Happy Wars was recently released to Xbox LIVE Arcade as the first true free-to-play title for the Xbox 360. Created by Japanese developer Toylogic, the game marries massive battlefields with cartoonish characters and tons of customization options. We got the opportunity to ask Toylogic CEO Yoichi Take about how the game turned out to be free-to-play and what the future holds for the cute and quirky multiplayer brawler. According to Yoichi, “The real show has just begun.”
VGW: Could you give a little bit of a background on who you are and Toylogic’s history?
Yoichi Take: I am Yoichi Take, the CEO of Toylogic Inc. also serving as the director of the Happy Wars project.
I have been working in the video games industry for almost 20 years, with my career starting at Namco. I served as director for games like Bullet Witch, released by AQ Interactive/Atari on the Xbox360, and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which Sony Computer Entertainment released on the PlayStation 2.
Toylogic Inc. is an independent video game developer established in December 2006 by industry veterans who have worked on hit titles in large Japanese video game companies, like Namco Bandai Games.
The team has a wide range of expertise in many consoles, like the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii. Some of the titles we have worked on are Super Smash Bros. Brawl, released by Nintendo for the Wii, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Smash-Up, released by Ubisoft for the Wii.
VGW: Happy Wars comes across as a very cute and colorful 15 vs 15 multiplayer game. What inspired the game and the gameplay?
YT: We are definitely influenced by the multiplayer PVP tactics of Ultima Online, the intuitively satisfying action of Castle Crashers, and the deep strategic layer on top of Battlefield.
We believe there already are many online games that target core gamers, so we want to appeal also to the more casual gamers out there.
VGW: I recall mentions of Happy Wars being shopped around last year to publishers. How did you and Microsoft get together and decide to make the game the first true free-to-play title to release on Xbox LIVE?
YT: From the start, our thinking was to make the game free-to-play, and Microsoft Studios also came up with the same suggestion, so it is not a matter of one or the other of us pushing the idea, but rather that it sort of grew out of our meeting of minds.
Ultimately, we owe it to our producer in Japan for successfully enabling the title to be released as free-to-play.
VGW: Free-to-play titles are known for either being a grind to level up and acquire items or requiring money to advance quickly. How did you go about balancing those elements while still making Happy Wars fun for those on either extreme of spending no money or spending lots of money on items?
YT: Both paying and non-paying players have access to almost the exact same game modes and equipment. We also believe that paying players having a unilateral advantage over those who don’t would be a problem, so we make it a top priority to balance the game to prevent this.
That said, the key difference between the paying and non-paying play experiences is the amount of time it takes to get powerful or extravagant equipment. People who might not want to play the game for a long period of time can save time by paying money.
Also, equipment items are associated with the concept of “Weight”, and player characters can only equip items up to a total weight value. This prevents players from wearing multiple powerful items at once. The character’s total weight limit rises gradually as they gain rank.
This prevents paid users from having too much of an advantage over unpaid users early in the game.
VGW: Can you explain the different between Happy Stars and Happy Tickets and what they can be used for?
YT: The Happy Star is the in-game currency players can earn by playing the game, in Multiplayer, Single-player Campaign, or elsewhere. Free players can earn it too.
They can be used to power up equipment that you already own or purchase temporary in-game stat boosts, and they can also be spent as bets on the “Happy Spinner,” which grants random equipment.
The Happy Tickets are premium in-game currency purchased through Microsoft Points.
You can use them to purchase unique equipment or character customization parts in the “Item Shop” or purchase “Happy Cards” to get powerful equipment. Also, like Happy Stars, Happy Tickets can be spent on powering up your existing gear or purchasing temporary in-game stat boosts.
The Happy Spinner and Happy Cards features are similar in that they both randomly offer gear, but the main difference is that Happy Cards guarantee to give you “Premium Items,” which are both powerful and visually attractive.
VGW: Are there items in the game that can only be obtained by spending real world money?
YT: Yes, there are equipment items and customization parts that can only be purchased with real world money.
However, they are not necessarily powerful – they may be cute- or cool-looking, and this unique graphical advantage is available for paying users.
VGW: Based on the beta, there’s quite a bit of content to obtain already. How do you plan on adding new items in the shop?
YT: There are about 1,000 different items available on day one of the game’s launch.
