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A few weeks ago I received word about a new card game coming to iOS called Earthcore. I had a chance to try out the game and it is a pretty fun take on lane-based combat. We did a quick email interview to dive into a few more details on the game. Be sure to check it out.
Tell us about the team behind Earthcore.
Our team is called Tequila Games and we’re from the beautiful city of Wroclaw in Poland.
Currently we’re about 30 people strong with another 20 people from outside the studio involved in the development of Earthcore: Shattered Elements including Michal Oracz whom you might know from his work on such titles like Neuroshima Hex and Theseus: The Dark Orbit.
Have you done other games we may have heard of?
Over the last decade we developed and self-published dozens of smaller casual mobile games under Tequila Mobile brand. After our team separated and formed Tequila Games we published games like the critically acclaimed BattleFriends at Sea and Fantasy Kingdom Defense HD.
Shattered Elements is our biggest and most ambitious production so far. With this game we want to reach out to more hardcore players, just like us, who enjoy playing tabletop and video games, especially strategies and old school RPG’s.
You can say that it’s a game that we all dreamt of creating and it’s happening right now.
Earthcore seems to take a lot of cues from board game design. What are some of your team’s favorite board games?
Well, we owe a lot of that to Michal Oracz’s years of experience in creating amazing board games
Within our team we enjoy both dark and serious titles like Arkham Horror, Mansion of Madness or Chaos in the Old World and more colorful and fun games like the fantastic Imperial Settlers and Smash Up. We also enjoy classic tabletop RPG’s like Dungeons & Dragons, Warhammer or Polish Neuroshima as much as our favourite 90’s video games like Fallout, Arcanum and Planescape: Torment.
Obviously we play a lot of collectible card games too, like Magic: The Gathering in all available forms and digital titles like Hearthstone and Ascension.
Tell us a bit about Earthcore.
Shattered Elements is a digital card game in which we want to introduce some innovative gameplay mechanics. The trick we used can be compared to the “tip of the iceberg” metaphor. In Earthcore Fire burns Earth, Earth absorbs Water and Water extinguishes Fire - just like in Rock, Paper, Scissors. That’s only the tip!
What lies below on the high slopes of this mountain? Not to uncover all our cards, I can say that we added a unique Risk mechanics that substituted the corny health vs. damage. Why? Most of all it adds a certain element of gambling to the game in which players can lose more health points when playing more powerful cards.
Another curious feature of Earthcore is how we approached skills that the cards possess. We spent a lot of time on combining skills and making them to combo in certain situations. Then we realized that it is actually a lot of fun! So why not to give this choice to the players?! This is how we came up with Card Crafting which allows players to create their own cards with unique skill combinations they invented.
There are a few lane-based games available on mobile devices, what sets Earthcore apart?
We believe that besides our innovative combat mechanics, this factor is deep story-driven single player campaign and robust multiplayer experience. It’s also the variety of choices and tactical freedom in battle that sets us apart from other card games on the market.
This wouldn’t be possible without our revolutionary Card Crafting that during the beta testing has proven to be a perfect solution for a mobile game and who knows, maybe we’ll even try to utilize it in a tabletop RPG or a paper version of the game, which is one of the things we’re considering if the mobile version be successful.
In my short time with the game, it feels like Earthcore has a ton of variety. How many cards are designed so far and how long did it take?
Like I said earlier, the trick is that we, the devs, don’t design all of the cards. We give players a few hundred basic ones which can be perceived as tools. Armed with those tools, players can build their own cards by adding Recruit cards with one skill to Hero cards that can hold up to three skills. Card Crafting is estimated to give over 500,000 possible card-skill combinations to discover and use in battle.
The basic cards and skills were created throughout the development process but we already have a team working on expanding the number of basic cards on regular basis.
These kinds of games thrive in competitive play. Can you tell us about the multiplayer options in Earthcore?
Shattered Elements will feature three multiplayer modes.
In the first one you’ll be able to duel with your friends, gain experience and master your tactics. This mode won’t grant you any rewards in Gold though. Those you’ll receive in Casual mode where the game will pair you with random opponents based on your experience level and track record.
The most important part of the multiplayer will be the ranked games.
We’re dividing our leaderboards into various leagues in which players will be able to advance based on the ELO ranking system used in chess tournaments and games like League of Legends. In this system not only the number of victories matters but also the win to lose ratio. Your playstyle and even the frequency of playing will also matter. Players will need to take some real effort to climb the leaderboards up to the Masters League with only 30 places for the best players from all over the world.
Currently the game is online only, are there plans to make an offline mode?
The online requirement is the best way to protect the game and all honest players from cheaters but we know that there’s a demand for an offline experience as well. We’re considering adding an offline mode for the single-player story campaign, managing your decks and maybe Card Crafting but this won’t happen before the game is already on the market.
Note: Earthcore: Shattered Elements will be available on the App Store for iPad and iPhone soon. Android and PC versions should follow later in 2015. The game is already available in an early Soft Launch version in Canada and The Netherlands. For more details please visit www.earthcoregame.com
As we discovered [url=]at GenCon 2014[/url], Calliope Games is working on a version of Tsuro for iOS. Tsuro is a beautiful tile-laying game and one that feels right at home on a tablet.
Last week, Thunderbox Entertainment, the developers of Tsuro reached out to let me know that they are preparing to Beta test the game (more details on that coming soon). They were available for an interview, and I was able to probe them about Tsuro and their studio. I hope you enjoy the interview and, perhaps, volunteer to be a tester.
Brad: First off, can you tell us about Thunderbox Entertainment?
Dan Taylor: Sure! Thunderbox Entertainment is a new studio, consisting of seasoned game industry vets who love board games. We specialize in taking great table-top games and translating them into the digital realm. Our process is a bit like the scene in Tron where Jeff Bridges gets zapped into the computer... but with less laser pain and more board game fun!
