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!
Next month Age Community will be closing after 8 years. It’s been a great 8 years and Age Community has progressed a lot since its inception. Unfortunately Microsoft has decided that change is a-foot and we’ll no longer be able to use the Age Community forum by mid next month.
Now is the time to celebrate all of the great years we’ve had on Age Community. Thus here we present the Age Community 8 years awards! Having teamed up with Robot Entertainment we’ve got some great prizes to award to members of the community to give Age Community the send off it deserves.
We have autographed copies of the Age 3 and AOM, autographed art books, making of DVDs and even an original 43″ x 27″ Age of Empires poster by Craig Mullins.
Here are the categories for which you can nominate people for a prize. What better Christmas present than some autographed Age of Empires goodies?
- Grand Prize – Best Overall Member
- Most Helpful Member
- Funniest Member
- Member with the best strategies
- Best Age 3 video / recorded game
- Best Age of Empires 3 meme (winning meme will be chosen by Aloysius!)
There are lots of ways to win with each category above having a first and second prize tier. Find out more about the tiers and all the prizes. The Grand Prize goes to the person who wins “Best overall member”. You can’t nominate yourself, but you can nominate someone for more than one category.
PLUS! Those who take the time just to nominate someone are also in for a chance to win some exclusive autographed copies of Age of Empires 3 by the developers! We have 10 autographed Age 3 copies to give away to 10 lucky people who just take the time to nominate using the link below!
Please take the time to follow the link above and nominate members or upload links to your meme / Videos. Lets celebrate the great 8 years of Age Community. Lots of chances to win prizes in this great competition with prizes provided by Robot Entertainment. A huge thank-you to Robot!
Age Community was the excellent online community started 8 years ago by Ensemble Studios back in 2005. The site was set up as the official community website for Age of Empires so that fans could enjoy all Age content in one single place. News, forums, statistics, ladders, account tools and patches were all available on one single website aptly named Age Community. So how did it all go wrong?
In the words of Ensemble studio head Tony Goodman:
This will give the fans a direct path to communicate game ideas to our designers, programmers and artists. You will also find Age III statistics, downloads, news, developer blogs and more. This is just the beginning of our new commitment to creating one of the world’s best online communities… and your input will be the key! I look forward to seeing you online.
Indeed for many years Ensemble worked hard to build a fantastic online community which was regularly updated. Over the years the forum has attracted 120,959 users and hundreds of thousands of threads and posts. The website was updated throughout each Age 3 expansion pack. When Ensemble Studios closed, it wasnt the end for Age Community. Robot Entertainment picked up the mantle and kept things moving all the way up until Age of Empires Online’s announcement. By this point the website was re-designed with Age of Empires Online in mind:
The downward spiral
It was around this time post Age of Empires Online announcement that things started to go wrong for the Age of Empires Community. Microsoft announced that it would be taking on support for the Age of Empires community directly and that it would no longer by managed by Robot Entertainment. One of the first things Microsoft decided to do really set in stone what would be numerous examples of how not to run an online community. Their first decision was to set up a whole new community website and forums completely seperate from what was the “Official Age of Empires Community”. Yes indeed, rather than use the existing community which had built up after years and years fans had to set up whole new accounts and start all over again at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com.
The whole decision was a slap in the face of what Ensemble tried to do by creating the single hub for all Age of Empires content. Of course at this point everything became disjointed, not all fans were keen on Age of Empires Online so some stayed on the what was the official Age Community rather than discussing the game on the new AOE-O forums. Low and behold the community was split onto two websites. Infact it was so crazy that Age Community had an AOE-O discussion forum and then there was another one at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com. Both of which were official websites, both of which discussing the same thing!
Why Microsoft decided to create whole new forums and not align the community on one single website will never be known. Both websites were even running the same software (Community Server).
Following on from Age of Empires Online, Microsoft announced Age of Empires 2 HD Edition. Of course they would need to set up a new website and forums for that. So where best to put them – AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com is purely dedicated to AOE-O so that wouldnt be a smart place. Ah, AgeCommunity.com, now there is a website that is serving all three existing Age games – it would surely make sense to put the new forums and information there. After all it is the Age of Empires Community (it even says so in the URL AgeCommunity.com).
Astonishingly the team decided to instead set up the new community presence for Age 2 HD on the AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com website! A very strange decision. A website that was solely designed for AOE-O is now the place for Age 2 HD discussions. Never mind the neutral website at AgeCommunity.com. Microsoft seemed to be doing all it can to ensure confusion and ambiguity.
