The company of ARATOG was founded in early 2012, and is based in Odesa, Ukraine. Their CEO and founder Arseniy Nazarenko has been in the games industry for almost 13 years. He started at Nival in the Blitzkrieg 2 project, and has also worked at Nikitova, Persha Studia‘s outsoucing company, having made dozens of titles for leading industry companies for various platforms. In 2006 Arseniy also headed the Ukrainian department of Vogster Entertainment and the Crime Craft project. His last for-hire project was the browser MMOG strategy My Lands, released in 2010. And only after this one Arseniy got a possibility to start his own studio and project. Now ARATOG also includes 15 other people united by their passion for games and game development; a passion that has pushed them to use Unity to develop cross-platform games, including Web, PC ( Web, Mac OS, Linux), iOS and Android with single server on cluster technology.
Their first big project is Astro Lords: Oort Cloud, and it’s this story that Arseniy shares.
In addition to this game, the company has produced a variety of others, such as Hungry Mouth and Crazy Sapper.
Fighting and Trading in Space
Astro Lords : Oort Cloud is a cross-platform massive multiplayer online 3D space strategy. The game takes place in the Oort Cloud – a huge formation of scattered asteroids lying beyond the Solar System. Each player begins the game as an Astro Lord on their own asteroid base. This base enables players to mine minerals and build factories that will be used to produce ammunition and spare parts for their spaceships. This base is the player’s primary stronghold – other Lords can raid it, but they won‘t be able to capture it. Players can also capture up to five additional asteroids to get minerals. But beware, you need to stay alert – to keep other Lords from recapturing the asteroids. One of the game’s distinctive features is the unique Radar located at the space station. Not only it enables players to monitor the location of their enemies and allies, but also to carry out pirate raids! As the game progresses, more asteroids can be seized through battles with other players.
Astro Lords: Oort Cloud puts emphasis on several key components: real-time space battles against AI or other Astro Lords, enhancing asteroids by building factories, mines, upgrading defense and creating spaceships, and exploration of the Oort Cloud to find resource-abundant places, as well as trading and communicating with other players. Combined together, these components assemble into balanced and captivating gameplay with serious strategic and tactical depth.
Inspired by the old space battle games
I think the ancestor of all games of this kind (multiplayer space strategy) is the ancient game distributed via FidoNet, VGA Planets, where the players competed in a duel space in 11 races: 11 players exchanged moves once every two days by mail through FidoNet (a network of the 90’s with nodes and points by exchanging messages).
The successor became Master of Orion II, the cult game with step-by-step fighting, where many people spent sleepless nights. I’ve always preferred a custom race with a maximum bonus of land battles and boarding, which allowed me to build a ship that could capture the whole fleet.
We were inspired by Master of Orion II, and the first browser-based space strategy must have been Destiny Sphere, though the only thing we made similar to the latter are probably the hexes. Then was OGame, and eventually all flat images, imagination come to life and taken shape in Astro Lords.
The Astro Lords of today is a game totally different from the initial idea. November 2011 can be considered the start of this project’s development, when the first concept document was written. The primary concept was about some armored units placed on different planets and asteroids exchanging fire with each other, a similar principle to Worms Armageddon. Due to problems with the implementation of the fighting and the collapse of the surface on HTML5, we decided to move to Unity 3D.
The idea to add a base for traveling the Oort Cloud came much later, when the battles were almost ready. They changed a lot when we added the principle of “shoot and dodge” and mixed serialization and real-time, which totally pushed the combat mechanics away from the aforementioned war worms.
After development of the basic functionality of the game, there were several test runs: pre-Alpha, Alpha and closed Beta. It’s worth noting that many current active players have joined in the early stages of the project.
We planned to release Astro Lords almost two years ago, according to our initial plan, but then the game evolved, and is now a huge strategy MMO based on cutting-edge scientific theories. The project has become huge! We stepped on all possible rakes, including problems with qualified staff and searching for them, wrong technology choices as well as the subsequent changes of technology and teams in order to write our own server with distributed computing for a single game world, because the game is cross-platform.
Release: hard in app store, easy in google play
The first release of Astro Lords was the Russian web version on the 28th of May 2014. In fact, the release started in the evening of a Thursday, May 27th, lasting almost all night, And only at 5 am the developers solemnly raised their glasses for the release of Astro Lords. We soon added clients for Windows, Mac and Linux. However, that release version was very raw and had a creepy lag during loading: it first took a long time to load, and then crashed. So almost all summer of 2014 was dedicated to fixing bugs, instead of rolling out updates and conquering new platforms. Unfortunately we lost many players because of this, including the alpha testers who didn’t want to wait for all the fixes.
Then, on July 1st, we released the English version of the browser game with the publisher of Bisbog Group, who had little experience, but enough money for the impressive boost for us during the hard times, which we could not resist.
The release of the iOS version in the App Store turned into an epic fail! Five times we submitted an application, and four of them the AppStore returned it back. Reasons for rejection came down to the fact that the first AppStore officer didn’t find where we located the claimed TapJoy module. Later, when we gave them detailed instructions, including where to poke, they still couldn’t find TapJoy! So we just removed it.
The next App Store officer checked on the in-apps from New Zealand, sending an undocumented command to our server, which caused an error. As a result, the last check happened during an update of the game server, which lasted for only 5 minutes. Finally, from the fifth attempt, we successfully released the iOS version of the game on January 28, 2015.
On the other hand, the release of the Russian version on Google Play went surprisingly smoothly and quickly. And thus, the Russian version of the game was completely cross-platform! Through Unity and our cluster, a single account can be used to play in a browser on PC (Windows, Mac, Linux), as well as iOS and Android devices.
Greenlight and feedback
Recently, the English version of Astro Lords has been greenlit on Steam and we also posted the Russian version with another publisher, Tartezal Holdings, which got greenlit in just 42 days! The latter was released on September 29th 2015 and received positive feedback.
On the App Store, Astro Lords initially also received many positive reviews, despite the fact that the interface of the game used to be mainly for tablets, and players with phones often wrote that the gameplay is interesting, but you have to play with a magnifying glass and a toothpick. The enlarged mobile UI for phones has already been developed and is to be released soon.
Our players particularly like the fact that they can create an account on a mobile device and continue playing in the PC or web version from wherever they are. And some independent experts told us that such complexity of game mechanics along with graphics quality has never existed in games for mobile devices before.
Astro Lords is a real-time strategy in 3D, a cross-platform game with a persistent world, whose uniqueness the developers see in the combination of global strategy and real-time battles. Another feature is changing position on the global map, giving unexpected new opportunities in strategy direction! And of course, the developers have based Astro Lords on cutting-edge scientific theories, like the Oort Cloud – which is a hypothesized spherical cloud around our Solar System. “We specifically used the Solar System model in the game to graphically show this theory to the players”, business development and marketing director Lyubov Nazarenko explains. “We are also proud that Astro Lords was nominated for Selected Projects in the top-5 Online games at Game Connection Europe in Paris in December 2013, and has participated in Indie Prize Showcase 2014 in Amsterdam!”
In October 2015 Astro Lords:Oort Cloud was nominated for “Best Game” and won the “Best Art” award in the second contest of a championship of game projects – Indie Game Cup 2015 at White Nights Moscow.