Play The Field version 1.2 released on the apple store [iPad / iPhone game]

Version 1.2 of Play the Field, the minimalistic puzzle/RTS game, is now available on the Apple store, for all iPad and iPhone devices. You can get it here:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?mt=8

This release has a few balance adjustments and bug fixes, including a mistake that prohibited devices below iOS 8.2 from running it. Any devices with 8.0 or later are now supported.

However, the biggest thing added to this release is a new mode – survival mode. It’s goal is to see how long you can survive as you struggle through over 20 stages of attackers, gradually increasing up to a dizzying frenzy of enemies.

The music has also been improved, with an additional song from Eric Skiff’s Resistor Anthems album.

Inspiration/motivation for creating PTF and being a hobby game developer

In the past I’ve briefly touched on how Play The Field was inspired by classic Real Time Strategy games such as Age of Empires and Starcraft. I was especially into the latter of these for many years (including expansions and follow up games), and for me when I really enjoy something I tend to want to make my own version of it.

Taking something like Starcraft, which typically takes several hundred people (including artists, developers, sound engineers, testers, managers, etc.) several years to make, honestly I would never have a chance to make anything close. Having said that, I enjoy game development (and software development in general) to the extent that whether my game would be popular is secondary, and in my college years I created a pretty detailed RTS game for the PC. In retrospect, it wasn’t that great but if you search around you may be able to find it online.

Now that I am into mobile development, it was only natural to try and make a RTS game for the iPad, but this time around my time is mostly taken up by my great job and my great family. However, I still have an hour or two in the evenings, and some time on weekends, so I decided on creating a very minimal game which captured some of the essence of RTS games. The fact it was made on a shoestring budget (both in a money and time sense) is why the graphics are also so simplistic. And due to the smaller scale and shorter timeline, I decided to group this game in the “RTT” (Real Time Tactics) category rather than RTS.

Just as with my RTS games on the desktop (I actually made a few if you go back far enough), the joy of coding a game is my primary motivator, but if people happen to download and enjoy my game, all the better. The game is completely free with no ads or in-app purchases.

To be honest, with a app store oversaturated already with nearly every type of game and app imaginable, I count every download as a tiny miracle (:

At some later point, I may talk in more detail about how I developed the game quickly with limited time, as it may be of use to some aspiring game developers.

[PTF on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?ls=1&mt=8]

Gameplay element: warp-in time

In this post, I’d like to focus on a gameplay element from my mobile game Play The Field and see how it helps improve the game’s overall balance and sense of fairness.

In traditional Real Time Strategy games (like Blizzard’s Starcraft series), each unit type can only be created at a specific building, and there is a time delay between the time the user decides to start building a unit and when it is finished. The opponent typically doesn’t know what unit is being built, but in some games like Starcraft 2 there is an indication that something is being built.

In Play The Field, in other to create new opportunities for tactics and avoid the extra work of maintaining buildings, units can be played anywhere on the map, given there is sufficient funds. The only exception is a few boards which have one or more red region(s), at which units cannot be placed.

In order to balance out for this extra freedom in unit placement, I made each unit take time to ‘warp-in’. During that time there is a visual indication that the unit is coming in and the enemy player can begin attacking the unit even before it is fully warped in. While a unit is being warped in it cannot attack or movie.

By adding this game element, the player has to have a good idea about the maximum attack distance of each unit and put more consideration into placement, which adds depth to the game. Placing haphazardly can lead to wasted funds and possibly even loosing the stage.

As with most gameplay elements, ideas only go so far – you have to test them. After playing a bunch of stages with this element enabled, I felt confident that it improved the game’s challenge in a fair way. It also helps to balance units that do spread damage to several opponents at once, since they cannot immediately appear in the middle of a enemy crowd and do damage before they are taken down.

Detailed review of “Little War Game”, a HTML5 RTS game (updated)

Recently, due to my familiarity with the RTS genre I was asked to review the game “Little War Game”, which can be found here:

http://littlewargame.com

At first, I hesitated since I wasn’t planning on advertising others’ games on this blog. But on reconsideration, since the game is made by an indie developer and is from a related genre to Play the Field, I decided to review the game after all.

