At Microsoft’s XBOX E3 event today there was some big news for Halo Wars fans. The previously announced Halo Wars 2 title, a follow up to Ensemble’s Halo Wars by 343 Industries and Creative Assembly will be landing in February 2017 and has two sweet, sweet new trailers. The Spirit of Fire is returning along with Captain Cutter and his crew. Blur Studio is also back on hand delivering the visuals. There is also an open beta which can be played right now! Not only that, but Ensemble Studios’ Halo Wars is also being re-mastered for Xbox One and Windows 10!
There are two brand new trailers for Halo Wars 2, the first is an excellent CGI trailer and the second trailer shows more gameplay scenes. Both of these trailers look excellent and it seems that Creative Assembly are keeping the quality bar very high in testament to the great work on Ensemble’s legacy with Halo Wars. Check out these awesome new trailers:
Judging by the videos above it looks like Halo Wars is in safe hands, taking on where Ensemble left off. Its great to see Halo Wars in this generation. 343 Industries writes:
A New Kind of Strategy: Halo Wars redefined the real-time strategy (RTS) genre on consoles and Halo Wars 2 is set to take that evolution even further with a hybrid of action-oriented and classic tactical gameplay modes. Veteran developer Creative Assembly (Total War: Rome II, Total War: Shogun 2) brings decades of RTS experience to the Halo universe and delivers a game which will be action-packed fun for players new to strategy games and deeply challenging and rewarding for RTS experts.
The game will feature the classic multiplayer from Halo Wars, including new modes such as Strongholds where players race to capture the most bases in a certain time and a new mode called “Blitz” which promises “An all-new multiplayer mode that is an exciting addition to the Halo Wars series with a unique approach to RTS gameplay.” Sounds intriguing.
Open Beta playable now
As just announced at E3, a multiplayer beta of Halo Wars 2 is live now on Xbox One. Players can download the game now and take a look at how it is shaping up with this free multiplayer open beta which runs up until June 20th. Download it now. An open beta for Windows 10 is expected later down the line.
Halo Wars Definitive Edition announced
In amongst the Halo Wars 2 news, its has also been revealed that Ensemble’s original Halo Wars, which redefined console RTS, will be getting a re-release on Xbox One and Windows 10 with a remastered edition, featuring improved graphics. Recognising the greatness of the first Halo Wars its absolutely fantastic to see that the title is making a refreshed appearance for more gamers to enjoy and keep enjoying for many more years to come. It is a little odd though to hear that it is coming to Windows 10. There is no information if it will be gamepad only or if keyboard support is planned. Noting that Ensemble’s original vision was for it to work with gamepads and fitted the Xbox controller perfectly. It will be interesting to learn more about how this will be working.
Halo Wars is also the third Ensemble Studios game to be re-mastered in recent years, following Age of Empires 2 and Age of Mythology re-releases on Steam. You just can’t put a good Ensemble game down.
Its a great time to be a Halo Wars fan and to see the series continue, both with Halo Wars and Halo Wars 2 paying homage to its Ensemble legacy. Stand by for more news!
Following a successful closed beta stress test last weekend, Robot Entertainment have today announced that Orcs Must Die! Unchained is entering its next release phase - Open Beta on March 29th. This is great news and means that anyone who wants to check out OMDU will be able to do so by registering and downloading the game on the website (OrcsMustDie.com), or via Steam.
There will be one more wipe as Open Beta arrives with all players having their accounts reset. However, this wipe is planned to be the last wipe with player progress from this point being maintained through to release. Any purchases or rewards earned by coin or code redemption will also be returned and available on open beta.
As part of the work that needs to take place to deliver the open beta for March 29th - the servers will NOT be available to play this weekend. Robot will be busy preparing for open beta to land on March 29th, next Tuesday! This also means that there will be no ‘Orcs After Dark’ stream or ‘Meet your Match’ with Nananea this week.
See you all in open beta!
