Jason Citron is a true veteran of iOS gaming. He was one of the two developers behind Aurora Feint, and later vaulted it up to the huge social network that OpenFeint became. Now, Citron is back to making games with a new company called Hammer & Chisel (formerly Phoenix Guild), and he's just announced today that his upcoming game is called Fates Forever. It'll be a multiplayer online battle arena title, similar to the extremely popular League of Legends, but built from the ground up for iOS and a touchscreen interface.
"If you look at games," Citron told TUAW recently, "very rarely do you find one that's generally new, and usually when you do, it's because of the UI change." Citron believes that even hardcore games "could be made materially better by changing them to use a large format touchscreen," and so he's decided to take on the MOBA gametype.
Fates Forever will have battling heroes, just like League of Legends, but with a simplified format... at least at first. The map Citron is working on features just two lanes (it will pit three players against an opposing team of three, and matches should take around 15 minutes), and he says a lot of the mechanics around itemization and balance have yet to be determined. His focus right now is building standard touchscreen gestures for the heroes' various abilities.
"The skillshots are all these fun little gesture things that you can pull off," says Citron. One champion will do a dash move that's controlled by dragging him around the screen with your finger, for example. "You hit the button on the left, you get a little ring around him and then you can drag the indicator away from him. When you draw out a path from him, he shoots flames on the ground." Citron says the goal is to take gesture mechanics that users know and love, and use those to match the precision and controls that you'd usually need a mouse and a keyboard on a PC for.
When Citron began this project, the MOBA genre was very much PC-based. But in the last few months, several companies have thought to bring it to tablets. For example, Gameloft's Heroes of Order and Chaos, and Zynga's forthcoming Solstice Arena. "I figured [MOBAs] would be a trend," says Citron, but adds that "I can't say that I would have expected as much action to be going on tablets." Still, Citron says Zynga's entry will likely be tied down by in-app monetization efforts, and he thinks he can do the game better than Gameloft has. "I think ours looks better, has more innovative controls and it's generally fun to play."
The plan for Fates Forever is to have "the core battle game out this summer, with a very light metagame around it." Once the core app is out, Citron and his company (currently about five full-timers and about the same number of contractors) plan to tweak and upgrade it according to the community, and will even build a tool called The Forge, where players will be able to suggest and build their own heroes, with that content possibly even reaching the game. "I very much see this as a marathon, not a sprint," says Citron. "I see this as a long-term thing. I'm starting with a nugget of something, and we're evolving it with the community."
Citron's goal with Fates Forever is to "blend deep traditional game design with respectful game mechanics," he says. "It's obviously going to be free-to-play," and supported by in-app purchases for options and customization. But "our game will never force you to stop playing," he adds. "And you can't pay to win." Currently, the project is being put together in Unity, and while it will initially appear on the iPad only, the title may come to Android or other platforms later on.
Fates Forever sounds interesting. We'll get a chance to play it later this year. Plenty of other companies have aimed and will continue to target this growing "hardcore" audience on Apple's tablet platform, but that specific audience is finicky to say the least. In the end, Fates Forever will have to stand on its own quality. If it can find the League of Legends-sized audience on tablets that Citron is looking for, then we could be playing this one for a long time to come.