Casual Game News

The Week In Review: Layoffs, funding, IPOs, oh my!

Mar 14, 2014

We ran a survey recently asking our game developer friends what more they want to see on Gamezebo.  One of the key pieces of feedback we received is that you want to see more industry news.  Who k(new)?  

As long as you read and share this news round-up (hint, hint, you wild and crazy people with tons of followers on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), and there’s enough interesting news to round up, we’ll sum the news up for you every Friday.

This week:  PopCap and Disney layoffs, Large Animal Games is closing, King is still going public, and lot of new studios and businesses forming.

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Pivvot update brings Daily Challenges and a new mode

Mar 14, 2014

Whitaker Trebella is a cool guy. And like a lot of cool guys – especially in this industry – he makes some pretty cool games. The most recent of these, Pivvot, has just seen its first big update that introduces a new mode. Better yet, it also introduces two very special words: Daily Challenges.

If you’re wondering where Trebella got the idea for the latter, he recently told Gamezebo of his love for Spelunky – aka, the roguelike platformer with the Daily Challenges. “I've died thousands of times,” he said, “but I keep coming back, mainly because of the Daily Challenges.”

The challenges in Pivvot will be similar in spirit, giving players one chance each day to “prove themselves,” as Trebella tells us. And if that’s not enough, this update also introduces the new Looper mode, where players will need to do as many 360’s as possible while dodging everything the game throws at you.

If you’re already a Pivvot fan, the update is free and available now. If you’re not, you can pick this one up for 99 cents on the App Store. (and if you’re a PC or Mac gamer who’d like to try it out, be sure to tell Valve you’d buy it with an upvote on Steam Greenlight).

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More layoffs at PopCap

Mar 13, 2014

Earlier today, Gamefront had an anonymous source claiming PopCap Games, maker of the Plants vs. Zombies titles, had suffered a round of layoffs. Parent company Electronic Arts wouldn’t comment on the source’s number of 30 jobs lost, but did provide the site with a statement from PopCap GM and co-founder John Vechey confirming that some people had been let go:

“The changes we made today at PopCap were painful and we’re sorry to lose some of our friends and colleagues. But it was also necessary in order to stay on course with our future plans for mobile games, live services, and new IP. PopCap is a studio that made its name building great games that the world can fall in love with, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

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This isn’t the first time PopCap has suffered a reduction in headcount since it was purchased by EA in July 2011. Fifty employees were laid off from North American locations in August 2012, and the company’s Dublin studio was closed a month later.

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Firewatch is Campo Santo’s debut game about relationships, exploration, and forest rangers

Mar 13, 2014

Last year, a new development studio was formed by a veritable team of superstar gamemakers, though we didn’t know what they were actually working on… until now! Firewatch will be the first title from game studio Campo Santo, according to their website.

A website for the game has cropped up as well, offering a brief synopsis.

“In Firewatch you play as a man named Henry who has retreated from his messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness,” the website states. “Perched high atop a mountain, it’s your job to look for smoke and keep the wilderness safe.”

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Help stop Brandon Boyer's cancer by buying great games

Mar 13, 2014

Brandon Boyer has led a pretty busy life. He's a contributing editor to Boing Boing that once started his own record label, though most probably know him as Chairman of the Independent Games Festival (IGF). More recently, he helped found the crowdfunded Venus Patrol, an organization dedicated to discovering the beautiful things in game culture. 

Now that interesting life of his is in danger, as he's been diagnosed with cancer and his insurance company, Humana, has footed him with a $100,000 treatment bill. Of course, they did send him a chocolate bar, because that's how you apologize for literally trying to scam someone to death.

Boyer has again turned to crowdfunding, this time to save his life. By supporting him and his treatment you can now get a ton of great games out of the deal.

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The Humble Bundle, a group that sells games in a pay-what-you-want pricing model, is holding one of their biggest deals yet in support of Boyer. It's a little different than usual, as you need to pay at least $25 to get the deal, but for that price you’ll receive over 30 indie games and soundtracks for PC.

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An Angry Birds RPG? That should be EPIC

Mar 12, 2014

Having already tackled the worlds of physics-based puzzle games, kart racing, animation, plush toys and more, you’d think there were few frontiers left for Rovio left to conquer with the Angry Birds brand. And apparently, you’d be wrong.

