Today BonusXP, the studio formed out of some Ensemble Studios members headed up by Dave Pottinger, John Evanson and Jason Sallenbach have today announced that they have formed a publishing partnership with Stardock for their next game. In todays press release we learn that BonusXP are working on a PC Game, this follows the studios previous two mobile games, Monster Crew and Cavemania. Remember ES can also advise that their next game will be an RTS, perhaps going back to their core roots from the Ensemble days.
Todays announcement read:
BonusXP’s upcoming game will take advantage of Stardock’s Project Tachyon initiative alongside titles from Stardock and its other development partners. Tachyon’s cloud-based metagaming infrastructure is being developed under Battle.net engineer Adrian Luff’s leadership in Stardock’s new Austin studio, and complements services like Valve’s Steamworks by allowing easy implementation of matchmaking and league play, cloud-hosted multiplayer contests, web-powered progress tracking, and more.
“Our partnership with BonusXP fits perfectly into Stardock’s philosophy of investing heavily into talented studios of experienced developers,” said Stardock president and CEO Brad Wardell. “The ongoing transition from a retail-centric model to digital distribution has opened up huge opportunities for developers to take control of their own destiny, and Stardock is putting its money in the hands of talented creators, to help them bring the future of gaming that they hold in their minds into reality.”
Bruce Shelley joins the team
In other big news for the studio they have also announced that the legendary AIAS hall of fame award winning Bruce Shelley has also joined the BonusXP team. Previously the spokesperson for Ensemble Studios we could often read of Bruce’s thoughts on his Ensemble blog. Its great to have him back working with the team at BonusXP and his skills in video game design will be put to great use on this new RTS project.
Things are shaping up to be a big year for BonusXP who have also seen headcount rise to 18. Having seen success with their previous releases we are sure that we’ll be seeing great things from the team on this new project with Stardock on board with their resources.
Keep a close eye out for more news on BonusXP and their upcoming game over the next few weeks!
Following on from our first part of Robot’s PAX Panel review we now move on from looking at the studios history to present day to looking at some of the interesting prototypes they have been working on in-between OMD2 and OMDU. For the first time we get a glimpse at some of he games that could have been from the creative minds at Robot.
The first concept that came up at the studio was a game called Mithril, a project that Lance Hoke worked on. It was an accessible hex based browser game that would have the feel of Age that would work well on web browsers and tablets like the iPad. Similar to Tribal Wars but with a much deeper level of strategy. We saw the following concept art from the PAX slides:
There wasn’t too much detail on this one, it sounds like it didnt get very far along before the next concept came to surface, not much to report on this one but be sure to check out the commentary on the Twitch VOD.
Lonestar was the next concept the studio worked on. Ian Fischer described it as emergent gameplay which refers to the gameplay adapting to the actions of the player. For example in games like The Sims where players can tell their own story and the gameplay is shaped by the actions they take. Another example might be games like Fable where players actions can shape the world around them.
In Robot’s case with Lonestar they set out to create a sci-fi sandbox world that woul have completely randomly generated planets. The players ship had crashed on one of these planets and the player was tasked with finding a way to survive and escape the planet. Everything about the planet would be a randomly generated simulation including the beings that were already living on it.
The only downside with Lonestar were the challenges of managing the in-game ecology and for a number of other reasons, the project would have been a very large under-taking. Robot went on to scale down the project for their next prototype called “Victory”.
The biggest thing that you’ll notice about Victory when watching the PAX panel video that it was a shooter. A big departure from the typical type of game for the studio to work on. Once again it involved planets that were generated emergently and colonies would be formed on each planet. The generated planets would all have their own unique environments and properties and everything in the game would be a simulation. One simple example would be how close and far the planet would be from the sun would affect the properties and environment of the planet. Players would take the form of a space troubleshooting team who would travel out to these planets. Players would have to figure out what was happening on each planet and what problems there were that needed fixing.
