Midnight Star Available NOW Worldwide on iOS

First, the relevant information and linkage: Midnight Star, the video game for which I created the overarching story and whose development I otherwise contributed to, is up and now available worldwide on iOS in the iTunes store. The game is free to play, with the ability to make in-app purchases (the game can be played without them if you so choose, however). The game is a science fictional first person shooter game, designed specifically for mobile platforms and how people use them. I’m fantastically proud of this game. It’s also a heck of a lot of fun. Try it!

Second, some longer thoughts about the game and how I came to be a part of Industrial Toys, the team that made it.

I love video games. I’ve played them since the Magnavox Odyssey days, when a console was a big chunk of plastic with two knobs, that you used to play Pong (or whatever the non-trademarked version of the game was). I’m particularly fond of first person shooters, games in which the point of view is your very own head, and you wander around the game maps, taking aim at all the creatures who are hell-bent on killing you in some shape or form. These games have been a part of my entertainment and imagination for decades, and I always wanted a chance to make one, one day.

Fortunately for me, I know Alex Seropian, and Alex Seropian knows me. Alex, in case you don’t know him, co-founded Bungie and co-created Halo, which is a game that, unless you’ve spent the last decade in Amish splendor, I’m almost certain you’ve heard about. But even before Halo Alex and Bungie were making great games — I remember many a long evening playing Marathon, one of the earliest first person shooter games for the Mac.


Even if all Alex had ever done was Halo and Marathon, he’d go down in history as one of the primary architects and influences of the modern era of video games. But as it turns out Alex isn’t interested in being an “influence,” he’s still interested in shaping the industry. And in this case he was thinking about was first person shooters and mobile platforms.

Video games don’t exist independently of their technological platform, and — provided you wish to have a successful video game — you have to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the platform you’re using. You can port games into different platforms, of course, but when you do that the game still comes with the legacy of that previous platform; it’s an adaptation. That process can be done well or poorly but it’s still an adaptation. Likewise, a game can be made for a platform, but if the designer is thinking about it using old design metaphors, it’ll feel like an adaptation — it won’t take advantage of what that new platform can do.

There are a fair number of first person shooters on mobile devices and tablets these days. Many are adaptations from console or PC games; some are designed for the mobile platform but use design and control elements derived from console and PC platforms. What Alex wanted to do — and what he co-founded Industrial Toys to do — was to create games that had mobile computing at the core of their design philosophy: Make a game that is meant to be mobile, in other words, and takes advantage of how people use their mobile devices today.

What does that mean? In the case of Midnight Star, it means (among other things) that you can control all aspects of the game with one hand: You can shoot, block, reload and do other actions through pointing, swiping and pressing — in other words, all the actions you already do with your mobile devices, at this point almost instinctually. It also means that individual encounters in the game are quick to get into and quick to get out of — because we use our mobile devices in bursts, when we’re in line to get coffee, while we’re waiting for friends, when we’re on the subway on the way to work, and so on. You can fire up the game, have a blast for a minute or two, put it away, and then catch up again when you have another spare minute.

These are only two examples of thinking mobile first; there are others you’ll discover as you play the game. The point is that Midnight Star isn’t just on your phone or tablet — Industrial Toys (Alex, Tim Harris and their entire staff) made it for your phone and tablet, and for you, when you’re on your mobile devices.

Which I think is pretty cool. When I’m playing a video game, what I don’t want to be doing is fighting with the tech platform or the controls of the game; I want the game to suck me in and make me a part of its world. That doesn’t happen without smart people thinking deeply about game design. Industrial Toys is packed with people who do just that — and have applied it to my favorite genre of video game to boot.

So when Alex called and said, hey, we’re making this game, do you want in on this, my response was pretty much you had me at ‘hello.’ What, make a first person shooter with the guy who had created two of the best and most significant shooters in the history of the industry? Yeah, let me think about that. Let me think about that real hard. Saying “yes” to this gig was one of the easiest professional decisions I’ve ever made.

