Monument Valley, the upcoming puzzler from London-based ustwo, has raised quite a lot of interest since first being teased a few months ago. It’s uniquely MC Escher inspired interactive 3D puzzle style has piqued the interest of many. It seems to be on-track to be the next indie hit for iOS. I recently had a chance to sit down with Dan Gray, Producer, and Neil McFarland, Director of the game to discuss and play through the game. Let’s find out if all of the early accolades are deserved.
Ustwo has a reputation of quirky, yet quality games with a very unique visual style. Their office in an old warehouse in the Shoreditch area of London is just what I would imagine from a company that makes games like Whale Trail. A large number of bright, interesting, inspirational, funny, and oddball bits and found objects all over the offices and common spaces fits that perceived personality. It’s as though their offices were in the world’s largest art student dorm room. A perfect environment to foster the unique styles and somewhat off-the-wall games. Their previous iOS hit, Whale Tail, is the perfect illustration of their unique style in action. It combines a visually interesting look and bright color pallet with fun game mechanics and music.
Monument Valley takes a slightly cleaner, reserved aesthetic over Whale Trail, though it maintains a very oddball game mechanic. In this game the main interaction is rotating parts of the screen, mechanical or otherwise, leading to illogical optical illusions that create new paths for the characters to travel. It’s these unique puzzle elements that require that you put what your mind thinks of as spacial reality on hold. Swinging platforms and stairways connect in seemingly impossible ways by rotating the entire structure or small sections on screen. It seems illogical, but when it fits, it’s genius.
The game is designed with flat colors and intentional lack of detail that lends perfectly to the logic defying geometric puzzles. The lack of color and detail is almost the exact opposite of what would be expected for a game that moves in this way and stresses perceived logic so greatly. Where detail is given in the game, it is intentional to draw the eye to an available action or clue to how to progress. Tremendous thought has been given to the many levels of puzzles in this game. Maddening levels of trial and error have lead to some of the most unique puzzle and maze elements I have experienced.
For some reason the game reminds me of what a sliding 15 tile puzzle would look like if MC Escher designed it during a month long bender on absinthe and peyote. It’s absolutely visually compelling and draws you in, wanting more and more. Moreish as the English say. It’s relaxing and stressful. Balancing that line perfectly.
Ustwo takes pride in making unique and interesting games and it shows in Monument Valley. We can expect to see it released at some point this spring or early summer. It will be a premium game, priced reasonably the developers tell us.
Whale Trail, ustwo’s stylish endless runner, is about to make another big PIVOT 180°™. The game is going to shift to a free to play model in the coming weeks. The game is going to be more akin to Jetpack Joyride or Temple Run than the pure score experience that it was previously. Now players earn an in-game currency called krill while playing, that can be spent on new costumes for Willow, along with powers and items for Willow to use, all in the name of higher scores. Of course, it will be possible to buy krill with in-app purchases as well.
For those who purchased the game in the past, and are potentially angry about that $0.99 game they bought shifting to free, well ustwo is hoping to soothe those fears by giving previous paid users a big bag of krill for their trouble. Just what I always wanted! Dr. Zoidberg should be excited too. ustwo are hoping that this update turns the game from a Succailure™ into a just plain success. The update is due to hit in the coming weeks.
When Whale Trail was released last month, ustwo’s mills made a big point about how the game needed to sell about 300,000 copies in order to be a financial success. The game has so far only sold 130,000 copies; a number that a lot of indie devs would kill for, but for the greater ambitions of ustwo, it clearly falls well short, given the game’s lengthy development time and high budget. The game reached the top 25 on the iPhone and the top 15 on the iPad while featured as the iPhone/iPod touch game of the week worldwide, but has been declining down the charts ever since. So, in an attempt to revitalize the game, ustwo are executing what they call a “PIVOT 180°™” to try and revitalize sales.
The new update to the game adds 32 new levels which transform the game from just an endless runner into one with level-based challenges as well. The new levels challenge players to try and navigate set levels, collecting blubbles along the way. Reaching certain point scores nets more stars (true false fact: it is now possible to earn more stars in iOS games than it there are stars in the universe), which helps unlock future levels. Those who are too lazy to perform well to unlock those levels, or who want to help mills and the rest of the folks at ustwo come closer to profitability, can pay $0.99 or local equivalent to unlock them all at once.