This is how it should be done. Demonstrating how Ensemble Studios and Robot Entertainment used a single community website:
And then it gets even worse…
Microsoft managed to keep both communities going side by side for a further two years. Until of course they announced that Age of Empires Online would be closing. But uh-oh we have half the community at AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com and another half at AgeCommunity.com. Never mind all the Age 2 HD stuff wrongly placed on AOE-O’s website. They must of thought “Hmm. We cant’t keep AgeOfEmpiresOnline.com going because we’re closing that game”. An astute community team would have deduced that the most logical way forward would be to use the existing hub of fans and start to use AgeCommunity.com as the single official community again as had been the original Ensemble intention. Bringing all Age content for all four games under one roof on one single logical domain name. One that also had all the statistics and ladders for Age 3.
Instead the community team decides to close both websites and set up a whole new website to up root both communities all over again! Having announced they now have launched a whole new website at www.ageofempires.com and they are wanting all users to migrate to this new website. Throwing away all the years of content and integration that was AgeCommunity.com. So if the team are going through all this effort the new website would surely be something compelling, right?
Well you’ll have to see for yourself. Creating what must be the a fairly ghastly website for a game the size of Age of Empires. Things are so bad and under invested that they don’t even have a theme for the forum. No, they just used the out-of-the-box default theme that came with the forum and simply stuck a header graphic on top. (One that is far too large in file-size one might add). There are bugs all over the place with many features not working at all.
Not only is the new website visually deficient but no thought has gone into key forum features, it truly is the most basic website they could posibly have come up with, basically a throw back to the 90′s. The community not only has to uproot itself again (losing countless number of members in the process for those who cant be bothered to join), but they have to join this ghastly new website.
Micorosft really had a great opportunity to make use of the website that Ensemble had created that was already fully kitted out with deep integration with Age 3 and use it as a means to bring everything together. But no, they just continue to want to set up new websites and are persistent at creating a fresh community without so much thought of the members and content that would be lost the process. Reception of the website has mostly been negative as expected.
Some quotes from less than happy members:
“Bring back the old style with an active posts, add real AOE3 avatars and make a prettier interface. Although, I will admit I’m extremely grateful for the off-topic and I’m excited to troll *ahem* post here. Oh, and losing 5k posts ***s as well.”
“Dang I hate this forum. It looks so trashy compared to the old AoEO or any age forums. A 10 year old could script a better site. ”
“I have to agree, this “new” forum looks really ugly and unappealing. Agecommunity (being almost 10 years old) looks far more innovative, clean, and pleasant. This should have been an opportunity to design a much more advanced and modern forum with a cooler interface – not something taken straight out of 2003. No offense, but seriously, even a generic forum made by some 12 year old through zetaboards or miarroba looks nicer than this.
I refuse to post here unless there are some changes coming. ”
“Old ageofempires.com was great web site. They could add a good forum (Like Age Comm. forum) and they could combine all AOE sites and forums. Why they made a new and not great web site and forum ? I don’t know, I don’t understand.”
What does Microsoft have to say about all this? Moderator “USN_Saint” had this to say:
Without going into a lot of detail it’s kind of hard to explain, but it sort of comes down to where the site is hosted and the process to make changes to it. While this website looks nice and might appear to work well on the outside, the behind the scenes mechanics of it are not so efficient and very difficult for us to do anything with it. For example, making a simple change to the layout requires us to submit a change request to a different part of the organization and there is a time delay associated with it all. By moving to the new website, forums, blogs etc. we can essentially change whatever we want internally. Yes, we acknowledge it needs work and we’re doing that, but the process to make those changes is much easier now, so we can make those changes quicker.
So basically the summary of that is that owing to internal issues the community has to suffer with a far worse community website because Microsoft can’t muster the resources to have a web developer on hand to manage the changes needed for AgeCommunity.com. Instead the new website appears to being run by the community team directly who do not seem to have expertise in this area. Microsoft also blames “bugs” with the AgeCommunity.com website. Since Ensemble’s departure the website had issues displaying in newer browsers like Chrome. But these “bugs” are merely a few lines of CSS tweaks. Of course, Microsoft despite all its size could not famouth such simple changes. Instead of course, they felt it was better to time travel back the 90′s and keep the new website as simple as possible to make it easier for them, never mind the fans.
