Recently we had a chance to talk to Nick Pavis - CEO and Co-Founder of game developer MunkyFun, and former Director of Game Technology at LucasArts - about the iOS platform and Munkyfun's newest game Bounty Bots: a game that was awarded a great score of 8.7 out of 10 by gamrReview. That's us!
To save you from having to devour a mammoth amount of text that interview was split into two articles. In this second half of the interview we talk about various aspects of game development and take a detailed look at Bounty Bots, also getting a taster of where the game could be heading. This half of the interview picks up with Nick talking about the customisation options in Bounty Bots:
Nick: The basic bot is fun, and that’s how you can spot noobs in the game but it's really fun to customise your guy and make yourself known around the town. It’s awesome to see all these different characters and configurations you can develop. You can select a hat, costume, body type, some of these are locked, and some of these aren’t even revealed until you reach certain levels, so we have an unlock mechanism and we have a reveal mechanism. This means you don’t overwhelm the user when you first get the game.
gamrReview: There seems to be plenty of incentive to keep playing, and to keep unlocking.
Nick: Yeah, and one of the beautiful things with Bounty Bots is that we’ve taken the literal interpretation of bounty and used it. So instead of earning a score and being able to access things, you’re bagging bounty, you’re bagging loot. You can take that loot back to the store and spend it, so there’s this real kind of feedback mechanism going on.
gamrReview: So there’s instant reward, as soon as you have finished a game you can go and spend what you’ve earned?
Nick: Yeah, you can think ‘I’m going to go into this game, grab as many coins as I can then go back to the store’ or you can save up for this or that, and of course there’s in-App transactions in case you want to accelerate any of that process. The visual style comes from our studio art director Bill Tiller who is pretty highly regarded in some circles. He did a lot of the graphic work for the Monkey Island series. He came to us with this wacky style, and we were like ‘wow how would we do that in 3D’ and our rendering team got on board, and started looking at how we were going to render this in a cartoony way, but in a modern way; kind of going for that Pixar look of nicely lit, nicely shaded environments with a wacky look to them. The wackiness is there to help us reach a wider audience. The core of the game is still hardcore as you found out by jumping in. We also have a matchmaking system on the game, where the noobs will be put together, the intermediate levels will be matched together and the experienced players will be matched together.
gamrRevew: That should stop noobs getting overwhelmed, and give more experienced players a greater challenge.
Nick: Yeah, exactly, exactly that. That’s what we wanted to do. We’ve been testing this for some time now and taking in the feedback and understanding what it’s like for a first time player.
gamrReview: What has the feedback been like?
Nick: It’s all good stuff. For example the thumbsticks were something we didn’t feel were that important as experienced gamers ourselves, but a lot of people said that they wanted thumbsticks so they were something we implemented into the game. When people were taken down, they said they wanted to know who took them down, so when you get thrown into jail it tells you who bagged your bounty. These are just things that come up during testing. Balancing our weapons is something that we test a lot. Testing the economy is something that we test too. There’s no blood and there’s no headshots in the game, like I say it is hardcore at its base and we do have some MunkyFunsters, some guys who can school many people’s asses on this. We’re looking forward to doing that when the time comes. A lot of the design came from just needing to get people into a free for all situation where they can play as soon as soon as they are in. That’s where the coin mechanic came from, because you aren’t at a disadvantage if you come in late, you can just start collecting coins.
gamrReview: It’s interesting because it adds a risk/reward element.
Nick: Yeah, well part of the balancing that we think has turned out to be such a fun aspect of the game is that, the better you are the more money you’re going to bag, right. But then you’ve got the bounty above your head, so the more money you carry, the more you will be highlighted as a target for other players. So there is an opportunity to develop lots of different play styles, I know that John, our studio producer, likes to camp out at the bank.
gamrReview: Yeah, that’s what I was doing before.
Nick: Yeah, you wait for somebody to come in with their big bag of loot and then you take them out. But there are two banks, so you can camp at one bank and if people are using the other bank you’ll miss out there. All of these things have been balanced over the past three months of play testing and really polishing the game to be the experience we want it to be.
gamrReview: How long has it been in development for?
