Legendary game designer Bruce Shelley takes to the blog over at BonusXP, the topic at hand is talking about how video game ideas start out in their early stages. The Ensemble philosophy of play testing comes into throw here, even right at the start of a brand new game idea.
The method that we have seen work most successfully, beginning many years ago with board and paper games, is to build a prototype, start pushing around the pieces, and then rely on our instincts as gamers to feel what parts are working, not working, what new idea to try, etc. We call this design by playing.
Bruce shares a photograph taken from the BonusXP office of Dave Pottinger and Jacob Naasz from earlier this year, late August. In the photo we can see a paper based prototype being used to bounce around ideas. By working with paper it becomes very quick to build something that can be discussed in the detail at a design level without having to engage in digital development commitment at these very early stages.
The transition from paper to digital prototype (on the way to competitive commercial product) was the next step and where the impressive magic happens. With a lot of code and artwork already on hand, a digital version was assembled that was playable within two weeks. Very shortly thereafter one of our teammates living in Canada was playing another colleague living in Chile (South America). Within four weeks we were demonstrating the game in the office of a possible partner.
It will sure be interesting to see what comes of this paper based prototype. What we see on the table above could well become the next big hit from BonusXP! Check out Bruce’s blog to read more about the process on the BonusXP website.
Coming up to six years since the release of Halo Wars in 2009, Ensemble Studios final game before the studios closure, Microsoft have today announced a new sequel, Halo Wars 2. Microsoft’s 343 Industries will be working with UK based developer Creative Assembly to bring fans Halo Wars 2, taking the torch from Ensemble Studios and Robot Entertainment.
The CGI trailer was shown at the end of Gamescom in a nod to the original trailer to Halo Wars which was also shown as the closing trailer at the X06 event back in 2006. The CGI trailer shows Brutes as the possible primary antagonists. Details are thin on the ground beyond the trailer, there will be a new story but no word on what role say, the Spirit of Fire and its crew might have. We will keep our ears to the ground as we learn more. The game is set to be released in Fall 2016 on Xbox One and Windows 10. According to Kotaku it might be episodic.
Check out the trailer below. We hope that Creative Assembly will be able to capture the same great production values as Ensemble’s work on Halo Wars and take the game forward. Its fantastic to see Halo Wars continuing on. Ready for the sequel!
Servo which is one of two games that BonusXP are working on right now along-side mobile RTS Longbow. Servo is a PC based RTS having been in founders alpha stage over the last few months the game is now being made available on Steam’s Early Access programme. The goal is to expand the audience and enable more feedback from players to be received. If you have not signed up to the founders packages, this is a great way to explore the game ahead of its release and help with its development. It is always interesting to see how a game develops over time and with early access you can witness the game take shape while engaging with the developers on the Servo Forums.
Check out Servo now on Steam Early access using the link below!
Boss Fight Entertainment have a new staffer joining their ranks in the form of Dave Luehmann who takes up the role as VP of Production according to GamesIndustry.biz. You may recognize the name as Dave was one of the Executive Producers for Age of Empires Online. Prior to that Dave was one of the General Managers at Microsoft Game Studios looking after a number of Microsoft’s internal studios including Ensemble Studios. It’s safe to say he is a familiar face amongst Ensemblites!
Speaking to Gamesindustry:
Having known many of the developers at Boss Fight for over a decade, I watched with deep admiration and respect as their studio has grown. I look forward to working with the exceptional talent they have and bringing their creative visions to the massive free-to-play market.
It’s great to see Dave working with some of the Ex-Ensemble crew at Boss Fight, it sure is a studio packing alof of talent and great minds. The studio continues to work on their first game “Dungeon Boss” a mobile dungeon RPG game for iOS and Android. Recently Stephen Rippy has taken to the Boss Fight blog as audio director to give us some insights on the awesome music we can expect to hear. Be sure to check out his Q&A on the Boss Fight blog:
BonusXP’s upcoming strategy game “Servo” has been in the news over at Gamespot with Kevin VanOrd talking to BonusXP’s Bruce Shelley and Dave Pottinger at last months GDC. The interesting interview gives us some insights on what BonusXP are heading towards with the game. Some interesting tidbits include the play time, with Servo matches taking around 10 minutes a game compared to a longer more drawn out RTS matches such as found in say, Age of Empires. We have seen a smaller game time target with Ensemble’s Halo Wars which typically had matches around 20 minutes. It’s interesting to see that BonusXP are looking at quite a short average game-time with Servo. Dave Pottinger commented:
“We like that interplay [between the RTS and RPG elements], and that’s what the whole cycle is. It’s not ‘just go play for ten minutes, and then I’m done.’ It’s ‘play a game for ten minutes, I’ll go tweak my guys, play another game.’ That whole half an hour where you play three or four games and you’re thinking about tweaking all your guys. That’s what a game session is in Servo.”
