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Bossa Studio: Interview (Part 2)

Though Bossa Studios may currently have its name in the spotlight with Surgeon Simulator, the London-based developer has more irons in the fire than just that single game. With over 30 staff, only four of who are dedicated to recreating medical malpractice, there is ample room for other projects to proceed in parallel.

“One of which is…” Continuing our chat in the back of an ambulance that may well have starred alongside Gene Hunt in Life On Mars, Bossa developer Luke pauses for a touch too long to be simply dramatic effect. He wrestles with the iPad, closes down the new touch version of Surgeon Simulator, and loads up a video. “As it’s multiplayer it’s hard to convey if we just gave you a build of the game.”

“This is called Time to Live. Six players, multiplayer, online, and basically everyone has been given 120 seconds, which is their time to live.” On a very clean, white background, there’s a large hex-grid with six small characters dressed as monkeys dashing between flashing tiles. In the bottom left a large timer ticks ominously down. Before I get to ask what happens when it reaches zero, one of the chimps suddenly looks pained before his head falls off and rolls across the screen.

Of course if there was nothing more to it then everyone would die at the same time, but the board changes over time. “On each of these tiles one of four things could appear: traps, money, health and snails. Play centres where things appear,” he gestures to a hex that starting to flash, indicating something’s about to spawn there, “as it could be health or cash. But snails slow you down and red tiles take more health. As you see these guys jumped on there thinking it would be a green tile.” We look again and see a group so eager to top up their diminishing time that they jumped on a tile before it had fully spawned only to see even more seconds sapped away. From the video it’s clear that it’s a frantic game, partly due to the very restricted time frame involved and partly because of the highly competitive nature as players scrap for resources.

All of sudden however the game pauses. “Every twenty-seconds it’s shop time,” explains Luke. “The twenty second shop means the game is never over. It changes in an instant as the cards change the dynamics so significantly. In each shop there’s one card for every player in the game and each do different things. They really switch the game up.” Looking at the selection on offer some are quite straight forward as they hand players extra time or cash but there are others that are a little more tricksy. Bombs, damage shields, and freezing blasts all make an appearance.

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“There’s a lot of tactics in using and buying the right one. Here’s a very valuable one which is ‘even out all players time’ which gives everyone an average. That might be a good card to keep hold of because you might be doing quite well now but later on if you get on a bad streak then right before you die you can play it, drag them down, you up, and you’re great. But if you’re in the lead you might want to buy it purely so no one else can use it, securing your lead.”

So combined with frantic twenty-second bursts of action there’s a strategic auction stage. Though rather than just choosing the right cards it’s also about choosing the right time to buy. “They’ll all start at a cost equal to the stash of the richest player. So if the richest has got 767 money, the cards will all initially cost 767 and begin counting down. Obviously if you can’t afford it you have to wait until the stuff gets cheap enough, but the guy with the most money can select the cards first.” It sounds like there’s a fine balance between guaranteeing the card you want and bankrupting yourself in the process, and it’s obviously something the team have seen before.

Tom compares it to a shopping channel. “You get this weird Price Drop TV effect where all the money’s going down and everyone’s figuring out when the best time to buy is because they don’t want to cripple themselves by getting rid of all their money.”

As we watch on through multiple shopping rounds the board clearly changes. Not only it punctuated with the use of bombs, traps and a variety of other griefing but the tiles themselves alter. The longer the round goes on for the more hazards there are appearing, making it harder to grab the good tiles without doing yourself a mischief. “Generally they last 6-8 minutes but you tend to get to a point where the red tiles are appearing so readily and the passages of safety are getting smaller and smaller and smaller that you’ll all be over one side and it’ll be nothing but red. Then there’s a thing trail dotted with snails to get to the only green. The route there is such a pain in the ass that by the time you get there it’ll be worth nothing.”

So the point will come where each game stops being about what you can collect and instead switch focus on how you use the cards that you’ve amassed and the combinations seem more deadly as time goes by. Dropping a freeze blast just as players try and scatter from a freshly spawned trap or fiendishly the player with the most health wading in a dropping a bomb on a life-giving green tile. For a game that’s very plain to look at it seems deceptively deep with possibilities.

“Internally when we play with six people in the same room and it’s madness. There’s swearing as people screw each other over; there’s so much bad language,” says Tom.

Luke chuckles and suggests it’s gone beyond a simple lunchtime battle. “It’s turning psychological as we’re beginning to learn people’s favourite cards. So Tom likes his damage shield – a power that literally damages others close by – and so if we know he’s got it we back away. He hasn’t even had to use it but it’s the threat that keeps us back.”

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The game is built to be easy to play but hard to master. A simple tap-to-move and tap-to-play cards interface lends itself to the cross-platform play Bossa are striving for, an aim that should see them with a potentially huge playerbase. Both tablets and PCs can play against each other and it’s all down to who can click or tap the fastest.

