bitComposer Online and Neobird have announced Spellcreepers for Facebook. The game is already available on iOS and Android devices, and challenges players to take control of up to 32 monsters as they enter into single and multiplayer match-three puzzle duels. The game mixes these puzzle game elements with those from RPGs, as users will collect weapons and defensive equipment to make their monsters stronger over time.
PerBlue is gearing up to launch a major update to its flagship mobile game Parallel Kingdom. Dubbed the “Age of Ascension”, the update will provide Parallel Kingom players with a new world area to explore. We spoke to Per founder and CEO Justin Beck about the update, as well as what else is going with the company.
The game’s new Age unlocks when players reach level 10, which is when they’ll be able to purchase their first Airship vehicle to move anywhere in the game world quickly (“and with relatively few restrictions”, PerBlue tells us). Later on, higher-level players will have access to four specialty Airships from the in-game Skydock. These ships are will be crucial to accessing floating islands, which spawn randomly and work the same way mines do in the Land realm. A new form of combat will focus around the Airships, requiring players to arm the vehicles with cannons and staff them with crew members (each of whom needs to be equipped with combat gear); battles will take place between airships, but there’s also hand-to-hand combat when a user has to defend themselves on board the airship.
“By providing Airships, we increase monetization,” Beck says. “Players have to spend a certain amount of food [which serves as in-game currency] to upgrade their Airships and to travel them around the world. These Airships provide monetization sinks to work off of.” (more…)
CrayonPixel’s Atlas Raider aims to deliver board game experience for both casual and midcore players
Social game developer CrayonPixel is gearing up to launch its debut title, Atlas Raider, which it’s partnering with Zynga to publish. We sat down to talk to the studio’s GM and director of game design Jaxon Fang about what to expect from Atlas Raider.
Fang’s been a part of online gaming for quite some time. He began his game development career with Sony Online Entertainment, then moved to EA and after that to OG Planet (where he worked with CrayonPixel founder Jack Liu on free-to-play games). After leaving OG Planet, Fang worked at Disney as part of the company’s casual games arm until the social games era began to pick up and “the timing felt right to get back together with Jack.”
The company has an aggressive growth strategy aimed at being both developer and publisher right from the point of launch. Rumble secured a $15 million first round of funding nearly a year ago before any of its games had been released. But, as CEO Greg Richardson tells Inside Social Games, Rumble was already hard at work on developing a suite of titles to straddle mobile, social and open web platforms. By covering all the rapidly growing bases, the company is better set up to act as a publisher of third-party titles on any or all of these platforms.
“We [wanted] to be a publisher from day one,” Richardson says. “We needed a platform that could reach multiple devices and [support] multiple genres. KingsRoad and Nightmare Guardians work on the same backend, which shows the strength of our [publishing] platform.” (more…)
Last week, Austin-based PopRox unveiled its upcoming city-builder Race 4 My Place, a game that will combine the established play mechanics of the genre with both real-world and cash prizes. The game’s being developed by Comangle, as well as U.K.-based studio Capricorn. PopRox CEO Mike Gramling sat down with us at GDC to discuss what players can expect to see in terms of both gameplay and rewards.
Real world prizes being offered to players is nothing new in the social games scene, but these are often limited to items like gift cards or discounts at brick-and-mortar businesses. With Race 4 My Place, players will be able to win said gift cards, airline tickets, movie tickets, and iPads, but the biggest reward will be significant cash prizes. The cash rewards come in two forms: weekly and “grand prize” drawings — planned to take place once every four months. With the weekly drawings PopRox will pay out $1,061 (the average monthly mortgage payment in the United States), while the grand prize drawing will give players the option to get a $200,000 mortgage payoff or a $100,000 cash prize. (more…)
San Francisco-based developer nWay has come out of stealth today and unveiled its first game, ChronoBlade. We got a chance to sit down with some of the company’s founders and check the game out, getting a hands-on demo of how the title will (hopefully) re-establish the classic arcade experience on the web by using social mechanics.
