The NES had Mario and the Mega Drive had Sonic. For me iOS isn't about Angry Birds or Cut the Rope; my memories playing with an iPhone 3GS capable of moving some 3D graphics were with Keith T. Maxwell — the protagonist of Galaxy on Fire. This is a very personal choice, I know, but the Fishlabs series have been with me almost with every iOS device I've owned and probably account for the majority of my gaming time spent over the last years.
Like many of you, I'm considering upgrading to 'the new iPad' to substitute my chunkier iPad 1. I'm doing this for a number of reasons, but the immediate benefit I'm thinking of is playing the HD version of one of my favorite franchises on the platform: Galaxy on Fire.
I have already covered every release when they came out so I'll just give you a brief overview. The original Galaxy on Fire is a grown-up version of the feature-phone game using Fishlabs' own Abyss 3D engine. Picture the App Store in 2009 without anything bearing the Epic or Unity logos. This space trader-shooter was visually stunning at the time and left titles with a similar theme and gameplay to shame if you even remember Warpgate from Freeverse.
After a lengthy wait, the sequel Galaxy on Fire 2 was launched with much improved graphics, sounds, storyline, technology tree while keeping loyal to the gameplay mechanics. It rocked on the iPad! This is now the core game that the developer is using to launch subsequent episodes, oddly named add-ons, via in-app-purchase. The decision of not launching standalone apps for this feels odd, but I guess that it avoids problems with players very invested in the game. However, you aren't able to keep loot or move back and forward.
A high definition adventure
Now here's the thing. Since Apple keeps making more capable devices with beefier processors, the developer launched an HD version specifically for the A5 chips on the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 (Android users can also enjoy this HD version on Tegra devices). Pretty much every asset, from backgrounds, textures to the 3D models have been re-drawn to take advantage of the extra horse power. The game engine also pulls more refined lighting, OpenGL shaders in explosions and other special effects. The different version simply implies that older devices won't cope with all the new visual fanfare — the content is still the same.
The first add-on Valkyrie was a great refresher for the Galaxy on Fire 2 universe, including a new — shortish — story, which included new type of missions, new ships, weapons and systems. This is extremely recommended, as it also includes new weapons that change the gameplay and battles substantially.
The Valkyrie add-on was available for the normal version of the game (not the HD) until now, leaving iPad 2 and 4S owners miss some of the cool new features. Just in time for the new iPad debut, Fishlabs is introducing Valkyrie on HD and seems to be dropping prices to tease players like me that haven't tried it on high definition glory. However, you'll need to purchase the game in HD and then get the DLC free within the app. As an extra treat to celebrate the launch of the 'iPad 3', all iOS versions of the game (both normal and HD) have been updated to 2048x1536 pixels to take advantage of the iPad's Retina Display.
The third upcoming episode Supernova
So far, aside from the improved graphics, there isn't any new story added to the game. This will change with the release of a second add-on pack dubbed Supernova later on this year, which I hope will come out in HD version directly without making us wait.
The developer showed some early concepts at GDC and anticipated that the plot will continue the Valkyrie storyline. The main theme involves the struggle between the Nivelian Republic and Midorian Confederation — the poorest race on the game for sure — and will include more challenges with over 10 hour play time, more than Valkyrie. I can't get to get hold of this new episode and test the new iPad's GPU to the max.
Fishlabs has been rather quiet on the iOS front in the last months and knowing what's going behind the scenes explains everything. Redrawing the assets and maintaining different versions of the same property is a huge task. Fans of the franchise like me are definitely more interested in more content, so hearing that there's a new episode coming later this year is a simply great. I'm sharing some of the concept art that arrived in my inbox to show the art direction in this new add-on. For the time being, I don't mind replaying Valkyrie in HD with the new iPad. I know it's going to be a time sink but there isn't a better preparation than that until the summer.