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31st March 2020
Retrospective: Agents of Storm
Remedy's First Step In Becoming A Multi-Project Studio

Released in 2014, Agents of Storm was a reverse tower-defence strategy game designed for mobile devices. It challenged the player to build a fleet and to rise up against a growing international paramilitary threat known as the Chimera Corporation, led by the ruthless Selena Meredith. At the start of the game, the organisation had recently set up base on a series of paradise islands in the far east, where they have been busy harvesting a rare mineral known as "Blue Jade" for unknown by nefarious reasons. The title is also one of the most mysterious titles in Remedy's catalogue, with details of the game having been announced at VGX in 2013, then launching in 2014, and community updates fading out in 2015. The game is no longer available for download, and those who have downloaded the game before it was removed from the App Store can no longer play it.

Promotional Image for Agents of Storm / Source: Official Facebook Page

When my friend upgraded their iPhone to a later model, they gave their old one. It was the first Apple product that I had owned and with Agents of Storm launching a few months prior, I immediately downloaded the game. I never got to finish it, the sudden closure of the servers just over two years after the game launched took the active players by surprise, but I enjoyed it and was fascinated by just how different it was to the studio's previous work.

When most people think of Remedy's titles they tend to think of story-driven adventures with a film-noir vibe or a certain darkness. They're often set off the beaten path; in disused buildings, forests, abandoned swimming pools or kaleidoscopic rooms; they make a point to be different. But you also go into the experience not quite expecting a happy ending and following a not-quite-hero as they stagger towards their goal. With Agents of Storm, the team cuts through those expectations you may have about the studio, delivering something quite unexpected. Instead, for the developers' first mobile IP, the game washes you ashore on the fine, white sandy beaches of an island with blue skies and seas for miles around.



Shift In Industry

Between the launch of Alan Wake and Quantum Break, Remedy had divided itself into two teams; one group would continue to work on AAA titles, with a second smaller team focused on delivering mobile experiences. Expanding into a multi-project studio had been the intention for a while; Remedy were still dedicated to delivering larger gaming experiences, but with its lengthy development times, they looked to creating in-house mobile games to keep the company financially secure.

The change in direction at the studio was also in part kindled by a greater change in the Finnish games industry.

Cover image of Neogames' The Game Industry of Finland booklet from 2013 / Source: Neogames

Originally founded in 2003, Rovio is now one of the biggest names in the gaming industry but started off with much humbler beginnings, creating mobile titles for the N-Gage and Java ME, frequently as work-for-hire or as contractors. After six years, they developed over fifty mobile titles, but in December 2009 they released a new mobile game which would completely change the company, Angry Birds. In the game, players are given a set of birds, a slingshot, and the straight-forward target of defeating a tiny army of green pigs. Eleven years after it's debut, Angry Birds remains an internationally beloved brand, with eighteen games under its name, two tie-in CGI movies, a wealth of merchandise, and theme parks in Finland, UK, US, Spain, China, and Malaysia. Over the years, they've teamed up with musicians such as Slash, and other major franchises such as Star Wars to add an interesting new twist to an enduring formula. And it seems to have worked; to date, the Angry Birds games have been downloaded over four billion times!

Five months after Angry Birds launched, Supercell opened its doors. Between 2011 and 2012, the team published four titles; Gunshine.net (Zombies Online), Pets Vs Orcs, Battle Buddies, and Hay Day but it was Clash of Clans that secured Supercell's position in the industry. Supercell is one of Finland's biggest studios and gaming success stories and, since 2012, has expanded internationally, setting up additional offices in Tokyo, Shanghai, San Francisco, and Seoul.

Those weren't the only two success stories in the country either, with developers like Seriously (2013), PlayRaven (2013), Next Games (2013), and so many more starting up around the same time, Finland was becoming what felt to be the centralised hub of mobile gaming.

With major successes so close to home, it was no surprise that Remedy wanted to see if they can expand into mobile gaming. 



Building The Mobile Team

While Remedy refers to 2016 as being the start of their journey in becoming a multi-project studio, it actually began a lot earlier and with a familiar friend.

Screenshot from the DOS edition of Death Rally. Taken by B.L Stryker, posted on MobyGames.