What makes this whole saga so frustrating is that we are dealing with a major franchise – Age of Empires. It is shocking that such a key franchise is being subjected to this level of all-time low investment and engagement. One can only hope that Microsoft Studios will twig on to these glaring deficiencies and provide the series which much needed investment. This is a sad day for Age of Empires. Many fans are hopeful of an Age of Empires 4, but it difficult to see how that can be happening if they are taking the community back to such basics. The investment in Age of Empires is just no longer there. I’m sure the community team working on Age of Empires have best intentions at heart but are unable to execute them properly owing to fundamental under-investment.
One hopes that investment will increase that if we are moving to a new website that it will be as compelling as possible.
A little while ago Robot Entertainment took part in a Make-a-Wish request for Wade Sharp, a boy who struggles with brittle bone disease (Osteogenesis Imperfecta) which makes it very difficult to engage in physical activities. His condition means that video games are a very important part of Wade’s life. In June earlier this year the bots welcomed Wade to the studio to help make his wish come true. Wade’s wish was to see how games were made and to become a character in a video game.
After spending some time with the bots Wade’s very own model was created for Echo Prime and was included in the game. Presenting “Wade The Supermaster” as below:
Now with Echo Prime’s release Wade The Supermaster is now unlockable in game! To celebrate the release of Echo Prime and Wade’s character the bots invited Wade back into the studio and presented him with his very own iPad so that he can enjoy Echo Prime.
The question is have you managed to unlock and meet the Supermaster yet? Get playing Echo Prime and see if you can unlock the Hero!
Great news for all Robot Fans. The bots have today announced their newest mobile game heading to iOS devices from today. Say hello to Echo Prime the sci-fi action RPG with real time combat! In Echo Prime players take up the role of the “Enforcer” who battles various sci-fi aliens, pirates and mercenaries as they travel across the universe to uncover secrets and discover the mysterious “Echoes”. To help explain things better Robot have graced us with an excellent trailer showcasing the gameplay.
Echo Prime is an RPG game that’s made for touch. Players explore the universe unlocking new abilities and upgrades after discovering the “Echoes”. As players gain more skills they face off against tougher space enemies. However in Robot Entertainment style there is of course a good level of strategy as part of the game. Once players start collecting echoes they can then configure their own personal load out based on the echoes they feel work best for them. Much like configuring the load-out used in Orcs Must Die levels. Looking at the screenshot below it appears the load-out configuration is suitably detailed for strategists but also restrained enough for casual players. Striking the balance between hard-core and casual can be tricky but it seems like Robot may well have this covered.
As we can see from the video above one of the key features of the game is the integration of touch controls. Players tap and swipe to battle enemies and use special abilities, it will certainly be interesting to see how this is executed. Another exciting feature is the random campaign generation. This means the experience playing each level varies each time. Players may find different enemies in different locations and different types and location of item drops etc. Keeps players thinking!
Echo Prime is available for iOS devices from today 25th October. An Android version for Echo Prime is confirmed to be coming shortly after the release of Echo Prime but there are no dates fixed for its release. But rest assured, it won’t be anywhere near as long as the wait for Hero Academy.
More information including screenshots and the official press release are as follows. Echo Prime is available to download right now from the App Store. Head on over and check it out!
Plano, TX – October 23, 2013 – Robot Entertainment today announced their new mobile game Echo Prime, an epic sci-fi action RPG for iOS devices. With real-time combat designed and tuned specifically for touch-based devices, Echo Prime takes players on a journey across the stars, through a wide array of exciting locations to battle fearsome enemies and huge bosses. Echo Prime is the second foray into mobile game development for Robot Entertainment, the developer best known for the Orcs Must Die! series and the 2012 AIAS Mobile Game of the Year, Hero Academy. Echo Prime will be available on the App Store on October 24th, 2013 and will soon be coming to Android devices.
Watch the trailer: http://youtu.be/6Cm-jf0mIZ4
As an elite Enforcer, players will battle hordes of dangerous alien creatures, space pirates, and killer mercenaries with blaster and blade as they travel from star to star, uncovering the secrets of the multiverse. Players will make contact with the Echoes, mysterious beings from alternate universes who will lend players their abilities and aid in their quest to save humanity from an alien menace. As players level up their Enforcers, they will acquire a myriad of powerful new weapons and armor. They’ll watch their abilities grow to unmatched levels and take on the most fearsome opponents in the galaxy in randomized campaign missions.
