360iDev: Hands-on with Freeverse's Warpgate HD and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
We got to play two of Freeverse's current and future offerings this past week at 360iDev. Warpgate HD was the first -- it's out now on the App Store, and is due out for the iPhone and iPod touch. It was originally designed for the iPhone, but it ended up being a good fit for the larger device, so they readied it for a launch release. It's a fun title, although it doesn't quite take full advantage of the bigger hardware yet; as you play the space trading simulation, you get the feeling that there could probably be a little more to it on the iPad. It's still a fun title, though.
We also got to play their upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies iPhone game adaptation, and being that we've been buddies with Freeverse ever since they were developing games for the Mac, we talked a little bit with them about their heritage and how their recent merger with Ngmoco has affected their outlook. Read on for more.
We played through the tutorial of Warpgate HD first. The idea of the game is that you send your ship around a universe that is full of five different factions. You are following questlines, and buying and trading parts and commodities in order to build and customize your own ship into a bigger and better vessel. Emphasis is based more on trading and exploration rather than combat, so a lot of it is menus. We flew our starter ship around through some warpgates and explored a few planets, and while it was somewhat mundane, it was definitely fun to just sit back and wander around this universe on the iPad. The device's bigger screen means that the graphics look excellent, and while the game seems meant for the iPhone (the scope of it is a little smaller than what you might expect on a full iPad title, which probably explains the game's $7.99 price), the buttons have been reworked and the experience plays just fine on the iPad.
Even Freeverse admits that there's still some tweaking to do. While I'd certainly thought that they'd received one of the fabled test units (given their launch library for the iPad), the rep we spoke to said that wasn't the case at all. So, Freeverse is planning an update to improve the game a bit; they're still working on the placement of the controls (on the iPhone, you can do everything with two thumbs, but on the iPad, of course, the device is heavy enough that you kind of need to hold and point), beefing up the combat a little bit, and possibly using the accelerator for some in-combat functions. That's all still being built, but if you've been playing the iPad version and think that it could use a few additions, sit tight.
All in all, Warpgate HD seems like a good launch title for the iPad. It doesn't use the device to its fullest, but it does show that the iPad seems to be a much better platform than the iPhone for longer, more exploratory experiences. They have, however, still released it for the iPhone (as just Warpgate). If you want to give that a try, you can pick it up now for $4.99.
They also showed us an early build of their upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies iPhone game. It's based on the humorous parody novel, which was based on the premise of adding zombies and samurai masters into the old Jane Austen romance classic. So, PPZ is a beat-em-up in which you play Elizabeth Bennet. You're armed with a samurai sword, and you hack and slash away at "unmentionables," which is what Austen's characters call the supernatural intruders.
While there is a good amount of reading in the game (it is based on a book, so that makes for a lot of dialogue right out of the gate), once the action starts up, it's fast and furious. You move a virtual stick to control your character, and then tap or swipe on the screen in order to either swing the sword or do a series of special slashes, one for each direction that you swipe. The game is quite gory, but Freeverse got the aesthetic just right; serene 18th century graphics are mushed right up against zombie-slaying gameplay. At one point, the Bennet sisters use the "Pentagram of Death" to clear enemies on the screen, and the graphics jump into a Voltron-style animation. In other words, Freeverse includes another videogame cliche in the mix just to complete the game/novel/cult classic mashup. We didn't see them, but we were told there were even some references to classic video games later on. Geeks will certainly get all of the geekiness that they'd expect from a game like this.
They haven't settled on a price just yet, but $4.99 is what we were told we could safely expect. They're also hoping to do DLC somehow, though that may prove difficult to incorporate. Obviously, the book's 12 chapters have already been produced as the game's 12 stages, and each stage has a boss, and even a few mini-games, thrown in. The game should be out sometime this month.
You'll note that neither one of these games is using Ngmoco's freemium model. We asked Freeverse about that, and they told us that they're still clearing out their catalog of titles that they'd created before the merger. While Ngmoco does own the company, they still have a little bit of leeway in terms of testing models. Freeverse also has Flick Fishing HD and CastleCraft out on the App Store for the iPad, and both of those games also test different pricing models. Flick Fishing runs a bit cheaper than a standard iPad game, and CastleCraft is an experiment in subscription pricing.
Apparently, Freeverse still has a little bit of wiggle room outside of Ngmoco's big freemium plan. We were also told that they still have at least one other title to release before they completely go to work under Ngmoco's leadership and begin making only freemium games. "We're trying hard to be creative," they told us, so while they may have been purchased by another developer, the old Mac gaming company we know and love is still there in Brooklyn.
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