With the gameplay already well establish I ask Luke about the very simplistic look going forward. “We want to keep that same very clean aesthetic but the monkey stuff is changing. We want to add a lot of customisation as it’s a very gloat based game. When you win the camera zooms in on you and you get to do a little funky dance and show off you character.”

Tom chimes in, “We’ve got loads of taunt animations to and it’s about being…” He struggles for words and looks back to Luke who helps him out. “… an asshole.”

The focus is clearly on the personality of the player rather than swamping them in a more decorated world, but the minimalist background reminds me of something. The use of hexes puts me in mind of board gaming, of the likes of Settlers of Catan and a great many others, and so it’s interesting to hear that Time to Live also started out on the tabletop.

“This started life as a board game come card game. It was originally prototyped last year and before we got around to doing the digital prototype the guys who game up with the idea were just playing it real cards and tiles. Although they weren’t running around they were affecting the arena. They took it from there to a brief and we just knocked it up in a few weeks.”

Whilst not an uncommon approach for a games studio, spending time on less risky pen-and-paper prototypes before investing engineering time in a product, it’s yet another success of Bossa’s internal success. Between Time to Live and Surgeon Simulator, they seem very adept at seizing on the potential of small ideas and bringing them through. It’s also one that clearly enthuses the staff.

“Anyone in the company can pitch an idea,” Tom tells me, “and it goes through a greenlight process where some people vote on what ideas they think are the best. If it’s an idea that we want to take further and make it into a prototype then we send it to the prototype team. And that was me – I was the prototype team until Surgeon Simulator came along – and I’d make a new game every two weeks. At the end of the two weeks we’d all play it on the Friday and see how it went.”

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And it seems Time to Live could have emerged sooner if they hadn’t been distracted by their current success in medicine. “It was one that really stood out, that we kept coming back to. Even after we’d finished it people wanted to come back and play it which we took as a really good sign. This got taken off track as Surgeon grew so quickly but now Surgeon’s under control and other projects have eased up we can put more of the team on Time To Live as we felt so strongly about it.”

Nothing has come out of the digital prototypes recently to match the strength of their current projects but it the management are heavily invested in their team’s creativity. “Two days a month there’s an internal game jam. Anyone can submit an idea and build up a team in the prior month and then at the game jam get together and make a game and see what happens.”

“With the success of Surgeon being based on a game jam, that’s brought Bossa to do more. I mean we did them every 3 or 4 months but now we do them once a month because they’re powerful things.” It’s not just from a product perspective either as Luke and Tom both spoke highly of just how much these little breaks from the normal run of production motivated the staff. “You give people a strict time limit and people’s creativity goes nuts which is great. You never know when something awesome is going to come out of them.”

The conversation comes back round to Time to Live. Despite not being ready before next year the pair are obviously still excited about it, no doubt fuelled by lunch time sparring. “We think it’s got a cool unique mechanic. It’s such a competitive game that it’s perfect for LAN parties; it’s got the most casual and easy to understand interface but it’s incredibly hardcore in nature. When you get down to it and start learning all the tactics and the double bluffing and it’s really brutal.”

Bossa Studios: Interview (Part 1)

I have to admit, character makes a venue. Air conditioning, a well-stocked fridge or a stunning view may all be ways to impress when it comes to interview appointments, but those are nothing compared to Bossa’s approach to style. Sat in the back of an aging ambulance outside of Earls Court, two gentlemen dressed as surgeons speak enthusiastically to me about their work.

In any other walk of life this would be ridiculous but the studio behind Surgeon Simulator has whole heartily embraced the quirkiness of their product. Anyone who has come near it will know that Simulator is very tongue in cheek. It is Operation for the modern era and with the whole team parading around in scrubs that sense of fun is clear.

“It was never serious. It was never more than a little stupid tool that was meant to keep us laughing,” says Luke, one of the four strong who originally created the game at a game jam earlier this year. “That was it. There was literally no intention to develop it further afterwards.”

“We just considered it an in-joke,” adds Tom, a fellow Surgeon Simulator developer. Though obviously proud and passionate about their game, there’s a hint of embarrassment in his voice. “We were in the game jam building in London and there was another team sitting behind us seeing everything we were doing and we were just laughing our socks off the entire time. They kept looking around thinking we were a bit weird,” he chuckles.

“We just thought people would look at it and go ‘what the f*** is this?’ but then when we presented it at the end everyone was just in tears laughing and shouting ‘use the hammer!’ It meant we couldn’t actually talk about the game as everyone was being so raucous.”

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And come the end of the jam that could have been it for Surgeon Simulator. Despite the reaction from the rest of the teams, Luke still wasn’t convinced it was anything more than a joke shared between a group of sleep-deprived developers. “They were all in the room together; there was an infectious laughter. Still we uploaded it to our servers and that got passed around. First PC Gamer posted about it, Rock Paper Shotgun, and then the YouTubers jumped on it and by Tuesday it had millions of views. It was crazy.”

