15 September 2012


The rumors were correct, and there is now an additional screen size for iOS: 320 x 568 joins the original 320 x 480 iPhone and 768 x 1024 iPad*.

It’s unlikely that the game will directly support this layout. Sure, 88 more pixels would be nice, but King of Dragon Pass is a landscape game, and extra width isn’t as useful in most cases as extra height would be (most scrolling is vertical). The original art was at a 4 x 3 aspect ratio, and already doesn’t always nicely fit the 3 x 2 iPhone.

Also, unlike the situation on iPad (where until the 3rd generation, running at 2x had pixelly text), the game works as well as always. You just get 44 black pixels on each side, letterboxing. We don’t have an iPhone 5 yet but running in the Simulator, it looks fine. And you’ll even be able to use the full screen for keyboard input.

* Purists may note that the iPhone 5 has a 640 x 1136 pixel display. Technically this is true, but from a design standpoint, it works better to think of 320 x 568 pixels, with the possibility of fine detail.

09 September 2012

Universal Language

We spoke before on the price of King of Dragon Pass in the App Store. Unlike other online stores (like Steam or Amazon.com) there’s no way I know of to do A/B testing of price on the App Store (price reductions are noticed and retweeted before any PR we may choose to do, so they become publicity events in their own right). So I can’t empirically say that we chose the best price. It does seem like it wasn’t a horrible mistake. I think the basic message of “this is a valuable product” has come through, it has given us some flexibility for the occasional sale (ironically, even our sale price probably looks like a premium price given the state of the App Store), and there’s probably some benefit to the large number of App Store reviews saying things like
“Worth every penny!”
“Wow this game is fantastic, don't be discouraged by the price it's absolutely worth every penny.”
“Well worth the price.”
“Do not fear the price point. You will extract the value over and over.”
“It's worth every dollar.”
iPad was released while the game was still in development, but too late for us to take advantage of. Once we figured out a design that would work on iPad, it didn’t take any time at all to know that it would be a Universal version — one that runs on both iPhone and iPad. And that it would be the only version.

A Sharp is a development studio, and I wouldn’t say we have a lot of expertise in marketing. But here’s the rationale.

It’s obviously simpler for a developer to have only one version to maintain, but the code base would be essentially the same, so that wasn’t really a factor. More importantly, we knew that a lot of our players were using iPads. How would they feel if (like some games) we released a separate version they’d need to buy?
“Total different from those "money machine" games.”
“Wow thanks so much for the universal support on this app! It really says a lot about a developer who is willing to add universal support instead of forcing users to buy another separate app! Wonderful support!”
Just flip those comments around. Also, this would be an ongoing issue, as people bought the iPhone version but later bought iPads.

While we might be able to price separate iPhone and iPad versions differently and capture more of the market, we’d also be introducing more consumer confusion (which to buy? I might get an iPad for Christmas, I guess I should wait to see which version to get.) And if sales were divided between two versions, it’d be even less likely to appear in the App Store charts, which are one way to discover the game.

And, we had communicated that the game was a premium product. Premium products don’t annoy their owners. By trying to come up with clever ways to make more money, we’d undercut our own message, and likely end up making less. By staying true:
“What a great suprise! Most companies would have been more than happy to create a separate version to milk money from iphone owners who want to play on their iPad. This game rocks! Developer A Sharp rocks! Keep it up. You have a customer for life.”
So hopefully the Universal version not only is a better product, we’re using it to tell people it’s a quality product.

07 September 2012

Happy Birthday!

King of Dragon Pass first went on sale in the iOS App Store on 7 September 2011. So today is the first anniversary of its public appearance. Happy Birthday!

It’s older than a year, however. Today might be a good time to run through its history.

The earliest document we have seems to be a proposal for a Dragon Pass computer game, dated 19 March 1996. The oldest correspondence (to Greg Stafford) is dated 10 April 1996. I don’t recollect exactly when we started serious preproduction, but it was towards the end of 1996. Full time work probably began at the start of 1997.

Box artwork
We delivered the Gold Master CD to manufacturing on 12 October 1999. We began shipping on 29 October 1999. At some point, there was a second print run.

On 21 March 2000, the game won the award for Best Art in the second Independent Games Festival.

The last update to the Mac/Windows game (version 1.7) was on 8 October 2002.

In 2006, we signed a deal for online distribution of the game. We then attempted to deliver a game that the publisher could distribute. Sadly, we were not able to rebuild the game without introducing some significant bugs.

Early design work
The iPhone version began with some design work in 2009, to see if the game would work on the smaller screen. It looked like the user interface and game play were practical, so actual coding began on 23 December 2009. This was never a full-time project, so even though it was approximately 1/3 the work of the original version, it actually took about as long to complete.

On 1 September 2011, King of Dragon Pass 2.0 was approved for the App Store. We started sending out PR, and released it on 7 September.

Exploration on iPad
We continued to update the game to add features (VoiceOver support and new scenes) and fix bugs. Creating a Universal version that would natively support iPad as well as iPhone took a bit longer, and we just released that on 5 September 2012.

Meanwhile, GOG.com was able to patch the original title so that it could be downloaded (for Windows only). They released this build on 28 August 2012.

So that’s a brief timeline of the game. Happy Birthday, King of Dragon Pass, however old you are!

