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.
New year, new Robot staffers! Today Patrick Hudson, CEO at Robot Entertainment announced on the studios blog that Paul Hellquist has now joined the team as Lead Designer. Paul has an impressive career in the industry having spent a considerable number of years at Gearbox Software and Irrational Games before that. Paul has worked on Bioshock as Lead Designer and Borderlands 2 as Creative Director. Needless to say Paul brings a great amount of experience to an already strong team.
Patrick Hudson took the company blog, posting:
I spent a considerable amount of time with Paul recently, and I was consistently impressed with his breadth of thinking, passion for great design, and humility. His remarkable portfolio of work is clearly well-earned. Paul is a great fit for Robot, and I expect him to have a profound impact on the games we make, starting with Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Paul said:
“It’s always difficult to leave a place you’ve spent a huge chunk of your career, but it is always exciting as well. Robot has a great track record and I’m thrilled to join the talented and veteran team. I look forward to adding my perspective and skills to Orcs Must Die! Unchained and future projects.”
Its been quite a big year for BonusXP, although you might not think it when noting that the studio hasn’t released any new titles this year. However since Cavemania’s release in 2013, the studio has seen some great accomplishments. BonusXP founder, Dave Pottinger has taken to the studios website to write a blog reflecting on the year, a happy end to 2104.
This year has seen the small studio grow quite considerably in size and they have taken on some big names including the legendary Bruce Shelley to help work on both of the studios ongoing projects. The first of those projects is a mobile RTS game code-named “Longbow”. This project has been in development for quite some time now, in part due to the challenges of dealing with free-to-play on an RTS model. It is after all, a tricky mix to get right and we saw some of those challenges surrounding Age of Empires Online. Dave Pottinger summarises the core issue well on his blog post.
The core RTS has always been fun. We’ve had a hard time getting the surrounding pieces to feel ‘right’ next to that RTS game. Most of that is due to Longbow’s free-to-play nature. It’s a non-trivial problem getting free-to-play to work well with a strategy game. You’re supposed to win strategy games because you’re smarter or faster than your opponent, not because you’ve paid $1 to try again.
However the good news is that it looks like BonusXP have perfected the formula they need to make Longbow a success. It will be very interesting to see what they come up with. The studio certainly has the expertise and creativity to achieve a great mobile RTS, one need only look at the calibre of staff they have on board, a number of whom being Ex-Ensemble. It’s going to be an exciting 2015 for RTS fans.
Another notable achievement of this year was BonusXP’s partnership with Stardock Entertainment. This partnership should see the release of BonusXP’s second title in 2015, codenamed “Servo”. There isn’t too much detail on this title yet, but it will also be a strategy game and instead of being mobile it will be a desktop game. The good news is that we should see the light on what servo is all about soon.
I can’t say much about it right now, though that’ll be changing in the near future. I do tweet about some of the various systems I’m working on with Servo, so follow me (@dcpottinger) if you want to conspiracy-theorize about some of the features. I can say that Servo is rocketing along. We’ve been doing our daily playtests with Servo for the last two months. With a big push this month, we’ve also got all the major pieces in the game now. That’s key; we can finally evaluate how everything feels with the right context. But, the best indicator about Servo is the arguing and trash talking that goes on during playtest. When players are doing that on a regular, you know you’ve got something good cooking.
It sounds like it has been a fantastic year for BonusXP and they have risen well to the no-doubt many challenges that 2014 has thrown at them, being a small independent developer. We’ve seen first hand some of the great work they have done with Cavemania and Monster Crew. It’ll be very exciting to hear what they have coming up next year, so stay tuned to Remember ES and the BonusXP website for information.
Be sure to check out Dave’s full post on the BonusXP website as well, just click on the link below.
Today Robot Entertainment announced at the PlayStation Experience keynote that Orcs Must Die! Unchained will also be coming to PS4 along side the PC version of the game in 2015. This is Robot’s first return to console since the original Orcs Must Die! on XBLA and is the first title that Robot has produced for a Sony system. Robot’s CEO Patrick Hudson said:
“We’re very excited to welcome PlayStation 4 players to our community, Orcs Must Die! Unchained delivers a unique blend of tower defense and competitive multiplayer action along with the game’s signature humor. We can’t wait for PS4 fans to jump in and start slaying Orcs!”
To get us and PS4 fans excited about OMDU, Robot have also released a brand new trailer, with OMD humour aplenty this excellent trailer has been playing at the Playstation keynote:
Its great to see OMDU being launched on an additional platform, expanding the audience greatly. Fantastic news!
Robot Entertainment have announced a new partnership to extend Orcs Must Die! Unchained’s reach into China. In addition to GameForge publishing the title in the EU, Tencent Games will be working to make the game big in China.
