Interview: Awesomenauts

I first saw Awesomenauts in September last year. A short hands-on session with it’s awesomeness was enough to change my opinion of the game from my “not really interested in the entire MOBA genre” attitude to more of a “can you stop talking to me, go home and finish the game so my friends and I can buy it, please” approach. Sony certainly seemed to agree with my initial assessment and have just announced that Awesomenauts will be *FREE* as part of PlayStation Plus and is also their Game of the Month for May.

As Awesomenauts is only days away from release on PS3 and 360 I took the opportunity to catch up with Jasper Koning and Robin Meijer from Ronimo Games and see what has changed since the last time I saw the game and see if they are all set for launch. Fortunately, they were awesome enough to respond.

Awesomenauts is a console based MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena game)

We first saw Awesomenauts at Eurogamer Expo in September last year; the game seemed fairly complete back then, so why has it taken you ’til now to launch?

During Eurogamer Expo, we showed Awesomenauts on just a small network with a few features disabled to improve stability. Host migration wasn’t even in there, so we did see some hiccups here and there. The rest already worked well in that situation and most of the development time since then has been invested in optimizing online gameplay and making things like searching for matches, migrating hosts, joining games already in progress a lot smoother. You now rarely have to wait more than a few seconds for anything!

We really felt polishing these aspects was important and didn’t want to rush the game out if we still knew it had some bugs left. So we took our time to make sure everything is just the way we wanted it to be.

For the benefit of those that don’t know, can you describe the type of gameplay in a MOBA such as Awesomenauts?

A MOBA is essentially a team-based game where you and your allies fight alongside some smaller AI-controlled units to destroy an enemy base. The opponent is trying to do the exact same thing though, so it adds a tactical layer to the usual Deatmatch-gameplay you see in many other games.

Just killing players won’t win you the match per se, but knowing when to attack, when to defend, and when to head back to your base to heal and stock up on new upgrades will take you a long way!

You have said previously that being able to show your game to a variety of people was very helpful. Is there any changes you made to the game solely based on feedback from members of the press and public?

Definitely, we have taken a lot of feedback from playtesting sessions that we have hosted regularly during development. The game is quite fast-paced, and that makes it challenging for newcomers to figure out what they’re doing and what’s going on around them when they’re playing against more experienced users. We have used the input we received from these sessions to vastly improve the in-game tutorial and the way we communicate what’s going on.

There are lots of examples of this, but they include redesigning the health pickups, adding a backstabbing sound for Leon, adding a visual effect to communicate you’ve taken a lot of damage, and adding a couple of preset voice commands to the D-Pad buttons.

What is your favourite addition to the game since the public demo version that people got to play last year?

Well, this version doesn’t crash anymore! 😉 Seriously though, I think my favourite addition since Eurogamer Expo would be that the bots now automatically adjust their skill based on your personal account level. They are now far more enjoyable to play against for new players than they were back at the Expo, and we made this change based on feedback we got at the show.

Being part of PlayStation Plus will undoubtedly benefit the growth of the Awesomenauts PlayStation community. Getting picked as Sony’s game of the month must have been very welcome news.

It definitely was! We’re really excited about the fact that there will a lot of players online at launch, and that makes the game more fun for everybody.

Are there any differences between the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade versions and do you plan on releasing on any other platforms in the future?

The Xbox Live Arcade and Playstation Network versions are equal in all relevant aspects. With regard to other platforms we currently don’t have any fleshed-out plans, but it’s definitely something we’d like to look into in the future. For now, we’re just focusing on supporting the console version though.

What sort of support do you plan on giving Awesomenauts post launch?

We are working on more characters to release after the game launches and have tons of cool ideas for those. Our biggest priority for post-release content is to make sure we don’t fragment the community. We really want to make sure that if we release a new character, you will still be able to play with everyone else if you get the extra character – and not just be limited to people who have the same content as you do.

There have been very few (if any) successful MOBA games on consoles. Why do you think that is and what, if anything, does Awesomenauts do differently that you think will help make it a success?

Most of the MOBAs released to date have been released on the PC and it seems that due to their complexity they have rarely been adapted in a way that they can be played with a controller. For Awesomenauts, I think it really helps that we took the mechanics generally seen in MOBA games and applied these in a 2D-platforming setting. Games like these have been played with a controller for more than 30 years now and we noticed with one of our very first prototypes that the MOBA mechanics actually work really well in this setting.

