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Published on November 12th, 2009 | by AppTrawler


Preview: space trader/shooter Flatspace


Despite its reputation for bite-sized casual gaming fun, there’s also plenty of ambitious games on the App Store.

Indeed, there’s currently a small explosion when it comes to space-based games.

Multi-platform MMOG Outer Empires has just touched down on iPhone (alongside Facebook and browser versions), while Freeverse is working on its winter-scheduled Warpgate.

First into orbit, however, was Wisp Games’s Flatspace, an experience Damien McFerran said, ” transcends the usual limitations of short-burst iPhone gaming to deliver a captivating universe of possibilities,” in our Flatspace review.

We caught up with Wisp Games founder Bill Klein to find out more about how the game was developed and what future plans he has for it.

flatspace2Pocket Gamer: What’s the background of Wisp Games?

Bill Klein: I got into the games industry in 2003 when I founded a company called Extreme AI. We developed a couple of nice games for the Tapwave Zodiac, but didn’t get too far before we ran out of money. We closed shop in 2005.

I revived our gaming group early this year as a division of my own software company, Klein Computing. I was lucky enough to rehire my lead programmer from Extreme AI, and now we’re making a second go of it.

Why did you think it would be a good idea to bring an ambitious PC game like Flatspace to iPhone?

Back at Extreme AI, we were strong on programming talent but light on the art side. Our strategy was to find existing PC games that we thought would make good mobile games, and then port the games that we could get licences and source code for.

Our first port was a game called Firefly, written by Cornutopia. After learning more about Cornutopia, we set our sights on another of its games, Flatspace. We didn’t get a chance to do the game then, but came back to it when we started Wisp.

How much of the PC code could you re-use or was it a case of starting from scratch?

We reused a significant portion of the PC code for the iPhone port. Our goal is usually to minimise the changes necessary to do a port, and to localise the impact of any changes.

For Flatspace, we had a lot of work to do for audio and for the user interface and controls, but not much related to in-game graphics, game logic, or speed optimisation.

We found it very challenging to take a complex keyboard-driven control setup and make it work on a device with no keyboard and no mouse. We’re still working to tweak the control scheme and get it just right.

Why did you think this sort of large scale space game would appeal to the iPhone audience?

After really digging into the games available for iPhone, I was fairly surprised (and a little disappointed) at the general mini-game feel of most of them.

I had played much deeper games on older Palm OS devices and even the Tapwave Zodiac than what I saw on iPhone. We wanted to do a game that would deliver a bigger experience.

What were the most difficult things to get working on the iPhone and how far did you push the graphics?

Modifying the user interface to fit on the iPhone screen was difficult. Most of the Flatspace UI was designed for a larger, higher resolution PC screen. We didn’t want to spend the time/money to totally rework the UI setup, but we ended up spending a lot of time reorganising and moving around UI elements to fit on the iPhone.

We also had a hard time coming up with a simple, reasonable control setup that captured the myriad functions available in the PC game.

Graphics weren’t really an issue for us. Mark Sheeky from Cornutopia did a great job with the original graphics, and we were able to use his setup without major changes.

What about the most difficult gameplay features, and how much balancing work did you have to do in terms the economic system?

The economic system was built using an economic simulator and had been well balanced before we got our hands on it. We were careful not to change it any more than necessary.

We did make a few minor changes in an effort to speed the game up a bit and help people move through the early game faster.

What’s the reaction of players been, as you drop them into the deep end at the start of the game?

Our biggest frustration so far, which we are very aware is shared by many of our players, is that we haven’t been able to put together an in-game tutorial or instruction system.

Our current plan is to make a set of video tutorials available which explain the UI and control setup and give new players a better foundation. The video tutorials will be released as part of our first update (coming soon.)

For players that have taken the time to learn the game, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

How much did you think about pricing?

Pricing is a pretty tricky subject. We felt that the current price ($2.99/£1.79) was appropriate given the scope of the game and amount of playing time most players would get from it. I hope most of the people who have purchased the game think that it is a bargain.

What should we expect next from Wisp Games?

We’re already working on improvements to Flatspace, both in terms of in-game upgrades and in our support for our players. We expect to finish up our first update within a couple of weeks, which will include the video tutorials, an alternate control setup, and some additional options for custom games.

We’re also planning to release a free combat training version (essentially the arcade mode) as a standalone app, plus a new derivative arcade game for those wanting a more complete battle mode experience.

We’re also looking into versions of Flatspace for Android and possibly Palm Pre.

Thanks to Bill for his time.

Flatspace is available now priced $2.99, €2.39, £1.79. Hit the .Buy It!. button to go directly to the App Store.


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About the Author

Ian loves to write about everything he does. Whether he is playing video games, trying out new apps, running a successful business, or jumping out of a plane... he documents it!

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