The purity of Surgeon Simulator is one of its finest qualities, born out of a group of friends coming together and thinking up something unique. If this had come from a triple-A studio then the somewhat clunky controls would no doubt have been user-tested into submission; for Tom, this is the very heart of the experience. “This is what it is. Take it and you enjoy it.” It’s a simple message and one that’s evidently heeded all over YouTube. “I remember the Rooster Teeth video where one of them’s doing the fingers on the keyboard and the other’s controlling the hand on the mouse. I had to pause it two or three times as I couldn’t get through it; I couldn’t breathe.”

With such coverage, Surgeon Simulator’s popularity has snowballed. Through word of mouth it has created a cult following and it now possesses an avid community. Despite a recent alien autopsy addition being hidden behind a series of puzzles, their fans’ ability to dig out such an Easter Egg impressed the team. “The original space surgery was a secret that you had to pop the floppy disk in to gain access to and we liked the reaction to that. Everyone was so excited that they found this hidden thing and we wanted to take that further and create a whole elaborate puzzle that the community would have to figure out together.”

In the end it took the community two days to get the answer. A lifetime by Internet standards. “The steam comment thread was 800 comments long with everyone hammering the game. We even got pictures where someone had drawn it all on a whiteboard and had all the links going between them all like some sort of conspiracy theory. It was so much fun to watch as they unraveled all the clues and got to it. The payoff was huge and seeing all the videos passed around was awesome.”

With the latest expansion released only last week, the team’s attentions have quickly turned elsewhere. Explaining very clearly that what I’m about to see is just a tech demo, Luke reaches beneath the gurney and brings out an iPad running a version of Surgeon Simulator.

“One of the things we wanted to explore was the obstacle of the hand,” he says, his fingers flicking across the tablet’s screen sending instruments flying. “There was an opportunity on tablet to really create this really nice interactive world and keep that feel to it, that faithful mayhem.”

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On screen it does indeed look extremely faithful. Bob is still there about to be inflicted with the worst private healthcare than money can buy, and as Luke taps and drags surgical tools, the port to the tablet seems to have affected them little. The one thing that is missing however is your arm. “We’ve stripped the hand out because obviously your hand is the hand now. So if you want to play with Bob’s face you simply just grab it and give him a little shake.” True to form, Bob receives a playful slap across the face.

Picking up the tools is also simple; you just flick objects out of your way with a brush of your finger and then press down on the tool you want. You can then move that about freely, rotating it with a second finger so you can set your angle of attack. “You just swipe to where you want to smash.” Smash. “So if you want to hit the bottom of the rib cage you just swipe down to it and smash into it like so.” Smash. “And crack it open. It creates a nice feeling as you’re there actually doing it as you’re aiming straight at it.” Smash. “Then it’s just a case of fish out the bones.”

As we fish the bones out of the chest cavity, this new tactile aspect to the simulator is already proving a huge strength. Surprisingly, however, it’s also extremely new to Bossa.

“If you asked us even a week ago how Surgeon touch was we’d have said ‘it’s not.’” It then emerges Tom had impressively rigged these controls in less than two days into a straight port of the desktop version. “We had so many ideas of how to do the controls previously. We played with gyroscopes to move around the op room, virtual sliders to adjust the tools but it was all sorts of wrong. So often with touch devices you get people adding virtual buttons and virtual joysticks and that’s not the strength of touch.”

With touch however comes extra fidelity and I ask them whether that extra accuracy would actually harm the chaotic nature of their game. “I know what you mean,” Luke replies, “but it is still there. If you let go for a second the tools gone and it drops and collides with his head and you’re in trouble but we do think there will have to be some tweaks in the gameplay just to keep the surgeon feel. That’s the reason why the controls took so long as we wanted to still get that 3D space, that chaos of physics and you just grabbing something and slamming it into him and seeing what happens.”

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“Plus you still need to angle it properly. You can still accidentally start sawing his head if you get that wrong so we still have that semi-awkward controls.” A drill meanders painfully across the chest cavity as if to demonstrate this. “There are still moments of “woah, WOAH!” and then you’ve got it stuck in him so you just toss it aside just to get rid of it.”

What’s clear is that although a straight port would be easy, the team set a high bar for themselves and won’t be doing anything if it’s not right for the game. “If we were to do the full version we would do more bespoke bits for the platform rather than just it all coming straight from the desktop. With the touch too it might lead to that we have to adapt the content slightly and maybe it’ll lend itself to more unique surgery interaction.” To indicate a small example, Tom starts opening and closing the box where the donor heart sits until the lid snaps off.

That philosophy also means the team aren’t yet committing to a release date, or even if it will be released at all according to Luke. “If it gets to a point where we think that it’s not doing it justice or spoils it in any way then we won’t do it. This is purely us just testing out controls and mechanics and seeing what works and if it works then we’ll continue.”

