With the Go series, Square Enix Montreal has carved out its own niche, creating something unique in the game development space. Studios often fall into one of two camps: on the one side you have the massive, 1,000-person teams that create blockbuster games, and on the other there are the tiny indie studios that build creatively ambitious games with few resources. Square Enix Montreal straddles the line between those two extremes. It has the resources of a big company, but the size and some of the creative freedom of an indie. It’s a studio that can make weird new games but attach them to hugely popular franchises.
It is great to see that Square Enix Montreal has found success in its series of Go games built on the larger franchises of Hitman, Tomb Raider and now Deus Ex. The first two Go mobile games, Hitman Go and Lara Croft Go, are genuinely great and feature a lot of creativity – so it is great to see they have continued to invest in this (critically-acclaimed) series with yesterday's launch of Deus Ex Go. This is particularly the case when so many other large mobile game publishers are instead focusing on churning out what are largely uninspired free games with in-app purchases.
To that end, Webster notes in his story that Square Enix Montreal has made some indie hires that suggests it fully intends to stay the course on its current approach to mobile games:
Outside of Deus Ex Go, Square Enix Montreal isn’t saying what it’s working on right now. But the studio has made a few recent hires that hint at desire to keep the indie-like feeling it has carefully cultivated. Those pick-ups include Teddy Dief, an artist and designer best known for his work on the crowdfunded hit Hyper Light Drifter, and Renaud Bédard, the sole programmer on seminal puzzle-platformer Fez, who most recently worked at Below developer Capy Games in Toronto. Both were tempted to join by the idea of combining the creative freedom of an indie studio with the structure and resources of a big publisher.
Alto’s Adventure, one of my all-time favorite iOS games, is getting a couple fantastic features today. The first is a zen mode that lets you play as long as you want without having to restart when you crash. If you fall, you can simply pick yourself up and resume from right where you are. There also aren’t any collectables, removing all of the potentially stress-inducing aspects of the game. It’s just you snowboarding down the mountain and doing tricks. The new mode is accompanied by a soothing new soundtrack that fits well with the more relaxed feel of zen mode.
Alto’s Adventure also adds the ability to take snapshots of gameplay. Pausing the game by tapping the pause button in the lower left hand corner of the screen lets you enter photo mode.1 Once paused, you can pinch, zoom, and pan the scene to frame the shot and then take a snapshot that can be shared using the system share sheet.
Zen mode and the new photo feature enhance Alto’s Adventure by making it even easier to soak in the stunning visuals and soundtrack of the game. As much as I like the new features, though, I like that both are neatly tucked away in the interface so neither interferes with the way the original game works.
Fascinating look at the second year of Monument Valley – particularly after a cameo on House of Cards and a promotion on the App Store:
Underwood turned out to be a great pitch man, one of several reasons why Monument Valley was actually more successful in its second year of existence, compared to the first. According to developer Ustwo, the game has been downloaded more than 26 million times to date, and more than 23 million of those downloads came in the second year after it released. "We’ve actually had to spend a lot of time maintaining the game," says Dan Gray, head of studio at Ustwo Games, "and finding new opportunities for people to find out about it."
For the second year in a row, Ustwo has released a detailed infographic that showcases how well the game performed on various platforms. While year one showed that it was still possible for a premium game to make money on mobile, year two shows just how huge of an audience you can reach by offering your game for free — the biggest reason behind _Monument Valley_’s enduring success wasn’t a fictional US president, it was the lack of a price tag.
The difference in downloads between the first and second year on iOS is remarkable, but even more impressive is the performance in China.
When my family gets together, we like to play games. One game has been a mainstay of our gatherings for the last four years: SketchParty TV.
SketchParty TV is a multiplayer game similar to Pictionary which uses an iOS device as the marker and your Apple TV-connected television as the drawing board. If you have a 2nd or 3rd-gen Apple TV, you can use the iOS version with AirPlay Mirroring. For 4th-gen Apple TV owners, there's a native Apple TV app that connects to the iOS version.
The 4.0 update to SketchParty TV is a big one, with a visual overhaul for iOS 9+, a redesigned canvas, updated scoring system with speed-based rewards, and full support for the Apple Pencil on iPad Pro devices.
