Vainglory interview: Creators talk heroes, controls, Metal, and more!

Most games released for the iPhone and iPad don't get a demo at an Apple press event. Yet that is just what developer Super Evil Megacorp got a chance to do in September when their debut game, the fantasy Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA)-style game Vainglory, was shown on stage during the iPhone 6 launch event. Now that the game is finally out in the US and Europe, we wanted to learn more about the title. We received answers to our email questions from Bo Daly, the CEO and co-founder of Super Evil Megacorp, along with Kristian Segerstrale, its COO and Executive Director.

First, how did Super Evil Megacorp get started and how did you pick that awesome name for your company?

Bo Daly: Ever since the beginning, Super Evil has been about bringing super-talented people together to make great games on new and exciting platforms. Stephan Sherman (CCO), Tommy Krul (CTO) and I worked together some years ago and grew to be good friends. They're some of the most talented people that I've ever met, and we stayed in touch as they set off to lay the groundwork for what would eventually become our E.V.I.L. engine.Over the years, we'd all talked about starting companies of our own, and there came a point in late 2011 where it felt like the moment had finally arrived to actually do it. The technology was there and we felt that tablets had gotten to be nearly as powerful as then-current console hardware. So, just after the New Year, we took the leap -- quit our jobs and lived out of savings while we worked on some game prototypes. We met Q Wang (CPO) not long after, and we knew we had the core of something really great. We got a hold of some capital and went about building the best art team in the business. One by one, we hired exactly who we wanted -- all masters of their individual crafts. We've continued building the team that way and are now 27 strong.In a sense, the name is a tongue-in-cheek reference to that hiring philosophy. We'll never actually be a Super Evil Megacorp, because we are obsessively focused on hiring quality over quantity. The team here are all highly-skilled craftspeople, so we'll never have a team of 500 nameless developers. You see that sometimes at bigger companies, and we're hoping to build a home for some of the best and brightest from all corners of the industry who may have become disillusioned with the actual mega-corps out there. Here, everyone makes meaningful creative contributions on a daily basis.So, the name's a bit of a beacon to get the attention of those folks. All of that said, though, the name is also just hilarious, and for all of our focus on doing great things with great people, we don't actually take ourselves too seriously. That's the other upside of being a small team -- we've got a lot of personality, and it shows.

How did the idea for Vainglory come about?

Bo Daly: The idea came from our passion for core games and the memories we have from growing up playing games like Diablo, Counter-Strike and Starcraft. We wanted to create the same kind of experiences on new platforms. With the tablet, we felt that there's this amazing technological capability and an opportunity for instantly accessible "LAN parties." There just aren't very many core games available that really take advantage of the platform. We are also huge fans of the MOBA genre, so it was a bit of a no-brainer at the time.

MOBA games are highly popular on the PC, where keyboard and mouse controls can be more precise. How hard was it to make a similar game that would work with a touchscreen?

Kristian Segerstrale: Actually, the controls were one of the hardest the things in the design process. For a core game, especially a MOBA, it is so important that the controls are responsive and precise. The controls need to be out of the way, so that you can focus on out playing and out thinking the opponent, not fighting the controls. After rounds and rounds of iteration, the controls of Vainglory are entirely based on taps - a tap to move, a tap to attack and so on. For maximum precision we've stayed away from swipes and gestures. It turnst out touch actually works better than a mouse for many key moves in MOBAs. For example kiting, where you're moving in one direction and shooting in another. Your two index fingers effectively become two mouse pointers, and the move is much easier than with a mouse!

Vainglory level

What are a couple of your favorite heroes in this first version of Vainglory?

Kristian Segerstrale: I love most of them! I tend to main Catherine or Adagio for the team-wide tactical influence that those heroes have. Adagio can heal his team mates and deal massive area of effect damage through his ultimate. Catherine on the other hand has a mean stun and a silence, so I tend to play her as a utility tank and focus on disabling the most dangerous enemies, as well as protecting my team. And then there's Krul, the undead viking whose ultimate is to pull a sword from his chest and throw it at enemies. It all depends on what mood I'm in!

Besides its touch-based controls, what other gameplay elements make the game different than other MOBA games?

