By Dave Pottinger  

HAIsBackWe, along with Robot Entertainment, released our latest game this week. Hero Academy 2 is the long-awaited sequel to the award-winning, beloved original strategic battler. The two studios worked hand-in-hand over the last two years to build this sequel, with BonusXP doing the day to day development of the game.

We’re going to keep working on the game to polish it more and add additional features/content, but I’m supremely proud of what our studio has designed and built. Robot has been a fantastic partner along the way; the trust they showed us every single day was impressive and humbling. Bonus didn’t set out to really do licensed games, but between Hero Academy 2 and Stranger Things: The Game (a little game that we released 3.5 months ago with 7.5M downloads and has a 4.8+ rating on both app stores), I guess we’ve figured out how to do a good job with other studios’ IP.

Now that the game is out, getting some awesome promotion on the mobile app stores, and folks are playing the early access PC/Mac versions, we are getting a lot of questions about how we approached the sequel. How do you make a sequel to something as beloved as Hero Academy?

You must love the original game. First and foremost, we are players. We want to make games that we love to play. We do have some of the key folks from the original Hero Academy on staff, but that’s not enough. When the opportunity to work on the sequel came up, we didn’t immediately jump at it. We talked about it as a studio. We made sure everyone was down for the game, the IP, and the relationship with Robot. If our studio isn’t excited about something, we look for other opportunities. I don’t know if every studio would handle it that way, but that’s really the only way we know how to operate.

CollectYourArmyWhen we talked with Robot about the sequel, we quickly established a mutual goal of not making the same game. The original Hero Academy is great. It still stands the test of time. We didn’t want to just slap a new set of art in place and release the same thing. We wanted to build on the ideas and gameplay from the original, update the presentation, and add some long-requested features. Those early chats resulted in a major shift for the franchise with the move to real-time PvP. I’m sure some stalwart fans of the original will prefer its async play, but we all felt like it was time to move the franchise into real-time. It’s more accessible and inviting for a larger group of folks. Time will tell if that was the right choice, but I can say that we never spent time second guessing that vision.

One other major risk, at least early on, was the decision to move to 3D for the graphics. The original looks mighty fine with some sweet, iconic 2D art. We thought about doing it that way again, but our Art Director, Jason Sallenbach, was adamant that we had to explore 3D. It’s safe to say that there were some skeptics… We did a six-month prototype of the game before we officially moved into production. A good portion of that prototype was spent iterating on the look of the game to prove that 3D would be as compelling as 2D, to show that we could capture the feel of the original. I vividly remember one art review where Patrick Hudson (Robot CEO) said “If you can’t get the eyes right, 3D is just not going to work”. Thankfully, we got the eyes right. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that we found a way to retain the luscious, fun look of the original game while modernizing it in 3D where we can do so much more.

FightPVPBattlesWe’ve changed a LOT of the rules of the game. Some of that was necessitated with the move to real-time PvP. Some of that was fixing some issues with the original (e.g. spending all your actions with a single hero). And some of that was just giving fans a new game to play. If there’s not something substantially new with a sequel, why make a sequel? I’m interested to see how everyone responds to the game. It is a little bit more hardcore than your typical mobile game. I think that’s okay because we’re not just a mobile game. We’ve released the ‘Early Access’ PC and Mac builds of the game which you can download from HeroAcademy2.com. I think it’s doubly okay because we’re not trying to make a throwaway idle-clicker thing. The original Hero Academy is a master class in elegant, deep design. The DNA of the franchise is rich, strategic gameplay where skill really does matter. I think the sequel lives up to that bar. There is so much gameplay potential in this CCG+Tactics space!

We’re already hard at work at several updates. I think we have 4 successive updates in the pipe right now, in fact. New content and features will be rolling out soon. Please give the game a go and let us know what you think!

dave