Almost everybody has played a platformer before, so it’s a lot easier to just jump in and start playing with Awesomenauts.

Awesomenauts was a quirky sci-fi cartoon style. What made this style suitable for the type of gameplay?

We actually tried out quite a few different styles and found that combining a sci-fi style with cartoony graphics actually resulted in a very fun and flexible mix. We grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons from the 80s and loved how these shows always had a seemingly random array of characters. It didn’t matter back then what sort of characters there were – as long as they looked cool. We wanted to get the same vibe with Awesomenauts, and the sci-fi approach only made this more flexible. Now we have lasers, blasters, holographic bulls, flying monkeys, chameleons, cowboys, and a flying brain-in-a-jar… and it’s all good 🙂

 

You and two friends can join in to team up against another team of three crazy comic characters

What is your favourite weapon in the game and which character and/or tactics do you recommend for beginners?

I’d recommend new players to stick either with Froggy G or Clunk. Froggy G is very agile, and if you get his Splash Dash you can often dash out of harm’s way to prevent yourself from dying. He can also deal a tremendous amount of damage when you get more experienced with him. Clunk, on the other hand, has a lot of health and has a life-stealing ability that he can use to stay in the fight. He’s slower than any other character, but because of his large amount of health you usually have enough time to flee.

Regardless of which character people play, the most important thing they should know is that teleporting back to the base is almost always a good idea when you’re low on health. Wading onto the battlefield when you’re wounded is a sure way to get yourself killed.

My personal favorite is Clunk – I just love charging into the fray while charging my Explode ability, and then immediately using Life Bite on whoever is left standing to regain the damage Explode deals to myself. You can’t do much more than just using your basic shot for a couple of seconds while you wait for cooldowns to recharge, but such a show of power usually scares people off 🙂

What is your favourite team selection and what happens if you teammates want to pick the same character as you?

You can’t have multiple users on the same team with the same characters, so I’m afraid when this happens it’s just first-come, first served.

My favorite team selection is Froggy G, Sheriff Lonestar, and Leon Chameleon. These are our three most agile characters and their skills really complement each other well. Lonestar can use his Holo Bull to push enemies away in a tight situation, while Leon can use his Tongue Snatch to pull enemies in close. Froggy G is just a fantastic all-rounder that can stun enemies and deal a lot of burst damage. Each of these characters is quite fragile, but when these three come together they truly are a force to be reckoned with.

Since conception, how long has Awesomenauts been in production, how many people worked on the project and what does the team do to stay motivated?

We started brainstorming and developing prototypes in late 2009, but it took a while before the foundations for Awesomenauts had really been laid. We’ve been in full production for just over 2 years, and our team has grown from 9 to 12 full-time members since then.

It’s been very motivating for us to see the game evolve from the earliest prototypes. Every week, the game would get a little bit better, look a little bit more awesome, and play a little bit smoother. It’s grown very organically, but the core gameplay has always been a lot of fun and we spent a lot of time just playing the game ourselves.

Awesomenauts is very close to its release date and review scores are about to start coming in. Is this an exciting or a nervous time for you right now?

It’s a bit of both actually. We’ve been working on Awesomenauts for well over two and a half years now, and it’s exciting to finally reach a point where people can start playing it. It feels great that we can almost go online from our own couches at home to play against other people online!

On the other hand, we’re a bit nervous about how the community will respond to the game. Will the bots be accessible enough for new players, will they be challenging enough for high-end users, will the balance between characters hold out? We’re nervous about stuff like that – little things that we might have missed during development. But at the same time we look forward to diving back in and improving the game even further using that feedback.

From what I have seen confidence in Awesomenauts is not misplaced. What would represent a successful launch for you and do you have a Metacritic score that you are aiming for?

A successful launch for us would be one where there are loads of people online after launch. We’ve been looking forward to that ever since development began. Just going online and playing with other people is all that we really want. We also look forward to interacting with the community regarding fresh ideas for characters, items and the general balance.

As for Metacritic, it’d be very cool if we beat our previous game, Swords & Soldiers (84). And though I love both, I think Awesomenauts is a better game. But it’s also a bit harder to get into because of its competitive nature. So we’ll need a bit of luck with the reviewers, if they ‘get’ it I think we have a chance.

Thank you very much for your time today and good luck!

You can see how awesome Awesomenauts is when it releases later this week. Tuesday May 1st (US PS3) and Wednesday 2nd May (UK PS3 & XBLA)

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