Ian game some example of problems such as overheating reactors and being taken over by space pirates as just two possible scenarios amongst many others. Players would be challenges to resolve planet problems as quickly as possible before things got too bad. For instance enemies might get bigger and stronger over time, like this monster:
Robot considered making a very early preview of Victory at PAX the year before, but in the end decided they would return back to Orcs Must Die! for their next game based on TONS of feedback they were getting from the community and press alike. As great and as interesting as these concepts are, there was just so much overwhelming demand to continue the OMD franchise and out of that Orcs Must Die! Unchained was born.
Orcs Must Die! Unchained
Following two very successful games of OMD the bots at Robot had long heard the calls to expand the multiplayer element of the game, first adding co-op in OMD2 and then having to cater for the desire to have PvP OMD gameplay. It was out of this that Unchained! was born, and Robot is set to deliver all the things a budding OMD fan could want including full 5v5 fortress siege multiplayer action.
For the first time in the series players would be able to experience the offensive side of playing OMD.
We are able to see some excellent early art of the game coming together from its early stages. It is interesting to see the steps Robot took before getting to what we see today in the closed beta. They even had long hair for the War Mage and Sorceress at one point to show that they have aged between OMD2 and Unchained. Here we can see one of the very early levels and early UI design:
We can can also see some early hero designs below, some of which may still make it into the game. These are actually just a selection of hero ideas that are currently sitting on the walls at Robot HQ. They have a ton of ideas and there certainly isnt a shortage of ideas on the OMDU hero front. Check out some of these cool designs:
Thoughts to take away
Things that we can learn from the PAX panel is that Robot is a very diverse studio with very creative minds and can work on a number of different projects over an array of different game genres. We can get an idea that the studio is still interested in strategy but also have a keen interest in emergent gameplay. As we move forward into the future looking at Unchained and beyond, its an exciting time to be a Robot Entertainment fan and I’m sure the studio to continue to keep us guessing even more so from this PAX panel on what kind of other concepts are being though up from the orange pod inside the studio!
Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment have been hanging out at PAX Prime this weekend, hosting their very own PAX panel titled “An afternoon of fun with Robot Entertainment”. In our first part of our two part series we cover the first part of the panel which looks at Robot history including their time at Ensemble Studios and the games that lead up to Orcs Must Die! Unchained. For anyone who was in attendance there were plenty of free things being given out including a bag, poster, buttons, t-shirt, band and “Founders PAX” access to the Closed Beta.
Fans who tuned in to the stream on Twitch were also in for an opportunity to win these sweet prizes. Also making an appearance again is the exclusive Cardboard Tube Samurai skin for the War Mage. This exclusive vanity skin is only being made available to PAX attendees and lucky Twitch stream winners.
Digging into the panel things started off with an introduction to the studio including highlighting Robot’s internal biergarten that they have in the studio and the colour coded pods for each discipline of staff (artist, programmers, design, community etc). Following an introduction of the studio the panel began to talk about Robot’s roots including their time previously at Ensemble Studios taking the audience through the past legacies such as the Age games and Halo Wars, including the big Halo MMO project codenamed “Titan” that was unfortunately cancelled by Microsoft.
The panel go into some detail about the cancelled MMO project and is well worth watching the stream for any Ensemble fans. Ian Fischer confirms previous Ensemble staffer comments that the game was largely cancelled due to Microsoft’s desire to pursue more casual games.
Age of Empires Online
The panel went on to talk about Age of Empires Online and how it started out as Age 4. Ian Fischer described how they originally thought about going back to the old caveman Age 1 settings whilst still at Ensemble Studios. When the studio was shut down, Microsoft wanted to continue the Age 4 project but didnt want it looking like another Age game and wanted to pursue a more casual look. It is this reason why Age of Empires Online adopted the casual more cartoony look in the final product.
Robot also pushed to have all the Age games put on Steam instead of Games of Windows Live. Although they never did it in Robot’s time managing the Age Community, Microsoft has finally got round to it recently and the Age games have been top sellers on Steam for some time now.