We're based in sunny Montréal, home to some of the finest game developers in the world. And also a great place for board games because it is submerged in freezing-cold snow for half the year.
Thunderbox is currently working on its first app: a loving recreation of Tsuro - The Game of The Path, from Calliope Games. We showed Calliope a demo of how awesome their game could look on a tablet or smart phone, and they loved it! The next thing we knew, we were on a plane to Seattle to start the ball rolling on what we hope will be a really fun little app for you all to enjoy.
Brad: Can you tell us a little bit about the team?
DT: Thunderbox has just started up, so we are keeping things small for the time being. Currently it's just the two of us: myself, Dan Taylor, and Jules Morgan.
Jules Morgan: Dan does the majority of the creative work, whereas I am more about the business and organisation, but Tsuro has been very much a collaborative effort.
Dan is a creator, he is always thinking and analyzing and working out the best gameplay, and because I am not as close in to the tech as he is, I am able to take a step back, look at what's been created, play it and give feedback on the experience as a whole.
DT: I've been in the games industry for seventeen years now, and have been very lucky to have worked at some super cool places like Sony, Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Square Enix and Eidos. Sometimes on awesome games... other times... not so much! With Thunderbox I get a chance to work on something I am really passionate about, and take the time to create an experience that is extremely polished - it's very much a labour of love!
JM: I think it would be fair to say that gaming is a big part of our life! I've been on the production side of AAA game development since 2007, originally in Vancouver (Electronic Arts, Radical Entertainment, United Front Games) and now in Montréal. I've also been heavily involved with Vancouver ACM SIGGRAPH and Montreal's Women in Games chapter.
When we first moved to Montreal, it was because of work and so we didn't have a big social network. I used to run games nights back in Vancouver where we'd play videogames, as I was, and still am, always trying to find that social element to gaming - so a regular board game night was a natural thing to start up in Montreal. With boardgames you get a better social interaction and we managed to build up a really fantastic base of friends from that.
Brad: You mentioned that you are board game lovers, what are some of your team's favorite games?
JM: I grew up playing the classics (Monopoly, Scrabble, Life) but it was only within the last few years that I really started getting into board games again - Dan tends to introduce me to a lot of games I wouldn't normally find on my own. I have a pretty short attention span when it comes to board games, so I like games we can play quickly. I love Smallworld, Munchkin and am really looking forward to getting into Star Wars X-Wing Miniatures. I am also interested in looking more towards the fantasy RPG genre in boardgames, as I tend to gravitate more towards those games on console. As well, Bausack and Tsuro generally end up on our table at the end of most of our dinner parties!
DT: That's a very tough question! Naturally, we love Tsuro... but there are so many other super-fun games out there. I am a big fan of Vlaada Chvatil's work - particularly Galaxy Trucker and Space Alert. He's great at creating games where everybody plays at the same time. I also quite like Fortune and Glory, because it really captures that old RKO serial feel with its cliff-hanger mechanic... but the play-time is a bit too epic for Jules! If you have a larger group of people round, Bausack, as Jules said, is excellent - it's the only game I know where the texture of the pieces is a strategic factor. But my all-time favourite game is Escape from Atlantis. I still have the Waddington's version that I used to play with my brother and sister in the 80s, complete with inappropriately terrifying box art. Atlantis has it all: strategy, chance, daring, betrayal, revenge and freakin' crazy sea-monsters!
Brad: It looks like Tsuro is your first project, what inspired you to choose Tsuro?
JM: First and foremost Tsuro is fantastic fun - and that's what Thunderbox is all about - but it's the elegance of the design that drew us specifically to Calliope's Tsuro.
DT: The game's premise is delightfully simple - place your tiles, make a path, stay on the board - but the narrative it creates between the players is very engaging. The mechanics are fun for gamers of all ages... and there is a nice, light strategy... but the randomness of the tiles and the unpredictability of the other players keep things exciting and, with a bit of luck, it's possible for a novice to beat an expert.
This light strategy, combined with Tsuro's quick pace, make it ideal for playing on-the go with your tablet or smartphone.
JM: Not to mention how beautiful the board and pieces are! Tsuro's aesthetic has been fabulously crafted - I can't wait to get my hands on the 10th Anniversary edition, which is just one of the many cool surprises Calliope are working on for 2015.
Brad: What are your main goals in translating Tsuro from analog to digital?
DT: Thunderbox have three pillars of design when taking any boardgame from tabletop to tablet...
1) Make it tactile - boardgames are tactile... and touch screens are tactile... we want to leverage the unique hardware of smart devices to recreate the real feel of playing the game as closely as possible.
2) Make it social - boardgames are at their best when shared with friends, and that absolutely has to come through with the digital version. We play to the strengths of the mobile medium by leveraging social networks and online connectivity, so players can come together to share their Tsuro experience.
3) Make it enhanced - what can technology bring to improve the game? The key here is restraint... any embellishment has to emphasise and compliment the core experience... it's all too easy to get carried away and lose sight of what makes the game fun in the first place. We've made a few aesthetic and mechanical enhancements to Tsuro that bring the excellent design of the original game to the fore.
Brad: Tsuro is known for its design and bits, how will you recreate this tactile experience digitally?
DT: Firstly, every piece of Tsuro has been faithfully recreated in full 3D. This is really crucial for us, as we want to avoid established design paradigms that make players feel like they are just moving bits of paper under glass. Even the tiles in the Tsuro app have a weight and thickness, because in real life they are made of high quality cardboard, and it's important that this comes across. We feel that this really differentiates us from other boardgame apps which sometimes feel like the game has been put through a mangle and flattened.
