Ten Questions With… Ed Mandy (Art Castle)
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Trouble With Robots from Art Castle kept us glued to our Android devices with its addictive blend of strategy, humor and collectible trading cards, so we had to find out more from the lead developer, Ed Mandy. Our subtle attempts at discovering his deck secrets might have failed, but he did have some very interesting insights about the game.
Can you give our readers a quick introduction of yourself and the studio?
Sure, my name is Ed Mandy, and my studio is called “Art Castle Ltd.”
Oh, you wanted something a bit less quick? Okay.
By way of education, my background is in computer science. By way of job experience, much of my background is in low-level programming, especially relating to networks. This low-level programming working closely with hardware is something that has always excited me, and I began to focus my after-hours “hobby” efforts on video games and their hardware. Much of this hobby video game tinkering has been focused on handheld game systems like the GameBoy, Neo Geo Pocket Color, GP32, GP2X, etc.
I have even played around quite a bit with arcade and pinball machines. At one point, before my somewhat recent move, I had a basement full of them. Prior to the move, I sold all but one. My 6-Slot Neo Geo MVS system was the only survivor.
I think this love for low-level programming, understanding of hardware, and interest in portable gaming is what initially positioned me to work on mobile games.
As far as Art Castle goes, we are a team headquartered in Hong Kong, but we are actually very global. The creator of Trouble With Robots is from England. We have a team member working out of Spain. I, personally, live in the USA.
How did the idea for Trouble With Robots come about?
The initial idea came from a lot of brainstorming that resulted in the idea of merging the genres of fantasy and sci-fi into a single game.
An early prototype developed in 2011 called ‘Live Cards’ had the core concept of using collectible card gaming elements in real-time battles. In it, cards were used to create an army and support them with spells, but it lacked many of the key elements that Trouble With Robots eventually grew to encompass.
What are the games/media that influenced you and how?
Plants vs Zombies and Magic: The Gathering were a couple of games that provided initial inspiration.
The game Castle Crashers was a big inspiration when it came do designing the side-on perspective and other graphical decisions.
To me, it’s interesting, because I think most games up until now are really very heavily influenced by the video games that have come before them. This is just the nature of things. However, there is now this almost cross-platform influence that we see where traditional tabletop games are influencing video games much more, and vice-versa. Just note how the whole collectible card game as a video game movement has been gaining immense momentum.
I was thinking about Trouble With Robots when I watched the announcement of Hearthstone online from PAX. It finally seemed like, “if Blizzard is doing this, there’s a shift taking place.”
What aspect of the game are you the most proud of?
Well, I don’t know if it’s an aspect of the game itself, but, since the release on iOS (and then Android shortly thereafter), I’ve been incredibly proud of our organic ratings and reviews from players. It seems to me that it’s nearly universally liked by anyone that gives it some time. Of course, we have negative player ratings/reviews from time to time, but they are generally not about disliking the game itself.
For example, we have this rating of 1 star out of 5.
“Besides the annoying pop up asking me to rate this game after I complete every single stage I find this game very enjoyable. Enjoyable enough to purchase the additional chapters.”
Most of the reviews are more like this one.
“Very great game. Good humor throughout and nice the diversity in strategy (picked up all the chapters and glad I did)”
But how can you not be proud when your lowest rating says, “I find this game very enjoyable.” 😀
What was the biggest challenge while creating the Trouble With Robots?
To be honest, so far, the biggest challenge (in my opinion) has been marketing it. People genuinely like playing the game, but the majority of gamers don’t even know it exists. It’s a huge challenge to get a game like this noticed, and it’s one that my computer science background hasn’t properly prepared me for.
I want to solve this challenge by adding new fun features, but I know that I need to step back and help our team with some of the effort of getting the word out. No matter how awesome the new features are, we still need players.
The game features some brilliant new artwork, what is your favorite unit?
My wife would get mad if I said it was the Elf. To be honest, it’s not what I would say, anyway.
I actually quite like the peasant, but I think maybe it’s because he’s so integral to the whole game. He used to be so cartoony, and now he strikes me as a very hard field worker that just wants his normal life back.