Prototyping new games
Whilst most of the studio were working on Age of Empires Online there was a small group in the Orange Pod who spent time prototyping new games for the studios first original IP. Before things morphed into Orcs Must Die! the studio worked on a “tool kit” that would allow players to build their own games. This tool kit idea then turned into a game codenamed “Saber” which later became “Orcs Must Die!”. Here are some early art and designs for the game:
You will notice that Saber started off looking much darker more serious than the lighter more comic feel of OMD today. As the development progressed and things like physics traps were added the OMD we see today was born. Of course it was soon time for the studio to name the game beyond its prototype name “Saber” and there were alot of discussions in the studio.
“Orc Invasion”, “Overrun” and “Onslaught” were some of the names that were considered alongside Chris Rippy’s “Orcs Must Die!”. In the end it was whittled down to just two, “Onslaught” and “Orcs Must Die!” and the studio was split 50/50 on each name and in the end a decision was made to go with OMD. The OMD name also helped Robot’s art and design move the game into a more lighter setting. This can also be seen in the War Mage’s art development where he started out more serious before becoming the more goofy hero we see today:
Orcs Must Die! shipped in 2011 and went on to win AIAS Strategy Simulation game of the year.
Robot’s next original IP was to be Hero Academy a mobile game on Android, iOS and Steam. Once again the project started out from the orange pod. Patrick Hudson talked about the Team Fortress 2 integration and the relationship with Valve and also that they got approached by a number of other IP’s about adding more teams in the game, but it was felt that those would not be as good a fit. Hero Academy also won an award at AIAS, Mobile Game of the Year.
The next mobile game spearheaded by Chris Rippy was a sci-fi RPG “Echo Prime” on iOS and Steam. Which by the way has recently had a price reduction if you haven’t already picked it up.
Orcs Must Die! 2
OMD2 was released 30 July 2012 and added a whole bunch of extra monsters, a second playable character (Sorceress) and added Co-Op. After OMD2 the studio decided that they were going to let OMD rest for a bit.
More prototyping - coming up in part 2
Whilst the OMD series was placed on hold the bots began prototyping more new original games across various genres from strategy to FPS. We’re going to cover these very interesting prototypes in part 2 of this blog series later this week. Be sure to check back where we discect some of the other original ideas what have been toyed around with in the studio.
In the meanwhile… be sure to check out the stream VOD of the PAX panel where you can see the hour long panel talk about all of the things mentioned above and some of the things we are covering in part 2 later this upcoming week which includes these awesome never before seen concept ideas, and of course Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Check back soon!
Some of the bots from Robot Entertainment are on route to PAX Prime in Seattle later this month. While there is no Robot booth this time around, a number of the bots will be hosting their own PAX Prime panel. The line up includes Patrick Hudson [CEO], Justin Korthof [Community Manager], Lance Hoke [Producer], Ian Fischer [Design Director], Chris Moffitt [Art Director].
The panel will include talk about studios history including their time at Ensemble Studios, Age of Empires through to modern day Orcs Must Die! For those lucky enough to be in attendance there will also be prizes being given out at the panel. No word on what these are as of yet, but hey, who would say no to free prizes?!
If you’re at PAX Prime be sure to head to the HEDGEHOG THEATRE on SATURDAY 8/30 1:30PM – 2:30PM
If you’re a Steam user you have have seen for a while prominent features of Age of Empires 2 HD and Age of Mythology Extended Edition available to play on Steam. Its great to see these classic Ensemble titles back in the game for purchase. Joining Age of Empires 3 which is also available for purchase on Steam there are now three major games in Ensemble’s legacy in the modern day Steam store and audiences both old and new can enjoy these great games.
But what do some Ex-Ensembler’s think about the HD and Extended Editions of their games? Julian Benson over at PC Games N has spoken to a few Ensemblites, Eric Best, Ian Fischer and Jerome Jones who are now working diligently at Robot Entertainment on Orcs Must Die! Unchained. Their article said:
I asked them whether they’d seen the new Extended Edition, HD remakes of their games.