While still years away from forming the mobile team, the start of the transition can be traced back to before the launch of Alan Wake. In 2009, Jari Komppa got in contact with Remedy with the proposal of making Death Rally 1996 open-source, but while the initial idea was rejected by the studio, a freeware version of the game was later agreed upon. While Jari had to sign an NDA to work on the project, the strictness of it slightly relaxed in early October when news that Remedy had filed a new Death Rally trademark was picked up by media outlets, prompting Oskari "Ozz" Häkkinen (then-Head of Franchise) to release a statement on behalf of the studio. "There are quite a few fans of Death Rally out there and over the years Remedy has been hit by various requests time and again to do something around it," Oskari said. "With Death Rally we're looking at getting something neat out to the community by having a version that is playable on modern PCs out there. This is more of a sweet small thing for people, rather than a full-scale commercial project at this point. We've really enjoyed playing some of the classic games that we have grown up with, and having the opportunity to revisit Death Rally and to share those memories with the fans and community would simply just be cool."

The launch of the freeware version would come only a few days later on October 20th, allowing a brand new group of fans to get behind the wheel in the title that established the studio. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive in the community and media, a possible catalyst for what came next.

A few months later, Remedy made their first steps into mobile games with the same title; teaming up with international talent to help develop their concept, as they began to form their own internal mobile department. While the mobile industry could be a profitable, with 30,000 new apps being submitted to Apple each week, as reported in 2012 by BGR, doing something exceptional to get notice was tough. To bring reimagine the classic, Remedy teamed up with Mountain Sheep and Cornfox & Brothers who helped build their vision. Similar to its successor, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, Death Rally was built in just eight months. It launched for iOS and Android on March 31st 2011.

Concept artwork for Death Rally on mobile / Source: Death Rally Developer Blog

Speaking to IndustryGamers.com, Aki Järvilehto talked about returning to the developer's first IP and how the studio had planned to bring the game to a more modern audience. "We started to toy around with different concepts and the iOS platform as a starting point immediately felt right." The term "toy" feels appropriate, as it felt like a passion project to play, a feeling which was reinforced with its rich cast of cameos including Barry Wheeler (Alan Wake), John Gore (Minigore), Mighty Eagle (Angry Birds) and Duke Nukem (Duke Nukem). With a slick new interface, a stronger narrative focus, mobile-friendly controls, and new graphics, Death Rally was a success for the studios, so much so that the game had since been downloaded over 16 million times, reached No.1 in 84 countries, and generated enough profit to easily recoup its eight-month development cost in just three days. Things were looking promising for the new multi-project studio format!

With Death Rally's success, Remedy began to form a full, internal mobile team. "After the success of the iOS and Android versions of Death Rally, we have been excited about the opportunities on mobile games, and wanted to jump in," Markus Mäki (then-Project Lead) later revealed in an interview with iMore. "It's a great opportunity to learn and develop as a game studio, but also a fun space to make games in, one where we can more and more apply our high-end console and PC development experience. Agents of Storm is Remedy's first internally developed mobile game, and we wanted to step outside of our comfort zone." 



Development of Agents of Storm

Stepping outside of their comfort zone was exactly what the studio did; Agents of Storm was very different to anything that Remedy has developed before. But a tower-defence strategy game taking place on a series of paradise islands set in the Far East? That was a bold step! In this latest adventure, players are given the goal of expanding and developing a task force, which operates where governments can't, known as Storm; Special Tactical Organization of Remote Missions. Linking those missions was a story written by Alan Wake writer, Mikko Rautalahti, which introduced the various agents at the heart of the operation; Oliver Quan (Asian Affairs Expert), Cassius Jones (Mission Pilot and Mechanic), Li Pei (Mission Scientist and Engineer), and Evan Phoenix (Field Agent). Dialogue would primarily be reserved for between missions, either to cool down the action or to build it up. During these times advice would also be shared between characters about how the player can approach the next challenge/mission, allowing them insight into how best to tailor their fleet to the situation.

Promotional Image for Agents of Storm / Source: Official Facebook Page

Details on the game's development process are still vague, but an interview with then-CEO, Matias Myllyrinne, added some clarity to the team's experiences. While Death Rally took eight months to build, Agents of Storm was a different matter, speaking to VentureBeat, Myllyrinne revealed “this game has been in the making for a while, almost two years to date actually. Honestly, trying to balance our culture of quality and attention to detail with a ‘minimum viable product’ mobile culture has had its challenges. It’s been a learning process but I think we have found our way now." The main difference between Agents of Storm and Death Rally was in the setup; Remedy was now building the game independently, with a newly formed team that was still in the process of growing.

