Allods Adventure by Mail.ru Games, Allods Team
Published: May 24. 2013
Allods Adventure HD and the making of an App Store conquest
To unaquainted, Allods Adventure HD might seem like it’s flown under the mainstream radar—but that’s not entirely the case. Having been featured by Apple on the App Store no fewer than three times, the game has been something of a surprise hit on the platform. It combines the polish and scale of an adventure game with the singular challenge of maze-based puzzle games, fusing dozens of them together to create its surprisingly coherent (if strange) narrative.
Essentially, the game lets players select from an assortment of pets, and then make use of the animals’ bizarre skills to defeat the guards of each maze. At any given time, you’ll have three types of creatures to use: one that attacks, one that can move enemies, and another that can freeze or thaw them. Some enemies must be thawed-out before they can be attacked, while others must be pushed to within attack range. Each creature has a limited number of moves per level, adding a layer of strategic depth to the experience. The game's series of 29 vibrantly rendered islands and animals is a notch above the App Store masses, and players can unlock information about the June civilization’s history with gorgeous comic panels along the way.
Interestingly, Moscow-based Allods Team Studio had been successfully developing big client-server games—most notably the popular Allods Online and Skyforge—for years before undertaking its first iOS title, Allods Adventure. “Allods Adventures is the first mobile project for us, though two of our programmers Alexander and Alexey have some background in developing for mobile platforms on Unity,” says executive producer Dmitri Zakharov. The team decided early on to use graphical assets from Allods Online, which dictated the visual style the team was to target early on. “Major problems and the hardest part we had to deal with were the core gameplay and buisiness model,” says Zakharov. “During the production we changed several key points—the game had been becoming too complicated and specific at one moment, and too easy at another. In the end we came to the kind of game that you see and play now.” “For the visual style our inspiration was the Allods Online MMO, but we wanted to take a look at its beautiful nature and creatures from a different angle, and bring some new experience for the players,” says lead game designer Alexander Barabash. “The mechanics we created were inspired by great puzzle games like Sokoban and The Heist, but we used the creatures and their abilities as the cornerstone.” Also factoring into the decision, of course, was the fact that using graphical assets from Allods Online optimized development time and costs for the team.
The decision to use Unity as the development environment for Allods Adventure was an easy one for the team. “We chose Unity from the very start, because we wanted to show the beauty of the world and that required high quality assets,” says Barabash. “With Unity we got our first ‘visual style’ prototypes very quickly. It took us some time to develop our asset pipeline, but we’re very happy with the result.”
“The initial idea was quite different from what it is now, and it took series of prototypes to find a good balance between difficulty and complexity,” he says of the game’s early days. “Making a prototype for the initial idea was pretty easy—the hardest part was changing this prototype constantly as the idea itself evolved.” The team was fairly large, with seven developers working on the project fulltime and another seven brought in from the core Allods Team at various points during development (the in-game comics and UI were outsourced to three external artists). “Since we already had the assets, we were looking for a development environment with good 3D graphics support as well as multiplatform support,” programmer adds Alexander Kirillov. “The choice was between Unity and Unreal Engine, and Unity was obviously more affordable.”
Barabash points to specific Unity features that helped immeasurably during development. “One great thing about Unity Editor is its flexibility,” he says. “We created our own level editing tools right within the editor, and it really helped to speed up level creation. We also developed some tools for game designers and testers, which let them tweak the game inside the editor.” He also brings up the text-based scene and prefab format, which was released with Unity 3.5. “As we’re working with version control, it’s very comfortable that we can merge scenes and prefabs without losing anyone's work.”
Lead programmer Alexey Drobyshevsky has his own choice. “My best-loved feature of Unity is its editor extendibility,” he says. “We have tons of editor scripts, ranging from simple menu commands (i.e. count all materials in scene) to a complex auto-building system, to whole editors inside Unity—we've built an editor for our GUI layouts, for example. The same immediate-mode GUI that’s so bad for games turns out to be really great for editor extensions, especially with an automated layout.” Kirillov agrees: “Unity’s GUI was very comfortable to use when creating our custom editor UI. Bundles were helpful as well, and were used for resource management.”
The game, which is currently free on the App Store for a limited time, now has an expanded set of levels available as in-app purchases (including the recently released New Winter Archipelago). The team is currently in early development on its next game, for which it will also be employing Unity. “There's a whole lot of great features presented in Unity 4 and we’re very excited about it,” says Barabash. “We have a lot of great ideas on how to use Mecanim, and new graphic features will help us make the world of Allods truly fantastic.”
Each level of Allods Adventure takes place on an isolated island within an archipelago, giving the player a limited amount of ground to oversee. Only one creature is controlled at a time, and the pinch-to-zoom and swipe mechanics for camera movment allow for fast and easy investigation of the landscape. The plush, lively levels range from dense foliage to snowy forests and sun-baked deserts, and the overall effect is extremely crisp visuals, making for top-notch presentation.