The centaur is pretty cool. The troll is pretty beastly. The spiderish dropbot is actually pretty scary. I like all of them, really. The new art has really given the game a whole new feel.
I’m not sure if I have a true “favorite,” but I will go with the peasants, because I like that they seem to have the most personality. Then again, Valt and Autumn have some good storylines, too. Hmm.
What is your favorite deck combination in Trouble With Robots?
Oh, wow, isn’t this interview getting a bit personal all of a sudden? Sure, you can ask me questions about my background, but my deck is like an extension of my whole being.
Instead of my favorite deck build, I’d prefer to give some key elements and a bit of reasoning behind them.
First of all, I love any card that gives “card advantage.” I might be getting a bit card game geeky here, but I do have deep roots in Magic: The Gathering and the Pokémon Trading Card Game.
Examples of some great card advantage are Relentless Rebels, Invigorate, and Militia. They all do something good, and THEN they give you more cards. They are definitely cards to build around.
Next, if you have plenty of cards in your hand, it may be because you are short on magic power. If you need more, cards like Scout and Energize are awesome additions.
Cards that give you some sort of modifier, bonus, or buff are the next category of favorites. Early in the game, cards like Angry Mob or Tactician will give your troops extra damage for a limited time. Later in the game, you can play cards like Defiant Guard, Slow Motion, or Speedster that all effect the battle in different ways. You can get double bonus points if you play Invigorate, because it’s a damage modifier AND it offers some excellent card advantage.
Finally, you’ll need some troops and you’ll likely want some healing in most cases. I’ll leave those as an exercise for the player.
What are the future plans for Trouble With Robots/Art Castle?
Well, as we discussed earlier, there will definitely be a focus on getting the word out. We could really use any help we can get in that arena. If you’re reading this, and you haven’t yet played the game, it will NOT hurt my feelings if you go directly to Google Play or the iOS App Store and download the game for free and give it a try. When you find out for yourself how fun it is, you can tell everyone you know.
As far as TWR goes, right now, I am actually looking into adding some new functionality to make the game more interactive. We want to foster competition, and we are playing with how to best implement that. To go along with this will likely be some more social elements to compete against other players. We are also exploring how we can generate new content periodically and how that might fit into the world we’ve already created.
What is the most unusual thing on your desk right now?
I’m the type of guy that likes to have everything within reach and eyesight, so that means that my desk is constantly full of all sorts of stuff. I don’t even know how to pick what’s the most unusual. Let me see if I can reason this out.
I have an oscilloscope within reach. I have a WonderSwan Crystal and a GameBoy Micro within reach. If you knew me and some of my other projects, these wouldn’t seem unusual at all, though.
I have a ball from an old mouse here. I don’t even know why.
Maybe I will claim that my most unusual thing is my jar of iced tea with a Freaker on it. That way I can plug my friend’s company, “Freaker USA” (http://www.freakerusa.com/). Check them out if you want to keep your hot beverage hot or your cold beverage cold, or if you just want to look cool drinking anything sized between a can and a 2-liter bottle (seriously, it’ll fit just about anything).
Anything else you would like to add?
I feel like you finally put me on the spot here. All of the other answers were so straight-forward. Even the question about my desk just took some looking down.
I would like to thank Play-Asia.com for coming alongside of us, and, on a more personal note, for working with me directly. Because of them, I was able to actually travel to Hong Kong in preparation for the iOS release of Trouble With Robots. Really, if you don’t know who they are, you really need to check them out. Play-Asia.com has a wide variety of video games and game related products. I feel like Art Castle wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for our partnership with them.
Actually, if you just want to know what the heck a Play-Asia is, I recommend checking out this interview that the Huffington Post did recently with their CEO, Jan Neuhaeusser. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonha-revesencio/jan-neuhaeusser-design-yo_b_6845468.html I got to hang out with Jan and Tom while I was in HK, and they are both a really cool guys. Just check out their picture:
A big thank you to Ed from our side for taking part in the
interrogation interview. We strongly suggest anyone reading this take his advice and check out the game from either the Google Play Store or iOS App Store! For more information also check out http://www.troublewithrobots.com/ or read our review.