Of course, the same endless mode is still in there, so those who like their games to never end never have to. This release is obviously another risk taken toward profitability, but ustwo are hoping that between this PIVOT 180°™ and the in-development Android version, Willow the Whale can go from succailure to just plain success. The update is now available on the App Store.
Carter speaks with ustwo’s mills, a British design firm and developer who are about to release their first game, Whale Trail. Carter and mills discuss the trials and tribulations that have gone into the game’s development, what testing has brought to the final experience, why the game is a premium app in a world of free to play titles, and the risk that ustwo is taking in releasing this big budget game.
British design studio ustwo is making their first iOS game, Whale Trail. This is a charming endless high score game where players control a whale who is flying through the sky. The goal is to collect bubbles that extend the eponymous whale trail that powers this flying whale, which also extend the points multiplier. Evil dark clouds line the sky as well, and these must be avoided in order to keep the multiplier and whale trail up. Holding down on the screen causes the whale to fly upward, eventually performing loop-de-loops.
This is a game centered around its visual and artistic design. The theme is key here; the visuals are bright and colorful, representing a rainbow of colors with a whimsical style, contrasting the dark, evil clouds. The music, created by Gruff Rhys, continues that whimsical style with the lyric version of the Whale Trail theme that plays on the title screen, along with the instrumental version that plays in the game itself. Everything in the game is meant to be friendly, fun, and inviting.
One part of the game design that becomes apparent is that sessions last longer than the average endless/high score game. Failure is not an imminent threat like in other games like Jetpack Joyride; bumping into a cloud is not a death sentence, and refilling the whale trail bar is easy, though the bubbles do become more sparse over time. This was an intentional design decision.
As according to ustwo’s co-founder and “Chief Wonka,” a man who goes by the single name of Mills, “Whale Trail is about creating a longer gameplay experience – it’s about manifesting an almost endless/neverending gaming experience. You can’t appreciate this wonder if the game ends quick…you can’t rush beauty.” However, he adds that the game is meant to also appeal to a wider audience, including those who want to go for high scores: “It’s there to be enjoyed on the most simple and subtle of levels if you’re that way inclined, or to be enjoyed on a more serious and competitive level, for those who really want to push it to the limit and just focus on achieving the highest scores possible.” However, he reiterates the ultimate goal of the game: “This game is all about the joys of flying.”
Whale Trail will set sail on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad on October 20th. Those looking to get their hands on this game right away can visit ustwo’s Whale Trail Facebook page and become eligible to test out the game for themselves before the game’s final release.
As a person with a crazy imagination, I find myself sometimes self-narrating what I see in my day-to-day life. Anything from an amusing happenstance to a funny exchange between friends, all becomes fodder for my over-active mind. I can’t even count the number of times that I have taken a picture on my iPhone, only to later come up with a caption that could shed a new, and often more humorous light on a situation. For people with a mind much like mine, publisher ustwo brings us Happy Snapper, the photo tweaking app for passive aggressive jerks like me everywhere.
Operating under the popular assumption that a picture is in fact worth a thousand words, Happy Snapper allows you to take candid shots from your iPhone photo library, and apply stickers and headers that let the world know what you really think. Are you really, “with stupid?” Would you like to inform a coworker that you think their nametag should really read, “Hi, my name is moron?” You can do all of that an more with this versatile tool of ego destruction. Here is how the app works:
Pick your sticker and write your own message or slogan.
Drag to move, pinch/ pull to resize and rotate the sticker at anytime.
Double tap the sticker to edit the text.
Take a photo or use an existing photo from your library.
Save the photo to your library, email it to a friend or post it to Facebook or Twitter.
The app sounds just as simple in execution as it is in concept, but don’t take our word for it. We’ll leave you with a trailer showing off Happy Snapper’s many uses below. Be sure to let us know when you posterize your first victim.
Fridays are the perfect time for reflecting on the past week…and Fridays at 148apps are no exception. Here are five interesting apps released in the past week for your perusal!
ustwo seems to enjoy creating unique apps, such as the masterfully titled “…“. Inkstrumental is their newest app, and it’s a funky one. The point is to create your own weird music videos and strange soundtracks, using the 31 creatures included. See, each character will emit a musical sound when you tap it. A “VIP character” allows you to record your own sounds, too. By mixing them together against different backdrops you create a unique mash-up of noise and your very own music video. It might not be as complex as other sound-mixing apps, but Inkstrumental is intuitive and packs a ton of character. Who couldn’t love these fuzzy creatures? As an added bonus, you can share your masterpieces by in-app uploading to YouTube.
