Thursday, 6 October 2011

Great Little War Game; the greatest little Android game you've never heard of, but should have! [Game review & developer interview]

Another quality iOS developer comes to Android, worth the wait?

Today I thought I'd clue you all into a truly brilliant Android game that just arrived on the Market - Great Little War Game (GLWG). Like many of the most polished Android game titles of late, this one comes via a successful iOS company, now trying their hand in the Android realm. Read on after the break to find out why you want this game, and how their experience of developing for Android has been.

The company I'm talking about here is Rubicon Development, and I was fortunate enough to be part of the closed beta testing group for GLWG during the last couple of months.

I had planned to do this piece next week, but when I mentioned the game to a fellow editor, and he hadn't heard of it, I knew I should push this out now. If someone with their finger on the Android pulse hadn't heard of it, then chances are many of you haven't either.

My personal favorite 
I'm beginning to note a disturbing predeliction to giving away the punchline of my blog pieces within the first few sentences... ...I know I should stop, but I just can't curb my enthusiasm here - this is my favourite Android game right now.

All musings on my writing style (or lack of it) aside, let me tell you some more about GLWG. Basically it's a modern refresh of the format established by classic Nintendo titles like Advance Wars and Fire Emblem. Obviously it brings lots of added polish in the form of gorgeous graphics with excellent art direction, social gaming integration, and - heres a big one - multiplayer. If you know those titles then you pretty much know all you need about this title, go ahead and use the QR code at the bottom of the article to purchase it from the Market right now.

If the words Advance Wars and Fire Emblem have you reaching for your decoder ring, let me briefly outline how play proceeds [aside: if you've never played either of those games before, do yourself and favour and grab copies of the carts from Ebay, and then grab Yongzh's seminal GameBOID emulator from Slideme].

The level of graphic detail on high and ultra settings is superb
Basically GLWG is a turn based strategy game, you control various units with their own unique characteristics and combat abilities, moving them on a grid overlaid on the terrain to complete various mission objectives. It all starts relatively simply, giving you just a few units to get to grips with. Then, as this style of game is wont to do, it gradually increases the number of units, vehicles, structure types, and mission types at your disposal over successive levels.

The learning curve is pitched just right, easy for a few levels while you grapple with the fundamentals, and then ramping up so that as you work your way through there is plenty of fresh challenge to maintain your interest. The result is a game of satisfying complexity, and with considerable depth and longevity.

Various modes of play prevent things from getting stale

In terms of production values, let just say that Rubicon Development has some chops. Check the video to see what I mean.

If you're packing an older or lower spec handset your your heart may have sunk looking at the awesome visuals on display in the video. Fear not, there may still be a slice of GLWG in your future too. Graphic details can be increased or decreased, depending on how much grunt your handset's internals can handle. It's heartening to note a developer responsive to the needs of Android gamers with a variety of handsets here, and something I hope more developers will pick up on.

Different unit types bring their own charms to gameplay and strategy
So, bottom line, should you buy this game? Obviously you don't need to read between the lines to see that I'm mad keen on GLWG, so that would be a yes from me. If I temper my own feelings on the matter a little I'd say definitely buy this title if you have any love for turn based strategy games, or the old classics like Advance Wars that this harks back to. Even you're not a big fan of the genre, or haven't really tried it before, then I'd give it the nod for you too - if you've got any gamer DNA in you I expect you'll be a convert soon enough.

BONUS FEATURETTE: Developer interview!

I recently had the opportunity to ask Paul Johnson from Rubicon Development a few questions about GLWG, and their new experience of producing for the Android platform, and following is the content of that interview:

