With the Olympic games right around the corner, everyone is getting hyped and excited. Which countries will come out on top? Which athlete will be next on the Wheaties box? It’s a lot of fun to get caught up in the waves of emotion, really getting into the moment. But it only comes around every two years. I want to carry that excitement and spirit of competition with me, and I want to get involved in it. It seems I’m in luck, thanks to HB Studios and their upcoming game, Medal Bound.
Using their solid experience with console sports titles (FIFA 12, Madden NFL 13, and the upcoming NBA Baller Beats), the Canadian studio is making the move to the mobile platform to deliver a more personal game experience. Medal Bound is a Sports Management game that brings players closer to the action than ever before on a mobile platform. I know I sound like a commercial, but this a pretty intriguing concept, and it has me really exciting. From what I can tell, the game utilizes a Sim-Management style of play with RPG-Lite mechanics to really drive players forward and keep them engaged; mechanics like that really bring out that sense of emotional attachment and personal investment in the game, so it’ll be interesting to see how it turns out. Gameplay-wise, players will draft and train athletes in a variety of sports competitions, vying for the elusive gold medal. The trailer below gives a hint at the gameplay, but I got to sit down with Medal Bound Executive Producer Peter Garcin, to discuss the game.
Note: The interview has been formatted for clarity and length.[Dan Spiler (Brutal Gamer) / DS]: Now to the part you’ve been anticipating, let’s delve into Medal Bound, your new pride and joy. Tell me a bit about the game, since the media kit is a bit skimpy on the details.
[Peter Garcin (Medal Bound Executive Producer) / PG]: At its core it’s a resource management game – and the object is to really optimize your athletes’ performances. We describe it here as “spinning plates” – you’ve got to juggle their training routines, upcoming competitions, keep their energy levels up, make sure they’re in top form, and then once you start winning some coins from competitions, re-invest that money back into building your team. So it’s really quite addictive – and it is a balancing act, it’s not just a game where you can level your guys up and forget about them – just like real athletes, they need to always be training to stay on top of their game and be contenders.
[DS]: So Sports Management meets Diner Dash, with an Olympic-inspired theme?
[PG]: Haha you could say that. We definitely looked at Sports Management games, games like Game Dev Story by Kairosoft, as well as games like you mention – Diner Dash – and tried to distill out what we felt the best bits were, and really also what we as gamers wanted to play. We’re all big iPhone gamers here, and obviously we also play a lot of sports games – so we just focused on making a game that we really enjoyed and felt that others would enjoy as well.
[DS]: And that’s the crux of it, making something that people will really enjoy. What’s your favorite mechanic or aspect of the game that you personally enjoy the most?
[PG]: For me I think it’s the micro-narratives that evolve over the course of the game – you can get really attached to these little guys. And just like the real world, qualifying for a big championship takes investment – and there’s drama there – will he qualify? Will he place? Have the last 4 years of game-time been for nothing? There’s like that moment of drama where you’re at the starting blocks, and everything will be decided in the next 10 seconds. We really tried to capture that – and that arc of the individual players. So sort of a long winded way of saying – yeah, the drama – and by extension, keeping my athletes on their game – I like that it never feels like I’m just grinding for XP or something – everything matters.
[DS]: I defintely got a sense of that personal investment from the trailer. Lots of mobile games are very shallow; those games have their place , but I like depth in my games.
[PG]: So do we, and that’s something we really wanted to capture here. For us, we felt like we wanted to create something that sits outside the “pick up for 5 minutes” – we wanted something you could come back to and sink your teeth into. It’s easy to pick up – we really focused on that – but there’s meat on the bones – there is a lot of strategy and subtlety in how you can play the game. We tried to leverage our experience building sports sims to really inject that level of detail into the game.
[DS] Considering how much the management/rpg aspects have been cropping up and evolving in sports games over more than a decade, even in the top-tier sports games (which you guys also have a lot of experience in), that management gameplay is becoming more and more prevalent and in-depth.
[PG]: Yeah, and I think people are starting to catch on that a lot of common sports games – take Fantasy Football for instance – are really just the same underneath the hood as your traditional RPGs. So that’s something we have taken definite notice of and are working on how to really integrate some of the same themes in new and interesting ways.
[DS] Considering that this is a mobile venture though, there’s always the big deal of IAP/DLC. One of the biggest issues with it is that a lot of iPhone or Mobile games tend to treat IAP in such a way that it feels like a cash grab, being able to spend $50 for currency to buy everything. How or what have you guys done to combat that, or if not, why did you choose to approach the IAP/DLC in that way?
[PG]: We spent a lot of time discussing how to structure IAPs in this game, whether or not to make the game free, etc. We landed on a model that we hope people will react well to. The game is free to play, and you can play the first 3 sports completely ungated to completion. That’s Track, Aquatics, and Cycling. For us, we wanted people to have an opportunity to enjoy the game, and be able to play it in an unhandicapped way – and then if they chose to, they could go deeper and have greater challenge by purchasing additional sport packs (so you can purchase Martial Arts, Gymnastics and Field as a pack at launch) and thus have more athletes to juggle – or by purchasing certain “helper” items like the Assistant Coach that really makes the effectiveness of training routines pretty transparent, or drafting All Star Athletes which are a pretty big cut above the regular drafted athletes. We took care to ensure that nothing felt heavy-handed or arbitrary in the way it was applied. Hopefully we succeeded!