We’ve been working on this game for a couple three years now. Most of my part of it was early on, in the initial worldbuilding and character creation. Alex, Tim and everyone else knew what they wanted to do with game mechanics, and my job was to give them a story to hang all the cool stuff on. We ended up doing so much worldbuilding for the project that we simultaneously developed the graphic novel Midnight Rises, which came out last week. I wrote Midnight Rises directly; Midnight Star’s dialogue and other bits were written by folks on the Industral Toys team with me coming in to do editing, to give character notes and to otherwise offer advice and thoughts. The universe that both Star and Rises exist in has whole lot of me in it, and it’s very cool to see the thoughts that I had in my head turned into a game I really like playing.

Creating the game was also a satisfying work experience. When I write novels, it’s just me and a keyboard; I’m responsible for every choice and every line. With Midnight Star, I was part of a team and not the head of it — Alex and Tim had those jobs. My job was to help make their job easier, and to give everyone at Industrial Toys something that would make the game they wanted to create better. The ego in this project, in other words, was in making sure I did my part as a team member, not just in showing off my writing chops.

It’s easy to be the person who wants to drive the bus. But the thing was, writing and worldbuilding are only a small part of this overall project, and there are a lot of other things about the project that I can’t do, aren’t qualified to do and frankly shouldn’t do. This would be the case with any video game I might ever make, not only this one. If I ever wanted to write a video game, at any point — a video game that I as a gamer would like to play — there would have to be a team of people with whom I would work.

And the fact is I got really lucky with the team at Industrial Toys. The shop is packed with people who are, simply, spectacularly good at what they do. It’s a great thing when you can do work, hand it off to people, and trust them to make something amazing with your work as part of it. My role in making Midnight Star was big to me, but the truth of the matter is I had the easy part. It was the team in the shop who made it happen. I get to call it “my” video game when I talk about it, but believe me when I say that “my” video game is really about so many other people, all of whom I can’t thank enough for allowing me to take part in the ride with them.

Finally: people, I can’t wait for you to play this thing. Dig the cool art by Mike Choi and Prashant Patil. Groove to the score by Serj Tankian. Thrill to the game architecture and play by Alex and his crew of game nuts. Every time I fire the game up, what I mostly think is, how cool is this. I would play the hell out of this game even if I had nothing to do with it. This is very very close to the game I always wanted to make. And now it’s here.

Come play our game. And I hope you love it as much as I do.

Update: A piece on the game is up on VentureBeat.

41 Comments on “Midnight Star Available NOW Worldwide on iOS”

  1. In answer to the inevitable question: Yes, it will one day soon(ish) be on Android. I don’t know when/if it will be on other platforms. Please don’t turn the comment thread into griping about iOS vs. Android/other platforms, or how the game is only available on iOS at the moment. I may Mallet comments that are mostly about that because I find them tiring at this point.

    Also, some people may follow the link and see the game as unavailable where they are; I imagine that’s an issue of propogation. Wait a bit and you’ll see it go live.

    I’m on a cruise in the Caribbean at the moment with terrible terrible Internet connectivity, so I may be delayed in responding to comments. Please be patient. Also, because of the above, the comment thread will be initially open for two days. When I get back from my excursion, I’ll reopen the thread for further comment.

    Finally: Wheeeeeee! Super excited about this, folks.

  2. Much as I’d love to say I’m getting this for the Scalzi involvement, it’s equally Alex Seropian who has me excited. Marathon 2 remains one of my all-time favorite games, one I replay every few years. Him teaming up with you just has me extra excited.

  3. Congratulations John.

    Typical FAQ question: [Typical FAQ question deleted because it was posted before I finished the comment above, in which it was answered. This is not a reflection on Ronald, and more a reflection on my typing speed — JS]


  4. Just a quick observation. When you launch a mobile app, you should have a link to the app on the website. Couldn’t find one anywhere on the site. I wanted to read more about the app, the price, etc.

