Category: Mobile App Design

To conclude this week on wargames, I would like to unveil a project that has consumed my spare time for the past seven years. It does not involve mobile, but there are parallels both to the mobile app marketing side and it includes many of the same kind of design decisions that go into all kinds of different games regardless of platform. I have no financial stake in this project, it has been a “labor of love”.

The project makes use of Norm Koger’s “The Operational Art of War”, (TOAW) formerly produced by Talonsoft, now available through Matrix Games with continued development by Ralph Trickey. TOAW is a wargame platform driven in large part by end-user created content (scenarios). TOAW was released in 1998 and retains a core of dedicated users. It has received numerous improvements and continues to be developed. My project has not been published yet pending further adjustment so the TOAW platform. However, it is effectively complete.

Entitled “Into Darkness: Europe 1939-1945″ – it uses this map at a 15 kilometer per hex scale. There is more to the map, it’s been cropped to show the main operational areas. It was designed from scratch, one hex at a time. The red box highlights Sicily which is shown in greater detail on the right, below. Total operational area spans over 400 x 400 hexes – 160,000 hexes where “World in Flames” spans 300 x 300, or 90,000 hexes. Printed, the map would be over 12 square feet.

bigmap2 Sicily

The game includes approximately 3,000 Axis and nearly 5,000 Allied units from all of the countries that participated in World War II’s European Theater. Units are predominantly division level, but also includes corps level units of the Soviet Union, brigades, regiments, air groups, naval squadrons, merchant convoys, and the like. All units include a composite of their historical “tables of organization and equipment” (TO&E’s) down to the individual squad, vehicle and heavy weapon with historical production rates of each.

It is worth pointing out that ALL of this information was acquired through sources available on the Internet.

UnitDetailThis is of special interest in consideration that virtually all of the wargames up through the late 1990’s tended to represent units in a very abstract fashion. An infantry division might be represented as a simple “3-3″ applying to a movement, attack and defense strength of “3”. In those games, an infantry division was either at full strength or it was destroyed. In this game, the detail is greater by two orders of magnitude (literally) – as a unit will take casualties and receive replacements on a line item basis.

The last major component to designing this game or scenario, involved defining “events” – declarations of war, when countries surrender, exceptional weather conditions, effects of strategic warfare, etc. Originally, only 500 instructions could be defined. This was increased to 1,000 and now indications are that up to 10,000 instructions can be defined. About 3,500 lines have been used in this project. The instructions do not involve a programming language per se, but a detailed set of what equates to IF/THEN statements.

The Target Audience? This is the kind of game that only appeals to hardcore wargamers, some historians and academics. It plays out over 300 Turns — where each Turn is likely to average a full 90 minutes. The full game is expected to involve about 500 HOURS of play – likely over about 2 years for the average player through play by email.

This is not the largest wargame, but it should easily find its place in the Top 5 ever produced. Another team of developers is working on a project spanning the Eastern Front of World War II on a Regimental Scale.

The main factor though, is that I didn’t design this game with the intention of commercially distributing it, so much as I wanted to make the game “I always wanted to play” – and that other hardcore wargamers have expressed an interest in.

The Original Intention was to include the entirety of World War II, to include Burma, China and the Pacific Theaters. It became clear, however, that would involve an excessive investment of time and resources. As it stands, this project is the culmination of about 4,000 hours of research, development and testing. That can be pursued as an expansion at a later date.

Design Note: This is a consideration that many developers are likely to run into at some point. Your idea for a project may be overly ambitious – you might want to present everything all at once, but is that necessarily wise? What if, when some popular MMO’s came out they released everything at once? Well, in the case of World of Warcraft, as just one example, that would have precluded sales on several expansions — the original level cap was at 40, then went to 60, 70, 80, 85 and 90. I stopped tracking WOW after 90.

Similar considerations apply in all areas of app development, business development and even funding. Aim to do what you know you can achieve – and gradually build on it.

What makes it unique? Sheer size, detail, complexity coupled with ease of play, with a sandbox component allowing for about 40 historical variations.

