Atlas Raider review

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CrayonPixel rolled out their freshman title on FacebookAtlas Raider. Though the player introduction is sparse, the storyline is that your father has gone missing on a treasure hunt (perhaps for crystal skulls). Only a mysterious group called “The Foundation” knows his whereabouts. They hire you to find the crystal skulls and in the process you might find your father using your guide, an enchanted atlas.

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Guest Post: Social and mobile convergence will lead to better games

Editor’s Note: Inside Social Games has been quietly expanding its coverage to include mobile games with social features, as the social and mobile sectors are becoming more and more interconnected. As a result, the concept of “social games” is continuing to be redefined. The following guest post was written by Anil Dharni and Ken Chiu of GREE and provides perspective on the convergence of mobile and social games.  Dharni serves as Senior Vice President, Studio Operations and Chiu is the company’s Senior Vice President, Games Studio. Dharni was the President and COO of Funzio, which GREE acquired in May 2012. Chiu left Zynga to co-found and served as Funzio’s CEO.

In today’s world, the words “social” and “mobile” go hand-in-hand. We are seeing social and mobile become more mainstream and are crucial components of any game trying to achieve widespread adoption and success. There is no doubt that mobile games with robust social elements will be leaders in entertaining, engaging, and ultimately retaining loyal users. With users becoming more and more sophisticated, the bar will continue to get raised  in terms of production quality, graphics, and game-play — forcing game-makers to be more innovative in their development. (more…)

Exclusive: nWay comes out of stealth, unveils ChronoBlade

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.

Who’s next on Zynga’s acquisition list?

A week out from its Q1 earnings call, Zynga is talking about making more multi-million dollar acquisitions on the order of OMGPOP’s $180-million buy last month. Who could Zynga buy and where can they be found?

If Zynga really has a $1.8-billion war chest, then it can afford to shop strategically for studios that will provide games with long shelf lives or services it can integrate with its own games platform in the long term. While the OMGPOP buy was all about doubling its mobile footprint and cross-promotion network, we think the next acquisition will be more about compensating for Zynga’s weaknesses.

One place where Zynga is not weak is Facebook; its games have had a death grip on at least five out of the top 10 games on our AppData rankings charts for almost two years. Off-Facebook, however, Zynga is still figuring out mobile — particularly Android — and its Zynga.com games platform is young and fragile. It seems like the next major buys will be aimed at shoring up these parts of the business.

Editor’s Note: Some obvious choices in social and mobile are left off this list because we’ve heard that these studios already received and rejected acquisition offers from Zynga. They could always come back to the table in the future, but as far as we know, they’re not in M&A talks at this time.

Mobile

Zynga has made it clear it’s looking to mobile for expansion. But why invest in another iOS developer when it could get an Android expert? Google Play may not monetize as well as iOS, but Amazon’s Appstore is an Android variant that is doing extremely well — which tells us it’s not the platform itself that has issues.

In the long term, investing in established Android developers is a good idea for Zynga because the platform not only has a size advantage in the U.S., it’s also more popular in emerging markets like China and Korea. An Android developer with international appeal will help Zynga expand its userbase out from its North American hub. An Asian developer could also help Zynga’s Japan and China studios gain better footing in the lucrative South Korean and Japanese mobile markets.

Finally, while Zynga does casual well, it might also look to pick up a more core-focused developer to help it expand its established user-base beyond casual-social players.

Using that line of thinking, here are the mobile developers Zynga might consider:

Gamevil — The South Korean company currently has two games in the top 50 of the Android top grossing charts, plus a larger catalog of popular games. It also has a market cap of US$326 million, which makes it seem expensive, but that’s far less than what Zynga was reportedly willing to pay for Rovio.

DroidHen — This is the Sequoia Capital-backed company behind Android’s current top-grossing title, Defender II. For the past few months it’s been rare not to see a DroidHen game somewhere on the top of the Android charts.

Creative Mobile — This Estonian developer’s sports-themed Drag Racing games have been a hit. It’s currently the No. 4 top grossing Android app. Given the small size of the studio, Zynga could likely make the purchase at a fairly low price.

