Akies Games – Interview
While I was at Play Expo I mentioned that I was able to talk to Duncan and Becca from Akies Games. Their match three style puzzle game called Aenigma OS is currently only available for Wii-U but is at a low price of £4.99 ($6.99 USD, €6.49 EUR). Duncan e-mailed me this week to mention that there might actually be a PC version on the cards as there was a lot of call for it at the show (Mac & Linux too please, Duncan!)
So let’s look at what you get for your money:
- Gap based matching and player controlled refill directions put the power in the player’s hands, taking unfair luck out of the equation.
- Campaign mode with 100 time-based levels, spread over 20 stages with 3 difficulty settings and a smooth, ramping difficulty curve.
- 50 custom tailored puzzles, with different rules and behaviours to the rest of the game.
- 2 player offline multiplayer, with many customisable scoring options for different play experiences.
- Nearly 15 minutes of original Drum and Bass soundtrack.
- 10 fantasy locations, all painted to a high standard with numerous background animations.
That’s a fair amount of content for such a low price and the thing you may be puzzled (pun intended) about is what on earth is “Gap based matching” well we can demonstrate this best with an image.
Like any match based game, you have to match like for like symbols with a minimum of three symbols. The player can have any number of matches as long as the gap between them is a maximum of two. Take a look at the grid in the screenshot above, count six across (from the left) and then six down. If you tap this triangle and then tap the top triangle you will match all of the triangles taking out the circle and pentagon in the middle that would normally be in your way. But that is not all, the last square you touch designates which way the grid moves. If you touched the top and then the bottom triangle the grid will refill from the top and of course vice versa. This little tutorial video might help explain it further
I got to ask the developers some questions at the Expo.
Me: Why is it called Aenigma Os
Becca: I’ll let Duncan explain this one he is a latin buff
Duncan: It makes the name sound a lot more interesting first of all. It’s latin for “puzzle seed” the idea being that we want to produce a few of these types of games and this being the first one that is coming out so it’s like sowing a seed
Me: Why is it only available on Wii-U?
Becca: It’s because we wanted to have a touch screen. We originally made the game for mobile phones but even though the size of them are getting bigger you can’t always enjoy a game on your phone. The Wii-U controller is nice and big and you have the stylus so you get a lot more tactile input. The game is also made for people who want to curl up on the sofa and play a console game while their parents or partners watch are using the main TV.
Duncan: I know that touch screens get a bad reputation but for some types of genres you don’t want to shoehorn in console-style controls. With ours based around the swipes you need to do to play it, it makes gameplay a lot faster and more of a fluid feel.
Becca: We are retro gamers and the Wii-U is kind of the modern retro gaming platform
Duncan: Yes, my 15-year-old self is very happy with the console and product
Me: How was working with Nintendo?
Becca: We really wanted to work with them, they have been very kind to us and supportive.
Me: It’s great that they are embracing Indie developers
Duncan: Getting the dev kit was really minimal hassle these days with Nintendo you use to have to have separate premises and all sorts.
Becca: We are developing in our bedroom so our overheads are almost none
Me: How long has it been in development?
Duncan: In total, we have been developing for the Wii-U for about 2 years but a lot of that time has been play-testing and getting the difficulty curves right
Becca: Because we like a puzzle game and there are lots of clones out there of your average Bejewelled they are very successful but they all do the same sort of thing. What we wanted to do was alter that and make a game where the player can control the grid somewhat rather than relying on lucky drops. We also wanted that feeling you get with puzzle games where it will teach you the basics and then you get to a more difficult level and the feeling that you have to beat it.
Duncan: If you have to test it for thousands of hours it’s nice to not get too bored of your own product
Me: Are you your own worst critic?
Becca: Yes, absolutely, I did the artwork and there were moments.
Duncan: I would come in and say it looked great but Becca would be sitting there saying “No.. I hate it”
Becca: I’m quite lucky because Duncan has the mind to make the difficult levels and I just have to play it
Me: Talk to me a bit more about this match across a gap design where did that spring from?
Duncan: We both worked on the original design, and we always know there are games that when the game decides you lose, you lose. For instance, I love Puzzle Quest, I think it’s a great game but there are times in the later levels especially when you are up against the bosses I am sure that it cheats and that causes a lot of swearing.
Becca: We wanted to give the player the ability to control the board a bit to remove the AI cheating.
Me: So just to confirm you can have something like a triangle gem, then two not triangle gems a triangle gem again followed by not two triangle gems then another triangle gem and match across all 8
Becca: That’s exactly it, but remember that you can also control where it refills from depending on where you last tapped so you can really begin to control what gems go where. It takes a bit of getting used to.
Me: Are there any other advantages to manipulating the board is there any game mechanic?
Becca: Absolutely, in fact, that is what all the advanced players will be hunting for, it’s kind of like our version of the Tetris quad. You get all of the same gem in a row for a big score bonus and an encouraging “Perfect”
Me: Tell me about the other game modes?
Becca: My favourite is the Puzzle mode so you get a few shapes on the grid in order to clear the whole grid. Of course, they too start off easy but by the time you get over level 10 the difficulty really kicks in and drives me mad. Often I would question Duncan telling him that there must be a bug because the level was to me impossible, then of course because he made them he knows the solution.
Duncan: What is also interesting about Puzzle mode is that is changes the game mechanic’s a bit. Blank spaces are not actually counted as blank spaces in this mode so even though shapes are technically far apart the game considers them to be together
Me: Is the game designed for all ages
Duncan: Yes, we bill it as 3+ because we do start off very easy and this should help develop cognitive learning and puzzle solving within younger children. It’s a bit like Chess where you should be thinking several moves ahead.
Me: Is it just single player?
Duncan: There is a competitive mode that is turn based but no co-op.
Becca: We figured not many people would have two Wii-U controllers in their house so that’s why we made it turn based.
Duncan: The idea being that you should not be so much thinking about how to get the most points but also how to hinder the other player.
Me: Anything you want to mention?
Duncan: Oh yes the game is entirely friendly for colour blindness. People who are colour blind should be able to play it without an issue, not many match three style games can boast that.
Me: Finally.. do you play any card or board games in your spare time?
Duncan: We are quite big Coup fans… oh not Coup, Resistance. Actually, we love both, Coup recently saved a trip we took earlier in the year from complete disaster! We have recently been playing a lot of Netrunner and I am on the rules committee for WarPath which I highly recommend you check out if you are into miniature based games.
We’d like to thank Duncan and Becca for taking the time to talk us. From what little I played the game at the show I can certainly see the levels of addiction they are talking about. Have a look at their extended trailer for the game in action. They have very kindly offered to give us a review code but none of us access to a Wii-U. If you have one and can review the game for us then please, get in touch. Likewise, if you have any feedback about the interview then we would love to hear it via Reddit, Twitter and Facebook