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App News: Vlaada Chvátil Talks About Czech Games Edition's Plans for the Future

David Neumann
United States
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In life you have to do a lot of things you don't f*cking want to do. Many times, that's what the f*ck life is... one vile f*cking task after another.
App News

CGE's Digital Plans Revealed
Back in January we learned that the license agreement for the iOS version of Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization had expired for Codito Development and that Czech Games Edition was going to be going through another developer. Until now, that developer was unknown as was any other info regarding Through the Ages.

Last week I had the chance to talk with designer extraordinaire, Vlaada Chvátil, about the future of Through the Ages as well as another of his games, Galaxy Trucker, which we heard about in February.

iOS Board Games: We learned back in January that Codito Development would no longer be publishing the iOS version of Through the Ages. Since then, we've heard nothing about the future of Through the Ages on our iPads. Could you give us an update of where the digital adaptation of Through the Ages currently stands?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
You're right, I am waiting for an announcement, too. I hope someone will announce they are doing an implementation of Through the Ages soon...

Umm, well, okay... I have talked with that "someone" and we agreed that although they are not ready to announce the game yet, people deserve to know. So, I am allowed to talk about it. Unofficially, of course...

This is what happened: When we agreed with Codito about cancelling the project, I, of course, wanted to get another implementation going soon and with the highest possible quality. There was a company right under my nose - the digital division of Czech Games Edition! The digital division of CGE was working on another title at that time, but when I offered them Through the Ages, CGE rearranged their plans, expanded the team and added Through the Ages as a second, parallel project.

iOS Board Games: Through the Ages is a huge project, though. Why did you decide to go in-house with CGE for such a big project?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
There are three basic reasons:

First, the quality. It may seem weird, to pick a team that has yet to do its first game for this reason, but the quality was the main reason why CGE started to do digital implementations. We all at CGE love to play board games on our devices, and the current state of some adaptations was sometimes sad. I mean - in other genres, there are greatly polished and rich applications, while most of the board games remained bare and/or crude. Now, the trend is changing and there are more and more boardgame implementations done well, but this just encourages us and ensures us it is worth it, and we will be happy if CGE helps to raise the bar.

CGE digital team was created with this in mind and we definitely have a determination to give our game apps a great care and attention (I think CGE is doing this also with their board games). I believe we have the experience needed, as well. The team is new on the scene, but the people are not. Dan Musil, our team leader, was working in a videogame company for many years as main programmer and manager, and he has some iOS apps under his belt, too.

Second, my direct influence over the game. I cooperate with the digital team on daily basis, discussing the design decisions or even some program solutions (my initial profession was as a programmer and I did online implementations of most of my bigger games for testing purposes - including Though the Ages). We have regular meetings with Petr Murmak of CGE, and our view on boardgame implementations is very similar.

When starting the TtA implementation, we hired Martin Vytrhlík, a great guy, who is both programmer (same university as me) and designer with some mobile apps under his belt; but most importantly, who has played and loved Through the Ages for many years (both on the table and online). This is very important - it is great to cooperate with a person that speaks exactly the same language.

And finally, there are other benefits due to the fact that CGE also publishes the board game. There is lots of work to be done on the game in the following months, design and art wise, and the physical board game can benefit from this work, too. We will see.

I just wanted to say I have a great trust in the team and the projects. I hope we can support this trust with facts later this year when we publish our first game.

iOS Board Games: It sounds like I may be jumping the gun, here, but what can you tell us so far about the TtA app?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
It will have both single player against AI and online play. We are really trying to do it right. Let me summarize my point of view on boardgame apps: For single player, I need a reason to play. For multiplayer, I need maximal comfort.

As for the reason to play - I love when there are things to achieve, stuff to unlock, a story to play through, extra challenges to beat, missions with interesting twists etc. Compared to how much work it takes to do a good implementation of a game, it's not much more work to add this replayability. Other game genres are doing better with this, it seems, but, I want this also in my favorite genre: boardgames! It is just sad when I buy a game, win my first match against the AI... and what next? I just completed the single player portion of the game.

As for the comfort - I admit even small glitch significantly reduces my willingness to play a game online. Multiplayer is a great time investment from the players. I think developer should show some respect to the players and pay a great attention to the way multiplayer is done.

It is not just about choosing the best way how to implement it, it is also about customization. Every player has different needs and tastes. Someone wants to play asynchronous. For such players, it is essential to see states of their games in progress, quickly switch from one to another, easily replay what happened, etc. Sounds natural, but it is very rarely done well. Someone likes to play a "live" game. For those people, it is best if you can directly see what the other players are doing right now. Here's an example if it is not done this way: I am playing my turn and my opponent is waiting, seeing nothing. When I send my turn, he starts to replay it. I am waiting. Then he plays his turn. I am waiting. Actually, I can't be sure if he is even playing, maybe he went away when he was waiting. I put my iPad away, or switch to another app. Several moments after I do, a notification comes that says it is my turn. Etc. And in both cases, it is essential to be able to do all interface operations when I am waiting - seeing stats and details, replaying moves or reading logs etc. Seems obvious, yet some very anticipated implementations failed at this recently.