The Team Setup interface was always usable, but it got a lot of special attention in this update. In addition to improved word list settings, entry of team members is easier and now you can drag to reorder and even switch between teams.
If you own a compatible iOS device and a 2nd-gen or higher Apple TV, SketchParty is an excellent game for friends and family gatherings. Right now it's on sale, too, for $5.99 (normally $9.99). Check it out in the iTunes App Store.
One of my favorite iOS games in recent years, Crossy Road, has received a Disney tie-in aptly named Disney Crossy Road. It's out on the App Store today for free, and it features over 100 Disney and Pixar figurines hopping their way through worlds from The Lion King, Toy Story, Inside Out, and more.
It looks like Hipster Whale (creators of the original game) and Disney did a good job in keeping the essence of Crossy Road alive while also enhancing the formula with new gameplay mechanics and world-specific challenges. I'm going to play the game over the weekend – in the meantime, The Verge has a nice behind-the-scenes piece on how the game was created:
Disney Crossy Road goes in a different direction. While the first area is exactly the same as the world from the original game, the rest are all based on different Disney properties and feature new gameplay characteristics to suit them. Some of the changes are just visual — in the Lion King world you're avoiding charging animals instead of cars — while others are twists on the Crossy Road formula. In the Tangled world you have to avoid barrels falling down a hill, while Inside Out tasks you with collecting colorful memory orbs.
That’s assuming anyone could find a compatible game in the first place, because Apple oddly broadly ignored controllers in the iTunes Store. You’d think the company would at least flag controller support on game pages (something it does on Apple TV), and also automate an App Store page listing compatible games. Instead, it’s left to third-party sites like Afterpad to pick up the slack, which is baffling.
Today, the MFi ecosystem is fairly mature, with a reasonable range of controllers. (My personal recommendation is the Nimbus, unless you’re desperate for a form-hugging option, in which case grab a Gamevice, in the knowledge it may not fit the next device you buy.) But Apple needs to do more to help.
It is baffling that the iOS App Store still doesn't display controller support or offer a filter to show games with MFi controller integration. It seems like they're not taking them too seriously.
"When I look back after five years, I am most surprised by how such a huge audience was willing to embrace something like Sworcery," adds Vella. "It’s such a slow, meandering game built to be a music box for Jim’s beautiful soundtrack. You fight shapes, lose health over time, read a book that collects thoughts. You are meant to just stand and look at moody pixel art. All of it seems really damn strange. But millions of people did it. They meandered and fought shapes and stood and looked. They listened to Jim’s music. Thinking about it like that kind of floors me."
Andrew Webster looks back at five years of one of the seminal indie games for iOS. Sword & Sworcery is still fantastic today – it's even been updated for iOS 9 – and I can't wait to see what Superbrothers is working on next.
This week on Remaster, we’re covering all things PlayStation VR. First up Federico and Myke run-through all the news from the GDC presentation, and share their thoughts. Next up Shahid brings us an exclusive interview with Shuhei Yoshida, President of Worlwide Studios at PlayStation. We finish up the episode finding out exactly why Shahid few out to San Francisco for just one night.
This week's Remaster is a special one. In addition to discussing Sony's PlayStation VR announcements at GDC, Shahid flew to San Francisco to interview Shuhei Yoshida. It's a very good discussion, with a lot of useful perspective to understand Sony's position on VR.
When iOS 9 hit beta last summer, I heard concerns from developers about Game Center. Never Apple’s most-loved app, it had seemingly fallen into a state of disrepair. In many cases, people were reporting it outright failed to work.
Additionally, some games freeze on start-up, because developers had quite reasonably expected Game Center would at least be functional. This makes for angry users, who can’t directly contact developers through the App Store and therefore leave bad reviews. Developers are now updating their apps to effectively check whether Game Center is broken, flinging up a dialog box accordingly, and at least allowing players access.
I've also come across this problem and heard about it from MacStories readers and game developers. There's a thread on the TouchArcade forums that is over 50 pages long with hundreds of responses. This is bad for everyone – users and developers – and Apple should fix it soon.