Every once in a while, there comes along a game that changes things. Gameplay, creative direction, music trends it just takes that one special experience to set off a chain reaction of evolution. Anomaly Warzone Earth is one of those games, and while its novel “tower offense” gameplay is sure to be mimicked in the future, what the game really changed is something on a grander scale: expectations.
A shining example that a deep, technologically cutting-edge experience can be had on mobile platforms, Anomaly Warzone Earth is a showpiece on all levels, from the stunning graphics to the slick touch-centric user interface. We chat with Paweł Miechowski, Senior Writer at developer 11 bit studios and delve deeper into this soon-to-be iOS classic.
Chillingo: 11 bit is a relatively new studio, but started by veteran developers. Can you talk a little bit about how and why the company formed?
Paweł Miechowski: The core of 11 bit studios consists of the leaders of the old Metropolis Software team. Metropolis was a PC games development studio that was doing retail box games for major publishers like Atari, Eidos, Monolith, and others. It started in the early ‘90s and around 2008, the studio was acquired by CD Projekt Group.
In late 2009 the leaders, along with a few fellow coworkers from Metropolis, decided to leave CD Projekt and form their own independent studio. The central idea behind the studio was to develop multiplatform projects and use an independent model where we create our own games and then make them available via the various digital distributors.
Chillingo: On that same point, what is the significance of the name “11 bit”?
PM: Bits are always even 4-bit, 8-bit and so on. 11 is an odd number when matched with bits, so it’s symbolic of an unusual combination. One of the goals behind the studio was to create unusual gameplay ideas by combining various genres or by bringing new solutions to well-known concepts, like we did by reversing the tower defense concept in Anomaly.
Chillingo: How did Anomaly Warzone Earth become the company’s first project? Were there any other potential ideas thrown around, or was it Anomaly from day one?
PM: We had been playing through a ton of various indie games looking for inspiration. Among the most distinctive games we found, the one that caught our attention was a game called Defense Grid. There are many, many hours of my life that I’ll never get back due to that game, that’s for sure!
Anyway, Michal, who is lead designer at 11 bit, was playing Defense Grid as well and came up with the catchy idea that it would be really cool to play the opposite side and attack towers instead of defending them. Me and other guys agreed that it was a really cool concept and that’s when development started. It definitely evolved over time, especially when the tactical map, squad management, special abilities, and resources were added. Eventually the game became somewhat of an original mix of real-time strategy, action, and anti-tower defense.
Chillingo: Rather than being a straight port from the Mac version, the iOS version actually includes unique missions and modes. What were some of the changes that needed to be made to accommodate a touch interface opposed to a mouse and keyboard?
PM: In the PC/Mac version there’s the Commander unit. The player uses him to deploy special abilities to support the armor squad during the missions. In the iOS version, the player is the Commander, i.e. it’s you who deploys those abilities by tapping the screen. The PC/Mac controls for the Commander and other actions like tactical planning simply didn’t work well with a touch-based interface, so we changed it.
The levels in the PC/Mac version are actually bigger simply because desktop hardware is generally more robust, though devices like iPad 2 are making huge strides in performance. That said, the iOS version has more levels. Also, because players who use iOS devices for gaming are generally used to shorter playing sessions, we made the missions more compact.
Everything from the missions to the user interface was considered, and the end result feels like a native game because it is…
In fact, the entire iOS version was designed from scratch to be custom tailored for the platform. Everything from the missions to the user interface was considered, and the end result feels like a native game because it is, despite there being a PC/Mac version.
Chillingo: Do you think players’ expectations are different when playing a game on a mobile device as opposed to a typical laptop/desktop? In what ways?
PM: As mentioned, players expect mobile games to offer short but intensive playing sessions. That influences the shape and design of a game. There are, of course, always exceptions to the case, but in a general sense, we find that to be true.
But there are so many types of games and gamers that finding a real pattern can be difficult. For instance, there are racing games that are on both on desktop/console and mobile but actually play and even look very different from each other. The converse would be a game like Angry Birds that has the same mechanics on both Mac and iOS, despite slightly different control methods.
Casual players have different expectations from hardcore gamers so the titles that appeal to each group tend to be vastly different overall. But if there’s one thing we can say for sure, it’s that people want and expect games made for mobile devices to actually feel like it’s made for the platform, particularly from a controls standpoint. It has to be easy to play and use the touch screen in an intuitive way.
Chillingo: Virtually everyone we’ve shown the game to that has played both the desktop and iOS versions say the touch screen interface is so intuitive and natural that it makes it the definitive way to play the game. Is that the response you expected when developing the game?
PM: That’s great to hear, and we’ve been getting a lot of great feedback from the community, but honestly we were just trying to do our best. Although we were doing PC games in the past under the Metropolis brand, Anomaly is the first game produced under the 11 bit studios brand and our very first iOS game as well.
We were rookies, but technically it all went very well and we didn’t run into too many issues. We definitely made it a point to adjust the gameplay to work perfectly on touch screens, so we’re extremely happy that people enjoy the game. We hope to keep this level of quality in all of our future games.
Chillingo: I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Anomaly Warzone Earth is one of the best-looking games iOS has to offer, particularly from a technical standpoint. Are you using all of your own proprietary technology to power the game?
PM: Thanks for the compliment. Anomaly was developed using Liquid Engine, which is our own technology. A lot of indie developers are advised to license technology to cut down on development time and costs, but in our case, we didn’t need to since our main programmer used to develop graphics engines for years and has extensive knowledge in that area.
He was able to create an engine that catered to our designer’s needs. With an external engine, we might have been limited in some ways or been slowed down. Sometimes it’s worth developing proprietary technology if it can be developed in a way that will help you in the long run.
Chillingo: The critical response to the game has been incredible. I don’t think I’ve seen a better-reviewed iOS game in the press to this very day. And let’s not forget about the Apple Design Award that the Mac version won. Was this all a surprise, or did you know you had something special early on?
PM: I had this dream where a shiny figure said to me, “Son, you must not screw up on any level”. So we tried not to. But seriously, all of the guys are pretty modest. I wouldn’t say that any of us expected such a fantastic response.
I knew we made a pretty polished game with Anomaly, but the critical response was absolutely a surprise. And the Apple Design Award, well, you can imagine how much more of a surprise that was for us.
Chillingo: Last question, and actually one a fan asked me. The acronym for Anomaly Warzone Earth is “AWE” — something many of our fans experienced when playing the game. Intentional or not?
PM: Heh, not intentional at all. Actually, I had no idea what awe meant until I looked up the word on the free dictionary a minute ago, so you know the answer. We’re just trying to make games that we hope are entertaining, but we surely we don’t want to ever have too much pride in ourselves. As the old adage goes, “Too much ego will kill your talent.”