As this post is fairly long and detailed, I’ll just give the punch line here: I highly recommend any RTS fans to try this game out.

The game’s biggest selling point is that is created using HTML5, which means you can use it on any browser, on any OS, at least in theory. This is great for users since they don’t have to have a specific setup to play it, though I think this point is best appreciated by a game developer. Conversely, since a browser language like HTML5 conceptually would be a bit farther from the hardware, from the start I set my expectations low for the graphics and performance. [Note: I have only vague familiarity with HTML5]

In spite of the supposed platform independence, my first experience with the game was a bit awkward. I attempted to open up the website on my iPhone’s Safari browser, and after playing with it for a little time I couldn’t get it to start. To be sure, mobile browsers probably have many limitations not found on desktop machines, and maybe with a little more poking around I could have gotten it to work. Regardless, for the HTML5 aspect to really shine, it should function well on all common mobile device’s browsers – though I acknowledge how difficult that might be. At minimum, I would hope the page detects I have a non-supported browser and lets me know early on.

But on to more fun stuff – When I tried it on my MacBook Pro’s Safari, the site loaded up quickly and I was able to get a game started in only a minute or so. The initial menu screens have a strong nostalgic retro feeling, reminiscent of some classic console games, especially because of the blue color gradient.

LWG has several modes, including a live multiplayer with one or more users logged into the site, and also a single-player version. In both cases you can choose the level and add computer player(s) as needed. There seems to be a good assortment of different levels.

I didn’t explore the menu system completely, but I didn’t come across a single player story mode. Though one can argue most users spend the greatest percentage of their time in the multiplayer modes, I feel that a story helps bring you into the world and familiarize you with the various units. As good story writing is difficult I wouldn’t expect a great deal from an indie developer, but 5-10 levels of story mode would really do the game good in my opinion.

The game itself is a traditional RTS set in what looks like the medieval period. You have catapults, mages, wolves, archers, and probably many other units I didn’t get far enough to play with. Purposeful or not, I feel it took some influences from games like Blizzard’s Warcraft series (the RTS one, not the online one), though this is by no means a bad thing. The game flow is very typical: build miners, get resources, build buildings, train units, explore, attack, expand, etc. This is both a strong point, since it is familiar for most gamers, and a weak point since there isn’t that much creativity to neither the gameplay nor the universe the action takes place in.

The graphics are reasonably good, given they we going for the ‘retro’ feel, though of course it doesn’t compare to a game like Starcraft 2 whose graphics are close to a work of ark. That not a fair comparison anyway, because games like Starcraft are written by a massive studio with insane budget.

As a side note, some of the game’s graphics like the minimap and shading algorithms reminded me of my last desktop RTS game, though LWG has much better visuals. Again, there is a good explanation for this since LWG’s credits states five people worked on the art. To the developer’s credit, he seems to have done all the coding himself, which is an impressive feat.

Though I had the sound turned off most of the time, I would say the sound effects were so-so, with the music fairly well made.

Retro assets are great and all, but if you’ll allow me to wane critical again I think the game’s popularity would go up if the visuals were revamped to be more modern, with higher resolution. If certain browsers can’t take the load for high-density images, the LWG developer can make several versions of the tiles and all selecting the best set (either automatically, or by the user).

The game worked relatively well, but I did come across a handful of bugs. The most annoying of these is when the explanation text shown in the top right window was consistently cropped to a single line, in some cases hiding valuable information. Also, one time when I left the game running in the background while I opened up WordPress in a separate tab, my browser froze for a few seconds, twice, because two scripts were not responding (IIRC “event.js” and “game.js”).

