Now that we know when Apex Legends Mobile is arriving worldwide, how about we get into the Behind The Scenes in developing for the phone? We’re all aware the PC / console version’s trucking along with Newcastle’s debut and Storm Point’s return after all.
Today we have Jordan Patz, Design Director, and Myke Hoff, Senior Director Product, to walk us through an overview of Apex Legends Mobile which will see a platform exclusive Legend, its maps, game modes and more.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
BRINGING APEX LEGENDS TO MOBILE
Could you tell us about your vision of the game?
Myke Hoff: When we set out to make Apex Legends Mobile, we really wanted to capture the experience and feeling of everything that made Apex Legends so amazing, and bring it to mobile players in a way that is authentic to them. It is a standalone mobile experience built from the ground up with mobile first optimization, mobile first content.
As a fresh and new Apex experience, we won’t have cross-play, cross-progression or cross-inventory, but we are working closely with the rest of the team to stay true to Apex in our own way. We have a different patch cadence, themes, events, changes, ranks among a myriad of additional features new to this version.
Were there any conversations about joining the console and mobile experience, or was it always going to be separate?
Myke Hoff: We started out separate as there’s a lot of good stuff that doesn’t translate well into mobile. This allows us to have different types of audiences and push that different experience while maintaining the core of Apex Legends. We’ll continue to work closely with the console team should there be an opportunity for us to collide, while continuing to chart our own path.
How do you bring that Apex core combat to mobile?
Jordan Patz: Apex brings to mobile battle royale genre Legends (players) working together to create squad synergies, high mobility gameplay with dense level design and the evolving world that has its roots all the way back to Titanfall.
From the beginning, players get the chance to execute these ‘hero’ moments and fulfill the fantasy of each Legend on mobile, and that needed a whole lot of ‘usability’ improvements. For example, Pathfinder’s grapple snaps to the edges to ensure he’s pulled up onto a surface. We also made it a priority to introduce a new game mode that helps players get familiar with all the novelties of our game to serve as a bridge for players from other shooting games. To overcome the challenges of spatial awareness, we included the option for 3rd person play, and sound visualization so that players can ‘see’ what you usually hear in the PC / console version. This is meant to help players understand the complex environment and track highly mobile Legends fluidly.
Speaking of Legends, who can we look forward to at launch?
Jordan Patz: We have nine Legends at launch – Wraith, Bangalore, Bloodhound, Caustic, Gibraltar, Lifeline, Mirage, Octane and Pathfinder. Our tenth is our new, mobile-first Legend, Fade.
Who is Fade?
Jordan Patz: We took what we learnt from bringing console Legends to mobile to create a Legend that leans into what we see as “the best parts of mobile gameplay”. Fade was a member of a mercenary family before a job went wrong, leaving him with nothing but his tools and a motivation for revenge. He is an extremely aggressive mobile fighter who has a stolen suit that has a similar technology to Wraith’s. With the suit, he’s hoping to draw out the ones responsible for his family’s death, and have the chance to avenge them.
So what are his abilities?
Jordan Patz: Let’s start with his Passive: Surge. This allows Fade to move more quickly for a short period of time after performing a slide. This has a cooldown, and you can see this through the thrusters on his back.
This passive is exciting to us for a couple of reasons: first, it gives players a way to experiment with the complex advanced movement of Apex. The slide jump is an extremely powerful move for Fade, and it’s a key skill we want to teach all mobile players. Second, the cooldown becomes a ‘mini game’ where advanced players learn how to manage the passive, and we think this can create some really interesting optimization play.
Next, we have his Tactical Skill. The skill allows Fade to reset to a certain point or number of steps before an encounter. This ability was created to provide newer players an emergency escape out of a bad situation and makes making risky plays more forgiving. More experienced players could instead use it to bamboozle enemies, disorienting them or setting up an ambush. We believe it will see a lot of diverse play.