There is going to be a quite a big focus on customization of the Servo units. Between matches players will be able to spend time upgrading / customizing their Servo’s ready for the next match. The article confirms that there will be over 500 customized pieces when the game launches on Steam Early Access, that sounds like a considerable amount of pieces and shows how important this mechanic is. The level of customization on offer should allow people to personalize their units just how they like them.
”That’s exactly the feeling we want you to have, is that this servo team is your boys,” says Pottinger. Adds Shelley, “I think that’s a real strong thing. Personalizing your gaming experience is a big deal.”
Also discussed in the article is the games art style with Servo taking a more cartoonish look compared to the Age games of old. From the colour palette we have seen already the game does appear to take cues from Ensemble’s “the sun is always shining” motto with bright colours on the units and environment. When talking about the art style and the overall game-play design design Dave Pottinger commented in comparison to Age:
“Bonus is around because we wanted to go make something new,” responds Pottinger. “New and highly polished. The Age games had a lot of ways to play. We wanted something that. We love Age, and there’s a lot of Age in this. It’s definitely boiled down, and it’s going to be cast around this idea of a shorter experience. Age 3 with the home city was our first attempt at progression with an RTS. Maybe it didn’t go so well, but we’ve been working at it for a long time, and it’s definitely a better rendition of that.”
Be sure to read the full article on Gamespot, it is definitely a good look into what is happening with Servo and design direction BonusXP are taking. You can find the article on the link below:
As first revealed at PAX, Robot Entertainment have been working with Sandy at Petersen Games to bring Orcs Must Die! to table tops. Sandy has close ties to the studio having previously worked at Ensemble Studios.
We were told the game would soon be making it to Kickstarter for crowd funding. Just under 24 hours ago the project launched on Kickstarter. I am very pleased to advise that overnight the project has already met its funding target! This is an outstanding achievement and is a testament to Orcs Must Die! as a franchise and the talented minds at Petersen Games.
Be sure to check out the Kickstarter and pledge your support for the stretch goals and secure your copy of either the Order or Unchained board games, or both! Details of the stretch goals to go can be found below. I’m confident we will be able to see these come to light.
The Kickstarter page has all the details about the board game.
Eagle eyed fans who have been keeping track of the Orce Must Die! Facebook page this week may have noticed that there is a new game coming to the Orcs Must Die! series.
Can you see it? Just look to the bottom right hand corner. Its the Orcs Must Die! Board Game!
Thats right, Orcs Must Die! is coming to table tops! The board game will be a new Kickstarter project which will be launching soon headed up by Sandy Petersen of Petersen Entertainment. We can’t think of anyone better to run this project than Sandy. He has very close ties to the studio and many fans of Ensemble Studios will remember his name from his many “Ask Sandy” features he did for the Age of Empires community.
It’s great news to hear Sandy is working with Robot Entertainment on this addition to the Orcs Must Die! brand. Sandy has had great success launching board games on Kickstarter. His Cthulhu Wars board game Kickstarter achieved funding of $1,403,981 from its original goal of $40,000. That’s a huge success.
The board game will consist of two different versions – one for the Order and the other for the Unchained. Describing the game on the Petersen Entertainment website:
Orcs Must Die : The Boardgame actually consists of TWO separate games! One is based on the heroic Order, while the other is for the Unchained. Both are complete stand-alone games. In Order, you’ll play your favorite heroes such as Maximilian the War Mage, Gabriella the Redeemed Sorceress, and others, while fending off the villainous orc onslaught. In Unchained, you play opposing heroes, such as the Kobold King or Midnight the assassin, facing down assaults by human soldiers, lions, elves, bears, dwarfs, and the like.
If you or your friends own both the Order and Unchained versions of Orcs Must Die : The Boardgame , you can go head-to-head, leading your armies into the citadel of your enemy! Up to 8 players can team up against each other in the combined game, which boasts well over a hundred large-scale high-quality figures.
To find out more about the game and how to play be sure to check out the website. We’ll let you know as soon as this project lands on Kickstarter. I’m sure we’ll be able to reach some very cool stretch goals!
BonusXP and Stardock have today at the GDC San Francisco announced their new RTS game – Servo. As previously touched on in one of Bonus XP’s blog posts, Servo is a futuristic real-time strategy (RTS) game. The game has everything you would expect from an RTS headed up by another of Ex-Ensemble staff, including resource gathering and building up. There is a twist on this RTS formula and that is that the game also uses an RPG like “levelling up” concept. In Servo as players play the game they collect more parts for their collection which can be used on their Servo, when a player has a number of parts in their collection they can decide which ones they want to bring in to battle, bringing back the strategy element.
