How Do You Turn An RPG Like Wakfu Into A Worthy Mobile Game?


Launched in July 2015, Wakfu Raiders (iOS, Android) is based on the MMORPG of its namesake, squashing the experience down to a mobile-sized tactical-RPG.


Siliconera caught up with Cash Ong, the studio head of developer Gumi, and assistant producer Dennis Ong, to find out how they managed this task.


In the interview below, they explain how they approached making a mobile game based on Wakfu, the difficulties in producing good art and animations for mobile games, how they kept the combat in Wakfu Raiders fast while avoiding repetition, and more.


Wakfu started as a MMORPG and grew into a mixed media series with a TV show and a series of video games. When planning a new Wakfu game at Gumi what did you want to do with the series that hasn’t been done before?


Cash Ong, Studio Head: We wanted to make something simple and accessible, but at the same time capture the spirit of a Wakfu game. We always admired how wacky the Wakfu universe’s French-anime hybrid style works. We do watch the TV show time and again for the action scenes. 


In fact, that’s why we wanted to make Wakfu Raiders combat-centric: so that it reflects its source material well using mobile constraints. There hasn’t been a portable Wakfu game that’s solely focused on active combat and character-leveling. As much as we want to cram in the depth of the MMO, it’s rather tough to do on mobile phones.


The combo system was one of the key ways to deliver something new to our audience. Not only is it easy to follow, but it also opens up new strategic possibilities. For example, when fighting against heavily-offensive wildlife, you may want to set up your party so that you can pull off more combos that activate your defenses. So you need to fill up your roster with characters from just two elements. Having all five units in your party with different elements mean no combo potential, since each combo requires at least two units of the same element. 


In terms of art and story, our artist interpretation of the Wakfu universe did the IP justice. We got the look, feel, and colorful vibe as perfect as possible within the constraints of a mobile device. Without revealing any spoilers, the story made sense for Wakfu Raiders so that it did not conflict or contradict the current canon.


Why did the team pick Unity for Wakfu Raiders? What were some of the benefits and challenges of using Unity compared to using a proprietary game engine?


The main reason we used Unity was so that it was easy for the artists to pick up. As the game utilizes tons of sprite animations, visual effects, and pizzazz, an army of artists were needed to create the assets. The simple interface of Unity allowed them to pick up the software fast.


But the biggest reason is because of our company’s heritage. We are a game company well-versed in 2D. When we had to do games on native platforms, we needed to actually find proper 3D software. We looked at other mobile game companies; they had their own in-house engines. Our wisest option was to go for Unity; there’s a LOT of support for the software nowadays.


The biggest challenge was keeping the file sizes low but still make the game look as good as possible. Because we are into doing casual games for the casual market, we have a rule where games have to be below 100MB. That affects our title’s selling points and public’s perception. With Apple making their 64-bit compliancy rule, that made file size optimization a real nightmare. But we did it in the end.


The art and animation for Wakfu is beautiful; we had every opportunity to represent that with no holds barred. But knowing the constraints of Unity and time to animate, we had to rely on sprite-based animation. That itself limited the amount we had.


We had enough space to add the default animation. Any additional ones had to be “optimized.” So we had to pick the best animations to represent each and every character. We wanted all of them, but we had to make a hard choice. Simply put, more animations equal more download equal more loading and install times for players.


What were the ideas you had in mind for Wakfu Riders’ combat system? I saw there was auto battling and Wakfu Raiders has an interesting chain combo system where you tap on characters in order to activate different buffs.


The game was originally built upon the Brave Frontier framework, with the goal of making it a “better Brave Frontier.” The combat, the story, the collectible unit factor: we felt that we can do something special with the Wakfu brand using what the company is already skilled at making.


All the things that people complained about Brave Frontier like equipment restriction and leveling up via sacrificing units: we offered an alternative with Wakfu Raiders. Plus, we have an emphasis on crafting. Who doesn’t want to make better gear, right?


The game designers also had the tough task of making it stand out among the rest of the RPGs we have. Hence we added the combo system and active time combat gameplay. We also placed emphasis on how important it is to arrange your party members’ position.


Battles in Wakfu Raiders are pretty quick. How did you design the battles to be fast, but not repetitive? What kind of monsters/attack patterns did you design to keep players on their toes? How did you add variety, but keep the gameplay simple?


Learning from the success and failures from our previous games, we needed a battle system catered to the casual market. But at the same time, it had to offer enough strategy to keep core players invested. To make the game more strategic, the AI for target selection was rebuilt to make each character behave differently.


For example, some units would always go straight for healers like the cute and cuddly Coney. Deciding where to place your heroes within a party gives them different buffs, whereas putting characters at the front made them do more damage, but also make them prone to croak first. Starter soldiers like Haures Flameblade are pretty useless at the back, but they can wreak havoc when in front, while more evasive soldiers like Jade Blossom may need to be in the middle so that their defense gets slightly improved. 


I think we have to live with the fact that autoplay functions in mobile games are here to stay for quite a while. At least from our experience, it’s a feature that’s required for your mobile game to be relevant and catch a new player’s attention. So, to add some variety, we introduced the combo system (which we elaborated upon earlier).


How did you plan the player vs. player mode in Wakfu Raiders? What’s the secret to making a PvP experience in a RPG an element players want to come back to (considering PvP isn’t a common feature in traditional RPGs)?


Dennis Ong, Assistant Producer: We can’t deny that players love competition – there’s something inherently primal in our nature to want to dominate, to stand at the top of the pack! We’re giving players just that: build up the most awesome team you can, give them the best upgrades and charge to the top!


Wakfu Raider’s PVP Arena avails players to unique and rare rewards and characters, so it definitely pays to be a ranker. However, players can’t even think about resting on their laurels – the Arena season resets weekly, and you’ll have to fight really hard to keep your ranking up throughout the season so you can get the best rewards.


Once you’re ranked in a season, you get rewards daily till the season resets (or when you get knocked off the ranking ladder), so it pays to start early and stay as high up the ranks, for as long as you can.

Chris Priestman