Recreating the arcade’s social experience
ChronoBlade is an action role-playing game that casts players as part of a pact of heroes fighting off a cross-dimensional invasion. As a result, the environments span a wide variety of sci-fi and fantasy settings, with various enemies tailored to each world. As players go through the game, their characters level up and they can spend progression points on skill trees to customize the character to their play style.
The game is designed to let players on any platform drop in and out of gameplay with both friends and strangers. CEO Tony Harman and COO Taehoon Kim tell us, “the goal of this company is to bring back arcade games to the masses.”
In the 1970s and 80s, arcades were huge social scenes, with people jumping in and out of games to play with others. Although the physical arcade has since fallen out of public favor, nWay’s founders believe the social experience of playing with others on arcade cabinets can be recreated on social and mobile platforms. As a result, the game will first launch on Facebook, with mobile and open web versions to follow. We’re also told an Ouya version is being considered because of the console’s Android-based OS and the game’s combat is very controller-friendly, but it currently isn’t in the game’s development roadmap.
The goal of the game is to support instant drop-in for players in both co-op and player-versus-player gameplay. “We wanted that feeling to come out and still use the hooks of social gaming,” Kim says.
When played with a keyboard, players configure the control scheme to how they want to play. During our hands-on demo with the game, we used the directional arrows on a standard keyboard to move, while various letter keys controlled light, heavy and special attacks. The combat allowed us to chain together attacks to form different kinds of combos, and the overall play experience was highly reminiscent of early 1990s Beat-Em-Up titles like Konami’s 1992 X-Men arcade game or Capcom’s Final Fight.
Kim says the game is just the first step for nWay to bring the console experience to the web and mobile devices, which he believes is the way of the future. “We just see this huge shift away from paying for a packaged game to the free-to-play movement,” he tells us.
Harman then chimes in about how many larger game publishers are losing out on huge markets because of their inability to evolve past the traditional publishing model. “There’s a treasure trove of IP that’s out there,” he says. “[Publishers] didn’t grow very fast with the growth of gaming in Asia and they just got left out.”
Harman explains how the combat is like that of deeper fighting games, where button-mashing will carry players for a while, but probably won’t work in later levels or against savvy opponents within the PvP arena. “Micro-timing becomes increasingly useful for chaining combos or avoiding attacks,” he explains. “As you gain experience, you’ll be able to beat the people who do nothing but button mash.”
Meanwhile, nWay is incorporating viral social mechanics like Timeline posts and requests to help users spread the word about the game. Because the game is coming to Facebook first, users will be able to play with their Facebook friends, and future platforms will all be compatible with one another.
The studio designed ChronoBlade to work as a free-to-play action RPG, similar to how Riot Games’s League of Legends operates. All monetization comes from microtransactions, where players buy things like vanity items, equipment and temporary boosts. However, Marketing Director Alex Pan is adamant that “one thing we don’t want to do is enable people to pay to win. It’s something that frustrates us as gamers when we see it.”
Old school founders, new media technology
nWay was founded by three veterans of Realtime Worlds, the studio best known for creating the popular (and critically beloved) Xbox 360 game Crackdown. Harman was president of Realtime Worlds, he served as Director of Development and Acquisitions at Nintendo from 1989 through 1996. Kim was part of the original smartphone and games team at Samsung Electronics and ran Seoul studio at Realtime Worlds. Finally, CCO Dave Jones is known for creating games like Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto, franchises built before he came over to Realtime Worlds.
Likewise, the development team has been fleshed out with a lot of people who have some serious success backing them up. Senior Game Designer Stieg Hedlund is probably best-known for his work as lead designer on both Diablo and Diablo II. Meanwhile, Technical Director Dirk Winter is credited for his work at EA when he helped bring FIFA Online to Asia. In fact, five of the first eight employees were brought over from Asia, where developers have a heavy amount of experience with F2P synchronous titles.