NZTF: Firstly, I have to congratulate you on GLWG, which has been my favorite Android game since I joined the beta.
  • Paul: Wow, that's some accolade - many thanks and glad we hit the spot. :)
I'm an old school fan of Advance Wars and Fire Emblem type games, and GLWG seems to be of that tradition. How much inspiration did you draw from earlier titles similar to GLWG? Besides the awesome graphical refresh, what were the other key things you wanted to do to modernise the genre?
  • Me too, I think I have most of them on a shelf somewhere. If I'm being honest, we drew a lot from existing classics such as those, but our aim was never to make a clone, and we didn't. The main thing I wanted to achieve was to speed things up a bit. For example most of the units can move and fire and even move again in the same turn, and almost all of them can fire from at least a few tiles away - it gets the player into the action much quicker and I feel the game is better for it.
Like an increasing number of developers you started out producing your game for the iOS platform, how have you found the experience of transitioning the game to Android?
  • The programming part was actually fairly painless. We're all grey haired industry vets with plenty of experience making portable games, so our whole setup was designed with this in mind from day one. All of our future titles will be released simultaneously now that we have most of the wrinkles ironed out.
Obviously the sheer amount of diversity in Android in terms of handsets/hardware/OS version brings its own challenges, was that a factor for you? 
  • Oh the rants I could have here, lol.  With the platform being so open, its almost impossible to do enough QA testing and I hope the credits listing in the game shows we did a *lot*. However we're still getting instances where a customer drops a one star review and claims a refund because it doesn't work on his brand new uberphone x3 or whatever. Which wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have that same uberphone x3 running just fine in our office, along with the other 90 installs on uberphone x3 that we can see in our sales stats.
  • We've built some crash reporting into the game so that if something does go wrong, we get to see the actual problem and are able to actually fix it pretty quickly. It's this that generates the warning about sensitive info logging that customers get warned about during install, so I really hope that doesn't put people off. There is no other developer online that cares more about delivering a solid game than us and we try to answer every single support call and fix every bug that shows up. Sorry that sounds like sales patter, but it's something I'm deeply passionate about.
  • Which does lead on to a really, really nice positive about Android. When things do go wrong, as they're bound to with complex games such as this, we can get a fix out to customers more or less instantly. No one-week lag times here. Hooray!
I note that you went with a straight paid app model for GLWG, whereas lots of other Android developers swear by the freemium approach as the best way to monetise Android apps. Now that GLWG is in the Android Market, do you have any feeling for which approach is best at this stage? If so, why?
  • I don't have any direct experience of the freemium model, but I think it rather depends on the style of game. I'm pretty sure that the various farmville style things make pots of money, but that doesn't necessarily mean that GLWG would, and it's a risk we didn't want to take with our first major title. 
  • We have some smaller, more casual titles in the pipeline and we'll probably experiment with one of those being ad supported next. That should give us an indicator for where to go with our next biggy.
  • Having said all that, sales are doing just great right now and we're not in a panic for plan b) anyway.  I'm sure we've all heard a lot of hate about piracy and miserliness and it's just that - hate. Right now we've made slightly more money in the first four days on Android than we did in the same period on iOS and I'm glad my faith in human nature prevailed! (Hopefully someone at Android Market Towers is reading this and takes note that on day five on iOS we got a front page feature from Apple and reciprocate!  :)
...and of course finally, the most important question: obviously in the short term optimising GLWG for the breadth of Android devices will draw lots of your attention, but do you have any idea what your next project will be?
  • We have a couple of things on the go right now. We wanted a complete break from the intensive development that went into GLWG, so our next offering will be a yahtzee style dice game! :)  It's going to get the usual Rubicon love though so will be all it can be, complete with 3D rendered physics dice and etc.  After that we have an interesting new idea featuring asynchronous multiplayer and after that we all get to knuckle down on a GLWG sequel if the players want it.Whilst all that's going on, we're also planning some free content updates for GLWG too, in the form of map packs for the skirmish and multiplayer modes, maybe a couple of new units, etc.
Market link here
Sounds awesome Paul, thanks for your time. In particular I really look forward to anything involving asynchronous play, which is one of my favorite ways to enjoy PvP games on mobiles, and well under-utilised. To finish I wanted to wish you all the best with GLWG and your upcoming titles, from my point of view Rubicon Development deserves huge success, and all the accolades it no doubt has coming to it.

So have any of the readers cottoned on to this great title yet? If so drop us a line in the comments section below, and if not - what are waiting for?