Finally, we have his Ultimate. It’s an explosive device to push everyone in its radius into a “phase space”. Meant to support both offensive and defensive play tactics, Fade could protect his party from attacks from more squads, or use it to isolate a single person and temporarily break apart the team. This ultimate also grants him a movement buff.
We can’t really talk Legends without the lore. So, what can you tell us about it as it is in Apex Legends Mobile?
Myke Hoff: Let me make it clear that we are not looking to rewrite any of the lore that you players know and love. The stories are the ‘standard’ stories you are familiar with to shed light on areas the player may have wanted to hear more about, and to unpack the backstory of this world.
We start Season One with a ‘pro sports style’ of entertainment brought to you by the Syndicate, to showcase the Apex game as an event you cannot miss. We’ll get to learn about the Syndicate, leveraging that as a key to our storytelling. We dig into the unknown side of these stories, showing how the Syndicate continues to manipulate the game season over season.
It’s also shown in-game, as we see them change the arena’s landscape. We’ll see the Syndicate change World’s Edge to bring some new gameplay to the map. Players will experience two month ranked seasons that tie in thematically together to a story told in two months, built up over time. We’re excited to bring a curated experience to our players and experience it with them as the Syndicate takes us across the frontier.
You called Fade a “mobile first” Legend. How long do you expect characters to stay on mobile before moving to the other platforms?
Jordan Patz: Well, we’re excited about prospects of our Legends being in HD, but what we mean is that this Legend is to be exclusive to mobile. We can plan for a time where we’ll cross more paths, but for Fade in the short term, he is ours alone. We will be planning more “mobile first” Legends, but we’re not ready to disclose them as yet.
Do you have plans to expand on the lore of mobile exclusive Legends?
Myke Hoff: Storytelling is super important to us, so you can expect to see it with our mobile exclusive Legends. We also need to introduce our known Legends, since it’ll be the first time for some players seeing them as well.
What game modes are you having for launch?
Jordan Patz: We’ll have a bunch of classic limited time modes (LTM) to cycle through, and a couple of new ones to cater to mobile player needs such as a mini Battle Royale. However, even our classic modes will have some twists, like a new point of interest (POI) in World’s Edge covering a portion of the map in a storm, with new game rules. We’re working hard to make the old feel new again. In the future, we’ll have more LTM, POI changes and other, more ambitious, larger scale places we want to take players to.
On the multiplayer side, we have two versions of Team Deathmatch and Arena to give players different ends of the intensity scale to dig into and master. TDM is broken into two different sets of maps and rules: a more traditional dynamic spawning mode leading into clashes and a “versus” mechanic. In testing, we found an almost perfect split of player preference, so we’re rolling them both out and see who rises to the top.
Let’s talk about ranked mode. How does mobile compare to PC / console?
Jordan Patz: A few things went into our decision making process around ranked. First, we needed it to be designed to support the prestige of achieving Apex Predator for highly competitive gameplay on the top end. Then, we wanted to limit the type of rewards players can get from ranking so that they feel the competition is more about the prestige, than a grind.
For seasonal content, Apex Legends Mobile is bringing ranked play to a new worldwide audience, so we wanted it to be something all players can feel comfortable engaging with, like those who don’t consider themselves ‘competitive’. We made it ‘open door’, to let them get in and start going up in ranks. Our seasons are a month shorter than PC / console, and players can rank up faster to compensate.
It will be similar to the original in a lot of aspects, with a lot of high skill gameplay on one end, and a more forgiving progression for the newbies on the other.
Will there be ranked time restrictions in Season One like in Season 0’s soft launch?
Jordan Patz: We really don’t want to do time restrictions. That was necessary with our lower population, but our plan is to leave it open full time.
How far apart in rank can you be if you want to queue with friends with different ranks?
Jordan Patz: The easy answer is that you can certainly queue up with any of your friends. The longer answer is that where you end up in rank will depend on who you’re going in with, and the points you get from killing another player is determined by the difference in your ranks. It may not be optimal for you to play in ranked mode with friends in terms of moving up in rank to start, but as the gap closes, you’ll see much better score acquisition per match.
