Skip to content

Recent Articles


Introducing Element Games and ‘Evil Robot Traffic Jam’. Q&A with Marcin Szymanski

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.

Virtual Reality

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” :).

Available Now

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 release “The Incorruptibles” – mobile RTS game for iOS

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

Download now!

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!


Building a game from scratch? Bruce Shelley sheds light on the BonusXP process

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.


Microsoft announces Halo Wars 2 with Creative Assembly

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 lands on Steam Early Access!

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!


Dave Luehmann joins Boss Fight as VP of production

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 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: 


Gamespot talks to BonusXP about Servo

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: 


Orcs Must Die! The board game launches on Kickstarter – Funded!

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.

Stretch Goals




Orcs Must Die! Unchained board game coming to Kickstarter

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 announce “Servo”

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.


Concept Art