Having worked together at both Auran and Fuzzyeyes Studios on high end PC and console games, the Bane Games team faced unique challenges with their casual tactical naval warfare game Battle Group, not the least of which was a simultaneous launch across iOS, Android, PC and Mac.
With two games already on the market (one was developed in collaboration with Baskin Robbins), Battle Group has already achieved over 50,000 downloads on iOS and Mac, and it has featured in the top 10 simulation and strategy games section - as well as being the top game on the Mac App Store.
The team of Bane Games consists of Alistair Doulin (Programmer), Simon Neech (Designer), Shaun Campbell (Artist) and Mick Gordon (Audio), all with enough experience and skills to make a winning GameDev Story starter studio.
Gameplanet Australia spoke to Bane Games programmer Alistair Doulin about the creation and implementation of Battle Group.
Gameplanet: Where did the idea for Battle Group come from?
Alistair Doulin: Our designer (Simon Neech) came up with the idea for Battle Group while serving in the Australian Navy. We turned his countless hours of combat training into an easy-to-pick-up game, pitting fleets of heavily armed ships against 360 degrees of incoming death. The game mechanics were inspired from classics like Missile Command and 1942 with tweaks aimed at the modern, casual player.
Gameplanet: In today's crowded digital games marketplace, how did you position Battle Group to stand apart from the crowd?
Doulin: We did some research and realised that no one had made something quite like this. We ensured the gameplay matched the people and platform we were designing for, primarily casual smart-phone gamers. We made the gameplay accessible and addictive while ensuring that the touch screen input worked in conjunction with the gameplay, rather than shoe-horning in virtual d-pads or another unnatural control mechanisms. When we developed for PC and Mac, we similarly redesigned the control to match those environments.
Gameplanet: This is Bane Games' third iOS title, what important lessons have you learned that contribute to Battle Group's success?
Doulin: We learned two key lessons from our previous games. Firstly, that marketing is vitally important to the success of a mobile game. We partnered with Surprise Attack, a start-up marketing company focusing on independent game developers which was excellent. Secondly, we learned the lesson that mobile gamers are extremely unforgiving when it comes to the first few minutes of playing your game. Unless they can pick the game up and start having fun immediately, many will just move on to something else. We solved this problem by having a simple tap on the screen to start launching devastating arsenals of weapons without a tutorial.
Gameplanet: The Bane Games team have a background in high-end PC and console development. How difficult was it making the transition to the smaller platforms?
Doulin: We found the transition to be perfect to our small team size. It felt like going back to the original days of game development with limited resources and power on mobile devices. We chose Unity as our game engine to handle a lot of the technical details of developing for multiple platforms that we simply couldn't afford to do ourselves.
The biggest difference between mobile and high end PC and console development is the speed at which we can produce games. Rather than multi-year development cycles we have a game prototyped within a matter of days and the core gameplay complete within weeks. This allows us to prototype a bunch of different games as well as different gameplay within our chosen game quickly.
Gameplanet: Battle Group has been released across iOS, Android, PC and Mac – was it worth the development time to hit all four platforms, and do you plan to do the same with all future releases?
Doulin: We definitely plan on hitting the four major platforms in the future. The biggest surprise at release was the success of Battle Group on the Mac App Store. We made it into the top 10 games in a number of countries and saw a huge spike in sales early on for a platform we were not always planning to release on.
We released Battle Group simultaneously on all four platforms on the one day. This lead to a lot of stress and a couple of critical bugs made their way into the iOS release because of this. For this reason we will have a staggered release across the multiple platforms in the future.
Gameplanet: What were your initial hopes and expectations when Battle Group launched on the iOS?
Doulin: We wanted just enough support to pump out more expansions and content, and perhaps to work on variations of this genre and entirely new games in the future. So far we have been able to update the game with new game modes, environments and leaderboards. The player base continues to grow on a global scale so we hope to start including more foreign navy ships with stories in even more exotic locations.
Gameplanet: What’s next for Bane Games?
Doulin: We have been busily working on updates to Battle Group this year with a new game mode added earlier in the year. Currently we are prototyping new game ideas and working on future updates for Battle Group.
Gameplanet: What advice can you give to other small startup iOS developers?
Doulin: The biggest single piece of advice I'd give other iOS developers is to aim small and playtest, playtest, playtest. Aiming small means cutting back the scope of your game to the smallest possible game that is fun to play. Most people's play sessions on mobile are measured in single digit minutes. This is great for small startup teams as it means a core piece of fun gameplay is enough to keep people interested and coming back for more. The other reason to aim small is to counter the changing landscape of iOS games. With a development cycle more than a few months, the marketplace will be completely different beast when you go to release as when you started working on the game.
Finally, playtesting is vitally important. The biggest bonus of developing for iOS is your game is always in your pocket. Show your game to everyone you meet, watch them play and write down all the issues they have.