The Finnsider

The grand reveal: Why Grand Cru's much-delayed Supernauts just might lead the fight for F2P

Are you watching, Notch?

The grand reveal: Why Grand Cru's much-delayed Supernauts just might lead the fight for F2P

Grand Cru Games has been sitting on its iOS title Supernauts for more than two years now.

In an era when mobile games are thrown out the door (or at the wall as it has become fashionable to say) every few minutes, and only those with the strongest retention survive to be iterated on, this is a truly elephantine gestation period.

As you might imagine, there's a lot of money invested in it. Grand Cru raised about €1.5 million back in 2012 on top of whatever had been put on the table by the founders originally. A year later the Cru raised another round, bumping the millions up into double figures. In some currencies that's Dr Evil money.

Soon to be released they said. Almost a year ago.

If working up on the 12th floor wasn't enough to induce vertigo, the weight of expectation riding daily upon the shoulders of the six founders, Messrs Wilkman, Granholm, Kangas, Lindstedt, Wuolijoki and Pasula, must surely be enough to see them staggering about bandy legged each day at Grand Cru towers, flailing in the general direction of the coffee machine.

Mounting defenses

While it's true that Supercell earns that kind of money in probably the time it has taken you to read to here, its products are traditional free-to-play base builders.

Over in Sweden, King's match-3 puzzler with overarching storyline and map based progression otherwise known as Candy Crush Saga flies the flag for the other all conquering genre in free to play. And what else is popular on mobile, popular enough to generate the kind of return that is needed to recoup this investment?

What other types of game have managed to penetrate the fortress of freemium solitude that is Apple's App Store?

While Steve was a Thor fan, he didn't get round to watching The Dark World until last week.

Why it's that righteous crusader against all that is wrong in the world of free-to-play mobile gaming and almost predictably another Nordic champion, the mighty world building/exploring/survival/Lego simulator: Minecraft.

Notch famously dislikes free-to-play gaming, uniting his followers with rallying cries of 140 characters or less.

Minecraft is a rare champion of premium priced gaming which also hits big numbers on mobile. Weighing in at the seemingly huge yet preposterously small sum of around £6, Minecraft is the people's champion in the ongoing gamer on gamer war which ambles ever clumsily on.

Its creator Notch famously dislikes free-to-play gaming, uniting his followers with rallying cries of 140 characters or less.

Holding out for a hero

If one were to imagine combining these two disparate worlds, to achieve peace and harmony where free to play gamers and other 'real' gamers frolic together in an inclusive world free from negative comments on social media, where purchasing in game items was without stigma, and where unicorns grazed upon the rainbow grass, the task would be dismissed as absurd.

Beyond herculean.

Unlock Schwarzenegger quotes for €1.99

So, of course, that is more or less what Grand Cru's ambition is with its well overdue debut game, Supernauts.

To combine the creative expression and imagination rich qualities of Minecraft with the free to play model. To offer an experience that is accessible to all, but deep enough to satisfy traditional gamers. To bridge the canyon between the two worlds. To change perceptions of what free to play mobile gaming can be. Whether they are brave or stupid will be decided by the results, but they are certainly not left wanting for a challenge.

Supernauts 'soft' launched in a handful of territories some time ago and, despite the false starts that have come before, the game must surely now be agonisingly close to launch. But what is it actually all about - can it really live up to the high expectations it demands of itself?

Until recently it's been difficult to say. Supernauts is a game not so much about world building as it is about world crafting. Expanding your territory is important not for status or better defenses, but to enlarge the world facing canvas that is your piece of land in space.

Supernauts is a game not so much about world building as it is about world crafting.

The much lauded social aspect, while clearly dependent on how social you are yourself, allows you to hop from your own world to the outposts of others around the galaxy in seconds, admiring your friend Barry's majestic handmade sculpture of C3P0 and leaving him a pile of bricks as sort of awkward hover-handed man-hug gesture. The demanding UI is somehow even neat enough to be useable on the iPhone.

And of course it looks fantastic. Unlike so many mobile titles that feature ugly gurning avatars which have escaped from mid nineties marketing campaigns, Supernauts is remarkably pretty (apart from Captain Fabulous, that guy sucks).

Low on power

There are perhaps not so many mobile games that are truly battery drainers. Kairosoft's Story series, Civilisation Revolution, New Star Soccer are among them, games that you play in a time insulated bubble that is disturbed only when your phone powers down unexpectedly because it was seemingly only a few seconds ago that it gave you the 10 percent warning.

Supernauts has the potential to be this sort of game, the type that mandates you playing in an awkward position while your phone or tablet remains plugged in to the wall, thanks to Apple's particularly short charging cable philosophy. This is even more likely to be the case should you take part in a game-wide building challenge, where you are given a theme and are free to impress as you please.

'Excuse me for a year while I recreate Blackwing Lair in another game.'

Probably the most impressive thing about the game as a whole is how seamless all the different parts are woven together. Two years buys you a lot of pressure, but it certainly comes with an upside. Each button, option screen and element has been raked over meticulously.

There's no telling how Supernauts will fare once it's launched into the harsh, braying mobile gaming world. Will it unite gamers of all descriptions, or be left unloved - deemed too complicated by gamers used to being told what to do, and viewed with suspicion by a crowd that considers paying up front to be the distinguishing feature of a 'real' game?

It's possible that even Notch will warm to it. Let's just hope that whatever happens, the Grand Cru team remember to breathe out.

The Finnsider is our regular look at the ever-dynamic and increasingly successful mobile development scene in Finland, hosted by former Londoner – and now a Helsinkiläinen - Steve El-Sharawy, Digital Engagement Manager at EzyInsights.

The Finnsider

An Englishman at home in Finland, Steve has spent the last decade working with data for online gaming, TV and social media. If you don’t have a question, don’t expect to get an answer.