Last month Gaming Union reviewed a browser based, free-to-play game call Junk Battles. Little do most gamers know that one of the key developers behind the title is Fredrik Liliegren, Co-Founder and former CEO of DICE, the now EA-owned studio that brought the Battlefield series to the masses. Liliegren now heads Antic Entertainment as the company's CEO, spearheading Junk Battles' on-going development with Technical Director Mark Mikulec, and Creative Director Jeff Evans, who not to mention both worked on Dark Sector and Bioshock.
Gaming Union sat down with Liliegren, Mikulec, and Evans to talk about Junk Battles, why they're working on browser based games, and where they see themselves in the future.
Gaming Union: For the readers, can you tell us about Junk Battles?
Evans: Junk Battles is a browser based, free-to-play game. It's very much an RPG in the sense that you have persistent growth, persistent stats, there's a lot of collectibility aspects to it. Specifically to Junk Battles, it's a post-apocalyptic themed game, you collect parts, and you compose a Craft out of those parts, and then you battle players all around the word. You can also do quests, you can mod your parts, trade parts, and more.
Mikulec: The one thing about that Junk Battles that makes it unique is the battle system, and the battle system is kind-of a combination of what we like to say 'Final Fantasy meets Guitar Hero' because there are a lot of RPG aspects to it, but the way that the game plays, is using what we call a 'real time battle track'. It's very much like the track of notes going down Guitar Hero, only it's you that the actions and lay it on the track in different orders, and things like that.
GU: What's the learning curve for the game?
Mikulec: Well, it's different, so there definitely is a learning curve for sure. To kind of get your head around the basics, you see the brief tutorial and play a couple battles, and you can kind of get your feet wet. The game itself has a lot of strategy because there are a lot of different actions that come from different parts, and currently we have about 250 parts, roughly.
Evans: What we've found so far with our players is that at first glance it seems very much like a button masher, like you just attack, attack, attack, but as they get into the game a little more they start to understand some of the depth of the combinations of parts you can use. Based on what the opponent is using, based on swapping actions in, and defensive action, and other stuff like that.
Liliegren: To use the old saying, "minutes to learn, a lifetime to master."
Mikulec: Exactly, that's definitely part of Junk Battles for sure.
GU: The game launched in the Fall of 2009, how's it changed since then?
Liliegren: It's changed quite a bit from the original launch. When we first launched it was pretty much just consisting of player-vs-player battling, there was no Questing system, no RPG elements to it. So we launched that, then we recently launched the modification of the Parts, so players could really go in and really make sure their parts were specifically the way that they want them to be. We're continually working on it, we're looking at between 2-4 week update cycle.
GU: You mentioned Junk Battle's battle system has similarities to Guitar Hero and Final Fantasy, are those games some of what inspired the gameplay?
Mikulec: The funny thing about that was that we initially we were going to do what we call a 'spread sheet game'. That essentially is where you have a bunch of stats, you build up your craft, you roll the dice, and it's win or lose. To us, at first, we wanted something that's a little bit more engaging, a little more interesting, things like that. So that sort of switched to real-time, and the way the battle track sort of came-about was the fact that given the sort of technology that was available on the browser, because what was really important to us was accessibility as anyone with a computer that can download flash can play the game. So the battle-track sort of evolved from a way of pacing how the system works, and then it kind of just turned into what it is.
Evans: I'd also say that there was a creative decision there too. What we looked, like in Final Fantasy games, they're very 'stop go stop go'.
GU: Do you see yourselves moving to consoles in the future?
Liliegren: We want to stay small and focused, but we also want to take whatever intellectual property that we do, and look at it in a long run. Initially Junk Battles was planned for the Wii, and we scaled it back to get an initial title on the marketplace, and learn the micro-transaction space with a smaller title, but we still have that original design and idea in the back pocket. Once Junk Battles establishes itself as a viable IP, then we can take that and have that as an additional value to say, "hey, we have a community of x number of players, here's the feedback that we know, we know the model, we know the design works, we now want to put it on Wii or something else," we take that to a publisher to get funding.
GU: Do you think free-to-play micro-transaction based games can be successful on consoles?
Mark: There is a trend that's going there. For example the iPhone platform, initially there was very strict rules where you had to have a game either be for free and that's it, or you can just buy it outright. Then incrementally they brought in where if it's a paid game, you can also buy extras. Now they've changed it so that you can do free-to-play, and then buy extras when you're in there. So that sort of trend may continue.
Liliegren: I don't see why it wouldn't work on a console, I don't see why that user would be different. If the console manufacturers on their online systems allows integrating their points, or PSN money, into an API that we can use, take Xbox Live Arcade as an example. If I could go in and sell something in-game with MS Points you have, and Microsoft handles that transaction and it kicks back to me a percentage, 70% or whatever.
GU: What's next for Antic?
Liliegren: We'll continue working on Junk Battles, we're also working on a second browser-based game right now, we're also doing some work-for-hire on a PC based title as well.
You can give Junk Battles a whirl at www.JunkBattles.com. Watch for more from Fredrik Liliegren on Gaming Union in the coming week.