Interview with Subatomic’s Chris Canfield about the upcoming Fieldrunners 2!
Fans of tower defense games need no introduction to the Fieldrunners franchise – the adorably violent and hugely popular iOS title which debuted on the App store in 2008, and was later ported to various, lesser platforms. It was one of the App Store’s early success stories, and helped showcase just how engaging touch-screen gaming could be. You may have surmised from my use of the word “franchise” (and from my mentioning Fieldrunners 2 in the title of this article) that a brand new Fieldrunners is set to launch any day now, and boy oh boy, does it look sweet! I sat down with Subatomic Studios designer Chris Canfield to find out a little about the game that will be monopolizing all my free time over the next couple months. Enjoy.
The Doc: So obviously Fieldrunners was huge for you guys. How soon after the release of the original Fieldrunners did you guys sit down and begin planning out Fieldrunners 2?
CC: When we first launched Fieldrunners back in October of 2008 it was far from complete. We received huge amounts of fan feedback asking for more content. We decided to listen to all of this feedback, and over the course of the next year-and-a-half or so, we grew the game to more than 10 times its original size and began bringing it to other platforms. It wasn’t until January of 2011 that work began on Fieldrunners 2.
The Doc: Of course the expectation with a sequel is do everything bigger, better, faster, and with more explosions – and that would actually probably be just fine with many fans of the original FR. But it looks like you guys actually spent some time looking at how to bring new challenges and types of levels to the franchise with FR2. What are some of the most notable things we should be getting excited about in FR2?
CC: When we started Fieldrunners 2, we really wanted to create a larger sense of progression. The player unlocks new towers, explores new territories, and gets new abilities. As they gain access to these new tools, they can bring them back to the earlier territories and play those old maps in entirely new ways. As a result, these maps have a tremendous amount of replayability.
The big change to the moment-to-moment play is the swarm engine. It’s not just for pretty pictures. The swarm engine allows the runners to behave in far more natural, realistic ways. Runners spread out in open areas, and pull back together in tighter spaces. If you slow one runner down at the end of a hallway, it causes a traffic jam behind it. Bikes speed up on straight-aways, and slow down to take corners. Runners try to cut corners and so on.
The new engine also gives us the ability to add bridges, tunnels, extra pathways, even whole separate areas within a level. The complexity of the mazes that players will be able to create is stunning. We’re all looking forward to seeing the different strategies that fans use to beat these levels.
The Doc: How important was customer feedback in deciding what new features Fieldrunners 2 would have? Were there any overwhelming requests that you felt you simply had to incorporate this time around?
CC: Subatomic is really lucky in that we had such a loyal following with the original Fieldrunners. Most of the requests we had were for more: More maps, more towers, more gameplay. Swapping towers between missions has been a consistent request. Advanced players wanted less fragmented leaderboards. And we intend on delivering on all of the above.
But we didn’t just want to give players what they ask for: We also wanted to excite them with the unexpected. We wanted them to have a new experience that they couldn’t have predicted. There is a balance to be struck, and I feel like we have hit that balance well.
The Doc: I’ve always thought one of the big keys to Fieldrunners’ success is the artwork and overall playfulness of the visual style. Everyone is so cute you ALMOST feel bad killing them. Who gets credit for the visuals of the game? And who decided to add butterflies to the battlefield?
CC: We place a high priority on artwork and visual style in our games. Two of the three founders are artists, and that comes through in the games we make. But more than just them, we have artists literally around the world. They’re in Thailand, France, Russia, Brazil… any time we can find a good artist with a striking sense of style, we will bring them on.
That carries over into other areas of the game too. We wanted the game to sound a little quirky to bring more personality to the world, so we hired an audio designer from Paris who worked on Raving Rabbids. Despite being an American development house, we reach out around the world to bring back a unique sense of style.
The Doc: Can you let us in on how the decisions on what types of units to include are made? There’s always been an interesting mix of WW1/WW2 style units and somewhat futuristic units as well. Are there any units you considered but did not make the cut? (Personally, I’ve always wanted to see some jetpack guys or aquatic units/levels… and the more robots the better of course).