Nick: We started development, talking and hitting ideas around in November, December of 2010. That was when we first started thinking about some ideas, about what we wanted to do, about what was successful with Archetype and what didn’t work in Archetype. We went through a couple of design changes, and this game is a fully self-funded game, it’s a MunkyFun IP, and we pretty much had to make this game pulling ourselves up from the bootstraps. We only ever really had two full time staff on it, and the rest we did on Thursday nights through volunteers. What this means is that it took a lot of time to get this game out but it also means that it’s polished and that it’s ready for worldwide release now. It has a lot of depth to it and we will continue to update the product with some pretty exciting stuff that’s coming down the line.
gamrReview: So what sort of things do you have coming down the line?
Nick: New weapons, we have new levels. Our next level is pretty much ready to go and we will be launching that in the next few weeks. Once you understand the basic play style of this game you can introduce other levels. We have another level coming; I will talk about that when the time comes. These new levels will take peoples understanding of the game, and how they play, and they’ll put a new twist on it. The next two levels are still Wild West themed.
gamrReview: In a game like this, you have to develop your own tactics and play to your strengths, so when you do release new maps and levels you can really mess with people's established tactics, forcing them outside of their comfort zone.
Nick: Yeah, this is a really interesting point. With Archetype we did a lot of data collection, and one of the collections we did was a heat map. With the heat map, this was a top down view of the level, and red would represent 1000 kills at a certain location, green would represent 500 kills at a certain location, and blue would represent 20 kills at a certain location. So we ended up with this heat map that allowed us to understand what most people’s play styles were, by looking at that data we could tune the development of further levels. With Bounty Bots we can look at what people are doing and what play styles they’ve got and then switch it out on them and you’ll see some of that in the coming weeks. We also have new features for the game as well, which I will be happy to talk about when they are ready for release.
gamrReview: How did you come up with the idea for Robots in the Wild West?
Nick: I know, I know, it's crazy right?
gamrReview: Was it just a brainstorming session?
Nick: Yeah, there are brainstorming sessions, like I say we went through a couple of iterations until we got to Bounty Bots. After Archetype we wanted to do something different and we had an idea about doing a game where you can modify geometry with a weapon. We just went with these robots that we had concepted, because we wanted people to be able to customize them extensively, so we used bots, that was the idea that drove that. We wanted to design a game that was a free for all experience, but we also wanted to make sure that everything was balanced, and we wanted you to be able to just jump into a round. So we came up with this idea where you are collecting stuff and then taking it to a base, almost like capture the flag but with a free for all aspect to it. We knew people liked collecting money, you only have to look at Temple Run to see that, and so the idea of collecting things and taking them somewhere was the idea for the game with deformable geometry. But the deformable geometry had too many issues for casual players, more hardcore people would probably understand it and be able to do it, but we didn’t feel the casual would. So we took this idea of taking someone’s bounty and what they’ve got, and we figured ‘Hey, that’s the Wild West right?’ and so Bill came up with some concept art and said ‘I think we should go for a style like this’ and we just loved it, Robots in the Wild West!
gamrReview: It’s original, it’s never been done before, I’ll give you that.
Nick: Yeah exactly, we love it. Like I say we’ve been working on this for over a year now, not obviously a full team as I explained, but definitely tuning it and making it a labour of love. That design has allowed us to move in many directions, and like I say the next two levels you’ll see for this game I think will get you quite excited.
gamrReview: How long do you think you’ll end up supporting the game for? With iOS games I suppose the platform allows you to support it for as long as you want.
Nick: There’s still an active user base on Archetype, surprisingly enough, people still have it on their phone, and people still jump into games on Archetype. We’re definitely a community driven company in that we’re looking for what the community likes and what we feel is that if people are having fun in Deadbolt, which is the town in Bounty Bots, we are definitely soliciting feedback from people, we have a Facebook page, a Twitter page, a Google plus page; all of our games, not Bounty Bots right now because there was an issue, but all of our games have a post-to-Facebook button and they also have a feedback button as well. What we’re looking for, from watching what people do and people say, we’re looking to provide the community the experience they want, so if not Bounty Bots, then whatever Bounty Bots becomes next.
gamrReview: So it’s fair to say that it is a feedback-driven game then?
