The Banner Saga will be released for touchscreen tablets, including the iPad later this year, but as it turns out, the team at Stoic Games has been planning to bring the game to tablets since its inception. John Watson, co-founder and technical director at Stoic Games, talked with me about the process of bringing The Banner Saga to tablets, along with the always tricky question on how the game will be priced for the iPad, and more.
First, The Banner Saga began as a PC and Mac RPG. When the game was first developed, was the plan to extend its platforms to tablets or did that come later in the cycle?
We were thinking about tablet from the very beginning. In fact playing independent games like Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery was a huge inspiration to us. Our initial prototypes were actually running on my iPad 1. We prototyped many different movement & action interfaces for combat, and all those prototypes took place on my iPad as very simple apps. You can see a couple of screenshots here:
Although we eventually decided to focus on PC for our initial release, we designed all of our scenes, textures, and user interfaces at retina resolution for future iPads, in particular the current generation of iPad. Our user interfaces are all authored at 2048x1536.
What kind of things did the development team have to do to make The Banner Saga work for touchscreen-based tablets?
There are some screen size and resolution issues to resolve. On high density displays like the iPad, some of the user interfaces are simply too small and have to be increased in size. Also, with a mouse you can rely on the 'hover' state to indicate your potential selection, and allow the click of the mouse to commit the action. On a touchscreen it is often desirable to emulate the hover by requiring two touches instead of one, if the click is going to have potentially serious consequences in-game.
For people who may be unfamiliar with the game, can you give us a brief description of The Banner Saga?
The Banner Saga is an epic role-playing game inspired by Viking legend. Hand-painted landscapes portray a world eerily suspended in perpetual twilight. Cities and towns begin to crumble into chaos. Heroes abandon their hearths and homes to traverse the snowy countryside, gaining allies along the way to help battle a strange, new threat. Decisions have consequences; wise choices must be made when conversing with possible allies during intricately crafted dialogues. Turn-based strategy brings tactical challenge in hand-animated battle sequences. With visuals evocative of the golden age of animation, The Banner Saga brings skillfully crafted art, story and strategy to gamers waiting to re-experience classic adventures and tactics.
How difficult was it to port the game to run on tablets, some of which may not have the same kinds of hardware power found on a PC or Mac?
There were several technical issues to overcome. Since we launched initially on the PC, we were able to use quite a bit of memory in the game. For the tablets, there is a much lower memory capacity. We needed to spend some time reducing memory usage without affecting visual quality. As a programmer, this is a very satisfying exercise, because if you look hard enough, you can find some real waste that can be trimmed and removed. The result is a tighter program even for PC. Also, the tablets have substantially different performance profiles than PCs. Some things are faster, some things are slower. As a result, we need to spend a good deal of time tuning how the program executes its code on tablet.
Will the tablet version just offer the single player content or will it also include the multiplayer component as well?
The tablet release will offer the single player content that you see in the PC release. We are certainly interested in bringing a multiplayer version to tablet one day in the future.
We have seen prices of PC games ported to tablet go as high as $20. Will The Banner Saga also have a relatively high price point and if so how hard is it to price the game so that it will appeal to tablet users, who usually purchase games for only a few dollars, or even for free?
The Banner Saga is a large, full featured roleplaying game with quite a bit of content, and as such will be sold as a premium title. It can be difficult to decide on a price for tablet games, because on one hand you need to sell the game for a reasonable price that will support development, and on the other hand, many tablet users are interested in cheap or free entertainment. But the simple economics of premium game development is that you simply have to offer the game for a price sufficient to pay for the development of the game.
Will there be any additional content added for the tablet version of The Banner Saga?
The tablet version's content will be identical to that of the PC version, with the addition of a few features like Game Center integration and Cloud saving.
Finally, can you tell us what's next for Stoic Games?
Stoic is already hard at work on the next chapter in the series. Once we get the tablet versions out for everyone to enjoy, we will be focusing more on that.
Thanks, John, for taking the time to answer our questions! You can grab The Banner Saga for the Mac right now on Steam, and look for it on the iPad later this year!