Hot on the heels of PeopleFun’s last mobile game release in January, the excellent Adventure Smash. The studio is hot on the heels with their new game ‘Spell Blitz’ available from now on Android, iOS and Facebook. Spell Blitz lives up well to its name, its a word game where players are presented with a board and 90 seconds to try and spell out as many words from the letters on the screen in time. There are leader boards and higher points can be scored with longer words, special letters and bonuses for fast spelling!
The game is sort of like a mash up of titles like Bejewelled Blitz and Bookworm by PopCap Games. It’s a winning formula and PeopleFun have been able to craft this formula into an addictive game which is great fun to pick up and play and compete with friends. Alongside the core gameplay there are of course leaderboards, these reset weekly and there are both friends and global leaderboards. There is a connection to Facebook on all platforms for cross-platform play and friend sharing. Players can also stumble across ‘spells’ whilst playing to add to the excitement, such as “Lightning” which starts players off with the fast spelling bonus.
Before a game starts players can also choose upto three ‘charms’ from a set of seven. These charms are added bonuses such as starting the game with free multiplier letters or a bomb to clear the board and get a fresh set of letters. Players will like to experiment to find their best combination on charms that suit them.
PeopleFun have a trailer of the game so that you can get a feel for it. Check out the trailer below.
Be sure to check out the game on your favourite platform using the links you can find on the official PeopleFun website:
Prepare to get addicted – again!
PeopleFun have recently released their third mobile game for Android and iOS. Meet ‘Adventure Smash’ the extremely addictive Match 3 game with lots of personality. The game is sure to be a hit and is already attracting many 5 star rating on the App and Play Store. Unlike your normal Match 3 game, Adventure Smash offers numerous objectives and challenges for each level. The variation of challenges and tasks is good and keeps the game fresh as players progress. When the game starts players pick between one of two adventurers (boy or girl) and then the fun begins as their character enters various worlds through paintings on the wall found in the attic. The motto of the game is ‘Easy and fun to play, but challenging to master’, a motto that sums up Adventure Smash very well.
Adventure Smash is like your typical Match 3 game, but with a whole lot more. Levels are varied, with differing objectives and also a number of abilities available. Each power up has a good deal of strategic depth of when to use it, tasking players to weigh up making move X or move Y. To give you an idea about how it works you can check out the trailer below.
PeopleFun have worked hard on this title to get that fine balance between a fun and challenging game, and not over loading it with numerous micro transactions. Sure, they are there, players can purchase utility items like ‘Flash Bang Brew’ which helps stun bosses, or the ‘Token Twister’ which shuffles the pieces on the board. The items are useful and can be earned through various means – the daily free spin, tournaments or micro-transactions. The game itself has an appealing art style with vivid colours and excellent boss designs.
Each level has a three star system where players can not only try to complete the level for one star but also to get the second and third stars which require more points. Completing levels faster with better scoring matches enable players to get the extra stars. There are of course leaderboards both overall for each world and on a per level basis so that players can compete with friends. There is Facebook integration which also allows for cross-platform play between devices.
In addition to the main game there are also weekly tournaments that take place, these tournaments involve playing several games and players can win prizes for high scoring levels. There is also a global leader board and top players overall can win bigger prizes. The tournaments offering regular differing challenges to keep players engaged even after the main story content is completed.
Overall Adventure Smash is a great game, its highly addictive much like Word Chums. Once you start, you won’t want to stop! The game is available on Android, iOS and also on the web via Facebook. With multi-platform play you can dive into Adventure Smash at anytime to get your fix of Match 3 fun with a spice of adventure. Be sure to check it out on the links below. I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty more Adventure Smash content!
The second commercial for The Incorruptibles is now live. Its good to see BonusXP have their priorities right!
