Cthulhu PC Debut on Ultrabooks, A Game Craft Journey

By Bob Duffy


We interview Tomas Rawlings of Red Wasp Design, developer of the H.P. Lovecraft inspired PC game “Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land” (available from Intel AppUp), about his inspiration for the game, any challenges he faced in porting to Ultrabook PC’s, and any recommendations he has for developers taking on similar challenges.  Here's what he has to say.

Section One: Inspiration

Bob: The title is more than telling, and appears to be from an H.P. Lovecraft classic, “Call of Cthulhu”. What inspired you to take on this material?

Tomas: I've been a fan of Lovecraft's fiction for a long, long time. I love the Call of Cthulhu RPG, and I've been wanting to make a turn-based game for a while too. Happily all 3 came together in this project!

Bob: I’ve only made it past the first level, is there a Cthulhu in the story?

Tomas: That would be telling. Cthulhu him(it?)self is a HUGE entity that on the scale of the game would dwarf the screen if we tried to depict him. However there are related entities that are key in the Call of Cthulhu RPG that you will meet and who will try to kill you. However we don't want to spoil the ending for players.

Bob: Why set this in the “Great War” ?

Tomas: We wanted a setting that has not been overused in games (WW2 has for example) and yet had plenty of historical resonance and recognition – not to mention cool weapons we could use. World War 1 achieved all that as a setting. Also there is a personal connection, we're approaching the 100th Anniversary of the start of the war (2014) and my great grandfather, Sid Brown, who I knew well, fought in that war, so I wanted to remember him in a form I work with, games. (read blog)

Bob: It has to be challenging to base a game on copyrighted material such as HP Lovecraft’s story. Do you have any advice for developers wanting to take on stories with licensed characters?

Tomas: I think it is key to understand why people love that story or its characters. For me in this project that is easy as I'm a fan of Lovecraft's fiction and the Call of Cthulhu RPG. But you still need to get into the essence of what you are working with. Lovecraft's fiction is about the realization that we are not alone, and the entities we share existence with don't really like us nor want to share this world with us. It's also about the gradual realization of how bleak and monstrous the wider universe is.
Section Two: Technical

Bob: What language is the application developed in?

Tomas: The whole project has been written in C++ using our own tech and tools to allow us to move easily between platforms, except we used FMOD as a sound manager.

Bob: Can you tell us more about your development process for a game like this, from to game concepts to final development?

Tomas: Initially we agree the broad concept; a turn-based strategy RPG. We chose this from a pile of concepts we'd put together. Once that was settled the real work began; were we going to do 2D or 3D? We picked 3D as 2D started to impose too many restrictions. Then you need to decide how it is going to look; is the game area realistic in scale (as we chose), or representational (like Advanced Wars). Then I worked on the design and the levels and characters. Stu (our artist) worked on some concept art then started to build all the 3D models. Mike started coding the 3D engine and it just grew from there. We're a small team and we've worked together lots before, which is a huge advantage for development.

Bob: How long did it take to create the iPad version, before porting to the PC?

Tomas: We didn't really create one version in isolation. It took about a year before the first version was out. However we were developing the engine and the art so that porting the game to other platforms was not going to mean a huge re-write each time.

Bob: How long did the port to PC take?

Tomas: For the PC port we re-authored the interface to be wide screen for laptops and modern monitors, this took a few days based on the iPad interface files. At the programming end we had to add some extra Windows code to deal with different resolutions, Windows 7 touch screen support and the location of saved game data. All in it took around two months including testing.

Bob: Did the development framework lend itself to porting the applications, and was the development framework (it) influenced by a desire to port the app?

Tomas: The game is pretty self-contained as a single player experience, so we knew what we were doing as we moved to AppUp.

Bob: What were key considerations in deciding to port the app to PC?

Tomas: Widescreen! PCs have much more screen space than iOS devices so we wanted to make sure we took advantage of that.

Bob: The graphics are crisp, with an HD quality, especially in titles scenes. Did you make or consider graphic changes for the app to show well on a PC / Ultrabook?

Tomas: Yes, we decided early on that we should rework the graphics so that they would fit and look their best on most PC's/laptops but without compromising the frame rate.