CC: We tend to make units that excite the team in some way. That could be the gameplay opportunity offered by cramming 6 runners into the back of a jeep. That could be the particularly silly way that a plane’s wings curve. Or we might just all want to run around the office shouting “MEDIC!” It’s a very organic process that involves lots of shouting and laughing.
The classic Fieldrunners started with a traditional World War 1 / World War 2 visual style, and moved to include more robots and space machines as time went on. For Fieldrunners 2, we’re pulling things back towards World War 1. There is a rich amount of interesting visual imagery we can draw from in that era, while still remaining playful and fun.
The Doc: What would you say is the most exciting new unit we’ll have a chance to try to kill in FR2?
CC: Everyone in the office has their favorite. My personal favorite is the V2 Rocket Truck. It’s basically a large bomb strapped to the back of a flatbed. When you kill that one, it explodes and all of the runners around it are leveled. Structure your maze right, and you can get chains of V2’s blowing up from one end of the map to the other.
The Doc: It looks like the familiar units have all gotten a nice fresh coat of paint and a few tweaks, graphically. I haven’t seen my favorite unit yet, the Orange Robot suit guy. Will he be returning in some form in FR2?
CC: I can’t comment on that at the moment… Stay tuned!
The Doc: For better or for worse, Fieldrunners’ success can probably legitimately take quite a bit of the credit for huge amount of Tower Defense games on the App Store today. Unfortunately, I’ve found most of these come across feeling a bit uninspired, falling under the “cookie cutter” label (with a couple notable exceptions, such as Geo Defense and the Sentinel games). Are there any iOS Tower Defense Games your team are fans of?
CC: We’re all fans of Tower Defense Games, and gaming in general. Even the more straightforward App Store games usually have something unique to say. I don’t want to call out any favorites, as we try to play them all, but a few of the new TD games we’ve been playing recently are Kingdom Rush, Elf Defense, and Dungeon Defenders.
We started as independent developers working in our spare time, trying to make a game that we would enjoy playing. Most of the people working in the App Store today are the same way. We happened to also have a lot of professional experience, and a little bit of luck. But all the games in the App Store were made with teams that cared about their games. And both professionally and personally, we want to see them succeed.
The Doc: From what I’ve seen of Fieldrunners 2, it looks like there is quite a bit more gameplay and levels than the original (which eventually added the ability to purchase extra maps via In-App purchases). How much of this new content is going to be available from the outset simply by unlocking achievements, and how much will be In-App
CC: We’re not holding anything back at launch. Everything that we’ve created for the game can be earned through play. We may or may not add additional content in the future through In-App purchases, but none of that has been created yet. We’re going all-in from the beginning.
The Doc: Sweet. Now, as much as I love the original Fieldrunners (it still holds a spot on my 1st games screen on my iPhone) and all the add-on missions, more often than not I find myself returning to the original Grasslands map with its endless mode and “free play” mechanics. Will there be at least a couple maps like that in the FR2?
CC: We play around a lot with open-vs-constrained gameplay. There are maps that are entirely open. There are maps that mix paths and open gameplay in different ways. The Sudden Death maps are “open,” but constrained in a unique new way that people haven’t seen before. There are trenches that end in open areas. You’ll be happy to hear there is a map we consider a modern take on the classic. We’re trying to make the players think about gameplay in new ways, without losing what made the original special.
Also, we wanted to consolidate the different types of modes under one umbrella. For example, players who win any of the main maps now have the option of continuing on and going endlessly. It’s no longer a separate mode, but is built right in.
The Doc: Any chance that FR2 will be a universal app?
CC: Unfortunately, due to size and art resolution issues it’s not possible for us to both do that and fit into Apple’s 50 MB download file size limit. Before we started compressing and cleaning up Fieldrunners 2, the build directory was nearly 300 MB. That we managed to get the build down to 1/6th of its original size, without cutting anything, is quite an achievement. But that did require different builds for
The Doc: How’s Fieldrunners 3 looking?
CC: Ask us again in 2016
The Doc: Thanks Chris.