After a year in development, the team announced the game in December 2013, on the VGX stage

VGX 2013 was a reimagined take on Spike's Video Game Awards, the latest version of which would see developers sit down with the presenters to talk about their latest projects. The mobile game accompanied a special pre-recorded teaser for Quantum Break and followed by the studio's introduction to Agents of Storm. Taking to the stage was Oskari Häkkinen (then-Head of Franchise Development) who introduced the genre and Johannes Paloheimo (then-Head of Digital Partnerships) who spoke a little bit about the challenges that players can expect to find. Johannes explains, "for the medium, it's a big project. We really wanted to push the envelope [on] what you can do on these devices." Early footage of an in-process built was also shown on the live stream during the interview, giving viewers a taste of the gameplay. While a fixed launch date wasn't announced on the show, they did reveal a release window of "early 2014", just a few weeks after the reveal.

The schedule didn't quite go as smoothly as previously expected. The game didn't reach its initial release window of "early 2014" and, for several months after its reveal, things were quiet on the marketing side of things. Behind closed doors though, the game was getting ready to soft launch, with New Zealand in their sights as their test audience. At this point, Remedy hadn't signed with a partner; having previously self-published Death Rally on mobile, it was possible that it was originally intended to be another addition to their publishing portfolio. With little information to go on though, that's all speculation.

Promotional Image for Agents of Storm / Source: Official Facebook Page

According to archived marketplaces, the game was soft-launched in a number of limited areas on January 14th, including New Zealand. The process would be vital for the team, allowing them to address player feedback ahead of its international launch. “It’s awesomely powerful to get real-world information about how often people play your game and how long and how often they come back," Myllyrinne describes in his interview with VentureBeat. "For us, a large part of the learning has been areas that Remedy is not known for, like backend servers, analytics and such. We have been building all that for Agents of Storm but also for the future. I hope gamers will see the love of the craft that shines through in Agents of Storm... We’ve been constantly pushing what we can do on mobile in terms of content. It feels like a golden age is upon us. The new devices are powerful and allow for much richer graphics and gameplay than one could only have imagined, Agents of Storm opens the door and takes a step or two in that direction.”



The Publishing Deal & Launch

Around the same time that the game was getting ready to launch, Germany-based developer and publisher, Flaregames, was seeking out new partnerships to build up its publishing portfolio. As part of this goal, they had already signed agreements with US developers; Subatomic Studios, Superweapon and Fuzzycube. In late 2013, Myllyrinne met up with Flaregames' CEO and founder, Klaas Kersting in a pub in London to discuss about Remedy's latest venture. 

Celebration cake at the Remedy offices / Source: Remedy's Twitter page

"This was the fastest deal ever." Kersting reveals later in a press release, "Matias and I met over a beer in a London pub, talked shop and agreed the terms right there. We both love and understand games - that makes for a great common ground. " In a later interview with VentureBeat, he further explained the draw of working with the Finnish studio; it's free-to-play (F2P) nature of the upcoming game, "we know our way around mobile games, but we cannot add value to everything. If you have an adventure game, to be sold for $2.99 in the store, for instance, we cannot help you much. But if you have an RPG or strategy game operating under the free-to-play model, we can leverage all our marketing experience, all our design expertise, everything that Flaregames has learned in the last years. Agents of Storm is a beautiful, cleverly designed “action strategy“ much like Royal Revolt, it fits our portfolio very well.” Part of the deal also included some additional support in the final stage of Agents of Storm's development.

After two years in the making, Agents of Storm launched on October 23rd exclusively on iOS in Western Europe and the Americas, and would be available in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian. With the launch of the title, the studio held a celebration at the offices with champagne and Agents of Storm branded cake for the developers involved in bringing the project to life.

