Exploding visuals on the go
Shadowgun by Madfinger Games
Published: July 27. 2011
Czech developer MADFINGER Games stretches the limits of mobile development
MADFINGER Games is not your average game developer. Based in Brno, Czech Republic, its staff comes from companies ranging from Illusion Softworks and 2K Czech to Pterodon and Plastic Reality, with several AAA games for PC and consoles under its collective belt. Its Samurai titles have proven to be big hits, spread across iOS and Android devices. "In 2009, when we started developing our first game, we did research and discovered that Unity was best option for us," says Marek Rabas, CEO and programmer at MADFINGER. "We were looking for a multi-platform engine with a fast renderer and powerful development tools."
The studio's latest title, SHADOWGUN, is its most ambitious to date. "After Samurai II: Vengance, we wanted created something different, and use our experience from Xbox360/PS3 development," says Rabas. "We thought that we could do something really great and push limits a little bit. Then Unity asked us to create something really cool using their engine." And that they did: The game, even in its unfinished form, more closely approximates a big budget console shooter than it does a "traditional" mobile title. "It's interesting how SHADOWGUN looks now - it really surpassed our initial goals," says Rabek. "The game is looking better and is bigger than we thought."
Half the Battle
Rabas says the process of getting the initial idea for SHADOWGUN up and running wasn't particularly difficult. "We did similar games in the past, and we have some experience; we know how to do a lot of stuff, so we don't spend so much time creating lots of gameplay features or assets," he says. "Thanks to Unity, we can concentrate only on building games, and not on the tools and the engine. I don't mean that it's easy to create the game - it's definitely more difficult and complex game then Samurai II. But we have some advantages."
> We want to give them game which will looks better than technology demos available on the markets now.
For the small studio, achieving "AAA" console game quality for mobile has been, in many ways, a matter of learning to embrace mobile hardware's idiosyncrasies and limitations. "When we developed games on Xbox360/PS3, we were whining about memory and GPU/CPU," says Rabek of the most common complaints in his team's former lives. "On the mobile devices, it's a lot worse, plus now you have device fragmentation to worry about." Of course, there's also the matter of supporting high resolutions on tablets, often with the same chipset on phones pushing a lower resolution.
Despite these hurdles, however, the team has succeeded in bringing its vision to life. "You have to find and accept hardware limits and not fight with them," says Rabek. "Hardware is what it is - you cannot change it, you can only find way how to use it in the best possible way."
The SHADOWGUN team, which began with five developers, has now doubled to 10. Ultimately, its goal has to give players the best looking game possible, with sophisticated AI, a deep storyline, free movement and a solid framerate - even on what Rabek calls "older" devices, like the iPhone 4G. "In other words, we want to give them game which will looks better than technology demos available on the markets now. And we're planning to add multiplayer." The game runs at an impressive 60fps on the iPad 2, and a crisp 30fps on the original iPad, iPhone 4, and 3GS. It incorporates a wide assortment of notable lighting effects, including muzzle flashes, god rays, lightmaps, caustics and character shadows.
MADFINGER choose Unity as its development environment in 2009, and started using Unity 3D 1.4 for its original iOS hit, Samurai: Way of the Warrior. "We like the component design, cross platforming," says Rabek. "It's probably the fastest engine available for mobile. They have really great support and active forums, and it's very suitable for rapid development for mobile and tables. We cannot spend a million dollars on game, so we have to work fast and smart - and Unity 3 is helping us do just that."
Gaming the System
When asked about the challenges of starting his own studio, Rabek says that the most difficult aspects for MADFINGER have been "hiring the right people, running the company, doing the business stuff, and taking care of marketing, support." When pressed, he says all of this can be overcome with a rather simple mantra. "Our main advice? We choose our way, and we are doing games that we want to play. We believe that if you are doing something with passion and love, people will appreciate it."
Q: Have there been any funny stories or "light bulb moments" during development that you could share?
A: There were a lot of funny stories, but we cannot reveal them to public. You know, we are nice guys, have families, kids, etc.
Q: What is your feeling about the games industry in 2011, particularly in regard to achieving console-quality titles on iOS and other mobile platforms?
A: We don't feel that we can comment on this. We feel more like developers than commentators or oracles. Maybe when we become bored by development, we will start commenting on trends and talk about the future...