This week I had the pleasure to try out Idol Hands. The game, made by Pocket Games and Green Man Gaming, is a strategy game where you literally play an almighty god that looks over their budding village and help them to grow and expand as a colony, and to also protect them from the rival villages that want to expand just as much as you do. The other village also has their own god looking out for them, and it causes for some good old-fashioned cartoon carnage.
The game is made in a joint effort between Pocket Games Inc and Green Man Gaming, and is published by Green Man’s new publishing arm Green Man Loaded. The teams involved are all British based, adding to the ever-growing British video game design industry. This is the first game that Pocket Games have made, and this’ll be the first game that Green Man will get to publish as well. Having had a look at the game already, I’m hoping that we’ll see this team up again in the future!
I had the chance to be one of a small, exclusive handful of people to get my hands on the game for the very first time, as well as getting the opportunity to chat to the game’s Executive Producer Simon Prytherch about the game and his hopes for it.
The day started out with a quick introduction to the game, as well as checking out the trailer for the game. After that, there was no hanging around, it was time to get our teeth stuck into the game. We kicked off with the 6 opening tutorials, which were short and easily bite sized, which is perfect for the PEGI 7 rating that the game’s got. Not only will this keep things simple for the little ones, but it makes the information easier for everyone to take in.
After about twenty minutes of getting stuck in, it was time to get in a chat with Simon about the game, where we got straight down to business as we only had a short amount of time to get in as much as we could. He introduced me to where the idea came from and the inspiration behind why they chose this genre as their first game.
“At the time when we came up with the concept, which was nearly three years ago, the game had already been in gestation for a long time. The idea was that we wanted to create a god genre strategy game and bring it up to date for modern players and make it into accessible, bite sized chunks for all players to draw you in.”
I can say that Idol Hands has certainly achieved that. The tutorials themselves only lasted a few minutes each, but in that short space they were comprehensive in teaching you the controls and features of the game, creating those perfect bite sized chunks that help you remember exactly what you need to do and even start developing strategies from the start. I was jumped over to Level 6 where I had all of the godly abilities unlocked already, and even then it took me 42 minutes to achieve Victory over the other village, an ideal length of time to beat a level like that, I think. There’s a lot of strategy involved, more than you’d expect from a game that looks so sweet and simple on the outside.
“The game appears quite cute and pretty to look at on the surface, where it appears light weight on first glance. However there’s a pretty deep strategy once you get under the surface once you get into it, but because of that, age wise it’s proven to be a success. We’ve had testers who’re ten years old where parents have gotten involved and made it a group experience. One of the fourteen year old testers even got up early before school to play it!”
You can definitely see kids and parents alike, heck even twenty-somethings and beyond like me, sitting down and just getting absorbed for hours in this game.
I was curious as to where the visual inspiration from the game came from. Some of you may know I study Classics, and with it mythology is my absolute favourite so I was intrigued to know whether Pacific Island mythology and lore played much part in helping to shape the beautiful world of Idol Hands.
“We definitely wanted the Pacific Island type look to it, drawing especially from places such as Easter Island and the Easter Island heads. We also wanted that bright, sunny look to it with the idea of designs of other worlds that take place in different settings, such as snow and ice, but this game is focused on that tropical type island. Other worlds can appear in the future, to be decided on whether it would come as DLC or as sequels to the game.”
The idea of other settings is already an exciting concept, you can just imagine in the future if we do get to see these other settings just how creative the team can get. Your ultimate power as a god in Idol Hands is the ability to summon a volcano out of the ground to wreak havoc on your enemies. Could you imagine the possibilities in the cold, harsh north where you could potentially drop an avalanche on your foes? That would be pretty amazing if you ask me! Fingers crossed that we might get to see such a thing in the future.
The game looks gorgeous on PC already, but you can absolutely see this on consoles. Good news on if it’ll ever port over;
“If the PC version goes well, we will definitely be looking into going onto console as well.”
Huzzah! That’s always something to look forward to assuming it all kicks off on PC, which I truly hope that it does.
Idol Hands is PocketGames’ first game, but it’s also the first game that Green Man’s new publishing arm Green Man Loaded will be publishing. I imagined that must have been a fairly intimidating prospect for both the developers of the game and the publishers.
“Yes, is the answer to that. The reason that Green Man took the game on was that when they got to look at it they got to see the game already pretty far into development, already into beta stage. They had the same reaction that a lot of our testers and beta testers had, in that both Green Man Gaming and the head of PocketGames couldn’t put it down.”
As god, you need your loyal subjects to worship you, right? In Idol Hands, the flock you take care of and protect are the adorably designed Furlings, little mouse like folk that reminded me a little bit of the Clangers when I was growing up. They’re such fantastic little creatures, with their own unique little roles and the animations they had such personality.
“We’ve got some really talented animators (Drew Northcott and Aiden Young), a lot of the inspiration for the Furlings came from them. We actually have more animations from them then what actually appear in the game, but it gives us room for expanding into the different types when expanding the world. So there would be different kind of Furlings, like taller, broader ones from the north with full fur outfits to go with the snow and ice setting. Which is great when they’re walking, with the fur bouncing around with them.”
Furlings from a snowy, northern setting were mentioned a few times throughout the interview, and honestly I’m really keen to get to see them if we do get an Idol Hands sequel or DLC. You can see in the screens and trailer that the Furlings are great, so to get the chance to get to see more types of them in the future would be superb.
Every game has challenges, Idol Hands of course being no exception to that. Strategy games can quickly fall into the struggles of being either too easy or too hard due to improper balancing, but PocketGames have done their best to try to address this and make it as enjoyable an experience as possible.
“Balancing was one of the key issues in the game. We had some very talented designers (Laurence Alexander) and programmers (Ashwadh Bollini and Robert Wilson) on board to help ensure the balancing in the game was both challenging but fair. For example, the Priestly ability to convert enemy soldiers to your own cause, or vice versa with your Furlings being converted to the enemy side.”
The balancing felt good and smooth in the level that I got the opportunity to play. It was just that right level of challenge, without making me want to tear my hair out, but it was also not so easy that I just breezed through it either. I’m looking forward to see how much more of a challenge the game will be the higher up the levels you get to go.
Sadly, the interview had to come to a close here, but I did get the chance to ask Simon what his personal favourite feature of the game was.
“You’d expect me to say volcanoes, because that’s the most visually impressive and uses up the most mana. Though I would actually say the earthquake ability was my favourite, because if you put it in the right place you can create one of the biggest areas of destruction for half the amount of mana that it’d take to put down a volcano.”
Take note everyone! Save your mana, throw out earthquakes instead. After the interview, I got some more time to try to conquer the level I was playing, keeping Simon’s advice in mind and using earthquakes more often than I did volcanoes – he was absolutely right. A well placed earthquake caused far more damage to the rival village than using up all my mana on a volcano.
Over all I had a superb time with PocketGames and Green Man, it was a pleasure to get to chat to Simon and the rest of the team there, as well as get hands on with the game for the very first time. Keep an eye out in the near future for my review of Idol Hands, which will be coming soon!
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Idol Hands comes out on PC February 18th 2015 and will also be hitting mobile platforms this summer.