Coinciding with the launch, Flaresgames published a blog post with a contribution from, Remedy's then-Lead Programmer, Olli Tervo, who spoke about his experience while working in the team, “we set out to create one of the best 3D games available for mobile in terms of visual quality and technical achievement, and of course it had to feature some of Remedy’s signature special effects and cinematic cameras. It’s been ambitious and not without challenges, but we are really excited to finally get it out there into the hands of gamers."

Celebration champagne at the Remedy offices / Source: Remedy's Twitter page

While the community were only just getting their hands on the title, both studios had plans for players moving forward, with Flaregames revealing that Android and Windows Phone versions were underway. Additionally, in his own interview with iMore, Saku Lehtinen further revealed: "we have a strong live team on the game that's busy at work creating new content."

New updates for the game would continue to roll out for another year at least, but the Android and Windows Phone editions would never be launched.



Wrapping Up Agents of Storm

For a year after Agents of Storm launched, the official Facebook page became the centralised hub for all community engagement. For fans of the game, they would be able to see new character profiles and compete in global challenges for additional diamonds. While the social media channel was receiving weekly updates, behind the scenes things were already changing. 

In early November 2014, the studios posted their final update to the Facebook page; "Agent, we have received new information on our enemy!" accompanied by a character profile of the Chimera Corporation. Unknown at the time, the message would end up being the studio's final published post about their mobile title. Behind the scenes, the focus was shifting to a new IP.

In late 2014, Remedy's Media Unit tweeted a teaser for their next mobile title; a cosplay photo taken at MCM London Expo which showed a fantasy element, with the promise of hearing more soon. Soon after, on November 11th, Remedy filed a new trademark for a game called Legends of Shadow America, eighteen months after Microsoft had separately trademarked Quantum Break. 

Trademark registration for Legends of Shadow America / Source: EUIPO

Legends of Shadow America was never officially announced beyond the trademark being listed on the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), and after November 2014, news about Remedy's mobile department died down. 

The shift happened around 2015. By the time that Quantum Break launched the following year, the mobile team was disbanded and the studio's focus had shifted to new larger adventures. Some developers moved back to creating AAA projects with the studio, whereas others were hired by other mobile studios such as Next Games, Supercell, Seriously, and later Redhill Games. By 2015, work had just begun on early concepts for Control, and Smilegate was getting set to announce their new partnership with the developer. Remedy had closed down mobile development, but the multi-project setup was an aspect they were eager to explore. 

Unfortunately, details about Remedy moving away from mobile and disbanding the team are fairly sparse. In fact, the only interview that we've managed to find which addresses Remedy's shift from mobile took place in August 2016, a week after Tero Virtala was announced as the studio's CEO. In his interview with GamesIndustry.biz he revealed "we learned it wasn't in the main Remedy DNA--at least at that time--to make those types of mobile games. So at the moment, we don't have a focus in mobile. And most of all, we're focusing on where we're strong, and that's definitely in the core games, basically. We know the PC and console side. For the moment, that's the area where our people are passionate about and the most experienced."  Talking about the constantly changing environment of the industry he goes on to add, "but of course, we always follow where the different markets go. It seems like the market's changing so fast and there are new platforms coming, so no one can say how the market will be in two or three years' time and what opportunities that might give us."

Screenshot from Agents of Storm / Source: The Sudden Stop

On November 2017, exactly three years to the date of the last social media post, Flaregames announced that they would be shutting down the Agents of Storm servers effective immediately, and existing players would no longer be able to play or log onto the game. Any existing pre-paid in-game currency could be redeemed on other titles by the publisher. For Agents of Storm players looking to claim the currency elsewhere, they would need to set up a ticket with the publisher's customer service within two months of the servers closing. 

Three years after the closure of the servers, the mobile unit is not an aspect of Remedy's history that they often talk about, but it played an important part of what the studio is today!

Since the Agents of Storm servers closed, the company has gone on to develop and release Control, in partnership with 505Games, and co-developed CrossFire X, in partnership with Smilgate. They are currently now working two titles in the same franchise, funded and published by Epic Games. Moving away from mobile in 2015, they took a different Junction Point, and formed several AAA development teams under the Remedy name.

Interestingly, in press releases and interviews over the past couple of years, spokespeople for the company have talked about 2016 as being the turning point in becoming a multi-project developer, citing Quantum Break as a major turning point, and that's for a different retrospective. But in truth, it happened years earlier, just with different teams and a different focus. 

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