Social

For social game studio acquisitions, Zynga is likely looking in two different directions: Asia and the West. While an experienced studio like Hoolai Games or Happy Elements would help Zynga break into or amplify its presence on Asian games networks like Tencent or Mixi, a Western acquisition would be more about finding talent than anything else.

As for what kind of talent, we’re thinking developers that can offer a service as opposed to a game — much like how DNA’s testing methods attracted an acquisition last year. This could help Zynga grow its games platform out of its too-similar-to-Facebook nascent stage. We’re also thinking of developers with experience in transmedia properties — like the studios that know how to make a TV show into a game or the ones that have experience in converting a non-social video game franchise into a social game. Zynga Slingo proves that there’s room for growth there with the right IP.

Zynga could also shop around on Facebook for developers to pad out its platform with games that it doesn’t already make itself. Hardcore combat games or classic casual titles, for example, are the kinds of things Zynga hasn’t made in the past that still perform well on Facebook and on other games portals. We’ve heard some developers speculate that if a third-party game performs well on Zynga.com, it could fast track its developer to an acquisition; if true, Playdemic, MobScience and Row Sham Bow are first in line.

Aside from those developers, here are a few that could be interesting prospects for Zynga:

3 Blokes (What’s left of it) — Though publisher RockYou acquired and then shut down the Australian developer, the key people at the studio are reportedly soldiering on in the core strategy genre. Assuming larger studios with expertise in these kinds of games are off the table, this might be an easy way to get into the core strategy market and to improve combat game mechanics in Empires & Allies.

A Bit Lucky — This Nexon-backed niche game studio has some smart ex-MMO developers behind it. Its last Facebook title, Lucky Space, never saw the traction of its predecessor, Lucky Train. Even so, both games had a lot more going on under the hood than the average social game from UI design and art to layered gameplay mechanics. At the very least, this team could help Zynga resolve its mapping issues in the various ‘Ville games.

GameVentures — We get the impression that this sports-centric developer has more of a presence on open web than on Facebook. Its baseball and cricket games, however, attract a more male audience than what Zynga’s is perceived to be and could the titles could tap into the fantasy sports league types. EA and Disney Playdom have already proven the appeal of the genre and Zynga currently doesn’t have anything in the sports category.

If you’ve heard anything you think we haven’t about Zynga’s current M&A prospects, drop us a line: mail (at) insidesocialgames (dot) com. If you’re somebody looking to get bought, check out Inside Mobile Apps’ article, Secrets of the acquisition process.

iSamurai: Bushido 101, iPhone Style

isamuraiGranted the iPhone is a smart phone, but the apps have turned this expensive piece of hardware into everything from flight sticks to golf clubs. However, we’ve come across an interesting game from a company called Toy Kite that takes the phone and turns it into something you might not expect: A sword. Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Released just over a month ago, iSamurai has players literally swinging their phones about like swords. Presented in an anime style, the game makes use of the iPhone’s accelerometer to recognize certain motions. Players can swing left, right, overhead, and thrust the phone into various attacks, and conversely block them in similar fashions (the video below demonstrates it best). When playing alone, the game calls out its attacks and you are required to respond quickly in order to block the incoming strike while trying to find an opening for your own offensive.

animesamuraiIt sounds all well and good, but the real fun comes with the multiplayer interaction. Players can actually connect with other phones and fight together in a relatively intuitive manner. Of course, the key difference is that rather than listening for called out strikes, you actually have to watch what your opponent does and respond accordingly. If they do a “left strike,” for example, you will need to perform a “left block” within a relatively short amount of time to defend yourself. If successful, the iPhone will play the sound of a sword clang and if unsuccessful a sort of hit grunt. The game, or duel, rather, will go back and forth like this until there is a winner.

The only real complaint that can be had with the game is that it can easily devolve into a contest of who can swing the iPhone faster without dropping it, but it is an interesting idea for sure. For a current price of $0.99, it is certainly a fun little app to mess around with. Other than that, it the only concern is actually holding on to the phone itself. Suffice to say, it might be wise for Apple to start including wrist straps for their iPhones in the near future (if they are not all ready doing so), because games like this will certainly lead to some serious replacement costs for those that really get into it.