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2010-05-07 :: Category: Entertainment
By now it’s an established fact that the Tap Tap Revenge series reigns supreme when it comes to iPhone rhythm games, at least in terms of popularity. Nirvana Revenge is the latest spin-off, featuring—you guessed it—hits from Nirvana. Fourteen songs are bundled with the app, including songs like Smells Like Teen Spirit, Breed, Heart Shaped Box, and Lithium. (Note that the fourteen includes three live versions.) The songs give you a good sampling of the band’s work, and you get to tap along to the fourteen tracks for far less than they would cost on iTunes. This being a Tap Tap game, you also have a few neat features like four difficulty levels and four boss tracks thrown in. If you’re a Nirvana Fan looking for a gaming fix, you’d better check out Nirvana Revenge.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2010-05-12 :: Category: Games
To quote Komenten’s description: “A comet has been born, please take good care of it!” Komenten is a colorful space exploration game in which you zip around the galaxy like an intergalactic tourist. There’s no real objective, but the vivid watercolor graphics coupled with the soundtrack make a relaxing, beautiful ride. Even if you don’t usually enjoy non-traditional games, I’m willing to wager that anyone in touch with their inner child could easily get lost in Komenten’s vibrant, bizarre world. The universe is such an exciting place—why not explore it?
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
Released: 2010-05-12 :: Category: Games
Gameloft just keeps rolling out games. Zombie Infection is one of their latest titles, and if it looks familiar, well, chances are that’s because it’s highly similar to Resident Evil. That doesn’t stop Zombie Infection from being a technically stunning title, however, and Gameloft’s new zombie game is sure to devour both your brains and your free time. Zombie Infection comes with a 12-level campaign mode in which you switch between ex-soldier Damien Sharpe and journalist Alex Rayne, as well as a Survivor Mode. There are tons of enemies, including mutated and infected animals, plenty of weapons, a sinister zombie-filled storyline, and top-notch 3D graphics. In short? Gameloft does it again…this time, with zombies!
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2010-05-10 :: Category: Games
StreetSpark is one of those apps that needs a large user base to function, which is probably why it’s free! StreetSpark is a location-based dating app that takes your location and searches for nearby users who match your profile (they call this a “Spark”). With an eye towards safety, StreetSpark doesn’t reveal your location or personal contact info. Instead, you can chat in-app or meet up in one of StreetSpark’s HotSpots, which give StreetSpark users discounts and offer users a place to congregate. Think FourSquare, but for dating. It’s a really interesting use of the location feature, and thankfully it looks like the app’s developers are aware of privacy concerns. Sadly, it’s currently limited to the UK, but the developers plan to expand to other countries (and, for that matter, handsets) in the future.
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Posted February 13th, 2010 by Arron Hirst Our Rating: :: MUST HAVE
PositionApp™ allows developers and consumers alike to visually see the ranking status, rise and fall increments and more of each app they own in the store - and all on the move. This app is pure genius.
Game trailers are serious business. The decisions that you come to on a daily basis sometime come down to whether or not a quality game trailer has been made. Even if you don’t particularly care for trailers, I watch them religiously and often highlight apps that put in that extra bit of effort.
Last week I went ahead and put in my best trailer ever vote for Chillingo’s newest title, The Hero. Perhaps my vote was premature. This week I’m not even going to leave it up to me. Let the readers be the judge! This weeks showdown is between two game trailer powerhouses. On one side, we have Chillingo’s trailer of the hero, which is still all sorts of amazing to me. On the other side, we have ustwo’s trailer for ..™. They pride themselves on their trailers for the entire .™ coolectable series, but I personally like the ..™ trailer the best. Watch both trailers after the break and let us know who wins… I have to know!
It’s no secret that the App Store economy is artificially deflated, but none have been quite as outspoken as the guys over at ustwo™. Their blog proclaims that “UK studio ustwo™ have launched a tongue-in-cheek (yet serious) campaign against 59p app pricing (that’d be 99 cents in the US, obviously). “F*** 59p. I’d rather nothing than that insult price.” Inspired by their tongue-in-cheek rage, I decided to send a few questions over their way to get the real scoop. Continue reading 4Q Interview: ustwo™ »
Following on from .™, the world’s first App Store app to be built from concept to final within a 48 hour period, iPhone development studio ustwo™ are about to release the next in the series. Due to the full version of Inkstrumental™ not being quite ready, they quickly created a super lite special. It’s called Inkstrumental™ CRAZO™ and it’s a taster/lite version for the studio’s next major non-48hr release. Inkstrumental™
So, before they hold their Inkstrumental™ pre-launch press event in London tonight, and before the apparazzi™ comes out in force, the studio have allowed me to give you an exclusive look at Inkstrumental™ CRAZO™, which I’m told is so exclusive, Ustwo™ themselves are still undecided over whether they’re even going to release this publicly yet.