Echo Prime features:
- Made for Touch – The real-time action gameplay in Echo Prime has been specifically designed with touch devices in mind. Tap and swipe to fight and use special abilities.
- Echoes of the Multiverse – Discover and unlock dozens of “Echoes,” alien life forms from alternate universes. As you build connections with them, 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!
- Upgrade Your Arsenal – Unlock over 100 pieces of gear with a diverse mix of deadly effects, from fire to toxic.
- Random Campaign Generation – Echo Prime features an action-driven story campaign with randomly generated missions. Every experience is different!
For more information, check out http://www.EchoPrimeApp.com
It may have been a long time coming but Robot Entertainment have today soft launched Hero Academy on Android devices! This is obviously fantastic news for those with Android devices who have eagerly been awaiting to play the game on the move with their mobile devices.
Playing Hero Academy on Android is exactly the same as playing on your PC or Mac, you can login with your same account details and you can play your games any time anywhere! The game is available for download via the Google Play store on the link below:
One thing to bear in mind though, is that as Android covers a vast array of different devices on dis-similar hardware, this means that unfortunately Hero Academy is not compatible on all Android devices. A list of compatible devices can be found on Robot’s website. However for readers reference the list of compatible devices is as below:
|Acer Iconia Tab|
|Archos 101 Titanium|
|Archos 80 Platinum|
|ASUS Google Nexus 7|
|ASUS Transformer Pad Infinity|
|ASUS Transformer Prime|
|HTC Droid DNA|
|HTC EVO 4G LTE|
|HTC One S|
|HTC One V|
|HTC One X|
|LG Google Nexus 4|
|LG Optimus F3|
|LG Optimus G|
|LG Optimus L5 II|
|LG Optimus L7 II|
|LG Optimus L9|
|Motorola Droid 3|
|Motorola Droid 4|
|Motorola Droid RAZR|
|Motorola Droid RAZR HD|
|Motorola XOOM 2|
|Samsung Galaxy Note|
|Samsung Galaxy Note II|
|Samsung Galaxy S2|
|Samsung Galaxy S3|
|Samsung Galaxy S4|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1″|
|Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7″|
|Samsung Google Galaxy Nexus|
|Samsung Google Nexus 10|
Dave Pottinger, founder and CEO of BonusXP has posted his Cavemania post-mortem blog on Gamasutra. Post-mortems are always very interesting reading and Cavemania’s is no exception. In the post we learn about how Cavemania started off as an RPG game as opposed to the “match 3″ game we see in the finished product. The blog also talks about various highs and lows during the development and describes the studios design methodology.
Starting from the beginning just how did BonusXP end up with a match-3 Age of Empires esque strategy game? The project first started off and an RPG which was worked on by one full-time programmer.
The RPG got prototyped in a week with some cutting-edge programmer art. It quickly morphed into a crafting-based RPG within a few days. The game’s codename, Combo, even comes from that crafting focus. The week after, some Zelda-elements crept in. We were solving puzzles and doing mini-dungeon raids.
However the problem with RPG games is that they are quite ambitious and would need alot of development and resource to make. With BonusXP being a relatively small studio <15 people the RPG project was simply too big for them to execute at the high standards they were looking for with the staff numbers they had. Taking stock of things, BonusXP re-assessed and decided to pursue a tile based game which ended up being taking a “match 3″ approach.
To this day, no one remembers (or is willing to take credit for?) the suggestion of making a Match-3 game with Combo. Who in their right mind would suggest that anyway? Can you think of a more crowded, bloodthirsty genre to enter?
Nevertheless, it was an easy game to prototype. We batted around some ideas for making it unique. We had all this code lying around that dealt with combat and moving guys around. Why not use that? The next day, we had characters on the board fighting in and around the Match-3 items.
It is quite amazing how ideas change so quickly during game development! The result of course was an excellent game that currently boasts a 4.5 / 5 rating on iTunes and the Play Store. So how did things go during the development? What were the highs and lows? Mr Pottinger provides us with the insight.
Win – Unified Senior Team
One of the benefits of having a smaller studio is that you don’t have to worry too much about corporate structure. At BonusXP everyone on the team gets design credit which means that everyone is involved in the design process. There are no leads at BonusXP which are usually found in larger studios which means there is no single person taking an over-riding decision on the way forward for the game.
Everyone is involved in decisions from hiring to the games we make. We don’t mandate crunch. We sync as a team twice a week and otherwise coordinate over email, chat, or our online task board. Everyone gets design credit. We don’t have leads. Everyone works from home on Fridays.
