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Rats Will Eat Their Own - A Preview of [ARMADA] Lore

Comments 1 week ago

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Fall, 56th day

Quartermaster reports the following stores missing:

  • 12 Cans figs
  • 3 Cans pig hearts
  • Sack of feathers
  • 2 Bundles kindling
  • 1 Blanket

Spirits in the 12th Rattus are low.  Bellafide’s maxim may soon be put to the test.  Generals continue to report that the 9th Corvidae has been dispatched, but my rats are starting to lose faith.

Fall, 61st day

Scouts returned from the Warrens.  Old Guard troops were seen marching North, towards the enemy.

Today was a good day, and we dipped deeper into our dwindling rations over an unruly fire.

Katrina had too much cider, she’ll be whipped when she’s sober enough to care.  The Animal’s Army doesn’t easily conform to military discipline.  We are angels, survivors: We are bred to breed, built to live, even if the process can be messy.  Katrina will survive too.

 

Fall, 81st day

Dispatch reports that the 9th Corvidae intercepted a pork delivery headed to the northern front.  “A Win for the Great Animal’s Army” they called it. Meanwhile, the 12th Rattus chews on fig root.  I doubt we’ll see any of that pork, or the crows for that matter.  Too fat to fly, I suspect.

Quartermaster reports that we’ve one week of rations left.

Katrina is recovering.  Tomorrow we march.

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Fall, 89th day

We took a westerly route around the Warrens, along the ridge abutting the Grey Sea.  We expect to see Bellafide’s troops tonight.  They fly their colors brightly.  They aren’t likely to smell our approach, what with the wind whipping up from the valley.

We’ve been told they are turtled in a valley beyond this one.  If our intelligence is correct, the members of PMC Lacertilia won’t survive till dawn.  My rats are hungry.

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Fall, 90th day

A bloody victory, but the spoils were ruined.  The lizards were accompanied by an attachment of skunks.

The 12th Rattus did what we do best.  We scrabbled down the hill, careful not to kick up the loose shale.  We had only enough cloaks for half the troops, the other half closed their eyes to prevent glare from the moonlight giving away our position.  The lizards were in a metabolic stupor on account of the morose Northern daylight, and so nine lizards fell to the knife before any woke to sound the alarm.

But the alarm did sound, and minutes later we heard the rattle of cannisters.  The tell-tale black and white fled towards the Warrens, leaving their reptilian allies to choke.  I lost four rats to the ‘mustard’.

Worse, the meat is spoiled.  Not a single corpse was untouched by those damned skunks.  Decisions will have to be made.

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Winter, 2nd day

“The Culling” was barbaric, the church famously corrupt.  Not once did the Pontiffs select one of their own to be sent to the ‘Shoppes.  And so when Bellafide rose up against the Pontiffs, we all followed.  

Then the clergy went into hiding and Bellafide rose to power on the slogan “Have Faith in Freedom”.  But when we starved, did she replace The Culling?  No.  She left us to fend for ourselves, and so the aristocracy became fat on the meat of my brothers.  “Pigs will eat pigs, and rats will eat their own,” she said.  What she really meant was that the strong will eat the weak, and the rich will eat the poor.

Not us.  That is not the way of the Animal’s Army.

We are all hungry.  Tonight we vote.

 

Winter, 3rd day

Quartermaster reports that we have food to last 3 weeks: flanks, leg, offal are all in prime condition, back meat was ruined and was discarded.  Today we march with full bellies.

Katrina will be missed.

 

Controller conundrums, the many evolutions of [ARMADA]’s controls

Comments 2 weeks ago

A love of the Real Time Strategy genre but a hatred of sitting at a desk is [ARMADA]’s raison d’être.  We wanted to build an intense RTS that felt native to the couch, and ideal on a controller.

Finding the ideal gamepad-RTS control scheme is like wandering in the desert.  A control scheme that seems to work perfectly on paper is most likely nothing more than a mirage.  Some little piece of that ‘perfect’ control scheme just doesn’t work, or feels inferior to mouse-keyboard, and you can’t know these things until the control scheme is fully implemented.

Here’s a quick overview with what we have explored, and where we are now (Hint: we’ve finally found the oasis!)

Version 1 - Follow the Leader

Controllers lend themselves to directional movement, rather than absolute positional information.  That’s why most console games feature a single player character, and generally try to avoid menu movement.

[ARMADA] accommodates for this by featuring a player character and a bunch of minions who follow him around.  The player executes his strategy at a strategic level through player movement, but at a tactical level, your minions are AI-controlled.

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So… in the first version of the game, minions would simply follow the player around.  Unfortunately, this meant that the player couldn’t leave his army to defend his base while he went off to scout the enemy.

