Team Chaos embraces match-three puzzlers with Dragon Academy on mobile, Facebook [Interview]

Image via Team Chaos
Image via Team Chaos

Austin-based game developer Team Chaos has released its own take on match-three puzzle games in Dragon Academy, which is now available to play on iOS, Android and Facebook. The game sees players taking charge of up to six powerful dragons as they complete match-three puzzle levels inspired by the likes of Bejeweled and King’s Candy Crush Saga.

The game is level-based, with each stage having a different basic requirement, like earning a specific number of points in a limited number of moves. As players make matches of four or more like symbols on the board, power-up dragon eggs appear, allowing them to clear whole rows or columns, or otherwise remove large amounts of symbols from the board when activated.

Along the way, players are introduced to the mischievous Wobblins, who have stolen the dragons’ hatchlings. Users must complete levels to save those Hatchlings, watching their dragons grow and become more powerful as they progress. Dragon Academy comes with over 150 puzzles across 13 in-game worlds, with three dragons being available as in-app purchases.

We had a chance to chat with Team Chaos Creative Director Trent Polack to learn more about Dragon Academy, and why the game’s cross-platform release was so important.

Inside Mobile Apps: Aside from titles like Bejeweled and Puzzle & Dragons, what was the overall inspiration for creating a puzzle game like Dragon Academy?

Trent Polack: Well, the first and most obvious reason is that we love playing games like Bejeweled, Hexic, Columns, and Puzzle & Dragons. Right now, I’ve been absolutely fascinated with the recently-released Angry Birds Star Wars II.

Mostly, though, our inspiration comes from a lot of the history and preferences of Team Chaos. We love puzzle games, we love mobile games, we want a character that can grow and evolve, and we want a game that lets [us] use our superior gameplay skills to publicly shame friends and family’s inferior scores.

We’re nice like that.

IMA: How was Dragon Academy designed to keep players coming back for more, after their initial gameplay session?

TP: First and foremost, we designed Dragon Academy so people come back because they want to come back. We made a good puzzle game with a lot of various gameplay mechanics, and we pace it so that players can see the breadth of options that are possible with just the addition of a single new mechanic.

When we introduce vines — which spread and gobble up whatever tile they spread to — suddenly all of the levels have this radically different feel to them. A basic level with a healthy amount of vines now requires players to decide between fulfilling their goal of removing all the goo (a level objective) while also ensuring that the vines don’t spread all over the board. It becomes a really subtle risk/reward with the moves provided on a given level. And then, for the levels that follow that, we show how the new mechanic interacts with a bunch of the previous puzzle objects and try to bring it all together.

And then we start the process over again, because we’re devious like that.

Image via Team Chaos
Image via Team Chaos

IMA: If you were trying to convince a fan of Puzzle & Dragons or Candy Crush Saga (as examples) to try Dragon Academy, how would you pitch the game to them?

TP: Our dragons are cuter. And, I’d pitch the game to those people in a pretty simple way: it’s a different game from either Puzzles & Dragons or Candy Crush Saga. We took the things we like from a whole lot of games we grew up with and have been playing recently, were inspired by some of the ideas from those games, and then added our own spin on everything. Take a look at Angry Birds, most of the gameplay and mechanics in that game aren’t anything that hadn’t been done before, but they took that gameplay, put a whole lot of polish over it, and more importantly: they gave the game identity. Now, the Angry Birds is this icon in pop culture right now, and the game is as much a vessel for the characters as it is the (surprisingly deep and complex) gameplay.

A bunch of us on the team are huge (huge) fans of Pokemon, so one of the things we really wanted to get into the game was the concept of collecting dragons, leveling them up, seeing them grow and evolve, and, of course, seeing their powers grow as they matured. This is something that you kind of see in Puzzle & Dragons, but we wanted to imbue our characters with more… character. So each dragon has a unique evolution state, unique animations, and just a uniquely Team Chaos feel that I don’t think you’d see anywhere else.

Plus, did I mention our game is the first in history to have a setting that allows you toggle puns on and off? Its two settings are EGG-NABLED and DISABLED. I mean, if that’s not reason enough to get Dragon Academy…

IMA: Team Chaos emphasized in the past how important it was for Dragon Academy to be cross-platform from day one. Why was that so important to the team?

TP: Because we wanted everyone to be able to play our game! We love it, we hope everyone else loves it, and it’d be silly to unnecessarily limit the game to one platform. All we really care about is getting the game out to as many gamers (and non-gamers) as we possibly could.

IMA: What sorts of challenges are faced with developing for multiple platforms simultaneously? Do you find it easier to developer for a single platform, and then port to other platforms later, or to do all of the development at once?

TP: We use Unity, so developing for multiple platforms isn’t a terribly titanic undertaking. Sure, we run into a lot of issues where some platforms handle things different than other platforms, but for the most part it’s been a matter of days, not weeks or months, to get the game working for a variety of platforms.

There are occasions where some of the OS-level game support differs from platform to platform (such as Game Center on iOS and Game Circle on Amazon), and that definitely requires some extra work, but it’s still nothing like coding natively for each platform.

Image via Team Chaos
Image via Team Chaos

IMA: What’s the plan for Dragon Academy going forward? What sorts of content updates can players expect from the game in the future?

TP: We’re planning a fairly aggressive update schedule. We’re talking about releasing two maps with 12-15 levels each every two-three weeks (including new mechanics and puzzle elements), some special themed level/content bundles for events like Halloween and Christmas, and, of course, some additional dragons.

But… THAT IS THE FUTURE. We cannot talk about the future in certainty. I do not have a time machine. And if I did I’d tell the dinosaurs they should have researched anti-armageddon shields.

IMA: Anything else you’d like to add?

TP: I’m truly convinced that there’s a game to be made in our Dragon series that can be called “Drag-on-Drop.” Get it? Like drag and drop. It’s hilarious, you should laugh.

Dragon Academy is now available to download / play for free on iOS, Android and Facebook. You can track the game’s progress on AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social apps and developers.