Will there be bots in ranked, maybe all the way up to Apex Predator?
Jordan Patz: We did have bots in the lower ranks and are investigating removing them entirely from higher ranks. They were in soft launch partly due to population sizes. We haven’t settled on a perfect solution but our goal is definitely to make Predator about killing players, not high skilled bots.
Will there be a custom game mode at launch?
Myke Hoff: It’s currently in the backlog as we’re not at a state where we’re comfortable rolling it out to players. We have a plan, it’s just a slow implementation on our side.
What can you tell us about the game’s progression system and battle pass?
Jordan Patz: The battle pass will be one month long, matching with the monthly theme. The free track will give players new Legends, and the paid track offers a ton of value across the spectrum. There will be daily and weekly challenges to gain EXP towards the pass. It was important to us that the player’s time will be valued, so we hope that all styles of players will be excited, maybe fall in love with a new Legend and the theme at first sight.
How about the seasonal hub? What can players expect from it?
Jordan Patz: Each month will be packed with new content: new pass, combat content, Legends, weapons, features, etc. The season hub is the one-stop place to explain all the cool things to see and do, listing what players can try and awarding them season currency to progress towards the content and purchase the seasonal items. Our plan is to make every season a full spectrum experience that works together so that players who drop in at any time will find it easier to understand and enjoy the whole show.
How’s the Legend progression to those new to Apex Legends Mobile?
Jordan Patz: We’ve been experimenting with a simple version of a system to test out the design space and see how they react to such a system in a highly competitive game. The feedback has been incredible: players asking for more diversity, depth, flashy, impactful choices for their favourite Legends… so we made the decision to really invest into this as a core part of Apex Legends Mobile.
The version that will be in player hands at launch is totally new. It’s massively expanded, unique for every Legend. It’s important to note there’s no monetization to this system. It’s purely through playing the Legend players will get the EXP needed to unlock new perks to expand their utility, and not pure power.
What about the systems that help newbies get up to speed?
Jordan Patz: That’s a big challenge for us, since we’re sharing this game with a new global audience and bringing with it all new weapons and game mechanics. We have three different things:
- A cinematic introduction experience to help players learn the basics in a streamlined format.
- Optional training missions rewarding prizes for competing to help them learn mechanics that can’t be fit in an easy tutorial.
- Rotating Master Missions each week to allow players to continue to refine their skills in a variety of challenges.
We see modes like Team Deathmatch being a great place for newbies to learn the ropes, essential to give them the opportunity to join a squad, feeling confident that they can contribute.
How do you plan to approach players of different experience levels e.g. a veteran Apex player new to mobile games, or an experienced mobile gamer new to Apex?
Jordan Patz: There’s different profiles of players on the spectrum, and Battle Royale is great in that it allows players of varying skill levels an opportunity to play together for a reasonably positive experience. They can get a chance in a battle royale over a 1 v 1 fight. Obviously, we’re also using matchmaking to place players of similar skill level together.
What can you tell us about the social systems?
Jordan Patz: We think squad play is one of the most defining features of Apex Legends. The game feels better when you’re playing with friends, and that can be challenging when you’re playing on phone. We’ve created several key social features we think will help players to get the foundation needed to find friends when they need to, and to see the value of playing as a team through co-op or club missions, EXP bonuses for playing with friends, and quite a few more.
Does the game allow for use of external controllers?
Myke Hoff: We have a lot built in that we’ve been actively testing. It might not be quite ready for the launch, but it’ll be patched in soon enough.
Whenever we use the slide button, the jump button is right above it. Do you plan on removing that?
Jordan Patz: No. It’s an optimization we’ve found super helpful. Most of our advanced options are for smoothing out input complexity with toggles to let players pick and choose what makes sense to them. I think everyone’s going to customize their settings once they’ve been playing for a while, but we really wanted to make sure the first experience players get is ‘the best one’ to introduce the mechanics to them when many might be coming in blind.
How does the Apex Legends Mobile experience differ from tablet to phone?