Of course, with every new announcement comes a new shiny trailer. This time, in Chinese, of course.
Tencent will be marketing the game as a Tower Defense Online Battle Arena, another categorisation for the already diversely categorised game. Steven Ma, Senior VP of Tencent Games commented in he press release:
“We believe the innovative gameplay of Orcs Must Die! Unchained will open a new category in our portfolio of Western titles for the expanding Chinese online gaming market—and as the leader for gaming in China, our focus is on bringing players the very best games and best experiences. The combination of Robot Entertainment’s proven creative abilities and Tencent’s operating experience will be a win-win deal for our two companies and for gamers across Greater China.”
Robot’s CEO, Patrick Hudson went on to say:
“China is a massive and growing market, and we are thrilled to partner with the leading publisher in China, Tencent Games, to further extend our global reach.”
This is not the first time that Robot has partnered with a China-based publisher. In the past the studio has worked with Yodo1 to bring Hero Academy to the Chinese audience and the partnership involved not only localization but also an exclusive new Hero Academy team and map for the Chinese audience.
It looks like Robot are planning to repeat Hero Academy’s successful model with OMDU. A new hero has been announced, “Mulan” along with new traps. There is a second trailer to give an idea on what these Chinese elements may look like:
It looks like the Chinese version of the game will be a seperate entity, but there are no specfic details on how big the changes will be compared the EU and NA versions of the game, though Robot has indicated on the forums that the changes wont be too much.
In any event, its great to see the reach of the game has been extended to another territory. May the Orc invasion continue!
Boss Fight Entertainment is the name of the studio whos staff are made up of the ashes of what was Zynga Dallas and originally Bonfire Studios, who were formed from the ashes of Ensemble. Phew! Thats alot of ashes and changes for these folk! The studio is lead by President and CEO, David Rippy, Chief Creative Officer, Bill Jackson, and Chief Operating Officer, Scott Winsett. All of whom are Ex-Ensemble staff.
Boss Fight has recently signed a deal with Big Fish Games to publish their upcoming game titled “Dungeon Boss”. In a statement to VentureBeat they announced:
“Big Fish Games is teaming up with gaming startup Boss Fight Entertainment to deepen the definition of casual games. The two companies are teaming up to develop and publish a new game that will introduce casual gamers to a genre that was previously only accessible to niche audiences of hardcore gamers.”
Dungeon Boss is a casual, strategy RPG game with elements of Age of Empires. The studio says that players will be able to pick up the game quickly calling it a “collectible RPG you can play in 10 minutes.”
Polygon described the game as:
“Dungeon Boss, distills the dungeon-crawling, boss fighting and team building elements of traditional RPGs into an accessible mobile experience. The aim, according to Boss Fight’s chief creative officer Bill Jackson, is to bring the collectible RPG to a mainstream audience, allowing players to dive in quickly to raid dungeons and fight bosses.”
It sounds like a very interesting concept bringing that magic formula from Age of Empires where casual players can pick up the game quickly and more hardcore players can spend their time and reap the rewards from playing with deeper strategy. It’ll sure be interesting to see what Boss Fight come up with as the team has excellent skills in this arena. Stay tuned to hear the latest news as this title develops! In the meanwhile check out the article on Polygon where they sit down with Bill Jackson to discuss the upcoming game.
Andrew Olsen a concept artist at Robot Entertainment along with programmer Shovaen Patel have been featured on the AIAS website. AIAS is the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. The prestigious website features studios that are part of the over 20,000 strong academy. These interviews are some of the very first to be featured on the website and give a great insight into how Andrew and Shovaen broke into the gaming industry.
Andrew graduated from the Ringling College of Art and Design with a BFA in Illustration and went on to join n-Space and worked on numerous Nintendo DS games. After 2 years he decided to travel back down to Dallas and found his way to his home at Robot Entertainment working on all six games released by the studio so far. Thats Age of Empires Online, Hero Academy, Echo Prime, Orcs Must Die! 1 and 2, and Orcs Must Die! Unchained.
Getting to work on Age of Empires Online was a great experience. That franchise is very nostalgic for me. I even remember being in 5th grade and Age of Empires was the first game on our family computer. I wish I could go tell my 10 year old self that I’d be painting concepts for an AoE game in the future!
Shovaen studied at The Guildhall at SMU studying video game software development. After graduating he scored a job immediately at Robot Entertainment and hasnt looked back since.
It ended up being an easy decision, because Robot is an awesome place to work and an incredible place to start a career in games, with our history and our core group of veteran developers.
He is currently the Robot looking after the programming of the bots in OMDU.
Be sure to check out both of these excellent interviews over at the AIAS website on the link below. Many interesting topics are discussed including where they think the industry his heading in the future.
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!