There are numerous games which model World War II in Europe at larger scales — Corps or Army level and 25, 50 or 100 kilometers per hex. Many games tend to focus on one theater of operations – the Eastern Front, the Western Front, the Mediterranean. The level of complexity becomes far greater when “everything” is represented.

Making Complex Things Simple. This is the main task of a designer. Before the computer, players had rule sets and they had to calculate everything in the game according to those rules. That can take huge amounts of time. Figure an “encounter” in Diablo might take seconds to resolve – the same battle using pen and paper play could take hours.

Most players don’t want to spend time on tutorials or instructions. If you don’t believe, watch the Help Chat Channel on any MMO out there. But the same extends to other types of games. People want to pick up a game and intuitively understand what they need to do to play – learning details as they go.

Simplify, simplify and simplify some more. If you can keep the vast majority of the game play easy for the player, they won’t mind one or two components that are somewhat more complex. This is also important for playtesting. If you have lots of situations that require multivariate testing, your test time increases dramatically. Sticking to A or B, and sometimes C, is a lot easier to test.

End User Generated Content. I’ve noted on several occasions that there is a growing trend by game developers to want to actively tap into the unbound design potential of their end users — i.e. customers. I know of numerous people who design simply because they enjoy it, but there are limitations to that. Some excellent designers stopped designing because they were provided no incentive to do so.

If I had applied the 4,000 hours I’ve spent on this project on anything else, I could buy a house. I enjoy the game THAT MUCH. While that’s what I am willing to do “for free”, I can’t imagine committing another 2,000 hours expanding the project for a simple “fuzzy-feel-good feeling”.

If you go the route of accepting end-user content, provide some incentives. A little bit goes a long way.

There is more to design than just being able to monetize it. Getting published is an achievement unto itself. It is not always possible to monetize everything, but that does not preclude you from using it as a “foot in the door” for other projects; use it as the basis for networking; or as a “loss leader” for something similar that you do intend to market.

What I have to say about this project is that it has been hugely educational. It spawned lots of very interesting and bizarre questions.

  • Why was Baku the primary objective of the Axis in Case Blue? How much oil was there? Could Germany have made use of it if they got there? — What octane levels were used to fuel WWII vehicles? What was the drill depth for reaching oil? How difficult is it to refine Oil?
  • How many ships were sunk by u-boats? How much could one ship carry? How many ships were there? How long did it take them to transit from North America to Europe? What protection did they have? etc.
  • Russia move a lot of their factories from Western Russia to the Urals — so how many freight cars does it take to move a factory? How many cars did they have? If a factory was lost, what was the impact? How much did movement of a factory impact production?

That’s the short list — and I have to reiterate again that ALL of this information is available online. The amount of detail available for just about anything is enough to formulate the basis for “simple equations” that you can model fairly easily.

Perfectionism. A lot of projects are started but never get finished because of the tendency of some developers to be perfectionists. My game is not perfect, but it is finished. I would like for it to be perfect, but that would require a lifetime. The whole intention of making it was to be able to play it, in this lifetime. Be pragmatic.

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Picking up from Monday, the practical fact for game designers is that there is a vast history of ideas and designs to draw upon.  With Wargames, every era of warfare is amply covered and span easy to play games to games with over 600 pages of rules.  These are all ideas and components that you can use when creating your games.

Panzer_GeneralPanzer General, produced by SSI in 1994, can be regarded as one of, possible THE most successful computer wargame to date.  It went on to spawn Allied General, Fantasy General, Star General, Panzer General II, and more.  It was easy to play, intuitive, had a decent “computer opponent” – suited perfectly for the mass market.   Twenty years later, it still has a loyal fan base along with a number of Open Source projects of a similar nature.  Slitherine’s Panzer Corps has been touted as the spiritual successor of Panzer General, adding enhancements from later versions, better graphics, and has been made available for the iPad.

