4 MIN READ
The difficulty of expanding a minimalistic game.
Five years ago, I made a simple RTS game called Auralux as a humble student side project. Since then, the game has seen over 1,800,000 downloads, been translated and released in dozens of countries, and been ported to iOS, Android, and web browsers.
For years I’ve been getting emails asking for more levels, new mechanics, and a multiplayer mode. I struggled for a while about how to handle these requests, writing that "I actually sympathize with most of the requests and complaints that I get... The trouble is that fixing any of these issues would call for a much deeper, much more involved return to the game... Sometimes I’ll respond to players’ requests by gesturing towards a hypothetical sequel. I’m not sure if that’s for their benefit or mine." Well, thanks to help from War Drum Studios, the team that originally ported Auralux to mobile, the sequel is no longer hypothetical.
And so, I’m proud to announce Auralux: Constellations!
Since the beginning, multiplayer has been the most-requested feature for Auralux. But with thousands of randomly-moving units, and with my own limited programming skill, I didn’t think it was a realistic possibility. Luckily, I got help. War Drum has taken the technical lead on the sequel, and they already have multiplayer working flawlessly. Originally, I worried that the game would only work when played against a flawed AI, since human players might be too evenly matched. But I’ve been playing games against them for weeks, and it’s just as much fun as we dared to hope.
War Drum is also using their expertise to improve every other aspect of the game. Auralux: Constellations will have new music, sound, and graphics, as well as new dev tools that will allow us to create tons of new maps for the game. (Finally, no manually typing out XML!) We’ve also worked on improving the core of Auralux, tweaking the game’s pacing and improving the enemy AI.
But what about gameplay changes? This was a trickier problem. Naturally, we had dozens of ideas for new game mechanics. What if we had planets that moved around the level? Or wormholes that would teleport units around the map?
But Auralux’s strength was in its minimalism and simplicity. We didn’t want to change too much, so making a sequel presented a delicate problem. How to solve it? Our answer is in the title: constellations.
The core gameplay of Auralux works, and there was no need to to tamper with it. Although we could imagine a ton of interesting twists to the gameplay, we didn’t want to distract from the game’s basic appeal with a sudden flood of new features.
At the same time, we knew it would be interesting to explore all of these strategic twists. So, we decided to implement all of them separately, one by one.
A “constellation” is our term for pack of new levels that features a single twist to the gameplay. For instance, in one constellation, the maps feature nebulas (“terrain”) that speed up or slow down nearby units. In another constellation, there are “supernova” objects that players can trigger in order to destroy huge swaths of the enemy units. In another constellation, a traditional RTS “fog of war” effect blankets the map, changing the whole strategic dynamic.
Since each constellation only includes one change to the game mechanics, it allows us to explore new strategic gameplay without making the game too complex, too hard to learn, or too different from classic Auralux.
We’re also making sure to keep some mechanics ironclad and consistent. The player’s units always follow the same basic rules and controls, and they always remain the only thing that the player directly controls. The levels change, but the basic game does not.
It will still be a few months before Auralux: Constellations is ready for launch. In the meantime, I plan to write more about how each of the new mechanics twists the basic strategic dynamics of the game: fog of war, wormholes, gamma rays, orbits, white holes, and more. I’ll be posting all the news, screenshots, and videos on Auralux’s Facebook page and brand new Twitter account.
I’ve never had more fun working on a game, and I’m continually fascinated and surprised by the gameplay we’re discovering. The original Auralux was a great game. I’m confident that the sequel will be even better.