Alex Seropian and Tim Harris used their Industrial Toys studio to launch their Midnight Star and Midnight Star: Renegade mobile shooter games. Now they’re creating a new studio, Gunslinger Studios, to create 60-second multiplayer games, such as their upcoming Exiles of Embermark fantasy mobile game.
Ex-Bungie founder Seropian and Harris are creating hardcore gamer experiences on mobile, and now they’re taking a swing at the same market under the Gunslinger Studios name, which will also try to expand the market for hardcore fans in the $30 billion mobile game industry. I met with the pair at the Game Developers Conference last week and played a hands-on demo of two new games, one from each studio. They were one of the few startups I met with who weren’t swayed by the siren song of virtual reality and were instead targeting the billion users on mobile devices.
Seropian said that they have created Gunslinger Studios as a separate company to specifically fund a new series of minute-long multiplayer games. They will raise money for Gunslinger separately even as they continue to develop titles with their Industrial Toys game studio. Industrial Toys had one announced funding round in March 2014, when it raised $5 million. Seropian said the company raised a new round at the end of 2015, but it hasn’t revealed the amount. Industrial Toys has 25 employees.
Pasadena, Calif.-based Industrial Toys launched its first game, Midnight Star, in February 2015. It has now followed that game up with Midnight Star: Renegade, which is in soft launch now and will be formally launched in the summer on iOS and Android. Meanwhile, Gunslinger Studios is at work on a new title dubbed Exiles of Embermark. We’ll describe both of these games shortly.
Industrial Toys’ Midnight Star: Renegade
The original Midnight Star did well, but it didn’t reach the ambitious goals of breaking into the top rankings on mobile or creating a lasting game that people came back to over and over. In an interview with GamesBeat, Seropian and Harris said they took what they learned from the first game and applied that knowledge to making Renegade. It took them about 10 months to create the new game.
With Midnight Star: Renegade, Industrial Toys accommodated some player requests. Players wanted to do free movement in the game, so the company added that. They also wanted an Android version early on. The team shortened the time it takes to load a level, and it also shortened the length of missions.
The last game addressed the touch-screen control challenge by automating the motion in a scene. That left the player free to aim and shoot the enemies on the screen with simple taps. The player could change the viewpoint for the scene by pressing a couple of buttons at the top of the screen.
Renegade is a sci-fi story set 120 years after the events of the first game. It puts players at the center of a mystery left behind by a space-faring civilization that went missing 22,000 years ago.
Renegade uses the Unreal Engine and introduces new features, such as jump boots and guided rockets. The biggest change is how it fits into the mobile gamer’s lifestyle. Levels are short and plentiful. There are 150 levels in the first installment of the campaign, and most are under a minute in length. A multiplayer mode offers quick head-to-head battles for rank. And doing feats such as an airborne circle strafes are much easier, Industrial Toys said.
Players can craft their own characters, weapons, and armor. They can fire at long range with sniper rifles or jump into the fray with dual-wielded rocket pistols. The free-to-play game isn’t pay to win, but you can buy equipment drops that help you make progress, and you can do the customization through purchased equipment drops. The game has a high score ladder that resets every week. It will also have daily multiplayer challenges where you try to get the most headshots in a day, and there’s a head-to-head mode where you can play against someone else’s character.
Hands-on with Midnight Star: Renegade
Seropian showed me how to go through and craft better weapons or armor. All of the parts can be combined into new, more powerful weapons. And the parts can be skinned with a custom look as well. Seropian took two parts and assembled an “ice weapon.” By adding one more part, he could create an “ice rifle,” which can do double damage against fire enemies. If you use the ice rifle on electric enemies, then it only does half damage. You can tell from the collective number for the rifle how powerful it is.
I tried out a level where some moving enemies were bounding into a room to take up positions against me. They hid behind obstacles. I pressed my finger on the enemies to target them. Then I held my finger on the target to shoot at them. The enemies kept coming at a rapid clip, so I had to be quick in dispatching each one and then moving on to the next target.
For movement, I swiped the screen from the right or the left. That enabled me to shift from one position to another. It also let me dodge bullets coming in at me. With that mechanic, I had to pay attention to enemies who were outflanking me. I could tell if I was being shot at by enemies because a red indicator lit up on the side of the screen. I could also select a grenade and toss it to get enemies that were hiding behind obstacles.
There was one rascal that kept running sideways across the screen. I had to shoot ahead of him to take him out. I also tried a grenade just to make sure I got him as you lose the level if he gets away. I got him on the second time around. So the learning curve on the game isn’t steep at all. There’s other missions such as escaping from a prison, rescuing a prison, and more. Each mission has a completion rating. If you pass with three stars, then you get the highest rewards for completing the level.
Each battle lasted about a minute. It was short and sweet. I played about five missions in five minutes.
“If it takes 10 minutes to do something fun with an app, that’s too much time,” Seropian said.
Gunslinger Studios’ Exiles of Embermark
Exiles of Embarmark is a fantasy game where you meet warriors in the forest and fight duels with them. It was a completely different setting compared to the Midnight Star series, but it had the same minute-long battle design.
“We took the lessons we learned about mobile and [are] applying them to 60-second multiplayer rounds,” Harris said.”We’re starting with a fantasy role-playing game.”
In this title, you play a character such as a medieval knight and face off against a human enemy. You can select an action to perform from a series of bubbles on the lower right side of the screen. You can block, swing a sword, launch a major blow, or do some other kind of maneuver. The enemy selects their own move, and then the action plays out in front of your eyes. The view is over-the-shoulder.
You can attack an enemy’s armor or engage in a rage that can do buffs over time. You can negate someone else’s attack. You get a loot drop every time that a match ends. You also get some experience. You can use your winnings to arm yourself or trade for better things, like stronger shoulder pads or better swords.
“You can deck your guy out with a bunch of different loadouts,” Harris said.
The environment of the game is a living world, Harris said. There are different zones in the map where you can go on your quests. You can fight either multiplayer battles or take on the computer in a player-versus-environment battle.