“Ages ago we said that if we couldn’t do the whole surgeon experience then we wouldn’t bother. We didn’t want to go down the mini-game route. People who wanted to get Surgeon for their iPads who had seen it would want a similar experience. They wouldn’t want a weird mini-game version as a cash-in. They’d want that chaotic, bloody brutal.” We laugh as Luke tries to open Bob’s ribs with the bedside radio. “And it does have its unique properties. The actual act of hammering in his rib cage is really satisfying. It’s something you don’t get on the PC either.”

The team are adamant that an iPad version would fit well with the playful mind of tablet gamers. Though it may lose features such as fancy shaders and the physics-heavy ambulance levels due the lack of grunt in the slim-line devices, they believe that what can be added far outstrips what may be lost.

What’s clear is that the controls are very suited to the touch input of a tablet. The more immediate interaction with your work bench or hammers, drills and blades may at first feel far too easy, but as you get down to the finer points of surgery, the feel of Surgeon Simulator is still there. Both perfection and being struck off are separated by the mere twitch of a finger.

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Jagged Alliance ::: Interview

In the second half of our interview with Full Control CEO Thomas Hentschel Lund we put Space Hulk to one side and focus on their new project. Funded through Kickstarter, Jagged Alliance takes an RTS of old and brings it into the modern day.

7outof10: With Space Hulk well planned out, your next project is a reboot of Jagged Alliance. Please can you tell us a little about it?

Thomas: The overall setting for Jagged Alliance is that you’ve two layers: a strategic layer that you can think of as a map with an overlaid chessboard, and every square/coordinate on that is a sector, and every sector is similar to an XCOM level. So you have a sector that could be the SAM site and if you take that you could free to transport your troops with helicopters within that area. There’s a sector that could be a mine and if you capture you’ll get additional income through the game. So every day you’ll get extra income from all you captured mines and what you then use that for is to hire mercenaries. You have multiple squads of mercenaries that you move around on this chess board taking sectors and playing out a story but overall it’s a free roaming world with around 120-130 individual sectors.

The best way of saying it is that every sector is an XCOM level where you have transportation between them and as you play the game you can capture trucks to drive on the roads instead of having to walk. You can capture the airport which means the helicopter becomes available, you can then fly instead of drive troops about. And if you get attacked down in a city which you took some hours before and the AI comes up with a squad of soldiers and tries to retake it you can have a ‘copter fly you into the city and actively defend it rather than the militia you’re training there.

So it’s still a turn-based strategy game on the lower layer with a further the strategic map-based approach on top of it. It was first made some time in the mid-90s and then at the end of the 90s they made a second version of it and after that not much had happened with it. Some years later Bit Composer bought the license and they made an RTS out of it and by itself it was an ok game but seen in the context of a turn-based strategy approach the hard core fan base hated it.

Sort of like how the fans reacted to the shooter reincarnation of Shadowrun a few years back?

Yeah, or if XCOM had a first-person shooter suddenly. It’s that kind of “what the hell just happened here?”

And that has in some ways alienated the community from the games that were made. As I say, they weren’t necessarily bad games but there was something else that people wanted. The old vocal ones at least. So what we did was say to Bit Composers that we wanted the license, and we wanted to try and take the old mechanism, the mechanics of the strategic layer and the tactical combat, with a new story. We want to then run a Kickstarter on that and try and engage the community to make the game that you failed to do.

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What was so special about Jagged Alliance to you?

It was one of those games that I played when I was young. Or at least younger. From the turn-based strategy point of view there were three games back in those games: you had XCOM, you had Fallout and then you had Jagged Alliance. With the two other ones they were flagships and they’ve gotten another life. Fallout was taken in a completely different direction, XCOM is now a shooter and a really good turn-based remake. Jagged Alliance got stuck somehow.

Meeting the Bit Composer guys and knowing suddenly that they had the license and I had access to, it was an opportunity that I knew I could do something with, something I had liked in my past if I pitched it right. They were very open to giving us access to the license and doing the Kickstarter with it. That turned successful and it was a great opportunity to go with.

Do you think they were influenced by your enthusiasm?

I think so, yeah. I mean for the Kickstarter we had to fight really hard. Very hard; we’re not going to be doing that again within the near future as it kills you.

I take it from that that it was hard work going through the process?

Not only that but it’s hard work before the Kickstarter goes public as you have to create game designs and have to negotiate licenses. Then when you engage with the community they’re asking for all this other stuff that you didn’t think about. We spent a lot of time on our website with forums and such like but nobody was using the forums, so all the effort that went into that was basically lost.

We should have done a small slice of a demo instead and during the Kickstarter we had to actually produce one on top of everything. Boy, that was tough. We made a still diorama scene in Unity so you could move around and see what everything looked like.

To give them a taster?

Yeah, that was what we came up with in such a short time frame. We couldn’t do any game mechanics in that time so what we ended up doing in this little 3D diorama scene shows a firefight in the art style that we thought could be really cool. We’re taking a realistic approach but tweaking the colour scheme to be more vivid to give it a cool visual style instead of going AAA photorealistic… kinda boring.

Did I say that?

