Lost Keys HD for Windows 8, a game about demons, and magic

1At Make Web Not War we like to promote applications or games the people in communities are doing around our platforms. We did an interview with Rob Targosz, who build a Windows 8 game around magic, and demons. As far as we like demons, and playing games on our devices (not during work hours… ahumof course), we thought it be would nice to promote it, and get some feedbacks on Rob’s experience.

Could you describe your game?

Thousands of years ago, demons and other foul creatures freely roamed our world, wreaking terror wherever they went. The ancient and powerful Council of Magi conjured a magic key that forever banished these creatures to the underworld. Through the ages that followed the key was lost and evil slowly returned to our world. You must seek the magic key hidden deep in the dungeons of Lost Keys and return peace to our realm.

Players guide their character through each room to collect a key and get to the exit. Each room is populated with dragons, gargoyles and other evil creatures. The player has no defense against these beasts and must avoid them or redirect them. Each level is rigged to explode at a fixed time after the room is breached. The player’s only power is the ability to create and destroy sandstone blocks.

Why build this type of game on the Windows 8 platform?

I really wanted to support Windows 8 for three main reasons:

  1. The Windows 8 Store provides indie developers with direct access to the biggest user base in the history of indie game development.
  2. Windows 8 supports a much broader range of features and capabilities than any other mobile platform. As a game developer, I want my game to look and play its best, and Windows 8 has this in spades.
  3. Windows 8 supports more than just touch input, low power processors and tiny screens. While developing games for mobile platforms is fun and challenging, it was really nice to be able to develop for a “fuller” OS like Windows 8 and take advantage of high-resolution graphics capabilities, keyboard and mouse inputs, 3rd party controllers like the Xbox-style gamepad, etc., etc.

Lost Keys HD for Windows 8 was ported from the original Windows Phone version that shipped in 2011. The Windows 8 version has all-new, high-resolution artwork – earning it the “HD” moniker. The game supports multiple platform-specific input methods, including on-screen virtual thumb-sticks, accelerometer/tap mode and keyboard support. You can even hook up an Xbox-style controller and play using that on Windows 8!

Which technology did you choose, and why?

2I knew I wanted to develop a game homage to Solomon’s Key and even had the name “Lost Keys” as far back as 2001. I had been tinkering with game development in DirectX and OpenGL for a while when Microsoft published XNA Game Studio Express in 2006. The XNA framework really made things much easier for indie game developers to get started and even provided several template games. Within weeks I had transformed the XNA Platformer template into a recognizable version of what eventually became Lost Keys – at least the first level.

After that, I sort of abandoned the Lost Keys project for a while. I had a game idea and the tools to build it but what I didn’t have was an established route to publish a finished product and monetize it. I didn’t want to put in the time and effort I knew it would take to finish a full game without knowing how to get it published.

In 2011, I participated in Microsoft’s Windows Phone Mango Developer Challenge in Canada. This inspired me to complete Lost Keys “Lite” for Windows Phone – a version of Lost Keys with only 6 levels, low-pixel count sprites and some royalty-free digital music downloaded online. A few months later, I shipped Lost Keys as a trial-to-paid game with 50 levels and improved feature set.

After completing the full Lost Keys Windows Phone release, I was looking at porting the game to other mobile platforms like iOS and Android when I heard about MonoGame. I think I first saw MonoGame on Channel 9 during Microsoft’s //build Windows conference. The MonoGame team had just finished their Windows 8 port, so I immediately switched gears and started the Windows 8 port of Lost Keys.

Did you have any problems during the process? How did you solve it?

Most people believe that the hardest part of game development is creating the game engine – graphics, AI, input, sound, etc. What I learned in completing Lost Keys HD for Windows Phone and Windows 8 is that the real hard part is actually everything else that goes into making a game a good user experience. This includes the icons and artwork, splash page, menu system, settings and options, handling OS-specific events like activation and de-activation, performance tuning both the game and the other user interface elements, then testing, testing and testing some more.

The next biggest challenge was deciding how much of Windows 8’s new capabilities I wanted to incorporate before launching on the new platform. Porting the game from the smaller Windows Phone screens meant that my artwork – designed for lower resolutions and low-power CPUs – look really jaggy and pixelated. I had to redo all of my textures, sprites, buttons, backgrounds and other artwork before shipping on Windows 8. I wound up using Genetica for most of my new textures and eventually purchased some new artwork for the sprites before I was satisfied with their quality level. Here’s a before and after set of screen shots:


However, once all that was done, most of the remaining Windows 8-specific work was really very straightforward. Kudos to both the MonoGame team and the Microsoft Windows 8 Store team for their great documentation and sample code!

What is your favorite Windows 8 feature?

As a developer, I really love the simplicity that Windows 8 brings to trial-to-paid in the Windows Store. The ability to make a few simple API calls to complete a purchase is much simpler than what iOS or Android offer today. I think this model will eventually force changes to the other mobile platforms since it provides both a better developer experience and a better end user experience.

Did you have another application or game in the Store or do you have any plan to build another one?

Lost Keys HD is currently my only game on Windows 8, though I have 3 active applications on Windows Phone as well: Celerity Lite, Plummet and Lost Keys. I recently completed my iOS port and have just about finished my Android and Xbox 360 ports. Both of those should be online in a couple of weeks. Check for updates on my home page at www.eragion.com.

I’ve also started working on a couple of new projects using the Unity engine and plan to ship two new games before the end of this year! It’s really great to see that Unity 4.2 is bringing support for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 very soon.