Planar Conquest (PQ) is the latest game by developer Wastelands Interactive. Wastelands was featured in Polygon’s article about up-and-coming Polish game developers. If certain elements of PQ look familiar to you, it’s because they are. PQ is an updated, mobile version of Worlds of Magic, which was released last year. Wastelands has reimagined the game, updated its graphics, improved the UI, and ported it to the App Store. We sat down with the CEO of Wastelands, Leszek Lisowski, to discuss PQ’s release for the iPad and iPhone as well as its future release for PC.
Question: Can you begin by telling us a little bit about your team at Wastelands Interactive?
Answer: Sure, with great pleasure. My team here is a great collective of 15 people with a huge amount of passion and love for computer games. This is something which binds us together and fills our working and free time.
Wastelands is a team able to create a complete product from scratch. We are renting 200 square meters in an attic in Zgierz, Poland which is a part of the Łódź agglomeration – a city in the center of our country. Among us are designers, 2D and 3D artists, as well as programmers – the latest addition to our team has a university degree in the field of programing specialization. During the last few years, we have become very skilled in working with the Unity 3D engine.
Question: Did you work with another company to port your game to the iPad? What was working with them like?
Answer: Yes and no. Everything for PQ was created in-house. After releasing Worlds of Magic and conducting an internal post-mortem for the product and the release itself, we wanted to focus on three major aspects that we have found to be most crucial and that received the most negative user scores. Those were: AI, user interface, and bugs.
We were aware with WoM that nobody would be able to give us a hand with publishing the PC version despite our best attempts to secure a publisher. As a result, we tried our best to improve it internally. So far the results are promising, but to be honest this is a job that’s a never-ending story.
There are the limitations of the engine, of course; however, it seems that PQ now has good pacing and pretty good initial difficulty settings for people new to the game and to the 4X genre in general. How good is it for veterans? Well, that’s a matter of gathering feedback over time. If we find out that the challenge level is too low on hardest settings, we have a plan laid out that will increase it.
We also knew that we needed to create a new user interface. Completely new, which means throwing out everything created originally. This meant we designed the UI from scratch, constantly checking what worked and what didn’t. This is where Shortbreak (our publisher for the tablet version of PQ) entered. They provided us consulting and organized the hands-on testing with users. It was very helpful to be able to see the reaction of players who had never played the game before.
The last thing on my list are the bugs. WoM launched with a lot of them and we didn’t want to repeat that. We received a lot of help from Shortbreak with QA “know-how.” During the last session of testing, we found about 200 bugs in PQ, and that was at a point when we thought there were very few of them left. We are still crushing small ones here and there, but it seems that there are no game-breaking bugs.
So generally we received a ton of data after each testing phase and continuous feedback about the progress of the GUI.
Question: What were some of the biggest challenges in porting a PC game to tablet?
Answer: Compared to personal computers, mobile devices are still quite limited: mostly in terms of the available RAM. Initially, we had planned to release the game only for iPad Air 2, but during development, we were able to get our resource usage down enough to accommodate an iPad 3. The game even starts on iPad2, but it crashes once you try to enter any other screen. You need to remember that the iOS itself consumes over 200MB of RAM.
Another big thing was to create a game that will be comfortable to play with a touch interface. We have changed a lot of our philosophy for this project. We didn’t treat our work on Planar Conquest as only a port from the PC game. We wanted to create a whole new product based on Worlds of Magic with a much better experience for the player without ruining all the things that were already good. I do believe that the foundations of WoM were fine, we just didn’t spend enough time polishing and looking at the details for the original Steam release.
This time, the team and I made our best effort to deliver a game that we might be proud of. We wanted to bring a great PC experience to mobile devices and fix all the issues that swirled around WoM. I can assure you that the whole team worked very hard for a much longer time than we previously estimated (we wanted the iOS version to be ready and released in late August). So we took our time, gritted our teeth, and almost bankrupted the company, but I think we did a very good job in the end.
Question: Explain how you and your team felt when your game finally went live on the App Store.
Answer: That is a hard question. Proud for sure. Of course it is always great when you are releasing a game. However, there is a reason that there are so few 4X games on mobile devices. One possibility is that there might not be many 4X fans playing those game on tablets, and the other is that not many companies are willing to jump into such deep waters. We were hoping it was the latter one. Initial feedback shows we were right, and there is an audience for 4X games on mobile devices. We just need to reach those guys and gals.
Question: What has the user response to Planar Conquest generally been like so far on the AppStore?
Answer: The best thing is that everybody can jump onto iTunes and take a look for themselves. You can see the ratings and reviews by users. I’m very happy with the initial feedback, despite a nasty bug in the tutorial, and the comments – especially on the Touch Arcade forum – are great.
People seem to like the game so far. They report that they are pretty happy with the experience. Of course we need some time to balance a couple of things, but this is always the case with such big releases. A lot of folks are pleased with our decision to release the game as a universal app, and not iPad only. I’m pretty sure it will only be better as time goes on.
Question: What are some of the biggest differences between the tablet version of Planar Conquest and the PC version of Worlds of Magic?
Answer: I’m sure that Planar Conquest is the game we should have initially released on Steam. It is just better than Worlds of Magic: better UI, better AI, fewer bugs, new graphics. That is all I can say. Of course we cannot change what happened already. We know we had a good idea; we just didn’t execute it well. We didn’t change the core mechanics from WoM to PQ, we just aimed to get them working better.
Question: What improvements to the diplomacy system and AI have been made in Planar Conquest?
Answer: We have completely redesigned the way the AI calculates how good a deal is in diplomacy. It tries to value it owns needs most. It seems the whole system works better, and currently we are patching the loopholes in the system. With the release of 1.2, there shouldn’t be any easily exploitable deals. The AI is always an ongoing fight.