Version 2 - Rally Flag

So… what if the player could toggle between having his army follow him and telling them to guard a location?  For this experiment, we tried making it while holding Right Trigger, the army would follow you, and then when you released it, you would plant a flag in that location and your army would rally to the flag.

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Go here my minions!

Ahhh… the satisfaction of a one button design.

There was one wrinkle with this control scheme: What do minions do while they are travelling to the flag?  Sometimes the player wants to control the tactical behavior of their units in movement.  In Starcraft, the possible behaviors are:

  • MOVE: Move to a location, ignoring all enemies along the way
  • ATTACK: Move to a specific enemy, and attack them, ignoring all other units along the way
  • ATTACK MOVE: Move to a location, but stop and attack if you encounter an enemy along the way.

[ARMADA] is very much a game of managing imperfect information. You will rarely enter a conflict knowing the exact outcome of that battle, so if a fight turns for the worst, it is best to flee and fight another day.  This was only possible with command that tells units to MOVE and not attack under any circumstances.

Version 2.5 - Move and Attack Move

So we implemented these behaviors.

We had two triggers, LT for MOVE to this location and RT for ATTACK MOVE to this location.

[ARMADA] now allowed you to either attack or flee.

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RUN AWAYYY!!!!

This even enabled skilled players to kite melee units with ranged units.

Though satisfied with the general movement, we found ourselves wanting to explore more specific types of movement.  We wanted to issue attack orders at a distance. But we couldn’t do it, so what do we do?

Version 3 - Positional Unit Movement

Well we had a controller feature left unused, the Right Analog Stick.  So could we use it for something, perhaps for targeting? Why not!

Imagine that you could use the Right Stick to offset your Rally Flag some set distance away from your character.  Then you use RT to place the flag.  We had a dual stick shooter-like control scheme.  It was fast, easy, responsive, our favorite iteration yet!  This even allowed us to implement focus fire for taking down high-value targets!

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Move here my friends!

We were totally satisfied with this control scheme, and it seemed to be the one we were going to settle on, until…

That Damn Mouse

Redesigning a mouse-keyboard-centric genre for the controller was hard enough.  Now that we had a control-scheme that we were satisfied with, we realized that we were going to have to work backwards and design a mouse-keyboard control scheme that emulated our controller implementation!  After all, we expect the PC to be [ARMADA]’s launch platform.

So now we had to design a game made for the controller based on a genre defined by keyboard/mouse back into a game that could use the keyboard/mouse even though the game is designed without the keyboard/mouse controls it was based on.  Ya, it’s nonsense.

So, then we had an idea, based on Monaco actually.

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He never saw it coming…

Version 4 - Vector Unit Movement

So keyboard/mouse messed up everything, sorta, I mean we had a great positional targeting system.  So let’s think about it, a mouse moves a cursor in positional space on your screen, so a mouse SHOULD work, right?  So what happened?

We didn’t want one control scheme to have an advantage over the other, so to keep the things fair, we had to LIMIT the functionality of the mouse.  This means the mouse would have to be restricted by a circular boundary in the game, ultimately making the mouse feel like a gimp, crappier version of what it’s supposed to be.

But in Monaco, we had a vector targeting system, and here’s how it worked.

You point, you shoot, and it hits something.  Perhaps [ARMADA] could be the same way.  You point a vector and you deploy your units in a direction.

So vector unit movement was the name of the game, but many questions arose.  Where do the units go? Do they travel from the reference point of the player character?  What if the player character moves, or they move the Right Analog stick?  Do units travel in a line until they hit a wall?  What if you want to move past a wall, or up a hill? What about fog of war? What if units weren’t near you?

There were just too many problems, so we reverted back to a tried and true method, because for now, simpler is just better.

Current Version - Soooo Not Final

We rolled back to a one button movement system, but this time include both MOVE and ATTACK MOVE onto a single trigger.  RT to MOVE to me.  Release RT and ATTACK MOVE to this position.

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Move with me!

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Attack here!

It’s easy to pick up and play, even for people who haven’t played an RTS before.

So that’s it, that’s where we stand.  The game feels native to the controller, and rather than feeling inferior to the mouse-keyboard, it simply feels like a unique, comfortable, fun-to-interact-with plaything.

There are a number of other questions we have yet to answer: Can we find a way to focus fire on high-value targets? Can we control sub-groups so that we can perform flanking maneuvers or targeted strikes with stealth/flying units?  As always, more exploration lies ahead…

Two games or one? Tightening the focus on armies, not heroes

Comments 1 month ago

[ARMADA] development progress has been really satisfying so far.  We are implementing designs and features at such a high velocity that we can’t help but be excited to see what’s next.  Morale is through the roof.