  5. Jeff: I imagine those are coming over there. That said, if you read the first paragraph here, you’ll see all the information you are asking about.

  6. I enjoyed Midnight Rises and am in the process of downloading Star as I type this. I’m a complete novice to the FPS genre, though, and frankly anticipate sucking as a player. Is this a game that is likely to be fun for a terrible player?

  7. Any plans to release the soundtrack independently of the game? A sci-fi game with Serj as the composer sounds like something I want to add to my collection!

  8. Serj Tankian? System of a Down’s Serj Tankian? Damn, I’m not much of a console gamer, especially not FPS on a console, so namedropping Halo and Alex Seropian don’t get me that hyped. But music by Serj Tankian, now that’s a selling point.

  9. Alas my poor 4 (don’t look at me like that, it’s still functional!) isn’t supported. I suspected but then it let me download the app with iOS6 which raised my hopes. I do have a 5s already coming to me so I GUESS I can wait a couple more days. But it looks amazing and I can’t wait to play!

  10. Wow..what a namedropping! even Serj Tankian ?! Still hoping there will be some day a new System of a Down album…

    I hope this will run on my Android tablet

  11. Game sounds amazing, can’t wait until the Android version is out.

    I’m curious though, did you know Alex Seropian personally before this or did you know each through mutual professional appreciation?

  12. I’m sorry to hear that it allows in app purchases. I was considering getting it when it comes out for Android, until I heard this. Many of you may not know this but games that support in app purchases often end up taking advantage of children in my opinion. I see many of my 5th graders and other kids pouring their life savings into a game so they can get one more shinny bit of whatever. Yes, parents should monitor their children’s game playing better, but the truth is, they don’t. Publishers know this and many are moving to this bleed you as you go model for gaming. In my opinion it is ruining gaming and exploiting children and I won’t support it.

  13. Will get this when I get home from work. Finished the graphic novel and really enjoyed it. A little hard to read on my ipad mini, but I’m hitting old so your mileage may vary. It would have been nice if there was a zoom feature like the Dark Horse app has for its digital graphic novels. I went back and played all the variations for all encounters just cause. Woohoo!

  14. Andrew S:

    We went to college together and I knew him briefly then. We’ve since gotten to know each other better.


    Your choice. That said, this is not the right thread for an in-depth discussion of in-app purchases, so let’s go ahead and table that as a topic here.

  15. “there are a lot of other things about the project that I can’t do, aren’t qualified to do and frankly shouldn’t do” — should be “am not qualified”. Even good writers need editors! :-) Congrats on the game.

  16. This looks like a good game, I’m looking forward to getting deeper into it. That said, I also have concerns about in-app purchases, different from SBradfor’s, but I think that might be an interesting topic for discussion at some point.

    The game looks amazing though!

  17. You know, I really hate FPS games …. but one I can do with one hand? I’m intrigued. I have no iThingies, but my son does, so I’m going to talk him into downloading it & tell me how cool it is (he’s 25, but still lives at home & does all the cooking & half the cleaning, so I’m in no hurry to kick him out, lol). If I even have to talk him into it, he likes FPSs, and especially Halo.

    I may be logging in at some point & going “Is it Android yet?!?”

  18. This will be the very first time in my 48 years of life that I will be acquiring and playing a first person shooter game, and I have you to thank (or blame, depending on how things turn out… Like if my friends and family end up calling an intervention and a12-step program comes to be in order).

  19. I have never played a FPS – not so good fine more motor control plus slowed response times courtesy of MS. I’d appreciate some feedback from you all re how user friendly this is for creaky old newbies.

  20. Looking forward to checking it out when it hits Android. Current mobile shooter games tend to be more than a little awkward control-wise; the scheme this one uses sounds really interesting.

    I really could wish, though, you hadn’t named it something that would earworm me with an entirely unrelated Weird Al Yankovic song every time I see its name. :P

  21. You just sold me by evoking Marathon. Several coworkers and I used to stay late at the office (a major publisher in NYC) and play over the LAN. We would have team talks via conference call. Imagine book/cover designers huddled in their offices (back when people had 4 walls and a door!) with their office phones held to their heads by those large rubberbands used for manuscripts.

