We talk with Robot Entertainment about its new iOS action-RPG Echo Prime
Echoes, RPGs, and mixing Battleheart with Infinity Blade
Robot Entertainment, the developer behind the really rather good Hero Academy, has released its second iOS game, Echo Prime.
It's something of a departure from the fantasy setting of Hero Academy, and sees you taking control of a futuristic lawman in deep space.
There's brawling, RPG elements, and an interesting asynchronous co-op system that's reminiscent of console game Dragon's Dogma.
I got a chance to catch up with the game's lead designer, Marcin Szymanski, to find out a little more about the game, and what you can expect if you pick it up from the App Store today.Pocket Gamer: First up, could you tell me a bit about what Echo Prime actually is?
Marcin Szymanski: I would sum it up by saying that Echo Prime is a mobile action RPG with asynchronous co-op, and controls optimized for touchscreen. It is Robot's second mobile title, and is our studio’s first foray into a science fiction setting.The game is a pretty major departure from Hero Academy, was that a conscious decision?
We approached the genesis of what would become Echo Prime without thinking that it needed to be different from Hero Academy.
In fact, making another strategy game (perhaps even within the Hero Academy franchise) was considered while we worked through our game selection process.
Ultimately, we decided that we really wanted to work on a sci-fi action game of some kind, and everything followed from there.The 'Echoes' system sounds really interesting; could you tell me a bit about how it works in practice?
One of the things I really wanted to do was integrate character abilities into the loot system. Lots of games allow you to choose the abilities you'll take into battle, but these are generally pre-set as part of a talent tree or are automatically granted to you by the game as you level up.
In Echo Prime, you make contact with random Echoes by completing missions and campaigns, and each one you collect provides another avenue for customizing your hero’s combat ability.
There are dozens of Echoes, each with an active or passive ability (or both!). So, each player will have a slightly different collection of Echoes, and will have to make some meta-game decisions about the most effective build.
If you don’t get a healing Echo or an AOE Echo right away, you can use other players's Echoes to fill in those gaps.
Every time you do a mission you can choose another remote Echo to use for that specific mission, some of which may be rare Echoes or even have Veteran status for increased power.
And both you and the other player get a bonus reward when you complete a mission with that remote Echo.
The game looks fast and frantic, what have you done to make sure the touchscreen controls can keep up?
From our very first playable prototype two weeks into development, we have placed tremendous weight on input responsiveness and feedback.
We spent considerable time eliminating frames of input lag and animation lag so that players don't feel cheated by the game when they should have dodged a plasma bolt.
For touchscreen specifically, we fine-tuned swipe thresholds and tap and hold timeouts based so that the game could continue to support all of the hero's combat manoeuvres in an intuitive way.
We hope this instils in players a sense of confidence that the game will always do what they want it to do.
We also use visual 'tells' and warning reticles for more powerful enemy abilities so that you can predict when a damaging move is incoming.
And, throughout the game, we use visual indicators and flyouts to show buffs, debuffs, ability casting, and anything else we can communicate to players.What was your biggest inspiration while making the game?
We asked ourselves: what would happen if Battleheart were pruned down to a single controllable hero, then augmented with some of Infinity Blade's fast, intricate combat?
Answering this question strongly contributed to the core of Echo Prime's moment-to-moment gameplay.
Our random campaign generation system was partly influenced by FTL, one of our favorite games of last year. We were also very inspired by the aesthetics of the Metroid Prime trilogy.
Actually, our character/gear artist on Echo Prime did the Samus model for that game series, and you may see a few other subtle nods.The App Store and Google Play Store are both pretty crowded marketplaces, what have you done to make Echo Prime stand out?
We hope to stand out on mobile by creating highly polished and accessible games that have many layers of gameplay depth.
Anybody should be able to jump in and start blasting enemies, but over time, the game's inner workings will allow players to truly own the experience and tackle some very difficult challenges.
Echo Prime isn't a strategy game like Age of Empires, nor is it a tactical game like Hero Academy, but there are big elements of both meta-game strategy and real-time tactics in the game.
In addition, our stellar art team has done such a good job of squeezing great visuals out of the mobile platforms, both in terms of quality and quantity.
Finally, we don’t have a 'polish phase'. To put it another way, the entire project is the polish phase. We don't leave it until the end because I believe polish is what makes or breaks a game.
Certainly, you can't polish everything, but early on we focus on polishing things that provide highest bang for the buck, or things we are certain will be in the final game (such as core hero movement or combat).Finally, what's the best tip you can give to a player about to experience Echo Prime for the first time?
Try out lots of echo combinations!
There are some really fun echo synergies that change how the game plays, especially when certain gear pieces come into the picture, and certain combos are devastating against certain encounters or in certain mission types.