There’s a new studio on the block from a talented ex Ensemble Studios member. Introducing “Element Games” headed up by Marcin Szymanski, a programmer from Ensemble Studios who has worked on many titles from Age of Mythology through to Halo Wars. Following the closure of Ensemble Studios, Marcin worked at Robot Entertainment on Orcs Must Die! and Hero Academy, the latter where he was both lead programmer and lead designer on the highly successful and award winning project. Following his time at Robot, Marcin worked at Playful Games for the first half of 2014. At Playful Marcin learnt the ropes on virtual reality game design, working on Lucky’s Tale, a VR platformer for Oculus Rift. Now Marcin is setting out on a new adventure with his new founded studio Element Games who have just released their first title for the Samsung Gear VR.
Before we get started on talking about Evil Robot Traffic Jam, the first thing to discuss is the platform that Marcin has chosen for this game, the Samsung Gear VR. This is a virtual reality game which can be played on the Samsung Gear VR (pictured below) with a compatible Samsung Android smartphone. You may of heard of “Oculus Rift“, the Samsung Gear VR has been created in partnership with the same people behind that project. This represents the latest in cutting edge VR technology being readily made available to consumers. Available at around $99 the Gear VR is an affordable piece of equipment to extend virtual reality video games on mobile devices. Its great to see an ex-Ensembler being right at the forefront of VR technology.
What is Evil Robot Traffic Jam?
Evil Robot Traffic Jam, or ERTJ for short is tower defence game built for virtual reality gaming. Players go up against evil robots who’s goal is most evil, disturbing the flow of traffic! From the Element Games website:
You know how you’ll be driving down the highway, minding your own business, when suddenly you encounter stop and go traffic? Often, it magically clears up without any indication why it ever got so bad.
The answer is simple: Evil Robots!
For no apparent reason, they love to create horrible traffic jams all over the world, and they’ve set their sights on your towns with the aim of creating Total Gridlock!
Players take the role of being part of the Evil Robot Defence Force and must place strategic defences around the city to help contain the flow of traffic to keep things moving smoothly and avoid total gridlock. Players place defences in the form of Missile Towers, Frost Towers, and Rail Guns to help keep the evil robots at bay. The robots get tougher as players progress through later levels and includes bosses.
Q&A with Marcin Szymanski
To find out more about the game, the studio Element Games and the main man behind it all we posed a few questions to Marcin Szymanski, founder of Element Games about the game and its development process.
- How did Element Games come about?
[Marcin] I often thought about striking out on my own and seeing what I could accomplish in an indie capacity. Totally a bucket list item. I figured I’d do it at some distant point in the future, but many things fell into place in 2014 to make it the right time to start my company and develop a game for virtual reality. We only get a few chances in life to be part of something truly new, and as a long-time dreamer about the potential of VR, I simply couldn’t resist the opportunity.
- Where did the idea of Evil Robot Traffic Jam come from?
[Marcin] I started by evaluating the strengths and limitations of the Gear VR tech as well as of VR as a platform. On a mobile phone, you have to constrain graphical fidelity and processing load. And in VR, you don’t want noisy textures or visuals that are too distant, nor do you want an experience that gives players motion sickness. So I decided to go for stylized and colorful visuals, ones that incorporate simple shapes like cars and buildings because they look good with a low polygon count. And I chose the tower defense genre because it allows for a fixed camera position, can present lots of objects in the mid-field VR sweet spot to make the 3D really pop, and also allows the game to “play itself” part of the time — a significant benefit because it allows you to look around once in a while and enjoy the VR ambiance in the game without worrying about your character dying. I also liked tower defense because my experience working on the Orcs Must Die! series would jump start the game’s development.
- What made you choose Oculus VR technology?
[Marcin] I chose Oculus tech primarily because it has such a mature ecosystem. It’s important to have good hardware, but it’s just as important to have a good software stack, to provide extras like a good engine integration or binaural audio plugin, and to have a good support structure via forums and direct contact. Additionally, Oculus tech was always going to be first to market via Gear VR, and of course it would also easily enable a Rift version of the game.
- As an experienced developer, what lessons have you learnt from working at Ensemble and Robot that you have taken forwards into ERTJ?
