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Design and conquer! Olympus Rising developer interview with Pete Walentin, Keen Flare CEO and Producer

If you haven’t yet heard the battle cries echoing around the world, Olympus Rising is live and available to download now from the App Store and Google Play!

It’s been a special last few days for the team at both flaregames and its Frankfurt studio, Keen Flare, with the game receiving rave reviews and Editors’ Choice honours. With the game now out in the wild, Pete Walentin, Keen Flare CEO and Producer on Olympus Rising took the time to talk about the game’s development process and the lengths the team went to in bringing the glorious Mt. Olympus and its surrounding world to life.

Firstly though, check out an overview video showing just how much the game evolved during development.

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1. 
What were the key development tools/services you used to make this game look so good?
For Olympus Rising we are using the Keen Games proprietary Game Library. Keen’s library is a set of modules, allowing us to pick what we need for Olympus Rising. This keeps us pretty flexible and combined with Keen’s tools, their support and their decades of experience in console game development, it was relatively easy to create such a good looking game.

2. What are some of the key challenges in developing such a high spec mobile game?
The biggest challenge is always to deliver the same experience to different devices with different hardware specs, keeping the performance where it should be and ensuring a smooth performance for every user. We are supporting from iOS8 upwards, so it needs to run on an iPad Pro as well as on an iPod Touch 5th generation. Quite a difference in hardware specs and that is always a challenge.

3. Tell us how support and feedback from Apple helped the development process?
At some point in development you should always ask for external feedback. Apple sees a lot of high quality games and are a good source for honest feedback. Apple always set the bar as high as possible, which helps us to push what we are doing even further.

4. How did you take on their feedback and implement it in the final game?
The game was already looking good, but the feedback told us we had to push ourselves still further. The good thing about the feedback was we already had things in mind to improve the visuals. As we had already implemented Metal, it was relatively easy for us to add things like bloom or color grading without losing much performance. The feedback was very welcome and it helped us greatly in going the extra mile and be even happier with what we created.

5. What are some of your personal favourite features – from a game content point of view – you’ve included in the game?
That is a tough one. There are so many. Besides just enjoying the visual appearance of the game – whether it is Mount Olympus and the beautiful, detailed buildings, or all the Vfx we are firing in battle – the thing I like the most is the integration of the island world in the game. Besides looking beautiful – it’s even possible to do a bit of whale watching – I like the way we handle the matchmaking in the game. Having my own realm and pushing intruders away feels better than clicking „next“ in a menu to get the next opponent.

 

End of Q1 catch-up with Klaas

How is it already April?! Taking a quick break from a year that has gone crazily fast, our CEO Klaas took the time to chat about the year so far, plus what lies ahead for the flaregames team. With three launches scheduled for the coming months, it’s certainly going to be an exciting time…

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1. How has 2016 been so far for flaregames?

An awesome year so far, we currently have several games in soft launch including Olympus Rising, developed by our Keen Flare studio and which we will release in early May. All have the unparalleled top quality we at flaregames seek, including smoothness of interaction, graphical quality and general fun they bring to the player. Secondly, the numbers in the game are looking great – we are seeing players stay in the games, interacting with the features and recommending the experience to their friends. These are just a few reasons why we are super optimistic about the coming months.

2. How has the reaction to Dawn of Steel been following its release on Android/Windows platforms?
We are delighted with how it’s been received. We got a lot of love from the platforms, who supported us with big features and this led to a lot of users! Securing close to one million in one week is an impressive result and testament to the great work that our team put in together with Superweapon to deliver such high quality.

3. What lies on the horizon for Q2 in terms of game launches?
We want to launch Olympus Rising, Nonstop Knight and Fieldrunners in the first half of this year, perhaps with some overlap into July. When all three hit the market this will be very interesting to see them out in the wild and watch how players across the world interact with them.

4. Having announced Nonstop Knight in February, what other publishing deals are being lined up at present?
We are in a great situation that a lot of developers want to work with us. There is a natural synergy between what a great developer can do and what we can contribute, helping them become more successful with their game and creating something better than what they can achieve on their own. That’s a clear value we have proven on several occasions now and our reputation precedes us. We have great pitches, prototypes and games to consider in our upcoming portfolio for 2017/2018 and are already talking to a lot of developers. Great games, great developers… we’re already excited for what lies in store.

5. What are some of the most dominant industry trends you’ve already noticed emerging in the early part of this year?
There are two to mention, both of them driven by Supercell to a certain extent, plus Vainglory on the other hand. Both are moving towards establishing “e-sports capable” franchises on mobile devices. There is nothing like a League of Legends or World of Tanks style experience yet, but Vainglory is off to a great start and is obviously a great game. Clash Royale, with replay sharing and viewing the strategies of other players, is also going in that direction. It’s great how the game is sharing the knowledge, skills and expertise of players, which is definitely a predominant trend. Another trend we are seeing, again set by Clash Royale and which we already see in a lot of the game pitches we receive, is an emphasis on synchronous multiplayer. Especially in the past there has been a lot of focus on asynchronous multiplayer, but with this recent shift it’ll be interesting to see where that drives the market.

