An insiders peek behind the (iron, wood, and brick) curtains at NorthStar. Stay current with Evolution, Wits & Wagers, Say Anything, Happy Salmon, and new games in the pipeline. If that sounds interesting, click on the subscribe link to the right. Cheers!
Quick update: we've decided to push back the launch of the Oceans campaign for about a month, to late March. Our obsessions got the best of us: there are a couple of finesse-y touches we decided to make before pressing the big red button.
Also, we thought it wouldn't hurt to put a bit more space between the launch of the Evolution Video Game (which just launched) and the launch of our Kickstarter campaign. We'll announce the exact date shortly.
Apologies. We know (or hope, anyway) you're waiting for the campaign like:
Four years ago, we raised a bunch of money to make a video game version of our strategy game Evolution. Evolution is a super-thematic game where you evolve species by giving them traits, to help them adapt and survive in an ever-changing ecosystem:
We've had 5 people working full time on the video game for these last 4 years. That may sound like overkill, but there's a reason: our goal is to make the best digital board game on Earth. The project's a failure if we don't blow the doors off.
The game has launched today (worldwide on Steam, iOS, and Android), and we're certain we hit our mark (we delayed this launch like 5 times to make sure of it).
Wise readers will be (and should be) skeptical of such claims, because companies crow so much about how awesome they are, even when they aren't.
So, to induce you to see for yourself, we're giving away 1000 copies of the Evolution board game to people who try the video game ($40,000 of games).
How The 1000 Game Giveaway works:
Every day for the next 100 days, we'll randomly select 10 winners from everyone who played an online game that day. It's free to enter on iOS and Android. Just download Evolution (free-to-try in the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store), make an in-game account with an email address, and play an online match each day. We'll select new winners daily from those who play an online match each day. Winners cover the cost of shipping. You'll find more details about the giveaway here.
It's available in English on PC and Mac via Steam for $14.99. It's also available as free-to-try on iOS and Android with a full version available for $9.99 as a one time purchase. Those who purchase the game in the first week will receive a 20% launch sale discount.
While Evolution’s digital adaptation is loyal to the original board game, it has also done some evolving of its own. Stunning new artwork, animated cards, lush environments, distinct enemy A.I. Bosses, and a new campaign mode are just a sample of the new features exclusive to the digital edition.
Playing against human opponents from around the world provides its own thrill in fast-paced games. Cross-platform multiplayer provides a deep pool of players to battle wits with, and skill-based matchmaking encourages healthy competition.Evolution’s digital form has been crafted to play as fast as possible, so matches generally last less than ten minutes.
Check out our launch day activities
We're streaming all day today on our Twitch channel. In conjunction, we're running a funding drive for Stack Up, a military charity that delivers care packages of video games and nerd stuff to deployed troops, military hospitals, and stateside bases. You'll find a donation link on our Twitch channel and you can read more about it here.
In addition, we'll be posting like fools throughout the day on our social media channels. For all that follow us on Twitter and Facebook or visit the official website.
Before they release games, publishers like us send pre-release copies to reviewers.
And those reviewers get to have a good time. They get to play all the games long before anyone else and present them to the rest us like future-divining shamans. The popular reviewers float through convention halls with contrails of groupies (reviewer groupies exist btw) as publisher after publisher tries to catch their eyes with hopeful, upturned faces. It's good to be a reviewer.
It occurred to us there might be a fun opportunity here. What if we could give our fans a taste of what that's like? We can't provide groupies (lacking any ourselves), but we can send an unpublished game to a small group of fans to review it and crow (or complain) about it before the world.
There's a new blog post (composed lovingly by yours truly) over at northstargames.com, reflecting on some things I've learned about depth in the aftermath of Evolution's publication (I'm a developer on the Evolution games, and designer of the upcoming Oceans).
North Star Games has a new blog at northstargames.com ("The Secret Life of Fun"), and the first post there is a story about how we ended up publishing Happy Salmon and why it has become a hit. Speaking of which, Happy Salmon is a nominee for the Toy Industry Association's Game of the Year Award!