“I was one of the designers on Age of Mythology,” Jerome explains. “That was a good game, of all the Age games. We went to the extended edition’s booth at PAX, talked to the guys who are putting it out there. Me and Ian went over there, Ian was a designer on Age of Empires, too. Him and I went over there and talked to some of those guys who never really worked on the game – they’re enhancing the game, right – and they were like ‘Hey, do you guys want to see the game?’ and we were like ‘Nah, we’ve seen it a lot.’
“I think it’s one of the best selling games on Steam,” Eric says.
“It was fine as it was, says Jerome. “It sold 4 or 5 million copies. They’re just making it look more… clearer maybe? That’s not fair, they’ve added some things that we didn’t put in. Global map stuff. It didn’t seem necessary for me.
It seems like they might not be too fussed about the re-release. From my own personal perspective I think its great to see these titles available on a platform like Steam and it gives these great games the chance to be played again on newer systems and reach new audiences. At the same time I dont think a huge amount of investment has been made and there could have been alot more done, I can understand where Jerome is coming from.
An excellent interview has been posted over at vgmonline.net featuring Stephen Rippy – “Music through the ages.” The interview covers all aspects of Stephen’s career from his time at Ensemble Studios working on Age and Halo Wars to post Ensemble work with Zynga working on Castleville. We also learn about Stephen’s new recently released album “Mainland Static”.
Chris: This month, you released your latest original album Mainland Static through Sumthing Else Music Works. What should we expect from the songs of this work? How would you compare this album and your sound in general to that featured in earlier releases?
Stephen Rippy: I think these songs are maybe a little more character-driven. The sound of the record is a little more produced than the last one, and there’s probably more piano and electric guitar than I’ve used in a while.
Dont forget to check out the full interview at http://www.vgmonline.net/stephenrippyinterview/ to read more about the new album.
Great news for Orcs Must Die! fans – its your lucky day as Robot have just announced the next OMD game – Orcs Must Die! Unchained, or OMDU for short! IGN has the scoop. OMDU is the biggest game to date in pretty much every way – bigger levels, more playable characters, deeper deck / inventory system, more enemies and of course even more traps, whats more this is all free-to-play!
Not only is it bigger and better than ever before, OMDU is a radical change to the gameplay. Now for the first time players will be going head to head against themselves to defend and attack strongholds. Thats right OMDU takes a leap into an expansive multiplayer experience! Solo modes are also available as well.
Lets take a look at how Robot sums it up:
Orcs Must Die! Unchained is a fast-paced Fortress Siege action game in which teams of heroes battle head-to-head to attack and defend ancient strongholds. For the first time in Orcs Must Die!, teams of players are responsible for both sides of the battle — building traps to stop the enemy assault AND summoning their own armies to lead against the enemy defense.
OMDU is big, we’re talking up to 5v5 play against friends or global multi player search. To help with this there are a host of new charecters along side the trusty War Mage and Sorceress. OMDU introduces Blackpaw, Midnight, Stinkeye, and Bloodspike into the fray plus many more. This time the hero’s aren’t all human either!
The decks and inventory system has been completely overhauled, decks are deeper than before and are much better organised. There is also a full upgrade system in place to power up your inventory. Heroes, weapons and traps can all be upgraded not to mention upgrades to minions who will prove to be essential in helping turn the tide of battle.
Seeing is believing – check out the teaser trailer
Don’t take our word for it – take a look at the brand new teaser trailer to see some of the greatness thats in-store for fans coming up in OMDU. Looking mighty fine folks!
Get immediate or early access!
Looking for early access to OMDU? No problem! This time around Robot has introduced a scheme that lets super fans get ahold of the game early, or even much earlier such as right now! Thats right, by purchasing membership to the “Founders” club fans can get ahold of the alpha of OMDU right now! The immediate alpha access costs $149.99 an for that you get a ton of extra stuff on top worth up to $500, this includes 1 alpha and 5 beta codes to share with friends and $200 worth of in-game currency to spend how you like on upgrades. You also get access to the 5 founders heroes, skins and most of all exclusive access to the developer forums. A great deal for mega OMD fans!