04 September 2012

King of Dragon Pass Grows Up

The game celebrates its first birthday on the iOS App Store this week, on 7 September. We thought it was time it grew up…

…from 480 x 320 pixels to 1024 x 768. After longer than we expected, King of Dragon Pass is now a Universal app, and fully supports iPad as well as iPhone and iPod touch. It took two additional UI artists, and we had to rework each of the 49 screens, but it was worth it. You use an iPad slightly differently than an iPhone or a computer (even a laptop), and it really feels like reading an interactive, illustrated book.

The game does support the Retina Display on both iPhone and iPad, though most artwork looks just fine at standard resolution so that’s what we used. And we didn’t want to add another 500 MB of art (an estimate how big the 436 event illustrations would be with 4 times as many pixels, for both iPad and iPhone screens).

So the iPad illustrations are the same resolution used in the original game (upscaling inevitably introduces distortion, even if it’s barely perceptible). This left enough room for a reasonably sized column of text. You can see both the art and the accompanying story at the same time, and in most interactive scenes, you don’t need to scroll. And there’s enough space that we can show the info that was hidden behind the graphic on iPhone, and add a Saga button. Again, this really seems like the perfect platform for this game. I can’t imagine playing it on my 30 inch display.

Since the iPad UI is different, we also had to make a new version of the tutorial (most notably because there’s a single Sacred Time screen on iPad), and the manual.

We know a lot of people have been waiting a long time for this version. And we didn’t want them to have to pay a second time. So we made the game a Universal build — it adapts to the device you’re playing on. And we made it an update, rather than a new title, so that it would be free to existing players.

The downside is that you need to download the assets for the device you don’t own. So to make sure there was something for iPhone owners, we added a new illustrated encounter. We also followed up on a suggestion to show deity icons in the lists of blessings, which help identify them. And there were the inevitable bug fixes.

Enjoy the update!

(And, since all reviews and ratings reset with a new version, consider going to the App Store and rating the game.)

02 September 2012

How Many Scenes?

A long-time player recently commented about how he had just gotten an interactive event he had never seen before. This is not as surprising as it sounds, even for a player who has had the game over a year, because many events are conditional, and the raw number is such that you won’t get each one every game. But I was curious about the exact odds.


The game calls interactive events “scenes,” which is biased towards the illustrated events. There are 1624 in total, but they aren’t all story events (scenes). They can be divided into:

code: A chunk of OSL script used to set state or conditionally trigger scenes. These have names like code_InitialTribalAgreements, fragment_BeSureToHaveElection, or code_R115MiddlingPenaltyOver. None of these have any player interaction. There are 464 of these.

news: Some sort of report, given by (or relating to) a single leader. These have no illustration. Most have no interaction, but some do give player choices. A notable subset of interactive news is heroic combat during a battle. Battle results is treated as a special case, and is shown with two illustrations. News scenes have names like news_TradeRouteEnded, news_R45aGrainHeFound, mission_EmissaryBanditAttack, or battle_HesGoneBerserk. There are 462 news scenes.

scenes: Interactive events are the core of the game. They always have an illustration, and at least one leader giving advice. They have names like scene_2Trader, scene_R194WeddingCelebration, or mission_ProposeAlliance. There are 614 of these.

quests: Heroquests are essentially a special type of interactive event, with no advice. There are 84 of these.

So there are 614 scenes defined in OSL, but it’s not really accurate to call all of those interactive events. That’s because when we designed an event, we sometimes wanted to show new advice in response to player choices, or change the background music to reflect a change in situation. This was implemented as switching to a new scene. So scene_R59TheChallenge might trigger scene_R59aChallengeResult, but that’s really just one event to the player.

Luckily, we were pretty consistent about naming scenes, and by looking for that pattern (R59a as opposed to R59), there are 70 scenes that are followups within an overall event.

That leaves 544 distinct interactive events. It’s worth noting that 28 of these are new in the iOS version (25 were in version 2.0, and one is new in the upcoming 2.1).


But, what are the odds of not getting one of the 544? All scenes are not created equally (we kept the amount of branching in the game to a minimum, but some scenes directly depend on earlier choices), and many have specific preconditions. There’s no good way to figure that, so we’ll assume each does have an equal chance of showing up. If there are 5 random events each year, the odds of not getting a specific one each year is 99.1%. How long is a game? That can vary widely, but looking at two sagas of complete long games that are in our bug tracking system 48 to 58 years. For this quick calculation, let’s call it 53. So the odds of not getting a particular scene during a game are over 61%. Now we have to figure how many games. King of Dragon Pass is highly replayable, but even a hard-core player might not play more than 12 games in a year. The odds of not getting a random scene in a year of play are thus only around 0.3%.
A (thankfully) rare scene

It turns out the scene in question was not random, however. It related to the harvest, so it could only occur in Earth season. That means each game has over a 90% chance of not getting it, and thus he had a 31% chance of not seeing it in 12 games. Except that there was another condition on the scene, so the odds of getting it plunge even more.

(The odds would be slightly different for the original Windows version, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.)


So what does this analysis say? I think it verifies our design goal of replay, since you will not see many scenes your first game. (And this is only talking about events, not your responses to them.) And even if you have played a dozen games, you have a pretty good chance of getting something completely new if you play one more.

Also, our marketing copy of “nearly 500 interactive scenes” is conservative, and we should have done the math before.