Game devs keep it casual as they jump from console to mobile

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Bad Dinos is the fourth casual mobile game from the veteran development company.
Bad Dinos is the fourth mobile game from veteran development company Insomniac Games.
Photo: Insomniac Games

Console game developers are trying to break into mobile, and they’re using casual genres to break into the scene.

For instance, when gamers hear about Insomniac Games, they might think of classic platform games like Ratchet and Clank, first-person shooters like Resistance: Fall of Man or next-gen console title Sunset Overdrive. What those hypothetical gamers might not think of is a match-three or endless runner iPhone game. But game makers can’t afford to ignore the mobile scene these days and Insomniac is no different, as evidenced by the company’s new tower-defense game, Bad Dinos.

“It’s obviously a huge market,” Brian Hastings, chief creative officer at Insomniac Games, told Cult of Mac, “and we’re seeing an entire generation of players who are getting into mobile first, before anything else.”

Mobile games can make a ton of money these days, with break-out hits like Crossy Road raking in huge amounts of cash in short periods of time. Why wouldn’t a team of experienced developers look to the mobile gaming space?

The choice of casual genres is one that the Insomniac team insists is an organic one, however. Hastings said each mobile game Insomniac has released came from an idea a team member had, one that they themselves wanted to play. From Outernauts — a monster-battling, city-building game inspired by Pokemon — to Fruit Fusion, a free match-three title, Insomniac has created games for mobile on its own terms.

Bad Dinos, the most recent release on mobile from Insomniac Games, is a prehistoric-themed tower defense game, with some dynamically changing maps and a unique “capture powerful dinos to help you” mechanic that has some promise.

Still, though, that the team has limited themselves to genres that already exist is curious.

“Our goal here with all of our games is to innovate where we can,” said Insomniac CEO and founder Ted Price. “Given that these are smaller in scope than some of our giant console games, we focus our innovation in specific areas.”

For example, he said, the match-three gameplay in Fruit Fusion is in a circle, and contains subtractive as well as additive matches. With Digit and Dash, the endless runner is set vertically, with two characters to control via taps on the right and left side of the screen.

It’s almost as if the mobile team at Insomniac is making mobile games by picking the hottest genres on the iTunes App Store and adding small improvements or innovations. Hastings said that making these types of mobile apps is still as much of a challenge as the larger console titles, only compressed into a smaller time frame, and — as with all Insomniac projects — things are extremely collaborative.

“We come up with a ton of ideas at once, proto-typing them out, and seeing how they play,” said Hastings. “The team has to like the prototype, and then we can flesh out mechanics, apply an art style, and maybe only then start developing the full game.”

CEO Price agrees.

“We encourage everyone to contribute creative ideas, no matter what team they’re in,” he said. “A lot of our best ideas come from all over the company. It keeps everyone engaged in the process.”

Insomniac Games, which is based in Burbank, California, now has four titles on the App Store, with Bad Dinos launching Thursday. It’s interesting to see a triple-A gaming company jump into the chaos of the mobile gaming market, but without this kind of attempt, Insomniac might have been left behind.

While Insomniac’s first few mobile titles might have been experiments into what kinds of games the team could make for a handhelds, they will undoubtedly get better at what they do, bringing more innovation — and veteran console development experience — to mobile gaming.