forty-eight hours, first times

i was once again marginally present during a gorgeous game situation feat. droqen, and am here to share a bit with you. we attended a weekend windows phone 7 game ‘app’ development contest for fun and potential profit. if you have not heard of the windows phone 7 (i hadn’t either, beforehand), it is microsoft’s answer to the iphone and android platforms. it’s got a multi-touch screen, and fairly respectable hardware specs. it supports xna; the framework primarily used for xbox live development, with secondary windows support. beyond the dodgy install situation, the environment is surprisingly friendly and streamlined. with no practice but a quick run through handling touch events and creating balls, we set off with great ambition.

draft

what to make? we mulled for a long while. by week’s end we were a bit excited over something about a warping touch-control space ship, and accelerometer-sensitive pendulums. halfway through the subway trip to the competition location, we came up with something better.

after wandering in circles for a while, we found our tiny, inconspicuous destination. we were headed for the second floor; easily visible from the entrance, given the first level’s open ceiling. nonetheless it was inaccessible by staircase, and unmarked in the elevators. i am entirely serious when i write that the first floor staff admitted they had no idea how anyone got up there. the eventual solution involved a security guard escort; it was pretty weird! anyway. we arrived with a plan. we worked into the night, before heading off home, to return for the contest’s conclusion late sunday.

during development, breakthrough ideas flowed freely right up until the final minute of the submission deadline. our motivation was to create a game uniquely suited to the tactile nature of a multi-touch interface, and interesting enough to encourage replay. the 48 hour deadline and the device itself necessitated the game be both simple and small, which honed our plans. the final result, while naturally a bit rough around the edges, was more than worth the effort.

fortress revolution

having played more than a little of the wonderful bronze lately, droqen has been given to thoughts of strategy. and while i personally begrudge the recently ubiquitous tower defense ‘genre’, several of my other friends remain avid fans. games which capitalize on what i personally consider the most boring aspect of the larger strategy spectrum. so then! what about a game, we thought, on the subway, that boiled-down real-time strategy to it’s core, as merveilles does the mmorpg? one with a small field of play, in which both players worked out their turns simultaneously, while under the duress of a timer. allowing for the nuance of careful and calculated three-moves-ahead sort of thinking, while maintaining a more snappy arcade pace. each player would be be able to build structures on natural resources, place and command units from their side of the battle lines, and guard against attack by orienting their defensive deployments. instead of divorced levels of macro and micromanagement, army units would act autonomously with minimal input, yet with enough nuance to permit cunning execution even with simplistic commands.

“what if players could independently pan around the battlefield, like rotating the world around themselves, and when the turn is up, only the elements visible on screen remain active for execution?”, said droqen. and that moment we knew this was what we would make. the smooth tactile touch and slide gesture common to devices like the one in question, perfectly abstracted. it certainly helped that we have both recently been interested in pursuing the largely untapped modulo reality suggested by even the earliest videogames. the possibility that given a decisive swipe of the finger at the last second, a player could throw his onlooking opponent off guard, was thrilling.

droq at work

by necessity, some of the initial idea had to be sacrificed. priority demanding a finished, playable build within the time limit, we scrapped the defensive-structure idea. resources were no longer to be target locations for unique buildings. in place of this, an affinity was granted to armies by their starting tile, which gave them a statistical advantage when fighting on home-like turf.

in addition, we added hero units. these larger and stronger individuals, which spawn from established buildings, act as leaders to the generic foot soldiers, and modify the implemented fear/flight element of battle that is woefully underrepresented in so many strategy games. they also act as the main offense against enemy buildings and the opponent’s final victory-clinching defensive castle wall, destroying either instantly.

the three stages of fortress revolution, condensed

the colorful aesthetic, including cheerfully abundant gore marking the outcome of army skirmishes, arose from blind use of xna’s ambiguously named color defaults (navajo? peru? bisque?). on the actual phone hardware, the visual elements pop vibrantly.

also lost to time was a planned single player puzzle oriented campaign, as well as modifications to prevent the game from dragging too long. our initial target was for games to last between 3 and 6 minutes each, where they presently may remain in a stalemate for a while longer.

as for the future of the game, nothing is certain. the fact that it was designed and coded for windows phone 7 is a double edged sword, in that an xbox or pc port would not provide the same multi-touch experience. we’d love to have the support necessary to further develop and polish the game for release. only time will tell!

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About Offal

Allan O. is a game designer from Toronto, Canada. View all posts by Offal

4 responses to “forty-eight hours, first times

  • Maxim

    It looks and sounds very cool! ^^

    I was wondering though, is it a multiplayer game on 1 phone? Isn’t the screen too small for 4 hands to handle it simultaneously. I can imagine your fingers would get in the way of your vision… :/

  • offal

    ah, great questions. =)

    multiplayer on 1 phone, that’s right. the device is vertically (portrait) oriented, each player controls half of the screen. you’d be surprised how well it works! we tested it on the actual hardware by placing the phone on a table facing each other. some testers played while standing up: one or both of them held the device, and used their other hand for touch-control. each player only needs one finger. the controls are only ‘multi-touch’ because it’s multiplayer.

    obstructing vision was one of our biggest concerns throughout; it’s an issue with a lot of touch-screen games. we worked carefully on getting a good tile-grid size (which defines where you can touch, drag, etc), as well as designing the interface to give the player lots of feedback, so you can see the results of each touch and gesture. players can also easily change or cancel any commands, which eases the learning curve a bit.

    the playing field is cleanly split between both players during planning phases; during the ‘action’ stage (where everything executes), the 2 sides snap together and the results play out. no finger twister.

    we think the results control at least as well as the phone’s default application interface, and definitely better than a lot of other touch-games we’ve played. ;)

  • Michael

    Hey, fellow GCA contestant here.
    Your game sounds really cool! I was wondering if you could post a gameplay video.

    Also wanted to say XNA’s color names aren’t entirely their fault. They’re using the standard web color names. And you’re right, the names are stupid. I think the worst example is that “Gray” is actually darker than “Dark Gray”.

  • Quick look at some possible future Games on WP7 : GCA2011

    […] Indie developers Allan O and Alexander Martin has entered as a two man team and have produced Fortress Revolution , a strategy game built in 48 hours as per contest regulation. You can read the story behind the game here […]

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