Question: Can you tell us a bit about the different in-app purchases for Planar Conquest?
Answer: Actually the in-app purchases are just extra content. There are no core mechanics in the DLCs. There are four supplemental races: Dwarves, Myrodants, Orcs, and Draconians. There’s an in-app purchase that has the elemental planes, and several others add some extra units to the game. You can, of course, get all of them at once, and I think that if people like the game, they will buy them. But you don’t need them to enjoy the Planar Conquest experience.
Question: How was the decision made to make certain game features part of the base game or to make them additional purchases?
Answer: We talked for a long time with our publisher about how to price the game. We wanted to make sure that, for the basic price, the player would get all the functionalities and should be able to play long hours and not be forced to buy anything. The base game had to contain all the features, all the spells, four races, and three planes (worlds), along with all the game set up settings. The add-ons are there for somebody who likes the game and would like to spend more time trying diverse things. We could have sold the whole game for $32, or broken it up into smaller purchases so customers wouldn’t have to commit so much money upfront. The decision was made to break it up. Players don’t really need to buy the add-ons to enjoy the game.
Question: I read in your press release that Planar Conquest will be coming to the Xbox and Playstation. Who are you working with to bring your game to console?
Answer: This is a long story, and I don’t want to bore you guys to death. Xbox One and PS4 versions are planned to be released this year, and I’m really hoping it will happen during the summer. We are working with Teyon on that. We are just not big enough to do all those things internally. At the moment, we are doing our best to make PQ as good for consoles as it is for mobile devices or even better!
Question: You have also stated that the upgrades made for Planar Conquest will eventually make it to the PC version. Will you be keeping the name Worlds of Magic or will you release the game under the name Planar Conquest?
Answer: It is not 100% decided, but I’m leaning toward releasing the new game under the name Planar Conquest. This will make the whole thing much easier for people if they have one name. Especially since we are planning to launch multi-platform multiplayer once all is said and done. It is already delayed much more than I would like it to be, but we would like to make it right.
Question: Worlds of Magic had a pretty difficult launch, and I know you have addressed it before with your community. What would you like people who haven’t bought WoM yet to know about your game and your company?
Answer: Yes. Worlds of Magic has gotten off to a difficult start. What I would like people to know is that the game was a work of passion and love. It’s spiritual predecessor, Master of Magic, is very dear to all our hearts. It was risky idea from very beginning. Worlds of Magic, AKA Planar Conquest, is a huge project. If I would have known how big at the very beginning, I probably would have stepped back and not taken the risk of creating it. We didn’t fulfill all the expectations people put onto the project, nor our own. The hard truth is, that if we would have put all our efforts solely on improving the PC version of the game, we probably wouldn’t ever finish it.
Designing the game for mobile devices and consoles forced us to take a completely new approach and look at the project with fresh eyes. We had to entirely change our mindset, which was really needed. It has changed how we take a look at the GUI’s usability, and the player’s actual needs. Trying only to fix WoM on the PC would probably have lead to a dead end. At this point, I’m very happy that we have decided to go mobile, because it will only make the computer version better in all aspects. Now, with all that we have learned, I am very optimistic about the PC version’s future.
WoM is not as good a game as I would like it to be right now. If you are not sure it is worth buying right now, please wait until we will release Planar Conquest on PC and decide then.
I feel we are trying everything to make PQ a great game.
Question: What are your future plans for the WoM/PQ franchise on PC? Will there be an expansion or sequel in the future?
Answer: Hard to say now. A lot depends on the feedback we receive. I hope your readers let us know what they think! I’m pretty sure there is some space to keep developing the base game by adding new planes and new races. For sure, the team needs to take a rest from WoM/PQ and work for a while on some different projects we’d like to try. Working continuously for more than three years on the same project can be quite exhausting.
Question: Once the new version of Planar Conquest/WoM gets on Steam, will the old version of Worlds of Magic still be available on Steam for modders to experiment with in the future, or will that version be discontinued entirely?
Answer: I think that the old version will be taken down from Steam. Sure, it will be still available for those who bought it, but I don’t see any point in keeping it available for new purchases, especially since there will be an updated version of the game out there.
Question: Will there be an Early Access period on Steam for PQ?
Answer: We are not planning one at this time.
Question: Will everyone who buys a copy of Worlds of Magic on Steam prior to the launch of the new Planar Conquest version on Steam get a free copy of the new version?
Answer: Glad you asked about that. Yes, this is what will happen (and I will do my best to make this process as easy as possible): everyone who buys WoM will get the new version once it becomes live. I couldn’t imagine another way. Every Worlds of Magic owner will receive a copy of the updated game. There can be no doubt about it.
Question: Now that you’ve brought Planar Conquest to the iPad, is there a chance any of the other games in Wastelands’ library will make it to the App Store?
Answer: Not in the near future. All our previous games needs to be rewritten on a new engine. This is on our to-do list, but even though I would like to, there is no chance something will pop up this year. However I’m pretty sure it will be cool to have those wargames available for mobile devices some day.
Question: Before we go, is there anything else you would like people to know about your game?
Answer: First of all, I would like to thank everybody for reading so far, and I would like to thank you, Troy, for taking your time and hearing what I have to say. We have made Planar Conquest with the aim to bring the full-fledged 4X experience from PC to mobile devices. I think we have done a good job, but also I’m sure it’s not finished yet. If you are not sure if it’s a game for you, ask your friends, read about the game, or just ask us on our site.
We’d like to thank Leszek for answering all our questions. If you’d like to ask Wastelands Interactive some follow-ups, post them in the comments below and we’ll be sure to direct their dev team to your inquiries. Planar Conquest is currently available for $12.99 on the AppStore.