Co-Optimus: The last and final question for you is simply what’s next? I’ve heard murmurings and seen a couple posts for a game that takes inspiration from Oregon Trail, and another that’s a 4x type game. Will these also feature cooperative play? When did the development of these start and can we expect to see them this year?
Chris: As you’ve alluded, we’ve got two new games in the works at the moment: Exodus of the Machine and Skyward Collapse. Both of these games are expected to be out by June, with betas prior to then. Both will support co-op, and actually it looks like Skyward may even support PVP (a first from us aside from Tidalis).
Asking when development on a title started is a bit of a tricky thing with Arcen, because we always have a lot of irons in the fire. The concepts both started being marinated back in 2012, and of course they are both making heavy use of the engine development that we’ve been doing since 2003. At this point we have a huge library of code and related tools that get wrapped into each new game we do, making each one quicker to produce.
As to when the actual first this-game-only code was started on, that’s been within the last couple of months for both titles. Each of these titles is a lot smaller in scope in terms of development time compared to many of Arcen’s recent titles. Though as fans of AI War know, we’re able to pack a crazy ton of content into an expansion for AI War in just a few months. These titles both have a longer development cycle than that, and I think fans will be surprised at the amount of replay value and content in each.
Our estimate is currently multiple dozens of hours just to see all the content once in each game. So that’s a bit smaller than AI War, for instance, where it takes north of 100 hours to see all the content. But it’s still huge! And since we’re able to produce these faster thanks to our improved development pipeline, that means that we can also hit a lower price point right out of the gate: both games are expected to sell for $5, which is something new we’re trying.
So just what are these games? Skyward Collapse has been described in some excellent detail on my blog here and here. The short version is that it’s a turn-based “god game” mixed with 4x-style strategy elements. You play as “The Creator,” and you’re tasked with shepherding two warring factions of villages through their conflict. Your success comes from having as much economic growth and fighting as possible, while preventing all-out genocide on either side.
The coolest thing, to me, is how easy to get into this game is. Because of the nature of a god game, we were really able to streamline your interactions with the boardgame-style map and the pieces on them. But there’s a huge amount of depth here, because there are all sorts of indirect tricks for getting your populace to do what you want. High-scoring is a big part of this, but so are secondary missions that you can accomplish as you play each game; these secondary missions are the key to leveling up your profile and unlocking new buildings and even new units.
Co-op consists of multiple players all playing their turns in parallel, trying to work toward a common victory. It’s very much “the same game as solo, just with more people,” which is something that I love. But the co-op experience is enhanced by multiple players, because you suddenly have a lot more options. Because of the turn-based nature of this game, technically it can support some ridiculous number of players, possibly as many as 256. However, I don’t think that will be a very fun game because it would just get way too large (and might have other issues). So we’re likely going to say “officially supports up to 4-8 players” (whatever we test and determine works best as an upper bound), but that you can play with larger numbers if you wish in an unsupported fashion. After all, sometimes as a player it’s fun to take a game and do something crazy with it!
Exodus of the Machine has scant information out so far, mostly here on my blog. This is a trickier one to describe, and so we’re still playing this one a bit closer to the vest so that we make sure our first communications are clear and people don’t get the wrong idea. At core this is a strategy game, but with an interface and a “you’re on a journey” mechanism kind of like Oregon Trail.
The strategy game components come into play mainly based on how your journey plays out: every decision you make has some impact on later events. If you lose HP on one of your characters during combat, that’s not something you can just magically heal later on. If you run out of food, you’re in trouble. But if you don’t help some starving native by sharing your food, you might find that your reputation suffers and thus key characters later on are less willing to help you. The whole journey is a mass of compound decisions like this, and so successfully navigating to the end is a challenge.
There’s a goodly bit of randomization in there as well, so each journey is different. And as you play you unlock more equipment and other new options for how to play. Oh, and it’s also set in the AI War universe, providing some extra insights into the story of that game. We’re quite excited to be able to start sharing both of these titles with folks soon!
We'd like to thank Chris for taking the time to answer all of our questions and letting us know what's next for Arcen; we're eagerly anticipating checking out both of these titles. For more of Chris' writings on game design, check out his "Games by Design" blog, and check out the Arcen Games' website for more information about their catalog of games.