A first look at Supercell’s tablet-only combat title Battle Buddies

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By Kathleen De Vere Comment

Supercell has taken the wraps off its new turn-based, strategic combat game Battle Buddies. The title is the Finnish developer’s first game made specifically for the iPad under its new tablet-first strategy.

In development since June 2011, the game uses an all-new line-drawing control scheme the company designed from the ground up to make players feel literally connected to the game, according to Greg Harper, Supercell’s general manager for North America.

“Battle Buddies is a really good example of designing specifically for a tablet because this is actually the third iteration of the UI,” explains Supercell’s CEO Ilkka Paanannen. “The first UI was sort of mouse-like — you tapped on the guy and tapped where you wanted him to go. We tested it on the focus group and it absolutely didn’t work out at all.”

The company then went on to test a virtual joystick and buttons control scheme, but it didn’t feel right or provide the experience they were looking for. After abandoning that track, Supercell came up with the game’s current control scheme, where the player draws a line directly on the screen to plan the path of a character.

Paanannen and Harper showed us an early version of Battle Buddies and gave a short, hands-off demo at GDC, walking us through one of the game’s encounters. Battle Buddies is a combat game where the player controls a team of five buddies, each with his own distinct personality and abilities. Players can customize the weapons and equipment each member of the team holds.

The game is in full 3D, but the default perspective for each map is top-down. The maps, are filled with destructible and indestructible obstacles such as walls and doors. While the player can see the entire level, they will only see enemy troops the members of his team would be able to see  based on their line of sight. Moving a team member through a door or a newly destroyed wall opens up new lines of sight, but also makes the player’s team open to attack from enemy troops doing the same thing.

According to Paanannen, this is why it was so important to get the line-drawing control scheme just right — the player can guide members of their team to any spot on the map, and the game is designed to reward strategic combat decisions. Each member of the team has a set amount of stamina, which limits the distance they can travel each turn and the game automatically guides characters around obstacles.

Once a character arrives at his destination, tapping him brings up a context sensitive menu of his options based on where he is on the map and what is around him. Being near a destructible wall brings up the option to blow it up, and being able to see an enemy allows players to attack.

The game will come with a single-player campaign, but Harper and Paanannen tell us they anticipate the meat of Battle Buddies will be player-vs-player combat and tournaments. Players will be able to have several matches running in parallel at the same time. Social features will include Twitter and Facebook integration as well as Game Center leaderboards and achievements. Players will also be able to borrow a team member from a friend’s squad if they’re trying to defeat a particularly tough opponent.

Battle Buddies is scheduled to be released on the iPad in Q2. It will support in-app purchases, although the final pricing scheme hasn’t been decided yet. Once the game is available, Inside Mobile Apps will have a full review of the game.

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