Browser-based ‘Rail Nation’ Goes Mobile: Converting Popular Online Strategy Game into Multiplatform Mobile App
When Atari announced its Pong Indie Developer Challenge contest, Softeq’s spin-off zGames studio felt entering the competition was a great opportunity to push the gaming design envelope even further. Taking a hand in reinventing an iconic game that launched the video game industry was a real honor. Capturing attention and imagination of the gaming community, while landing a lucrative lump-sum of $100,000 as a top prize, was another major draw.
The contest posed serious challenges. zGames had to compete with 90+ participants, and, if selected the winner, it was to produce a full-featured title ready for release on App Store just within 3 months.
zGame’s phased approach to the contest made it a low barrier to entry. The team decided not to go too far in revamping the basic gameplay and keep the old Pong flair, just adding a few modern twists. In a few weeks’ time zGames submitted a 37-page Game Development Document (GDD) for a game called Pong World.
Based on the first contest evaluation results, the team was included among 20 semifinalists. Given this, zGames had roughly a month to create a playable demo of the game along with a short trailer.
After another 4 weeks of intensive work the team submitted the demo app, the updated GDD, and the trailer to Atari. The second evaluation round advanced zGames and Pong World to the lineup of seven finalists.
With another month ahead before reaching the finish line, zGames expanded the game from one to four levels, each with a unique look and level features, added and animated additional paddles, fleshed out the menu system, and tested and tweaked the gameplay.
Using Cocos2d as the platform, the team supported both iPhone and iPad, in multiple resolutions. The GDD was continuously updated to match what was learned in gameplay tests, and by the deadline zGames had a full-featured game to submit for final evaluation.
Finally the team’s enduring effort paid off, coming as the First Place Grand Prize in cash, a wide range of publicity along with respect and recognition from the gaming community.
Working against the strict contest deadlines, zGames focused on the key features to deliver the game in time.
The team had to quickly make decisions about game style, controls along with play modes, and optimize their efforts to get the results.
Profoundly experienced in Cocos2d games for iOS, the team embraced the contest requirement to develop the game only for the given platform, which accounted for half the effort of writing it in C++ for Cocos2d-x.
zGames took a classic approach to Pong, which was supposed to make it easier for users to quickly get the hang of the game. It also made the game easier to design.
A stable design for the demo prototype allowed zGames to meet the short and fast initial contest submission deadline. The team used a streamlined GDD with a reduced feature set for the demo, keeping it frozen.
Decoupling the UI code from the gameplay code and connecting them via a single small interface helped fast-track the project. As a result, the UI developer could completely concentrate on his part of code, with no one interfering. This resulted in higher code quality, less bugs, and a reduction in development time.
A specially created in-game Cheat HUD, enabled via a unique gesture, helped bring the re-compilation and re-release effort for each new feature added to a minimum. This also enabled the team to remove a lot of bugs by allowing simulating a lot of game situations that didn’t happen that easily.
In three months of dedicated development Pong World designed for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch went live on the App Store to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pong. Initial feedback about the game was very positive.
zGames continues to develop new gaming titles for iOS, Android, Facebook, browsers, desktop and consoles, using Unity3D and WebGL.