The team was assembled specifically to create an action-RPG that could deliver a synchronous play experience, something that hasn’t really been delivered before this point. Kim acknowledges the work of Neople, which developed Dungeon Fighter for Asian markets, as it was the first group to bring a game like this to online players in Asia.
However, many multiplayer games often struggle with the frustrations of lag, which is something nWay has been particularly focused on overcoming. As a result, the development team created a modified peer network that bypasses the standard packet confirmation system and provides 60 updates per second. Though Kim and Harman aren’t certain, they think this is possibly the fastest data exchange rate in the games industry.
nWay’s founders are of the opinion that development teams should be tailored to the type of game they’re building, as opposed to some larger companies which shift teams’ focus every time they start a new project.
“Dave and I believe you should build a team around a particular product. This team will be really focused on the action rpg fighting genre. If they do another game, it’ll be something similar,” Harman tells us. “If we build a racing game next, we’ll find the best racing team possible. This team is really built up for the fast action category.”
When asked why they decided to create an action RPG for its first effort, Harman explains nWay isn’t a developer that’s content to imitate other companies and deliver similar experiences to other titles already available. “We picked the game that would be the hardest to do,” he says. “By knocking off this tough genre, it gives us the lead time to be a leader in this space.”
There really isn’t anything on Facebook quite like ChronoBlade right now, so it’s not possible to compare it to other titles and predict how it will perform on that platform. However, we’ve heard from sources Kixeye is working on a similar game that’s expected to be revealed in the near future. If nWay manages to gain a foothold in the lucrative market of core gamers — entirely possible, based on what we got to see — then Kixeye will be facing some stiff competition.
At the moment, nWay is funded with an undisclosed amount raised via angel investors. ChronoBlade is expected to go into limited beta within the next two months or so and will see a wider audience afterwards.
Ubisoft’s expanding its Facebook games presence with CSI Miami: Heat Wave, the company’s newest game based on CBS’s long-running CSI franchise. We sat down with Active Game Manager Erik Smith and Producer Adrian Price at Ubisoft’s recent Digital Day to check out the title.
Bringing the shades and one-liners to Facebook
Players control a new character on Horatio Caine’s crack team of CSI operatives, going from the police lab to various locations in the field that are tied to the current case they’re investigating. Each case starts out with a murder scene, followed by the CSI team being called in to begin the investigation. Following the obligatory Horatio Caine one-liner (complete with sunglasses), players begin collecting evidence and examining it at the lab. The lab is, effectively, the game’s hub that players return to when they need to process evidence or engage in dialogue with characters from the show. Once a clue’s been analyzed, it leads to one of three things to further the case: a suspect to question, new evidence or a location to explore.
The story then unfolds further by exploring these new leads and questioning suspects. Questioning suspects involves the character Ryan Wolfe presenting players with different pieces of evidence to ask about. During our time with the game, we messed up and asked about the wrong pieces of evidence, which prompted Wolfe to facepalm and give us dirty looks. While it looks like the process of elimination eventually allows players to pick the correct item to ask about, getting a question wrong results in a diminished score.
Heat Wave is a procedural game (after all, it’s based on the CSI franchise), but it also will contain action sequences in keeping with the show’s overall tone. While we didn’t get to see them, we’re told the game contains events like using Horatio to diffuse a bomb, as well as other situations that play to various characters’ abilities as demonstrated on TV.
Carrying on after cancellation
Ubisoft’s been building a name for itself on Facebook with social games based on prominent TV shows like CSI and House: M.D. CSI: Crime City launched in October 2010 and peaked the following January with 352,000 daily active users before gradually falling off to its current traffic levels of 90,000 DAU. That said, the game is likely to start bringing in more players in the near future with the show’s September 26 season premiere fast-approaching.
