Interview – War For The Overworld

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War For The Overworld is a new isometric, real time dungeon strategy game by Subterranean Games. A Kickstarter funded project, the game may seem like a very familiar one but this group of super fans are working to make a new game that is better than the one that drew them towards the project in the first place. Sean spoke with Josh Bishop, the CEO and Creative Director of Subterranean Games in Shoreditch, London to find out more.

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How hard is it going to be for people not to call it Dungeon Keeper HD? You’ve got a lot of inspiration from a lot previous games that are very good and you seem to have brought that well in to this game. How have you come about that?

To be perfectly honest, that’s what we set out to do. We started as a group of fans of Dungeon Keeper on a Dungeon Keeper fan site and there hadn’t been a Dungeon Keeper game released in 10 or so years when we first wanted to do this. We liked it so we thought let’s do this.

[It's hard to tell if it's a dungeon or a night club. They're the same thing though... Right?]

[It’s hard to tell if it’s a dungeon or a night club. They’re the same thing though… Right?]

A lot of people say things like “holes in the market” but there hasn’t really been any dungeon games or building games in this vein for a while. That must have been quite an attractive proposition for the community when you started your Kickstarter and getting everything together.

Kickstarter certainly has seen a big surge in games like this. In the past two or three years there’s been a lot in those genres that hasn’t really existed for the past ten years and suddenly it’s all come back. Which is cool because we love those games. So we’re happy.

And you’re managing to do it on a PC platform rather than having to bastardise it for any kind of mobile platform or anything else. Which must be quite good as a programmer.

Yes. It is nice. PC first always. PC, Mac and Linux.

How did you go in to the design process for this because obviously you had a pretty good inspirational template?

We’ve all been playing Dungeon Keeper for a very long time. We know what we like about it and what we don’t like about it. We’ve played plenty of other games that are similar to it, other God games and other RTS games. So for the longest time we’ve thought” Dungeon Keeper would be so much better if… this.” And that’s where we started. We use that as our ground work and we went through and anything we felt could be improved upon, we improved upon it. We didn’t start somewhere else, we started there and we didn’t want to change things for the sake of changing things. We wanted to improve.

It’s going to be very hard for people to disassociate the two games as they are very similar, despite the time difference, but this is a very different that’s almost an homage. You’ve got Richard Ridings for the voice narrator, you’ve got the stylistic choices in the way the game operates and in the humour… How difficult was it for you to separate and create your game?

It wasn’t too difficult. We wanted to build on the gameplay that had been laid out. We weren’t really looking to copy from a stylistic standpoint, legally and because it’s dated. From an artistic standpoint we started with the gameplay and followed from there from the ground up. So the visuals more than anything is where we differentiate at face value. The deeper you go, there are quite a few mechanical differences like the tech tree.

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn't order the "Flaming Prince"]

[Excuse me, Dungeon Master, but I didn’t order the “Flaming Prince”]

A lot of God games can give you those kind of options on a plate, so the tech tree allows more strategy to be involved.

That’s because we wanted it to work in multiplayer. Traditionally God games aren’t multiplayer things so it’s kind of ok to just give people everything in a sandbox. But we wanted to bring that RTS angle in to it so there’s some sort of strategic choice and so it can work in multiplayer.

Quick fire questions. Favourite Minion:

The Chunder

Favourite room:

The Arena, that’s pretty cool. The Crypt also looks pretty cool.

I just saw The Archive and that looked cool. Especially close up when you’ve possessed someone, looking at the book and the writing on it. How much attention to detail do you pay to the little quirks and humours touches that people may not necessarily notice?

Quite a lot, the thing with this over other RTS and other top down games, is that they don’t have a first person view. We do. So we have to design everything from a birds eye and a first person perspective. We’ve had to keep things relatively efficient so the character models aren’t as high poly as you might see in other things but we scale that quite a lot. But the texture are made at a high resolution so if your PC can handle that then you can go and look at how cool it is. We did have a play with an Oculous Rift just to try it. It isn’t in the game and isn’t supported, but it did look really nice when we played around with it.

So when you’re in your remote offices, what do you do to get to your inner evil designing mode? Do you put on some thrash metal and sacrifice goats at an alter?

We all have cats on spinning chairs so we can turn around with crazy laughter.

[In the Tavern you'll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

[In the Tavern you’ll find your minions getting hilariously drunk, talking about the time they were extras in Labyrinth.]

You have to have a sense of humour to work on a game like this though, right?

I guess it’s different from person to person. I know our writer can zone out for days before he comes back. Sometimes people communicate a lot, it’s quite a varied bunch of people we have. I don’t know if there are any teams that operate entirely remotely that are our size. There’s 15 of us from Australia, Hong Kong, Russia, to Europe and the US, all the way around the world.

So that goes to show that there is a worldwide desire and demand for games like these?

Especially in Germany. Germany is such a huge market for this type of game.

Where do you see yourself post-release with the game, as you’re all community based so you know what kind of things the community would expect?

There’s a couple of things we’re already planning. Firstly there’s the early adopter bonus so anyone who buys it in the first month of release will get the first DLC for free. We’re doing that as an alternative to pre-order bonuses as we still want people to buy the game early and at full price but we don’t want people to commit to it without seeing a review or whatever. And we don’t want to feel like there’s content being held back for people who don’t pre-order the game. We’re hoping that’ll be out in June but we aren’t great with deadlines. The second is the flex goal content. So during the Kickstarter campaign we had our milestones and for every one after our main goals, we were going to allow our backers to vote on what content they wanted. That vote is still going so we’ll see what content will be next.

