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How The West Will Be Won: Michael Bayne on Bang! Howdy
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How The West Will Be Won: Michael Bayne on Bang! Howdy

October 2, 2006 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

GS: Thanks to the game's cool aesthetic, customizing your Bang! Howdy avatar is really fun. But, in the game's current state, it seems you never get to show off your creation. Are there any other plans for stronger avatar presence in the official release?

MB: We are working on a few avatar related additions, primary among them being a Wanted Poster for each player which displays their avatar along with their ranking in the various game modes and a selection of their favorite badges. We're also adding the ability to assign different avatar "poses" to different circumstances in the game. So you can choose a different expression and outfit for your victory pose, your wanted pose, your saloon pose and for various other situations in the game where your avatar is shown.

GS: In general, Bang! Howdy has a very sleek, stylized look. What influenced your design team?

MB: We experimented with a number of visual styles at the start of the project, with the aim of creating something that would appeal to both Western and Asian audiences. That meant some anime influence, but also influence from various western, as in Wild West, comics, both recent and older. We are also fans of “Cowboy Bebop” which no doubt had some impact.

GS: Like Puzzle Pirates, Bang! Howdy will be free to play--with the potential for in-game purchases. How does this system work as a feasible business model?

MB: We've found it to be very feasible in Puzzle Pirates. Revenues from our microcurrency based servers are substantially more than those from our subscription servers and we're firmly of the opinion that the rest of the industry will soon be following suite.

With Bang! revenue is derived from the sale of various in-game items. Those include special units, packs of cards, avatar looks and outfits, special items and train tickets to new towns. By spreading out the cost of the game using microcurrency, players invest as little or as much money into they game as they want, based on their own level of interest. Many players will spend just a little, but very enthusiastic players can spend a lot. With a fixed price, you lose customers on the low end and you cap your potential revenue at the high end.

GS: Will purchased items be exchangeable between players?

They will not. We're doing as much as we can to prevent fraud and abuse between players and arbitrary trade is the biggest abuse vector. At the same time, we don't want to prevent players from helping one another out and contributing to collective enterprise.

While it will not be possible to arbitrarily trade, we will be allowing players to sponsor tournaments and give out prizes of in-game money or items. We are also working ways for players to "redistribute" wealth through membership fees for Posses that go toward buying special Posse avatar accessories and outfits for all members and for Posse sponsored events and tournaments.

GS: Granted, of course, that Bang! Howdy is still in its beta stage, but the options for actual gameplay do seem a bit limited. Do you have plans to expand the play modes before the official release?

MB: We're taking a sort of episodic approach to the development of Bang!. Having established the basic mechanics and elements of the game and come up with a bunch of interesting variations on those elements, we divided them into five sections that we call Towns. In each town, we introduce a new set of units, gameplay modes, items, avatars and other elements all based around the theme of the town. It is essentially a horizontal slice of the entire game.

In the beta, we have Frontier Town which serves to introduce the basic game mechanics and unit types but isn't too wild and crazy thematically. Before we launch, we will add Indian Trading Post which adds new gameplay modes, units and other game elements with Native American themes and pushes the boundaries of what's possible with the basic game mechanics a bit more. Following launch, we plan to release Boom Town, which fleshes out the steam-powered robot theme that we touched on in Frontier Town, then Ghost Town, which expands on the Spirit units that we introduced in Indian Trading Post, and finally City of Gold which we'll leave up to your imagination.

This staged approach is something we decided to do after our experience on Puzzle Pirates, where we worked for three years on the game and still felt like there were loose ends that we weren't able to tie up by launch. With Bang! we wanted to create a coherent core experience in a short period of time, and get that out to the users. Then we will expand on that core with additions that fall in between the "one feature at a time" approach we had been taking with Puzzle Pirates and the "buy a new box, $50 expansion" approach used by most of the rest of the industry.

Based on our progress with Indian Trading Post, we anticipate being able to introduce new towns every three or four months, following launch.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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