In the past, CSI: Crime City’s benefitted from on-air promotion that drove viewers into the game in order to win prizes. As with House: M.D., CSI: Miami is a show that just went off the air, so marketing the game comes with an extra challenge now that it’s no longer part of the prime time lineup. That said, the game will receive some free advertising via a flier inserted into each DVD set of CSI: Miami Season 10, encouraging players to go into the game and receive some free items to use. We’re told CSI: Crime City players will receive a special starter pack in Heat Wave as a reward for their loyalty, and there are plans to make the Crime City and Heat Wave a part of the same game universe, with players shifting between the two titles from a central hub.
House M.D. — Critical Cases is proof that a game can survive even when its source material is taken off the air. The game launched in April, shortly before the series finale aired, and it’s still bringing in 120,000 DAU. That game’s seen traffic boosts from the show’s fan pages on Facebook linking to the game, causing numbers to jump by as much as 70,000 DAU.
The game is currently in closed beta, but we’re told the next version of the game to hit Facebook will be an open beta.
After officially announcing FarmVille 2 at June’s Zynga Unleashed event, Zynga is finally gearing up to release the game this week. We sat down for a hands-off preview of the game with VP of Games Tim LeTourneau and the game’s Director of Design Wright Bagwell.
According to LeTourneau, the central concept behind FarmVille 2 was, “If you were going to make FarmVille today, what would it look like and how would it play?” Bagwell notes the game’s design team is built of several veterans from the traditional video game industry, and FarmVille 2 was designed in order to create a social game they’d enjoy playing.
The most immediate upgrade to the game is its visual presentation. As opposed to other social games from the developer, FarmVille 2’s sporting a brand new 3D engine. As soon as the game begins, players can see dynamic effects in action like grass waving all over the screen. Likewise, moving the mouse over items, people and animals will generate a reaction; examples of this included rustling crops on the screen, causing a chair to rock back and forth and getting animals and characters to look up at the player.
Meanwhile, LeTourneau and Wright point out the user interface is much easier to use thanks to the game’s new “painting” system. This takes the place of clicking on individual squares on the game map when a player wants to do the same activity over and over again; instead, a user can click on a single square and then drag their mouse over multiple others. Once this is done, the player’s avatar will go to work. Zynga also made use of Flash 11 to add depth to the controls, like using the spacebar to rotate items for placement and enabling a right click feature.
Mixing new gameplay in with the old
The farm-sim gameplay will feel immediately familiar to anyone who’s played the original FarmVille or similar games over the past few years, including the usual planting, nurturing and harvesting mechanics, as well as clearing plots of land in order to expand one’s property. However, Zynga has incorporated a number of new elements into the sequel to make the game feel fresh.
First of all, the game eschews energy mechanics entirely: So long as players have the necessary raw materials (like feed for the animals or water and fertilizer for plants), they can work their farm for as long as they like. The game’s ecosystem makes everything interconnected: In order to make feed, crops have to be harvested and ground up; the feed is fed to animals on the farm, which then generates things like fertilizer, milk and eggs; these materials are used to craft items like pies and scones; the food can then be sold at a player’s roadside stand.
There’s also a village grocer who will show up and provide players with a “To Do” list of crops he would like harvested, based on the types of crops they are growing. This list is customized and unique to each player, containing three tasks of increasing difficulty.
The game’s social mechanics are, for the moment, the usual set seen in these types of games. Players can visit friends’ farms and perform duties in exchange for virtual goods. Also, Facebook friends can be recruited to work on a player’s farm. When we saw this in use, it was as simple as picking up one of these friends’ characters and dropping them onto a set of crops in order to assist with the farming. However, LeTourneau and Wright say there are plans to take the village sitting in the background of the game’s canvas and turn it into a social hub but are unable to provide us with specifics right now.
Learning from the past
FarmVille 2 is the first major sequel for Zynga since Mafia Wars 2, which bombed shortly after its launch. Mafia Wars 2 launched in October 2011 and quickly peaked with 2.8 million daily active users. By December 2011, the game was already down to under a million DAU, and now it’s sitting at the 50,000 DAU mark. This failure was called out during Zynga’s last earnings call, and CEO Mark Pincus called it “a learning experience.”