We did it in about two-and-a-half weeks; we made all the models, all the textures and got it running. And we should have done this from day one instead of the website but you don’t know that until you’re sitting in the middle of the campaign with people screaming “what’s it going to look like!?”

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I guess you can sit and think of everything but there’s always going to be one more question

Yes, oh yes. I guess we didn’t know that the Jagged Alliance crowd was going to be so serious and if you look at other Kickstarters ours has 13,000 comments and with the same amount of backers they have about 400. Maybe because they have a much clearer product, but hey. If you come with a concept then people are going to be asking a lot of questions, especially with a game that they feel they have been burnt with earlier and where there is a lot of specific detail. Some guys want ammo to count in the weight, someone wanted you to sleep and drink and eat and that that should be a part of the game, other players are not as hardcore. I don’t want to go that hardcore. Though someone did send me a full six pages saying what they wanted me to do with this game.

How did they shaped up? Have you started on the detailed design yet?

We haven’t started up full production just yet as most of the team has been producing Space Hulk. What we’ve done since the Kickstarter up until now, based on the feedback, is concentrate on the the overall story. What is this game played about?, so when you see the intro all the way down to the outro of the main story that’s now in place. We’ve setup and created the map that is the strategic layer, so there is an island group and there’s transportation vehicles between them with boats and so on. Then we’re sitting down and seeing about making up this chessboard, plotting the key locations: you have a city here, a mine here, a capital right here and even saying that you’re going to go in and meet these mercenaries in these locations.

As part of the licensing deal we also got a load of the art assets that were used for the previous games so we’ve been through and catalogued those to see which ones of those are usable in the new game so we can see what we need to create. The lead guys from Space Hulk are now going to go over and flesh out the assets and gets artists up and producing so we can sit down and level design to get a vertical slice of this tactical game. We’re going to give it out to the backers and say “hey, this is how you’d play the game on one sector, what do you think?” And then we’d flesh that out.

So you’re having a dialogue. Asking those who’ve funded it what they think so far?

Yeah, that’s how we want to. That’s the spirit of the Kickstarter. Of course we need to control it somehow as if you asked a thousand people they’d have a thousand different opinions.

So we want to take it up to a level where we show it to people and get their opinion on some of the details, tweak it, twist it, make sure 80 or 90 percent of people think it’s cool and then we go finish the game based on that. So releasing it out to the community in small chunks.

There’s also the balance of not giving them the story, as you don’t want to give them the entire story script up front and tell them what they’re going to do. There still has to be some kind of surprise when you play the game.

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How long do you think this drip feeding will take place over? When’s the final release?

When you look at it from a budget point of view and a production plan we were looking at fall or winter next year for the final release. There are some factors that can tilt that in either way, for instance if a lot of the assets that we have can easily be converted into our art style and there are only so many assets that we have to create to build all the levels then it might go a little faster.

There’s also the option of releasing the game on Steam Early Access, maybe. And that would on one side give the game out to people faster, on the other as well give us more budget to make an even bigger game.

How easily is the Space Hulk engine transferable to Jagged Alliance? I guess if you’re reusing that it’ll save some work.

Yes. We have Unity underneath, a 3D game engine that we coded a turn-based framework on top of it. Space Hulk is the fourth strategy game that we have and we’re using that to add new features on so that we can make bigger and bigger games iteratively.

So in theory we could see a similar setup to Jagged Alliance appearing in a Space Hulk campaign?

Not really. Well, we could take the Jagged Alliance system and transfer it into the game that’s going to be after that. Bigger and better all the time.

Thank you very much to Thomas Hentschel Lund for taking time to speak to us. Space Hulk is out now through Steam and coming soon to iOS. Jagged Alliance is under development and scheduled for next year.

A Rare Interview

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Some time ago I did a “day in the life of” for the Rare website. It was just after Viva Pinata released, which should date it suitably, and I spoke of my time bug fixing, the fresh VP community and my general duties.

Time for an update and after the Rare Editor approached me I refreshed things.

Plus it’s a great excuse for that photo to reappear.

 

Dungeonbowl

For those of you who think American Football is for wimps, Blood Bowl was invented. A game full of spikes, claws, cheating and bone crunching tackles, so much so that it has always a blessing that no bright spark had ever taken it from the tabletop to the field. Dungeonbowl is a twist on that formula and who better to talk to about it than the team behind the new digital version, Cyanide…

7outof10: For those unaware of the brutal world of Dungeonbowl, could you tell us a little about?

Cyanide: Dungeonbowl is the strangest variation of Blood Bowl. For many decades spellcasters have disputed which of their magical colleges is the most powerful. Tired of all-night arguments, a few wizards suggested that each college should set up a team and settle the matter in a magically constructed underground labyrinth. The ball is hidden in one of six treasure chests – the other five are booby-trapped with an explosive spell. The first team to find the ball and get it to the opposing team’s End Zone wins the match. The wizards added a few teleporters to allow players to magically travel from one place to another as a dungeon can be quite big.

After the success of your digital version of Blood Bowl, did you feel that Dungeonbowl was a natural extension?

