A Different Approach
- The usage of mobile phones needed to be more prevalent in the control, management, and interaction of characters. This would help the phone be an integral part of the experience, and not a distraction.
- The combat and exploration needed a more real time element to it.
- Active controls using the mobile phone had to take advantage of the medium's touch capabilities, it wasn't good enough to simply create a virtual game-pad (which always feels poor on touch devices, due to the lack of tactile feedback and precise control.) It was vital that this was intuitive enough that a player's attention could remain on the central device during active segments.
Mobile Devices Are Central To The Experience
Direct control in exploration and combat
- Including options to trade gear and items with other players
- Skill trees that provided players with multiple upgrade paths that they could follow
- Dialogue cues are presented on each device, with players encouraged to speak the lines out loud (when speaking to a group.) Players can give their characters whatever style of voice or inflection that they wish, and it helps add a fun element to the experience that gives player's more agency over their character.
This also added the option for players to be able to have secret conversations with NPCs and other players. Leaving it up to the player to decide whether to share this information with the group or keep it a secret.
- This created more freedom for players to role play characters however they wanted.
- Unlocked as players discovered things in the environment
Real Time Action
Control Through Mobile
An early concept placed the center point for control in the middle of the screen, with player direction dictated by either swiping from the center, or holding a point around the center of the screen to indicate a movement direction. We found that using the exact center of the screen made it awkward to hold most phones and use the thumb to issue directions, so we shifted the position down to the bottom two thirds of the screen instead. This layout also allowed us to support right handed and left handed people without issue. Aside from this shift in position, this early concept proved effective and became the default control scheme for the finished product, which was rather surprising for me as I had anticipated that more iteration would be required. Not that I was complaining, mind you.
A player ring, unique in design for each character, appears on both the touch device and below the character model on the TV. When a player drags the ring around on their phone, the corresponding ring for their character moves in tandem on the TV. It is used to target items and NPCs in exploration, and highlight enemy or ally targets in combat. Players can also set a movement direction by tapping and holding their finger in a position around the center, and the player character will then begin running in that direction on the TV. In combat, once players have selected a target, a context wheel appears around the central control point. This ring will populate with all the actions a player can use on that target. Targets can be enemies, allies and environmental elements. The context wheel will only populate with actions appropriate for the target. Common actions like use or interact are always found in the same place. With a little practice, players don't need to look at their phones to issue actions. A simpler form of this context wheel is found in exploration, when players wish to interact with an item or talk to an NPC.
Getting this right required a great deal of tweaking, testing, gathering feedback and iteration. Early on I experienced a fair bit or resistance to the idea of the basic control scheme (center point with swiping), with some members of the team insisting that we revert to the virtual game-pad instead. However once we were able to properly test the concept, the idea of a virtual game-pad was forgotten. It taught me the value of sticking to one's convictions, and how important this is when in unexplored territory. Everyone on the team worked exceptionally hard, and it would appear that hard work paid off.
As of this writing, the game maintains a very positive rating on Steam. The companion controller app, has a rating of 4.6 on Google Play and a 4 star rating on iOS. Most players mention that they enjoy the unique control scheme, and the social experience the game encourages. For all the challenges we had to overcome, and how unique this approach was, I must say I'm pleasantly surprised by the reception. As a designer, nothing is ever truly complete or perfect, but I'm happy that players overwhelmingly feel that what we've created provides them with a uniquely enjoyable experience they cannot get anywhere else.