Secondly we have tried to keep user interactions solely to the game pieces - you drag your stone to set up the game, you tap the deck to start, you tap and drag the tiles to play. Once you get the hang of the game (which doesn't take long) you can turn off the hints and there is practically no interface outside of the game pieces. This is all about creating presence within a virtual environment (something that games like Fireproof's The Room do to great effect). You can't get the immersion of a home console or PC videogame on a 4 inch screen... but you can use the hardware to draw the player into your world through touch. For this reason, to start the Tsuro app you actually have to open the box which, for us, is as much of a delight as playing the actual game!
JM: Speaking of which, you may notice that the box and other pieces in Tsuro are a little scuffed around the edges. This is because we recreated them from super high-res scans of a real box - not artwork. This came about because, when we created the original demo that we used to pitch the concept to Ray and Jordan at Calliope, we didn't have access to the artwork files... so we just scanned our own copy of the game! Of course, once we got the green light from Calliope, they sent all the original artwork across... but, when we tried it in game, it felt strangely sterile. That feeling of a boardgame being an old friend, with whom you've shared countless good times, was gone... so we kept the original scans, complete with all the blemishes and stains from many happy hours of gaming!
Brad: One of the most important parts of board gaming, and something some feel is lost on digital games are the social aspects. What kind of multiplayer features will Tsuro have?
DT: This is a big part of the Thunderbox experience. You can never fully recreate the magical experience of sitting round a table with your friends... so, outside of Tsuro's pass-and-play mode, we don't try to. Instead we focus on how social gaming works in the online space, and leverage that to connect Tsuro players to one another. Even while you play solo, you'll be able to see your friends enjoying Tsuro alongside you, through leaderboards and acheivements. If you create an impressively serpentine trail, you'll be able share your path with friends and challenge them to do better. And of course we are currently working on cross-platform, online multi-player...
Brad: I am big on UI design and digital enhancements in tablet board games, as I feel that is what digitization really adds. What kind of digital enhancements are you planning to bring?
DT: Well, on the UI side, we are trying to keep things as minimal and clean as possible... we want people to interact with the game pieces, not menus... which is no small design challenge.
JM: In terms of other enhancements we have some really cool stuff! We've taken the ethereal theme of Tsuro, and used sound and visual effects to enhance that - when your stones travel across the board, it's accompanied by a sparkling firework display of light and sound.
DT: Gameplay-wise, aside from the classic survival rule-set there are now two new ways to enjoy Tsuro. We spoke to the team at Calliope, and they told us that fans of the game had developed a new way to play in which the winner would be the player whose path crossed itself the most times. This sounded super fun, so we put it in the app as Loop Battle! The other alternate rule-set, Longest Path, is fairly self explanatory - the player with the longest path wins. We're pretty sure there is no way you could play like this in real life... unless you had a ball of string, the manual dexterity of a brain surgeon, and the patience of a saint!
Brad: Playing a little Tsuro, it seems like the AI is pretty great. Was it challenging to develop the AI for this game?
DT: Thank you very much! Tsuro's strategy may seem simple... but it is, in fact, extremely nuanced, which made the AI a really fun challenge to design.
JM: We are very lucky to be good friends with an incredibly talented AI coder; she has created intelligence for all sorts of games, from Medal of Honor to FIFA Street, and very kindly consulted on Tsuro, explaining how varying levels of situational awareness and graded decision making ability can be used to create the feeling of playing against a real person. Thanks to her input, we were able to create something quite interesting with our AI!
DT: We didn't want to make the standard Easy, Medium or Hard AI... it felt important to create AI with personality, so in Tsuro you have Silly, Clever and Tricky. The AI have different levels of awareness, and different strategies for victory. For example, the Silly AI doesn't really pay attention to the other players, and, as long as it doesn't take him off the board, his next move will be difficult to predict. The Clever AI will optimise their strategy based on the rule-set, but will play sportsmanlike, so you have a fighting chance. At the tougher end of the spectrum, the Tricky AI always thinks a number of steps ahead, won't make a move that allows another player to take control of her stone, and will aggressively position herself to eliminate the other players whether she needs to or not! The difficulty with the Tricky AI was making it think quickly... you may notice a slight pause while it analyses the possible outcomes of several hundred different moves! We have a really hard time beating more than 3 of them.. but then sometimes the Silly AI catches us off guard too!
JM: We are currently beta testing the Tsuro AI - if you want to join in, you can sign up on our website... we pick a random group of volunteers to test the latest build every month, and the feedback we receive from the community really helps us improve the game!
Tomas Rowlings reached out to me about the following interview he conducted with designer Stephen Hand, and I jumped at the opportunity. It is a pretty great read and I hope you enjoy it. Read Part 1 here - Brad
Chainsaw Warrior Generations: Developer of New Digital Version Interviews Designer of Original 1987 Version. (Part 2)
The Chainsaw Warrior boardgame designed by Stephen Hand in 1986 and published by Games Workshop the following year. The game sees the player trying to save New York from dire peril as twisted forces spewing from a spatial rift attempt to rip the city from this reality into theirs. The fate of the city rests solely in the hands of a lone cybernetic solider known as the 'Chainsaw Warrior'. As the eponymous hero, the player must battle through a zombie infested Manhattan tenement in order to locate the controlling intelligence behind the dark army swarming from the spatial rift. Chainsaw Warrior is an interesting game in the history of board games for a number of reasons. It is a solo board game – solo being much more common in card games and rare in board games. It also had a reputation as a challenging game to win; there were lots of ways to die and lots of enemy cards hoping to kill the player! The game was recently converted into a digital format (on mobile and PC) by Auroch Digital. Auroch Digital's Tomas Rawlings recently got the chance to interview its creator, Stephen Hand, and this is the result of that chat! (Part 2...)
