Skulls of the Shogun – Developer Interview

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Windows Phone hasn’t had a lot of exclusive games, so when I saw that Skulls of the Shogun, a turn based strategy game, was coming out exclusively to windows phone I was very excited.  I was able to chat with two of the devs behind one of the biggest smart phone games of the upcoming Fall which is also Microsoft platform exclusive to boot.  Hope you enjoy.


I just wanted you to introduce to yourselves to start off.

Borut – I’m Borut Pfeifer and I’m the engineer, designer in the game.

Ben – He’s actually the lead programmer *laughs* I [Ben Vance] also do programming, designing and writing as well.

Since this is a phone site, what do you guys use for your daily phones?

Borut- I have a Windows Phone; an HD 7;

Ben – And I recently switched from an old iPhone to an Android Samsung Galaxy Nexus.  I was actually eyeing the new Nokia’s…ahh..that just came out, but I had to get…had to get a phone before they came out, what was that late March?  I couldn’t wait.

Borut:  I am thinking about upgrading to one of those now too.  Pretty good.

Yeah you have a first generation one.

Borut: Yeah

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Wanted to ask you about the development of your game.  I know that a lot of our readers are developers and would be interested.  I know that this game has been in gestation for a while…I remember reading previews almost two years ago.  How did the development of the game change over time?  Was it always an Xbox Live Arcade game?

Borut:  Yeah for the most part.  Jake Kazdal (3rd dev at Haunted Temple Studios) wanted an iPhone version and I messed around with Xcode for like a week and I was like I hate this **laugh**.  And I messed around with XNA for a little bit and a few other engines as well and it [XNA] was just super easy to use and do what we wanted to do and it didn’t get in our way so we talked about doing an Xbox Live version and at that point Microsoft hadn’t like announced the phone it was like maybe a year out.  We were kind of like “I bet you” *laugh*.  It was sort of in the back of our minds as a possibility; we also thought it might make it easier for us to be picked up on XBLA because the game would work on the phone.

M- So the programming for the game…you started in XNA, that’s where you started?

Ben- So just to build on that for us a big…productivity is important because we are a small team…we didn’t want to go across a bunch of platforms that would be new ports.  We wanted to focus on the game first and using XNA has turned out to be pretty good in that regard.  It wasn’t that difficult.

Matthew – It is very interesting to me that you are programming in XNA.  You also announced that it is also coming to Windows 8 and XNA doesn’t really exist in that Windows 8 environment (Metro-Style Apps and Games).  So how are you dealing with that?

Borut- Its been a bit harder.  We basically used Monogame which is the open source c# version of XNA.  There is an open source version of C# that’s called Mono and this is a c# open source of XNA and it doesn’t have all the features but it has a lot.  It will read the compiled XNA files and, so that was a big help.  It still took probably took a couple of months to get everything sort of up and running.

That’s interesting because it a lot of devs are having to deal with the fact that it looks like XNA is on its way out in the Windows world.

Borut – Its unfortunate in the sense that our experience with XNA on the phone was a very positive one because it was so, so…it didn’t take long to get it up and running.  It was like maybe a couple of days.  Up and running in that it was getting maybe 10 to 15 frames per second…you know a playable frame rate was maybe the rest of the week.  You know it took longer than that to really optimize for that but just getting it up and running and testing it out was really, really straightforward to achieve.

Ben – And that’s really going to change based off the game that you are building.  We were focusing on Xbox first so we were interested in big juicy graphics and making that work on the phone.

Borut – Yeah working on the phone version really took like a month or more of just optimization to get it working smooth..real smooth on the phone.

So you have Microsoft as your publisher for all current editions (Windows Phone, Xbox 360 and Windows 8) so I have to ask how it has been having Microsoft as your publisher?

Borut- You always here mixed reports from [devs]about how working with Microsoft is..  I think we have been fortunate…I mean the complaints that you hear about, we haven’t really experienced much of.  Our producers have always been very responsive and helpful.  And Microsoft always got the game, they never told us “Oh you got to do this dumb thing” and we heard others having that problem so it was really refreshing to not have that…to very much have them on the same page.  And the main difficulties have just been around the new technology you know Windows 8.

And anyone who has dealt with Windows 8 knows that it [dev platform]is very much still a work in progress, so how did you…did you find it a moving target at this point?

Borut – Uh no there is just a few of the bigger pieces remaining and we still have to integrate all the Xbox Live services[on Windows 8]so that’s the biggest chunk of work still remaining; we’re working on that now.

So it will be a live game for both the Xbox and WP and Windows 8?

Borut – Yep.  And that was one of the reasons we wanted to go with Windows 8, I mean we had considered making a Games for Windows Live version for Windows 7…and that was built on older technology and it doesn’t really work with XNA.  There really have been a lot of complains [with Games for Windows Live]and I definitely think they [Microsoft] listened to all those problems and tried to address them.  We are definitely excited for that [Live on Windows 8] and hope it takes off…obviously *laugh*.

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You are now tied to it pretty closely.

Borut – Yeah.

So just wanted to ask…Have you announced that it will have cross platform play or how the multiplayer will work with all those different platforms in the mix?

Borut – Yeah we still aren’t talking about it. *laugh*

Well I will watch out for that when it is announced.  I also, of course, want to ask about the game itself because that is the most important part.  I haven’t played it but there have been many previews and it seems to contain a lot of similar mechanics to games like Final Fantasy Tactics and Advanced Wars.  But how is your game different; using similar mechanics but your own spin?

Ben – I think the primary difference is how we are approaching it.  We are trying to take this turn-based genre and make it more impactful make it feel more like an arcade game…fast paced.  So many of the aesthetics you get in a turn based game…you are making careful decisions and there’s a lot of menus and there’s a lot of complexity..we are trying to strip that back.  So that we don’t sacrifice depth but you can make your decisions quickly and try things out, improvise, adapt to the situation.  And so there’s really hardly any menus at all and its very fast; just getting in there, start playing and attacking and people pick it up pretty quickly.

Borut – Yeah instead of sitting there and planning your decisions, you have to act and react.  It sort of rewards you, especially in the multiplayer, for not obsessing and really just getting into the action because I have to be just as concerned about what he is going to be doing next.  And so the matches really have a nice back and forth and it never really sets up it up [the game]so that one player is like totally dominating the other player.  I mean you can always mess up and then the balance goes the other way.  If you are looking for an opening, I mean there are physics in the game so you can get knocked off a ledges and if you leave your general near an edge he can die and then you lose…even if you are winning you can make a misstep so that keeps the matches very dramatic.

Yeah the problem with many of the turn based series, especially Final Fantasy [Tactics] is that they have gotten bogged down in turn mechanics and you end up sitting there waiting for the other player to get done with their turn.

Ben – One of the things that has been there actually for quite a while is that you are limited to moving five guys per turn.  And a lot of decisions like that one where made in the context of multiplayer…you’re right its not fun to wait around for another player to move around 20 units or whatever they are going to do.  So a lot of decisions where made in that context and it turns out that works for single player too.

Just from what I’ve seen I really like the great humor that the game seems to have.

Ben – Yeah the visual style was established first and we wanted to have…clearly there is some serious themes in the game but you look at it and you are like “This looks like fun,” you know.  So we tried to match the tone of the story and the style of the game so there are serious themes but its pretty light hearted in its treatment.  We try to keep it fun and goofy.


Skulls of the Shogun will launch on the Xbox 360, Windows Phone and Windows 8 with the launch of Windows 8.

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About Author

My name is Matthew and I work in Healthcare IT in Silver Spring, Maryland. Currently own a Samsung Focus, a Zune Hd and an Xbox 360 with Kinect.