Celtic Heroes is an ambitious idea that executes itself really well to cater for both the casual mobile gamer and those who can burn hours online playing MMORPG’s. The game itself contains a massive world filled with thousands of activities and quests for players to take on and complete in order to become a powerful hero. We caught up with the developers of Celtic Heroes to find out just how they’ve managed such an impressive feat on such a small scale and exactly how much of a challenge it was to create a unified experience for players across a range of different devices.
For those who don’t know, Celtic Heroes is a mobile focussed 3D MMO offering a similar play style to much bigger titles found on PC platforms, whether you’re a fan of World of Warcraft or Wildstar, Celtic Heroes is an MMO that offers almost the same functionality but on a much smaller scale allowing players to jump in and out of the game at any time without the need to spend hours grinding the same quests over and over again.
Speaking with One Thumb Mobile, we asked whether having the game on a platform which thrives on casual games such as Candy Crush Saga, Threes, Dots and more, were any changes made to the core concept of MMORPG in order to accommodate those players, “I wouldn’t describe the changes as accommodating casual players so much as being mindful of the fact that, as a mobile game, you can be interrupted at any time (by a phone call or real life), and that many players enjoy short bursts of game play, so we should accommodate that if we can,” they said. “For example, fast travel via leystones allows instant travel to major hubs once you’ve discovered them, and this feature is opened up from the start of the game, it’s not a high level feature. It’s important to be able to get into the world and be doing something useful, quickly.”
One Thumb also stressed that at any point throughout the game, whether you’ve been hopping in and out of the game for months or play until your battery runs dry, every time you enter there’ll always be something fun to do. And that’s something that seems to be the core focus throughout our interview. Making sure that no matter how long you play the game, there’s something fun to do.
“Raid game play is present and correct in a form that players of desktop MMOs would recognise, so it’s clear that mobile MMO players are committed enough to engage with the game at that level,” they said. “That said, it remains a goal of the game to allow players to have fun in short time periods. If you’ve only got 5 minutes, there’s tons of stuff to do!”
From the games conception, One Thumb Games set out to make a mobile MMO, and with that we discussed whether the developers had to make any sacrifices in order to cater to the vast amount of mobile devices on the market. Though they revealed that no sacrifices had been made and that mobile was the main focus, they’ve also tried hard to make the game work on as many devices as possible.
[su_pullquote]”We do have to be very careful to make sure we work on as wide a range of devices as possible.”[/su_pullquote]
“We do have to be very careful to make sure we work on as wide a range of devices as possible,” they said. “The client has to scale – it works on everything from an iPod 4th Gen with 256Mb RAM, all the way up to the latest iOS and Android tablets. From tiny resolution screens to the 2048‑by‑1536 retina displays. That’s probably the biggest challenge – releasing on mobile these days is a little bit like the dark days of the PC – a million and one form factors and device capabilities, and it all just has to ‘work’.”
Speaking of which, we also wondered whether the mobile focus of the game caused them to consider how the free-to-play model would come into play with Celtic Heroes rather than offering the game at a premium price. Thankfully, Celtic Heroes offers no ‘play to win’ incentives such as overpowered weapons and armour, instead they’ve tried to offer as much content for free. “There is an enormous amount of free content here. Lots of zones, lots of quests; very little is gated off. The mantra of the design team is that every time you log in you should have something fun to do. Whether you log in 10 times a day, or once every 10 days, there is something you can log in and get your teeth into, progression to be made.”
“What is really interesting is that, because of the inherent long-form nature of an MMO, there is absolutely no need for any of the ridiculous time-gating design that goes on in many F2P titles these days.
“That was something that was a bit revelatory for me, when I joined the company; MMOs are an absolutely stellar fit for mobile, and particularly F2P mobile. You have deep, engaging, long form gameplay that naturally also lends itself to short play bursts. You have strong player bonds forming from the group game play that means we keep players for much longer than your typical F2P mobile title, which means we do not have to be as aggressively monetising in the ways the worst offenders can be. We want to keep our players for the long haul; they’re not to be churned through in pursuit of short term games.”
Following on from the plan to monetize Celtic Heroes, we discussed the game’s development process and how with such a huge range of devices offering both massive amounts of memory and little to no memory as well as completely different processing powers, how did One Thumb overcome these obstacles, it seems a lot of testing came into play.
[su_pullquote align=”right”]They’re not just limited storage wise. In fact, storage is about the only thing on the device we get enough of![/su_pullquote]
“[Devices are] not just limited storage wise. In fact, storage is about the only thing on the device we get enough of! Despite the much heralded increase in CPU and GPU horsepower over the years, the very top end devices still struggle to meet old generation console performance in certain ways,” One Thumb revealed. “This isn’t surprising; a mobile device has to deliver significant computing performance on a limited battery and in a tiny form factor, so there are more power and heat constraints than in your typical main-connected device.”
