Case #




News, State of Decay

Year One Survival Edition: April 28 and May 1

If you were online yesterday, you may have seen a couple posts here and there, on a few little-known sites like IGN and Polygon and Kinda Funny. What’s up?

We announced the release date for the Year One Survival Edition. We’ll be coming to Xbox One, Steam, and retail outlets on April 28 in the USA and around the world on May 1. (That’s right, retail – YOSE is being released on disk. Woo! Tell your friends!) If you missed our announcement last summer, here’s what it is:

- The original game and both DLC packs remastered in 1080p. Lighting, textures, the works.
– New animations and overhauled combat mechanics.
– New weapons, new vehicles, new mission type.
– New playable characters (BRING IT ON, SASQUATCH).
– 30 minutes of new music from Jesper Kyd.
– The facility goodness from Lifeline is now available game-wide.
– Xbox One only: New achievements and game DVR.

What does this mean for you, our players that have already bought the game and thus made this awesomeness possible? You’ll be able to bring your save games with you from the 360 over to the One, for sure. If you buy it on One using the same LIVE profile you had on the 360, you’ll automatically get 33% off the cost of YOSE. (Steam players: We’re still working out the details of your discount, and hoping to give you the same deal. Our publisher, uh, knew some people at Xbox, so that arrangement got finalized in time for this announcement.) On both Steam and Xbox, we have an exclusive hero just for you guys who’ve already gotten on this train – the sword-wielding Gurubani Kaur.

Basically, it’s a gorgeous dream come true, y’all. Thank you for all your help. We hope to see everybody back for the party in April and May.

The first hands-on for our commmunity happens starting THIS FRIDAY at PAX South! We are going to be in Booth 1059, giving out Pinny Arcade pins for both State of Decay and our other baby, Moonrise. All you have to do to get the pin is play the game demo, no random crap required. We’ll have some merchandise to sell, a Moonrise tournament with an iPad Air 2 as a prize every day… and our friends at Microsoft sent me a crate of Snacks of Decay to give away when the line gets long and people get hungry.

There are still one day passes available for Friday and Sunday, so if you can make it, we’d love to shake your hands and thank you for being part of the Undead family. If you can’t make it… come celebrate with us in the forum!

Case #




Fans, News, Studio, Wallpapers

From the Lab: Merry and Bright

Man. What a ride we had in 2014! We went from our State of Decay announcement in January, to the XB1 announcement, to the limited release of Moonrise without stopping for air. Behind the scenes, we went from a tiny group working on one project to a full-sized team or three hard at work on great things both known and unannounced. And the thing that has made it all happen (and all worthwhile) was you. Each one of you made a real, measurable difference to us – and we hope our games in 2015 and beyond make a difference to you. Thank you for your feedback, your encouragement, your teasing, your private messages and public comments. All of it is the rocket fuel that launches us forward every day.

From all of us at the Lab to all of you, we hope for the most merry holiday season and the brightest future. And just to let you know we’re always going to be Undead, here is this year’s wallpaper:


Case #




Moonrise, News, Research


by Brian Giaime (gee-AHH-mee)

Hello! This is Brian Giaime, System Designer on Moonrise. Today we’re going to nerd out about dungeons: challenging, high-stakes combat endeavors that stand between players and sweet, sweet loot.

What’s a dungeon?

A dungeon represents a location overrun with hostile Lunari and considered exceptionally dangerous for regular folks to enter. Within lie many powerful creatures, but also treasures and rarities lost since the time the dungeon was last inhabited.


Each dungeon is composed of floors, each floor full of explorable rooms.  Some rooms are simply filled with treasure, but most lead to encounters with enemy Lunari. Each room cleared has a chance to help open the “boss door”, revealing the final encounter for the floor against a particularly challenging configuration of Lunari.Each floor has stronger Lunari than the last, but also contains better and more plentiful loot.

Combat in dungeons has a special twist: The health of your Warden and your team of Solari does not recover automatically. In addition to the normal challenges of battle, you’ll now have to consider the longer-term health of your team. You’ll find that dismissing injured Solari and sneaking in healing skills when able will do a lot to keep your team in fighting shape.That being said, between fights you’ll have access to your dungeon bag, full of health crystals you can use to restore your team.


What do I get out of dungeons?

Many of Moonrise’s toughest challenges and best rewards are found in dungeons,especially as you reach the deeper floors and the final bosses on each floor.

Dungeons are the primary source of relics, gear, and skill items, excluding those bought with gold at shops in town. New relics and skill items grant you and your team access to rare and powerful tactics in combat, while new gear provides you the stats you’ll need to make the most of each skill used.


Dungeons also feature Lunari not encountered before, including elusive creatures with rare traits or unusually specialized stats. Dungeons are also the only place to find many evo materials, the items necessary to evolve your Solari into new and stronger forms.

Changing things up

Dungeons also feature floor modifiers: unique features that affect all fights on a given floor. You’ll see floors that frequently poison everyone in battle, floors that grant regeneration to those in battle, and as you progress through the game, many more insidious ways to empower or restrain participants in combat (and by doing so, change up your normal play patterns in interesting ways).

Some examples:

Menagerie Spire Zero


We knew from the start that we needed primo “longform” combat that gave you something challenging and rewarding to do during longer sessions. Something more for the couch than for the bus. Dungeons serve that purpose for Moonrise.

Originally, dungeons were much grindier. You’d start from the first floor and play continuously straight to the final floor, occasionally unlocking checkpoints along the way. Bonus loot was earned for having run through more contiguous floors in one run, effectively incentivizing the player to start at earlier levels. Once we realized that dungeons should escalate in difficulty with each floor (this wasn’t originally true), it became clear that the current design was flawed, incentivizing players to do boring stuff in order to get good rewards.

With that in mind, we effectively made every floor a “checkpoint” and moved towards the current design: Each floor unlocks the next and is a self-contained challenge with loot and rewards. This simplification meant that dungeons, while still fun in long sessions, could also be broken down into floors, which can generally be completed in 5-10 minutes.

Most importantly, this meant that “entering a dungeon” was no longer a big commitment that locked you out from the rest of the game. Once we felt the difference to the overall experience from that change, we knew we had made the right call.