As it happens until their most recent hire the entire team at BonusXP was formed of Ex-Ensemble Studios staff, or ex Bonfire/Zynga Dallas staff. It must certainly help a new studio to get off the ground with previous friends and work colleagues.
Win – Iterative Development
At BonusXP each game goes through a new build every day. This means the project continues to grow day by day with visible changes being made available to the whole team. It seems the development process for Cavemania went very well. Dave points out that the team never got stuck on “grungy week long tasks”. This enabled the team to flourish and keep engaged. The studio also had development help from their publisher Yodo1 and had access to their team of alpha testers made up of friends and other trusted people. Throughout the development the team took the approach of trying to create workable concepts for ideas to see how effective each one turned out to be before spending a ton of time on something which in the end wouldn’t end up in he final product.
We encourage breadth-wise development. We’d rather see a shallow version of a complete feature before we invest a ton of time. Yes, this can sometimes take longer. But, that’s okay because we’re more unified along the way. We’ll always make that tradeoff. We pair that indulgence with a ruthless focus on re-scoping. If we can avoid doing something we don’t really need, we can redirect that time onto polishing something we already have.
Win – Great Partners
BonusXP have chosen to partner with many of the same great names we have heard before. Publisher Yodo1 has also enjoyed great success with Robot Entertainment’s Hero Academy and music partner Gl33k had also worked on Robot’s Age of Empires Online, Hero Academy and Orcs Must Die! Choosing the right partner is very important and it seems BonusXP have chosen wisely.
Cavemania is our baby, so we spent a lot of time searching for the right publisher. We wanted to make sure we partnered with someone who loved the game and understood our philosophy. Yodo1 has been a fantastic fit for us. Secretly, I think they like the game even more than we do. They’ve been aligned with us every step of the way on prioritizing what matters and what doesn’t. Like us, they’ve always put quality before monetization and even helped us with some of the code.
Not-so-Win – Mixing casual and hardcore is tricky
Cavamania is quite a unique title and does well at demonstrating how a game can be both casual and retain some of the more hardcore strategy elements at the same time. The trouble with this kind of game is that mixing the causal and hardcore expierencies can prove very difficult to pull off well. For these hybrid games if the game is too casual it may turn away many of the hardcore crowd and vice versa. Who would have thought Age of Empires could be mixed with a match 3 style. BonusXP have done very well to pull this off, this doesnt mean it was easy though.
Once we decided to go with the “Units plus Match-3” angle, we hoped to make a simpler, more casual game. Unfortunately, the very thing that made the game fun and different from other Match-3 games is somewhat at odds with a more casual audience.
Cavemania has a lot of combat. We enjoy that, but it’s possibly a turn-off for some folks. We tried several variants without combat, but they weren’t nearly as fun. Similarly, it’s hard to have a deep, upgrade-focused strategy game without showing numbers somewhere, so we did that.
In the end, we made the choice to stick with what was fun for us. I think we’ve done a good job blending that deeper gameplay with a straightforward freemium business model. I’m sure the players will tell us if we’ve made the right choice.
Not-so-Win – Localization
Localization is something that crops up every now and then in many post-mortems. It can be tough to work out when to start localization but luckily having partners on board can greatly help in this particularly difficult task.
It’s a rare game that starts localization perfectly on time. We are certainly not one of those! We knew we were waiting too long to dig into localization. But, with a small team, tradeoffs have to be made. We had to do a ridiculous scramble to get all languages in place for the worldwide launch. We definitely would not have succeeded without the seemingly infinite help from LocLabs and Yodo1.
Not-so-Win – Making games and business development at the same time
BonusXP is full of talented game designers. Unfortunately there is alot of extra headaches associated with running a studio that are unrelated to game development. Everyones favourite words like “Admin”, “HR” and “Legal” are all present here. BonusXP did hire a producer mid development on Cavamania to help ease the pressure these tasks had on the upper management, however as Dave points out the team did lose approximately 1 months worth of time to these arduous tasks.
We are a small studio. We don’t have dedicated staff to handle business development, legal contracts, HR, or admin duties. Hell, we even have to bring in our own snacks.
Jokes aside, we make no bones about putting things in the right order. We are building a long-term studio where the employees come first. When there is a conflict, the business concerns win out vs. adding another feature to the game. That’s the right cosmic order, but it does make the games take longer to get done. We easily “lost” an entire month on Cavemania due to those studio overhead responsibilities.