Nick: Yes, absolutely, that’s a huge thing for us. You can sit there and make game experiences that you think people will like, and while that could be a valid approach we like to listen to what people think we are doing right, and what’s fun, and what they don’t like. Then we can improve, innovate, and evolve.
gamrReview: How long do you see yourself developing for the iOS platform? Would you like to take Bounty Bots to another platform like XBLA or PSN?
Nick: Yes, we consider all opportunities that present themselves, and it does seem that Bounty Bots could be a great product on other platforms. We have to start somewhere and this is probably the best place to start with a product like this. But absolutely, we will see where this goes and if people are demanding it then we will respond.
gamrReview: Having developed different varieties of game for the iOS platform, would you say that a shooter is the hardest type of game to create and get right?
Nick: Yeah, it’s funny, from a tech point of view we have our engine and we have our technology, and it wasn’t the tech of Bounty Bots that was complex. We have a huge server, we have a lot of server technology that we’ve developed, like I say it supports over 8 million users on My Horse, our original server technology powered Archetype, so the tech behind it isn’t complex for us, coming from a console background and having our own technology. It could be quite a complex endeavour for people who aren’t fortunate enough to have that background. The thing though is, like you say, making a fun experience. There’s so many ways you can go wrong, and only a few ways you can get it right with these experiences. It’s about having the time, which we were fortunate enough to have, and having skilled designers, which we have, and having the time to fine tune and iterate and make a fun experience, that’s the real challenge with a first person shooter. The other thing we didn’t want to do is we didn’t want people to be able to spend money to kick people's asses. We don’t have the ability to buy super powerful weapons that’s just going to give you the ability to win the round. What the different weapons do is they give you different play styles, so that’s what spending your money allows you to do.
gamrReview: Talking of the financial side of things, would you say that micro-transactions are the way forward?
Nick: Yeah, absolutely I think that freemium is the way forward. I think that Apple drove that with the 99₵ iTunes downloads. Once that became integrated with mobile phones, it gave us this amazing opportunity. It is absolutely the way forward, I think that your game will survive on the merit of its quality; if people like your game they will spend money on it. With a game like Bounty Bots if you are playing it a lot you’re going to be compelled to spend money on it. There are ways to spend money, to accelerate your growth and enhance your play experience, but it doesn’t necessarily give you a huge advantage over other people. I mean, you’ll always have an advantage over noobs.
gamrReview: Obviously it’s early days for Bounty Bots, but in the future where would you like to see it end up?
Nick: We have some plans for some interesting features to support the community, maybe things like guilds, just different things for you to do. Once you’ve got your community of players, and you’ve got a scenario which is Deadbolt, you can take it in whatever direction you want to, and I think it has a lot of legs and it’s a very unique product when it comes to shooters. I think it has a unique look and an endearing quality to it that will give it legs with regards to upgrades, changing play styles, changing the game, maybe even providing smaller casual single player experiences in the product as well. It really is down to what the community say.
gamrReview: Would you be willing to change the product in a big way, depending on what the community feedback is like?
Nick: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely we would. When we saw all of our ideas coming together we thought ‘this looks really fun’ and with the next two levels, as they’re released, we will continue to innovate, but if people said no, we just want Space Marines with big guns then maybe we would have to stick with space marines.
gamrReview: As a smaller company would you say it’s easier to interact with your userbase?
Nick: It’s kind of a double edged sword. As a smaller company we don’t have the reach of a larger company, but we are able to respond and listen effectively to the input we do receive. We are passionate gamers ourselves, so I feel we have a good connection to the community and I think reach is just a matter of time.
gamrReview: Have you got anything else in the works at the moment? Anything to divulge?
Nick: We are continuing to support My Horse, there’s some fun stuff coming up in the future of that game, that’s a product that the team are fond about. We do have another product that we will be talking about later in the month which is another team separate to this team, and it’s a different type of product.
gamrReview: Well I think that covers pretty much everything I had In mind, is there anything else at all you’d like to share?
Nick: Nope, I think that wraps it up nicely. Thank you very much for your time Chris.
gamrReview: It's no problem, thanks for giving us a great look into the industry, and good luck with all your current and future projects.