Compare People – What Do You Think of Your Friends?

comparepeople

So how well do you know your friends? What do you think of them? What do they think of you? Perhaps such questions are a bit obtuse, but people are naturally curious and want to know (though some with more subtlety than others). However, Compare People on Facebook does just this.

Though the application calls itself a “game,” for all intents and purposes, it really isn’t one. It’s a web quiz. A good one, but a quiz all the same. Users are presented with yes or no questions about randomly selected friends on your Facebook account such as “Do you think X-Person has ever used a fake ID?” As you answer your responses are sent to the person in question and you deal with the repercussions as need be.

Once you have coaxed other friends into playing, you are also able to take a look at responses others have placed for you, thus granting a reflection towards yourself through the eyes of another. As such, the key element to Compare People is the human experience. It isn’t the app that’s interesting, it’s answers of the players themselves.

The biggest issue with Compare People, however, is that it notifies people with every answer, so unless it is turned off by them, it feels a bit “spammy” (apologies to all spammed during the review of this application). For some, this might not be a bother, but those are individuals that find themselves enveloped completely in social experiences and such gossip (for lack of a better term).

Nevertheless, if you can get other friends to play as well, the experience is actually quite enticing. To be able to view even a little insight into one’s self through another’s perspective is more than enough to warrant some play. So long as you don’t have a mob the size of a small country, and your friends will forgive a little spam.

Games.com Brings Roulette to Facebook

RouletteOkay, don’t deny it. You’ve thought about winning big in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, or even on a casino ship. Maybe you don’t always act on those gambling urges, but it can’t be denied that winning is fun, and winning money is even better. Here’s the thing about gambling though: While luck is critical, there is strategy involved and that is what a number of gamers find most fun (well… and the whole winning cash thing).

One of the more popular casino games is roulette (you know the game where you spin a dial and drop a ball into it and see where it lands?). It’s pretty simple and fun to play, and that is exactly what the Facebook title, Roulette, from Games.com is about.

The game is very well made and emulates the real deal astoundingly well (save the mob of people bunched around the table). The game generously starts you off with $10,000, which you’re probably going to need depending on your luck. The rules are the same as real roulette: place your bets on the numbers you want, on black, red, odds, even, etc, and let the wheel spin.

Beginner SuiteAs you progress and win money, you get a nice little suite all to yourself as well, which is upgraded (or downgraded) depending on how much money you have. As this is a Facebook game, you share and show off your “winnings” (your suite) to your friends. Since you cannot win any real money (yet, anyway), this is the primary reward for playing as well as the differentiating social feature beyond challenges and player rankings.

Roulette also looks very clean and polished. It really does feel like a real roulette table, and is definitely up there as far as nice looking apps go. Unfortunately, there are some bugs still in it, primarily with sound. Apparently every time you rank up or down (from gaining or loosing money), the game starts repeating an obnoxious clicking sound that just won’t go away, and will multiply if you rank up again.

Regardless, the game is still an excellent game, and the best part – it is just about being a good game.

Who’s Your Friend?

GogogicIn their first game, Stack’Em, Gogogic created a fairly entertaining venture that merely dealt with the stacking of frantic sheep as high as you could, but despite simplicity, the game was made fun by the amusing sounds, and entertaining animations. Now, Gogogic has released their 2nd Facebook title dubbed, Who’s Your Friend?

This Flash game utilizes a very simple game mechanic that is directly connected to your Facebook friends (hence the name). When the player begins, they are granted 90 seconds and are presented with random profile pictures of their friends. However, when the image is shown, it begins as highly pixelated and slowly becomes clearer, with the objective being to recognize them as soon as possible and select their name from a list of four. Obviously, the faster you answer, the higher your score will become, and as such you are ranked amongst your friends via a high-score table at the bottom of the game, thus making both the means and the end social. However, despite this social core mechanic, the concept it is not without some serious drawbacks.