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Tomas Rowlings reached out to me about the following interview he conducted with designer Stephen Hand, and I jumped at the opportunity. It is a pretty great read and I hope you enjoy it. - Brad
Chainsaw Warrior Generations: Developer of New Digital Version Interviews Designer of Original 1987 Version. (Part 1)
The Chainsaw Warrior boardgame designed by Stephen Hand in 1986 and published by Games Workshop the following year. The game sees the player trying to save New York from dire peril as twisted forces spewing from a spatial rift attempt to rip the city from this reality into theirs. The fate of the city rests solely in the hands of a lone cybernetic solider known as the 'Chainsaw Warrior'. As the eponymous hero, the player must battle through a zombie infested Manhattan tenement in order to locate the controlling intelligence behind the dark army swarming from the spatial rift. Chainsaw Warrior is an interesting game in the history of board games for a number of reasons. It is a solo board game – solo being much more common in card games and rare in board games. It also had a reputation as a challenging game to win; there were lots of ways to die and lots of enemy cards hoping to kill the player! The game was recently converted into a digital format (on mobile and PC) by Auroch Digital. Auroch Digital's Tomas Rawlings recently got the chance to interview its creator, Stephen Hand, and this is the result of that chat! (Part 1...)
Tomas: Some have said that Chainsaw Warrior is like a first-person shooter as a boardgame - it pre-dates Doom by 6 years - how does this assertion fit your view of the game?
Stephen: Of course the FPS label didn’t exist in 1986 but you only have to look at the game to see that’s exactly what it is. The paradigm videogamers are now so familiar with: first person involvement, arming the character, exploring a deadly environment, the Boss villain, the BFG, the distribution and diversity of enemies, fight after bloody fight against horrific creatures, even the transition from day to night -- Chainsaw Warrior is practically the template. A number of people in the industry have commented that the influence of Chainsaw Warrior has long gone unrecognised. And if you look at all the video and boardgames that appeared both before and after the publication of Chainsaw Warrior, it’s inarguable that Chainsaw Warrior was one of the first, if not the first, titles in the FPS genre. How many previous games even featured a chainsaw as a hand-to-hand combat weapon? That said, I am actually very wary of suggesting influence when the reality may well be coincidence; precedence and similarity do not equal imitation. But if you simply locate Chainsaw Warrior in a timeline of games, it’s pretty suggestive. I think in my Designer’s Notes I called it a video game without electricity.
A more curious comparison than “Doom” is “Wolfenstein - Spear of Destiny” which, released a few years after Chainsaw Warrior, featured some of the same key story elements I used in the unpublished “Chainsaw Warrior 2: Death’s Head” and which I alluded to in the Designer Notes of the Chainsaw Warrior rulebook.
Tomas: One of the things fans seem to like is the 80s vibe about the game; what other media and games at the time influenced your creative process?
Stephen: Zombies? Hello! Other than the graphics, I don’t see anything 80s about Chainsaw Warrior at all. Hollywood’s entire output is made up of zombies, Marvel comics from the 1960s, Tolkien from decades earlier, and remakes of 70s and 80s horror movies. It’s nearly impossible to see a film now that doesn’t feature Chainsaw Warrior’s combination of comicbook plot and cartoon violence. And what else is the Meat Machine if not a Saw/Human Centipede hybrid? In fact, if anything, the themes of Chainsaw Warrior are far more mainstream now than they were in 1986. Four of my five published boardgames have been remade or adapted in the last few years and it’s because they’ve lost none of their cultural currency. There’s nothing about stuffing a chainsaw into a zombie’s screaming face that modern game players can’t relate to. Though I guess one way you can tell Chainsaw Warrior isn’t a 2013 game is that the main character isn’t a clichéd, hot, kick- boxing, ‘empowered’ heroine in a fetish costume.
Providing a full list of influences on Chainsaw Warrior is impossible. Books, comics, movies, games -- they all went into the soup: “Alien”, John Carpenter’s remake of “The Thing”, the original “Dawn of the Dead” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, the books of HP Lovecraft and Michael Moorcock and many more. I’ll take full credit for The Meat Machine and the Slime. The violent tone of the game was fuelled by the quite brilliant “Action” comic, though there are also a few hints of “2000 AD” in there -- thanks to Chainsaw Warrior, I got to meet Brett Ewins whose work I greatly admired. We were slated to work on a Chainsaw Warrior comic together.
Tomas: This is a single player boardgame - a rare thing - what this what you set out to create? Where there other games that influenced it?
Stephen: In direct contrast to the evolution of videogames, the solo boardgame was a neglected beast. You had Solitaire (which I knew as Patience) and that was it. Some multiplayer games did contain variant rules for solo players but these were generally unsatisfying. So Chainsaw Warrior was a conscious effort to try to fill the void. I knew there were many players like me who, at those frustrating times when you couldn’t find another player, would have use for a solo game if only as a stopgap. I also felt, believe it or not, that solo play gave Chainsaw Warrior a sense of distinction. During the creation of the game, people would ask me how many players the game was for, and would do a double-take when I answered ‘one’. Hilarious when you think about it now. And, of course, I always felt there was a dearth of good horror games. So from day one, my explicit goal for Chainsaw Warrior was to make a solo horror boardgame with a cutting edge theme. I didn’t ‘fall’ into the concept, the concept preceded the detailed design.
