Kixeye is about to launch a major update to its popular core strategy game War Commander: synchronous multiplayer combat. The feature’s called “Live Battles and Kixeye co-founder Dave Scott (right) recently sat down to talk to us about both what it took to achieve this feature as well, what it means for the game’s future and what else players can look forward to in the coming months.
The new Live Battles will allow players to respond instantly to attacks on their base, as well as make things more tense for those who go on the offensive and invade others home ground. Players who are being attacked will receive a notification from Facebook (if they’re logged into the site, this will pop up immediately) and Kixeye will also send them an email alert. The attacked player will then be able to log in to War Commander and direct their forces in real time and hopefully fend off the invaders.
Breaking out the C++
Scott tells us the new feature was a serious undertaking, requiring roughly four months of development. This is largely because the dev team had to rewrite a large portion of the game to make the mechanic possible. Normally, Facebook games are written in Flash with ActionScript 3, which Scott describes as “a terrible language.” Synchronous multiplayer, though, has to run on a server as well as on the client so a player can leave (or get disconnected) and still have the action carry on. In order to achieve that effect, the team wrote nearly every aspect in the game —including AI, projectiles and units— in C++, leveraging Adobe’s new Project Alchemy to do so. Aside from letting the synchronous multiplayer work, the C++ overhaul allows the game to run much more smoothly for the player, something that’s been reflected in user comments during the public test. “Everything is smoother,” Scott notes. “It gives us more resources to see how many explosions we can put on the screen.”
“It’s been a challenge with this update but the reason we keep doing it isn’t to try and improve monetization or retention,” he goes on to explain. “It’s because it’s the game we wanted to make. We’ll do stuff in the game for weeks of engineering time just because it looks cool.”
War Commander isn’t the first game of Kixeye’s to feature synchronous multiplayer gameplay. That honor goes to Battle Pirates. However, War Commander’s version is much beefier than its nautical counterpart, allowing players to control armies of 150 units on each side that also move much faster than forces in Battle Pirates.
One thing players won’t be able to look forward to is setting up their own private War Commander servers. Scott explains, “most MMOs out there give away the service software so people can set up their own servers. The server was distributed and the publisher didn’t have to worry about that. We can’t do that because we’re updating the game weekly. If we made players update the server that often, they would hate us.”
War Commander’s received regular updates with new features ever since it launched a year ago. Scott tells us the game was built on a modified version of Kixeye’s first strategy game, Backyard Monsters, and it launched without a number of features the developers wanted to include. “When we launched War Commander, we didn’t have a world map. You just had a list of people you could attack,” he says, noting the game had a good launch that was well-received by players. Adding a world map in the game’s first major update led to a “major lift in retention and monetization,” although Scott doesn’t give us specifics on that statement.
The updates have undoubtedly paid off for Kixeye, as War Commander still hasn’t seen a drop in its user base. Both monthly and daily active user numbers have been growing steadily since September 2011, but the game recently saw a huge surge in traffic due to increased promotion from Facebook in its App Center. The title currently has 630,000 DAU and 1.7 million MAU.
More big updates to come
Following the new Live Battles, War Commander’s next big update will include deeper unit customization. Players will find themselves with a wider range of defensive options (check out a screenshot of the seven defensive tower types below), as well as being able to customize their units. Scott says users will be able to combine equipment with units to create unique armies, two examples of which include suicide bombers who can ride motorcycles and mechs being kitted out with jetpacks in order to jump past obstacles or enemies. The customization, Scott says, “allows users to create a force where they can say, ‘this is my army.’ It allows me to customize my army to match my style of play and every battle is a totally new experience.”
Scott explains he wants to make War Commander provide a similar play experience to that of games like Defense of the Ancients, explaining how the advanced customization allows users to play in their own style even though they often use the same units. “In DOTA, you have different skilled players playing those heroes, as well as different skill trees,” he notes. “It’s always fresh. That’s what we’re trying to do in War Commander.”
Player alliances are also coming to the game. At the moment, player alliances exist, but in an informal way where users self-identify their affiliation via screennames and profile pictures. Scott says players will soon have the ability to officially create and join alliances in the future. All of the title’s different sectors will eventually be linked together, too, allowing the approximately 600,000 players to operate in the same game world.
War Commander’s presence is set to expand off Facebook, too, since the developer’s platform is gearing up to launch in a few weeks. When the portal goes live, both War Commander and Battle Pirates will be playable but it’s not been decided if Backyard Monsters will come to the platform. However, Backyard Monsters is getting close to its mobile launch, which was recently announced as a partnership with Mobage. The mobile version of Backyard Monsters will be playable on both iOS and Android, and Scott tells us if the game does well on mobile devices then Kixey will undoubtedly bring War Commander to them as well.
Finally, Kixeye is working on a new 3D engine that will run in Flash and allow its games smother operation on a wider array of computers. Scott tells us the engine leverages GPUs to render graphics instead of CPUs and will be used in the company’s upcoming 3D game. There are plans to implement the engine overnight in War Commander, but Scott admits it’ll be some time before this happens, saying “it could be a year away for all I know.”
Live Battles is already being tested by the public. Scott tells us this is the first time Kixeye’s done something like this, creating a clone of the live game and giving early access to a few hundred people. According to him, the reaction has been incredibly positive, gameplay is much smoother than before and the new multiplayer mode will go live sometime this week.