Since I've got my iPad, one of the games I've been steadily playing is CastleCraft, the iPad MMOG from developer Infinite Lives and publisher Freeverse.
The review is forthcoming, but in the meantime, I caught up with developer Tim Omernick.
Significantly he was one of the original iPhone engineers at Apple, before leaving to co-found ngmoco, and leading its engineering and R&D group.
He’s since co-founded Infinite Lives, which he runs by traveling around the world, working in wi-fi hotspots.
He’s currently based in Tokyo.Pocket Gamer: What was the inspiration for CastleCraft?
Tim Omernick: I always loved city building, simulation, and war strategy games. Sim City, Civilization, and Warcraft were huge influences to me as a gamer and a developer.
I was thinking about doing iPhone/iPad games in those genres, but the format doesn't quite work for casual players on these devices. Because they're mobile, you're constantly picking them up and putting them back down, so it's hard to focus for a long period of time.
Then I found some casual web games such as Travian and Evony. I think they have the perfect pace for casual or mobile players, but the production quality was not good enough for me. So I started building a game that was fun and looked good, and ended up at CastleCraft.What do you think are its unique features?
First, it's an MMO with a large and growing community behind it. There are dedicated players and newbies alike, chatting together in realtime. Players post their thoughts on our forums, and they send us email feedback directly. We respond to all of this. So there's a real sense of connectedness in this game - more than other games you see on iPad or iPhone.
Connection to other players, and connection to the developers. You have a real chance of making it into the game you want to play.
Also, everyone loves the hand-drawn artwork. It's really great. Our artist, Tom Szakolczay, is incredibly talented and has been a pleasure to work with.How long did it take to develop and how large was the team?
It took about seven months to design and develop version 1.0. The team is ridiculously small considering the size and complexity of the game. It's me and Kathy Fung on engineering, and Tom Szakolczay on art. We also had help with sound (Emily Ridgway) and writing (Chad Inglis).
But 1.0 is not the full story. Kathy and I have been working day and night since release, chatting with users and implementing their feedback. The game is constantly growing and evolving. There have been lots of balance changes, bug fixes, and features added since 1.0.The levelling up process is always one of the key elements on an MMOG, so how did you try to balance this?
It's important that every game allows players to feel as though they are progressing. In a lot of RPGs, you get experience points to level up and this becomes a really slow process at the higher levels. Then, the fun becomes finding new items, or killing monsters in dungeons, or making friends. This was something I considered while designing CastleCraft.
Early on, the game starts like a pure city-building game. You need to get the right combination of buildings and technologies to gain population and collect resources. Later, the game takes a turn into war strategy. Once your city is built up, you can train troops and wage war with your neighbours. You can form alliances and make friends or enemies. Wherever in the game you are, there is always something fun to do.
Kathy and I played through the game many times before releasing it to the public. We tuned the costs of things, the wait times, and the dependency trees to make sure people couldn't go too fast or too slow. But we still didn't catch everything. Quickly responding to user feedback has been key to keeping our fans engaged in the game.The building/tech tree seems to be quite rigid in terms forcing you to level up all your buildings rather than specialise in different areas. Is this planned, or is it just the way I'm playing?
This is planned. The game still has a lot of room to grow - adding diverging tech trees and even new races is something we are considering for updates. The buildings and abilities you see are all core to the gameplay and so, yeah, the tech tree is pretty rigid. We want you to always get swordsman before mages, but how you get there is up to you.Dragon crystals are clearly the key resource in terms of being vital the further you get into the game as well as being an in-app purchase, so how do you get the balance right between giving enough for free while also encouraging people to buy some?
It's really difficult to make everyone happy. Impossible really. But we're trying to keep it fair while at the same time monetising the game. Running a server farm and working 12+ hour days is pretty expensive. On the other hand, we can't rip people off - then they will be turned off by the game, and give it bad reviews.
In CastleCraft, dragon crystals fall from the sky as meteors, and you can harvest those for free. But some realms are pretty full, and the dragon crystals are harvested immediately by good players. Some people complain that the meteors fall too often, some people think they don't fall often enough. Some people don't know what the crystals are and think we're forcing them to purchase. Some people just call me a jerk with no additional feedback.
We're constantly tuning the game so it becomes 'easy enough' to get free crystals, but not 'too easy'. The line is pretty fuzzy and is mostly based on volume of user feedback.Is there any news on when CastleCraft will come to iPhone?
Really soon, sometime in May. We actually started this as an iPhone game, and it's been finished for a long time. It runs really great on iPhone. We just wanted to test out the servers and get user feedback before launching to the wider iPhone/iPod touch audience.What plans do you have for future features?
I can't give away too much... there are so many cool features to add. The ones we are doing soonest: Marketplace to trade resources, mission realms that periodically reset, alliance chat, and so much more.What's the most surprising thing you've noticed in terms of how people are playing CastleCraft?
I made a lot of iPhone games when I was at ngmoco, most of which collected statistics on how people play. The usual pattern is most people play a game exactly once, maybe twice. Then they never touch it again. This is true even with top 10 games, paid games, and free games alike.
CastleCraft is different. A lot of users are coming back into the game. They really feel attached to their cities and their troops. I think they also feel attached to the other players in the game, and to the developers.
I've seen players make virtual friends inside the chat feature. That's pretty cool to me. I did not predict people becoming so involved and playing so often. To these users - thanks! You make the experience worth all the hard work!Thanks to Tim for his time.
CastleCraft is free to play on iPad.
Your best place to go to find out more about CastleCraft is the game's forum.
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