Bob: The game play is very natural, it’s very easy to control the turn based system. Were there any considerations on mouse / keyboard as input devices for the PC/Ultrabook version?

Tomas: Porting from the iPad version i.e. the touch screen, it seemed natural that we keep the interface and input controls very simple. We didn't want to use the keyboard just because it was there so we went for keeping all the controls on the mouse will help keep the user in control and not cause confusion over keyboard controls as well especially if they are new to the turn-based genre.

Bob: Have you considered touch for the PC as well?

Tomas: We've made the game work with Windows 7 Touchscreen machines, so you can use the touch screen to scroll and select units for information. The mouse is a good input device for strategy games and so it was easy to make this work well on PC. We also had to make sure that it worked equally well on touch pads as well as a mouse; which is where we've done lots of testing to ensure this.

Bob: The game is very responsive on my Ultrabook, nice frame rate etc. Did you do work or consider doing things to take advantage of the processing capabilities of Ultrabooks?

Tomas: The graphics system/AI and game logic were already well optimized for the other targeted platforms so we knew that the Intel chips would have no problems at all in running the game very quickly. We're looking at optimizing as a future update, especially on the PC platform allowing us to add extra visual effects.

Bob: Your press statement says this game will be available in multiple languages. Is that new work and was it significant?

Tomas: Yes - German, French, Italian and Spanish language versions. We have an international fan-base on our social media channels and the Call of Cthulhu RPG is translated into a number of languages, so we were always keen to do this. However it does require resources that we don't have in the office and so Intel's support here was invaluable though we organized the translations ourselves and pulled in a few favors.

Bob: Where there any unexpected challenges when porting the app to PC?

Tomas: All of us at Red Wasp cut our teeth on PC development back in the late 90's so we knew what to expect most of the time. The challenge is always making sure it runs on every system possible at a good frame rate.

Bob: Is the game threaded, to make use of multi-cores?

Tomas: The game currently isn't multi-threaded but as our technology and game requirements advance we will definitely be adding support for multi-cores and we're excited about it.

Bob: Threading for Building Blocks should certainly help you guys out there, and speaking of Intel tools, did you make use of any Intel tools, to compile and or optimize the performance of your game. i.e. Graphics Performance Analyzer?

Tomas: We used the AppUp SDK and debugger. The AppUp SDK was very easy to use!

Bob: Did you consider any other AppUp API for monetization?

Tomas: We're not currently doing extra content, but will use these when we do.

Bob: Do you see different monetization strategies for your games, per platform or is there one approach you take for a given title?

Tomas: We aim to make a great game that players will love and hope that does the rest! We know this is a gamer's game; it's not an Angry Birds, so we've been working hard to make sure our core audience of fellow gamers, geeks and Mythos fans know of us and what we're doing.

Bob: Tells us a bit about your approach to marketing and outreach with a game like this, seems I’m already hearing things on Twitter

Tomas: We started outreaching to people when development first started. I was already blogging about Cthulhu related stuff as a fan http://agreatbecoming.com/category/cthulhu-thursday/ so expanding this to talk about the game came naturally. We started building relationships with the relevant press right from the beginning too which continue to grow and their support has been invaluable.

Section Three: Closing Thoughts

Bob: What was it like working with Intel and the AppUp European team?

Tomas: They've been great. We've had lots of tech and marketing support and we've had no problems at all. We're keen to stay working with Intel and AppUp.

Bob: With this project being delivered to AppUp, would you do anything different next time?

Tomas: Every time you make a game you always look back at it and see plenty you'd change the next time around. One of the great things about digital delivery is we can (and have) iterated the game.

Bob: Any recommendations to developers on working with Intel and developing apps for Ultrabooks and AppUp?

Tomas: Do it (develop, I mean). The PC is a great gaming platform and Ultrabooks and AppUp are taking advantage of that; you should too!

People can follow the game's progress and find out much more about the game at our site: www.redwaspdesign.com or on twitter @redwaspdesign or on Facebook www.facebook.com/redwaspdesign
If you have additional thoughts and experiences please reach out to me on Twitter @bobduffy and or share them by responding in our comments section.
For more information on developing Ultrabook apps for distribution and monetization via Intel AppUp, visit our Ultrabook Community
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