Jordan Patz: There’s more pixels! We made adjustments to the control to make it feel natural to pick up on a large screen, like dragging the joystick. They need small tweaks to be responsive on different screen sizes. There’s automatic positioning of UI, but I think that depends on how big a tablet you’re using. Players likely want to adjust the UI positioning and sensitivity so that they don’t keep dragging across a larger screen.
How different is weapon balance and handling done on mobile?
Jordan Patz: It’s a pretty big difference, worth a whole article on its own. Obviously, the fidelity on phone is different, so we need more assisting to help players get that fluidity of movement, and to have the full spectrum of techniques feel good. There’s a trickle down effect from Time To Kill (TTK) characters, then bullets for the magazine, all centered around the optimization of aiming and shooting on phone as a baseline. From there, we try to interpret the ‘identity’ of the weapon, since they need to have unique engagement differences which means different levels of aim assists, magazine sizes. IN general, you can expect slightly longer TTK to give mobile players both the ability to react to slightly heavier aim assist and more opportunity to respond to incoming fire on a small screen.
What should players know about monetization?
Myke Hoff: We approach it as “gameplay first” when looking at monetization. We seek to make amazing content players want to engage in, but won’t miss out on any gameplay or feel that they’re disadvantaged if they don’t join in. A majority of the cosmetics we’re offering on mobile are brand new, or are themes they’ve never seen before.
We are aware of our diverse playerbase and they all don’t value content the same way and want to give them options on how they acquire content. For new Legends like Fade, for example, you can get them from the battle pass, or get them through a ‘shortcut’ at release if players want to. We’re also focusing on the cultural nuance of our players, not just to create compelling live content but also making pricing and distribution adjustments, or festivals, that are relevant to them.
What can players expect post launch?
Myke Hoff: Nothing too big to unpack right now, but expect us to expand our pool of Legends, take our maps to new heights as we explore both familiar and uncharted lands. We don’t have dates to release specific legends, but we will be drawing on the existing pool of PC / console Legends.
Regarding regional events, will those be celebrated globally or stay region specific, with region-exclusive skins and such?
Myke Hoff: Looking at regional events, there will be some that are region specific and won’t go abroad. It’ll be changing with each instance on a case by case basis that we’ll continue to revise moving forward. Right now, the expectation is that we want content to be available to all players, so we’re always going to be pushing for regional content to be accessible to all.
Was there any consideration to making maps smaller for mobile?
Myke Hoff: We’ve definitely been looking at that, since you’ll have a smaller screen and most will be playing on phone. There’s been a decent amount of work to keep the pacing authentic. This is a space we’re going to continue to monitor so that we can make the high intensity gameplay moments real for our players.
The mobile version will launch with the original versions of maps from the console version. Can we expect them to eventually change as well?
Jordan Patz: Yes. We won’t be necessarily following the history, but we’ll be drawing on them to update our maps in future seasons and we’re excited to eventually show that off.
Where are the European and North American servers?
Myke Hoff: I can’t give you a definitive location, but we are actively looking into making our server latency better. At the start of the limited regional launch, the South America ping was not great, but we made changes to bring it down by 50 points to a more respectable level. We’re initially in a lot of standard locations, but we will monitor and optimize this as we want everyone to have a great competitive experience, not just the handful of people living near the server areas.
How does the team take player feedback into the development process?
Myke Hoff: We’re deeply investing in our regional teams, so we’re going to have key locations having a decent amount of support to understand our players in a multitude of different languages. We’ll also be taking feedback from our community group through our moderation and community managers. If we don’t act on something that’s been posted on social media, it’s generally because we are trying to understand the needs of all our players. However, letting us know is something that is super important.
Jordan Patz: We also look at input from play tests where we get people into the office to play through upcoming content and cycle through different things, as well as seeing how players are engaging with the game. We try to draw analogies from what players are saying and in play tests, and find that middle ground in all the data towards something we can work on.
That’s all the time we had with the duo for Apex Legends Mobile. Where will the games go from here, we can only stay tuned to find out.