    I am old. And now I must purchase Midnight Star as soon as I get home.

  22. Did you do something to make it so the game will not load on Jailbroken devices? This seems short sighted if so.. I ask because it appears to be stuck on “Loading configuration”

  23. Sounds…boring.


    “Developer Industrial Toys calls the game “a re-imagining of the sci-fi shooter for touch devices.” But in reality that’s just a fancy way of saying it’s a modern light gun game, one of those arcade games where you shoot zombies or future criminals using a plastic gun tethered to the cabinet (think House of the Dead and Virtua Cop). Just like those games, Midnight Star is completely on rails: you have no control over your movement, though you can change your viewpoint to tackle enemies coming at you from different sides. ”

    “The fact that you can’t strafe, or duck behind cover, or charge at enemies guns blazing, makes it a fundamentally different experience than games like Call of Duty.”

    I’ll stick with games where I have more choice than how fast I tap the screen to kill an alien.

  24. Hm, I was thinking about getting a new tablet, and the NVidia Android device was on the list but I was thinking “I don’t do action games, seems like overkill” but if this is coming out for “the rest of us” and not just iOS users, I’ll lean in that direction a little more.

  25. Whoaman — based on the comments at Toucharcade, it sounds like they did, indeed, do that, but it also sounds like the devs have heard that this is an issue and are working to fix it.

  26. Downloaded this to my iphone last night- it’s awesome. Can’t wait for it to be available on android so I can play it on a larger screen.

  27. I’ve had some time to play it now. Liking this game and how it was ported to the ipad. Enjoying the replayability of missions too. The insertion of the story element is a very nice addition and I’m especially liking how it gets introduced at the right time and in the right volume.

  28. I really like the graphic novel — great interface! Just downloaded the game and I’m looking forward to playing it. I just need something to distract the kids, so I have the time to play….

  29. I had second thoughts, downloaded the game and gave it a fair shot. I played it for 45 minutes while watching our Supernatural marathon. After giving all that I have to come to the conclusion that the “game on rails” or “light shooter” aspect of the review I posted earlier is spot on. I then downloaded Nova 3 to my iPad and played it. Better graphics in N3, better game play, the aliens don’t look cheesy and rushed. All in all MS is a game that would have done mediocre sales in the mid-aughts on the PC and one that is at least 3 years outdated for the iPad.

    Sorry John, but it’s not the superb game you promised us and no where near as good as it was hyped.

  30. Scorpius:

    You made it clear you were determined not to like it without playing it, so I don’t find it terribly surprising after playing it that you didn’t like it. Which is of course fine. No one is required to like it, and I’m fine with it not working for you. Like any creative thing, it’s not going to work for everyone. Others disagree with you, which is also fine (and others may agree with you, and you know what? That’s fine too).


    The graphic novel is as published as it’s going to be; we’re not at this poin planning to add any more chapters to it. But there’s always a chance for a sequel somewhere down the line, I suppose.

  31. Downloaded the graphic novel, loved it. I’m not a gamer, really, mostly I play static games (except for Ingress, which has devoured my spare time for the past several months). Downloaded the game and played through the first scenario, but every time I’ve had a few minutes and decided to give it a go, it’s taken so long to boot up that I’ve given up. Tap through the first screen/credits, the second screen just sits… and sits… and sits…

    Today I finally just started it while at work to see exactly how long it would take to finish booting up and the answer was 105 seconds (over a minute of blue screen, then about 5 seconds of dead black ‘crap did it hang the program?’ screen, and then it finally started downloading latest info, etc. I know I’m on an older phone (iPhone 4S) but yow. So it’s not going to be something I do unless I have a chunk of time to devote to it, at which point I’m usually reading books instead. Sorry. Graphics were nice, though, what I saw.

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