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That’s not to say that the core design is fully implemented.  There was a major feature that we had kept on the back burner because we couldn’t figure out the specifics of the mechanical design.

That feature is Hero Abilities.

(I did an hour long explanation of the problem, and our ORIGINAL proposed solution, on twitch)

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As a reminder, [ARMADA] is an RTS that you can comfortably play on a controller.  That means no unit selection, no orders, no “simulated mouse cursor”.  Armies in [ARMADA] are autonomous and controlled indirectly by a player-controlled hero.

From the beginning, we always envisioned the hero not just as an army-control device, but also as a unit himself, generally playing support roles like healers and spellcasters in Starcraft.  We wanted to avoid the feeling that the player hero was just a shitty mouse cursor.

If we had already solved the basic “RTS on a gamepad” problem, Hero Abilities were going to be the final piece in the game design puzzle that made [ARMADA] even MORE fun to play, MORE accessible than a game like Starcraft.

Let the hero shoot!  Let them jump!  Let them stealth!  Maybe go fishing!  How about yoga?  It’ll be awesome!

When we finally tried to implement our Hero Ability design, we kept going around in circles.  Ultimately we decided we were working too much.  Time to take a day off to clear our game-design muddled heads.  It was worth it.

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The extra time helped us think about the game we want to make.  Hero abilities made the game FEEL more like a MOBA than an RTS.  But we’re not making a MOBA.  We’re not making a dungeon crawler or a dual stick shooter.  We’re making an RTS.

The last thing we want is to make a hybrid, a mash-up, of two genres.  Most of the time hybrid games just end up being mediocre at two things.

So let’s make an RTS, just an RTS, and let’s make it great!

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So what if there was no hero?  Or at least, what if the “hero” unit was not of a different class than the other units on the field?  What if the player could promote any unit in the field to be the commander?

HMMMMMM……

This solves a number of design problems for us:

1) Hero Abilities are baked in to Commander selection

Rather than adding upgradable Hero Abilities (as we had planned), the player can get the same variety of experience simply by assuming control over his various different unit classes.  Want to control a flying hero? Assume control over a flying creature.  Want to sneak into the enemy base?  Assume control over a stealth unit.

2) Split forces and unit control

We’ve struggled with how to allow the player to control only a small subset of their forces so they could, for instance, lead just your stealthed units into the enemy base while leaving your main force at home.  Now that you have control over a standard class of unit, we can accomplish single-class unit control with one additional button.  This also allows us to have split-army attacks.

3) FEELS more like an RTS

RTS games are about armies, not heroes.  Making the player hero simply be another unit on the field allows us to put the thematic focus on the group rather than the individual.  Large scale battles can be the forefront of the strategic experience.

We don’t know how far this rabbit hole will lead, but it’s a really interesting angle to explore for our game.  Look forward to our demonstration matches on at www.twitch.tv/PWGtwitch to see how it turns out!

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[ARMADA] Mini-tournament, highlight match between Andy Schatz vs Larmere

Comments 1 month ago

We did a stream recently on our Twitch channel at www.twitch.tv/PWGtwitch which resulted in an amazing match between Andy Schatz and community member Laremere.

The stream began as a demonstration match between two alpha testers, but quickly turned into a tournament when Laremere jumped into chat and challenged Andy Schatz to a fight.  The winner of that battle would then face off with the previous champion to see who would reign supreme.

The match turned out to be an intense and unpredictable one with commentary provided by Andy Nguyen.  I can’t begin to describe how exciting it is that our pre-alpha version of [ARMADA] is already a fun and competitive experience.

All the art, units, structures, and design are works in progress, so nothing is final.  We still have a long ways to go, and we hope to talk about our future art direction soon.

Check out the whole highlighted series here, and look forward to future competitive matches of [ARMADA] on our Twitch channel.

Monaco turns One today - Get the IGF-winning prototype for FREE!

Comments 3 months ago

On April 24th, 2013, Monaco came out on Steam.  To celebrate, we’re giving away the IGF-winning version from 2010… for free.

(Renamed Monte Carlo to avoid confusion with the final game)

http://www.mediafire.com/download/cadx1c16qd8o797/MonteCarlo.zip

Below is a look back at the 3.5 years of development and some of our favorite moments with fans, post release:

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One year later then game’s visuals had improved(?) incrementally…

And then in May of 2011, Andy Nguyen joined the team, designing levels, doing QA, running our community, and helping with the core game design:

Various PAX conventions provided us with deadlines and precious moments to interact with fans:

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Two days before launch, on April 22, we had to delay the XBLA version.