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War For The Overworld is due to be released on April 2nd 2015 for PC, Mac and Linux.

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Dungeon Keeper iOS Review

… I should have seen it coming.

Those of you that have read a few articles of mine already will already note a certain cynical tone. But let it be said that I am not without my optimism. One such optimism was when EA announced that Dungeon Keeper was coming to iOS.

For those who don’t know, Dungeon Keeper was one of the best of the isometric God Sim-Strategy-Comedy romps that Peter Molyneux’s Bullfrog Productions gave us towards the end of the 90s. You take over a dungeon and build up a sinister enough army to destroy the realm, alone with guidance from the silky smooth voiceover of Richard Ridings. Whilst being as objective and unbiased as possible, it was one of my favourite PC games and will regularly feature in any top 10 list I produce.

Now my alarm bells should have been ringing when I downloaded the “free” app (to purchase this game from the App Store, you impart no money) because I suddenly realised that I had heard nothing about it since that announcement. Not a screenshot, not a video, not a release date, nothing. So I should have sensed disaster.

To be fair, it is visually very nice and colourful. With some brilliantly realised character animations, remembering that these creatures looked really cool back in the original game. However within three seconds it becomes very busy on your screen. What are these meters all over my eye line? Gold of course is needed, which in this version is mined from an actual mine, as opposed to your imps taking it from the wall. But there is suddenly a “Stone Mine” and the need to harvest gems from the wall. Which also allow the speeding up of tasks… If you can see where I’m heading, skip two paragraphs.

If you haven’t skipped, you start a tutorial by having your devilish imps appear. You remember those little cute things you could slap and chuck around who’d make loads of noise? They are your workforce for this game and do your bidding. They start getting to work by clearing out some wall space for rooms. Once they start, they then get this little green icon with a timer and a gem in it. These gems will allow you to speed up the time it takes for the task to be done. All of these gems are occasionally found but are mostly available as an in-app purchase. Digging out the outer wall to expand your dungeon and acquire these gems takes approximately 4 hours per tile, real time. All of the fun and humour of these creatures and indeed the game is now apparent by its complete absence.

Now all the rooms cost Gold and/or stone, each has its own minion much like the original game to help you conquer, and gives you a little extra bonus. However the time it would take to save the resources will force the less patient/casual gamer into buying the extras. Added are the various traps you can lay to stop people raiding your dungeon. The slight multiplayer aspect is that you can raid other dungeons and yours can be raided, essentially turning the game from the hilarity it was before into a tower defence game. Everything you do slowly levels your dungeon up from its heart and of course, costs more purchase-renewable resource.

If you have skipped, I’m sorry to report that they’ve bastardised the concept of Bullfrog’s excellent achievement and turned it in to a skin of Farmville. This is basically Dungeonville to coin a probably already used phrase. It is very hard to review a free casual game that by design takes four hours to bust a certain wall down. You may think I’m being unfair and not seeing it for what it is, a casual game, designed to be played on lunch breaks, that utilises the nostalgia of players of the original to create a cash-in… Oh. That’s what it is.

I’d like to think that as a reviewer of video games, we all want something good. We don’t want to trash something that we love, no matter how easy it is to do so. But I think the luxury of writing for TheGameJar and through non-official print medium allows me to be a bit more open and honest as to what a game can be, especially when it is so blatant and shameless in conforming to a gaming stereotype that started five years ago with Plants Vs Zombies and the aforementioned Farmville. Casual mobile gaming has always swayed massively to a lot easier and simpler pick-up-and-play formats like Candy Crush, Bejeweled and Angry Birds. To me, Dungeon Keeper iOS is in gaming terms purely a backward and outdated move, completely misjudging its audience and far and away wasting a prime opportunity that the iOS platform allows. Just look at how good a job has been made of Lego Star Wars/Lord of The Rings, Sonic, Grand Theft Auto 3/Vice City/San Andreas, Minecraft, Transport Tycoon, Baldur’s Gate, Monkey Island, et al.

This is not the isometric game of nostalgia’s past and I was wrong to even hope that it might be. But given the obvious comparisons that other publishers have created, EA are severely lacking in the mobile department. It does make me worry because when you look at the plethora of isometric strategy games they could release, it makes you shiver to ponder that they could ruin them: Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Black & White, Theme Hospital. Then I remember what they did to Theme Park a few years ago… I should have seen it coming.

Summary

Dungeon Keeper in name, voiceover and licence alone. Free to play, but in the same way that condoms are free in sexual health clinics for birth control, the latter being a concept that should have been exercised here.

Good Points

– Casual gaming at its most familiar, so an easy learning curve.
– Visually very nice, new slightly less adult animations and designs
– Runs very smoothly, as smooth as Richard Ridings voice.

Bad Points

– Surgically removed all fun and humour.
– Completely different concept to its original namesake
– Even by casual games standards, very limited appeal and quick to lose interest in.

Why a 3?

Because there are enough games like this around, and the opportunity to do something great and resurrect a brilliant game, era and style of gaming has been completely missed. But somewhere a team of people has spent time designing and making cool looking little evil minions and they should be credited for their efforts.