Mobile studio Madfinger is rather popular, thanks to its Shadowgun and Dead Trigger franchises. But when the company found that many of its fan were planning to try out the upcoming microconsoles, the Madfinger team was happy to jump on board and supply Shadowgun on a new set of platforms.
“I would say it was relatively simple, since our games are made in the Unity engine, which takes most of the porting effort off of our shoulders,” programmer Petr Matousek tells me of the studio’s Ouya and GameStick porting efforts.
Switching from touch-controls to gamepad controls is the first big task, he notes, followed by the various platform-dependent plugins that you’ll need to integrate. In particular, Matousek says that the microconsole companies aren’t too keen to carry the advertising services that Madfinger utilizes.
“The last thing is to optimize your game for performance, since not every microconsole is [fast and efficient],” he says. “In the case of the Shadowgun port, we mostly struggled with gamepad controller and performance issues. The game contains almost no third-party plugins so this burden was fortunately lifted off our backs.”
When it comes to the microconsole APIs, the Madfinger team was happy with the service they were provided, especially when it came to receiving support from the people behind the consoles.
“It wasn't necessary to do anything with their APIs except integrate in-app purchases for Ouya, since it's their policy to let players download a demo version of any game from their store to try it, and then to either buy it or leave it after playing it for some time,” Matousek says. “For developers this means that you have to integrate Ouya in-app purchase APIs, which is cleanly designed, so it's not much effort.”
Unfortunately, when it comes to protecting your game from cracks and pirates, the developer says that there is no simple answer. “It's almost impossible to make it pirate-proof,” he notes. “In order to sleep more easily, I think the best answer is either not to worry about it too much since most people will just buy it if they like it, or make the game free to play.”
“If you don't like easy sleeping, the best answer is to hack sleeplessly to create a bullet-proof protection and then do that again when your perfect protection gets hacked, and then again… but I prefer to sleep easily,” he laughs. Piracy isn’t really a joke to Madfinger though, especially where Android is concerned.
The Madfinger team also had some problems with the gamepad support, thanks to a Unity-related issue. Shadowgun has built using Unity 3.5, but an upgrade to version 4.0 was required to get gamepad support working. This transition was not very smooth at all.
There were also performance issues on GameStick. “Shadowgun is a bit of a performance-demanding game, and with GameStick we had some problems to make it running smoothly and had to optimize many game levels to reach a good playability,” Matousek says. “GameStick is designed to be a very tiny and low power-consuming device which allows you to carry it anywhere you want, but it also makes it a bit harder for games like Shadowgun to be ported, since the performance is not high enough to allow for fancy graphics and effects.”
Madfinger is currently developing Dead Trigger 2 but mobile, but the team says that once the sequel is finished, the team plans to make some time to port some of its other games over to microconsoles.
Giuseppe Landolina and his team have been porting their mobile game The Other Brothers to both Ouya and GameStick, and have been having a relatively easy job of it.
"Ouya and Gamestick are new, and relatively easy to develop for if you're familiar with Android," Landolina tells me. "People kept asking us for Ouya and Gamestick versions and in the case of Ouya, Bob [Mills at Ouya] reached out to us and really wanted it on the platform."
GameStick was even easier for the team, as Simian Squared actually lives in the same area as the GameStick team. They were able to meet up with GameStick, get a feel for how passionate they are about the project, and then get stuck in with the porting job.
"It's been relatively straightforward," Landolina notes of the port to microconsole. "There are always problems porting and these problems are usually down to how well it's documented, early adopter bugs and the controllers. When you port to a console (or design for a console), you need to adhere to strict controller and UI guidelines. Everything has to feel right."
While Landolina says that the Ouya doesn't have any real guidelines when it comes to porting, he notes that GameStick has "a very high quality QA process."
"They basically sat down with us and worked through how the game would feel on the Gamestick, as well as offering a lot of feedback from their internal test team," he says. "There are guidelines like you'd expect from bigger consoles, and it left a positive impression on us. So there's a difference between Ouya and Gamestick, both have their advantages."
"Hardware-wise, these are essentially souped up mobile phones which really don't cost more than a crazy night out, so you can't expect next gen graphics," Landolina continues. "But what you can expect is a lot of developers doing inventive things given the low barrier to entry, and freedom to experiment without worry as to whether it's what publishers want."
Porting the game to microconsole was actually just a lot of fun, he tells me. Sitting down to test new two-player elements, and other game prototypes alongside, has been enjoyable.
"These microconsoles are about fun and experimentation, they encourage and promote it," he adds. "We think they're about bringing the weird indie stuff to a wider audience and that isn't a bad thing."
"We're always interested in emerging hardware, we feel that these devices are a way for indies or solo developers to reach out and get their feet wet in console style development without the expense or creative limitations, and that is fantastic.