We've been working on it for nearly 3 years. We could have made almost 4 babies in that time! Instead we've been trying to craft the best digital tabletop game ever made. Life is exciting when you shoot for the moon, so we're shooting. Some features:
fully cross-platform for Steam, iOS, and Android fast and fluid: you can play a game in 10 minutes beautiful animations that enhance gameplay instead of slowing it down online multiplayer mode that matches you with similarly skilled players campaigns offering new ways to play that don't exist in the physical version of the game a learn-by-playing tutorial that makes learning effortless
We've come a long way. We've posed hundreds of design questions and answered each dozens of times, always looking for a better answer than the one that came before.
In celebration of our launch, here's a look back at our progress through the lense of just one of those questions: how should a species be represented onscreen?
We started with two design maxims, diametrically opposed:
1. All information needs to be present when it's necessary; nothing is hidden behind a click. 2. The screen needs to have high over-the-shoulder appeal, meaning somebody walking by would say "that looks pretty".
We came up with 64 different solutions before finally settling on one. I won't show you all 64 because I'm not insane, but here's a chronological sampling:
First, the beginning. A screenshot of our first full-screen mockup:
This was as close as we could come to the look of the tabletop game. It immediately revealed a problem: the scheme wouldn't allow for more than two players. There wasn't enough room onscreen to add more species for the left and right players.
Another problem: early testers didn't look at the mix of population, body size, and traits, and see a "species". They just saw a hodgepodge of stuff. We wanted players to identify with their species and understand it as a creature. We begin experimenting with putting a picture of a species in the center of each species to tie all of the information together. Enter the species “badge”:
This helped tie things together and also allowed traits to be smaller. But in making the traits smaller, we realized we should emphasize the outline of the creatures on the trait cards to make them easier to distinguish from one another:
We also had the challenge that for population, a player has to know how many population are fed and how many are unfed. So we added population markers:
We wrestled a lot with how to best show this mix of fed and unfed population:
The above is the one we settled on for the first working prototype of the game. Population was represented by the bubbles on the left. This design carried us all the way through to the second version of the game, complete with production code:
The transition to 3D resulted in another variant of this badge, complete with a dynamic body size label that grows as the size increases:
Then we took it to our first public showing, at PAX East, and quickly realized we had two major problems:
First, players didn’t like counting lots of little pips.
Second, it wasn’t intuitive that the population pips are a “hotspot”. To add a population, you needed to drag a card to exactly the population area of the badge. A line of pips didn’t make an obvious target to drag to.
With that, once again we dove into another round of trying to get perfect mix of each of the elements of the species: population, fed and unfed states, body size, traits, and clear target hotspots:
The “Paw Print”
Having a number for population, and displaying the food eaten, proved particularly difficult.
And finally, a mere 64 versions later, we give you...drumroll please...
The absolute perfect mix of art, user interaction, and information, in an elegant package. Hope you like it. If not, no problem, no doubt Mark, Bree, and Jesse would love to crank out another 64 versions. Otherwise...
This weekend North Star Games will be at Pax West. Booth 7603.
It happens that a major casino magnate in from Vegas has entrusted us with his briefcase while he walks the floor looking for new games for his casino. We're not sure what's inside but we're keeping it in our booth under plexiglass (that's the best way to keep anyone from stealing it, obviously).
But you don't care. You're out on parole and your ex is dating that smug casino magnate, and you're going to steal that case and rub his face in its contents. You've got a plan. You've got 1000 associates (all the backers) with all the expertise you need. You've got 5 days to make it happen.
You'll need a small team to get it done. Distract the North Star Games staff with questions, have a person block their view, and another to pull the plexiglass and grab the case. Slip out and laugh all the way to the bank.
If you or your associates (or anyone else) can steal the case from our booth without us catching you at it, and then prove you've got it by posting it to Twitter or Facebook tagged #VegasWits, you will unlock the following stretch goal:
It's a new pack of questions for Vegas Wits & Wagers, this one about movies. Because movies are cool. You'll also get to keep the contents of the briefcase.
Good luck. You'll need it.
Spoiler (click to reveal)
p.s. Please don't steal anything else from our booth. We need to feed our families.