We looked at different expansions of Blood Bowl and Dungeonbowl was the most interesting one with its unique dungeon setting. Also the game was officially endorsed by Games Workshop in 1989 with the release of the boxed supplement Elves & Dwarfs Dungeonbowl so it was easier to approach Games Workshop and discuss a video game adaptation.

So given its less stadium-sport feel and brutal dungeon environment, will it attract a different group of players compared to Blood Bowl?

Yes, I think it definitely will. I personally find the game more engaging to new players than Blood Bowl, it might be more complicated to master with the specific Dungeonbowl rules but in a sense the game is more fun to play… Pushing opponents into lava is fun, right?

Always. But with that comment in mind, is this a faithful recreation, or have you had to tweak anything from the tabletop?

We tried to stay true to the tabletop as much as possible but we had to make changes for the video game. One of those changes is the addition of a soft time limit to match duration, the original rules had none so a game could virtually last forever which doesn’t work in a video game.

I know where you’re coming from; we have a few slow players in our gaming group who have an ability to make certain games feel like they’re lasting forever even if they’re not.

Fro competitive play are you offering support for online leagues, tournaments and ladders to let managers pit their wits against each other?

We currently support a ranked ladder with matchmaking and unranked challenges. Unlike the Blood Bowl game there are no leagues support but that is something we would like to add in the future.

Interesting this is only available as a download, what DRM do you have planned for Dungeonbowl? It’s always a touchy subject with certain portions of the Internet.

Like Blood Bowl we are using SecuROM with a number of allowed activations on multiple computers. We have full control over the system so we can easily tweak the numbers if there is a need to.

With recent announcements concerning the game the dungeon editor has been focused on quite prominently. How crucial to you was including an editor?

It was crucial to include an editor as it’s the core of the game. We designed the game around it and we want the community to use it. Players have already published over 80 dungeons and some of them are really great to play on!

Have your test team created some truly evil “pitches” with it?

We had a few “evil” dungeons, one of them consisted of small islands where one could only progress using teleporters. It had less than six teleporters so players had higher chances of getting lost in space…fun but not really fair!

That itself sounds enough to keep your games fresh but are there any plans for expansions, be it dungeon tiles or races?

We have new colleges and new environment kits in the pipe. The environment kits are very different from the default one and you will be able to mix them in your dungeon.

You’ve worked with Games Workshop now for a number of years, have you considered branching out into any of their other brands? Are there any Necromunda fans at Cyanide?

We are always working on concepts, so far the only one that worked out is Blood Bowl but who knows…
Yes there are a few fans of Necromunda here at Cyanide. Some people also used to play Warhammer Quest and Man’o’war.

Finally, do you in the office partake in the tabletop version of Blood Bowl and Dungeonbowl? If so what team do you play and any particular tips for an aspiring Dungeonbowl coach?

We used to play it when we started working on the first edition of Blood Bowl. It has been quite some times since our last game but I heard someone wants to bring his box and teams to play some games!

I enjoy playing Norse, they are doing ok at everything. Regarding tips for new coaches in Dungeonbowl, just like Blood Bowl you should avoid taking risks at the start of your turn…also, always open treasure chests as your last action unless you are sure the ball is in there!

Thank you very much to Cyanide for taking time out to talk to us, and to Camille Lisoir for arranging the interview. Dungeonbowl is available now through Cyanide’s own website.

Awesomenauts

With the success of 2009’s Swords & Soldiers, Dutch developer Ronimo are back again for another slice of brightly coloured 2D action. We grab them for a quick word on Awesomenauts, a 2D, side scrolling, DotA MOBA. Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it sounds, read on…

7outof10: For those out there who may not have heard about Awesomenauts, can you in your own words give them a little taster of what to expect?

Ronimo: It’s a team based competitive platforming shooter, in which two teams of 3 people try to destroy each others’ base. But it’s not that simple, each base is defended by huge Gatling turrets, automated droids and other players of course. As a player you control a platforming character that can shoot and use two special abilities unique to their class. These shots and abilities can be upgraded and modified with currency earned by destroying enemies. So play well, get upgraded and you’ll be destroying their base in no time. Right now the game is in certification for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.

How did the decision to make a 2D version of DotA come about?

Well we had already decided to try and make an online multiplayer game, even before we started considering Awesomenauts. Back then we loved DotA and wanted to take that gameplay to console, nowadays it’s LoL and DotA 2. And of course we wanted to do it Ronimo style, with lush 2D graphics.

And those graphics of course bear you hallmark, but what have you done to stamp your mark on DotA? What would you say makes Awesomenauts standout?

Lots of things actually. On the surface the style difference is very obvious. The switch to 2D also means that simply moving around and using skills plays very differently. And the move to console and smaller team size allows us to provide splitscreen multiplayer, you can battle online with up to 3 people from a single console.