No single game had a direct influence on Chainsaw Warrior. It may sound pompous but a lifetime of playing and designing games had made me fluent with techniques and concepts almost in the way a musician learns their instrument. In a sense every game you make is influenced by every game you play. However one major area of influence came in deciding to construct the building from a pack of cards. Very early on I’d ruled out a traditional board because this would have made the game feel knowable and finite in a way that I didn’t want -- which is also partly why I split the deck in two so that you could never know just when Darkness might appear. A number of other games had solved this problem by using cardboard geomorphic tiles. The idea is that, turn by turn, you’d lay out the tiles in front of you to build up a map. I used to play a game called “The Sorcerer’s Cave” whose tiles were so large that they ended up covering the entire floor... especially when you used the expansion kit! So I ruled this system out; I wanted Chainsaw Warrior to be playable on a table. It was only some years later I realised that my card system is actually just a lateral shift in terms of function from “The Sorcerer’s Caves” tiles; but this did not occur to me at the time, and I was quite pleased with my ‘radically different’ solution (though there do remain some subtle but important differences from how “The Sorcerer’s Cave” tiles could constrain perceived freedom of movement in a way Chainsaw Warrior does not. Also “The Sorcerer’s Cave” tiles were completely independent of their content, so there was no way the player could learn or take risks based on specific tiles -- a concept I developed much further in Chainsaw Warrior 2). Another of Chainsaw Warrior’s parents was a game called “Up Front”. This world war II squad based wargame was designed to be played almost entirely using cards and it really opened my mind in terms of reassessing how cards could be made fundamental to a game rather than merely as some kind of adjunct or randomiser as, say, the Community Chest cards are in Monopoly. “Up Front” showed me that instead of cards being a component WITHIN a game they could, in fact, BE the game. Don’t forget this was years before CCGs (one of which I designed before CCG’s even existed). But if any one game can be said to be the true grandparent of Chainsaw Warrior, it’s good
old Patience, the original solo card game. It would be fascinating to obtain a global total of all the hours people have spent playing Solitaire on their computers over the last ten years. I used to play Patience all the time but felt it was a bit lightweight and over too quickly. If anything, Chainsaw Warrior was a conscious evolution of that game. Chainsaw Warrior is Patience with a dark and bloody twist.
Part 2 coming soon!
The digital Chainsaw Warrior is out now on PC and mobile and the original version can still be found for sale second hand if you hunt for it!
Quarriors! is coming next week! (Exclamation points required by contract) We were able to field some questions to the team over at WizKids about the release and future plans. I want to apologize for it being an email interview, this was due to my schedule. I always feel they lack compared some of the conversational style you get from a live chat.
In spite of that, the Wizkids team provided some great answers and we have the first (?) information on planned expansions for Quarriors!
Is this the first iOS adaptation of a game for Mike and Eric? What parts made them afraid and what parts made them excited?
Justin Ziran (President, WizKids): It’s always special when we get to work with such great designers as Mike and Eric. They really bring so much to the table. We’ve already collaborated with Mike on our digital version of Connect with Pieces for iOS, a terrific competitive puzzle game. Both Eric and Mike have designed games that have digital versions. They’re both really smart about their approach to mobile games. We can’t wait to work with them again soon.
Why adapt Quarriors? Were there any concerns about developing a game that relies so heavily on physical components (dice)?
Alexis Mueller (Director of Business and Legal Affairs; Executive Producer on Quarriors!): Quarriors! is a quick and fun game with a really innovative spin on traditional game mechanics. We figure it will appeal to board gamers and mobile gamers alike.
Obviously, dice add a bit of uncertainty and excitement to any game. That said, we think that we’ve struck a nice balance between the need for the tactile feel of dice and the benefits of a digital execution, which allows you to play whenever and wherever you want. We think our players are going to really love the user interface. We spent a lot of time with it to make sure it’s fun and easy to use.
What were the biggest development challenges?
Alexis: Rules enforcement on a digital version of a game like Quarriors! can be really challenging. Quarriors! has a lot of different dice and card combinations for the different spells and creatures in the game, each with a different twist on their effects or abilities. We had to do a very deep dive on the rules to get a complete understanding of how all these combinations interact so that they all work both individually and together.
We also had figure out creative ways to use the available screen real estate to present the game UI in a way that is both compact and easy to understand.
What advantages has the adaption on iOS brought?
Alexis: A digital version of Quarriors! gives our players the ability to play whenever and wherever they want. You can play a quick match against the AI, allowing for single player games; or you can match up online against friends and other Quarriors! players, wherever they might be. The real advantage here is asynchronous multiplayer, which allows our players to take turns at their own pace and get notified when it’s their turn again. We think this will really help us get Quarriors! out to a larger audience, especially when you combine it with the accessible price point and digital platform.
Do Eric and Mike hope to see any of their other designs on iOS and other digital platforms? Are there plans to bring other Wizkids games to mobile?
Justin: We always love working with Eric and Mike and they have both made several other games for WizKids. We’re always looking to find ways to bring their great games to the larger audience found on digital platforms.
We know there is a lot of interest out there for some of our other games. Obviously, we need to make sure that we stay focused with any future digital efforts to make sure that they are as great as Quarriors! for iOS.
Are their plans to bring the expansions to the digital version of Quarriors?
Alexis: We currently plan on releasing every Quarriors! expansions over time. We are looking to release our first expansion pack, Quarmageddon, soon after the initial release. We are also looking at ways to provide new and exciting content that will be exclusive to the digital version of Quarriors!. This could mean additional cards for existing dice or even new dice and cards for new spells and creatures.
I want to thank the WizKids team for the interview, and I hope you enjoyed it. Remember you can pick up Quarriors! on Monday 12/16/13. We will have an review available on that day as well.
Today, Stardock Entertainment has announced their new Mobile Division. Makers of games like Galactic Civilizations and Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes, Stardock is focusing on bringing strategy titles to iOS. Their first is Dead Man's Draw (coming next month) followed by Hero Busters and Star Trails. With the pedigree of the company, it will certainly be worth checking out their original iOS offerings.
I had a chance to ask a few questions directly to Derek Paxton, VP at Stardock, and Chris Bray, Lead Mobile Producer. We delve deeper into the games and other elements of the announcement. I hope you enjoy the read.
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In life you have to do a lot of things you don't f*cking want to do. Many times, that's what the f*ck life is... one vile f*cking task after another.
Playdek Talks About Agricola
Not sure if you guys have heard or not, but there's a little game called Agricola coming out soon for iOS. Agricola is a game from Uwe Rosenberg and is themed around building a farm and family in the middle ages. It also just happens to be the third highest ranked game here on the geek.
In other words, it's a big deal.
A few weeks ago, Playdek revealed that Agricola had been submitted to Apple for review. Since then, we haven't heard much.