If that wasn’t enough, I’ll also be showing you Inkstrumental™ (the full version) in action! It’s important to note that what you are about to see are pre-release products from ustwo™, and features and or UI layout may be subject to change.
Inkstrumental™ CRAZO™ (LITE)
Dubbed Inkstrumental™ CRAZO™ the app is the a super lite special edition of Inkstrumental™ set to hit soon. The app consists of a trippily-designed soundboard, which uses the cartoon-like characters you’re about to be introduced to, in the full version of Inkstrumental™.
Checkout the moisture below:
In this ‘lite’ version, the characters seem to be movable although due to it being a lite version, there won’t be any record or playback functionality. This is simply going to be an app to have a right good ol’ mess around with.
A collaboration between both ustwo and Jon Burgerman, described as sound graffiti and costing the studio in the region of £30.000 to develop, ustwo™ are stressing Inkstrumental™ – is the BIG one.
Having gone back and forth throughout the production stages, changing ideas and even a few week ago starting over completely, ustwo™ are confident Inkstrumental™ is going to be an instant hit with the App Store crowd.
A fun app, Inkstrumental™ is set in a crazily cool designed environment. The app sees you playing with wonderfully strange and sometimes plain weird creatures. Each time you tap, the creatures will make different sounds, allowing you to create and record an awesome and colorful musical score. Your creation of musical genius is shown up top on the timeline, and if you feel you want to start over, just shake and the score is reset.
In their words:
“Inkstrumental™ lets you create music by touching the characters, who each play a sound from a selection of weird and wonderful samples and noises. You can make different tunes by putting the characters in various sequences and touching them like a synthesizer keyboard. You will also be able share your Inkstrumental™ creations with other users, and hear what inkstrumentalists™ around the globe have come up with.”
I have to say I’m quite impressed at the level of design work that are coming out in these apps. Look out for both Inkstrumental™ and Inkstrumental™ CRAZO™ hitting the App Store, soon. Can’t wait to see more? We’ll have more from ustwo™ later tonight, where we’ll hopefully be bringing you some shots from their LIVE pre-launch UK press event. Stay Tuned!
Viral marketing, the variety that was made famous by JJ Abrams (Lost, Cloverfield), is by far my favorite form of marketing. On a typical day, my e-mail inbox is a semi disaster, with a billion e-mails about a billion things. I love them all… I really do, but the first thing I do in the morning is skim them for things that catch my eye. This one definitely caught my eye. I’ll save you the filler text, but the e-mail basically consists of a youtube link and the phrase “have you seen the .?”
Why no sir, I have not, so I watched the video above.
Ok, so we have a dot being surrounded by some kind of red matter. It’s menacing in a way, but it also reminds me of how I get dressed in the morning. Things just hover for a while and then slowly bond with me (I can’t back that up). While pondering this thought, it hit me. In a freak moment of clarity, I figured out what the video was for. It all made sense. This was a video for the third installment of the Spot series… the long awaited sequel to Spot Goes to Hollywood! Needing a 21st century makeover, the story must go that Spot’s red shell has always been something similar to a Power Suit (the one in the Metroid series), which would finally explain how he was able to shoot off so many soda bubbles. Brilliant marketing move by 7UP, I must say.
Editor’s Note (Wait, I am the editor): After a few more moments of being awake, I decided to do a small investigation. I still don’t know much (I kind of like the suspense… I’ll just have to download the app), but I do know that this title has nothing to do with 7UP or Cool Spot. “.” was created by ustwo studios, otherwise known as ‘ The Studio Of Dreams’, during a seemingly insane 48 hour period somewhere in either London or Malmö. Apparently the red stuff isn’t a Power Suit either. I should have known by the menacing sound it made, but the red is evil… pure evil.
Being the current apple of my eye, I’ll definitely be looking to have a review of “.” up sometime early next week. Enjoy the viral video!