Haunted Hollow

Interviewing The Designers
by Matt Miller on May 02, 2013 at 10:12 AM
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Firaxis Games
Rating: 9+
Platform: iOS

Firaxis is doubling down on the mobile scene this month with not one, but two brand new games for iOS. We heard yesterday about the announcement of Ace Patrol, and today sees the release of Haunted Hollow. Is the new mobile game worth your time? We had the chance to put some written questions to designers David McDonough and Will Miller to learn more about this whimsical new strategy title, and they responded together to reveal some insight into the project.

Who are you, and what is your role on the project?

We’re David McDonough and Will Miller, and we are both lead designers on Haunted Hollow. We both co-designed the game. We met way back when we were attending the Savannah College of Art and Design, and our dream was to do exactly this – be game designers at a major studio. We were honored to be given permission to lead a team doing something a little different from Firaxis’ previous work. 

What’s the story concept for Haunted Hollow?

You are the master of a haunted house, and you want to build it up, fill it full of awesome monsters, and wreak havoc on a tiny, unsuspecting town nearby. But a rival haunted house master is building his house on the other side of the valley, and wants to do the same thing. So you face off – sending your monsters against each other and the town to find out who can be the most terrifying. 

We started with this vignette of one house on one hill, one house on the other, and this tiny unsuspecting town in the middle. It was a whiteboard drawing at first, and we only just recently erased it. But Dave keeps a vignette concept based off that original drawing on his hard drive. 

At first glance, Haunted Hollow seems to share some traits with XCOM’s base building, followed by battles outside the base. In what ways are the two games the same, and where do they differ?

They’re both turn-based games that have a mixture of army building and tactical engagement – build up an army and then use it – and the house presentation shares the “ant farm” cutaway view like the XCOM Base. That view works particularly well to show lots of cool stuff at the same time. But after these similarities, the fighting and building are integrated in very different ways. In Haunted Hollow, building and fighting are integral parts of your turn, versus XCOM, where you’re responding discrete invasions on a strategy layer and have a turn-based combat game.

Both games contain spatial puzzles, and they’re a bit more like buildings in RTS where each room builds a different sort of monster. You’ll also spend more time, comparatively, building the rooms of the haunted house, because each turn you get a free room to build. In XCOM the decision to create a new room is a major part of the decision about resource use. 

Is the game chiefly designed to be played multiplayer? If playing single-player, is the game focused primarily on single one-off battles against an AI opponent, or is there any larger campaign?

Yes. The game is built around a Player-versus-Player dynamic, and that was the motivator to make it free to play. We want as many people playing MP against each other as possible. The single-player game is a fun alternative, but there’s no campaign. It’s a single game versus an AI player. We feel the joy is best seen in playing MP.

When playing multiplayer, do you see the game as something that you’d play simultaneously with another player, or is it more built around taking a turn and then stepping away from the game for a while to let your opponent take his/her turn?

We see it more as a game where you take your turn, then wait a bit while your opponent takes his turn. The game is readable enough so that you can have several games going on at the same time without getting lost for your strategy for each game. We do have a pass-and-play mode where you can play with the same device in a single session, and that’s great for when you’re playing on the couch during TV commercial breaks, or on a plane. 

Is the multiplayer mode meant to be played with two competing players, or does the game support more players?

Two competing players. One v. One.

[Next up: How to build your own haunted house]

What can you tell me about options available to players to customize their mansions?

We have lots of customization options! Customization is one of the basic ideas for Haunted Hollow. Every time you start a new game, you customize your strategy by choosing the monsters and the kind of mansion you’ll use. It’s a bit like building a deck in a collectible card game like Magic: The Gathering. The additional monsters come into this way – they’re additional options to customize your play because they each have a unique monster ability, and houses support different numbers of different monster types, and so forth. There’s a lot of flexibility. It’s pretty easy to teach players the basics of the game, and a lot of the strategy comes at the start of the game when you’re choosing your strategy. What monsters work well together? What’s the best house for them? That sort of thing.

Can you explain the monster evolution concept?

Monster Evolution is tied to your house. Building a room of the same type adjacent to each other causes those rooms to merge into larger rooms, up to 2x2, and that allows you to build larger monsters up to level 3. The spatial strategy of building your house feeds back into the tactical combat part because you’re always going to be looking to build the biggest possible room to get the best possible monster. 

You’re definitely going to want to get bigger monsters, too. They’re more powerful, and their abilities have better effects as they get more powerful. But they’re more expensive as well, so you’re going to want to be careful with them. 

How does gameplay work outside of the mansion? Are you jumping back and forth between mansion management and town invasion at the same time, or are they two separate game modes?

Mansion management and town invasion are all going on in the same gameplay space. If you’re really clever, you can sneak your monsters into the other player’s house, and really mess them up, a bit like how invading a base in an RTS can be incredibly disruptive. Also, there’s always a tension between using your fear points on moving and building your monsters versus building up your house.

How do you gain control of the town?

The town is made of houses. The goal of the game is to have all of the houses scared for you. You’ll use scary monsters to gain control of houses, and houses will change hands frequently during the game. The houses are organized into neighborhoods, and if you control all of the houses in a neighborhood, you’ll get extra fear points at the start of your turn.  Also the mob can burn down houses, which makes them scarce towards the end of the game. 

Is there a separate form of interaction with the town residents and the opposing player? Or are you engaging with both in the same way?

You’re just out to scare the town, and your opponent is out to do the same thing. You’re stopping his monsters with your monsters. The town and the mob aren’t on anyone’s side. They’re just afraid of you.

In what specific ways are you directly interacting with an opponent player’s monsters or mansion?

You’ll be interacting most directly with his monsters. Fighty monsters are designed to attack and destroy your opponent’s monsters, but they can’t gain control of the houses. Scary monsters aren’t great fighters, but you need them to scare and control the town. And there are special monsters like the Goblin which can destroy rooms in your opponent’s house. 

How does the town’s mob mechanic play into the experience?

The mob comes out of the church when the townsfolk have had enough of being scared, and it stays out until the game ends or the mob is destroyed. The mob is tough, but it can be killed, and you get big rewards for destroying the mob. Each time the mob comes out, it gets faster and tougher. The mob acts as a destabilizing agent because it’s burning houses and destroying monsters, and that helps bring about the end of the game and keeps the game from turning into trench warfare.

How is the game monetized?

The game itself is free to play. You can purchase additional monsters, special items, and mansion styles. We wanted you to feel like you were getting the complete experience with the basic game, and the additional material is there if you’d like to try some more variety.