all their hard work (past, present, and inevitably future)! Captain Bubblenaut will start exterminating ERFLINGS at the end of this month. If you’d like to help the little guy out, the full game (no IAPs) will only set you back $1.99.
Ever wanted to start up a tech firm? Got an idea that seems stupidly awesome and original? Or just fancy running a business, warts and all? There’s a fairly safe and inexpensive way of experiencing that life coming to iOS later this year. That title is Hipster CEO, a game which challenges players to “take an idea from their dorm room to Wall Street, Zuckerberg-style”. We had a word with Dublin-based developer, Ger Kelly, on his vision for the game and just how it came to be.
Ger (left) and his business advisory team.
148apps: Where did the idea for Hipster CEO come from? Ger Kelly (GK): Well firstly I have a huge passion for tech startups – I love reading about the causes behind startups’ success and failure, exciting new technologies, marketing techniques, stuff like that. Whenever I tell someone I work in a startup they always say that they’d love the opportunity to do just that. I wanted to give people a taste of what running a startup company is like – fun but difficult. It isn’t all air hockey tables and free beer but when it works, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Secondly, I was a video game addict as a kid – particularly sports/business simulations like Championship Manager and Theme Park. I always felt games like that were different in the sense that you were especially proud of what you did – like bringing some low-tier football team all the way to the Cup Final – you always wanted to tell your friends. Even now one of my fondest teenage memories is winning a league title with my favorite football team – which probably says a lot about my adolescence! I felt that there was room for a tech startup simulator in the same vein.
The name came about when a friend called me a total hipster because I guess I can be a little snobby about my musical taste at times. I had a few other ideas for a title but people really reacted really well to Hipster CEO so I went with it.
148apps: The idea of the game seems pretty lighthearted, will that continue throughout the game? GK: The Hipster element of the game is simply a veneer, the game will create the experience of building a tech startup as closely as possible. I think the Hipster shtick appeals to a lot of people in a fun way and I want people to have fun playing this game. However, the gameplay will be firmly rooted in reality so there won’t be any “wacky” investment offers tabled or disgruntled developers setting fire to their desks. On second thoughts I might include that last one!
Stuff like the Social Network movie and TV shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank makes every man and his dog feel like they could grow a startup company into a huge success but, as anyone who has ever built a startup will know, it’s a lot of hard work. There are so many things you need to get right to build a winning product: quality development, creative marketing, and of course sales. It might sound crazy but so many tech startups out there have no sales strategy starting off – Hipster CEO will encourage players to start making revenue from day one.
Players will need to get the right balance of these three in order to succeed, all the while keeping their staff happy, handling investors, and dealing with the media. That sure seems like a lot but trust me that’s what a startup CEO has to deal with on a day-to-day basis!
I hope my app puts a smile of the face of those who play it because they feel rewarded not just because of some jibe at hipsters.
Where the magic happens – part of the Project 51 group – a creative collective in Dublin
148apps: Will the game solely be quite text focused, or will there be more game-style graphics too? GK: I really wanted to have a basic graphics pane which displayed your character, your employees, your office and stuff like that but it’s just not feasible for the first version. Like being able to see your little team graduate from your parent’s basement to some swanky, playground-esque office would be awesome. I have some design skills but nothing on the level that would be required for proper animation so I’ve had to shelve that idea for now. It will probably be one of the first things addressed if the game takes off.
I think Championship Manager showed that you can just have words and numbers on the screen and still create a totally immersive experience.
148apps: Will it be a one-off payment game, or will there be in-app purchases involved?
There will be a one-off payment and the option to get additional investment via in-app purchases. I want to stress, however, that you don’t need to make any in-app purchases after getting the app in order to build a great startup – it’s merely there as an option. I’d actually prefer if players declined the option to take investment completely and slowly but surely built a solid company but I know there’s people out there who will just want to get to a certain level as fast as possible.
148apps: Is there a way of completing Hipster CEO? Or is it more open ended than that? GK: It’s open ended. Each character in the game (including you as CEO) has certain stats that will grow and shrink based on their performance. If your company goes broke you’ll have the option to build another startup with the skill set you’ve developed. Most entrepreneurs fail with their first few startups so it may take players a few different cracks of the whip before they really hit the big time. It’s totally possible of course that they have a huge success of things and start getting acquisition offers to decide upon.
There will be an online leaderboard of all the players worldwide so you can see how you measure up as a CEO in the game. I’ve a lot of long term ideas for the game too – like inviting the top players around the world to become virtual venture capitalists in later versions of the game which other people can pitch to.
Sounding a pretty intriguing idea, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Hipster CEO‘s progress. Further information is also available at the game’s site. It’s hopefully set for release in October. Thanks to Ger for taking the time to answer our questions!
Dive For Treasures was quite the delight when we reviewed it earlier this month, so we decided to find out more about its developer, Eccentricity Games, and the team’s plans for the future.
Who is Eccentricity Games?
Founded in 2010, the team is made up of a handful of industry veterans who came from a number of Poland’s major game development companies. With the help of a producer, Hubert Bibrowski, based in Canada, the team has steadily grown ever since.
What’s next on the horizon?
Over to Hubert Bibrowski to explain more here: “Right now we’re just coming out of launch mode. Dive for Treasures made the AppStore’s New and Noteworthy list in the U.S. marketplace so we are very excited. The feedback was great, we’re so happy to hear the game is well received as it was a bit of a gamble. There aren’t many games like this out there. Right now we are busy working on an update to the game. The main feedback we received was that people wish the game were longer so I’m happy to announce we will be updating the game with more levels soon. It goes without saying that these updates are going to be distributed free of charge to all existing customers. We’d like to send a big THANK YOU to all the game’s fans.”
Hubert also explained that there are more titles to come from the developer, too, with the first set to be presented in August. As he put it, “It is going to be a big one too…I’d say it is the biggest and most polished game in the history of our studio,” although he’s not yet able to reveal all. We’ll be sure to press him for more information when the time comes!
Anything else I should know about the developers?
All too happy to help, Hubert answered a few of our questions.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind Dive for Treasures? Hubert: Not sure…Maybe this thing I drive by every day?
Seriously though, we wanted to make a game focused on exploration, with a unique twist. We didn’t want to make another “runner” game, we wanted something fresh. When the submarine idea came up, we knew we had something that was fun and challenging in a new way. Sometimes, I think we gamers forget how nice it is to play something relaxing. We all agreed that there wasn’t enough of these types of games in the marketplace so we went ahead and made one.
148apps: You’ve tackled some very varied titles. Is there a particular genre that the team prefer to work on? Hubert: We like all sorts of games. Working on smaller projects, as opposed to large AAA titles, gives us room to experiment, explore and take risks. We always make the games that we ourselves would like to play instead of focusing on the flavor of the week that happens to be top on the app store. We really like tower defense games – I have a feeling one of our next titles will fall into that category.
Yawnie – encouraging kids to sleep.
148apps: What are the team’s favorite apps or games? Hubert: We like so many games that no one here can agree on just one title. We play our fair share of Starcraft, Gran Turismo and Left 4 Dead and of course we play a lot of mobile games: Sailboat Championship, Tiny Wings, King of Opera and Bike Baron are some of the office favorites.
Where can I find out more about Eccentricity Games?
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the new title set to be released in August, but there are plenty of other sources to learn more. There’s the Eccentricity Games website, Twitter account and Facebook page.
Thanks to Hubert and the rest of the team for taking the time to answer our questions. Dive for Treasures is out now, priced at $1.99.