100 Trials for the iPhone: Review and developer interview

By Jack Ratcliffe,

We were lucky enough to be given the chance to play 100 Trials for the iPhone last week – a title attempting to be the Angry Birds of Rogue-like games. Afterwards, we sat down with the developers George Morgan and Wes Paugh to talk about what it’s like to be an indie developer in a post-PC world.

100 Trials

Before 100 Trials there was 100 Rogues – a game that clearly forms the base of the new title. While 100 Rogues was a deep, engrossing Rogue-like adventure game, it was the need for such immersion that could alienate players.

100 Trials is a much less daunting task – there are 100 Trials, each split into mini-dungeons with set tasks. Complete one and you’re given a score and the opportunity to progress onto the next set of hero-tests.

Action is turn-based, with you choosing to attack, move, heal or skip as you tactically evaluate your environment to complete the given task for that particularly dungeon. Usually, these tasks are escape, survive or kill all the bad guys. After the tutorial, all of these tasks require some degree of cognitive thinking, and keen tactics (such as using the robot’s explosive to hurt itself) come into play.

I’m ten missions in and find myself both frustrated and enthralled as progression ebbs and flows. It’s a case of wanting to hurl your iPhone across the room, before picking it back up and playing again. It’s almost a puzzle/adventure game really, as you know that each defeat is a failure of your ability to think ahead, rather than a gut-reaction or twitchy-fingers.

Each mission gives you a score, so there’s a reasonable reply value – especially to clear levels with the “Master” difficulty. Thankfully, you’re told when you’ve achieved this during the dungeon, so there’s no need to wait ‘til the end of your exploring to realise.

All-in, it’s an addictive proposition for those who like to think. It’s like chess, with ninjas and skeletons.

Interview

> When/Why did you start developing indie titles? Was it from a lack of decent Rogue-likes on the iPhone?

100 Rogues was green-lit in late 2009, and the team came together serendipitously through internet forums, RIT recruitment programs, and a break between projects at Fusion Reactions. At the time, the App market seemed like a promising business frontier, and the team had no shortage of great ideas for games. A roguelike was a perfect choice, we thought, since the games were usually short, but challenging, and simple enough to pick up and play to be appropriate for touchscreen mobile devices.

> Just how long did it take to put 100 Trials/100 Rogues together?  What was the most challenging bit?

Development of the 100 Rogues would last almost 18 months, and without a doubt the biggest challenge was deciding what features were absolutely needed. Roughly 4 months into development we all but restarted, having recognized some glaring misuse of technology and a better understanding of the project vision. Keeping the project scope small and its schedule constrained, but designing its software to give the game room to grow after release in line with such prominent roguelikes as Nethack, was a very tricky balancing act.  When the game finally did launch, it was in an ideal state to periodically introduce updates with relatively little effort.

> What kind of process do you go through to create a game like 100 Trials/100 Rogues? Is there a long, drawn-out concept stage – or do you just build the engine and add plots and enemies as you go?

Plot was probably the easiest step. “I suppose we have to have *some* kind of story*.”  ”How about ‘Go kill Satan’?” “Great. Moving on, then…”. When the time came to add cutscene illustration and character art, this basic element took on its own unique life, largely thanks to our artist’s stunning work, but this kept the game entirely focused on creating streamlined mechanics for challenging, balanced play.

While some of the obvious fundamentals like the random map generator were being programmed, our designer fleshed out the player classes on paper, coming up with ideas like ‘a sword this hits multiple enemies in a line’ or ‘a spell that makes monsters attack each other’. We took every effort to make the code driving those abilities generic, so that if an ability needed to be used by a different player class, or even a monster, it would be easy to repurpose.

For a very long time, monsters didn’t have more than sword strikes and fireballs as we focused on player abilities, but when gameplay testing took off during Beta it was very quick and easy to give monsters wacky abilities our designer came up with, like targeted rockets and teleporting, and change their behaviour pretty drastically. This was a huge contribution to the game’s identity, and made each level present great new challenges to the player.

> What pieces of advice would you give to budding iPhone game creators?

1. Leverage someone else’s technology. There are plenty of game engines for all platforms that will do a lot of the work from drawing and animating sprites to creating high score boards that will save you months and months, and let you spend your time making games. Cocos2d, Kobold2D, Unity and Corona are great packages with their own unique advantages.

2. Immerse yourself in the culture of game development. Find an IRC channel that has a lot of game developers ( if you use an engine like Cocos2d, there’s probably an IRC for the specific technology brimming with people willing to help ), and lurk there at all times. Ask whatever question you have, no matter how stupid. Help others with their problems as you learn.

3. Make a game this weekend. Once you’ve found a place to go for help, just get started and make something. Anything. It doesn’t matter if, by the end of the weekend, you’ve made only half of something awful. At that point have new ideas and skills by the time you’re done, and your next project won’t be bound to your mistakes. For someone getting started, that’s worth more than any number of years planning your dream game.

> Can you put me in the game? 

As luck would have it, we have an ENCOM quantum teleportation laser in the studio. You’re welcome to use it, but good luck dealing with the MCP.

In seriousness, the name of your blog does fall somewhat in-line with a feature we’ve been considering adding to 100 Rogues for some time. I will keep you posted if I can slip it in to the next update.

> Got any more ideas for games we should look out for?

About a year ago, the 100 Rogues’ creative and technical developers parted ways. I’ve kept up with updates to 100 Rogues and developed 100 Trials. The designer and artist have begun work on a new strategy game called ‘Auro: The Golden Prince’, which they are planning to release this year. Their facebook page is here: http://www.facebook.com/AuroTheGoldenPrince , where you can find info, concept screenshots and videos of their progress so far.

As for me, I will continue releasing 100 Rogues and 100 Trials updates. A proper sequel to 100 Rogues would be wonderful, and the last level of 100 Trials gives a pretty good preview of what I have planned for it.  Unfortunately, how soon I would be able to work on it is dependent on the success of the existing games.