All things considered, dungeons are the place to be if you’re looking for something more challenging. They’re built to be a higher-test kind of fun, and to reward you for your hard-won victory. That doesn’t mean you can’t squeeze in a round between classes, but it does mean that you’ll have challenges worthy of your attention waiting for you when the day is done.

That’s all for this week. Stay tuned for our next article, a piece on Solari Draft by none other than Design Director Richard Foge.

Case #




Moonrise, News, Research

Quest-Quest: The Quest for the Best Quest System Ever

By Ian Adams, Age 32

Hello again, folks, this is Ian Adams, Content Designer and Writer on Moonrise. I’ve already introduced myself in a previous article, so today I’ll just give you a fun fact: I can say “toy boat” ten or more times in a row, quickly. I can do any other tongue twister as well, but that’s the one I’m proudest of. I challenge all of you to do it even four times. If you can, maybe Sanya will give you a prize. I don’t know, I didn’t ask her about this.*

When discussing story, we’ve mentioned “quests” off-handedly a few times, but we haven’t really gone into detail on what that means. By the time this article is over, we will no longer live in a universe where that is true. We’ll talk about quests, what they have to do with story, how we make them, what our goals are and other things that I’m going to leave out of this list. To find out what they are, keep reading!

Before we jump into the specifics of quests, let’s ask the kind of question Game Designers have to remember to ask themselves: why do we even want quests? I mean, we could have told our story with dialog outside of quests, if we’d wanted. We could have just had an open world that you played around in, slowly gaining strength. We could have gated plot reveals by player level, or number of battles fought, or any number of other things. So why quests?

First, the dirtiest, most mercenary reason: games (and players) generally benefit from having a list of stuff to do. Having a sense of direction, of what needs to get done next, gives players focus and motivation, and helps create momentum. Even games that SEEM super open, like SimCity or Minecraft, have implicit early goals (build roads/power/zoning, craft tools and find a safe place to spend the night, respectively). A good quest system functions as an engine to move players through various gameplay loops, making sure they’ve been exposed to the breadth of what the game has to offer, and hopefully ensuring varied and engaging play.


Quests are also an incredibly great fit for delivering story. You can have story explain why you need to do something, then have story explain what the results were. Instead of the story telling you a boss is powerful, we can give you a quest to defeat him. When the story wants you to feel powerful, we can give you a rematch with a fight that was challenging 15 levels ago. Quests and story can exist separately, but together they become definitely more than the sum of their parts.

Tying quests so tightly to story is a double-edged sword though. Designers often talk about their player’s “verbs”, the list of stuff you can ACTUALLY do in the game. If we want to tell a story that ends with you racing dramatically back to the Gateway Guildhall, well, the verbs for that are to tap on the map icon, tap Gateway, tap confirm, then tap on the Guildhall. Do it in twenty seconds, or two days, it completes the quest. Not really the best use of your time. Similarly, we have to avoid the ending where you sabotage the giant doomsday bomb, unless we want to make a 3D model of that bomb for one fight, then figure out what the combat looks like. (Do we treat the bomb like an enemy Warden?)

We’ve got verbs like “buy a relic from the store” or “equip a piece of defensive gear”, and those can work in quests here and there, but they’re definitely not as dramatic as, say, “finish the Haunted Mines** dungeon” or even “evolve your Emberjaw”. Functionally, this means we need to find good ways to write a wide variety of stories that generally have the climax of “the player fights someone.” Lots of good stories end with someone fighting someone else, so this isn’t incredibly difficult, but it’s really important to keep in mind.


So, we’ve decided we want quests, we’re excited to tie them into our story, and we have our eyes open in terms of how our quest system is going to impact the kinds of stories we can tell. Well, now we have a bunch of other decisions, which I’ll illustrate as binaries, even though that’s an oversimplification:

  • Linear vs. Branching
  • Optional vs. Compulsory
  • Locks or restricts content vs. Content always accessible
  • Repeatable vs. Single-Use
  • Random vs. Crafted
  • Foregrounded vs. Backgrounded
  • Complex vs. Simple
  • General Goals vs. Specific Goals
  • Automatic vs. Optional

Essentially, what kind of quest system do we want? In the case of Moonrise, our guiding pillars were a desire to tell an interesting story with a nod to classic JRPG feel, to make the game world feel big and alive, and to make sure it felt good on a phone or tablet. In what is very unlikely to be a shocking twist, we resolved most of the choices above with “something in the middle.”

Our quests fall into two categories (there’s a third category but it’s a secret) Story and Side.

Story Quests

Story quests are where we work our hardest to introduce mechanics, reinforce techniques, explain strategy, and exhibit the different things we think are fun to do in Moonrise. They start when you finish the opening combat tutorial, and they stop when you’ve completed the very last one of them. Then we’ll do a story update, and you’ll get a new story quest, and the cycle will continue, until the end of humankind. Even so, our story quests aren’t strictly linear. You’ll regularly branch into two (or more) threads of story quest, which the player can take on in their preferred order. However, these branches always converge at some point, and the story proceeds from there.


However, story quests are inherently limited in how difficult or time-consuming they can be. A frustrating story quest blocks access to ALL future story quests, so it’s not the place for a two-month-long hunt to catch the rare version of the boss enemy that only shows up 1/2000 times at the bottom of a dungeon.

That’s what side quests are for.

Side Quests

Side quests are our “everything else” category. Anything that isn’t part of the main story thread goes into this bucket. Side quests let us play with the world, expand the background on our characters and regions, and make it something you decide to do, rather than something you have to do in order to get to the next town and start recruiting new Solari.


We also use side quests as the place we can ask you to do something a little more hardcore. The quest isn’t necessarily blocking anything (and certainly not blocking everything), so it’s a good way to give those looking for a little extra challenge something special to work toward.

Unlike story quests, side quests don’t just start automatically. You find side quests by checking out the building no one told you to look in, or by returning to a previous area and poking around, only to discover an old NPC needs your help. Once you stumble upon a side quest, it gets added to your quest log. Some are one-offs, some have a small chain, but none block progress.

Anatomy of a Quest

Both story quests and side quests are similar in structure. You get some dialog up front discussing the reason for the quest, then you get your objective(s). Upon completion of the objective(s), you see wrap-up dialog text, and any new quests that you’ve triggered start up. We generally keep the number of objectives per quest to 1 or 2, in no small part because we’re on mobile. We know full well that people will be 60% of the way through something, and their bus will come, the commercial will end, or their boss will show up. We made a game that plays beautifully if you sit down and play it for an extended period, but we have to accommodate the reality that working well on mobile means breaking your epic adventure into bite-sized chunks.


