Zynga San Francisco's Solstice Arena, which is out today for iOS devices, aims to be the world's first speed multiplayer online battle arena game (MOBA), merging the depth and competitiveness of hardcore MOBA titles with the short session times associated with mobile gaming.
The game began development with A Bit Lucky — a studio best known for its work on Lucky Train and Lucky Space and was founded by developers who previously worked at Trion Worlds on titles like Rift. The studio was acquired by Zynga in 2012 and became a part of Zynga San Francisco. General manager of Solstice Arena, Frederic Descamps told Polygon that the original team behind the game stayed on board to work on it, and the developers have been able to continue with their original vision for Solstice Arena.
"We had a few guiding principles behind the design and development of the game," Descamps said. "One is we wanted it to be a true, legit MOBA. If we were to give this tablet [with the game on it] to a hardcore MOBA player, we wanted them to think that this was a high-quality, well-balanced and fair-to-play MOBA based on skill.
Solstice Arena is free-to-play, but Maynard was quick to point out that it will also be fair to play.
"The second guiding principle is accessibility — broadening the genre to a wider audience."
The studio's mission was to bring a hardcore experience — a "legit MOBA" as Descamps put it — to an audience that doesn't even know what the acronym means. To achieve this, it thought of ways it could make the game more accessible without compromising its first guiding principle.
"We spent lots of time optimizing the controls, testing them and tweaking until we got a very good control system," Descamps said. "People sometimes say that a genre belongs to the PC or console — for example I prefer a mouse and keyboard when I play first-person shooters — and we didn't want that to happen to the MOBA. So we built the controls from the ground up to be trans-platform. We've matched people on PC versus Mac versus tablet and there is no way to tell the difference."
According to Descamps, the studio designed the game so that no platform has an advantage over the other. It then optimized the controls for every platform the game would be on, starting with mobile devices.
Instead of making the game five players on five players, which is common in traditional MOBAs, the team decided to have three players against three players. This would allow matches play out faster. Instead of having a chat system, which would be cumbersome on devices like the iPad and could intimidate inexperienced players, the studio implemented a team alert system where players can tap on their teammates to alert them to which tower needs to be defended and who needs to be attacked.
In a demo of the game Polygon played, characters were also able to self-cast spells. The abilities were listed to the side on a panel and all we had to do was select an attack. By holding down a finger on a character while they performed an attack, we could drag the character around and direct the attack and damage.
Item trees and skill trees have also been streamlined in Solstice Arena. Hardcore players will still have the option to dig into the details and make decisions about every item they buy and equip themselves with, but for those who aren't interested in the process, there's an option to equip yourself with whatever the game recommends. Similarly, players can upgrade their characters' abilities based on what the game recommends, but they have the option to access an MMO-style talent tree to specialize their abilities. Every hero has three abilities, and each ability has different paths that players can specialize in.
"It allows you to customize that hero toward your playstyle," creative director Jordan Maynard told Polygon. "If you're bad at hitting skill shots, you can increase the area of it. But if you're good, you can increase the damage of the shots instead."
Solstice Arena is free-to-play, but Maynard was quick to point out that it will also be fair to play. Players will not be able to buy in-game power — it must be earned. Hard currency can buy skins and boosts, which can help players get soft currency faster, but the focus of the real-money spending appears to be on new heroes and costumes.
Solstice Arena is out now on iOS devices. There are plans to release the game on other platforms, although specific dates and platforms have not been announced.