EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Toy Rush Project Lead John Comes

In many tower defense games, your towers are defended and attacked by characters of the sci-fi or fantasy persuasion. But in the iOS tower defense game Toy Rush, your attackers and defenders are toys…adorable, adorable toys. I spoke to John Comes, the design director from Uber Entertainment and the project lead for Toy Rush, about what inspired this game, why they went this cute route, and is that a shark with legs and a top hat? Toy Rush 01 What kind of game is Toy Rush and how do you play it? Toy Rush is an asynchronous, multiplayer tower defense and offense game with collectible card mechanics all based around toys. Players will design and build a path into their base and guard it with towers. When offline, other players will come and attack bases by using their cards, which toys burst out of, to try and beat the path and defenses. There are also fifty single player missions that you can play; Super Toys, which players can level up by feeding them cards; clubs and chat to trade strategies and show off replays with your friends; and challenges delivered every day so that you always have new content. So it’s not a game where Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart are turned into toys and have to fight crime? Or one where Rush Limbaugh is turned into a toy and Geddy, Alex, and Neil use him to fight crime? That sounds like something out of a conservative version of a famous Mark Twain novel. Though both of those sound like stellar ideas for a sequel, this is more light hearted and meant for a broader audience. I mean, we have a walking shark with a top hat. Yeah, we’ll get to that. Since it’s not the thing with the band Rush, what other games do you think it’s like, and were those games influences on Toy Rush? There are a lot of asynchronous multiplayer games out lately. Most of them involve having a base where enemy players come and set down fantasy characters to attack your base from anywhere. Some of those games were an influence, but as someone who’s worked on many core real-time strategy games, I was looking to build a game that had some deeper strategy to it. With adding the tower defense path into the base, the attacker knows exactly where their units are going to go, and they can focus on the strategy of what toys to spawn, when to spawn them, and what action cards to buff them to use. Not knowing where my units were going to walk was a major issue I had with the other games which is solved by the path into your base in Toy Rush. Toy Rush 02 Are there any specific tower defense games that were a big influence on Toy Rush? I’m a fan of any strategy genre. I’ve been designing games professionally for thirteen years, most of that time in real-time strategy games. So I’m a fan of any kind of strategy game and I’ve played the vast majority of them both on mobile and PC. Specifically on mobile, I am a big fan of the Kingdom Rush games. The light hearted nature and the stylized visuals are both something we do a lot of here at Uber. By the way, did you know we have had at least some reference to bacon in all of our games? Bacon. So why did you decide to go with toys, as opposed to water buffalo or masons or members of a Canadian pro-rock power trio? Or bacon, for that matter? As intriguing as riding a buffalo on a brick and cobblestone road sounds, we went with toys because of the breadth of options we had. Plus, making up toys is just fun. Our lead artist, Eka, had a blast coming up with all the visual designs for the toys. Speaking of which, in deciding how the toys would look in Toy Rush, what were some of the things you looked to for inspiration? We broke our toys up into three different “factions.” We have Tech, Beast, and Plush toys. We went with more metallic looking toys for the Tech Toys. The Theta is a crossover with one of our other games, Planetary Annihilation. Beast toys tended to be inspired from the plastic dinosaurs style toys. Finally, for the Plush Toys, we looked at more of the cuddly teddy bear style stuff. So, you know, there’s a little in there for everyone. Were there any instances where your art people would show you a design for a toy, and you’d realize that it looked exactly like one you had when you were a kid but lost on a family vacation to Philly, so you started crying right there, in front of everyone? And will you excuse me a moment, I have something in my eye. Were you in on that meeting? I thought that was a private meeting. And it was to Reading, Philly was too far away. Tower defense games typically appeal to older gamers. Given that, was there any concern on your part that older gamers wouldn’t want to play a tower defense game with toys? We honestly were not shooting for a particular age group or demographic. We just wanted to make a game we wanted to play. I am a bit tired of the typical medieval/fantasy/sci-fi stuff, and we wanted to go in a different direction. Yes, they are toys, but did I mention a walking shark in a top hat? A walking shark. in. a. top. hat. Toy Rush shark Then, in the time we had the game in soft launch in Canada, the #2 person on the leaderboards was our lead engineer’s mom. Then we knew the broad appeal the game might have. It just seemed to work out that it has the visual style that works for everyone and the depth of strategy that works for the more core gamers. Now, you keep bringing up the purple shark that has legs and a top hat. But that doesn’t sound like a toy, that sounds like a bad SyFy movie. Since that one made the cut, what kinds of toys got rejected? Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk? Mr. Skin-Grafter? Bag O’ Glass? Oh, I like Bag O’ Glass…that might have to be in an update at some point. Early on we had takes on very typical old-style toys. The ’50s style toy robot, towers made of tinker toys, that sort of thing. It ended up being a bit visually messy, and we wanted to really push the stylization as much as we could, so we moved away from the more recognizable toys. Toy Rush has fifty single-player missions. How do they work? The single player part of the Toy Rush is all about you, the player, becoming the best Toy Rush-er. It’s sort of like a fighting game where you will have a big VS screen and catch phrases for all the Toy Rush-ers you’ll face. The first set of Toy Rush-ers you’ll face help teach you some of the strategies of different toys and cards. After that, it’s all about facing more challenging layouts and testing your strategic prowess. Once that’s finished, players should be ready to go out and face even more challenging battles in the multiplayer arena. Oh, so there’s multiplayer as well? There are not currently multiplayer modes, but because you are attacking when you play, and you are matched up against everyone who has ever played Toy Rush, it basically means that you have an infinite source of content. Everyone will build their bases and defenses differently. Plus, the bubble gum, jacks, and safety hazards which sit on the path have to be rotated in and out, which really contributes the ever changing environment of the multiplayer part of Toy Rush. Toy Rush 03 Toy Rush is initially being released on iOS devices. Are there plans to release it on other tablets or smart phones? There are plans to move to Android after the iOS release happens. Other tablets after that are not determined. I’m a Windows Phone user — amazing, I know — so I do have a personal stake in opening it up to platforms beyond iOS and Android. But only time will tell. What about game consoles and PCs? It all depends on the success of the game. I’d love to see it on every possible platform, but the interface will have to change to work for consoles and PCs, so that’s work we have to make sure makes sense for the business side. What is the pay structure for your game? Toy Rush is a free-to-play game with microtransactions. The main reason for this decision is simple: being free enables more people to experience it. Having it as premium pricing simply locks off a subset of people who like to try before they buy, and they can buy only the parts of the game they like. I’m personally a fan of the free-to-play style, maybe because I’ve been burned so many times on spending $60 on a game and only playing it for fifteen minutes. A lot of games that have gone the free-to-play with microtransactions route have ended up irritating their fans by being too aggressive about it. What are you doing to make sure you to don’t annoy your fans by seeming too greedy? This is a great question, and one we get a lot. We’ve set up a system where the ticket currency allows you to attack and play a lot. I mean, a lot. Ticket Bots generate tickets quickly and multiplayer is all about stealing other people’s tickets. So we don’t gate you from being able to jump in and play. The multiplayer aspect is always available. We try to keep the fun always available. Upgrading your base and taking part of the evolution and expansion of your defensive capability is a little bit slower, and that is fueled by caps, which is our hard currency. We do give you caps through single player missions, daily rewards, and the challenge system, so there is absolutely nothing locking you out from any content that you can’t get over time. Toy Rush 04 Finally, Toy Rush is not the first game made by the good people at Uber Entertainment. As one of those good people, if someone said, “I really liked Toy Rush, which of your other games do you think I should play next?”, what would you tell them and why?​ I’d have to ask them what platform they prefer to play on. We have Outland Games, which is our infinite runner on the Apple App Store. If they prefer PC games, we have Planetary Annihilation for those that like strategy games, and we have Super Monday Night Combat, which is a MOBA-esque, shooter. And if they’re console fans, there’s always our classic Monday Night Combat, which can be downloaded on an Xbox 360. We try to please all gamers.

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