Simplifying the IAP set-up process – Abhimanyu Kumar, flaregames Senior Product Manager

He may have only joined the team a few months ago, but one of our newest additions to the Product team, Abhimanyu, is already making an impact here at flaregames!

In this short interview, Abhimanyu talks about an in-app purchase tool he recently designed in three days using just Google Spreadsheets for support. This tool is currently being rolled out at flaregames HQ and has helped to streamline workflows, simplify processes and save time during the set-up of IAPs across the company portfolio.

To explain further, Abhimanyu recently took the time to answer a few questions on how the concept was planned, designed and rolled out!

Abhimanyu
1. Why was this IAP tool designed?
The tool was designed because setting up multiple in-app purchases (IAPs) for our various games was taking way too much time (sometimes running into days due to the multiple steps that needed to be done manually), took away precious time of multiple functions (time that could be well spent elsewhere), and was a process prone to human error and with no fixed processes or historical records. This tool is a solution to all of these issues we were having before!

2. How easy was it to do?
It was a 3-day effort to come up with the tool, and it was done all on Google Spreadsheets. It wasn’t really rocket science, but someone just needed to spend time thinking about solving these problems (as outlined above). For the user, it’s simply comes down to entering a few fields and columns, exporting the data and uploading it to the platforms.

3. How will it benefit the work done at flaregames?
Well in the old world, setting up 10 IAPs used to take us at least 4-5 hours. With this tool, it takes just 30 minutes. I’m pretty sure you can even set up 25 IAPs in no more than 45 minutes! The tool has been successful in freeing up time of multiple functions related to IAP creation and it’s definitely a major step up from how we used to do things in the past.

4. Is it now being used in the office?
Yup, we’re using it quite actively within flaregames and users of the tool are quite happy with the amount of time it is saving them.

5. How could it be useful to other gaming developers/publishers?
The tool is quite fluid in terms of its design, so any developer/publisher can just make a copy of the Google Spreadsheet and start creating IAPs with it instantly. There is definitely some documentation to go through during first time usage so as to make the most of the tool – but it’s pretty intuitive after that.

flaregames is currently working on a version of this awesome IAP tool that will be offered to other members of the global developer community in the near future. In the meantime, if you are a developer and wish to participate in a closed beta test of the tool, please email Abhimanyu directly at – abhimanyukumar@flaregames.com 

 

5 minutes with Dana Massey… flaregames Product Lead

To round off an exciting week where we announced a deal with Kopla Games to release Project Nonstop (working title), Dana Massey, Product Lead here at flaregames, took 5 minutes out of his day to talk about the game and his experiences working with such a talented team over in Tampere, Finland.

Over to you, Dana…
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1. How did Kopla Games come into the flaregames family?
It was a group effort. My colleague Miikka Luotio knew some of the guys and even played Destiny with Janne, their Product Lead. This sort of planted the seed on their side. Late last year at GameConnection in Paris, I met Mika Kuusisto (Kopla’s CEO) who pitched me Project Nonstop.
Instantly, you could tell this was a special game. Often at shows like this, you see a hundred variations on the same theme, but Project Nonstop really stood out as something unique. I was very impressed with the game and the pitch, but even more than that Mika himself.

Instantly, I was converted, but the real test came when I got back to Karlsruhe. I was playing it relentlessly and people kept asking what it was. Within hours of getting back, it seemed like half the office had demanded a chance to give it a try. I’d never seen a game go fully viral in our office like that. At one point, I was worried I was annoying Kopla with all the requests. For a game so early in development to convert people so quickly was magnificent. Even our CFO was sending me notes!

2. What were you doing before joining flaregames in 2014?
A job I had ten years ago ended up leading me to flaregames. I was the Lead Game Designer of “Wish”, an MMORPG that was in development in the mid 2000s. There, I worked with Keenan Gividen who eventually wound up in Germany with flaregames. In the summer of 2014, I was looking at opportunities in Europe and flaregames was looking for Producers.

My background is in game design, production and journalism, which seems to be a common theme around here. I had spent the previous few years working at a startup as a Lead Game Designer and Producer in North America. It was a lot of fun, but startups can be chaotic and I wanted to move into an environment where I could learn more. Luckily, flaregames gave me that opportunity and it hasn’t disappointed at all!

Prior to that, I had spent a few years in game journalism. I was the Editor of MMORPG.com and wrote for tons of other places, like IGN and The Escapist. That gave me the chance to see inside so many studios and interview so many of the people who have really gotten it right. It was a great education.