While working on Moonrise, I’ve also occasionally pitched ideas for Other Projects, which would have quest systems of their own. It’s been really edifying to see how, with similar goals overall, this other system looks utterly and completely different from what we’re doing in Moonrise. If it sounds strange that I’m happy we’re building wildly different systems, understand that what it means to me is that we’re creating the right system each time, customized to the game and experience at hand. One of the single most important things a designer can do is not take things for granted. Don’t just build a quest system that looks like some other quest system because it worked pretty well in that game. Build the system you need for the experience you want to create.


* Sanya here: I totally will…put all the people who do it into a drawing for one of you to win some Moonrise swag. Post a video/Vine/YouTube to our Toy Boat contest thread of you saying “Hello, Undead Labs! Hello, Moonrise! TOY BOAT TOY BOAT TOY BOAT TOY BOAT.” I’ll pick a winner on 12/12.

** Ian again: As of this writing, I have not been able to get a haunted anything into the game. I’ll keep you guys posted.

Case #




Moonrise, News, Q&A

Moonrise Community Q&A

Thanks to all our friends on Facebook, Twitter, and the forums for the great questions! We’ll definitely do more of these, so if there’s something dear to your heart that we skipped, please click on the comment tape below. On to the Qs:

Q: Brian mentioned in one of the articles that some Solari have multiple affinities. How do you know which one to choose?

A: No single Solari has multiple affinities. In certain rare cases, a Solari might have two different evolution paths, one of which changes that Solari’s affinity. Sleeslugg, for example, can evolve into A: Sleespark, another Solari with a water affinity, or into B: Blastropod, a Solari with a Fire affinity.

Decisions, decisions.

Decisions, decisions.

Q: Other than traits how do your solari differ from mine if we have the same?

A: Applying Essences to Solari increases their XP, which in turn, raises their level, raising all of their stats. When you upgrade a Solari, the types of essences consumed award bonus points based on the type of essence used. Different wild Solari of the same type will have different distributions of these bonus points when you first recruit them.

In addition, Solari have a wide range of skills that they learn naturally. You and I probably picked different skills as our Solari grew, leading to a potentially very different set of skills that Solari can use. Each Solari can also be taught skills it doesn’t learn naturally, though the set of skills it can be taught is still limited.

Finally, in rare and special circumstances, one can recruit Solari with skills that they can’t normally learn or be taught. These are precious indeed!

Q: Can we trade Solari with our friends?

A: Not at launch.

Q: Pokemon had IV breeding/training, is this gameplay that players should expect?

A: We had a lot of discussion about that particular system, and what it offered players – basically, a set of choices or optimizations to be made about what that character would be best at, and in turn, what skills and abilities would be the most useful to it. We like the inherent strategy that comes with this kind of customization, but wanted to avoid creating a particularly frustrating, grindy, or time consuming experience as the player earns the required resources and makes their optimizations.

Our answer to the desire for this gameplay is in how our upgrade system works. Every level your Solari gains carries both “fixed” stat growth, from gaining XP and leveling up, and “custom” or “bonus” stat growth, gained from using different types of essence. Each essence represents 1 of our 6 different stat types, increasing both the specified stat, and your overall XP towards the next level. These essences are gained by curing enemy Lunari; the essences yielded reflect the highest stats of the defeated Lunari.

A concrete example: You want to build a Solari with as much speed as possible, so you might cure a lot of wild Kitzapp in a location you know has a lot of them, to acquire a lot of Speed Essences, which you would then use to upgrade your Solari, ensuring that the bonus stats points gained on the way to the next level are all allocated to speed. In this way, you acquire the tools you need to customize your characters through normal gameplay, and changes are made in a deliberate and clear way.

Q: What do the in-app purchases look like?

A: We’re not making a pay-to-win game. Our intent is to make things available to people who want to spend time instead of money. That said, we also want to make sure people who choose to spend money get something of value out of it. We don’t want in-app purchases to be a waste.

We’ve also built modes like draft PvP to reward pure skill (with a touch of chance to keep things interesting). Grinding and spending have no impact on success here… it’s all about what you get, and what you make of it.

You can also use in-app purchases to acquire cosmetic items for your Warden (in addition to finding such items in dungeons).

The exact balance depends largely on the feedback we get during the limited release, and even afterwards. The Lab has a track record of making changes based on feedback.

Q: Could I spend time instead of money to get the same stuff? Or are there some things you can only get in the store?

A: Most of the time. There are ways of earning store currency (gems) by playing the game that you can use to buy many store items, but we may have items in the store that are only available for cash.

Q: Will there be a player marketplace for us to trade items between ourselves?

A: There are no plans for a marketplace at this time.

Q: How do we talk with each other when we are in the game world?

A: There is an in-game chat system that you can use to send whispers to specific friends as well as open and custom (private) chat channels.

Q: Will matchmaking be skill-based or random?

A: It depends on the game mode. Most modes use some kind of algorithm to determine a fun matchup as opposed to being completely random. Ranked game modes are going to use skill-based algorithms for matchups, probably based on some sort of MMR (Match Making Ranking).

Q: What kind of rewards could players expect from end-game PvP, aside from thrills?

A: We’re still working out the detail for the rewards, but we’re talking about ultra-rare (even one of a kind) cosmetic items and possibly even rare skins for your Solari. Gems. We’ve also talked about things to make sure you can show off your ranking when playing both PvE and PvP.

Q: Will there ever be any co-op gameplay, where a friend and I and our teams can take on other creatures?

A: Co-op is definitely on our list, but it’s a ways out, and we’re still thinking about what exactly it would look like.

Q: What happens if my internet connection sputters a little without totally disconnecting? Like if my bus goes under a bridge or something.

A: You should be fine.

Q: What happens if I get disconnected in the middle of a battle?

A: It depends on if you are playing PvP or not.

For single-player content we have tech in place to resume a battle you were in while you disconnected.

For PvP game modes, it is going to depend on the specific mode. We understand that disconnects can be incredibly frustrating when they count as a loss to ranked game modes, but we have no way of detecting if a disconnect is legit or intentional. Allowing players to purposely turn off wifi to avoid a loss would be exploited to the point where the game mode became unplayable.