In terms of the RTS elements, there were a handful of fundamental things that appeared to be missing, like the ability to create groups and to add waypoints [Update: I have been told both of these are supported though have not verified myself, check the Settings page of the game], both critical to any serious RTS gamer. Some of the visual design was also a bit wordy and hard to understand in a brief glance. For example, the capacity of mining was shown with a number instead of a horizontal bar, and it took me awhile to find the building to give more control since I had to read all the text. For this second issue, traditional RTS games usually have little icons indicating the amount of control needed or produced so reading through text isn’t required.

The overall control was mostly intuitive, but I ran into one frustrating problem over and over. I habitually did a double finger drag on my MacBook in order to try and scroll the field, but in LWG this instead zooms in or out. I imagine this could be tricky to address since HTML5 is used, but I would rank it as a pretty serious issue to try and sort out.

The performance was reasonable, though a little on the slow side. I think there should be a setting for speed – if there was one I didn’t manage to find it yet.

Overall, from the eyes of a game developer this is a pretty impressive indie game project, very solid in many areas. I am not sure if the creator is open to adding more developers to the project, but it looks like a fun endeavor to code, especially for a classic RTS fan. From a brief look at their website I saw they were making some APIs to allow customization, so anyone could potentially contribute this way.

If you’re just an everyday casual player, while the game is fun I think some people will have a hard time getting hooked to keep playing. Besides the improved graphics or story mode I mentioned, adding things like achievements, ladder play, or more races (there appears to be only one) could go a long way here.

For the hardcore RTS players, its virtually guaranteed that you will get a better experience in terms of graphics and performance on native platform code (say, code written in C/C++ compiled for Windows). So the Starcraft fanatics might never quite get addicted to this, however if LWG’s creator can beef things up with extra elements it can become an even greater game.

All things considered, I highly recommend checking out Little War Game.

For a final note – if you enjoy RTS games and happen to have an iPad, consider checking out Play The Field why you are at it. It’s a game that evolves the RTS genre for mobile to allow for shorter games while testing your tactics. Here is the link to download it from iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/play-the-field/id985621862?mt=8

(Note: I spent roughly 30-60 minutes playing the game before writing this, so surely there are some things I missed. I’ll update the article if I receive any new information.)

(Update: I had originally alluded to a team of people working on this game but was told there was pretty much only one person doing development and making frequent updates, so have updated the review content to reflect this. According to the credits page on the website there was several people who worked on the tileset, which is why I had written “team”, but I was told they have not been active lately. Having said that, I think their contribution is important since I know how difficult it is for a developer to make a good tileset)

Play The Field: advanced controls

In a previous post, I talked about the basic rules of the game and the fundamentals of the interface. This time I’ll go over some of the advanced controls that can help you further optimize your tactics.

First is the usage of swipes, by which I mean touching a point with your finger, moving that finger to another location, and then raising it. A swipe can be used to quickly place a series of units in a certain formation, for example to encircle a small number of enemy units. The swipe doesn’t have to be in any pre-defined shape (line, circle, etc.), as any arbitrary shape will work. I think you’ll find it tedious and time consuming to tap several times quickly when trying to overcome the opponent, and using swipes makes it so much faster and easier.

Another thing you can use swipes for is to select units. Begin the swipe by clicking one of your units and then move your finger across any other units you want to select. As your finger crosses each friendly unit it will become selected. That way you can then issue commands (like attack a specific unit or move to a specific location) with a group of units. If you want to select all of your units on the screen, you can do that quickly with a button on the top right of the screen. It has three green units, shown in a triangle formation.

There are two other commands which you can issue to one or more units and aren’t immediately obvious. The first of these is to quickly tap on one or more units that are already selected. This will cancel any actions they have been given (for example if they were told to attack a specific enemy unit), and they will revert to the default behavior of heading towards, and attacking the nearest enemy. This will also unselect those unit(s).

The other command is to cause one or more units to hold still (called ‘hold position’ in some RTS games). This is done simply by touching a unit that is already selected and holding for roughly a half of second or more. A red box will be drawn around units holding still, and they will not automatically head towards the nearest enemy. However they will still attack any enemies in range. This technique can be used at some of the later stages in order to avoid units going off by themselves and getting captured needlessly.