Awesomenauts Interview and Preview

Awesomenauts is awesome… now that we’ve got that out of the way I can complete this preview without everyone wondering when I’m going to drop the ‘A word’. Awesome is a word I use often, so in order to make sure I convey the excellence of this title, I’ve enlisted the help of a dictionary/thesaurus combo to aid me in finding additional adjectives. Blast. Now I’ve told you it’s good what’s the point in you reading the whole article? Would it be because of the jet pack operating monkey with a laser strapped to his forehead? Got your attention now, haven’t I?

Awesomenauts is a XBLA/PSN title in development by Dutch team Ronimo Games who are responsible for the original freeware version of de Blob and the multi-format title Swords and Soldiers. Both games are known for their fun and easy to pick up gameplay; both are colourful, exciting to play and focus on the single most important thing in gaming: fun. Awesomenauts carries on this ethos that the studio seems to have developed and builds on it with a large amount of success. I recently had the chance to sit down with the game, as well as having the chance to interview the very enthusiastic Robin Meijer who is the Producer for the game.

So what is Awesomenauts and why is it so bloody fantastic? Awesomenauts is described as a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). The aim of the game is simple. Destroy the opposing team’s base. You do this by standing next to the base and firing guns, lasers, bombs, missiles, self-destructing, biting and even throwing an angry bull at the reactor shaped objective deep inside enemy territory. Simple premise. Complicated execution.

Between you and your two team mates are three other players, natural hazards and turrets. Lots of turrets. The idea is to work as a team to break through various obstacles to get to the final objective. While you can cause damage and kill the opposition, they will re spawn within ten seconds from a spaceship in orbit… a spaceship that will launch them down to the planet in their own base, meaning that there will be a constant wave of re-enforcements.

So, currently you’ve got three versus three attacking each other, with the idea being to kill the opposing foes and get to the enemy base. Once you’ve disposed of the player controlled characters (we’ll get onto the who’s who later) you come against turrets. Big turrets. The level I played had three of them; one guarding the upper tier, one on the lower and  one that guarded where the two paths met which lead to the opposition base. These things are controlled by robots so you don’t have to worry about them doing their jobs; they kill anything that isn’t on your team and they do it quickly. These things are vicious. They make the Terminator look like Johnny 5. Not that shit female terminator either; I’m talking about the T-1000.

Again, team work is required to defeat these turrets. I’m not joking about the badass nature of those things though, they will exterminate you. In order to assist you, you are given a group of robots of your own called Minions. They are little guys about a foot high that carry clubs and massive shields. For reasons unbeknownst to me, whenever these little guys get in range of the turret, the turret will focus on killing them. Maybe it’s a territorial thing? Like he’s worried the Minions will leak oil over his patch of land or something. The point is they focus on the minions while you pour molten lava onto the termin… I mean fire your array of weaponry at the turrets in order to progress. The only problem with this is that the Minions aren’t that strong against conventional weapons, so it becomes a task of escorting them to the turrets.  I never had any problems getting them there and they can defend themselves for a few seconds, but they are going to need your help as much as you’re going to need theirs.

Already the game has a ridiculous amount of content and layers of team work. It is not only a challenge to actually play and succeed, but the design and art styles are exemplary. It looks and feels.. (checks thesaurus).. stupefying. Controls are tight and responsive and moving around the levels is easy; a simple mini map allows me to keep track of where my team mates are, where the minions are and where the opposition is. The combat in Awesomenauts feels exciting and chaotic – it’s a blend of trying to keep the opponent in your line of sight while getting out of the way of whatever they throw at you. You will die often, but it’s never frustrating and you just want to find the guy, get back in and launch the Raging Bull at him again. God damn his anti-gravity field!

The characters are one of the reasons why this title is going to stand out from the pack as each one looks and feels different; they’ve all got their own style, their own weapons and buffs. I played as Sheriff Lonestar for the most part – a cigar chomping, dynamite throwing, gun totting cowboy – and he’s a great character to start out with. Other starting characters include Froggy G, Leon Chameleon, and three other unlockable characters which bring the total to six. This means there are plenty of combinations to experiment with in order to suit different play styles.  As you progress through the game’s individual levels you gain coins; these can be spent on upgrading your character’s weapons and health, and unlocking various abilities. In Sheriff Lonestar’s case this meant gaining access to some jet boots and the Raging Bull – literally a bull that appears at my character’s side and knocks back anything that gets in the way. It was a great offensive and defensive tool that I kept shamelessly spamming.

