Large-Scale Real-Time Strategy (RTS) for the iPad & iPhone 

Twitter LinkedIn YouTube E-mail
formats

RTS and the Press

Published on July 2, 2013 in Game Design

The core RTS genre has often been called moribund in the past. Even though there’s still quite a big core group enjoying this genre, there’s not a whole lot of new releases, especially not for mobile. Due to their inherent complexity, it’s basically limited to PC, console controllers are not well suited for controlling large armies.

On iOS, traditional RTS games are also a rare sight, especially if you want to do competitive multiplayer. Generally, the RTS genre has a bit migrated into DOTA and tower defense in general. That having said, the typical iOS editor (or game reviewer) doesn’t get a lot of traditional, competitive RTS games to review and consequently has little experience with the genre. RTS games are also often more complex than the typical iOS time waster and all these factors often lead to hilarious review comments I want to share with you for a good laugh.

OMG I got Rushed

A russian review site has found two very critical issues with Galactic Conflict. Their first nag was about the AI rushing in skirmish, a typical complaint noobs bring up when it comes to RTS games. It is true that rushes are possible in the game, but an average multiplayer game time of 14.4 minutes (according to stats we collect) clearly means rushes are not a general problem. Yes, in an RTS game, you can build a bunch of units early, head over to your opponent and rush his arse, I mean base. Especially if you send out your initial scout and find out that he’s teching like a madman straight to end-game units or getting too greedy and expanding early. Guess what, it’s part of the design and any competent player will have to deal with it.

In multiplayer, it is clearly a l2p issue, but in skirmish, I have good news: the game features four difficulty settings. If you can’t deal with rushes (yet), set it to Easy or Novice. Problem solved.

200 Supply Cap

The same site reported that the developer made a critical mistake to cap ships at 200 supply and it is a “severe limitation”. Well, welcome to the RTS world. Blizzard just released HotS the very same week Galactic Conflict hit the AppStore and it has a 200 supply cap on PCs. I guess we should overtake PC hardware with iOS games and outperform them in every way. Not only was it a true challenge to get 200 supply on an iPhone 4 which happens to be a single core CPU with a high resolution (or actually 800 supply in a 4 player game), it also makes no sense design wise to allow for endless supply.

So many Ships!

Another site complained that when you really hit the supply limit, then it gets real hard to “control each ship individually”. Wow, I feel for you. Guess what, in that case, you’ll have to start thinking in bigger terms. You need to control groups of ships instead of trying to control each ship individually, maybe focus on positioning or generally avoid running into counters, pull back certain ship types, rebuild the correct ships and stuff like that. No, you are not supposed to control each ship individually at 200 supply.

My Ships have a Brain!

Some review site found out that ships “fight on their own”. They were baffled that the ships shoot at things even though they didn’t explicitly tell them to do so. Well, you are a fleet commander in this game. You don’t sit in one of these ships, you have pilots steering them and these pilots have their own brain and even though they follow your orders, they don’t wait for you to press the fire button. Target in sights? Fire! If you don’t want your ships to pick their own targets, put them on hold. However, a lot of times, it makes sense to trust your little guys and have them fight the enemy. Believe me, you don’t need to look for the fire button.

There’s so much going on!

I realize it can be hard reviewing a truly casual game, then switching over to Galactic Conflict. The AI is smart, it doesn’t simply follow pre-coded build orders but really evaluates the situation, makes a plan and executes. At normal and hard difficulties, it can be quite challenging for people new to RTS games. Playing multiplayer obviously depends on your opponent but it’s not like you should be twiddling your thumbs in any RTS.

Yes, there can be a lot of things going on in an RTS game. You need to develop your economy! Don’t forget to research new technology! Scout your opponent to find out what he’s up to! Make the right decisions! Don’t slack. One reviewer complained that if you don’t play by the rules and build stuff but explore with your ships then the opponent will “suddenly” show up with a big force and destroy you. Yes, it’s not a 4X game, it’s an RTS. Using your starting scout to explore the vast universe for the first minutes in the game is getting you in trouble not much later, I’m afraid.