[Marcin] Experience in the tower defense genre was a big help, as was experience with difficulty tuning, game balance, and moment to moment feel. I also learned the importance of polishing a game early instead of saving that for a polish phase near the end of the project — by that point, it’s too late to make most changes because of the risk to the project, even if those changes would make the game substantially better. Finally, I obtained a deeper understanding of project scope and schedule estimation, which helped during development of ERTJ greatly because it kept the game from getting too big to finish in the time I’d allotted.
- What challenges did you face as a small indie developer?
[Marcin] The biggest challenge was not a big surprise: not being able to parallelize all the different things that go into making a game. I’d always appreciated game producers before, but I didn’t realize just how much until I was interacting with multiple contractors, integrating dozens of pieces of content, setting up my company’s website, running playtests, demoing the game, and a host of other things on top of actual development. In addition, one of the big things I love about working with a good team is that your teammates cover your shortcomings and provide another set of eyes when you’re unsure how to tackle a problem. Thankfully, I know many developers in the area, and we like helping each other out with whatever we’re working on.
- Do you have plans for add-on content?
[Marcin] Yes, the game would benefit from more maps, as well as new ways to play. I’m already receiving lots of good ideas for new content!
- What are your top tips for new players to help keep the evil robots at bay?
[Marcin] The biggest tip actually applies to most tower defense games, which is to place towers near (but not inside) U-turns and loops so that enemy creeps pass by the same tower multiple times. Also, the hacker drones can either be used to deal a bunch of damage as the hacked robot drives through his robot pals, or to cluster enemy vehicles together to set them up for area damage, or to keep vehicles in a “kill box” near your most upgraded towers. Finally, it’s possible to use the Close Call bonus (destroying a vehicle near the exit) strategically to get several back-to-back uses of that map’s VR Power.
- If you could sum up Evil Robot Traffic Jam in three words, what would they be?
[Marcin] Hmm, let’s go with “Stylized Vehicular Mayhem” .
Evil Robot Traffic Jam is available to download now from the Oculus Store! A video trailer for the game will be available soon. If you have the Samsung Gear VR, be sure to check it out. To learn more about the project and Marcin you can also check out his recent Reddit ask me anything.
BonusXP have today announced the release of their latest title ”The Incorruptibles” which is landing in the iOS App Store today. The Incorruptibles plays at the teams strengths and is a mobile RTS game. The studio has partnered with MaxPlay to bring the game to the masses. The Incorruptibles as long been under discussion on a number of BonusXP’s blog posts as the “mobile RTS game”. Now all the dots can be joined up and we can see the final product.
The Incorruptibles takes us back to the more traditional RTS mechanics of our much loved classic games like Age of Empires. Resource management plays a key role in building up your fortifications and army. Players can rush, build or turtle. The game extends the classic gameplay with crafting and heroes which can be levelled. The battles are fast paced to suit being played on the go, but this doesn’t mean the battles are in anyway lacklustre, they retain the thrill and excitement of your desktop RTS experiences, just now you can engage in RTS anywhere, on the move!
There is both PvP play as well as a story campaign which sees you rally your heroes against the “Corrupted”. Combining story, skirmish and PvP play The Incorruptibles has something for everyone. With a number of ex-Ensemble Studios staff working on the project, including the legendary Bruce Shelley you can be sure the quality bar is the highest it can be and proves that mobile RTS can work with the same thrill as its desktop counterparts. The gameplay and graphics are first class with a bright palette. Players can build outwards expanding their kingdom across the realm visually showing players progress against the corrupted and enemy player territory!
Launching in style
MaxPlay, the publisher working with BonusXP has put together two trailers for the game. Check out the first which is a video gameplay trailer and also the second which adds a little humour into the mix! This is part of a series of upcoming videos for The Incorruptibles
The game is ready to download right now from the App Store via the link below. Requires iOS 7 or higher. The Incorruptibles is optimized to play best on iPad 3, iPhone 5, iPad Mini 2 and more recent devices. See you in-game!
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!