Q: Is it going to be all touch or will there be keyboard support?

A: The releases on iOS, Kindle Fire and Android will be touch only. Any additional platforms will be supported with input devices that make sense.

Q: Will multiplayer perform across platforms (iOS to Droid)?

A: Yes! It does already and it’s awesome.

Q: What percentage of the game is pure exploration as opposed to quests and battles?

A:The game has an exploration component, but we’ve definitely streamlined things in favor of getting places quickly and focusing on (many different types of) battle. There are definitely rewards (such as side missions and hidden lore) for players who spend some time poking around.

Q: I’m a big Twitch streamer. Will you have embedded tools for us?

A: We want this too, and we’re looking into it.

Q: Are you guys going to do any Twitch broadcasts with the designers like you did with State of Decay?

A: Absolutely! Right now, we’re focusing on finishing the game, but we intend to free up some time for this in the coming months.

Q: When does this come out? Can you be more specific than “early next year”?

A: It’ll be a Wednesday.

Thank you, Foge, Ian, Brian, and Andy for the answers!

Case #




Moonrise, News, Research

Meta-Gameplay In Moonrise PvP

by Richard Foge, Andy Collins, and Brian Giaime

From the very outset, we knew that we wanted PvP to be a huge part of Moonrise. In this article, we’re going to chat a bit about an important element of PvP in Moonrise. Specifically we’re going to dig into meta-gameplay.


Metagame is a term that is used by developers to refer to the layers of gameplay that exist outside the rules and environment of the game itself. In the simplest sense, it’s when you use out-of-game information to affect the decisions you make about playing the game. For example, when you use knowledge about the other players at your table to modify your strategy in a board game, you’re engaging in a metagame activity (because that knowledge lives entirely outside the rules of that game).

The metagame can have a drastic impact on how players interact with the game’s systems and engage with each other inside the game. It can change your strategy, suggest particular tactics, and even alter the play environment itself. A strong, vibrant metagame keeps your game compelling for players long after the initial excitement of “new and shiny” has worn off.


Design Influences

There are a many ways that the metagame can grow and evolve. One of these ways is design-influenced evolution. This occurs when new systems and mechanics are added to the game and the metagame adapts to incorporate those systems.

Take, for example, Solari Traits. Before these were a part of Moonrise (that is, early in our development cycle), skill & stat builds on each type of Solari were fairly consistent. Your Emberjaw looked pretty much like everyone else’s Emberjaw. Players felt this was a solved issue and didn’t spend time thinking about how to build their individual Solari.

Once we added Traits — such as Primal Health, which healed the Solari whenever it dealt Nature damage — players started building their Solari in ways that took advantage of these Traits. Sometimes players relied on Traits to remedy a weakness, while other times they used them to capitalize on a strength. Suddenly we saw more varieties of every Solari in play, and the set of viable builds blossomed to include a great deal more configurations and combinations of Solari.


Player Discoveries

Another way that the metagame can evolve is from the discoveries of players. When players find a particular strategy that is effective and share that knowledge, that strategy proliferates among other players. (This can occur in PvE or PvP gameplay, but it tends to move a bit faster in PvP.) But that discovered strategy in turn creates opportunities for new discoveries that react to the newly evolved metagame.

For example, players might discover a particular Solari team build that becomes very effective. (“Good old Stone, nothing beats Stone.”) Observant players adopt some or all of that build, and soon it becomes popular and widely used. At this point, the smart thing to do in PvP is to find a build that works effectively against this popular build. This creates a new effective and popular team build, which in turn leads cutting-edge players to devise yet another counter-strategy. In some situations, this process can even continue until the original build becomes effective again.

This evolution of metagaming can also occur in the tactical space, and we’ve definitely seen that playing Moonrise PvP internally. One area we’ve witnessed interesting tactical shifts is in the opening moves of combat. When a Moonrise PvP battle begins, neither you nor your opponent have any Solari on the battlefield. Because gameplay is affected by affinity matchups, some players start a match by waiting to see who their opponent would summon first, hoping to counter with an ideal affinity matchup. That led to players quickly summoning Solari that had massively damaging attacks with slow boot times so they could punish whichever Solari the other player brought out. Which led to folks immediately summoning one Solari as a counter to the heavy hitters and waiting to summon the second. And so on, and so on.


Building a Better Metagame

A strong metagame is crucial for ongoing commitment from players. If your game offers only a few optimal strategies, players will figure those out quickly, then come to the conclusion that your game is a solved problem. Since one of the critical attractions to games is the opportunity to solve the challenges provided by your systems, a solved game rarely holds people’s attention for long.

To design a game that supports a robust metagame, developers must create systems that are flexible and have massive possibility space. This is usually done by keeping your systems as simple and clean as you can and allowing interesting interactions between those systems (instead of adding layer upon layer of rules for how those systems can interact). For example, the Trait system described above is relatively simple in concept, but creates a large possibility space for small design tweaks that support different Solari builds and team strategies.


The best part of having a strong metagame is that active players in the community shape the game as much as the developers do, by exploring the bounds of the systems in ways that the designers may never have considered. A player-influenced metagame is a sign of a game with flexible systems that allow for a lot of creativity from players. This is something that we’ve put a lot of time and care into for Moonrise.

We’re looking forward to seeing where you take our meta!

Case #




Moonrise, News, Research

Balance in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

What does “Balance” really mean?

Balance is a misleading term. You might think this means “everything is as good as everything else”. This isn’t entirely incorrect, but it misses out on one of the great things we can create through games: A series of interesting decisions.

If every piece on the board is identical, and every move you make is of equal effectiveness, you may have a decision to make, but it isn’t necessarily interesting. Worse, if one piece is extremely powerful and the rest are weak, you don’t really have a decision at all – you use the powerful piece! Imagine if there are a variety of pieces which have varying levels of power, but that power depends on the situation they’re in, or how you choose to use them. Perhaps one piece goes twice as far if you choose to move it first, while another piece is twice as powerful if you choose to move it second. By differentiating how you affect the game in ways that are varied, with no clear “correct” answer as to what you should do next, we keep the game interesting.