Dozens of other games deserve mention like Campaign Series with East Front, Decisive Battles, Gary Grigsby’s War in the East, etc.  There are the various Real Time Simulators such as Dune II, Command and Conquer, Age of Empires with Hearts of Iron 1-3 and Europa Universalis (among others) as hybrids of a sort.  Add to this the First Person Shooters like Castle Wolfenstein, Doom, Medal of Honor, World of Tanks, etc.  Add tactical operations games like X-Com, Jagged Alliance, the Tom Clancy series, and others.  There are games for every scale – from the individual soldier up to all of the units in an entire war.

This is a quick fast forward of almost two decades of computer wargames leading us into the era of mobile wargames.  Not all of the PC-based wargames created are made to fit mobile.   Screen size is a major obstacle to overcome.  One day screen-size will be solved – and our definitions of Mobile vs. PC will change dramatically as a consequence.

AmericasArmyRealism is increasing – from near real-life graphics to modeling physics, better modeling of weapons, better handling of command and control, line of sight, supply and logistical components.   The difference between “war games” and “real war” is decreasing steadily in every regard except lethality.

The United States Army created its own game, America’s Army, as a recruiting and training tool.  From discussions I’ve had with others in both civilian and military education programs on LinkedIn, there is an interest for apps/games/utilities that can be useful for military training, instruction, decision-making tools, etc.  Military, military academies, potentially even paintball and laser tag parks represent another market beyond regular gamers.

Wargame Design Tips for Mobile:

  1. Computer Opponent – Call it the AI or an “programmed opponent”, a poor computer opponent is most often the #1 reason why people stop playing what is otherwise a great game.  “Empire of the Fading Suns” is one case in point, well ahead of its time in concept, complexity and sandbox-ness, this true futuristic, strategic space-land wargame had all of the design elements of the day to make it “totally awesome”.  The computer opponent was practically a pacifist and games would play out for potentially hundreds of turns making play by email impractical.  That’s by no means the only game with a bad AI, it just goes to show how perfect a game could be, but fail on this one thing… and be a total disappointment.  The more time you spend developing a solid AI, the more you and your players will be rewarded.
  2. Simplify the Interface.   Some wargames are notorious for having too many buttons to try to account for the whole “rule set”.  Simplify, simply and simplify some more.  The common denominator for almost all wargames involve movement and attacking – that’s likely to be the majority of the game play.  By keeping that very easy, you can introduce additional complexity in other portions of the game – where players can select their load out, production orders, upgrade paths, and other options.
  3. World_of_TanksBreak-up the Monotony.   Almost every wargame leads to a measure of monotony… move and attack, move and shoot some more.   Periodically, but with fair frequency, you want to let players make more important decisions – as noted above, with load outs, production orders, upgrades.  MMORPG’s and World of Tanks do a really good job of this.   It can apply to any game scale – FPS, Tactical, Operational or Strategic.  By breaking up monotony, you increase replay value.
  4. Lots of Equipment Upgrades.  Again, MMO’s have this down as an art and science – with upgrades coming from a variety of different sources — warbooty directly from the battlefield, crafting, special rewards from factions, items that can only be purchased, hybrid crafting from the likes of Star Wars the Old Republic, Diablo, Path of Exile, Torchlight, etc.   The idea is for there to always be something “better” – even if it situation specific.
  5. Economy.    Perhaps the hardest to implement and properly balance – there needs to be a limit, and a few special ways of being able to exceed the limit.  However you define it — by points, by number of units, by command ratings, or even by supply, players should never feel as if they have unlimited resources.   Emphasis is placed on the particular combination of resources, a matter of quality, quantity and specialized functions.  Keeping the feeling of “always wanting, but not necessarily really needing more”  alive in your game is critical to keeping it a challenge.

These are all relative to your game concept.  People stopped playing Space Invaders a few years ago because of the monotony.  Other games offered less monotony.

If you can achieve these five things, I’d really like to see it and I imagine many other players would, too.  This is not all specific to wargames, functionally the same extends equally to Monopoly or Mario Brothers, Angry Birds and many, many other games.   The aim is to look at what makes all of the games that we really like, “FUN”.

