Starship Announces Playworld Superheroes for Mobile [Interview]

Playworld SuperheroesLiverpool-based digital media, technology and entertainment company Starship has announced the development of Playworld Superheroes, its upcoming mobile game, which aims to engage a player’s imagination as they create their own superhero and take it on a series of adventures. The game is aimed at players aged 5+, and will be free from in-app purchases.

Playworld Superheroes will be the first game in an ongoing franchise, with this adventure title offering a crafting system to help players create the items they’ll need during their adventure. Throughout the adventure, players will battle enemies and explore their environment in an experience described as a “Hollywood blockbuster-styled game of their own creation.”

We had a chance to chat with Starship CEO, Martin Kenwright, about the game’s development, and what player’s can expect from this new franchise.

Inside Mobile Apps: If you had to describe the gameplay of Playworld Superheroes “in a nutshell” what would you say? Does the game fit into a particular genre we might recognize? A platformer or hack-n-slash game, for instance?

Martin Kenwright: The Playworld series is all about empowering a child’s imagination. We give kids the tools they need to craft and create customized suits and gadgets in a real world setting. We then reward their creativity by introducing new land for them to play in – Playworld – the land of your imagination.

A child’s innate ability to dream and create takes them on incredible adventures, starring the player as the hero. What they’ve crafted allows them to take on new powers and abilities in that world. From the simplest crafting to the most state-of-the-art experiences, that’s what Playworld is about. The prologue is Playworld Superheroes, built upon the premise that where adults see cardboard boxes, kids can see a superhero suit.

It’s different in terms of game design. We’ve tried to bring a nice twist to traditional adventure games. We’re trying to give kids the Hollywood movie treatment without them having to worry about complex controls schemes.

IMA: How much customization will be available in the player’s creation of their superhero? What sorts of options will be available to them?

MK: You’ll be able to customize the entire superhero from the ground up. You even get to design your own logo. It was really important to us that we made the whole experience really personal to the player, so cut scenes in the game use their superhero logo as a signature nod to heroes in popular culture. In Playworld Superheroes, the amount of crafting isn’t completely open ended, but as the series unfolds that will change. Playworld is aiming to create dozens of product extensions over the years.

Playworld Superheroes

IMA: Are the player’s customization options limited to visual variations, or will they affect their resulting superhero’s powers as well?

MK: We’ve devised complex crafting systems that are too advanced to introduce all in one go, so with the first installment, we’re getting kids used to the art of crafting. The visual identity of the hero is really important in this game, but everyone has the same powers at their disposal, providing they work hard enough to level up.

We’ve pre-made quite a few of the items in this one, that gamers can make their own with crayons, scissors and extra bits to stick on, with more and more appearing in updates. As the series progresses, the customization options will impact the player’s powers and abilities, but as an introduction, the customization will affect the look and feel of the game. What’s unique about it, is the freeform and freestyle crafting; it mimics that way children play in real-life, so it should all come naturally to the player.

We’re so excited about where Playworld can lead – the incredible things we have planned for it, and the opportunity the concept has presented us with. We want it to be one of the top apps for kids for this age group.

IMA: The game is described as having a large crafting system, where players will “create new tools and gadgets to level up their powers.” Can you give us more details about that system, and what sorts of objects players will craft (and why)?

MK: The crafting system will open out as the series progresses. Ultimately, every craft-able item will mean something when transported into Playworld, and players will adopt that visual language to create bespoke items with differing abilities and strengths. A bottle top could add a laser, or a toilet roll could become a rocket booster.

Right now, you collect the right bits to make an item – a pair of rocket boots for instance. These allow you to fly. Collecting more PlayGems (the game’s crafting currency) unlocks additional materials to craft with, increasing the power of the rocket boots.

IMA: The phrase “AAA quality” is tossed around in the mobile gaming world a lot these days. What does the phrase mean to you, and what is the Playworld team doing to ensure it delivers on that expectation?

MK: The Playworld team all come from a console background. They’ve been responsible for globally respected platform launch titles and franchises such as WipEout, MotorStorm and DriveClub. Starship moves that AAA experience onto mobile, and the same production standards and values still stand.

The last game I completed launched on PlayStation 3 and won an Interactive Academy Award. Three of my last four IPs have been nominated for Interactive Academy Awards, so we definitely have AAA experience! Sometimes it seems like we’re not competing against other games; it’s like we’re competing against our history!

The 3D engine in Playworld is truly one of the most blistering I’ve seen on a tablet. We’ve tried to make every member of the team create a USP for their specialist area, from audio through to design. We’ve made a point of aiming to surpass the quality of our competitors in every area. It’s a multi-million dollar production.

With the exception of Lego and Disney, it’s rare for an indie studio to be producing mobile games at this visual quality, and for a studio of our scale to produce such a coherent, multi-pronged attack.

Playworld Superheroes

IMA: As a game aimed at children as young as five, how has the team managed the game’s complexity, to ensure it’s accessible and entertaining for younger players, but also older kids?

MK: We want to treat kids like young adults. Kids as young as four have been completely absorbed by the game, while we also have ten year olds thinking the game is brilliant. It’s such a natural and tactile experience.

Essentially you have two interlinked games in one. Younger kids are often drawn to the crafting element, as there’s no pressure or time constraints. Older kids are attracted to the adventure side of the game which poses more challenges. The crafting itself is so absorbing, you can spend hours on the suit alone, getting it exactly how you want it. It’s a scalable concept that kids aged 4 to 40 will love. Kids can play alone, or with parents, so we needed to create a game that could capture the imagination of players of all ages.

What’s remarkable is that the journey only began 14 months ago. This is just the first outing. We want to give console quality slices as regularly as possible. I think that in a couple of years we’re going to match and surpass the gameplay quality of consoles at the rate we’re going.

It’s one of the most exciting games I’ve ever created. Personally, it’s been one of the most fulfilling IPs. I’m a father myself now, and the game was a direct response to seeing how poor the offering for the younger age group was. You can’t stop kids wanting edgy games, but you can be really clever about what you give them, adding in moral and stealth education to a game that understands how they like to play.

IMA: Playworld Superheroes is the first game in this new series. How will future games differ, and what can we expect from them?

MK: The most exciting question of all! We’re already laying the groundwork for the next two sequels. Both are whole new experiences, taking you to whole new spaces. We’re playing with scale, spectacle, and new formats to try and become the new number one game for the under 10s. There will be a clue to the new IP early next year. Keep an eye on the Playworld Superheroes website for more details!

IMA: What platforms will the game support at launch? Will there be support, for instance, for older iPads or Amazon Kindle devices?

MK: The app will be available on newer model iOS and Android tablets and smartphones.

Playworld Superheroes will be available in January 2015.