[DS]: What do you mean by making the training routines transparent? Can you go into more detail about how training works?
[PG]: One of the big mechanics of the game is designing your training routines for your athletes. All of the feedback mechanisms in the game about how ‘effective’ your training routine is are there, but they’re part of a larger feedback loop (Train athlete, enter competition, check on the results, adjust routine, etc.) – the assistant coach allows you to short-circuit that loop and will basically display as a meter what the results of that feedback loop will be. It’s great as a learning tool to help you discover new routines and how to make them effective. So it doesn’t tell you what your routine should be – but it gives you instant feedback on how effective your routine is, so you can play around with different routines quicker. In terms of All Star Athletes – you absolutely can train regular guys to be All Star calibre – the only difference is that All Star athletes are guaranteed to have good stats and they can be a help late in the game if you decide you really want to be a competitor in Cycling but have no good cycling guys, you could draft an All Star and be guaranteed that you’d be competing in the finals in that sport. For a long time we played the game without All Stars – but there’s definitely an appetite there to be able to draft in a ringer in an area you might be weak. [Training] gives you a more immediate measure of effectiveness of your routine if you’ve purchased the coach that allows you to min/max. Different sports have different routine patterns as well – so it’s not a one-size fits all solution.
[DS]: So it’s like having a booster pack with a guaranteed good guy? What if someone just buys an entire set of All-Stars to compete. Wouldn’t that break the game, essentially just having an entire team of top-tier competitors?
[PG]: Not really, they’d definitely have a better chance, but at the top tiers – places are decided by hundredths of a second – and the same holds true in this game. You’ve still got to know how to maximize your form, your energy – and be in top form on the day – raw talent alone is not enough to carry you to the top. It helps obviously, but it’s not everything.
[DS]: So even if you have an All-Star, they still have to be trained in their best attribute?
[PG]: Yes, that’s correct. They’ll be very well aligned in that category, but you still have to guide them to the top.
[DS] And can a regular athlete achieve All-Star status – is it just a measurement of the character’s level/effectiveness? or is it a title exclusive to the IAP athletes?
[PG]: Oh absolutely, anyone can be an All Star athlete. You can train anyone to reach that level. It is more of just a qualitative term describing the fact that these guys have high natural talent, high XP, etc.
[DS]: Just so I understand it: I can train a regular guy to the point that he’s as good as a paid guy. And they’ll both have “All-Star”?
[PG]: Yes. And just to clarify, All Star guys don’t have special branding – you have to actually become a world champion or the like to get a special badge branding your guy. So it is still about performance.
[DS]: So the IAP/DLC has no bearing on auto-winning, the game’s focus is entirely about skilled progession. You can’t actually buy your way to the top.
[PG]: Yes, there’s no “auto-winning” in this game. 🙂 Seriously though, we spent a lot of time and consideration making sure we were doing the IAPs right – it’s really important for us – we’re in it for the long haul, and are interesting in making great games that people care about. A quick note about coins – you can buy coins in this game, but again, even if you decided to spend a fortune on coins, you still wouldn’t be able to auto-win it. So it’s balanced accordingly.
[DS]: What are coins used to purchase – are they the base currency to “buy” the upgrades?
[PG]: Coins are used to buy other types of “consumable” boosts in the game, or facility upgrades. So for instance, you can use coins to buy Water to increase your energy if you need it right before a big competition and you’ve lost track of your routine. Or, say you want to compete in Trampoline – you can purchase the trampoline upgrade to your building and that makes that sport available for competition. There are other boosts like certain bonuses to training routines, but again – it’s all balanced accordingly. We didn’t want any piece of equipment in the game unbalancing the overall experience, so regardless of whether your earn it in game or purchase it, it will always seem fair. You earn coins from winning competitions, or completing sponsorship challenges, etc.
[DS]: If HB Studios was a person, I’d give it a high-five and a hug right now.
[PG]: Haha awesome.
[DS]: And a by-product of your design philosophy with your IAP is I have huge respect for HB Studios now.
[PG]: Great to hear! Really hope that once we get our codes from Apple, that you’ll enjoy playing the game as much as we’ve enjoyed making it. We’ve been playing it basically daily for months now and we are all still addicted to playing it, so we really hope it resonates with people outside of these walls.
[DS]: Now, see, that was something I was curious about. You guys all actually play the game, and it’s a staple on your iPhones?
[PG]: Yes, we absolutely play the game. It’s definitely one of my most played games on my phone – and so we’re also big on trying to get accurate user feedback. We’ve made some tweaks to the game to ensure it is accessible based on some of that feedback we’ve gotten.
A big thank you to Peter Garcin and HB Studios for taking the time to do an interview, and they’ve got me really excited to try out Medal Bound. Look for a full review of the game within the coming weeks!