We plan to release items every week, over a long period of time.
We are also open to feedback from our players, and have plans for asking for their ideas or wishes for what kind of content to create next.
VGW: Happy Wars has the Cleric, Mage and Warrior classes that fill very specific roles. Do you plan on adding additional classes later?
YT: We currently have no plans for additional classes.
However, like I mentioned before, if feedback from our fans demand it, it would definitely be something we would like to add.
VGW: Six maps were available in the beta are more planned later?
YT: Yes, we plan on releasing maps on a regular basis as well. [Ed: In fact, a new Halloween-themed map was released just before this interview was published.]
VGW: Free-to-play titles on the PC are known for their relatively quick updates to fix bugs or balance issues while Xbox LIVE is known for relatively slow releases due to the certification processes. Do you have a way to quickly apply changes to Happy Wars?
YT: We want to work with Microsoft to release updates as quickly and as often as possible. We already have a title update in the works, reflecting user feedback from the beta and release.
Also, Happy Wars has a system which allows quick balance changes that do not require a full-on Title Update. We believe our fixes can be executed at a pace that rivals the update schedules of PC free-to-play titles.
VGW: I like the concept of the individual classes not only having their own special abilities but also being able to team up with fellow players for team attacks. Can you give an overview of the team attacks and how they can change a battle?
YT: Team attacks in Happy Wars are called “Team Skills,” and each of the three classes have three unique Team Skills.
Warriors can gather their teammates to form an offensive or defensive formation, Clerics can buff a large number of allies or call down a miracle to turn all enemies into flowers, and Mages can call down giant meteors or huge tornados to ravage the enemy.
These Team Skills require a lot of cooperation from your allies. A certain minimum number of teammates must join you, and the abilities become more powerful as more people join in. Players of any class can join to assist a Team Skill.
A well-executed Team Skill has the potential of turning the tide of a battle. If you’re lacking that last push to take down an enemy castle, the Team Skill could provide that final blow, or if the enemy is trampling all over you, the Team Skill could be the leverage you need to flip the scale in your favor.
Teamwork is vitally important in Happy Wars.
Each of the three classes have unique roles that only they can perform, and even the most skilled players with the best equipment will have difficulty surviving an outnumbered battle.
Players working together with others is the key to success, and Team Skills are only part of this.
VGW: The craft shop looks like a good way to quickly help your character become even more powerful. Can you explain a little about what can be combined and are there any limitations to it?
YT: There are two game modes available for powering up your equipment – “Item Level-Up” and “Item Modification.”
In Item Level-Up, you use other equipment as material for improving the base stats of a target equipment item. For example, leveling up a weapon will improve the damage it deals, while leveling up armor will boost its defenses.
You can use any equipment type as level-up material – for example, you can use armor or shields to level-up your sword.
Item Modification allows you to move special equipment effects, or “buffs,” from item to item, or remove an unwanted buff from an item. Buffs range in effect from raising base stats like attack, defense, HP, or AP, to preventing special effects like Stun, or unlocking certain skills from the beginning of a match.
Buffs can only be transferred between items of the same equipment types, and some buffs are unique to the item and cannot be moved.
Items come with many looks, base stats, and Buffs. By using Item Level-Up and Item Modification, players can create the item that best suits their own play style.
VGW: What’s the one thing you are most proud of or most excited for with Happy Wars?
YT: I believe the large-scale multiplayer action battle done by comical and cute characters is something unique to our game.
Happy Wars is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone, including children, adults, casual gamers, and core gamers.
VGW: Long-term, what are your plans for supporting Happy Wars and keeping players coming back for more?
YT: We want to make sure we keep the users engaged and having fun by adding new content like equipment and game rules, fixing issues, adjusting balance, and running in-game events.
Also, we pay attention to what our fans are asking from us by using an open communication channel with them through PlayXBLA and Facebook.
Happy Wars will continue to evolve, and we feel that the real show has just begun.
VGW: For those just starting out with Happy Wars at launch, do you have any tips or tricks?
YT: Teamwork is key. Just by staying with your team and not wandering off alone will help your team and give you a higher score.
Also, you get equipment for completing missions in the Single-player Campaign. These items are powerful enough to be useful in Multiplayer as well, so if you haven’t played Single-player yet, now might be a good time for you to advance the story a bit.