Three years isn’t a long time to build a reputation. Robot Entertainment hasn’t just made a name for itself since it opened in 2009, it’s managed to overcome the hurdle of its pedigree. Born from the ashes of Age of Empires-creators Ensemble Studios, Robot has become the fresh face of the strategy game world. Its downloadable title Orcs Must Die! won the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Interactive Achievement Awards best strategy game category in February. It’s also enjoyed swift sales. Xbox Live sales alone came to an impressive 50,000 copies in its first two months according to a third party reporting group. Now, just under six months after its Xbox Live release, Robot has announced Orcs Must Die! is getting its first sequel.
The studio announced Orcs Must Die! 2 on Monday. Robot Entertainment president Patrick Hudson spoke with Digital Trends about lessons learned from Orcs Must Die! and how his studio has distinguished itself from Ensemble.
What was the biggest lesson learned from Orcs Must Die! that’s informing its sequel? “Co-operative gameplay,” says Hudson. “We knew we would hear about it from fans, but they were more vociferous than expected. We knew the game would be great with co-op play but we didn’t have the team size of the time needed to deliver a great multiplayer experience in the first game. We’re very excited to deliver that. Judging by what we’re seeing in our own lab, we think players are going to love it.”
Due out on PCs by this summer, OMD 2 will be out before its predecessor is even a year old. Timing the release of a sequel is a tricky business. Too late, and the community surrounding your game may have moved on. Too soon, and you risk making your first game look incomplete. “It depends on the scope of the game and the sequel,” says Hudson. “If a sequel to Skyrim was suddenly releasing within one year of the original, that would raise a lot of questions. A game of smaller scope and lower price like Orcs Must Die! has a chance to see a sequel sooner. When we saw the number of fans requesting—demanding—co-operative play, we got to work. We just wanted to deliver as soon as we could while still delivering a great overall game to OMD fans. But, it has to be unique. It has to feel like a full game.” What do players of the first game looking for something more than co-op have to look forward to? “We’re working on finding cool ways to bring some of your original OMD experiences and content forward into the sequel and really reward our fans.”
That Robot has received such a warm response from as finicky and fickle a crowd as strategy game fans has got to be encouraging. Living up to the reputation of Ensemble Studios is a tall order. Robot Entertainment is a very different studio, one less reliant on collective vision and its structure has also helped speed the development process. “Ensemble was born as a very collaborative studio. That worked great as the studio remained small but as we scaled and became larger that culture of collaboration became harder to manage. Everything tended to slow down. Decisions were harder to make,” explains Hudson. “At Robot, we’re much more willing to disagree. Not all 50 of us have to be equally excited about a feature or even choosing which platforms we’ll develop for. If everyone has to buy into a decision, the result is almost always going to be watered down.”
That freedom has also allowed Robot to explore the sorts of unusual ideas that so distinguished Orcs Must Die! “At Ensemble Studios, we were resigned to working on core RTS experiences with Age of Empires and Halo Wars. Those were outstanding franchises and fun to develop, but being first party to a large publisher means that the games you develop must fit a large portfolio strategy. Now that we’re independent at Robot, we have wide latitude to work on new game ideas on new platforms. Orcs Must Die! blended tower defense and action/shooter mechanics that we love. I think you’ll continue to see us create new experiences we haven’t tackled before.”