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Five-Minute Interview with the Chiefs of Game Developers
—by Jade Dragon

Have you ever wondered about who the people are behind the games you love? What they look like? What they eat? Well, I came up with 5 questions for my five-minute interview with the leaders of popular game software companies. We will feature one Chief each week. And I've also got a photo of each Chief I've interviewed, so that you can see what they look like. As for what they eat, that's highly classified information.


 

The first time I played Pocket War, I missed my lunch break and my bathroom breaks. It was so addictive that you just can’t stop playing. Then I got to know Tully Edson, the mastermind behind the game. Maybe it’s because Pocket War is a such good game, maybe it’s because of Tully’s talent and dedication to the game development that Pocket War has developed a growing crowd of faithful followers who helped shape this turn-based strategy game into a multi-player title with massive numbers of war units, various landscapes and even add-on mods. We sat down with Tully of MetalShard to chat about the Pocket War 1.0 release.


Interview:
Jade Dragon: Tully, let's talk about what gave you the idea to make Pocket War? Are you a turn-based strategy game fan?

Tully Edson: I am a big fan of both turn based and real time strategy games. One of the very first computer games I played, was the original Empire. It was the old text based version where units were represented by letters and you used the cursor keys to select things because back then the computer didn't have a mouse. That is probably why I chose to recreate that game. From there, thanks to everyone's suggestions, the game has grown into much more.

Tully Edson of MetalShard

Jade Dragon: For a pre-1.0 release game, Pocket War was a more polished and feature-rich game than many other titles that are officially released. Can you tell us what were your 1.0 release criteria? What are some of the milestones in the Pocket War’s development?

Tully Edson: Pocket War has been a rather strange experiment. I was new to the whole game development world, so I needed to learn everything. I didn't know anything about distribution, customer support, etc. Those who know me know that I learn by doing, so I figured the best thing to do would be to build a simple game and release it. Then I could listen to what everyone had to say about it and make changes as needed. I figured I would call the game 1.0 when the amount of changes people asked for slowed down. The first version was completed in three months. I have been taking customer suggestions for a year and a half since then, and I would say that the game has improved substantially.

I have to say without Pocket Gamer's support and PDA Buyer's Guide's support I would not have made it. They both provided me with valuable resources for getting feedback from Pocket War users. Mike at Pocket Gamer supported my frequent updates and postings even when there was a big backlash about me doing so. If he had not done that, interest in Pocket War would have probably died out and the feedback would have stopped coming in. Tong at PDA Buyer's Guide provided me with the use of their message boards until I was able to bring my own online. Without that, I would not have been able to get feedback from my customers. Both of those things were instrumental in Pocket War becoming what it is today so I have to say thank you to both groups of People.

I would also have to give a huge round of thanks to my original beta team. They provided me with at least 50% of the changes that went into shaping the game. They also spent an enormous amount of time testing and playing crippled versions of the game.

Jade Dragon: You've not only achieved making a great game with high quality level in graphics, sound, replay value, etc., but you've done something very special in Pocket War. And that's the multi-player mode. Could you describe how the multi-player system works in Pocket War? How massive is the player base and how much growth can the game take?

Tully Edson: Multi-player in Pocket War is a strange beast. Pocket War is not real time. People tend to play it more like chess than like darts (a game of thought as opposed to skill.) Also, PDAs tend to be offline most of the time. With those things in mind Pocket War's multi-player was built. The way it works is you take a handful of turns and then submit those to the server. The server passes those turns on to the other players who do the same thing. You don't have to have to be connected all the time. If you are connected all the time, then Pocket War will tell you when everyone has gone and it is time to take you next turn. If you are not connected you can just check to see if it is your turn from time to time. In a few days we should have email notification coming online, so the server will send you email when it is time to take your next turn and then you can start up Pocket War take you turn and then go do other things.

All of the real work is done on the PDAs or PCs. The server just holds the communications until the next player is ready to take their turn. The server really doesn't do much so it can handle tons of users easily. It is also hard for me to say how many people are playing at any given moment since there isn't an "online" list.

Pocket War also supports head-to-head so you can pass a PDA back and forth or pass a save game back and forth via email. I personally like that type of multi-player more because you can yell at the other person while you play. We are also looking at adding IR support. You can kinda do it now by sending the save game back and forth via IR but I would like to see that better integrated into the game.

Jade Dragon: Let's talk about the mods. You have a couple of beta testers writing various mods and adding new elements like new units to the game. How easy is it for players to write their own mods in Pocket War? What advice can you give them?

Tully Edson: Mod making has expanded out past the beta testers now. There are average game players making their own changes to Pocket War, and we think that is great. The latest release comes with a unit maker program that you can use to make your own unique units. Even if you plan on building complex units, the unit maker is a good place to start because it is so fast and easy to use.

Pocket War has a built-in scripting engine based loosely on JavaScript. With it you can change almost anything in Pocket War. You can build your own units, make your own map types, build your own AIs, even change the way the entire game is played. If someone was thinking about doing a hardcore mod to Pocket War, I would suggest first looking over the script reference in the Pocket War online help. Reading through that and a book on JavaScript programming is probably the best place to start. After that you can look at a file called script.pak in the Pocket War installation. That file contains all the scripts that make Pocket War act like Pocket War. We left all the comments in and left it in a readable form so people writing complex mods could look over it and see how Pocket War does the things it does.

Finally, if you are trying to build a mod for Pocket War and get stuck, post your questions to the MetalShard forums. I watch over them and try and answer all the questions I can, and you will also find that most the other players are pretty friendly and happy to lend a hand as well.

We are also setting up a program for selling add-on packs to Pocket War. If anyone is interested in making mods to Pocket War, and then selling them through the MetalShard website, let us know. You can reach me at tedson@metalshard.com.

Jade Dragon: After 1.0 release, what is your vision for future Pocket War major releases?

Tully Edson: There will be a couple of small changes added to Pocket War (most of them I mentioned), plus we are working on a map editor. After that Pocket War is going to be placed on hold for a little while. The reason Pocket War will be placed on hold is there are two new titles in the works at MetalShard. One of them is another turn based strategy game, like Pocket War, but very different. Unlike Pocket War they will be released more like normal titles where we work on them until they are at a 1.0 stage and then we will have a limited beta. However, they will be like Pocket War in that after they are released we will continue to listen to our customers and update the games to make them better.

If anyone has more ideas for Pocket War keep posting them to the forums. Just because it is on hold for a little while doesn't mean it will be on hold forever. It is only a matter of time before Pocket War starts the long march to 2.0.

 

 

 

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