Digging deeper, we’ve streamlined the buyable items and character leveling into a single system, while adding depth at the same time. Players can not only improve stats or unlock skills through one system, but also modify their functionality. This gives characters a lot more flexibility.

Finally, we have full drop-in drop-out support. So even when you’re already in a match, you can invite a friend and he can jump right in with you. And thanks to our single currency system new players can get up to speed quickly, because we give them the average amount of what current players have. At the same time leaving players get instantly replaced by a bot, so leavers won’t break a game that is in progress.

All in all we’ve kept the stuff that makes DotA so addictive, while at the same time making the experience a lot smoother and action packed.

Some of the complexities of the DotA template seem to have been sacrificed in the switch to two-dimensions, are you hoping that this will encourage new players into the fold with a little more ease?

Yes, very much so. It was a very conscious decision to try and streamline some of the elements. Getting into the original DotA is pretty hard. You’re basically required to have an experienced DotA player on hand to help you get started. And seeing how most players won’t have access to expert Awesomenauts players, we wanted the game to be a bit more self-explanatory.

At the same time a lot of the complexity of DotA adds very little to the gameplay. Why can you browse 100+ items while only 20+ items are relevant for your character? Our unified upgrade system allows us to offer players upgrades that have wildly different effects on their characters’ skills. This allows for a lot more different tactics and viable builds per character.

Are you worried that console players might not “get” the concept of a MOBA-style game, given we’ve never really seen one on those platforms previously?

Not really, it still plays like a side scrolling shooter. So it’s very easy to get into. Apart from that it’s all about staying aware of your health and retreating in a timely matter. Once you’ve mastered those two elements you’ll be a decent Awesomenauts player. From there you can start experimenting with different characters, builds and upgrades.

I also think console games don’t necessarily have to be dumbed down compared to PC games, they just need to be more clear. When I’m playing on console you can’t hit me in the face with repeated walls of text and expect me to read all that, when all I want is to chill out and play a game. But I can handle the same amount of complexity as on PC, just make sure everything is to the point and clear. That’s what we’ve done with Awesomenauts.

Finally, I think there’s plenty of overlap between console gamers and PC gamers. I know people who play COD as well as LoL or DotA. They are going to love Awesomenauts.

As with COD, Awesomenauts is of course primarily focused on multiplayer, but what single-player experience can we find hidden within? And does any progression there tie back into multiplayer?

The only form of single player is practice mode, which is just playing offline against bots. It’s the same experience as playing online, right down to the ability to play in split screen. However, the amount of points resulting from practice matches are half that of online matches. So theoretically you could completely level up your account using just practice mode, it would just take twice as long.

How are you dealing with unlockable characters and upgrades?

After finishing a match players are awarded points based on their performance. Bonuses are awarded for playing a random character, playing splitscreen and of course, winning. These points will then level up your account and at each level you will get a new item or character. There are 45 levels in total.

That sounds like there’s a lot of content there already for players to work through. Though looking to the future will we be seeing any new characters or items as DLC?

Yes, definitely. We have two characters ready that just need some balancing, but we have lots more in production.

Moving back to Ronimo’s trademark style, both Awesomenauts and Swords and Soldiers before that are very bright, bold, colourful games. With Awesomenauts, what do you feel this style brings that maybe a more gritty feel may not?

First of all, clarity. We’ve experimented with gritty styles as well, but it was just a bit harder to see what was going on. You want everything to be as clear as possible during the hectic gameplay.

At the same time the graphics bring a splash of optimism and humor that we miss from the 16-bit era. Bring back the blue skies!

Quite, there’s no Unreal browns here. Similarly they’re both genres – RTS and DotA – that you don’t traditionally associate with just two dimensions. Have you any plans for what you would like to try next in a similar style?

Yep! Can’t talk about that yet, though. Also, they’re just plans. Right now we’re focused on supporting Awesomenauts with fresh content for the forseeable future.

With a host of upgrades include “Hammer Pants”, “Baby Yeti” and “Techno Viking Helmet” there are obviously some crazy possibilities for players but where their any items that didn’t make the grade because they were too weird? What’s the one that you wish had made it into the final game?

Actually, we have removed a skill because it wasn’t crazy enough. In earlier versions, Sheriff Lonestar was able to throw Bolas that would ensnare enemies. Unfortunately this skill was fairly boring and hard to balance somewhere between way overpowered and useless. The first alternative we came up with was a deployable cactus that would block and damage enemies. But this skill was too static and had little to no synergy with his other skill, throwing dynamite. In the final game he has a Bull that shoves away enemies. It’s ideal, because it fits the Cowboy theme, it’s a very useful skill and it works well together with the Dynamite.

Finally, in one interview I saw you say that Awesomenauts is “Mulitplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game inspired by your favourite ’80s animated series.” My favourite 80s animated series was Thundercats, what was yours?

Back then I’d probably have favored great stuff like Starcom and Gundam. Since it was not only great, but also rare on Dutch television. But honestly I think Transformers is my favorite, also because of the brilliant toys. I hated the death and subsequent weird return of Optimus, though. And I loved Thundercats too, of course. I vividly remember being pumped with awesomeness and just wanting to punch stuff and going on adventure after seeing that show. Also, that Cheetah lady made me feel funny.