Balance, at least for the purposes of this article, is the act of making the decisions available to you feel both interesting and useful, removing “dominant strategies” (ways to play that are so effective they prevent other ways to play from being used),  and ensuring that the things players find fun are also things that can lead to success.


Elements to consider

So what does this mean to Moonrise? Quite a bit, actually. We’ve got over a hundred Solari, each type drawing three skills from a pool of around 65 skills that it can learn (out of the pool of over 200 total), plus their own unique skill and one of a handful of different passive traits, on a team of six total Solari. That’s already quite a few options and combinations to consider!

On top of that, you’ve got your Warden, with their two relics, their gear, and the stats & modifiers that come from gear, presenting even more combinations of stats and skills.

Fun math sidebar:

Combination Without Replacement Formula: nCk = n! / (n-k)!k!

50 major relics, from which we choose 1 = 50
50 minor relics, from which we choose 1 = 50
For all 6 solari: let’s say 6 available passives, from which we  choose 1 = 6
For all solari: average of 65 learnable skills, from which we choose 3, with no duplicates = 43,680

Combination With Replacement Formula: nCk = (n+k-1)! / (n-1)!k!

100 Solari from which we choose 6, with duplicates allowed =  1,609,344,100
Total Combinations: 50 * 50 * 6 * 43,680 * 1,609,344,100 = 1,054,442,254,320,000,000

That’s a quintillion.

If you had a cubic meter of water for every combination of Solari, Traits, Skills, and Relics, you’d have as much water as the Pacific Ocean!

So there’s a lot to consider. As your adventure progresses, you’ll discover countless new elements to try out, and it’s our goal to make sure every single one you discover feels cool and useful — at least for awhile, before another cool relic or skill shows up that might tempt you away from the first.


Everyone loves the technical part

Now, let’s talk about what it means to actually do this, to take an impossibly large set of variations and approach giving it a sense of balance, and prevent at all costs combinations which are overwhelmingly more effective than others.

At a high level, we’re going to model how useful the component pieces of the game are. In order to give ourselves a coherent “unit” for comparison, we generally “score” the effectiveness of a given skill, in terms of DPS, or Damage Per Second. We know the cast time for a skill, how long it’ll take for animations to happen in game, how long it’ll take the skill to “boot up”, and how long it’ll take for the skill to “cool down” after being used. This allows us to compute the damage per second that a simple skill can achieve.


This gets more complex when you incorporate Buffs and Debuffs, how many targets are hit by a given skill, any negative impacts which impact the user, and so on. In order to keep ourselves sane, most balance work is done in terms of “effective damage per second”, or just “effectiveness.” Buffs and debuffs are approximated to be about as useful as a given amount of damage, so that altogether we have a single value we can use to compare any two skills.

We have an interval of overall effectiveness that is considered “acceptable” for skills based on how far into the game you are when you receive them; when creating a new one, the first thing we do is aim for a given effectiveness. If that falls within the given interval, we’re probably looking at a “mostly balanced” skill. I say mostly, because at the end of the day, this is just a model. To quote a proper statistician, “All models are wrong, but some are useful.”  There’s no substitute for playing the game and testing one’s theories about what is and is not balanced.

Our model is actually much more complex than what we’ve talked about here, but what’s described in this article outlines the core philosophy of the model.

Our model is actually much more complex than what we’ve talked about here, but what’s described in this article outlines the core philosophy of the model.

As your Solari evolve, you’ll find they increase in “tier.” As they do, they begin to learn higher-tier skills, which have higher values for their overall effectiveness. Sometimes these are merely upgraded versions of similar skills from a lower tier. However, you’ll also find that some higher-tier skills do more interesting stuff — maybe stun an enemy and burn them at the same time, or perhaps damage yourself when used in exchange for a super-short cooldown, allowing you to take more risk in exchange for more reward.

This sort of “point allocation” is extremely useful for a starting point on stat balance, in large part because it’s relatively simple.

This sort of “point allocation” is extremely useful for a starting point on stat balance, in large part because it’s relatively simple.

Balance in Moonrise extends farther than just skills and relics – your Warden and Solari have stats which must be considered against one another.

While we’re constantly iterating on stats, amongst many other things, each Solari’s starting stats are scored and considered against other Solari. This means that every Solari is set up with two goals: to have specific strengths and weaknesses in terms of its stats, and to have, on average, the same amount of overall power as any other given Solari.

Graphs are great at taking a bunch of numbers in a table and turning them into something we can more easily understand.

Graphs are great at taking a bunch of numbers in a table and turning them into something we can more easily understand.

An important note: This assumes that all stats are equally useful, at least at the intervals denoted here. Ensuring that a point of Strength, a point of Resist, and a point of Speed are all of equal utility is by far the most challenging part of balance! We’re constantly tweaking the degree to which these stats empower or protect a given character, always on the alert to make sure that no one stat becomes dominant or useless.

As we said at the beginning, we want to maintain as many viable strategies or builds as possible. At the end of the day, that winds up being a huge component of how much game there is to play.

Not losing the forest for the trees

All that being said… even with all of this data in hand, models prepared, balance checks met, it’s important to realize that we’re not looking at “the game.” We’re looking at the component pieces (the leaves on the trees, so to speak), not the actual experience the players are having. It is absolutely vital, when considering whatever certainty we can generate in a spreadsheet, to take it with an awful lot of salt. We’ll almost certainly discover via playing the game that the models were somehow incomplete, the balance we thought was perfect was ignorant of a certain combo or behavior pattern, or worse, that exploits exist which undermine our carefully honed numbers.

All of these, in the end, are far more important than getting a bunch of cells in a spreadsheet to have the same “score.” Sometimes we must break our patterns, or models, regardless of how elegant things seem, because of the innumerable little things that crop up through actual play. Some expert players will select and cast their skills super fast. Others may take twice or three times as long, effectively adding that time to their skills, and reducing their overall effectiveness. Maybe someone just really wants to use their favorite Solari, even though they have an affinity disadvantage. It’s important not to rely on people playing your game a certain way. Instead, explore how all of your players will act, and ensure, to the best of your ability, that they’re all set up to have a great time.

No one number, or system, or axis, or curve — no matter how pretty or elegant — matters more than the player experience.


In closing

That’s all for this week, though it’s certainly a lot to chew on! I hope this and the other articles on Moonrise’s combat and customization have been thought provoking, and thank you for reading this far! We’re super excited to get the game into our players’ hands, and can’t wait to tell you more.