We know it is a great challenge to do these things right, and it is a lot of work, but big part of this work can be used for all the games we are going to implement, so we believe it pays off in the end.

iOS Board Games: I have to ask, or they'll crush me in the comments, any idea of a release date?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
The short story - we haven't stated it yet.

The long story...please think of how this all worked out. CGE digital started small, doing one project, and determined to do it right. Then this opportunity appeared. We needed to act quickly (honestly, I would not agree to put TtA in a queue. Players have been waiting for it too long already.) so, the decision was made, and the game development started as soon as possible. And by development, I mean not just programming and art, but also the design process.

It may seem like the design was already made (when creating the board game), but that is far from the truth. There are many things to decide, mostly regarding app features and presentation, the AI, the UI (especially difficult task with big games like Through the Ages), but also gameplay. Sometimes, a small twist in the rules that affects the game very slightly can have big impact on how the game plays on a device (this mostly applies to multiplayer).

With TtA being designed simultaneously as our other game, it is not possible to give a reasonable release date at the start. CGE is not saying, "we have this time and budget, let's do our best within those limits". We are considering the options, trying to figure out the best way and to estimate how long it will take and whether we can afford it. We are still in the process of deciding, although the key decisions have already made (I can't wait till we will be able to show you the main game view!).

Anyway, we do not want to give release dates we are not sure about yet. This is why the game was not officially announced yet.

iOS Board Games: Currently Through the Ages is available to play online via the brilliant What is your stance towards this implementation, and would they be allowed to continue once a TtA app was released?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
Nicolas d'Halluin did great work with the implementation at boardgaming-online and he's put together a big and active community of many thousands of players (mostly thanks to boardgamegeek, according to his own words).

Anyway, it never entered my mind that boardgaming-online should be shut down after we release the app. I am making games because I want players to play them; Nicolas gave them another way to play.

At the very least, Nicolas gave us a benchmark - we need to make the app more comfortable than existing implementations so that online players have a reason to go for it. But, even if we succeed at that, there will be a lot of players that will prefer the browser solution and the environment and community they are used to, so boardgaming-online can exist together with our implementation.

iOS Board Games: You keep mentioning another game being developed simultaneously with TtA. That would be the Galaxy Trucker app, correct? How is that project progressing?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
It was delayed a bit when CGE started to develop Through the Ages at the same time, but it's going well. It is a lot of work. If we were aiming for an average implementation, it would have been released already. Of course, we want it great. In that vein, we are adding stuff that is not necessary, but it sure is nice to have.

iOS Board Games: Such as?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
Things like visualization of the flight. We want the game to look great, to give the players feeling they are really racing through galaxy. On the other hand, we want to keep the original mechanics, and those are rather abstract. It is challenging to visualize things that were meant to be visualized by players' imagination only, but the team is doing great work on it.

We're also adding asynchronous multiplayer. It may sound weird, considering Galaxy Trucker is a realtime game, but we know many players prefer asynchronous, and we also want to develop and improve our asynchronous system, so we invented a turn based variant. (By the way, it was fun when we were playtesting the variant using the physical game at a game event. We set up the game on a table, and went to play other games. A big colorful token marked whose turn it is. When you had time and it was your turn, you could play, and then move the token, and perhaps pat the next player, as a notification, if you saw him nearby).

And for realtime multiplayer, there will be option to speed up the phase where you fly your ships, to match the pace of the ship-building phase.

Last but not least, there will be a nice campaign where you have an entire galaxy to explore (using ships made of sewer pipes, of course), characters to meet, quests to fulfill, upgrades to win etc.

iOS Board Games: Is CGE looking at creating games for iOS only, or are Android, or possibly PC versions, of games planned as well?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
This is not my area of expertise, but I think at least iOS and Android are coming (although probably not released at the same moment). It has been developed for cross-platform from the very start. Actually, I can run the current prototype both on my iPad and on my Android phone... and I can even play multiplayer one against the other.

iOS Board Games: What other games of yours, or from the CGE library, are under development or being looked at for future development?

Vlaada Chvátil wrote:
Well... it is too early to say anything. Not that we're not considering our next projects, but we have two big titles in development and we need to concentrate on those. And to be honest, we have yet to see whether our approach to digital boardgame implementation pays off.

Personally, I believe that it will, and that CGE will bring most of their successful titles to the devices in the future.
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