It’s like picking your Knight in Chess and exploring the board instead of developing your game. It won’t end pretty.

More Ships=Better

One reviewer complained that having more ships is a clear advantage. Generally, I’d have to agree. It doesn’t hurt if you have more ships than your opponent. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, build the wrong ships, only a single type of ships or the wrong composition and you will be punished hard by any competent player (or the AI).

Unit Counters

One guy wrote that he finds it unfair that some ships are countered hard by others but can’t counter them back. He had a lot of interceptors but the enemy flak frigate would not die. That made him very pissed off because “you would expect that a bunch of interceptors win against a single ship”. It’s pretty much the converse argument of the other guy who complained that “more ships win”. Well, it’s true that some units are very ineffective against other units, it’s called rock, paper, scissors. Some will mutually counter each others but if you are building all rocks, then paper will own you hard.

OMG, a Game with a Learning Curve!

A typical review complaint was that if you don’t know the strengths of the ships or can’t tell a fighter from a frigate, then playing the game is difficult. Hell yeah! I’m sorry to say that but it needs a wee bit more mental energy than Angry Birds. The game will indeed be more fun if you care to get a basic understanding what each ship’s role is in a fleet and learn to identify ships. My twins are five years old, they played the game a lot and they can’t read. They were just trying out what ships did good against what others by playing and then were great at building the right counters. Well, if you can read, you clearly have an advantage because each ship features a “strong vs” and “weak vs” description.

I know, a lot of times we just want to play to kill time and a 1-tap game is fine. However, a more sophisticated game also potentially offers a richer experience – but it needs a wee bit of player engagement. Playing the tutorial (and paying attention) also helps, as each ship type is explained and you learn what ships are good against what other ships by playing, if reading is not your thing.

This Game rewards Aggression

One reviewer didn’t like that Galactic Conflict rewards aggression and he had a hard time digging in and set up the correct defenses.

The AppStore is full of single-player RTS games that fall into the tower defense category. An endless, swarm of units following scripted paths is coming for your base and you set a series of towers to fend them off. Clearly, setting up clever defenses are the way to go in this genre. However, in a traditional RTS game, it’s two (or more) players playing each other on even terms, or you play an AI opponent that’s far more sophisticated than the scripted TD AI. Since the goal is to destroy the opponent, you eventually need to bring the fight to the enemy if you care about winning the game. It’s not about defending your base for as long as possible!

The choice of defensive structures in Galactic Conflict is limited and by design, I wanted to avoid drawn-out games that last for an hour or two.

Economic Damage

The very same author was a bit shocked that the AI actually came over and bombarded his planet and he was losing buildings. He felt that he made a considerable investment into his planetary infrastructure and the enemy shouldn’t be able to just come over and ruin this investment. Well, casual mobile games are often known for avoiding frustration at all cost. But time to face the truth, if you don’t protect those buildings and the enemy gets over the right ships then your buildings will go down. Yeah, they are not indestructible and life is unfair. Get over it!

The very same guy was also upset that “once he ran out of ore, he couldn’t even rebuild and consequently lost the game”. While the game doesn’t feature any resource called “ore”, it’s still true that running out of resources due to losing all your mines and processors in your base is not a good strategy and may really spell doom to your promising empire. What a nasty surprise!

Player Feedback

Funny enough, I didn’t have a single player come back with any hilarious complaints. Those getting back to me all made very sensible suggestions and were overall pleased with the game. It shows that the target audience is very well able to understand RTS concepts.

The Future of Mobile Gaming

On the other hand, if testers of major mobile gaming sites can’t cope with a traditional RTS, it also tells you a story about the state of mobile gaming and the RTS genre in particular. I know that a lot of people think that especially the iPad can be the future gaming platform for core gamers as well as casual gamers. Currently, the core gamers are a bit looking down on the iPad as being a toy for casual gamers because there’s so many simple games out there. But this will sure change. The platform is capable of hosting core games, the problem is currently the low price point and the hard competition that discourages developers to come up with more core titles (that usually take a bigger investment).

