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How Everywear Games solved the small screen problem for Apple Watch-exclusive RPG Runeblade

Looking from a new angle
How Everywear Games solved the small screen problem for Apple Watch-exclusive RPG Runeblade

Aki Järvilehto is the CEO of Finnish start-up Everywear Games. Previously he worked at Rovio, Remedy and Nokia.

When Apple announced Apple Watch and unveiled the WatchKit, we decided that it was time to go all in.

In December 2014, we founded Everywear Games, which is the first game studio to fully focus on smartwatch gaming.

Since then, we've been crazy busy working with our debut title, Runeblade, which we feel is one of the most ambitious smartwatch games ever created.

It's been an exciting journey so far. This is just the beginning, but when got in touch with us and wanted to know a little background on the game, we were thrilled to share some of our experiences so far.

It's been a huge learning experience for us to work on Runeblade. We explored uncharted territories by creating a game for a brand new Apple platform, and if done correctly, it has the potential to become a benchmark of smartwatch gaming.

This is a seismic shift in the way games are designed, and there's so much new ground to cover. It really doesn't get better than that for us as developers.

“The game is a completely reimagined RPG experience for smartwatch. ”
Aki Järvilehto

All the way through Runeblade's development, there's been this feeling with the team that we are doing something unique, something new that has never been done before. This is true in sense of game design, art and graphics, marketing and so on.

What's it all about?

First, I'm very excited to say that Runeblade is a launch title and is available today in the App Store for Apple Watch.

So when people get their brand new Apple Watches, they will be able to download the game for free and embark on a journey through the magical world of Runeblade.

The game itself is a completely reimagined RPG experience for smartwatch. Runeblade is meant to be a watch-first experience, so 100% of the gameplay happens on the watch.

It is an original fantasy adventure tailored for Apple Watch, and I believe it is the first game in the world of its kind.

In Runeblade, the order of the War Mages is faced with an impossible situation. After millennia of slumber, their own gods are awakening only to turn corrupted and determined to destroy the world. The order selects a champion to continue the fight against evil, but time is running out as the wrath of the Arai is already seeping into the world!

We are casting the player as the champion of the War Mages. You'll be fighting monsters, casting spells and, of course, enchanting your runeblade. We have dramatically simplified core gameplay in a way that delivers fun in 5-15 second gameplay sessions. But there's also a lot of depth and complexity in the game.

Different Runes cast different effects, and combining these with spells like Endurance or Fireblade are important when you're fighting Guardians along the way. You'll earn crystals which can be spent on magical artefacts in your "hometown" on the iPhone client.

“It's exciting for us ... to challenge ourselves to make fun, original experiences on a new platform.”
Aki Järvilehto

So, in terms of smartwatch games, Runeblade is very ambitious and we're doing many things no one has ever done on this platform.

It's exciting for us to be pioneers for early smartwatch gaming and to challenge ourselves to make fun, original experiences on a new platform.

The art of Runeblade

There were a lot of new things we could tackle during development for Runeblade. As mentioned above, we focused on designing fun experiences in 5-15 second bursts. The game would have to fit into people's normal lives and the way they would normally interact with a smartwatch.

We've spent a lot of time figuring out how a different mindset is needed for creating smartwatch games to meet this. But there was one surprise, which completely caught us off guard. This was so unexpected that I wanted to spend a little time talking about it.

I'm talking about the art and visual look of the game.

When we started prototyping the game, our initial expectation was that doing visuals would be something relatively simple.

"Hey, there are fewer pixels to fill - how hard can it be?" would be an almost fair representation of our attitude in the beginning of development. And as it turned out, it was very, very hard.

Looking harder

In December and January, we used simple iPhone mockups to see what things would look in the real size.

We'd construct mock-up screenshots to see what would work and what wouldn't. And in this context, most things wouldn't… it was kind of uncanny.

“We'd hand-draw everything first with pencils and then ink it on paper. ”
Aki Järvilehto

We'd spend a lot of time working on visualizations and they'd look really good in larger size. Then we'd shoot them to the screen of an iPhone 6 and size them appropriately - and somewhere in the process the magic would be gone.

You'd lose too much detail. It would look blurry. After the conversion to final size, you'd simply lose the fun.

So in January, we had the whole team working on the game and no real art direction. And we started to panic just a little.

We tried everything. Painted style visuals, vectors, you name it. But it all felt lacking. Until one day, our graphics wizard and lead designer Markus Tuppurainen goes, "Hey, I think I got it" from behind his screen.

In addition to shipping record breaking games like Angry Birds Seasons and Bad Piggies, Markus has worked on a number of graphics novels in his past.

And he'd just started to experiment with the backgrounds using Moebius style (we're huge fans) graphics novel approach. And boy, did it work well in the real size!

In hindsight, it does feel kind of obvious. Graphics novels are one of those few mediums which has been always done in larger size originally and then printed on a smaller scale.

We're all used to seeing it this way, and that has to be one of the reasons why they work so well in this context. Also, graphics novels are simply a lot of fun.

It was from that point onwards that everything practically drew itself. We'd hand-draw everything first with pencils and then ink it on paper. Then we'd scan the images, process them and color them on screen. Finally, we'd add in animations, UI and the main game framework, and there you go.

So that's a short behind-the-scenes look on Runeblade.

We're thrilled to launch the game and hope that you'll join us on the adventure through this magical world!

You can get Runeblade now on the App Store, but it only works if you have an Apple Watch.