Servo is a far-future real-time strategy game that lets players customize their team of giant war machines, called Servos, with parts they earn in battle. Across the single-player story campaign, hand-crafted co-op scenarios, and white-knuckle PvP, Servo has something for everyone.
The game is set in the future on Earth which is full of problems after humans having previously had to leave the planet and take to the stars to find a better world to live in. Now in Servo, players return back to Earth to try and sort out all the problems that had been created. There is actually considerable back-story already available on the newly created Servo website. The art style is quite interesting, colourful and bright.
Servo’s is all about collecting and earning parts which can be placed on your own Servo’s which you take into battle. From the FAQ on the website:
Servo’s core mechanic is earning parts in battle and then customizing your Servos with those parts. Collecting awesome new parts from Nemodium Blades to Hydra Launchers and experimenting with the new strategies they enable is key to Servo. The marriage between that progression and a well-crafted RTS game sets Servo apart.
The game will be available on both PC and Mac on Steam and is due to be released at some time in 2015. There will be both an early access beta and a Friends and Family alpha test. BonusXP and Stardock are offering access to a Founders scheme for $19.99 which allows players to pre-order the game and also gain access to the Friends and Family alpha test. There will be multiplayer in terms of PvP and co-op along with 25+ single player missions. Be sure to sign up for the Founders programme to also see some sweet behind-the-scenes material as the game progresses.
Robot grows from strength to strength. Receives investment from Tencent with Phase 2 OMDU beta coming in March
Exciting news for Robot Entertainment as yesterday the studio announced that they have secured a minority investment from Tencent, a large Chinese publisher who recently also announced that they would be publishing Orcs Must Die! Unchained in China. A minority interest means that Robot maintains control over its operations, this is an investment which secures additional funding / capital for Robot’s endeavours.
“Taking on Tencent as an investor gives us additional financial flexibility but, more importantly, it creates a long-lasting and valuable partnership with the world’s premier publisher and operator of games”
said Robot Entertainment CEO Patrick Hudson.
“It’s a very exciting time for Robot Entertainment. We’re looking forward to showing Orcs Must Die! Unchained to fans at PAX East in Boston and releasing the game to market later this year on PC and PlayStation 4.”
This is great news for the studio and will help the studio grow and maintain its already great record at delivering fun games. The future is looking very bright indeed for Orcs Must Die! Unchained. It’s shaping up to be a big 2015 for Robot Entertainment. You can read more about this investment news at the Robot Entertainment website.
Phase 2 and PAX East
Fans who have been eagerly awaiting news about the release of the OMDU phase 2 closed beta can now be informed that Robot will be releasing this major update on March 24th in the US and shortly after in the EU. Feel free to join in on the pictorial discussions happening on the forums!
We are also just weeks away from PAX East taking place from March 6th. Robot Entertainment will be attending with their own OMDU booth. Representatives from Gameforge will also be in attendance. Those who come to Robot’s booth will get an exclusive chance to play Phase 2 OMDU gameplay, and as always, will be able to walk away with some sweet swag as well as closed beta access and a new skin for the War Mage.
This years PAX skin will also be available for anyone who is currently participating in the closed beta. The scarf you see being worn with the War Mages approval will be given out to attendees at the PAX booth. If you’re heading to PAX be sure to pop by and get your scarf and first Phase 2 gameplay!
Legendary game designer Bruce Shelley has taken to the BonusXP blog to summarise some of the most important attributes a game designer should have when working particularly at smaller video game studios. Bruce has long been encouraging of a studio wide playtest, where everyone in the studio regularly takes part in playtesting the game throughout the whole development process. This can be called a design by playing approach.
Most game studios, especially smaller teams like BonusXP, encourage, if not expect, everyone to take part in brainstorms, testing, and the overall design process, regardless of their main expertise. Over my thirty plus years of making games, these are some of the best practices or attributes that I saw work for effective colleagues; not all are game design specific.
Bruce’s blog goes on to talk about some of the other things that budding game designers should consider. From ensuring testing with multiple types of audiences (noob, mid-core, hard core) to managing a team and keeping control of the vision. Check out Bruce’s first BonusXP blog on the link below.
Incidentally, as classic Ensemble fans, now might be a great time to look back on the words of wisdom from Bruce’s past blogs at Ensemble Studios. You can find them all here in our Ensemble blogs archive.