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And finally on April 24, 2013…

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It came out!  A few days later… #1 on Steam!

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Reviews were stellar:

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We even got our own strip on Penny Arcade!

Plenty of other great (and… well… not so great) fan art came rolling in.  We loved it all. :)

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There was even cosplay!

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Nearly a million copies sold later, we’re pretty proud to say, what’s ours is yours, and what’s yours is mine.

Guys and gals… no matter what you hear about indie game development… no matter how many people tell you it’s hard, and it’s heartbreaking…

GAME DEVELOPMENT IS FUN.

-Andy Schatz

@andyschatz

*SUPER SPOILER ALERT* Story Discussion because OMG! :: Monaco General Discussions

Comments 3 months ago

Check out this EPIC thread on the Steam forums, fans are unraveling the truth from the fiction from all four Monaco Campaign stories.

Ferk meh jerkinsen!

Comments 3 months ago

Ah the memories…

Monaco’s Final Chapter: Fin. and farewell!

Comments 3 months ago

And thus closes a chapter…

Today, on April 3rd, 2014, we’re turning the last page of Monaco by releasing a free update containing the 4th and final campaign of the game.  This campaign is brutally difficult (all eight levels are as hard as Identity) and it concludes the story of the Gentleman and his nefarious crew.  It’s called Monaco: Fin.

imageWait… did you say FINAL CAMPAIGN?!?  Oui.

I designed Monaco on paper in 2003 when I was still an employee of a much bigger (now defunct) game developer.  Development started in October of 2009.  Andy Nguyen joined the team in May 2011.  The game launched in April 2013.  One year later, nearly a million copies of the game sold, and it’s time to move on.

It’s time to bring something new into the world.  It’s time to start over.  It’s time for us to earn your attention again.

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The Story So Far

It’s hard to distill the experience of the past few years down to a blog post.  EVERYTHING has changed.  My design philosophy, our lives, Pocketwatch, indie games as a movement, the internet as a whole.  So please forgive me if I ramble a bit.

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For both Andy Nguyen and I, Monaco has been the culmination of lifelong dreams.  Nguyen loves games more than anything else in the world.  Seriously.  He is the type of guy who escaped to games when he was a kid, but was always told that games were a dead-end hobby.  When he originally contacted me about helping out (in any capacity) on Monaco, he had no production skills and no development experience.  He had passion.

And with that passion, he immediately dove into QA: web-camming himself playing the game for hours on end, keeping a spreadsheet of the bugs he discovered and his thoughts and suggestions on game design.  It wasn’t long before he was designing levels.  And organizing our PAX presence.  And managing our community.  And contributing to the core design.  And rethinking our development practices.  And networking within the community.  Monaco wouldn’t have online multiplayer without Nguyen. It wouldn’t have 4 stellar campaigns.  It would have been a small game… a curious little thing rather than a big, deep world of design and fiction to get lost in.

Nguyen designed all of the levels currently in the game, and he’s the one that’s been keeping Monaco’s development alive for the past year.

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For me (Andy Schatz), the journey, and the rewards, have been equally staggering.

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Memories of Monaco’s surprise win in the 2010 IGF will live with me always.  I was married just a few months after that.  I’ll never forget the circuitous route that Monaco took to finally make it on XBLA, and the disastrous two week delay when launch day finally came around.  Two weeks after launch, stress caused my immune system to shut down and I got shingles.  SHINGLES.  That’s a disease that only eighty-year-olds get.  That’s a disease that you get when your immune system mic-drops and exits stage left.

I’ve spent nearly a decade running Pocketwatch… trying to — and occasionally succeeding at — making interesting, fun games.  Trying to turn a passion for subject matters, be they ecosystems or heist movies, into simple games driven by complex systems.  I’ve spent years trying to understand this crazy business of independent game development as it twists and turns and reinvents itself constantly.  It has always been worth it.  And FINALLY, I’m done chasing the brass ring.

The money I’ve made from Monaco is kinda gross, when taken in one big chunk.  But it’s really only about what I would have made had I been working for a salary all that time.  I’ve been living pretty frugally…and I’m glad.  It took a decade for the dedication to pay off.

So… back to Monaco

Since launch we’ve added (for FREE)

  • Steam Workshop support
  • Level Editor
  • Mac Support
  • Linux support
  • Rocket Launcher
  • Major changes to the Hacker class
  • New class: The Blonde
  • Zombie mode (why not?)
  • Enhanced edition, based on your feedback
  • New Campaign: Monaco: Origins
  • Bonus PVP missions, cuz they were super fun
  • And now the final curtain call, Monaco: Fin.