If you don’t mind holding tight for a little bit you can get priority alpha and beta access from $59.99 and $19.99 respectively. You can find out all about the Founders access by heading here: https://orcsmustdie.com/founders
Much more to come
We’re just scratching the surface of whats coming up in OMDU. Expect much more to be revealed over PAX and over the coming months. Keep a sharp eye out and dont forget to to sign up on the brand new Orcs Must Die! website. There are brand new forums for people to hop on and discuss this exciting announcement! We’ll see you there
To read more about OMDU check out the article at IGN where both Patrick Hudson and Ian Fischer discuss parts of the game and the free-to-play model.
Gameforge and Robot Entertainment have yesterday announced a publishing partnership in respect of a new upcoming game in European territories. This is good news as the partnership will allow Robot to expand its presence in European markets. The deal is a full publishing agreement and extends to marketing and support of the upcoming title.
Robot’s CEO Patrick Hudson said: “Robot is eager to expand its global reach. Gameforge is the strongest publisher in Europe, and we are excited they will help deliver our next game to even more players. We cannot wait to unveil this game to fans soon”
Alexander Rösner, CEO at Gameforge, went on to say: “Gameforge and Robot Entertainment are a superb match – we both share one goal: to make games that are fun. In this sense, our new shared title will raise the bar to a new level”.
Eagle eyed readers will note that the press release on the Gameforge website refers to the next title as being “an unannounced new PC project slated for release in 2014?.
Its been a few days now since Robot released Echo Prime on Steam. Following its release back in October last year it is great to see Echo Prime arrive on PC as this allows more people to play the game who previously would not have been able to if they did not have an iOS device. On PC Robot brings us an expanded version of the game with even more levels and enemies. So lets take a look at what the bots bring to the table with Echo Prime.
Echo Prime is quite simply a blast to play. It reminds me alot of classic arcade game action. Players take control of an Enforcer, a character who protects the universe from the various nasties such as dangerous alien creatures, space pirates, and killer mercenaries. Being an action RPG there are alot of traditional RPG elements here. Players can attack with either their melee weapon such as a sword but also with a ranged weapon. On the defensive side players have the option of blocking enemy attacks and a well timed block can reflect enemies shots right back at them. It can be great fun and rewarding to practice the shield blocking technique. Aside from blocking players can avoid damage by dodging out of the way.
Players can make use of either keyboard and mouse controls or use a gamepad such as the Xbox Controller. Personally, I preferred to play the game with the controller and felt it gave a better overall experience particularly with precision around the dodging mechanic. Playing with the mouse can be a little tricky as sometimes you may encounter un-expected dodging. With the gamepad everything in game works like a dream. The only small niggle with gamepads is that some of the in-game menus do not lend themself to ease of use with the gamepad. Considering this is a port from the iOS game the port has been well executed in the most part with just some minor issues with the menu screens.
Progressing through Echo Prime is all about collecting echoes and upgrading your weapons and armour. So what are these Echoes I hear you ask? Echoes are the friendly aliens from other parts of the universe. Once collected players can equip them to make use of their awesome bonuses. Both active and passive types of bonuses are available. Passive echoes have their bonuses permanently activated such as say “30% defence increase”. Active echoes allow their bonuses to be called on manually by pressing on the echo icon during game. Examples of active echoes are things like the “Searing Strike” which when activated a blast of fire inflicts damage on multiple enemies.
There are also some epic boss battles that spice things up as well. Echo Prime entertains with a varied set of levels and things to accomplish.
Graphics & Design
The level design on Echo Prime is nice and varied as players play through the game. At first players spend their time on-board various ships clearing out enemies but soon players find themselves in various locations across the universe such as ice caverns and mining planets. With random level generation each time players play a level the experience is always different. Although the the level is graphically the same the amount and position of enemies varies, as does the position and availability of dropped items. Not only that players can choose different echoes at the beginning of levels allowing players to experiment with various combinations to tackle some of the more tricky levels.