On Friday, I’ll present the mammoth World War II Project that I’ve been working on for the past seven years that is now in its final stages of playtesting.

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This article falls in line with the Top Ten Mobile App Revenue Models as yet another way developers might explore better monetizing their mobile apps.   When big movie companies come out with big movies, sometimes they produce games to go with them.  Sometimes, authors produce books that are made into movies, that also get made into games.  Frequently enough, large development studios contract to smaller studios to actually make those games.   The first intention is to draw attention to this process as an avenue worth exploring – but also to make this approach easier for solo developers and small teams making mobile apps.

When you are developing for movie studios and authors with books in the Times Top Ten Best Sellers, you have gone Big League.  Usually, that is reserved for Big League developers who have already produced killers apps and awesome games – who already have top talent, considerable capital and solid lines of credit.    Just because you don’t have these things does not mean you cannot move in this direction, starting with the authors and film makers who are in the same boat as you.

Many authors and film makers may not be thinking in terms of having a “game” that goes with and helps to promote their book or movie.   This requires doing some research and investigation of your own, comparing the themes of these movies to what you are able to design.   You would also be looking for authors and film makers who are already showing signs of being a rising star.  If they already have a book or short film, that can help you assess just how many people you might reach on a collaborative project.

Negotiating the terms of any collaborative effort is important and may involve bringing in a lawyer or at least talking with others who have engaged in similar projects.    The higher the profile of the author and their books, the more likely you will either need to purchase a licensing fee to use their content as the basis for your game, or extend a share of the profits you make with your game.

However, with authors and film makers just starting out, the whole objective may simply focus on publicity.  That’s the sweet spot to aim for.  Functionally, the more you are able to show that your apps are able to contribute to the success of a book or movie, the easier it will be for you to get favorable terms on future higher profile projects.  Start small and build up.

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There’s another trend starting to take hold in online games.   Where mobile game development is concerned, you can’t keep your eyes solely on mobile.   The same extends to mobile business development, too.   This is another discussion underlining that as a developer, you have more resources available than meets the eye.

First, I’d like to point to some relatively recent or otherwise noteworthy “game changers” in the world of online gaming.

  • Planet Arkadia recently made news announcing the first virtual-reality, $1 million real cash property investment;
  • Everquest Next offers a means whereby players can sell their in-game creations for real money;
  • Neverwinter Nights Online’s Foundry System enables players to add their own content to the game and earn in-game currency.

Many other games have helped pioneer the possibilities of end-user generated content (like Secondlife) or enabling players to make real money from their gaming. more

For all of the talk about global mobile, it is appropriate to look at considerations for working abroad.  There are lots of jobs out there.  Often enough, they are not local to you.    Are you up to the challenge?   How do you get a foreign job?  What are the pros and cons?

A Challenge for Families.  If you have a family or are deeply attached to your family, working abroad will be very hard for you and your family, too.   Working abroad can be an excellent opportunity for the young and unmarried.   Under the right circumstances, if you can bring your family along (wife/husband and children), it can also be a wonderful experience for everyone.

Language can be (but is not always) a major hurdle to cross.    If your place of work conducts business in your language, it may not be an issue – depends upon the job description and responsibilities.  If you are already fluent in two or more languages, you are in great shape.   Otherwise, unless you are very creative or can afford a full time interpreter, your opportunities will be much more limited.  Even so, that does not exclude possibilities – it just makes them harder to find, or create.

Visas, Immigration and Work Permits - can be massive hurdles, but here you need to do your research.  It is all on a per country basis – relative to your country and citizenship.   The best way to go about this is to develop a short list of the places you would want to go based upon the places you can go with little to no restriction.  Typically, any employer will be able to help you with a work permit.   Check with your embassy and follow-up with  embassies of the countries that make your short list.

Research - Overall, your research will have the greatest impact on what you decide to do and where you decide to go.  You will want to evaluate your destination based upon its standards of living, costs of living, purchasing power parity, access to essential services, political-social-economic stability, crime levels, tolerance for foreigners, climate, and whether there are other expatriates from your country living there.  You also must assess your tolerance for risk along with your own tendencies for self-reliance and ingenuity.