The next game in the seemingly unstoppable franchise is on the way, and in a move sure to make people everywhere do double takes, it’s a turn-based RPG with a crafting system. Angry Birds Epic is its name, and the always fortunate folks in Canada and Australia will be able to play it this week before it invades iOS, Android and Windows Phone 8 devices worldwide later this year.

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It sounds like the crafting will tie in with the game’s monetization, as TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington says players will be able to use in-app purchases to help make weapons and armor. A bigger question might be what birds would even use to make gear. Can you grab an old hubcap to use as a shield or fashion really pointy sticks into arrows?

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How a Game About Broccoli and Cheese Soup Turned into Threes!

Mar 12, 2014

“Less is more.” It’s something we say all the time, but how often do we actually think about what it means?

Greg Wohlwend has considered it more than most people. As an artist on games like Ridiculous Fishing, Hundreds and, more recently, Threes!, it’s his job to make the games you play pleasing to look at. But sometimes the best designs are the simplest, and that’s not just aesthetics.

“At one point we tried broccoli and cheese soup as a theme,” Wohlwend said during our interview. “You had broccoli, then you had cheese and so those are your ones and twos. Then you create soup. And maybe you create more soup. That’s obviously, as I say it, a horrible idea.”

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Like previous games Wohlwend has worked on, Threes! is very minimalist. It’s about sliding together numbers to add and multiply one another. On its face, that’s hardly the most exciting subject matter for an artist to tackle. So Greg, along with his co-developer Asher Vollmer, looked for more distinct designs: from broccoli and cheese soup, to military ranks, textile patterns and hydrogen atoms.

Over the game’s year and a half of development, the duo went through something like two dozen themes. None of them worked.

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So long, ShiftyLook: Namco shuts down a very cool side project

Mar 12, 2014

Back in 2011, Namco had a very bright idea: create a team to breathe new life into some of their long-forgotten franchises and characters. ShiftyLook was born out of this idea, and through a series of webcomics (and games and other media), they succeeded admirably at their mission.

But now, like the characters they were tasked to resurrect, ShiftyLook is destined to fall into obscurity; a soon to be distant memory.

“Now that we have successfully revived so many franchises,” reads the latest update on the ShiftyLook website, “the heavy lifting is completed – and so is our work. We battled the video games abyss and won, which means it's time for us to move on and let the hit-makers play with some new toys.”

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The early retirement of ShiftyLook spells a similar fate for many of its creations. Namco High, a fantastic dating sim/interactive fiction release that earned a near perfect score in our review last year, will have its servers shut down on Jun 30, 2014. Their mobile game BRAVOMAN: Binja Bash! will be suffering a similar fate, disappearing from iTunes, Google Play and Amazon at the end of this month.

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Dong Nguyen, Flappy Bird creator, tells all to Rolling Stone

Mar 11, 2014

Few games or creators have ever managed to upset the status quo in the way Flappy Bird and Dong Nguyen did. The game skyrocketed to #1 with zero marketing, earned its creator hundreds of thousands of dollars, and disappeared from the App Store due to a sense of ethics and responsibility; the game was simply too addictive, its creator said.

Asides from a few tweets and a whole lot of speculation, though, we’ve had little to go in in terms of what really happened with Flappy Bird – or to its creator Dong Nguyen. But now, thanks to an interview with Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers, we have the whole story.

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If you have even the slightest bit of interest in the phenomenon that was Flappy Bird, you owe it to yourself to check out the whole article. That said, here are a few highlights of what we learned;

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Benjamin Rivers, the creator of Home, wants to be Alone With You

Mar 11, 2014

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Toronto-based gamemaker Benjamin Rivers – better known as the man behind the frighteningly unique horror adventure Home – has just announced his next project. There’s not much info yet, but what little he’s released has flipped my curiosity switch to ‘piqued.’

“Alone With You is a single-player exploration game that takes a unique approach to romance,” says the game’s official website – and it says little else. There’s a teaser trailer, but like the game’s obtuse description, it manages to raise more questions than answers.

As a gamer who’s passionate about exploring the human condition beyond fast cars and big guns (the gaming landscape looks way too much like an 80’s action movie for my liking), Alone With You looks like it could be right up my alley. Hopefully it’ll be up yours, too. We’ll be sure to share some more info on Benjamin Rivers next adventure just as soon as we have it.

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