On the graphics front, having originated from iOS Echo Prime on Steam does seem to have improved graphics and it certainly looks great on the PC. The graphics are not hugely detailed and are largely kept quite simple. On the plus side this means the game runs very well on a wide array of computers with its low system requirements. Echo Prime is visually pleasant with a good, friendly mix of colour palette which adds to the overall enjoyment. Enemies are well designed and with good variation. Including some funky acid dropping floating jelly fish like aliens! Kudos to Robot’s art department for coming up with some really cool enemy and level designs.
Although you might not have thought so being an iOS port, Echo Prime, even in the iOS version has some very good sound and music. The music is a typical flashback to arcade game music and it works very well and helps dictate the pace. Sound effects are plentiful and of good quality and are generally not annoying. Purchasing the game on Steam also nets players the 14 track soundtrack available in the Steam directory.
Social & Multiplayer
Unfortunately there is no co-op play available with Echo Prime. It would certainly be very awesome if there was but that would of course take a lot of work on Robot’s part. The game does have leader boards where players can compare number of echoes collected with their friends. There are also some achievements to unlock as well. In-game players can view their friends echoes, players can also use their friends echoes in game to assist in trickier levels, particually helpful if your friend has some awesome veteran echoes in their collection. Otherwise random players echoes are also sometimes selectable. Players can “follow” peoples echo collections so that those echoes appear more often. Quite an interesting and unique feature.
Echo Prime is another great game from the bots at Robot. The games migration to PC has been execute well, so well that I prefer to play it on PC than on the iPad. It can be easy to get worn out with the constant screen tapping! On PC, especially with a gamepad Echo Prime is more approachable than before. At its price point of $9.99 (20% right now) the game provides excellent value for money and a ton of gameplay.
If you havnt been able to get ahold of Echo Prime on iOS or if you wanted to give it a go with more traditional PC / gamepad controls now is a great time to purchase Echo Prime and get 20% off (and Orcs Must Die! 2). Echo Prime gets the our stamp of approval. Go forth and protect the universe!
Great news for PC gamers who many not have had the chance to check out Robot’s awesome futuristic action / RPG “Echo Prime”, it is now on route to PC via Steam. Not only that but the Echo Prime edition coming to Steam will be an expanded edition of the game with more locations than before and a whole new enemy race and alien “Tide”. Whats more to make the game work better on the PC platform the bots have re-worked the controls to make them more suitable for traditional, less finger based input!
Hardcore mode has also been added. In similar vain to endless on Orcs Must Die 2, players fight against wave after wave of enemies to compete and see just how many waves they can survive.
Players also get the full 14 track soundtrack with purchase of Echo Prime on Steam. How about that.
Here is the full run down on the things to come as seen in Robot’s most recent newsletter:
Echo Prime on Steam
- Optimized for PC – Echo Prime’s real-time action gameplay has been redesigned for PCs, including improvements to visual effects, a retuned economy, and new PC controls with mappable hotkeys.
- Even More Enemies and Environments – Echo Prime for Steam includes new locations in which to do battle and a new enemy race the “Tide”.
- New Hardcore Mode - Tests your mastery. How far can you get without dying?
- Upgrade Your Arsenal – Over 100 pieces of gear with a diverse mix of deadly effects, from fire to toxic, all unlockable at no additional cost.
- Echoes of the Multiverse – As you play you will discover and unlock dozens of “Echoes,” alien life forms from alternate universes. Build connections with them, and Echoes will offer you powers and abilities to help you on your missions. Experiment and find the best combinations to customize your ability loadout.
- Share Echoes – Use your friends’ Echoes in combat to help them level-up, and level up your Echoes when your friends use them!
- Random Campaign Generation – Echo Prime features an action-driven story campaign with randomly generated missions. Every experience is different!
- Includes the Full Soundtrack – All 14 tracks of the Echo Prime soundtrack are included when you buy the game!
Its sure to be a blast and its all coming next week January 28th, 2014. That’s real soon!