Tune in next week for some insight into PvP from our Design Director, Richard Foge!

Any comments? Questions beyond how to pronounce “Giaime”? (gee-AHH-mee) Would you like to stay up to date? Follow the game on Facebook ( or Twitter @MoonriseMobile, and click the green tape down and to the right to chat with our small but feisty Moonrise community.

Case #




Moonrise, News, Research

Combat in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

Combat lies at the heart of Moonrise, and it takes a lot of forms. You and your team of trusted Solari might battle wild, rampaging Lunari. You might fight against another Warden in a friendly duel. Or perhaps you’ll face a truly nefarious villain, with innocent lives at stake! But regardless of the enemy, combat follows the same rules.

How do you fight?
On the surface, combat is pretty simple. You select a Solari to attack with, then a skill to use, and finally, a target for that skill. Seconds later, the attack is launched…but meanwhile, your opponent is doing the same. As this real-time battle progresses, you select more skills and more targets, while weathering your opponent’s assault. A flurry of attacks go off in sequence, defeating all but one of your Solari…but while that happens, your Warden’s relic has become ready for use! Your Warden launches a huge attack against the entire enemy team, taking them down and winning the battle!

All our game’s systems come into play during combat. The affinities and skills of your Solari, influenced by the stat upgrades you’ve chosen for them, guide your overall strategy. As you use your Warden’s relics, you see the impact of the gear you’ve equipped and the stats affected by that gear. Of course, your actual tactics in battle—how and when you use your Solari or activate those relics—make a huge difference in the success or failure of that strategy.

And if that’s not enough, you make all those decisions in real time. If your skills are ready first—thanks to Solari with a good Speed stat, short boot times for skills, or a game-opening Haste buff—you can land a hit or two before I can, putting me at a disadvantage in combat. Of course, your own reaction times are also crucial. A skilled player knows their team’s strengths and weaknesses before battle even starts, with plays and counter-plays ready to deal with whatever challenges their opponents cook up.

What does your team do best? Will you deploy a wall of defensive Solari while your Warden hurls attacks from afar? Will you rely on Resolve and Erosion to increase your offense and lower your opponents defenses? Perhaps all you need are a handful of Fire and Electric Solari to deliver damage quickly, ignoring your own well-being as you race to defeat your enemies before they can deploy strategies of their own.

There’s a lot to take in here. Fortunately, we’ve crafted the content in Moonrise to ensure that these elements are delivered with gentle pace, alongside instruction and plenty of opportunity to practice before you need to master them. You’ll develop strategies as you recruit new Solari, experimenting with various combat approaches until you find one that’s fun and effective.

Getting combat to feel right

Combat in Moonrise is fluid. There’s a real sense of back and forth, as every skill “moves the needle,” shifting momentum toward you or your opponent. I charge a buff for both of my Solari while you charge an attack. Your attack lands first, and now I’m behind: advantage you. Meanwhile, did you set up a block? Do any of your passive Traits prevent damage? Did you Dispel my Solari’s buffs? If not, my souped-up Solari will come crashing down on one of yours, clearing them off the board: advantage me.

Every decision made in combat matters. That’s a bar we set early in our design. No attack is small enough to ignore, and none is so important that one error will ruin the fight. You’ll find yourself testing your enemies, trying out various strategies and skill combinations. Not everything will work, but when you find patterns you like, you can to use them time and time again.

But that just describes the environment of player versus the AI of in-game enemies. Player versus player combat is a different ballgame: here it’s all on the table, with every second and every skill selection of paramount importance. Watching two experienced Moonrise players duke it out competitively is quite a spectacle, as each person must plan their moves and countermoves with split-second timing, never leaving a Solari or Warden to dawdle when they could be selecting their next skill. It’s a rush.

Affinities: the juicy details!

Each Solari and each skill has an affinity: a special connection to one of the elemental aspects of the world. Solari are most effective when using skills of their own affinity. A Solari deals significantly more damage with skills of its own affinity than with skills of another affinity. Of course, limiting your Solari to use only skills of their own affinities makes it easier for your opponent to guess your strategy, so many players vary up their skill selections a bit.

Affinities also interact with one another on the battlefield. Each Solari’s affinity renders it “strong” against a subset of affinities, and “weak” against some other affinities. Solari that are strong against a particular affinity deal more damage to Solari of that affinity and take less damage from skills with that affinity. Conversely, Solari that are weak toward a given affinity deal less damage to Solari of that affinity and take more damage from skills of that affinity.

Each affinity also brings certain specializations to the battle, such as speed, defenses, control, healing, or even typical stat distribution among its attacks. When your opponent lines up an array of Stone Solari against you, you have a good idea of the likely strategies and tactics they might use.

Now for some more details:

A quick note on stats: Strength-based skills derive their damage from the attacker’s Strength stat, drawing on their physical prowess. Spirit-based skills derive damage from the Spirit stat, relying on the innate energy that a combatant brings to bear.

Basic: The safest of affinities, and an exception to the strong/weak affinity details you just read. The Basic affinity has no strengths or weaknesses, at least against the other affinities listed here. Basic Solari wield Strength and Spirit skills alike, and they use a few buffs and debuffs to increase their damage output or decrease that of their opponents. Some basic attacks damage the caster as well as the target, but these often grant extra damage or other benefits in exchange.

Gruffon has a Basic affinity.

Gruffon has a Basic affinity.

Fire: Fire is all about damage! Between up-front hits and Burning debuffs, Fire has fantastic single-target and AOE (Area of Effect) damage potential. Fire has some access to Stun attacks, and like Basic Solari, Fire Solari occasionally damage themselves as a part of particularly strong attacks. Fire Solari tend to favor Spirit-based skills, but some utilize Strength attacks as well.

Fire is strong against Nature and Electric. Fire is weak to Stone and Water.

See if you can guess what Pyromane's affinity is.

See if you can guess what Pyromane’s affinity is.

Stone: Stone is the 800-pound gorilla. Big, slow, and tanky, Stone Solari are built to weather enemy attacks, then come crashing down with their own, often stunning enemies in the process. Stone Solari tend to have high defense stats, especially Armor, and they favor Strength attacks rather than Spirit attacks. Stone wields one of the more unique debuffs, Petrify, which interrupts an enemy, leaving them unable to use skills and unable to be dismissed (so their controller can’t easily replace them on the battlefield). On the plus side, your Solari are immune to damage while petrified, but that’s a small consolation when you’re one soldier down for several seconds.

