Apple announced the winners of their App Store Awards for their games, last week, with titles Inscryption, Moncage and Apex Legends Mobile being the face of excellence on Apple’s multiple platforms.
It’s a really interesting conversation to be having with these developers, since Apple awards games based on the platform they’re available on. Rather than just lump everything into a Mac or Mobile category, the games are allowed to shine based on how well they make use of their target platform.
How Moncage Simulates The PTSD Experience
A great example of this is Moncage, who won Best iPad game. We spoke to developers Dong Zhou and Yijia Chen about their charming puzzle game built on playing with perspective to tell a story about PTSD.
“We got a lot of inspirations from some movies about war and about veteran life. Like, 1917 and the Pianist This were our inspiration”, Dong says. “Another thing is that our game is that we try to use this story to fit our gameplay . Our gameplay is an endless loop and you are trying to break through the endless nightmare”.
“It fits the story of a veteran since a veteran suffers in their mind and they need to break out, to break free from the nightmare to get calmer. I think this is the main reason”, he says.
Yijia added on to this, commenting on the endless nature of the game. Rather than be a story about heroically overcoming, she says taht the game was more about portraying the experience of PTSD itself, something that can be told through Moncage’s gameplay loop.
“So, the gameplay has no definite end. It continuously goes on forever. It is a loop”, she says. “It simulates the endless suffering of PTSD so we kinda like doing this type of experimental gameplay. So, we wish to raise awareness of PTSD to our players. It is a new type of gameplay that represents the PTSD”.
Being More Than Just A Mobile Version Of Apex Legends
Of course, while Moncage was making the most of the huge real estate on the iPad to tell their stories, a different type of game development was happening for the iPhone. This was the case for Respawn Entertainment’s Apex Legends Mobile, the spinoff of the popular PC and console game.
According to Myke Hoff, Senior Director of Product at Respawn , a lot of care was made to not just making the game look like its PC counterpart- rather making an experience that feels good to play on your phone.
“I think when we look at the mobile experience and you’re going from a control pad where you got a bunch of bumpers, dualsticks and a myriad of button to push and really just pulling it down to a flat screen”, he says.
“The improvements Kevin and the team made about usability to make picking up ammo faster or the slide jumps like the combinations of buttons, being really intelligent about geometry and how the player can interact in an intuitive way but also in a way generally to us, is a good quality of life”, he continues. “I do think there’s a lot there with visual indicators, gunshots and footsteps that just make the game easier to pick up but still allow a depth of mastery later on as you try to figure out how do you work around it”.
Another thing he was proud of was keeping the file size down for the game to run on mobile. After all, it wouldn’t do to have games eating multiple scores worth of disk space on phones.
“So, there’s a lot there because, again, when you are playing on the PC or on a console, this is like a 30GB game that we got down to 4GB that is gorgeous and it works on iPhone 6s and iPhone 14s”, Myke says. “And while we haven’t quite maxed out the fidelity at the top end, it is the place where we are looking to always improving the experiences on both those older generation phones as well as those newer generation phones”, he says.
Kevin Childress, Creative Director at Respawn also chimed in, showing how the game was out to offer a good mobile experience rather than just ride the coattails of its PC version.
“There is one thing that I think we are particularly proud of which is the third person view. This is something unique to mobile and this is not something that the PC and consoles version have”, he says. “I feel like we made a pretty good experience to offer that segment of players that want to see their skins in action and the characters animation in the battlefield. So, that one turns out pretty good as a very specific mobile first update”.
That’s not the only mobile-only thing in the game, either. Apex Legends Mobile also features Mobile-only Legends, creating characters built for the gameplay on mobile. Kevin explains that a lot of the planning for Apex Legends Mobile involves choosing between focusing on the new mobile-only Legends or also bringing back fan favorites.
“A lot goes into what legend we pick. We plan out months and seasons ahead so it’s my job to kinda look at all pieces we kinda want to get into a season. Maps, modes, new contents, legends, what is the CG, the story, the narrative, what are themes that we are gonna put on our cosmetics to you know, make a seasonal experience, which I personally really like”, Kevin says.
“So that’s kinda Step 1. We always look at “is it a mobile first Legend?” We know that’s gonna have a lot of interesting appeal for the mobile cause you know it’s not on the PC version of the game. So, the players are interested in the universe and the IP. We are offering them kinda of like an expansion that they might not get just of the PC side. So, there’s a lot of curiosity”, he continues. “So, this tends to have a lot of priority. So, we want to build stories, a new mobile first background surrounding these Legends”.
“You know Rhapsody came out. She also came out with a new [Team Deathmatch] map about where she grew up, Pythas Block Zero. So. we are trying to build these new stories we can start to tell specifically on the mobile first platform”.
Of course, Kevin isn’t just performing divination to plan the next batch of content for the shooter. Instead, he says he lets data help inform these decisions, too.
“Everything else does come through some data. Like pickrates, popular Legends. We try to look at you know, maybe a legend isn’t performing that great on PC but if we bring it to mobile, there’s an opportunity there to improve it for the mobile playerbase and actually kick it up a notch its desirability”, he says.
“Do they fit the story? Is there a design hole that we need to try and fill? So maybe we’ll pick a character that we feel is missing or would be interesting to port over to mobile. All those consideration gets wrapped up in these seasonal packages and then start coming season over season”, he notes.