I was lucky enough to chat with some of the folks from Playdek, namely George Rothrock and Gary Weis, the Director of Business Development and Chief Technical Officer, respectively. I'll warn you right now: Playdek isn't talking release date, pricing, IAP, or any of those topics until we get closer to release. You're not going to find those answers in the interview. If you're okay with that, keep reading...
Dave Neumann: So, do you guys want to talk about WotC [Wizards of the Coast] games or should we talk about Agricola?
George Rothrock: [Laughs] We'd like to talk about Agricola. That's obviously on everyone's mind.
DN: A little bit, yeah. Some people are talking about it.
GR: What we wanted to send to you guys, iOS Board Games, are a couple of screens of the deeper features and how we’ll be supporting those who look at Agricola as a hardcore strategy game and really enjoy it and the depth of strategy, as well as making it accessible to everybody as possible.
DN: The first screenshot here shows a drafting interface. So, drafting is an option?
Gary Weis: Drafting is an option when you set up a game. We implemented two of the variants that are described in the back of the rule book. There’s the standard draft of 7 of each type of card and you pick one of each and pass the rest along. We ended up combining it together where you draft all 14 cards to start and draft 1 occupation and 1 minor improvement together to limit the number of times you have to make a decision during the draft to streamline it for asynchronous play. There’s also a draw 10 of each type of card and discard 3 to end up with 7 cards option. We implemented those two variants, with the other options in the back of the rule book are things we’re considering for future updates.
DN: What about the basic rules of getting dealt 14 cards and sticking with them?
GW: We call that Random. It’s the default mode when you’re playing the basic game. That’s the only mode that’s available in the solo experience.
DN: So, any word on what decks are included?
GR: So, we’re not announcing all the features and stuff yet. So, obviously, you can see from the screens we have the basic deck. It’s the whole, pricing, release date, details of the features beyond what we’re talking about today. Until we’re all good to go, we’re being very careful about what we say.
DN: Looking at the Town screenshot you sent, it looks very zoomed in. Does it zoom out? Do you have to scroll? Tell me about the interface.
GR: You have to scroll around. It’s a big sort of town that grows. As you pull family members from the lower right, the screen will follow you. So, you can drag your token to the edge of the screen it will follow you.
GW: One of the things we tried to accomplish was to make it so everything fit onto 2 screens width-wise. So, the town is divided into 2 halves where all the basic actions are on the left, and all the round actions that are revealed as you play later into the game are on the right side of the river. Scrolling left to right it’s just 2 screen widths for the entire town. It scrolls just a little bit up/down to get some of the nicer art as well.
You see there’s a question mark in the upper-left corner. When you hit that it brings up a popup over every one of the actions with a text description of the iconography describing exactly what you’ll get taking that space.
Any of the actions that are straight single resource, like 2 wood or 1 clay, are kind of placed together, co-located, so you know that if you need wood it’s in the lower left of town with the clay right next to that and reeds next to that.
GR: As you add players and rules, we try to keep the placement consistent for those actions that are common throughout the different game types.
DN: What can you tell me about the AI?
GW: There’s AI included in the game. We have 3 different…we call them levels, but the first two really just have more of a tendency. There’s a shepherd who wants to gather animals, and there’s a baker who wants to gather grain and bake it for his food. Then we have what we refer to as the Master AI, which is our best try at getting a strong Agricola player. Of course they’re tuned to fit 2-5 players and with the Family or Basic game.
DN: Is the solo version available, or do you always have to play AI if you're going alone?
GR: We have the solo game where you can play with no opponents, and we have the solo series where we actually track a series of goals that you have to make and we track your progress. It will be a part of your player profile.
DN: We've heard a lot about the extensive tutorials included. What are you doing to get people who don't know Agricola into the game?
GW: Agricola is not an easy game to teach. So, the approach we took was to find a way to make it digestible. There’s so much to learn in a single tutorial, so we split it up and what we ended up with was 7 separate pieces of the tutorial. There’s one tutorial for the advanced player that just wants to learn the interface. Know how to play Agricola? This will take you five minutes and show you what all the buttons do and you don’t have to deal with us trying to tell you how to take wood and build another room. The other tutorials are a 6-part tutorial that’s basically 4 parts of playing an entire solo family game. The first part walks you through just the basics steps like “let’s build a house” and “family growth”. Then there’s a part that’s for animal husbandry, build fences and collect sheep. Another part for baking, and the last part for finishing the game and renovation and other actions that come up later.
It’s all guided, like all our games have been, where we want you to take a specific action, and we tell you what that action does. If you want to play through that entire first game it’s gonna take a little while, but most people coming from a board game background who don’t know Agricola should be able to play the first tutorial and go from there and back and do tutorials as they want to.
There's a fifth tutorial just for scoring to try and isolate that because it’s a very difficult part of the game for people to pick up. Technically, it’s not an important part of the game to learn over taking actions to end up with a farm at the end and feeding your family, so we separated it out.
Then there’s a sixth tutorial that deals with the Basic Game. So, it’s occupations and minor improvements. Play a couple of those out and how they affect the game, show how a couple of them combo together to give a benefit.
GR: In the first series of tutorials its just the solo game, so you’re not complicated by having opponents. So, we’re just walking you through the steps you take to build an additional room and increase your family. Gary said animal husbandry. Get some wood, build some fences, take some animals. Hey, the harvest is over, see how you have more animals.
Occupations and improvements we have some opponents, so as they take actions to play their cards we talk about why the AI did this or that and then the same kind of thing we normally do where we direct you as to which ones to play and what effect they’re going to have. This tutorial is much shorter. You can get an understanding of how and why you play the cards rather than what they all do.
The interface tutorial will be really great help for those already coming to the game knowing an loving it, they can hop right in and understand how to navigate the interface.