3. What’s it been like working with the Kopla guys, especially when they are such a small and dynamic team?
Their game isn’t the only thing that’s unique. Their approach is not precisely like any I’ve ever run across and learning that has been a tremendous experience so far. Kopla’s approach is to be highly iterative, really fast and constantly evolving. They don’t like to do massive features, but instead focus on smaller ones and really push them until they both accomplish whatever goal they’re after and compliment the core spirit of the game itself.

When we signed them, our first mission was to foster and learn from what makes them special and not try to change them for its own sake. We want to work with developers and nurture their strengths, not force them into some abstract idea of what they should be. This team’s approach is really different than I’ve been used to and that’s been a great experience so far. They keep me on my toes!

4. What’s the best thing about working on such a unique title like Project Nonstop?
As a huge fan of RPGs, I’ve never been content with their migration to mobile. Project Nonstop finally nails it. That’s what sold me in the first place. We’re not just porting RPGs to a phone, it’s an experience that’s designed for that from the ground up. We’re keeping what works and throwing away what doesn’t. It’s a unique experience that plays so differently from the standard games in this space.

5. What are some of the key game-related features that are being worked on in the lead-up to launch?
We want to really strengthen the connection between the player and the Knight. Anything we can do that brings the player and their Knight (or Lady) closer together is great, in my books. The best games don’t just provide depth and mechanical fun, they really create a connection with that experience. Project Nonstop is already well on its way, but with a bit of work, I think this little guy is going to become someone that a lot of people soon really care about.

6. From your personal perspective as a gamer, what are your favourite aspects of Project Nonstop and why?
It’s in the name: It never, ever stops. It really feels like there’s a tiny Knight in my phone who is always up to something and sometimes he needs my help. It’s also a liberating game. On weekends, I can sometimes sit there transfixed for hours, playing just “one more floor”, but when I’m busy he’s busy too. I can just as easily help him along in the 30 seconds I have in line for coffee. No matter where I am and what I’m up to, I don’t feel left behind.

 

5 minutes with Borja Guillan… flaregames Senior Game Designer

In the next instalment of our “5 minutes with…” series, which shines the spotlight on some of the awesome people here at flaregames HQ, meet Borja Guillan, Senior Game Designer here at flaregames.

Borja recently took the time to discuss how he came to be a video game designer, plus which exciting game in the flaregames portfolio he is currently working on. As it soon became clear, Borja has great experience in designing “zombie-related” experiences…

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1. First off, how did you get into game design?
It started as one of those childhood dreams like being an astronaut, a firefighter or something like that, except I wanted to design games other people would want to play. Then in my late teens I got my first job testing AAA games and that set everything in motion. Being a game designer gives you the creative license required to craft memorable experiences that players will enjoy and get excited about, and that’s what makes this job attractive to me. Designing mobile games in particular, it’s especially rewarding being able to use community feedback to define and perfect a game over time – it’s like a collaborative experience between developer and player.

2. What were you doing before joining flaregames in 2014?
Before joining flaregames I was the Lead Designer on Plants vs. Zombies 2 at EA PopCap, in Seattle. Building on the success of such a popular franchise was an incredibly rewarding experience as well as a challenging one, since we had to keep up with the player expectations set by the original Plants vs. Zombies. We achieved that goal through a resolute dedication to quality and by upholding a strong sense of identity. In the end, I believe that is what creates the difference between excellent games and just good games. That approach is definitely one that I continue to apply to my work here at flaregames.

3. What have been your main projects at flaregames to date?
The main project so far has been Dawn of Steel, where I worked together with our LA-based partner Superweapon to create what, in my opinion, is the best RTS experience you can get on mobile.

The guys behind Superweapon worked on multiple games within the Command & Conquer series, and that is one of my favourite video game franchises of all time, so I was delighted to join them in making Dawn of Steel. Their amazing prowess in the strategy genre has made this a highly formative project and the outcome of our collaboration is something we’re all very proud of.

4. What is your main project you’re working on behind the scenes now?
I’ve recently started working with our partner Limbic and we’re quickly ramping up development on Zombie Gunship, Inc.. This is set to be by far the biggest installment in the Zombie Gunship franchise, which means both long-time fans and new players alike have a lot to look forward to.

You will command an AC-130 attack gunship in a post-apocalyptic world riddled with zombies. Expect a game with immersive console-quality visuals, gorgeous explosions, powerful weapons, and thrilling battles for survival.

5. What’s it like working with the experienced team at Limbic on this next Zombie Gunship title?
I was super excited when we partnered with Limbic to bring their next game to the market; their commitment to high-quality gameplay is something I strongly identify with. They’re diligent, engaged, and understand exactly where this game needs to go. I’m actually pumped (can I say this?) to be making this game together with them!

© flaregames, 2016