The fact they’re operating independently from the PC version doesn’t mean there’s no work being shared between them, though. Kevin and Myke both said there’s no ruling out seeing your favorite Mobile characters suddenly waltzing over to PC.
“Anything is possible. Obviously, there is a lot a risk in us to release a brand-new Legend outside of our parent PC and console environment and universe. When releasing Fade and Rhapsody, we were pleasantly surprised. The community reacted incredibly positively”, Kevin says.
“There’s all kinds of people on both sides saying that I’m gonna get this on PC and mobile and these characters are awesome. We’re happy that “that” is the response. It was a tough challenge to kinda spring up as a mobile studio and then commit all these resources and effort into creating these awesome mobile first Legends but so far, the news has been really good”, he adds. “Whether they’ll end up on PC, we don’t know. Anything is possible. We’re continuing to port over all the awesome Legends that the PC game continues to make some new and some historical. Mixing in some mobile first Legends”.
Myke also said that despite liking the same brand, Apex Legends and Apex Mobile players were drastically different from each other.
“To add on just a little bit there, Kevin and I work very closely with the console and PC team. We have realised that our playerbases are very different, our group tends to be a bit younger playing, they are playing multiple sessions a day but for a shorter period of time”, Myke says.
“We are seeing that the overlap we had at launch was of players that came over because it was an Apex game. That when they separate and players are picking up their own platforms”, he continues. “With that being said, when we are sharing information, we really are working with that team and sharing with them what is working and what is not working, making sure they understand the decisions that we have made and then they can decide if they want to bring someone over. Very similar to how Kevin decides in which characters he wants to bring over”.
One thing SEA players might have noticed is the game’s love of localized events, such as with the Ramadhan event to celebrate the fasting month. Myke had a lot to say about making sure their team could localize events as they see fit:
So, we have built a pretty robust team across Southeast Asia. We got people on our team that are directly focusing on making the game as culturized as possible with people in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Phillipines, Vietnams and many more.
We got teams that are like trying to figure out how to make the best experience for the players on those regions as well as sharing with us the direct feedback that they are getting from the community.
We understand there is always like a myriad or a lot of different problems that we need to solve across the world. When it comes to events and what is important to the players, we are trying to give the team a lot flexibility so that they create events for Ramadhan, Deepavali or any of the local holidays that are there.
We want to give them the tools to create those events so it feels more authentic as well partnering them with the appropriate partners when it comes to hosting organized tournaments or anything like that. There is a lot of work that the team has in placed and they have added into their roadmap on the things that we are going to be working on the future to continue to optimize the game for players in the region.
There is a lot out there that I cannot commit to any or all of it but there is definitely a lot that we are hearing from the playerbase on what they would like to see and will make those improvements on a continuous basis.
Both in adjusting pricing or offering when it comes to items at the appropriate price point as well as data partnerships for mobile phones and how to make sure they could get more download power if possible.
Making Sure As Many People Can Experience Deadly Card Games With Inscryption
Arguably the most unique-looking game among the winners, Inscryption is a horror title masquerading as a card game. Mark Hickey, VP of Mobile Publishing at Devolver Digital talked to us about how Devolver was hands-off in letting Daniel Mullins flex his famously dark sensibilities into the Mac Game of the Year winner.
“Daniel is not only a creative genius but also a twisted one if you look at the depth, the mystery and the depth of the game”, Mark says. “Also, setting aside the scary parts of it, you could argue that Inscryption is five to six different games at the same time and mixes together a bunch of different mechanics”.
“So, it’s not just about the card games, there’s puzzle solving, there’s adventure and there’s narrative. It’s just incredible, the mix of components that come together to make such a unique experience”, he says.
He says another thing he’s really proud of with the release of Inscryption is its cohesiveness across platforms- being able to run on laptops that aren’t the latest and top-of-the-line in Apple’s stable.
“The experience of Inscryption is consistent across the platform it is available on. What’s kinda amazing considering 3D components is running flawlessly on my 5 years old Macbook Air so that underlines the power of Apple’s hardware”, he says.
Of course, while Daniel Mullins was focused on making sure Inscryption was a game worth playing, it’s traditionally on the publisher to make sure the game can get on as many platforms as possible. Mark says making sure the game runs on Mac was important for the release of Inscryption.
“It’s part of our production process. One of the many things we would like think we offer as part of a suite of services for our developers is to get it on as many platforms as possible. Of course, the Mac is a part of that. It is an important part of that”, Mark says.
He did however, also let it be known that there are no current plans to bring Inscryption to mobile:
I’m sensing that there is a possibility you’re going to ask about if Inscryption is coming to iPhone and right now it’s not in the plan. But that is not to say it is not going to happen, but Inscryption was three years to develop for Daniel plus getting it to all platforms and talking about it has been a pretty significant effort for him and then DLC so now is the time for like to stretch his legs and relax for a while and then decide on what the next move is.
There’s a veritable treasure trove of wealth when it comes to gaming on the Apple ecosystem, and the App Store Awards are a great way to celebrate fish for excelling in their own pond, so to speak. Our thanks to the developers for speaking to us about their award-winning titles,