Kixeye to launch synchronous “Live Battles” in War Commander this week

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.