DN: I think Playdek currently has the best online implementation of their games of anyone doing stuff for iOS. Anything new in that regard?
GW: It’s based on the Playdek model with all the features we’re used to: timers, inviting friends to play games, push notifications when it’s your turn. What we've added to this is every player has a rating. When you finish a game your rating will go up or down based on how you finished in that game. There’s a new quick-match feature that will allow you to, instead of having to create a game and wait for somebody to join, put your name on the list and then it will try to match you with somebody. It will take rating into account, if you want it to, so you’re matched against people a little bit closer to your play level. You can also put in a maximum wait time. So, if you want a 1/2 hour game and you’re willing to wait 1/2 hour for it to start, you can put that in. So, you have more control over finding the game that you want to play.
DN: I went back and looked before the interview, and I found that we announced you guys were doing Agricola back in August of 2011.
GW: We had intention when we first signed to get to it on a reasonable schedule, but as we evaluated our slate of things we wanted to do with Agricola, we found that some of the technology we needed was better to build in a more controlled manner in some of our other games. So, you can see the progression of how our graphics system has come together across our games as we've tried to do new things with each of the titles we've put out, which has led us to this. Agricola is really the first game we've done where it’s been a complete team effort. Where the art team has the tools they need to build a town that looks like that, and the programming team has the tools to make it interactive and represent to the player the information they need to play the game within this beautiful backdrop.
DN: I don't really want to bring it up, but...I'm not sure who made the "Farmville" comment, but looking at the art it looks like you guys are using a lot of the art, if not directly from the game, it looks like you tried to have a good blend of making it different and the same.
GR: The very first time we met with Uwe and Hanno, one of the very first things they said to us was that it would be great if this game felt like a place. If it felt like something beyond the cardboard version. We know that everyone has a ton of affection for (the cardboard version), but cardboard is the medium we’re forced to work in. It’s not like we love these components such that we have slavish devotion to it.
So, our goal was to give it a sense of life, that sense of place. You can’t tell from the screenshots, but there’s animation going on here. The sheep are moving around and birds are flying by. There’s a lot of life that’s going on. At the same time, present a very familiar sense for those who know and love the game. That’s where we were trying to land.
The comment (farmville) was only speaking to the idea that we wanted to make it not feel intimidating for someone who’s coming to it for the first time. You know what’s it’s like on game night you say, “Let’s play Agricola,” and you pull out the 12.5 pound box and start laying out the play space that takes 4ft x 3ft, people who've never played get intimidated. I've been told by Uwe that he teaches 8th graders how to play this game. This game is not difficult to play. It has a very deep curve to it, that you can continue to play it for a very long time and learn new ways to play. But, it shouldn't be intimidating. So, our approach has been very much to try and make it as accessible as possible and try to support those who want the game to feel and look and play and be very comforting to that board game experience that they know.
It’s a big challenge…think about when you play Agricola at the table, just how much information you have at your fingertips. To look across at your opponents farm, see how many piled up resources they have, how many family members they have left. Then try to give the digital player access to all that information in a way that’s pleasing and easy to actually interact with. The team has just done an amazing job.
Gary’s guidance from the beginning about what’s absolutely for players during each moment, what do they need to know, how many steps away should information be in order to make smart decisions, especially thinking about the asynchronous play challenge.
Gary did something very early on. He set the game up in his office and he made people play him asynchronously by walking in, taking their turn, and then going away and then coming back two hours later when it’s their turn and doing the whole, “OK, I’m looking at the play space, how much do I remember. What do I need to know?” And then the art team just grabbing that challenge and rising to it. So, we’re very, very pleased at the end product. We think everyone will find what they need and want in it.
DN: It's going to come up, so I'll ask now. Will it work on an iPad 1?
GW: We got it on iPad 1. Yep.
DN: Well, that will make people happy. Anything else you want to tell the readers at iOS Board Games?
GR: It’s been a real labor of love for us, and we have been as anxious about getting it right as I’m sure everyone who’s looking forward to buying it has been anxious that we get it right. We've been listening and reading every post and listening to them very carefully. We feel it, and we're looking forward to bringing it to you soon as we can.
DN: And, you have no info on when that might be?
GR: [Laughs] No.
We should be getting more information over the coming days as the release gets closer and closer. Stay tuned everyone. It won't be long now.
I've always wanted to make games. If it was up to me it would be what I did for a living. While it still isn't, with the release of The Battle for Hill 218 on the App Store the first step has been taken and through this piece I'd like to share my experience as a first-time game designer and publisher.
Obtaining the Rights
I've got tons of original game designs I'd love to release one day (something I'd imagine holds true for quite a few visitors to this site, be it board games or digital games) but after having started on several and never getting close to get them finished in the end I realised that with limited time on my hands it would make more sense to go with something already proven and published. After that decision was made, The Battle for Hill 218 was always my first choice being a game I had tremendously enjoyed myself and something of a manageable scale which should be a good fit for mobile. After a quick search turned up that there already existed plans to bring to the game to iOS but it also seemed like development had stalled and feeling I had nothing to lose I simply emailed Chad Ellis, the publisher, to find out if we could work something out. A couple of emails and a Skype call later we basically had an agreement in place and while it is always a bit scary to work out an agreement with someone who runs a negotiation blog Chad was actually super easy to get along with and we soon realised that first and foremost we both wanted to get the game out there (preferably without losing any money) and managed to work out a deal where both development costs and revenue were split between us in a way that both of us were happy with. Having full access to all existing graphical assets plus the existing (and very popular) Java AI was also essential in getting the project made with limited resources.
Getting it Done
Once the agreement with Chad was in place I started to draw up wireframes and to work on a Functional Specification. This document included all screens, all buttons and their functionality, all card interactions and animations, all sounds and also things like all Game Center achievements and their descriptions. Obviously having the actual rule set already done speeded things up considerably compared to making a game for scratch, but writing a good specification is still something that takes quite a bit of time and which is instrumental for a successful project. Looking back at it now there is very little that has changed compared to the final product and not having to go back and forth between design and implementation really made a huge difference getting the game done more or less on budget and time.