In this case, though, Zynga’s starting on surer footing. FarmVille is the game Zynga is generally associated with; likewise, even though it’s one of the company’s older titles, FarmVille is still the No. 10 game on Facebook with 3.9 million DAU. By comparison, Mafia Wars was already on its way out from the public eye when its sequel launched, itself with fewer than a million DAU.
Additionally, FarmVille 2 is launching in far more territories than its predecessor did (FarmVille was originally only available in English). The sequel will be localized for various regions and will launch with an Arabic-language version. Until now, FunPlus Games’s المزرعة السعيدة (“Happy Farm”) has been the most successful farming sim with 2 million DAU. With FarmVille 2 coming to this market, it’s very possible Zynga have its game dominating it in a matter of days, based on the success seen when it turns cross-promotion for a specific game on.
FarmVille 2 is launching on both Facebook and Zynga’s own platform, Zynga.com.
Marvel Comics is getting ready to roll out its new episodic mobile game, Avengers Initiative. The game is a high-production value action adventure designed to appeal to core Marvel fans and will also see the first steps towards connecting all Marvel games with the live service Marvel XP.
Starting where Avengers Alliance leaves off
Avengers Initiative is set in the same universe as Disney Playdom’s Facebook game, Marvel: Avengers Alliance. The game is planned to be episodic, with the first episode taking place after “The Pulse” (a kind of super EMP blast) sweeps the nation and knocks out power everywhere. Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. calls in every super hero available and starts sending them out to keep the situation from spiraling out of control.
Gameplay is similar to that of Chair Entertainment’s Infinity Blade, providing a third-person perspective and gesture-based combat. The Hulk’s progression is determined by tapping on various waypoints, allowing him to take a somewhat open-ended journey through the game. There are a number of minions to fight in between various boss battles starring classic Hulk villains like Wendigo, Zzzax and the Abomination. Winning battles earns experience points, and when the Hulk levels up players can increase his attributes. Likewise, there are also a number of purchasable costumes — providing different types of combat bonuses — that are based on some of the more famous alternate versions of the Hulk, including Maestro and the recent makeover the character received during the Fear Itself storyline.
The game’s developed by Disney-owned Wideload Games, which created the critically-hailed Guilty Party for the Nintendo Wii. According to Patrick Moran, director of production from Wideload Games, the game’s been in development for 14 months and has had 36 concurrent developers working on it.
Moran acknowledges the influence of Infinity Blade on Avengers Initiative, saying the play mechanics allowed Wideload Games to create a fun game based on the Hulk, something that has only been done once or twice in the character’s 28-year history in the video game industry. “When that game came out, it opened up this whole genre and there are all these different ways you can expand into it. We wanted to do it in a way that spoke to the Marvel characters.”
Players can acquire ISO-8, the in-game currency, through battles and picking it up as they wander through the game. Both IS0-8 and experience levels can be bought as in-app purchases, but the game was specifically designed so it can be beaten without spending any money on it outside of the $6.99 price tag.
The Triangle of Success
According to Marvel’s Vice President of Game Production TQ Jefferson, Marvel is re-devoting itself to creating quality games across all platforms, including consoles, mobile devices, social networks and the open web. Each of these games has to adhere to three core principles, nicknamed the “triangle for success”: deliver fun/engaging gameplay, a compelling story and true-to-character experiences.
Marvel is in the process of linking its various games together with Marvel XP, the live service currently in place with Avengers Alliance. Avengers Initiative will also allow users to access Marvel XP from within the game. According to Jefferson and Moran, if a player is active in both Avengers Alliance and Avengers Initiative and has connected to Marvel XP, the service will track that player’s progress and unlock special rewards in connected titles. When asked for specifics about what type of rewards could be expected, we’re told that this hasn’t been finalized but each developer will determine the reward content within their own games.
