Slide To Play Q and A: Bladeslinger

It’s been a long time since we last spoke with the makers of the gorgeous Western action game Bladeslinger, and a lot has happened in the interim. With the world-wide release of the game nearing, we got in touch with Kerosene Games founder Brett Seyler to talk about what changes they’ve made to the game over the past year, and what players can expect when it hits the App Store.

Slide To Play: Last time we spoke, you were planning on releasing Bladeslinger in Q4 of 2011. What caused the delay?

Brett Seyler: When Kerosene partnered with Luma Arcade to on Bladeslinger, it was already a compelling, beautiful universe and a fascinating concept for player combat and player progression. Since that time, we’ve worked diligently with Luma to polish the navigation and combat systems, as well as extend the skill trees and progression for the player to create hours and hours of fun, engaging gameplay.

Everything about the game is deeper, more interesting, and FAR more polished than a year ago. We really believe, as Luma does, in shipping only the highest quality content. We just weren’t quite ready a year ago, but we’re incredibly proud of how far the game has come now. Bladeslinger is ready for its close up.

Bladeslinger has unique controls. Why did you decide to make them the way they are?

Thanks! Yeah, Bladeslinger has a very different control design than any game we’ve seen before on touch screens. First and foremost, we knew we didn’t want to compromise in designing the absolute best experience possible for touch devices. Controllers and the prospect of potential ports to PC or console never figured into the design. It’s been touch-first, from day one, and that’s let us do some things that others in our space just aren’t willing to do.

We had a few key goals in designing the controls of Bladeslinger. First, we knew that the combat system had to come first. If that didn’t feel good, we didn’t have a game. So it started with swinging William’s blade in a natural fashion. Pressing a virtual button to do this would have been silly, so of course we wanted to map this to an on screen single-finger swipe. The Bladeslinger’s weapon is also a gun though, and the second most natural input on these devices is a single-finger tap, so we mapped that to shooting an enemy. All the combat controls beyond these two stick to the same ideas: either tapping on the screen or swiping on the screen, not checking for virtual buttons.

With this, we had a good combat system, but we also wanted to figure out how the player was going to move around the world, and we knew we wanted to offer much more freedom in exploration and movement in combat than in games like Infinity Blade which simply stitch cutscenes together to move the player from one place to another. This is where things got difficult, and no doubt, this is where I totally understand if developers before us hit roadblocks and gave up. We tried everything here: tap to move, tap and hold to move, a virtual joystick for one hand and another for combat. None of these worked well, for various reasons.

With tablets, which were really our focus for designing these systems, they’re a little too heavy to hold with the same hand that’s providing input. After a while you just want to set the device down. It’s even worse if your right hand is switching between swiping/ tapping input in combat, and aiming a camera control when youre not.

After months of prototyping and testing, we arrived at a beautiful system that, despite being new and unfamiliar, everyone loved. In Bladeslinger, you can do everything in the game with one hand! In some games, this wouldn’t be an impressive feat, but in Bladeslinger, you have movement controls simultaneous with complex combat involving swiping combos, tapping to shoot, blocking, dodging, and using spells. There’s real skill progression and learning! It’s intuitive to use once you give it a little practice, but very difficult to master.

This is exactly what core gamers want! Finally, we found a way to switch contexts between combat and navigation where the same controls you use to move the character in combat are used out of combat, but you have even more freedom to do things like look around by dragging two fingers to move the camera, or simply running around with one finger and letting the natural follow camera do it’s thing.

This is real game developer geekery here, but it makes a huge difference for the advancement of the genre. Gamers are really sick of lazy console ports that use the same virtual joystick and virtual button mappings over and over again. They may be familiar to us now, but they’re incredibly limiting when it comes to building complex controls with real skill progression in mobile games. We had our hearts set on doing something better. Much better. And I think we have.

How is the Canadian “soft launch” of the game going so far?

‘Soft launch’ definitely deserves the quotes! The immediate response when we went live in Canada was very surprising. While we’d honed most of the game’s core systems to a place where we felt good enough to get feedback from gamers in the wild, we really wanted to test things like difficulty, skill progression, tutorial messaging, and everything else that goes into making a game fun to play for hours on end. Having a chance to do this with tens of thousands of players as a sort of test run before the worldwide launch is truly invaluable. We’ve spent the weeks since incorporating as much feedback and over 700,000 play hours of data as possible into further improvements and polish for the game.

Assuming all goes according to plan in the beta, when can the rest of the world expect to play Bladeslinger?

We’ve put the finishing touches on the game’s worldwide release build and submitted to the App Store, so it shouldn’t be long now.

Bladeslinger will be a paid download when it goes worldwide. Can you explain the in-app purchase system in the game?

Sure! This is a really important subject to us, and we know it’s really important to gamers too. Our philosophical goal regarding IAP design in any game is that it should be completely optional for progression in the game, forever. At no point should the player encounter a ‘wall’ that can’t be scaled with skill progression or determination. And at no point should the experience stop being fun, whether the player has used IAP or not. If there’s no challenge remaining, the fun is soon gone. No matter what IAP a player uses in Bladeslinger, they’ll still find a challenging and very fun experience in front of them.

Bladeslinger meets these philosophical tenets perfectly. The IAP system is entirely complementary to the natural resource management and skilled challenges that are designed into the core of the game. IAPs can help players unlock skills and items faster than normal, but none of these IAPs will break the game’s fun.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about Bladeslinger that we haven’t touched on?

We’d really just like to ask your readers for as much candid feedback on Bladeslinger as possible. We can’t improve our games without gamers’ help. The best channel for this feedback is our in-game email prompt, or directly bladeslinger@kerosenegames.com. Reviews on iTunes are great too, but unfortunately it’s not a two-way communication channel, so if players are having an issue that’s frustrating, it’s so much better to email us about it so we can sort it out and fix it for everyone.

Lastly, please follow us on Twitter or Facebook for news about Bladeslinger and other games from Kerosene in the future. If you don’t have a device that can run Bladeslinger at the moment, keep an eye out on Twitter as we’re planning to do some hardware giveaways around the time we launch.