MMObility: Free-to-play and mobile at GDC Online, part 2

World is Magic screenshot
Let's continue my look at how free-to-play and mobile gaming showed at GDC Online this year. If you missed the first part, you can check it out in my last Free for All column. There was so much to cover that I had to wrap it into a two-parter. I truly think this was the best mobile showing since I first went to GDC Online four years ago, so be sure to check out all of the games I mention. Mobile is growing, as is free-to-play, and it couldn't be more obvious than when we get to witness so many good games being developed.

If I have anything to do with it, I will be playing these games ASAP. That means that you get to read what I think about them, and you get to play along as well!


Arcane Legends

Any fan of Spacetime Studios has heard of the developer's latest title, Arcane Legends. I was lucky enough to sit down with Fernando Blanco Director of Marketing, to try the game out for myself. We suffered through a bit of horrible convention internet, but eventually I was in-game, playing a new character in this "spiritual successor to Pocket Legends." That description fits Arcane Legends perfectly. It looks and plays similar to Pocket Legends but the graphics have been turned up a notch or two. Things feel more solid, animations are more fluid, and there are even cutscenes, voice-overs, and more "standard" MMO systems that make the experience feel a bit more full than any previous Legends games.

Arcane Legends pulls from Dark Legend's twitch-based combat. If you hit the action button, it fires off your sword or ability. You can also charge attacks as you can in Dark Legends, and movement is fast and furious. I felt as if I was playing a game that was combined from all previous titles and tuned up in quality, and yet it still holds on to the original stylized world we loved so much.

Pets play a large role in the game, but they're not just Pokemon ripoffs. As in the rest of the Legends worlds, everything has a familiar look and feel but with a twist. Pets are no different. There is a turtle with a flag planted on its back that gives speed buffs and a frog with elf-like ears who does a pretty good job in combat. All of the pets aid players by picking up loot along the way. It's all wrapped up in a fantastically simple, intuitive, and well-designed package that guarantees the studio's biggest hit yet. I loved playing it, and I especially enjoyed the fact that this latest title finally feels so much like a "normal" MMO that no one should notice any difference.


Deepworld

What a strange duck this one is, and how fortunate I am to have found it. The best way to describe Deepworld is a steampunk, open sadnbox MMO that draws heavily from the Minecraft school of design while also immersing players in a side-scrolling world that features realistic weather patterns, day and night cycles, and open-world creation. Not only that, but if you want to create your own world, you don't have to worry about hosting anything yourself. For something around 10 US dollars, players will be able to buy their own servers from the in-game cash shop and within minutes can host their very own world. The players can control who can come in or out, whether it is a public space or not, and the layout of the world. I was shown a sort of obstacle course built by one of the developers, so player-created minigames will be very popular.

Here's the twist, though: The game will be first be released on Mac first and iPad soon after. If the game sees some success and money comes rolling in, it will arrive on PC and Android much more quickly. In other words, support the heck out of this one when it comes out. I will buy 10 copies of it! On the plus side, the game felt the best on the iPad, so owners of the famous Apple devices will have an entire world, one that can be manipulated and explored with thousands of other players, in the palm of their hand. I cannot wait for this one.


World of Midgard

World of Midgard has been in development for quite some time, but I have held off writing about it simply because I didn't feel it was ready for publication. Well, after a surprise meeting with CEO Andrew Madloch, I can now say I've seen how the game is running and it's looking great. It's currently on the Android and iOS market and is finally in a playable state that is actually fun to play. Sure, there are still quite a few tweaks to be made and more patches to be put out, but the game is pretty unique in a few ways.

First, it is a full, open MMO that you hold in your hand. It feels like a combination of World of Warcraft, EverQuest and some other, old-school MMOs. The character creation is pretty good, and the combat feels as it should. One of the smartest decisions the designers have made is to include a pretty handy hotbar system. Not only does it allow players to have somewhere around 14 hotbar slots, but a player can assign a shortcut to individual actions or targets. So, if I were to play as a healer, I could assign a certain spell to my groupmate, and with the touch of a finger on his status bar, the spell would fire off. It works great and adds a lot of functionality to what could have turned out to be a very bloated, busy screen.

You can help the game reach a small Kickstarter goal by visiting the page here.


Life is Magic

Life is Magic, from the creators of Life is Crime, is taking location-based MMO and turning it up to 11. I talked with Pete Hawley Co-Founder of and Chief Product Officer at Red Robot Labs, about what I would call the first "AAA" location-based mobile MMO. Essentially players travel around the world, joining up with friends and contributing to local towers in order to stand up against powerful enemies, but the look and feel of the game -- the game's polish -- is head and shoulders above anything I have seen in location-based gaming yet.

Clouds move over the land. Touching a local tavern (a local real-life eatery) zooms the camera in smoothly through the clouds until you are greeted with an orc or other fantasy race server. You can buy food there, and in other real-life buildings like a library, you might learn new spells. It goes even a few steps further and sells region-specific spells, like Chinese spells, if a player travels to a real-life library in China. Travel can be accomplished in a few ways, so don't worry about plane fare.

On top of that, players can jump into groups and tackle dungeons together. Combat is played out in old-school turn-based action like you might find in an old Final Fantasy game. Really the combat could be a game in itself, but instead it is one part of a game that simply has layers and layers. I could have written an entire column just about this one and probably will in the future. Pete told me how obtaining good funding was key to making a high-quality product, something I heard echoed by other developers during the week. Luckily his history in gaming made this possible, and we gamers are going to benefit. Life is Magic simply stunned me with child-like excitement, and I barely even got to touch the screen!

Life is Magic probably gets my award for Best of Show, simply because it does so much that is original, visionary, and different than the rest of the games in the genre. And can we talk about polish? The game has it.

That's the last of my coverage for GDC Online. After this it is moving to Los Angeles, buying a pair of truly expensive shades, and walking around with a massive boombox that plays nothing but dubstep. Needless to say, I am not happy about attending the LA version... I liked GDC Online just the way it was.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was originally published on Massively.