The implementation of Marvel XP doesn’t end here, either. When we were at the Penny Arcade Expo over the weekend, we chatted with developers working on the upcoming massively-multiplayer online role-playing game Marvel Heroes and ngmoco’s Marvel: War of Heroes. We heard from both of these groups that they were in discussions with Marvel about how to use the service and what kind of rewards players will be able to expect from logging into it. The people we spoke to couldn’t go into specifics, but it definitely sounds like Marvel XP will be implemented in many more titles in order to create a single gaming universe based on the comic company’s intellectual property.
Avengers Initiative will be available for iOS and select Android devices on Google Play on Thursday, September 6.
Disney Playdom is once again returning to its organized crime roots, launching Mobsters: Criminal Empire on Facebook today. The game’s was stealthily rolled out on the social network this weekend, and it’s getting a widespread launch today.
Mobsters: Criminal Empire is the third entry to Playdom’s “Mobsters” franchise, following Mobsters and Mobsters 2: Vengeance. The game is a resource management/real time strategy game that casts players as members of an organized crime family taking over their home city and waging war on their neighbors. This time around, Playdom is adding some high-gloss production values and also making battles a more hands-on affair.
Gameplay mainly takes place on city maps broken into blocks, each of which contains different buildings that generate different kinds of resources like currency and troops to train. Players can take over the blocks in just about any order they want, allowing them to build a custom criminal empire. Although each city will contain over 100 buildings, only a small selection of them can be seen at the start of the game due to a fog surrounding the map, though the fog is pushed back as the player’s territory expands.
One of the biggest additions Mobsters: Criminal Empire is providing to its series is its player avatar. Players choose a custom avatar that they can use to help lead the charge when attacking other users’ cities. As players level up, they can unlock and purchase new weapons and armor for their avatar to use during battles.
Playdom is incorporating more strategy mechanics into its game, something Executive Producer Adam Prewett says should help the studio acquire a share of the oft-desired core gamer audience. We were given a demonstration of how this worked in both the player-versus-environment and player-versus-player gameplay.
In order for players to take control of different buildings in their city, they have to defeat the structures’ defenders. Players can send out smaller strike forces tailored to take advantage of the defenders’ weaknesses, or they can direct an entire army to overwhelm the building. This seemed pretty basic, but strategy becomes much more important during PvP battles: An invading player can choose what side of a target city to invade from, so if a targeted player only has defenses placed on one or two sides, they can be circumvented with a fair degree of ease. Player avatars can be directed around an opponent’s city, while it looked like friendly minions were controlled by the game’s A.I. Meanwhile, players will also want to make sure their own defenses are solidly in place, putting things like roadblocks and dumpsters in the streets and snipers in the buildings, else they get wiped out by an opposing army.
Many PvP games — social and mainstream — often feature guilds for players to join. Prewett says Mobsters: Criminal Empire doesn’t contain guilds at the time of launch, but the feature is being worked on and should launch sometime within five to six weeks.
Prewett says Playdom is expecting to acquire a player base of a few hundred thousand daily active users, which is in keeping with the number of users genre leader Kixeye has with its games (War Commander is its most popular title with 430,000 DAU). While this is certainly a possibility — especially considering how Playdom has a 3.3 million DAU audience to promote the game to — the mob genre of games isn’t at its most popular on Facebook and the Mobsters brand has faded from the public eye, especially once Zynga and Playdom settled their year-long lawsuit that alleged former Zynga employees stole trade secrets when they joined Playdom.
Mobsters 2: Vendetta is down to 30,000 DAU, but its peak level in November 2009 was only 704,000. Zynga’s Mafia Wars franchise isn’t nearly as popular as it once was. The original Mafia Wars, which peaked in November 2009 with 6.9 million DAU, is now hovering around the 350,000 mark. Mafia Wars 2 is even lower; it’s fallen far from its November 2011 high point of 2.8 million DAU and now only has 50,000.
At the moment, there are no plans to bring the game to mobile devices (like it did with the original Mobsters), but Prewett tells us the title could very possibly go cross-platform if it’s a success on Facebook.
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