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Smite Rivals developer on mobile games: “Why can’t I just play this on my PC?”

Smite Rivals gameplay header

Just a couple of months have passed since Hi-Rez announced their CCG Smite Tactics, and now they’ve announced another card-based title: Smite Rivals. A game that can be played on both mobile devices and PC, it’s easy to dismiss it as a novelty distraction. But after talking with the project’s leader Brian Grayson, I’ve discovered that Smite Rivals may have a very comfortable home within the Hi-Rez ecosystem. 

Fan of Smite? Check out some other great MOBAs you could love, too.

Matches are a mere four minutes

At Hi-Rez Expo, the event where Rivals was announced, the core attraction is the Smite World Championships. If you love the god battling-MOBA it’s a huge deal, but there’s no denying that there are frequent periods of downtime. You’ve got to wait while players settle into their seats and re-tune their rigs, then wait again between matches. It’s all free time to play a game, so why not make that Smite? That’s where a quick-paced, mobile-friendly iteration comes into play. Rivals’ four-minute matches are perfect for playing in-between doing something else, whether you’re watching on Twitch or at a tournament in person.

Grayson points out that because of the speed, Rivals is ideal for when time is in much shorter supply than at an eSports tournament. “This is a great game for when you’re in between queues [in the main MOBA game], and you want to keep playing Smite,” he enthuses. “And because you’re on your PC it’s just an alt-tab away.”

Mouse and keyboard vs touchscreen

Smite Rivals iPad

While Rivals is clearly a mobile game in its design fundamentals, it works identically on PC. Your account works across both PC and mobile, meaning your progress follows you from device to device. It was a hugely important decision for Hi-Rez, a company traditionally focused on PC games. Grayson points out that it had to be easy to play anywhere a player wished.

“I was playing this mobile game and I was having a blast doing it, but it’s a game I wanted to play all the time in short increments.” Grayson recounts. “I went home and downloaded an emulator, and I started playing the game on my PC. And I thought: ‘Why do I have to download an emulator? Why can’t I just play this game on my PC?’”

There are other examples out there of mobile games working on PC, but Grayson was determined to ensure Rivals was of notably high quality. Rather than feeling like a ported iOS game, with finger taps replaced with mouse clicks, it had to have proper support for PC peripherals. As such, Rivals supports hotkeys that replace the multitude of taps required on a touch screen. “We found there was almost no advantage at all between the control schemes” he says. I’m sure PC gamers will want to prove otherwise in the supported PC vs mobile cross play.

It’s all gone a bit chibi

Smite Rivals chibi art

While Rivals still has MOBA-flavoured elements to it – three lanes, phoenix towers, minion waves – it’s a very different side to the Smite universe. It’s quick and streamlined; your deck is just eight cards deep, and infinitely cycles through the match. That style of play warrants a vastly different art approach, and the new direction excited Grayson immensely.

“Translating the world from this epic, really high-quality visual presentation, into a cute chibi style, was the most exciting thing ever,” he says. “There’s one unit that’s my favourite called the boar. It’s a giant tusked, really mean looking guy in the main Smite game. We took the boar and we made him into what we thought were cute chibi proportions.”

“My art team wanted to mess with me,” he recounts. “The boar came back [from design] and he’d got the most cute baby puppy eyes I’ve ever seen. And the art team were like ‘This?’ and I was like ‘You thought you tricked me, but yes! Exactly like that! That’s the way, baby!’ That transition was by far the coolest thing.”

It may have puppy dog eyes, but it’s ruthless

Smite Rivals gameplay

The Chibi design makes it unique among the trio of Smite games, but Rivals is part of the family by being exceptionally competitive. Those short rounds means it’s easy to play again and again in either desperate search of victory, or to stomp on opponents over and over. The ‘one more round’ feel certainly comes from its competitive roots.

It’s a very different kind of ruthless to classic Smite, though. It’s about overwhelming lanes with your minions and spells, pushing back enemies and breaking through their lines with clever card combos. “The inspiration really for the game is tug of war-style gameplay,” explains Grayson. “We decided that was really good gameplay for us, it fits with the Smite world where minions automatically spawn and walk down the lane, and so we embraced that.”

You can only use one god, but they’re super powered

Smite Rivals card deck

You’re only allowed one god per deck, but when they come out to play they’re especially powerful. They offer the player a special ability that can be activated for two mana at anytime, but it’s when they’re in-lane that they can truly turn the tide. “The gods have to better than everything – they’re the ultimate unit, right?” says Grayson. “So we made it that you could positionally place them [in lane]. Thor can come crashing in using Anvil of Dawn, for example, obliterating opponents as he lands.

The current pre-alpha features Thor, Hades, Neith, Khepri, Kukulkan, Agni, Sun Wukong, Loki, and Bellona, and no doubt many more of the core game’s 100+ deities will be added over time. Quite how they and other cards will be unlocked is unclear right now, aside from “as you play the game”, as Hi-Rez are not talking about the free-to-play business model just yet.

It’s clear that within the last year a culture of creativity has been encouraged within the walls of Hi-Rez, with more and more people being released from the walls of classic Smite and set free to experiment with new approaches. We’re seeing the fruits of that this year with Tactics and Rivals. And even if neither of these titles of of interest to you, it’s a sign that sometime in the future a Hi-Rez game could be targeted directly at your non-MOBA tastes.