Thankfully there’s a saving grace to all of this according to One Thumb. “If you’re careful, you can coax reasonable performance out of a significant range of the devices currently out there. That latter part is an important point – if you want to address a significant part of the market, you need to target a range of devices, not just the latest and greatest. To us, that means going back as far as the iPhone 3GS and similar devices of that generation.”
To achieve such a feat, One Thumb had to make sure the client scaled noting that you can’t have a one-size-fits all approach to content. To explain things further, One Thumb revealed that on certain low end devices, players are given different versions of the games environment assets. There’s also less verticals, lower resolution textures, and fewer materials. “The simple rule is (particularly applicable in Unity-driven games, but all game engines use similar optimisations), the less you draw in the scene, and the more similar the things you draw are, the better off you’ll be,” they said.
“In addition to purely technical optimisations, and device-targeted graphics specifications, we make can make non-gameplay-critical changes to help the game run on older clients; for example, drawing less mobs, reducing the view radius of the client etc.”
Touching on the games development some more One Thumb explained how they’ve taken the massive array of controls and key bindings found on bigger PC MMO’s and tuned them specifically for mobile so it’s easier to hit the right command at the right time without over crowding the screen too much.
“The amount of UI real estate is obviously limited, so we have to be careful to design encounters and scenarios that wouldn’t require a player to have to remap skill bars or cover 90% of their screen. Because of these limitations we can’t go about our designs with a traditional MMO mindset, mobile has to come first. Our skill bars are paged, our mini map doubles as our movement joystick. All of our gameplay and controls allow players to dip in and out without penalty.
“We don’t see these as limitations; we see opportunities to create new and innovative ways of allowing players to interact with Celtic Heroes and become the industry leader for future mobile MMOs.”
[su_pullquote]There are already a few analogues, but nothing with the same level of scale and freedom.[/su_pullquote]
In terms of becoming the industry leader for the future of mobile MMO’s we briefly discussed whether One Thumb can see more 3D MMO’s landing on mobile any time soon, “there are already a few analogues, but nothing with the same level of scale and freedom,” they revealed. “I think the things holding people back from releasing other large scale MMOs on mobile is probably more an unfounded fear of how appropriate MMO-style gameplay is on a mobile platform. But if developers see successful games making money, then I’m sure more will follow suit.”
Celtic Heroes has also spawned their own hardcore followers with many whom consider Celtic Heroes to be their primary MMO to play on, as for pulling players from other larger PC MMO’s, One Thumb said that both Celtic Heroes, and World of Warcraft, for example, can work hand-in-hand with World of Warcraft being their PC MMO, and Celtic Heroes being their mobile MMO.
“It is complementary,” said One Thumb. “An MMO you can take with you on the bus, play whilst you’ve got ten minutes to kill in the post office queue etc. What I find interesting is that many of the players are young, first-time MMO players, who are discovering many of the MMO archetypes and classic design through a mobile game. For them, it’s not a weird thing!”
[su_pullquote align=”right”]”Celtic Heroes has seen amazing success so far, we’ve had nearly two million accounts and three and a half million characters created across iOS and Android”[/su_pullquote]
“Mobile gaming continues to be the fastest growing gaming sector, and as more developers branch out from tired rehashes of existing mobile games we expect- and hope to see the number and popularity of mobile MMO’s continue to grow.”
As for the games design, we wondered how much of the title had been influenced from Celtic lore, something that the development team were keen to discuss, “The design team is always poking around in the dark recesses of celtic lore; it’s a rich vein of story and content ideas, so it is heavily used. All of the seasonal events are themed from the lore, from the quest lines to the items and bosses.
“In terms of game play design, I would say the most obvious influences are probably some of the original hit MMOs of the desktop – Everquest is an obvious touch point, with the emphasis on shared world and non-instancing as a means to drive player interaction.”
The future of Celtic Heroes looks to be a promising one, the design and development team have a lot of things planned for the future such as more zones, new bosses, new items, and dungeons. They’ve got plans for new and better seasonal events, one of which is taking place right now, but that’s something we’ve come to expect from MMO’s – more content. “That’s obvious, the bread and butter, if you like,” said One Thumb. Though that’s something they’re focussed on, they have something much bigger in their sights.
“What we’re really interested in is expanding the game horizontally; making it deeper. More core systems, alternative modes of progression. Crafting, for example,” they revealed. “Celtic Heroes receives free updates very regularly, primarily through seasonal events. Each seasonal event contains new quests, items, bosses, the works. Major new zones come out as fast as we can make them and keep the quality bar high.”