With a prodcuer now in situe hopefully these types headaches will be mitigated in future BonusXP games.
This pretty much sums up the highlights from Dave’s Gamasutra blog. Be sure to read the whole thing over at Gamasutra to read more. There is a ton more info on the full post on iterative development and the future for BonusXP so its well worth a look. Go check it out now!
BonusXP have just released their latest mobile game on iOS and Android – Cavemania! The game is published by Yodo1, the same partner Robot Entertainment used to publish Hero Academy in China. Cavemania is a “Match 3″ game, this means the core concept is similar to games like Bejeweled where you much like colours to score points. In Cavemania you match resources like food, wood, gold and stone. A nod to Age of Empires! However, Cavemania is about a whole lot more than just matching like tiles, taking that Age of Empires likeness further there is a whole lot of strategy involved that really sets this game apart.
So the question you might be asking yourself – How do we get Age of Empires like strategy in a mobile game, and at that, a match 3 game? Well that would be a good question. BonusXP have pulled it off really well. The game starts off with the typical match 3 game play, but soon after levels will ask you to battle against enemies such as sabretooths that move across the board to try and take you out, but also players will be tasked with collecting certain materials in order to build structures like granaries, quarries and lumber camps whilst at the same time defending them from the enemies. This is where the strategy comes into play. With Age of Empires you must collect materials to build up your defence and attack your enemies. This is just how Cavemania works, just in match 3 style. To add more to the mix each level has a certain number of moves a player is allowed to make before it is game over. Players must find the most effective way of completing each level in the least amount of turns to get the best score.
There are tons and tons of different level types and combinations. Sometimes players will be on the offense, sometimes on the defense. There are other objectives too such as trying to clear out certain parts of the map by making match 3 moves in certain squares. There are so many levels, absolutely tons of content. The Chieften is the face of the game but there are many characters players can choose to bring onto the board including warriors, villagers, healers, archers and more. Each character having their unique properties and strategy, players need choose carefully as to which types of character may best for certain levels.
The level scoring system is on a one star, two star, and three star basis plus an overall numerical score. BonusXP engages players socially by showing their friends scores for each level to encourage competition and this works very well. Players can sign into the game with their Facebook credentials too which promotes ease of sharing high scores to Facebook.
Graphics and Sound
Cavemania is a pleasure to play, with excellent graphics and 3d models for the characters. The design of the resources on the map and the colours used makes everything easily identifiable. A bright colour pallette really helps the overall pleasant feel. The sound is good and works well supporting the visuals queues. Cavemania takes forward Ensemble legacy, a brightly coloured and very appealable colour pallette.
Upgrades and purchases
Cavemania is free to play and much like BonusXP’s previous game, Monster Crew, it has its own upgrade system and in-game purchasing. As players complete levels they earn gold which can be used to purchase upgrades. These upgrades in the form of weapons and defensive items for characters but also vanity items such as new hairstyles and colours. Gold is earned by playing but they can also be earned via real money via in-app purchases. This is a fairly standard affair and typical business model. Players can purchase gold such as 30,000 gold for £1.21. There are lots of different coin packs all the way up to 200,000 gold for £6.22. The pricing for the upper gold packs is very good, but it might of been nice to have a sub £1 gold pack for the lowest gold denominator.
There are other things that can be bought with real money. One off consumable items like meteor shows that stun enemies or heal packs that heal characters on the board. These can come in handy for those tricky levels. They are little on the pricey side, with a single use meteor shower priced at £1.21 for instance. Cavemania also lets players purchase permanent upgrades for fixed cost, such as boosting lives up to 6, permanently for £3.15. These can be a well worthwhile investment and gives players alot of choice. Its nice to see a good array of different upgrade paths.
Taking everything into account one can only conclude that Cavemania is another fantastic game from the creative minds at BonusXP. They have certainly taken their time with this game to produce a very polished and deep experience. Their hard work has certainly paid off, Cavemania is full of tons of content, tons of possibilities and tons of strategy. This is certainly a game that will keep thumbs busy for a long time and the changing objectives between levels keeps people engaged and keeps things fresh and exciting. Its certainly amazing how Bonus have managed to capture the Age of Empires spirit into a mobile game and I encourage all Ensemble fans to check it out on their iOS and Android devices. The game is free to play so you have nothing to lose, infact you have everything to gain! Cavemania is tons of fun. Go check it out now!
If I were to score it out of 5, it would definitely be a 5!