I don’t think you were alone with those feelings.

Thank you very much to Jasper Koning for arranging the interview and the Ronimo team for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk to us. Awesomenauts is coming out in May for PSN and XBLA.

Orcs Must Die! | Interview

Originally written for www.7outof10.co.uk

With the impending release of Robot Entertainment’s debut title, Orcs Must Die!, we wrestled Community Manager Justin Korthof away from his deadline and posed to him some very pertinent questions.

Firstly, why must the Orcs die?

In Orcs Must Die!, you play as a character called The War Mage. The War Mage has, for all intents and purposes, recently become the last member of a magical group of guardians known as the Order. The Order was tasked with defending a series of magical rifts that were protected by giant fortresses.

The fortresses are being invaded by an army of orcs and other nasty creatures, and the War Mage is tasked with defending them on his own. To do this, he’s got to learn how to conjure a variety of traps, and to use various spells and weapons to prevent the orcs from getting to, and through, the rifts.

What made you choose a Tower Defence style game over that which your more readily associated with, namely the RTS?

Well, we never sat down and explicitly said “Let’s make this kind of game!” About a year ago, we were kicking the tires on several game ideas, looking for a project that we could build in a relatively short development cycle. There was a lot of pent-up creative energy in the studio, and ultimately that manifested in an early prototype or Orcs Must Die! that was a ton of fun to play.

The game developed over time to become a happy hybrid of Tower Defense, third-person shooter, and strategy gaming. As much combat as there is in the game, there’s a significant strategy component, which is what I think most people would expect from the folks at our studio.

What influenced the decision to make it third-person?

It was the most natural thing for the game. We wanted to put the player down in the action, and the third-person perspective felt really appropriate for our mix of combat and trap-setting. It gave players a little more sense of what was happening in their immediate surroundings.

Would you say that you’ve taken inspiration from any other Tower Defence game, or that there are any you particularly admire?

Nothing specifically has been a core inspiration. Several people in the office were playing various horde-esque game types, and a small handful of people started kicking around similar ideas.

From your previous experiences with Age of Empires and Halo Wars, which did you bring to Orcs Must Die and how did they help shape the project?

Certainly a good grasp of strategy gameplay. Orcs does require as much of your brain as it does of your trigger finger, so having a background in strategy game development was very helpful there.

Additionally, on the console side, there was previously a mountain of thought put into developing console-friendly controls for Halo Wars. Several lessons learned from that helped to rework the controls of Orcs Must Die! when we were bringing it over to the console.

There seems a multitude of way of dispatching the Greenskins, some rather comic, some quite brutal. Was there an open season on suggesting new and painful ways to off the invaders?

Absolutely. Trap suggestions were always open to the whole studio. We all spent time each week playtesting the game and bringing deadly trap ideas to the table.

Do you have a favourite weapon/trap? And were any cut that you wished had been snuck in?

My favorite trap at the moment is the Wall Blades because of how awesome it is to watch a large group of orcs get reduced to bits of orc parts. But frankly, my favorite trap changes on a regular basis. We were fortunately able to get almost all of our favorite traps into the game. As for any that didn’t make it, we may be able to find homes for them in the future. So they’ll stay secret for now.

There’s also an accompanying comic, does this mean there’s a lot more to the world than purely squishing Orcs that will expanded upon?

The story isn’t terribly complex. We explicitly tried to avoid making the narrative too heavy for the game itself. The comic expands on much of the backstory that we only hint at during the game itself. We have a ton of comic fans in the studio. The idea came up from our art department to develop a comic based on the game. It was a really exciting opportunity to do something that is usually reserved for much larger franchises. We had the chance to do it, so we took it. The results have been great.

We’ll be handing out printed versions of the comic at PAX Prime and the digital version of the book will be available on the official website just before the game releases.

I’ve heard some funny stories emerging from the various previews you’ve given, about players setting up traps backwards and hastening their own failure. Have you seen anything truly ridiculous happen in game?

The best story I’ve got came from PAX East, when we announced and showed the game for the first time. A player inadvertently set up a flip trap facing toward the rift and he was literally flinging enemies into the air at just the right angle that they were landing in the rift itself. Once they were airborne, it was over. Since you can only sell back traps in between waves of enemies, he was frantically guarding the flip trap to ensure that it didn’t throw anyone into the rift.

Finally, as a fan of Orcs, what do you have against them? Why them?

They’re really ugly, really smelly, and they’re trying to take over. What more reason could you need? There are more story elements in both the game and the comic that discuss exactly why Orcs Must Die! But we’ll leave those a secret for now.

Many thanks to Robot Entertainment for taking time out of the busy schedule for taking time to talk to us, and to Sean Kauppinen for arranging the interview.

Orcs Must Die! is due out in late Summer on XBLA and Steam.