01 January 2012

Looking Back

Although King of Dragon Pass has been available for iOS for less than a year (it was released on 7 September), this is a convenient time to look back.

The KoDP box
The game began to take form in March 1996, or at least that’s the earliest document I could find (a proposal for the game). Full-time work began in January 1997, and the game finally shipped on 29 October 1999. We sold the game through hobby game distribution and through a web store. (We outsourced fulfillment, so we didn’t need to warehouse thousands of boxes.)

Thanks in part to strong sales in Finland, we made a second printing. Our records aren’t as clear as they might be, so I don’t know when we shipped the last box (probably 2006). I do know it was to Finland.

Since some of my earliest ideas for a saga-style game had been intended for the Apple Newton, I was excited when the iPhone SDK finally came out. But since I knew King of Dragon Pass was a big project, my first iPhone game was Jigami (which I’d originally created for Newton).

Preliminary UI design
In June 2009 I started sketching out user interface to see how practical it would be to fit the game on a 480 x 320 pixel screen (recall that the original was 640 x 480 pixels, and buttons need to be much larger for a touch interface). In November I was doing some prototyping.

Coding of the app began 29 Dec 2009. The development diary shows a 5 month gap with no progress. Partly this was because I took time to do a much shorter project (DiceBook), but also I think I must have been unsure how the game would be received. But the diary notes favorable reaction from people I showed the game to, so I resolved to finish it.

Once I was pretty confident that the game would work and I’d be able to do it, I went public (August 2010). That’s when this blog began.

Unlike the original, the iOS version was a part time project (and essentially just one person), and thus the time scale was stretched out. For example, the game first hit alpha (feature complete, but buggy) in April 2011, and beta (known bugs fixed) in May. But polish and fixing bugs (including ones uncovered by iOS 5) took until August.

We submitted the game, and it was approved on 1 September. We sent out the news, and released the game on 7 September. Depending on how you count, it had been over 15 years in the making!

And it’s not done yet. The iPad hadn’t been released when we began the iPhone version, but we’re in the middle of doing a Universal build to take advantage of its larger screen.

Taking a different approach to looking back, in four months we’ve sold about twice as many copies from the App Store as we did boxes (over maybe six years). The game isn’t a smash hit (although it’s hit the top of the Role Playing Game category in both Finland and Denmark), but it’s apparently in the top 10% in terms of revenue according to Owen Goss’s survey.

Version 1.0.4 ratings
Another way of looking at it: did people enjoy the game? AppViz reports that version 1.0.4 has received 5 stars from 111 of 119 people who rated that release.

I’m also very pleased that we were able to make the game accessible to blind players.

So that’s a look at the game so far. I may take another look back, in the form of a post mortem report (writing up lessons learned). But I’m also starting to think about what might come next (after the iPad UI is done).


  1. I've been playing the game for a few days now, and I'm obsessed. I absolutely adore it. I've been tinkering with the idea of writing my own narrative driven game for mobile devices, and reading over this blog has been adding fuel to that fire.

    Do you have a preferred route for me to send you some feedback on the interface? "Into the roundfile" is a perfectly understandable reply.

    The only thing keeping me from recommending the game to everyone I know is that they all have iPads and not iPhones. Once the Universal version is available, I assure you I'll be utterly obnoxious in my praise.

  2. Hey, John Harris, who learned of the game from Metafilter, here. This is the best RPG on iOS, with the possible exception of some roguelike ports. It is seriously awesome.

  3. If you want some ideas as to what to add....

    Maybe a visualization of your tula, like seems to be in the PC version? Maybe a Saga export-to-text function? More start randomization (it seems that you already start in the same location on the map, and tend to feature the same general types of other clans each game -- having more types to randomly select from might be nice for extending replayability still more). And of course more events would be awesome....

    But the thing is that King of Dragon Pass feels complete in a way that few RPGs could ever hope to achieve. It's just a really excellent game. I don't feel like I understand it well enough to offer substantive feedback other than "more more more." It is awesome, and you and Stafford should be proud of it -- it might be the best realization of Glorantha yet.

  4. Erik, let us know about that game! I'd love to see more like King of Dragon Pass.

    Our bugz@ address is best for feedback (if you can split each suggestion into its own message it's best, since they get implemented separately).

    And of course, Universal is in progress.

    John, you can already export the Saga (by emailing it to yourself).

    The next release will have another event.

  5. Really interesting retrospective and great job on the game! I've been absolutely addicted to this game since November - possibly even enjoying it more than Skyrim. I was so pleased to see a female worshipper of Eurmal for the first time the other day - lovely to still be discovering new things.

    Very much looking forward to the Universal update and whatever will come next! :)

  6. I'm tinkering with some ideas. The key will be to find an actual game to match my story ideas onto. Comparing KoDP to Echo Bazaar has been very helpful.

    I'm writing up my feedback now - hope it's helpful instead of nitpicky.

  7. Before I discovered that I could restore saved games via Saga screen, the game was far more difficult. Yet at the same time, dealing with the consequences of failed raids, botched heroquests, prolongued droughts and vanished exploration parties (instead of savescumming) was a more interesting, if frustrating, experience.

    Suggestion: Turn it into a feature. Create a "Hardcore Mode" checkbox at the starting clan screen that will disable the option to restore the game (or perhaps only allow it once the game ends).

  8. I certainly enjoy(ed) the game - the unique storytelling aspect of the "village sim" game had me hooked from the start. Running the game without a CD drive is a bit tricky but I finally figured it out - and I have an iPod so it isn't all bad.

    So yeah - thanks a bunch for developing and re-launching the game for mobile devices. I look forward to the day when I can play it on my Android.

  9. "I’m also starting to think about what might come next"

    I bought the boxed pc version way back when and I've never uninstalled it, although a few failing hard drives along the way have necessitated that I keep track of my disc. I don't own an Apple product so haven't bought the new version.

    I would include KoDP in a list of my top 5 favourite games ever and would gladly pay 50 bucks for a full sequel or something similar on PC.

  10. Same here, a sequel or a spiritual successor would be amazing. Why not use Kickstarter ?

  11. Well, let's say it cost $100K (I'm making that up, but it wouldn't be cheap) and so we have 10000 people who prepaid $10. How do they get their copy in the App Store? We have to send out 10000 gifts? Except then we need to have $100K upon release (and only get $70Kk of that back from Apple).

    1. I think SB's comment was a reply to my previous about a new PC game.

      I have no idea whether Kickstarter would make business sense for you all but I'd donate if such a thing were to happen, even if I knew some portion of the money were going towards cross-platform development that I'd never see the benefit from.