Kristian Segerstrale: In addition to the lighting fast touch controls and unapologetically core design, there are four things about Vainglory that makes it quite a different experience from other MOBAs. Our Map layout, the jungle objectives, the hero build paths, and the physicality of lan party play.The map has been designed from the ground up to cater for 20 minute matches that let you experience every phase of a great MOBA: laning, ganking, objective taking, and teamfighting during the span of a game. Team tactics and strategy matters, as does skilled play with your hero, as does building your hero situationally to counter enemy tactics!The jungle has several capture and hold objectives which affect the lane. Control of the Minion mines - one on each side of the jungle, determine the strength of lane minions. Capturing the Gold Mine at the center of the Jungle, or holding it for four mintues, nets team gold. And at 15 minutes a giant creature called the Kraken spawns into the gold mine pit. He can be captured through a team effort and will join the fight on the capturing team's side. The proximity of the lane and the jungle make for varied team tactics. And there is a jungle shop that allows for faster shopping than recalling home.The heroes are uniquely designed from the ground up to suit vainglory. Not only is the roster varied and unique, but each hero can be built in different ways to suit any play style - by spending gold earned by killing minions or jungle monsters on items in the in-game shop.LAN party play is where Vainglory really shines. And unlike other MOBAs where you have to bring your PC:s together, Vainglory lets you meet up at the local coffee shop or in your living room and battle your hearts out, and high five at the end of the game. It's how we play in the office and how our teams play in the wild. While solo queue is fun, lan party play is the most visceral way to enjoy the game!


What can you tell us about the graphics engine for Vainglory and how you worked with Apple's Metal API to make it look good on iOS devices?

Kristian Segerstrale: We have our proprietary E.V.I.L. engine that gives us control over our software and the game in terms of performance, capabilities of the engine, and the platforms we run on. The E.V.I.L. engine allows us to build technology that is optimized for Vainglory, and we're able to create visually stunning, small-footprint real-time games on touch screens. E.V.I.L. enables beautiful graphics, stunning visual effects and super-responsive controls.The A8 chip technology and Metal graphics API, give us the same type of native access to graphics typical to game consoles. Thanks to Apple's new technologies and the E.V.I.L. engine, Vainglory can now deliver a level of graphics performance and resolution beyond that of a Blu Ray player on a new HD TV. They enable us to combine sub 30ms control responsiveness with tons more polygons and particle effects, retaining lightning fast controls while adding life and movement to the world. That's higher quality than most current game consoles can deliver—in your bare hands.

What sort of multiplayer options and community features does the game have?

Kristian Segerstrale: Vainglory is played real-time in teams of three, so the game is all about multiplayer! You can play on your own and get matched with teams, or you can play as a pre-made team and get matched against others. As for community features, we have a New Feed in the app that we publish a lot of content on, including highlights from the community. We've already seen some beautiful fan art and great tutorial videos made by our community.

You worked with a number of highly skilled MOBA players in the testing of Vainglory. What's the most surprising thing you have learned in this testing phase?

Kristian Segerstrale: We were very focused on control precision and were both surprised and delighted that so many people reported back that they ended up preferring touch over mouse and keyboard controls for complicated moves like kiting or juking. That was a major worry of ours when we started out and we're delighted that it worked out so well thanks to both the E.V.I.L engine tech as well as hours and hours of design and development!

After its release in the US and Europe, what's next for the team in terms of adding content to Vainglory?

Kristian Segerstrale: We're constantly working on new content and polishing the game. We are nowhere near done with either the amount of features or heroes in the game. You'll see a steady stream of both coming out in the coming weeks and months

Will the game be released for Android, Windows Phone and Windows 8.1 devices at some point?

Kristian Segerstrale: We're currently exclusively on iOS but our E.V.I.L. game engine is fundamentally multi platform and we have not ruled out being on other platforms sometime in the future.

Finally, how did the big demo at Apple's iPhone 6 press conference come about?

Kristian Segerstrale: Thanks to our E.V.I.L. we were able to quickly take advantage of Apple's awesome Metal technology ever since the WWDC announcement and got to know Apple very well in that process. We've worked hard to make Vainglory visually beautiful and we really liked the way it showed off the capabilities of Metal and the iPhone 6. And I guess Apple liked it too. So it all boils down to that and some luck!

We would like to thank Bo and Kristian for answering our questions.

John Callaham

I have been writing professionally about technology and gaming news for 14 years.