Who's Your Friend?The first and most prominent issue with the idea of a visual quiz using friends is that it really doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of replay value. While it is somewhat fun to play through a couple times at first, how many times can you try to recognize your own friends before it gets old? Simplicity is a good thing, but often you would want something to be simple to learn, but contain some form of depth behind it (games like chess are a perfect example, as you can learn to play in about two minutes, but take a lifetime and still not master it). Beyond that, there lies an issue in numbers that is two-fold.

One of the two issues comes into play if you do not have many friends saved on Facebook, the game simply repeats the same few over and over again, thus defeating the purpose of the game completely. However, while this is possible, the more likely scenario is too many friends. You see, someone that plays Facebook games regularly probably will not have the issue of too few friends, but that same person will likely have dozens or more. Why? Considering that some of the most popular titles (i.e. Mafia Wars) require more friends to advance, many people will add large numbers of people to their friend’s list either to communicate within guilds/mobs/armies/etc. or to just increase their solo play capabilities. Regardless of the purpose, it becomes somewhat difficult to recognize people that you may not actually know personally.

In the end, Who’s Your Friend? is a decent idea with a simple plan, but it doesn’t come without its drawbacks. The game simply loses its novelty after a few plays, and if you have too few or too many friends (via mass inviting other social game players) within your Facebook profile, then the game play becomes either pointless or impossible, respectively. Nevertheless, if you don’t fall under either of those two categories, then the game is worth look.

Fast 140 is a Social Twitter Typing Game

fast140Remember when you first learned to type back in school, and the teacher would have you type repeating lines of sentences that didn’t always make sense? Well, a new game for Twitter, called Fast 140, is a somewhat social version of that same activity.

Fast 140 has you type a random tweet displayed at the top of the screen. The objective is to type the tweet as fast as you can. The more shorthand characters (especially symbols) presented, the harder it may be. As the player types, the letters of the tweet are highlighted to signify whether or not your text is accurate. Should you make a mistake, it won’t proceed until you correct the error. Your rank and the top high scores are displayed (and updated live) below the game’s main screen.

Once you finish typing a tweet, you can continue by clicking “New Game.” It will bring you to yet another random tweet. This process feels rather unintuitive, though. Because Fast 140 is a typing game — and the idea behind it is speed — most people would likely prefer to hit “Enter” rather than have to move their hands away from the keyboard and use the mouse.

The only other downside: Some tweets are rather vulgar, with no visible way to filter them out. While this won’t concern many users, parents should be aware of it as their kids use Twitter.

Despite those drawbacks, the game is surprisingly addictive. You not only compete against your own high scores, but the fastest Twitter tweet typers as well (the current #1 is an impressive 212.1 words per minute). You can view any active games currently in progress. The game has a well-constructed viral system that sends out a tweet whenever users play their first game.

Of course, like most Twitter games, Fast 140 is meant to fill up some spare time here and there. But the personal touch of typing other people’s tweets is a unique approach to something as (normally) drab as a typing game.

GamesCampus Partners with Ukash for In-store Vouchers

GamesCampusWhile many people want to play online games and purchase virtual goods, there are still many challenges for accepting payments from all users in different regions around the world.

GamesCampus, a free-to-play games portal, recently partnered with Ukash to get around that problem.

The partnership works fairly simply: Any European player can purchase a Ukash voucher (similar to game cards) from a store and use it to buy “Campus Credits” from GamesCampus’ gaming sites. These credits act as a virtual currency for the portal. They also work without the need for personal information.

Ukash Logo“With Ukash our players can easily pay for their game items without having a credit card or even a bank account,” says David Chang, GamesCampus’ Executive Vice President of Marketing and Business Development. “This easy-to-use and secure service is a huge benefit to our European players across all of our games.”

The company’s gaming portal has a respectable number of fun games, and it continues to grow. To encourage users, GamesCampus is currently offering a 10 percent bonus to Campus Credits purchased via a Ukash voucher.

The deal follows a pattern for Ukash, which already has pursued other partnerships with PayByCash, Cherry Credits, and Citadel Commerce.

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