Far too often these days, we focus on the spoils of war, forgetting about the brave soldiers who fought so valiantly through impossible odds to make glory possible. As gamers, it’s easy to enjoy a video game (so long as it’s not made by Moby), but it’s time to take a moment to salute some of the people behind those Willy Wonka-doors designing digital entertainment for the masses.
This is Hardcore Droid’s list of most hardcore game developers. Some of them are major league developers, responsible for big budget ports that knocked our socks off. Others are indies that delighted us with a particular game or brought something valuable to the Android table. No matter who they are, or where they came from, these are some development teams you want on your fantasy team:
Located in the Czech Republic, Madfinger is a mobile gaming company that knows what it’s doing, releasing a consistent lineup of hits like Shadowgun (2011), Dead Trigger (2012), and Shadowgun Deadzone (2012) These guys know how to turn your smartphone and tablet into a full on gaming console. Dead Trigger is one of my favorite games ever, and I don’t just mean on Android – I mean across every console I’ve played since my Intellivision in the early 80s. Their work easily stands up against the console and PC competition.
What’s Next: Although the release date for the zombie-shooter follow-up, Dead Trigger 2, has yet to be announced, it’s building up quite the buzz in gaming circles. Expectations are running high for the sequel to arguably the best game of 2012 (and one of HD’s Best Android Games Ever). Insiders report DT 2 has graphics comparable to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and utilizes the same Unity game engine featured in the original Dead Trigger (along with Game of Thrones: Seven Kingdoms, MechWarrior Tactics, and Shadowrun Returns). The folks at Madfinger set a high bar for themselves (and everyone else), but they’re more than capable of clearing it.
Kairosoft is the mobile game company based in Tokyo that is responsible for some of the most epic Japanese simulation ports ever. I’m not a fan of anything even remotely resembling a Zynga-clone (Ahem – I’m looking at you, Pocket Stables), but the team still manages to add enough flair to lure me into viewing their ports as more of a Square-style RPG (see Ninja Village) than a Farmville. They’re not just simulations though. They delve into JRPGs with Epic Pirates Story and sports, as in their latest release, Pocket League Story 2, a Japanese port based on futbol, soccer, or whatever you prefer to call it.
What’s Next: After taking a brief sabbatical, Kairosoft looks to continue its pattern of cranking out Japanese imports to both Android and Apple mobile platforms. By transferring intellectual property (IP) rights to the mobile medium, these guys are basically sitting on a treasure trove of hits already proven in Japanese markets, and they’ll continue dolling them out to us as long as we’re holding our hands out. I’m down to drink the Kool-Aid, providing they keep delivering entertaining and playable hits.
We here at Hardcore Droid have a soft spot for indie development houses – I should specify we have a soft spot for hardcore indie development houses who create solid gaming experiences. We first stumbled upon Northway Games while digging through zombie rip-offs. At a time when the market was oversaturated with zombie shooters, Northway’s Rebuild proved to be a creative and entertaining oasis. Mixing elements of Sim City and Left 4 Dead into a playable experience sounds as obvious as peanut butter and jelly now, but that’s only because the Northway crew showed us proof of concept.
What’s Next: When asked about upcoming projects we should know about, Northway told us, “Rebuild: Gangs of Deadsville is the upcoming sequel to Sarah Northway’s post-apocalyptic strategy game, Rebuild, sure to be a hit with doomsday preppers and zombie enthusiasts alike.” With their track record of creating Hardcore Indies, I’d bet my money on this Indie developer has another hit mobile game in their Android development labs.
Another Indie Android developer, Valorware (working from both U.S. and U.K. shores) has only released one game thus far, but it’s a doozy. 9th Dawn is one of the Best RPGs You Never Heard of, delighting fans of the original Ultima series with a polished role playing effort. With their first game finally through the development cycle (the iOS port was finally released this summer), these guys are positioned for a great run.
What’s Next: When asked about Valorware’s upcoming plans, company spokesperson Charles Cross, told HD about their upcoming Kickstarter campaign to help fund 9th Dawn: Remnants of Caspartia, the sequel to the stellar RPG, 9th Dawn. “We’ve got a brand new game engine that’s actually quite far along and has such a vast increase in quality, performance, feature-richness, and scalability that it will literally make 9th Dawn look like child’s play,” Cross said, adding “Our current development plans put the completion of the game engine sometime in October, and once that is complete, we’re going to put it to the test by completely remaking 9th Dawn in it and releasing it as a free update to the existing game.”
Japanese developer Kemko has been in the video game industry for a long time – they were one of the original Nintendo licensees. Over the last two years, they’ve ported some drool-worthy JRPG series to the Android platform – Symphony, Alphadia, and Aeon Avenger among them. With over 30 years’ worth of console-worthy content in their vaults, Kemko can sit around like an aging rock band, collecting residual income from rereleasing content on mobile platforms.
