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Multiplatform game - good or bad idea?

This entry is about pros and cons and of course many struggles during creation of the multiplatform 4X strategy game by an indie studio. Probably some useful info for anybody considering to release a game on many platforms.

Some time ago we have got that idea to make our game really multiplatform, to give the same experience for all the platform the game will be available at.

Strategy games and especially 4X genre are without any doubt a PC domain. This is the platform that people use to play this kind of games, and other platforms very rarely see a game of this kind released for anything that the desktop. There are of course some examples, and some of them are great games.

Planar Conquest meant to be a multiplatform from the very beginning. The primary platform use to be PC, but we wanted the mobile and console players to have the same kind of experience as the computer players. At any point I didn’t planned to cut any gameplay features on any platform and what is even more important I wanted the game to be fully compatible in terms of moving save games from one to another.

First of all, creating 4X game is not an easy task. It took us couple of years to release the game in a state we wanted it to be released. Actually the last platform will be released in about four years after we have started to work on the game. This will also cause some issues with the naming, so for the iOS and Android you can play “Planar Conquest”, on PC there is “Planar Conquest” and its predecessor “Worlds of Magic”, and as the console version was developed together with Teyon, the console version got the most fancy name: “Worlds of Magic: Planar Conquest”. Complicated, isn’t it?

So as we have figured out about which game we are talking about we can move further to kind of post mortem.

 

The iOS and Android version of Planar Conquest were created as the first ones, and the whole development process was made in parallel. Of course at any point the game was able to be launched on PC, so we make sure it was playable.

It wasn’t an easy task to design a quite complex GUI with many windows and screens to fit the 7 inches screens (as that was the lowest resolution we have initially planned to release the game). Took us a lot of time to properly design location of all the icons which gives you access to windows with the game. To give you the scope there are: world, map, battle map, army roster, city browser, city screen, spell book, magic panel, diplomacy screen, crafting screen, options and few more minor ones. Also at the beginning of the game there is a possibility to highly customize the game, world and your avatar. So a lot of thing can happen on the screen. I didn’t want to sacrifice even a little piece of gameplay because we wouldn’t fit it into the screen. Instead we have reworked things forth and back until we were happy and until we have received feedback from the players that the game is well played. No doubt that the hands-on during the tests and expos gave us a lot of feedback were are the issues with the gameplay and UI.

Here is the Pocket Tactics review and the part summarizing our efforts:

 
The reality of trying to stuff a full 4X title into the tablet is where the game has issues and this is primarily in the UI and the graphics. Despite doing a very good job of making the UI work for touch devices, there is just too much going on in the game for the UI not to suffer somewhat. This primarily comes when viewing in-game notifications and it’s too easy to miss events while you play until you train yourself to look for them

Link to full review: http://www.pockettactics.com/reviews/review-planar-conquest/

and one of the customer’s review on the App store, that generally represents most of them:

This is definitely the best 4X on iOS. I was A little bit hesitant about this game because it was fantasy-based and had a very big magic tree. I was very surprised at how great this game is. The drawbacks are that it is a bit pricey and there is a bit of a learning curve. Don't hesitate to read online for help. Those drawbacks don't take away from the game. I am happy that I found a premium 4X game for iOS.

And I’m pretty sure that most (if not all) of the one-star reviews regards the technical issues.

Of course we didn’t avoid the bugs and patching and some more patching and some more patching planned in the future. Actually when writing this entry I have found out that the PIXELGEEK (author of the Pocket Tactics’ review) wrote in the comments: “It’s still a really fun game and I still think that it is probably the best non-space 4X game on the iPad”. So I think we have done it right.

 

And here is next part of the story. The PC version. Things are much more complicated with the release, the background, and the gameitself, but again, I will do my best to focus on those issues that are related with the multiplatform development. The desktop version was created after the release of the mobile version. As mentioned previously we wanted the game to be as much similar to the mobile, but to stand out by itself and meet all the PC requirements and possibilities. To sum up. The world maps and battle maps are completely different sets of graphic assets from the mobile version. The units are the same with of course greatly improved number of polygons, and better textures. The UI is basically the same, but of course it has been redesigned and redrawn.