However, Facebook games have shown that a lot of social gamers have evolved over time and are now looking for mid-core experiences. The market will sooner or later recognize this potential and target this emerging group, too.

Let’s just hope game reviewers will be able to develop their skills too once they’ll have to play more challenging games. I also do hope that traditional RTS games won’t go extinct. There’s nothing that beats controlling lots of little guys and battling it out with your enemy. :)

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

1.2 Released

Published on April 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

Galactic Conflict was just updated to 1.2 including several bug fixes, most notably Call for Help on the iPhone, as well as a Game Night event system and an in-game Lobby.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Review on iplayapps.de

Published on March 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

iplayapps.de has just published a review of Galactic Conflict and calls it a success.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Galactic Conflict was introduced on Appliv

Published on March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized

Appliv covered Galactic Conflict on their site. Go check it out if you can read Japanese!

Link to Galactic Conflict on Appliv

Appliv(アプリヴ) -iPhoneアプリが探せる、見つかる

Appliv Homepage

Appliv(アプリヴ) -iPhoneアプリが探せる、見つかる

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Review on appgefahren.de

Published on March 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

The popular German app review magazine appgefahren.de has just published a review of Galactic Conflict and gave it a 4.5/5 rating. If you are able to read German, go read the article.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Official Release Date: March 14

Published on March 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

We’re happy to announce that Galactic Conflict will hit the AppStore on 14 March 2013. Finally, you can join the fray. We’re looking forward to battling you guys online!

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Official Trailer Released

The official trailer for Galactic Conflict has been released. Be sure to check it out in the videos section!

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Open Beta Launched in Austria

We’ve just soft-launched Galactic Conflict Online in Austria for free. It contains Skirmish and Online Multiplayer but the Single Player Campaign is not included. The goal is to collect some early feedback about those modes, esp. w.r.t. game balance.
If you are from Austria, go grab it here.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

Closed Beta Complete

After two months of intensive testing and tweaking, closed beta now finally comes to an end. Thanks to all beta testers for their hard work. We are now planning to release a free version in Austria and Germany to gather more statistics and use this data to further balance the gameplay.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 
formats

The Challenges of Multiplayer Lockstep

Published on January 12, 2013 in Development

I’d like to share a story about the challenges of implementing multiplayer in an RTS using a lockstep model. In this model, you only exchange actions between the peers and all devices need to do the exact same simulation to stay in sync. If anything differs, the simulation goes out of sync which means you will see a totally different game on both devices.

It is extremely easy to get out of sync and I had to hunt down a lot of desync bugs during development. This ain’t exactly easy because you can’t debug the code in multiplayer because the other device would automatically get a disc.

I don’t want to bore you with all desync’s I had to fix but one that kept me busy for two nights in the first week of 2013 is particularly interesting. Basically, I did a test game between an iPad 4 and an iPad 2 and they were getting out of sync. I could not reproduce the same problem in matches between other devices so something was going on here.

During previous desync bugs, I was often wondering if the Turning machine was still a valid concept and software was deterministic, and I was often blaming floating point arithmetic when there was actually another source.

However, in this case, it was really a hardware problem. Basically, the iPad 4 (as well as the iPhone 5) have a different CPU (and thus a different FPU). It seems like single precision floating point trigonomy functions were not working correctly in the new A6X CPU. Most of the time, the calculations were identical but for some angles, the new CPU came up with different values that are actually less precise compared to the “real” result.

CPU Calculation Result
Pre A6X, e.g. iPad 2, iPad 3,iPhone 4 sin(2.42680406570f) 0.65545779467
A6X, e.g. iPad 4, iPhone 5 sin(2.42680406570f) 0.65545773506

The (albeit small) difference quickly sums up to get the whole game totally out-of-sync.
Had to go through a lot of huge trace files to finally figure that one out and fix it.

 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Share on LinkedIn
No Comments  comments 

© Bitmen Studios