Next step was to find good (and not too expensive) people to work with. Writing specifications and hiring remote freelancers is pretty much what I do when not working on games but as it turned out this time I was able to hire someone local (being located in the game-making meccha that is Bristol, UK, has its advantages) as I was introduced to Ben Trewhella from Opposable Games who was happy to take on the project on a very reasonable budget as long as he got to retain the copyright for the code. Ben is a board and card gamer himself and after just having finished a big project of his own he was interested in doing something on a smaller scale and at the same time lay the foundations for a reusable card game framework which worked out perfectly. After making sure that we could still release bug fixes and updates even if he would disappear the code ownership issue wasn't a problem and Ben could start work.
I also brought in some other people to help out with the UI and music and sound effects but ended up doing quite a lot of work on this myself. With this being my first game I early one made a conscious decision not to log any hours for the project and still don't really know how much time I spent personally on it but it is pretty fair to say that, while the game has done well and I'm looking to make a small profit from the sales, the hourly pay would probably be down there with the cheaper South Asian alternatives you find on global job marketplaces. Still, with all the positive reviews and press received I think going with some established for your first game is a very good approach if you want to get into this type of work.
All in all, although things probably took a little longer than expected we never ran into any big problems that halted development. There were a few bugs, and in particular the AI proved hard to get right as it always felt it played slightly worse than the Java version by Andrew Gross. We had full access to Andrew's code and he had done quite a clever job in making the AI a very worthy opponent (to simplify things it basically accomplish this by mimicking Chad most of the time) but as there are a lot of special circumstances and exceptions in how the move points are calculated and with us using a different method of checking for supply we kept noticing small differences between the two versions. It wasn't until a few days before release me and Ben sat down and finally nailed it. It still does play slightly different from the Java version, but this is now mainly by design and I feel it actually sometimes even makes a better move than before.
Having a great coder is obviously a given, but having great testers is almost as important. We had about 20 people who contributed to the beta testing, with some putting in a lot more hours than others (hello Kelsey) and without their observations and the crash reports we would never have ended up with a virtually bug-free release build. In fact, more than one month in we haven't even had to release our first patch yet.
However, we did make one big mistake: going with synchronous multi-player. This was mainly my own fault, as I never saw Hill 218 as very suitable for asynchronous play. While I still believe this is to some extent true, I hugely over estimated the willingness and availability of players to connect live over Game Center and as a result we've had very few online games taking place at all. One of the problems is the way Game Center works in that you can't simply get a list of player that are live right now and challenge them to a game, and another was that if there was one area we never really did test properly it was the Game Center integration so we didn't quite clock that the process of finding and inviting your friends is quite cumbersome.
The other big issue we ran in to was how the game looked on non-retina devices, and in particular on the iPhone 3GS. While we had quite a few beta testers it wasn't until quite late in the testing we found out that the game was pretty much unplayable at this resolution and screen size (a layout that works for a real world-size card simple doesn't translate to well to something at this size) and after some deliberation we took the last minute decision to limit the release to be iPad-only.
What the Future Holds
Everything is well that ends well though, and we are currently working on an update that will introduce asynchronous multiplayer as well as make the app universal. Although we ultimately wanted to tweak the UI for phones, in the end we decided that the game runs well enough on retina displays as-is and catering for the very small percentage of 3GS owners just didn't make any sense at this point so the game will be released as a universal app using the same interface as for the iPad. Online play should also see a big boost now that people can take their turns in between family meals and putting babies to sleep which is very exciting and I can't wait to see the leaderboard fill up with player names and rankings.
While an Android version is also planned we're still quite a way off starting any real development there. Converting the online Java version does seem like a fairly straight-forward job now that all graphical assets are done but it is still a bigger job than it might seem as it would also require a separate solution for things like multi-player. Looking at the projected sales on Android it would probably be a break-even project at best, but it is still something both me and Chad wants to do and hopefully we should see something released at the end of Summer. If there are any young aspiring (i.e. cheap) Android developers out there that desperately wants something to do then please feel free to get in touch.
We've also secured the rights to our second game, which features the design of a minor (or major?) BGG celebrity in Todd Sanders. The game in question is Shadows Upon Lassadar: Siege at Dalnish which features some brilliant art and design and I feel it should be a very good fit for mobile. Look out for more updates on this as we start proper development work in the next few weeks.
Finally, I just want to say big thanks to everyone who has been involved in the project and to Brad and Neumann in particular for covering it and running this great blog. Also, if you haven't already bought the game but are still reading this I don't know what is wrong with you and you should sort it out right now. Also wanted to thank Kevin Sookocheft's for providing the inspiration for this article, if you haven't yet read his excellent write-up on developing Phantom Leader then go and do so right after you've bought the game.
Large Visible Machine
Here is an interview with Aaron of Worlds of Magic. This was my first time using the live broadcast option of Google Hangout so there is a bit of a rough start. Apart from that the interview is great.
There is about a day or so left in the Kickstarter for Worlds of Magic. You con still hop on board if the concept interests you.
I am going to try something new tonight. The folks from Worlds of Magic are eager to talk about the project with us on BGG. We have decided to have a live streaming interview this evening at 5:45PM EST. You can view the live stream by going to our Youtube page. I will also post a direct link to the stream on this page as soon as it is live (subscribe so you can get updated).
Using Youtube you can post comments and questions for me to ask. We will try to ask them all before we close the interview. If you can't view us live, I will also post a capture of the video on our Youtube channel.
Some info on the game:
Kickstarter Link: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/304725524/worlds-of-magi...
We have posted about it here.
Live Interview with Worlds of Magic team (Wastelands Interactive) tonight at 5:45 PM EST. Go Here to View.
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