As a starter here is one of the reviews taken from STEAM:

“The UI in this game is just about the worst I've ever seen in a 4X game (although MOO3 takes the crown for worst, so congratulations on beating that). And there is no allure to the game that inspires me to try to deal with or learn the awful UI. Just moving units in this game (especially if you've got a stack but don't want to move all of them) is tedious and confusing. And God help you if you try to actually fight a combat, the interface is confusing and when the enemy gives you a vicious beatdown, you're not even sure why or how you could have done better. I suppose I could also mention the awful city interface as well. Confusing and involving way too many clicks to get done what needs to be done. This is all too bad. I love 4X games, and I was really stoked to play this game. Fortunately, I realized its awfulness in time to get a refund. If this game ever reaches the point where it's actually playable and fun, I may consider purchasing again."

 

Edit: Oh yeah, and with an SSD, 32G RAM, and EVGA GeForce GTX 970 graphics card, to have loading screens lasting 30 seconds, especially with the craptastic graphics in this game, is completely unacceptable!”

The whole process of the design was made in a way to give player possibility to access as many options as possible with least clicks during the process and to make most of the functionalities easy to find and figure out. Leaving the UI similar to the one known from the mobile version was generally obvious for us. We wanted any transition to be easy for players. No matter what the platform would be we wanted them to figure out most of the things as soon as possible. Of course most of the windows  were not just copy pasted  in terms of the layout and we have made our best to fit some more information visible at first glance. Generally it took us four months to adapt the UI and to make it fit the PC.

However as you can read for example in Gamegrin review, it seems to be the:
Could be a lot better, could be a lot worse! But it is still another iOS port, so don't get your hopes up, especially when the full iOS version is worth more than the PC version.

Link to full review: http://www.gamegrin.com/reviews/planar-conquest-review-2/

What I would do differently? For sure implement left-click right-click movement. Currently there is left/left and we have got a lot of complains about it.

 

And now the time for consoles. When I’m writing those words there are no reviews of the game, neither written by professionals or by players. This is the version we have been least involved into. Also this is the one where the ingame visuals are most distinct. Hard to say will it make good or bad for the game.

A lot of people say it is risky to release the strategy game on consoles, especially from the 4X subgenre, however if you develop on Unity it might be worth to give is a try so we did. Again the UI took a deep redesign, but is still quite similar to those known from the mobile and PC. It is worth to mention, that the console and PC versions of the UI were developed independently based on the ones used for iOS and Android.

Of course we all know that the consoles development require a lot of strict rules regarding the GUI, and not only those. I think that was kind of challenge. Time will show.

 

Another thing is that this kind of games is a total niche for the mobile and console market. There are just few 4X games and none of them is fantasy themed. From the designers point of view that was a serious issue, having no experience in those platforms and doesn’t having good examples that we might be learning from required us to take many iterations of those same things. Probably in some cases we have went with “good enough” too early.

Business wise, having so little titles release on the above mentioned platforms was also opportunity and threat. We know there is a market with millions of users, so somebody should be playing those kind of games, but if it is why so little interest from the designers point of view? Of course as an indie developers we weren’t been able to do a wide market research so we have followed our guts.

 

So to sum up. If anybody asks me, would I ever create a multiplatform game, I will say that it is very likely. Of course I would do many things differently. I think that the most important thing is to release on PC first. iOS took us too much time to gather feedback, prepare build, wait for approval (this has already speed up from about a week to two days recently), but still there is the “between”. Also the STEAM infrastructure allows you much better communication with players than on other platforms. I wish I would have three or four months more for the PC release in that case, so we would be able to polish and test more things, but I doubt those are multiplatform related issues. Maybe EA would allow us to prevent some damages just after the release.

However I’m still wondering how different those versions should be from each other. Where is the point where the UI is precisely adapted to the platform, but still gives you the feeling this is the exactly same game, especially when you need to fit into relatively tight budget. If you got your own experience, please share it.

 

PS.: If you are a game developer and would like to evaluate the UI’s and see all those things I have been writing about, just let me know so I can spare you a key or two.

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