Lords of New York is a game that is brilliantly innovative at the same time as being difficult to imagine how much fun it actually is without getting your hands on it and giving it a go. Lunchtime Studio’s game is an adventure RPG set in the crime-ridden mafia world of New York in 1925. Instead of fighting battles to level up, as in most RPGs, you’ll be playing high-stakes poker against New York’s crime lords. You’ll use your skills in Poker to either climb the rungs of the ladder leading to the leadership of the crime syndicate, or you may instead choose to topple the mafia.
The Lords of New York Kickstarter campaign aims high, looking at a $295,000 target, but is currently sitting well below that goal. Lunchtime Studios told me that they are planning on making the game regardless of whether they succeed or not in the Kickstarter, and they also are making the Wii U a release platform regardless of whether they hit the Wii U stretch goal. However, reaching their goal would allow the team to bring the game to Wii U as a simultaneous release with PC. Without the extra funding, it would have to be reluctantly pushed off for porting post-PC-release. Lunchtime Studios is excited about having Nintendo fans’ backing and enthusiasm, so either way, they’re excited about bringing the game to the Wii U.
What makes Lords of New York so interesting, besides for being a poker game that takes its storyline very very seriously, is the way it evolves the game of poker as a video game. Everyone knows Poker requires you to keep on your best poker-face while being able to read your opponent’s tells, discerning whether they are bluffing or telling the truth. But how can that translate into a video game? Lunchtime Studio’s Dan Higgins programmed an elaborate animation system that allows for a huge amount of smooth expression animations. So, you’ll be watching your opponents carefully as you play. But, your character also has tells and you’ll have to spend “moxie” (like mana in classic RPGs) on defensive powers to keep your stalwart poker-face unrevealing.
Other factors that can change up the game of poker are the leveling up of your “talents”, one-time use special powers, and the fact that you aren’t always playing to win. For example, the game’s story may require you to keep someone at the table long enough to plant evidence on him. You’ll have to watch his expressions and make sure he stays happy. If you see him growing frustrated or bored the best strategy may be to lose a couple of hands to him so he gets back into the game and is happy again.
Still, the story and adventure segments are a major emphasis of the game and Dan mentioned that it shares many elements in common with the Professor Layton series in that regard. At PAX East, last week, the feedback was that people weren’t sure what they loved more- the story portions or the innovation of the poker gameplay that came to life through the facial expression animations.
Since the game relies so heavily on making you feel like you’re actually playing a game of Poker with a real-life opponent sitting across from you, Lunchtime Studios thought the Wii U was the perfect platform to add to that authentic feeling. Your hand of cards will be on the GamePad, held “close to your chest” as you would a real deck of cards, while you observe your opponent “across the table” on the TV screen.
Lunchtime Studios also felt the personality and flavor of the game would appeal to Nintendo fans, from its Layton-like adventure to its RPG-like depth. So, how did this game end up coming to Wii U? I’ll admit, I had something to do with it.
Under the mentorship of Emily Rogers I’ve been reaching out to various indie developers with promising projects and making a case for the Wii U– from the flavors of innovation, personality, and gameplay that will appeal to the Nintendo fanbase to Nintendo’s updated policies for the Wii U eShop. As we all know, the eShop has been one of the Wii U’s greatest successes so far.
You wouldn’t believe how receptive most developers are to the idea of working with Nintendo, and most of them profess their adoration of Nintendo and how much inspiration they have received. What’s funny is that so often what makes the Wii U not cross their mind in the first place as a release platform is one of the obstacles specifically relieved by the latest Nintendo policies. Just today, a developer told me that they hadn’t considered Nintendo for their stunning turn-based strategy game because their game is made with Unity3D and they assumed there would be a $30,000 licensing fee. If you haven’t heard yet: Nintendo updated their policies at GDC this week, and it is now completely free to make use of Unity Pro development tools on Wii U.
When looking for developers who may want to bring their games to Wii U, I’ve tried to keep an eye out for projects which would bring an innovative use to the Wii U’s GamePad. I’m talking about creative uses that go beyond the typical “put-the-map/HUD-on-the-GamePad” technique.
What caught my eye about Lords of New York is that it was a game that reminded me so much of Nintendo’s predicament. It is wonderfully original and innovative but so hard to explain to gamers without having them play it for themselves. At PAX East, many gamers told their friends that if there was one game to check out at the whole show it was Lords of New York. The booth was packed the entire time. The hands-on experience adequately conveys what Lords of New York is all about. But, reading about it on Kickstarter doesn’t do it justice. It’s hard to imagine that it’s so fun to actually sit down and play.
I contacted Lunchtime Studios and told them how they might be able to drum up support for the Kickstarter campaign by bringing the game to Wii U and asking for Nintendo fans to lend a hand. I also told him how they can really use the GamePad in a unique manner with their game. That in itself would be a great selling point. Not to mention, the game itself is a charmer. Lunchtime thought so highly of the Nintendo fanbase that they decided to bring the game to Wii U, independent of whether the Kickstarter campaign succeeds or not. They’re really excited to be entering this world full of gamers who appreciate Nintendo-style games.
As Dan told me: “Even if we fail [in the Kickstarter], you’ve put us in touch with a fan base that should LOVE this title.”
Well, with 20 days left to the campaign and only a small amount of the funding goal reached, it may be difficult to succeed. But I’m hoping that Nintendo fans can muster up the support and help boost the campaign. It may not be enough, but we can still rest assured that another very innovative and charming game will be coming to the Wii U.
There are a few other positive leads I’m working on at the moment, and I hope that a few of them will also come to fruition and I can share them with you.