Nestled in the North East of Scotland, Hunted Cow Studios in Elgin might initially appear out of place, the relaxed city hardly seeming to be at the forefront of new technology and ideas but being here has its advantages. Cost is certainly one of those and also a respectful renown amongst the cities inhabitants, who all seem to know exactly who and where the company’s offices are.
You expect a name like Hunted Cow to have a story, rabid cows terrorising Elgin in 1906, but the reality is far more simple. “I liked the name before I went to university”, says co-owner Andrew Mulholland, “the domain was free and so I bought it.”
Its this simplicity of thought that seems to run through this growing and successful company, who have recently expanded into hex based strategy games on iOS devices but also have a healthy catalogue of other products, including two browser based MMORPG Fallen Sword and Legacy Online and the upcoming Eldevin MMORPG which will be released in November.
We got chatting with Andrew Mulholland (CEO), John Stuart (Studio Manager), Andy Donnachie and Natalie Seivwright (from the Eldevin and HexWar art teams respectively) and chewed the fat about the projects they were working on.
Hunted Cow was set up in 2003 and didn’t follow the standard funding route. “We used two credit cards”, explained Andrew, “Rather than going the standard funding route, we went off our own backs and started with a chess site, Cow Play.” Although Andrew admits that it didn’t really make any money what was clear was that it was a, “good gauge that there were a lot of people on the net who wanted to play games.”
“That was when we created Gothador, our first massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), which attracted a lot of players and we got enough subscriptions to keep it running. It allowed us to hire our first member of the team and we eventually increased to six from that. Then we created our second MMORPG Fallen Sword and that allowed us to expand even more.”
Given their expansion Hunted Cow obviously learned a number of lessons from Gothador, we asked Andrew what he felt some of the main ones were. “We quickly found what had and hadn’t worked in Gothador and used the positives in Fallen Sword. One of the things when we created Gothador is that there wasn’t really a structured experience system, we were just putting creatures that we felt were right for the setting but when it came to Fallen Sword we worked out formulae for all the creatures and that gave a lot more structure to the progression throughout the game”
“The difference between the two as well is that Fallen Sword wasn’t subscription based any more”, Andy added.
Andrew took up the tale again, “Yeah, it was in 2006 and we went free to play (F2P) before free to play was a thing. It was the peak of when Facebook was just starting off as well and me and John debated whether we were going to put Fallen Sword up or not, because we had quite a solid subscription base on Gothador and we thought, well, we can put this free game up and we were worried it may alienate the user base but it turned out really well and now everyone is jumping on the F2P bandwagon.”
Given the popularity of F2P it was clearly the right decision and its not the only example of this studio being ahead of the game, when considering development. Hunted Cow also do a series of hex based strategy games for the iOS devices and given they set up a dedicated team on this project about a month ago we were interested in talking about them too.
“We started developing them about two years ago. It was in a random meeting with Keith Martin Smith from HexWar Limited and they were doing a prototype hex game and we looked and thought it was awesome and teamed up with them. Initially publishing for them and now we’ve expanded to a dedicated team working on these games.”
Natalie interjected, “That’s where I come in. I’m doing the 3D side of things, making infantry men and all the art stuff that goes into the game and testing as well.” Andrew, Natalie and I had an early chat about the necessary evils of testing earlier, which made us giggle, but we quickly got back to discussing the hex based strategy.
I already knew that with each new game Hunted Cow added more gameplay but I wanted to know what the art department looked at. Natalie continued, “We have a lot of different games coming out like Tank Battle: East Front for example and Civil War II: 1862, so there are a lot of art assets needed for them like houses, trees, men, tanks, everything needs made from scratch.
“We use the web for reference and get a lot of books from Keith, which is really handy as they have all the dates we need for specific stuff. We definitely make sure it is historically accurate for historical products but for other games, like the fantasy battle game we’re working on, uses a lot of the assets that have already been made, which is quite handy.”
John noted, “A number of the battles in the historical games will be based on real events but other levels will be abstract, like we need a filler missions here, and this wasn’t a historical battle but the dates would relevant to the historical battle stuff as well as the added missions.”
Andrew added, “The abstract ones allow us to do things that didn’t happen so you could be capturing three points, or guiding a supply truck from A to B on the map. It allows a bit more abstract creation.”
During all this time Hunted Cow have been working on their new opus, Eldevin, a new MMORPG which you can read about in my preview, however Hunted Cow have also been working with a number of smaller indie studios to help them get their products to fruition. One of these is Planet Rush and John was eager to explain their involvement.
“We had an impromptu chat with Red Radiant Media and showed what we were doing, looking at what they were doing, and looking to see if there was anything that we could work together on and they showed us a prototype for a game called PDI (now known as Planet Rush) and we really liked the look of it, thought it was really fun. It was obviously very placeholder in terms of art style, it was like the games you would play on the Atari in the early nineties but maybe that was why we liked it so much.
“It was a game they had developed to a certain point and they had to put on the back burner because of other projects and so we decided that we would see what we could do to help them out with it, to get them to release and we were also very interested in getting our fingers into Unity, as up ‘til now all our technology has been in-house and we were not sure if that was actually the right call on every project so we wanted to see if we could get someone developing with it at the same time. So it was a good deal for us and a good deal for them as well.
“From what the guy working on Unity says, as he had worked on his own engine, he now sees with Unity you make the game, you don’t have to make the systems as much.”
Andrew added, “Its just using the right tool for the right project”, before John continued, “especially with the fact that with Unity you’ll be able to put it on multiple platforms without recoding the whole game.”
The other game was Crystal Reign and Andrew explained how Hunted Cow had become involved. “That was the team from Criss Cross games in Dundee. They got the prototype funding from the University of Abertay they’d changed the direction of the game a few times and got to the point where they had used all the funding. So we stepped in and helped fund the rest of the project and gave them directions where we thought the game could be improved. We suggested waves of enemies and boss mechanics, rather than the initial multiplayer game, and its turned out really awesome now and you can customise your tower with catapults and crossbows.”
Hunted Cow’s support for other developers comes from Andrew’s own convictions, “I don’t see anyone else as rivals or competitors so if everyone can do well together I don’t see why that can’t be. I think if people collaborate more it is a benefit to everyone in the industry. We have a large user base from our existing games so we can leverage that to help get stuff out there, whereas I’ve seen a lot of worthy projects self publish to nothing, just turn into a zombie basically.”
You can’t say much better than that. Hunted Cow’s drive and ambition is certainly matched by the products they produce and the open and friendly nature of all their staff. If you want to play their games then visit their website but also make sure you check out my Eldevin preview because that is going to be worth the wait.