With the success of 2009′s Swords & Soldiers, Dutch developer Ronimo are back again for another slice of brightly coloured 2D action. We grab them for a quick word on Awesomenauts, a 2D, side scrolling, DotA MOBA. Don’t worry, it’s not as confusing as it sounds, read on…
7outof10: For those out there who may not have heard about Awesomenauts, can you in your own words give them a little taster of what to expect?
Ronimo: It’s a team based competitive platforming shooter, in which two teams of 3 people try to destroy each others’ base. But it’s not that simple, each base is defended by huge Gatling turrets, automated droids and other players of course. As a player you control a platforming character that can shoot and use two special abilities unique to their class. These shots and abilities can be upgraded and modified with currency earned by destroying enemies. So play well, get upgraded and you’ll be destroying their base in no time. Right now the game is in certification for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.
How did the decision to make a 2D version of DotA come about?
Well we had already decided to try and make an online multiplayer game, even before we started considering Awesomenauts. Back then we loved DotA and wanted to take that gameplay to console, nowadays it’s LoL and DotA 2. And of course we wanted to do it Ronimo style, with lush 2D graphics.
And those graphics of course bear you hallmark, but what have you done to stamp your mark on DotA? What would you say makes Awesomenauts standout?
Lots of things actually. On the surface the style difference is very obvious. The switch to 2D also means that simply moving around and using skills plays very differently. And the move to console and smaller team size allows us to provide splitscreen multiplayer, you can battle online with up to 3 people from a single console.
Digging deeper, we’ve streamlined the buyable items and character leveling into a single system, while adding depth at the same time. Players can not only improve stats or unlock skills through one system, but also modify their functionality. This gives characters a lot more flexibility.
Finally, we have full drop-in drop-out support. So even when you’re already in a match, you can invite a friend and he can jump right in with you. And thanks to our single currency system new players can get up to speed quickly, because we give them the average amount of what current players have. At the same time leaving players get instantly replaced by a bot, so leavers won’t break a game that is in progress.
All in all we’ve kept the stuff that makes DotA so addictive, while at the same time making the experience a lot smoother and action packed.
Some of the complexities of the DotA template seem to have been sacrificed in the switch to two-dimensions, are you hoping that this will encourage new players into the fold with a little more ease?
Yes, very much so. It was a very conscious decision to try and streamline some of the elements. Getting into the original DotA is pretty hard. You’re basically required to have an experienced DotA player on hand to help you get started. And seeing how most players won’t have access to expert Awesomenauts players, we wanted the game to be a bit more self-explanatory.
At the same time a lot of the complexity of DotA adds very little to the gameplay. Why can you browse 100+ items while only 20+ items are relevant for your character? Our unified upgrade system allows us to offer players upgrades that have wildly different effects on their characters’ skills. This allows for a lot more different tactics and viable builds per character.
Are you worried that console players might not “get” the concept of a MOBA-style game, given we’ve never really seen one on those platforms previously?
Not really, it still plays like a side scrolling shooter. So it’s very easy to get into. Apart from that it’s all about staying aware of your health and retreating in a timely matter. Once you’ve mastered those two elements you’ll be a decent Awesomenauts player. From there you can start experimenting with different characters, builds and upgrades.
I also think console games don’t necessarily have to be dumbed down compared to PC games, they just need to be more clear. When I’m playing on console you can’t hit me in the face with repeated walls of text and expect me to read all that, when all I want is to chill out and play a game. But I can handle the same amount of complexity as on PC, just make sure everything is to the point and clear. That’s what we’ve done with Awesomenauts.
Finally, I think there’s plenty of overlap between console gamers and PC gamers. I know people who play COD as well as LoL or DotA. They are going to love Awesomenauts.
As with COD, Awesomenauts is of course primarily focused on multiplayer, but what single-player experience can we find hidden within? And does any progression there tie back into multiplayer?
The only form of single player is practice mode, which is just playing offline against bots. It’s the same experience as playing online, right down to the ability to play in split screen. However, the amount of points resulting from practice matches are half that of online matches. So theoretically you could completely level up your account using just practice mode, it would just take twice as long.
How are you dealing with unlockable characters and upgrades?
After finishing a match players are awarded points based on their performance. Bonuses are awarded for playing a random character, playing splitscreen and of course, winning. These points will then level up your account and at each level you will get a new item or character. There are 45 levels in total.
That sounds like there’s a lot of content there already for players to work through. Though looking to the future will we be seeing any new characters or items as DLC?
Yes, definitely. We have two characters ready that just need some balancing, but we have lots more in production.
Moving back to Ronimo’s trademark style, both Awesomenauts and Swords and Soldiers before that are very bright, bold, colourful games. With Awesomenauts, what do you feel this style brings that maybe a more gritty feel may not?
First of all, clarity. We’ve experimented with gritty styles as well, but it was just a bit harder to see what was going on. You want everything to be as clear as possible during the hectic gameplay.
At the same time the graphics bring a splash of optimism and humor that we miss from the 16-bit era. Bring back the blue skies!
Quite, there’s no Unreal browns here. Similarly they’re both genres – RTS and DotA – that you don’t traditionally associate with just two dimensions. Have you any plans for what you would like to try next in a similar style?
Yep! Can’t talk about that yet, though. Also, they’re just plans. Right now we’re focused on supporting Awesomenauts with fresh content for the forseeable future.
With a host of upgrades include “Hammer Pants”, “Baby Yeti” and “Techno Viking Helmet” there are obviously some crazy possibilities for players but where their any items that didn’t make the grade because they were too weird? What’s the one that you wish had made it into the final game?
Actually, we have removed a skill because it wasn’t crazy enough. In earlier versions, Sheriff Lonestar was able to throw Bolas that would ensnare enemies. Unfortunately this skill was fairly boring and hard to balance somewhere between way overpowered and useless. The first alternative we came up with was a deployable cactus that would block and damage enemies. But this skill was too static and had little to no synergy with his other skill, throwing dynamite. In the final game he has a Bull that shoves away enemies. It’s ideal, because it fits the Cowboy theme, it’s a very useful skill and it works well together with the Dynamite.
Finally, in one interview I saw you say that Awesomenauts is “Mulitplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game inspired by your favourite ’80s animated series.” My favourite 80s animated series was Thundercats, what was yours?
Back then I’d probably have favored great stuff like Starcom and Gundam. Since it was not only great, but also rare on Dutch television. But honestly I think Transformers is my favorite, also because of the brilliant toys. I hated the death and subsequent weird return of Optimus, though. And I loved Thundercats too, of course. I vividly remember being pumped with awesomeness and just wanting to punch stuff and going on adventure after seeing that show. Also, that Cheetah lady made me feel funny.
I don’t think you were alone with those feelings.
Thank you very much to Jasper Koning for arranging the interview and the Ronimo team for taking time out of their busy schedule to talk to us. Awesomenauts is coming out in May for PSN and XBLA.