Personally, I loved Awesomenauts. It’s a brilliant title and focuses on fun just as much as it does team work and I’ve no doubt I’ll be picking it up on release, especially as Ronimo Games have confirmed they will be adding more characters in the future. I was laughing and grinning the whole way through the experience and it certainly is one to watch.

After my time with Awesomenauts had come to an end, I was given the opportunity to speak to Producer, Robin Meijer, about the game.

There are many XBLA and PSN titles out there currently, so where did the original concept come from, in order to make it stand out from the busy crowd?

When we were trying to come up with the idea for Awesomenauts, we found ourselves playing lots of DOTA and thought it would be good to play something similar on a console. However, not many people know about its mechanics, so we started with a 2D design, as it’s more flexible and allows us to add lots of mechanics and really focus on keeping the game a fun experience rather then just the content side of things.

You have multiple characters in the game, with various weapons and upgrades. Is there a reason why you’ve chosen to have some of those unlock as you go?

We didn’t want new players to start with vulnerable characters that weren’t powerful and be disappointed. One character you can unlock is the Monkey; he has the jet pack from the start and this allows players to use him in a variety of ways. This accommodates different play styles. So when he gets caught out he’s pretty much dead.

So you don’t want people using a character that is, perhaps, tricky too quickly and deciding the game’s too hard?

Exactly! For example, you also unlock the healer – he does not have a regular gun and can be a challenge to play as. You finally unlock the Tank; whereas all the other characters are about dealing out damage, he’s really about soaking it up.

You describe the game as a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena). With the focus on multiplayer could we expect a release on more formats?

Probably not. PC would be very interesting, but presents its own set of problems. We believe it’s better to play with a controller as the game has eight directional aiming and bringing that over to PC wouldn’t really work. We are discussing the idea of PC, but that’s something we’re speaking to the publisher about. What we are going to be doing is additional characters post release.

So we can expect even more depth and possibly team combinations?

Yes you can. We think that part of the fun is gaining a new character, working out what they can and can’t do and understanding how that fits into the overall game. You get to face off against different team compositions and it brings another layer to the team mechanic.

The art style for the game seems heavily influenced by the sci-fi and fantasy genres. Was that a direction you wanted to take from the start or a natural progression after deciding against other ideas?

The art style just kind of appeared. We started off with very beautiful Asian style, with samurai and ninjas. However we then started encountering problems. Firstly it was very difficult to get individual characters to stand out and be noticed. Secondly we found it was a problem to actually come up with any distinctive variation on the designs to allow for extra classes. So, we opted for a sci-fi setting that was more flexible. The game can get pretty hectic with fights and multiple people attacking on multiple levels, so the style itself actually aids in identifying what’s going on and I think that’s very important, considering the type of game.

Do you have any other game modes planned aside from the standard three versus three?

All games will be 3v3 destroy an enemy base. We currently have three different maps, which change where the turrets are placed, changing how teams will attack and defend. This dramatically changes the gameplay experience. We have a level where you can just focus on one lane to get to the enemy base, a second one where you have to punch through multiple turrets and finally the third which involves getting deep behind enemy lines quickly with a risk of getting cut off from additional team mates.

So on the face of it you have this cute, fun looking shooter but, in reality, while you have that, you also have a very deep and rewarding gameplay experience.

There is a lot of depth to the game and a heavy focus on teamwork. Sometimes we get a response were people would look at one screen-shot and see the flying monkey with the jetpack. They’d think “What the hell is this? A flying monkey? That doesn’t make any sense.” We’ve seen comments on screen-shots just asking “What is this, some sort of flash game?” and “A flying monkey? That’s bullshit.” But then they come and play the game and not only have you got this fantastic layer of team play, but everyone’s saying “Wow! Awesome! A flying monkey with a jet pack.”

At this stage I thanked Robin and bid the team farewell. Awesomenauts had left a strong impression and, after four days of Eurogamer, was still the game I wanted to get more of than any other. It is one game that I firmly believe everyone should be keeping an eye on. It is very, very awesome.

Awesomenauts is due for release on XBLA and PSN by the end of 2011, with no confirmed release date at this time.

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One Comment

  1. Edward Edward says:

    I have to admit, I didn’t like the game as much as you, but I wish them every bit of success for it as it is an engaging game. Plus, monkey with a jetpack.

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