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Our development on Monaco is coming to an end now, but who knows if we will revisit it sometime in the future.  Maybe a decade from now we’ll reinvent the little known cult-classic that was once called “one of the best co-op games of all time”.

We do hope you enjoy this last glimpse into the criminal capers of the Smith, the Lookout, the Pickpocket, the Cleaner, the Mole, the Gent, the Redhead, and the Hacker.  We’ll miss them as much as you.

And we hope you’ll stick around so that we can entertain you with new adventures, challenges, and memories in the next chapter of Pocketwatch Games.

Au revoir, mes amis.  We hope you are still here when morning comes.

-Andy Schatz

@andyschatz

Nguyen plays Heroes of the Storm, loved it, but may never want to play it again

Comments 4 months ago

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Hi folks! Andy Nguyen here a.k.a. @pixelatedpost

I recently got invited to play the Heroes of the Storm Technical Alpha. The Alpha is invite-only for friends and family of employees at Blizzard. As far as I know, this was the first invite wave, so I expect the sample size to be very small.

After my first game, I walked away with 2 major impressions:

1. I absolutely LOVE this game. This is my fondest MOBA experience, and I have not enjoyed playing other MOBAs

2. I may never want to play this game ever again.

Let’s talk about what happened.

Read More

Wherefore [ARMADA]?

Comments 4 months ago

To follow our Open Development process, follow:

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Why [ARMADA]?

I love RTS.  But I hate RTS. We’re making an RTS.  (it’s codenamed [ARMADA])

There is no more thrilling moment for me than outsmarting a friendly opponent with Reapers in the back of his base or a repelling a horde of enemies with perfectly placed Tesla Coils.

Maybe it’s just nostalgia speaking, but I want to play an RTS game that feels like a battle of wits, not a battle of clicks.  I want to compete at a high level, but I also want to be able to introduce the RTS genre to my friends at a party.  I want an RTS where the strategy is creative and complex and the micro is accessible and fun.

With Monaco, we took an old school genre (Stealth), we simplified the controls, and then we built an incredibly complex game that could be played at high and low skill levels alike.  I want to do the same with the RTS genre.

[ARMADA] is the simplicity of Monaco injected into a classic RTS.

What [ARMADA]?

[ARMADA] is a Real Time Strategy game.  You build a base, raise an army, and attack the enemy.  Simple, right?  Not so fast.

With apologies to those devs who have tried, no one has ever made an RTS that played well on a dual analog gamepad.  We’re gonna be the first to do it right.

The game design of [ARMADA] revolves around these two philosophies:

  • [MENTAL] Everything in the game should feel — emotionally and intellectually — like you are playing a traditional RTS like SC2.
  • [PHYSICAL] All mechanics must be equally fun on dual analog as they are on keyboard/mouse.

How [ARMADA]?

Army Control

Unit orders are the first game design casualty in our quest for a great gamepad-RTS.

In [ARMADA] the player controls a Champion who can build structures, lead forces into battle, scout, and fight for herself. Your troops are autonomous but governed by AI that is determined by the unit class.  Some troops will be defenders, hanging out near their spawn point.  Some troops harvest resources.  Some troops are attackers, seeking out the nearest enemy.  Most troops will also follow the Champion into battle, allowing you to have a large force of mixed units.

Rock Paper Scissors

RTS revolves around a version of Rock/Paper/Scissors.  The initial decision in traditional RTS games is Attack/Defense/Economy.  If you rush, someone who turtles wins.  If you turtle, the person who fast expands wins.  If you fast expand, you are vulnerable to attack.  In practice, RTS games are much more complicated than this, but the initial strategic directions can usually be boiled down to those three choices.

In broad terms, the player character in [ARMADA] is the primary attack force, their army is the primary defensive force, and economy management happens in traditional RTS ways.

Competition, Co-op, Replays, Editor, Modding

Yes, [ARMADA] is being built with competition and co-op in mind.  We’re only a month into development and we already have a strong networking system built for the basic features, a working replay system, a basic editor, and pretty much all of the game data is in human-readable (and editable) XML format.

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When [ARMADA]?

I honestly don’t know if [ARMADA] will be another three year project  I don’t even know if it will be longer than a 6 month project.  Sound kind of familiar?  That’s how Monaco started out… as a 6 week XBLIG game.

But I do know that there is a game that I want to play that doesn’t exist. Monaco’s success has given us the leeway to make whatever game we want to make next. I hope that our (amazing) community and new people will join us in following along with development. And if I know anything about the internet, you’ll steer us where we go wrong, give us inspiration, and join us in the [ARMADA] community.

-Andy Schatz @andyschatz


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