Stone is strong against Fire and Electric. Stone is weak to Nature and Water.

Toddlerock and roll.

Roll with the Rockhound.

Electric: Electric is all about speed and gaining the upper hand in a hurry. Quick boot times, quick cooldowns, Haste buffs, Stuns, and direct attacks against the enemy Warden add up to give Electric the tools it needs to take the momentum in a fight. Electric Solari excel at applying quick pressure, wielding a wide set of skills within seconds of being summoned. Electric Solari specialize in the Chain Lightning debuff, a risky maneuver that zaps the entire enemy team with a random number of lightning bolts. Electric Solari have an even mix of Spirit- and Strength-based skills, though their attack stats are rarely as high as their Speed.

Electric is strong against Nature and Water. Electric is weak to Fire and Stone.

Zigawatt will electrify you. Sorry. It was the best caption joke I could think of on short notice.

Zigawatt will electrify you. Sorry. It was the best caption joke I could think of on short notice.

Nature: Nature has an answer to everything. Toxin deals damage, Slow and Root control your enemies, and heals and Regeneration keep your allies in the fight. Nature isn’t great at dealing direct damage, but it makes up for that with all the other utility skills available to it. Nature Solari generally have a higher score in their Strength stat than in Spirit, and they feature decent defense stats and middle-of-the road speed.

Nature is strong against Stone and Water. Nature is weak to Fire and Electric.


Ryzo is ridiculously cute. LOOK AT IT! Rub its belly!

Water: Water is about the long game, manipulating the board until everything’s just where you want it. Water wields the Erosion debuff, increasing damage received by an enemy (with an extra damage increase for water attacks). If that wasn’t enough, water is master of both Dispel and Cleanse, allowing it to remove buffs from enemies and debuffs from allies, respectively. Water has access to a few heals for emergencies, but specializes in turning fights around and keeping them locked down, often setting up big attacks from allies that wipe out enemy teams.

Water is strong against Stone and Fire. Water is weak to Electric and Nature.

I want to swim with Slithy.

I want to swim with Slithy.

There are more affinities to Moonrise than these six. As for these advanced affinities, we’d like to not spoil anything yet — to discover them you’ll have to play the game!

Our affinities help build a world full of Solari with varied strengths and weaknesses. These in turn provide differences in play style, strategies, and tactics. All together, this variety provides you with the tools you need to experiment with different ways to win fights, and in turn keeps combat fresh for many hours to come.

What combat must achieve

Combat in Moonrise has some important responsibilities. It must reward skill, first of all: a player who knows affinity matchups and their team’s capabilities must see that mastery rewarded by victory over those with less information or less practice. Combat must also reward your time investment. Your carefully trained, wisely upgraded Solari should on average find more success in battle than those upgraded randomly.

Of course, combat must carry the weight of making your gear and relic choices matter. Your Warden and their stats must be a big enough part of combat that the way you build and equip them meaningfully impacts how you engage your enemies and how you respond to challenges. For more on on the topic of gear, check out our previous article on customizing your Warden.

Finally, combat has to work with the overall constraints of the game and its mobile platform. Fights can’t drag on too long, or it stops being a game that’s convenient to play. Combat can’t be too fast, or the key player skill moves from strategic to twitchy, which makes the game less accessible. It’s on us to make sure that Moonrise holds up as a compelling experience for a wide audience, while still captivating players willing to put a lot of time and thought into it.

Why we did it this way

Moonrise aspires to be your next hobby. We want to build a compelling set of game elements to chase after, experiment with, mix up, and master. Done right, that means you’ve got loads of content waiting for you and plenty of stuff to do. All of that only works if there’s real value in that content, and combat is how we establish that value. You bring your achievements and your mastery to bear as you conquer dungeons and quests, in turn gaining new gear, learning more skills, and finding new Solari to recruit and fight alongside.

We also support competitive play, such as Solari Draft and Unranked PvP. What you’ll want to know is that each skill, relic, and Solari is crafted and designed to be compelling in PvE and PvP. This desire for exciting, engaging competitive play also informs combat, and demands that we keep battles understandable. When you show the game to a friend for the first time, we want them to find it just as cool as you do.

Most importantly, Moonrise has to be fun for the people who play it. We’re here to provide a rich and fulfilling experience, both for core gamers and for mobile game players craving something with a little more depth and agency. We want to make games that, regardless of platform, respect both our players and their time.

That’s all for now. Stay tuned for the next article, where we’ll dig into some details on game balance!

Join the conversation by clicking the green tape down and to the right – or be one of the first to follow the game on Twitter @MoonriseMobile, or like it on Facebook at

Case #




Moonrise, News, Research

Warden Customization in Moonrise

by Brian Giaime

[Meet Brian. He has gaming in his pores, starting with building with the Warcraft III editor as a kid, to setting his sights on video game design in college, to shipping Marvel Super Hero Squad Online while still in college, and from there becoming a designer at Glu Mobile working on several games, the best known of which was the incredibly successful Deer Hunter 2014. The back of his car contains every RPG handbook known to man, as far as I can tell. Certainly there is no room for actual people to sit. We love his enthusiasm, and how much he cares about our future Moonrise players. — Sanya]

One of our favorite aspects of Moonrise is the way in which your character (your Warden), participates in combat. You’re right there with your team, hurling fireballs, doling out heals, and actively engaging with powerful foes.

Every player will play their Warden differently. Some players will build their Warden into an artillery piece that slings powerful attacks from behind tanky, defensive Solari. Other players will bring healing and buffs to support and strengthen their already formidable offensive Solari. Some players may equip relics with unusual effects like:

  • Restoring all Solari on the battlefield to full Health
  • Petrifying and healing your team to protect them from defeat
  • Simultaneously setting an enemy aflame, poisoning them, and rooting them to the ground.

How will you build your Warden? What tricks are up your sleeve?

Under the Hood

Before getting into the meat of how our game systems work, you’ll want to know a few things about stats in Moonrise.

A Warden has six stats, just like their Solari: Strength, Armor, Spirit, Resist, Speed, and Health.