What’s Next: Kemko has so many great games and it releases them so often, they’re the only company who made HD’s list of Most Hardcore RPGs, an honor normally reserved for games. At the time of this writing, Kemco’s latest port (per company spokesperson, Matteo Conti) is Destiny Fantasia. According to a statement from Kemco spokesman Mateo Konti, “The standard price of $7.99 will be set to be priced at $2.99, to celebrate the release.” If you pine for 8- and 16-bit eras, browse their library in the Play Store – you won’t be disappointed.
The creators of Grand Theft Auto, sandbox gaming, and the reason I can’t sit at a red light without daydreaming of hijacking the car in front of me, Rockstar Games literally needs no introduction. These guys didn’t invent the wheel, but they certainly came up with some awesome ways to use wheels in video games. The GTA Android ports are all instant classics, appearing on several of HD’s Most Hardcore lists.
What’s Next: Now that GTA and Max Payne have been ported to Android and iOS, Rockstar may impress fans with a mobile port of the Red Dead or Manhunt series. An entirely new franchise just for mobile is unlikely, however I wouldn’t rule out Rockstar discovering the ability to integrate Android games with other consoles. If anyone can figure out how best to do that, it would be Rockstar.
First person shooters are often left to the big guys like EA and Activision, but every so often a new company enters the fray. Uppercut Games hit the gaming world with a 2-hit combo by releasing the cutesy and casual Snowjinx and hardcore first-person shooter Epoch this year. Both games hit the spot, and their website is constantly updated with useful information on updates and patches for their games. I’m looking forward to seeing what these guys have coming down the pipeline.
What’s Next: Earlier this month, Uppercut confirmed Epoch 2, the much-anticipated sequel to their FPS flagship, is currently in production for Android and iOS, with Droid users expected to get their hands on the game by early 2014.
The Men Who Wear Many Hats
Indie development team, Hats, is responsible for Organ Trail, another zombie game, although this one is a Zombieland-themed spoof of the popular 80s mainstay Oregon Trail, along with other games they’ve developed in house. Organ Trail is executed brilliantly. I had no choice but to contact them for a quick discussion about the game and their upcoming arcade-style game, Max Gentlemen.
HardcoreDroid: What inspired the Kickstarter campaign to port Organ Trail to Android?
Hats: We put Organ Trail out as a free flash game a long time ago and the number one request was to put it on phones. So we did, we just needed the funds to buy Unity; which is what the Kickstarter was for.
HD: What difficulties/advantages did the Android development platform provide?
Hats: It’s the hardest platform of all the major platforms out there because of the number of Android fragmentations out there. We seriously hated it at the time. But there’s a good tail on the sales and it was obviously worth it in the end. Plus, I have an Android, so it needed to be on my phone.
HD: What have you learned from Organ Trail (mechanics, graphics, consumer trends) that inspired the design of Max Gentlemen?
Hats: Nothing. We are purposely making a game that has little to no overlap with our current fan-base because we are stupid. Ha ha. Actually, the truth is we are trying to make something small and unrelated to OT to give ourselves a breather before we do another larger project.
HD: What games inspire you?
Aside from the obvious source material for Organ Trail, there are a large number of other influences in the game. And not just games either. We have a lot of zombie media references in there that also inspired the feel of the game. I think the biggest influence was whatever people were talking about at the time that I could relate back to our game in some way. I remember a tweet by Phil Fish about how he hates that zombie games are about the zombies and not the people (like Romero films.) It made me reflect on the decisions we were making at the time. I’m sure it helped us work out some of the mechanics at the time.
HD: What do you hope to accomplish in the gaming industry?
Hats: I want to make great experiences for people and be respected by people I respect.
What’s Next: Look for the Hats crew to continue pumping out a solid array of offerings for gamers of all platforms. Max Gentleman is likely to appeal mostly to the casual crowd, but if Organ Trail is any indication of what these guys are capable of, mobile is about to become a lot more fun for gamers.
Although their first few forays into the Play Store were not impressive, French developer Ubisoft took a step back and thought about what to do next. They answered with brilliant Android ports of their Prince of Persia and Rayman franchises. Both games are a delight to play, reminding us of the days when platformers ruled the video game realm. Translating pinpoint control systems into touchscreens has proven to be a daunting task for many developers, but Ubisoft has thus far done a great job of making accessible titles for gamers of all levels without succumbing to the temptation to follow EA’s footsteps into the freemium junkyard (a $160 race car in Real Racing 3…Seriously?!?!)
What’s Next: Riding on the success of classic Ubisoft franchises, expect to see Raving Rabbids invading your Android device soon. We’ll cross our fingers for another great Assassin’s Creed as well.