A study of purchasing power parity also goes a long way.   For someone living in Ukraine making, for example, $15-18k per year (well above the national average), to hear that the same job in the United States pays $28 -30k a year — makes it sound, on a surface level, that one should move to the United States.  While a lot of variables are involved, that $15-18k per year in Ukraine can be (and probably is) worth more than that $30k in the United States.

Get Specific – When looking to move to a different country, each region, each city and even county or district can vary quite substantially across any number of factors.  You might consider employment laws on a state by state basis, minimum wage laws, prices of gasoline, etc.  All of these factors and many more should be included in your evaluations and decisions.

Taxes – Not only can wages and cost of living vary from one city to the next, but so can taxes.   As somewhat of an extreme example, if you decided to live in southern Maine and work in Boston Massachusetts (a 1 hour drive), you would pay a state income tax in both states, in addition to US federal taxes, social security, and sales taxes, and get hit by toll booths coming and going to work each day.  There are people who do just that.

Research whether your country provides tax exemption on your foreign earned income.   For Americans, the IRS provides a foreign earned income exemption that is almost twice the average US salary provided you stay outside the United States for more than 330 days during a 1 year period (reference IRS Form 2555).

Your Short List - My recommendation is to develop a short list of countries that you find attractive considering all of the factors above – the top 3 or 5 countries where you would most like to go based upon where you can go “easiest”.   But, if you can validate why another country that may have more stringent visa and work permit policies should be on that list, include it, too.

You can use this list to focus further research and particularly to try to talk to expats from your country living there to validate your research.  This is absolutely critical.  We’re not talking about people who have gone on vacation someplace, but who have lived there on a long-term basis.   You need to verify whether the “grass is actually greener on the other side of the fence” and not merely AstroTurf.

How do you get a foreign job?

Research.  Yes, again, more research.   Once you have a short list of prospective destination countries, it is much easier to home in on opportunities that fit what you have to offer.  This lets you do conventional job searches, connect with recruiters, and potentially identify specific companies that you should approach first.

You can approach companies even if they do not have job openings corresponding to what you have to offer.   If you can show key decision makers in a company that they can make money by hiring you – at least some of them will want to hear more.  Don’t expect all companies to welcome unsolicited applications.  Social networking coupled with introductions from respected professionals who can validate your capabilities will go a long way.

Consider the law of supply and demand on language.  Odds are you won’t get a job in a different country with different language/s based upon your ability in that language.  What you do offer is the ability for a company to do business in your language.   So, if you are willing to relocate – you are able to put a lot on the table, by virtue of language and mobile app development skill alone – localization, networking, web site development, and helping with marketing materials.  You can radically expand your own functionality if you don’t pigeonhole your abilities strictly to app development.

Pros & Cons to International Jobs

Listing just the main ones that come to mind:

The Pros

  • Potential for far better pay OR purchasing power
  • Excellent opportunities to learn new skills
  • All around learning experience – social and cultural, history and economics
  • Meeting people, expanding and diversifying long-term career and social relationships
  • Inherently increases your self-confidence and willingness to consider new adventures

The Cons

  • Away from family and friends
  • Always a slightly higher measure of risk simply for being a non-native environment
  • Having to navigate bureaucracy and red-tape on visas and work permits
  • Fewer social-entertainment venues in your native language

Concluding Notes

While it is possible to go on at length, I believe this covers most of the important stuff.   Resumes, cover letters, interviews and the like are individual topics unto themselves.  Moving from one country to another should not be a quick decision or based upon hearsay… and definitely not based upon what you see on television.

In my own case, though from Tacoma, Washington, I lived throughout the United States – South Carolina, Texas, New Hampshire, and Kentucky.   I provided logistical support in Iraq for 16 months from 2004-2005 and came to see the world in a completely and totally different light.   My personal circumstances were such that I decided to use my spare time there to decide, “If I could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?”

If  you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…

And no, I didn’t choose New York.  I chose Odessa.  No… not Texas.  Ukraine.

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