  • Strength improves the damage of your Strength-based attacks.
  • Armor reduces the damage of Strength-based attacks used against you.
  • Spirit improves the damage of your Spirit-based attacks.
  • Resist reduces the damage of Spirit-based attacks used against you.
  • Speed reduces boot times and cooldown times of all skills.
  • Health determines how much damage a Solari or Warden can withstand.

A note on Skills and Speed

A skill’s boot time determines how long a Solari or Warden must be active in the battle before that skill can be used. The cooldown determines the length of time that a Warden or Solari must stay in combat after using a skill before using that skill again.

Increasing your Warden’s Speed, through leveling up or by equipping the right gear, will decrease boot times and cooldowns on your skills.

Your Warden’s Arsenal

A fully equipped Warden has five pieces of gear in their kit. Each one serves a different but important purpose.

First and foremost is your major relic. All relics empower wardens with skills, but major relics provide skills that turn the tide of battle. We’re talking waves of fire cascading over combat, big damage-enhancing buffs for your active Solari, or bolts of lightning that stun your opponents. Major relics are your most prized possessions, often hiding in deep dark corners of dungeons, guarded by powerful boss Lunari.

Skills don’t have to be earth-shattering to be useful, though, and minor relics prove that point. Your minor relic is your handy toolbelt: a low-cooldown Regeneration skill, a simple fire bolt, or even a dizzying strike, causing enemies to sometimes hurt themselves while attacking. Major relics are great at doing one thing particularly well, but minor relics supply valuable tricks that let your Warden prepare for the challenges you’ll face.

Just like your Solari, your Warden’s combat potency relies on your Strength, Spirit, and Speed. These stats automatically improve as your Warden gains levels, but you can equip an offensive item to push them even higher. These items come in three varieties:

  • Prisms improve Spirit and Speed.
  • Totems improve Strength and Speed.
  • Orbs improve Spirit, Strength, and Speed.

Totems and Prisms don’t offer as many different stat boosts as Orbs, but they tend to have more modifiers. Modifiers produce powerful effects, such as Fire Boost, which improves damage dealt by a Warden’s Fire skills. Rarer items feature more powerful modifiers, such as Cleanse Chance (which offers a chance for the Warden to gain the Cleanse buff when any debuff lands on them).

Every Warden enters combat knowing that they’re exposed to the same dangers as their Solari. To prepare for this, each Warden equips one defensive item to bolster their survivability. Like offensive items, defensive items come in three varieties:


  • Chains improve Resist and Health.
  • Torcs improve Armor and Health.
  • Amulets improve Armor, Resist, and Health.

Defensive items can also provide modifiers, just like offensive items. As with their offensive equivalents, Chains and Torcs tend to provide more modifiers than Amulets in exchange for bolstering fewer stats.

ringThe final gear category includes the elusive Utility items. These offer no stat boosts, but instead are purely about modifiers, with the best of the best reserved for the rarest utility items in the game. We’re talking about stuff like Toxin Immune, which prevents any Toxin debuff from afflicting the Warden, or Destructive Warden, which grants the Warden a small chance with every damaging strike to deal huge extra damage. Modifiers like these can be so powerful that some players build their entire team around the single utility item their Warden equips!

Looking Your Best

Stepping away from stats and skills, Moonrise also features a wide array of clothing and hairstyles for your Warden. Throughout your adventures, you’ll find a huge variety of pieces to try. Fashion in Moonrise is varied, drawn from what’s in vogue in various towns, cities and local cultures. While some locales value traditional garb, high fashion, or practical working gear, others lean toward edgier fare such as mohawks, bright colors, and buckles galore.

On top of all that, you’ll also find various dyes you can apply to your outfits. In certain cases, you’ll be able to dye different materials or elements of your clothing independently, creating a genuinely unique look to help your Warden stand out in a crowd – or blend right in, whichever feels best to you.

Why We Did it This Way

Zooming out from the details of how these systems work, next we’ll talk about why we landed on the system that’s in the game right now.

You’ve probably played plenty of games that use RPG elements such as stats, gear, modifiers, custom looks, and level progression. We’re big fans of how these systems give players a feeling of ever-increasing power while also supplying designers with an infinite supply of rewards to give out. Players can build up their prowess, empowering their Warden to overcome challenges that provide memorable moments of triumph, then move on to even stronger opponents in the next encounter.

With that in mind, designing a robust, “full-assed” RPG-style game for mobile platforms requires us to be honest with ourselves about how games are often played on mobile. You’re on the bus … waiting for a meeting … or even in the restroom. [Editor’s note: EW. — SW] These are situations where people can’t devote all their attention to the game, and that’s okay! This play pattern is part of what makes mobile gaming appealing to a lot of people, and we all win if we build an experience that manages to feel rich and interesting without demanding full immersion for long stretches of time.

For that reason, we settled on a “light but rich” set of equipment for the Warden. We’re not looking at ten slots with seven lines of text and a bunch of stats on each, but we’re also not simplifying to the point of having our gear be meaningless or so simple as to be uninteresting.

We want to give you the tools to build a character and combat strategies that are YOURS, and for you to be able to learn where the strengths and weaknesses of those strategies are, with the power to change things and iterate on your strategies. Moonrise aims to give you the tools to express yourself through the way you play, but in a way that won’t make you miss your bus stop or the fact that class has begun.

We’re having a blast with it so far, and we feel confident you will too.

Case #



#2MMinutes Gets You an XB1

Our #2MMinutes campaign has so far resulted in just over 3500 minutes streamed in the first half of October, which, while not near our goal of two million, is still pretty damned amazing for a game that’s been out since June of 2013. But let’s see if we can kick this up a level. We’re only going to award the all-expenses trip to our studio if the insane goal is met…but we’re going to award TWO XB1 machines to lucky participants no matter what.

Here’s how:

The First XB1: We will mail this to one randomly chosen streamer. Each stream you post counts as one entry in the sweepstakes. All it takes is a little luck and one posted video, stream, or podcast.

The Second XB1: You’ll need to be a member of our Extra Life team ( for this one, and it’s very simple. Be the person to stream the most minutes for Extra Life, and you’ll get the XB1 with our gratitude, and the gratitude of the sick kids you’ll help.

Don’t forget to send me the links to your streams, everyone!