For an idea of what Red Robot Labs is all about, one needn't look past its three-word slogan: Location is everything.
Since early 2011, Red Robot Labs has focused on bringing a new breed of location-based games to mobile gamers across the world.
Its most recent effort, the sweepingly successful RPG Life is Magic, has been the talk of gamers in the US and those abroad who are eager to get their hands on it (don't worry, Europe, it's coming soon).
Red Robot's Peter Hawley gave us some time this week to discuss the Bronze Award-winner Life is Magic in addition to what fans expect from Red Robot Labs in the future.
Pocket Gamer: Our readers recently picked Life is Magic as their iOS/Android Game of the Week – although our non-US readers felt a bit left out. Do you have any idea as to when the game will roll out overseas?
Peter Hawley: We were super flattered by that, thanks. We're working so hard on a Euro and International launch right now, so early February - as early as week 1.
The reason we didn't do it at launch isn't for boring schedule reasons it's because we want to offer new magic, new items, new monsters and unique character skins etc because of where you live and play.
So when you travel internationally, in reality or virtually, you can open Magic, discover, and use all those cool things you find.
One of the things I'm proudest of, with our team and tech is the fact that whatever device you use to connect: iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android Phone, or Android Tablet - all players will be playing in the same persistent world, internationally.
What was the inspiration behind Life is Magic? Did it start out as a location-based game that became an RPG, or as an RPG that became a location-based game?
When we started Red Robot one of the first things I said before we had any employees or office space was: "I want to render the SF peninsula like a Tolkien map, a location-based MMO that would be a fantasy parallel of reality" It was our very first pitch.
So Life is Crime came first because was easier to build, but Magic was always there in the back of my mind as our next game. So the direct answer is, it was always designed to be both.
Gameplay inspiration was twofold - first from our players in Life is Crime who said they wanted to use the map more for exploration and discovery. So we removed many of the distance restrictions we had in Crime.
Second was our studio obsession with classic JRPG fight systems, married to Marvel vs Capcom's explosive insanity in combat, driven by a questing / real player party system.
What challenges did you face in developing the game that a non-location game wouldn't face?
Location games are different technically and creatively in two key ways: geo data structure and the customization of that data.
We wanted to go beyond map tiles, beyond static Google Maps-style visuals and render the whole planet in 3D. Only when we started this work did we realize how big the bloody thing is. Which sounds naive, but it's terabytes of data!
Then we had to fully customize the map layers in 2D, add 8 million points of interest driven by real world popularity. Location tech is built for search, navigation and checking in - cleaning, rendering and customizing all that dirty data for gaming was back breaking. But we have some of the best engineers that I've ever worked with, so thanks to our team we got there.
Moreover, and harder than a traditional game, you have to consider the connectivity of your audience. In a normal game, your players are self contained in the app. In a location game, you have a big liquidity problem.
The planet is huge and your players are sprinkled across it - you have to design ways to unite and connect them. Otherwise they get lost, bored and leave.
How do you plan on expanding Life is Magic in the future?
A few big things on the horizon: through February and March we'll be releasing the game internationally and on Android, which is great. Feature-wise we're prototyping an awesome PVP system that will allow players to battle each other to be crowned most powerful Magician in their country, the world etc.
We're also working on two new player characters, more spells, more monsters and new places to explore. 10 unique super rare items and planning something pretty special around our Towers, the Towers that players are busy trying to capture right now.
Almost a year before Life is Magic, Red Robot Labs released Life is Crime using a similar location-based system. How did you improve the location mechanism between the two games?
I would say the number one thing is the ability to travel and explore the whole world, less about owning a single location, more about the magic of connecting with players and content no matter the device or place you play.
Rendering the planet in 3D as a fantasy alternative makes it our Game Engine for Life is Magic and international play opens up all kinds of amazing opportunities for quests, monsters, adventure... the 3D vectors gives us a huge amount of room to add more features in future.
That was harder in Crime because our maps were static 2D bitmaps.
What can our readers expect next from Red Robot Labs?
Well, we've invested in a few amazing creative teams so as well as our next game people can expect to be playing location based games from some other studios, driven by some interesting and well known concepts.
We have a location based Tower Defence game, a fast action arcade "Pac-Man on real streets" title and an international war game.
From Red Robot as a first party dev, we're toying around with some new location ideas: Apocalyptic survival horror, City Building with a twist, with true international trading and building. Just need a few weeks to rest after the last few months push!