Inside the Game at Marmalade Studio

March 30, 2016 4:00 PM | Posted By: Kionna Coleman

It’s not every day you get a chance to learn from leaders in the gaming industry who are pushing boundaries and exploring with new technologies. Marmalade Game Studio gave us an inside look at how they’re using Lenovo devices and multi-user, multi-technology (MUMT) to transform traditional board games such as RISK and Scrabble into interactive gaming experiences.

Marmalade provides a platform for developers to author, deploy and manage their app development. They’ve worked with big names such as EA (Electronic Arts), Rovio and Activision, among others, and have also made some of the industry’s most popular titles.

General Manager Mike Willis chatted with us via phone from London about his team’s experience with the Lenovo YOGA Home (formerly the Horizon) and MUMT, and what developers need to consider when developing apps for the unique platform.

The Game of Life

What appealed to you about Lenovo's multi-user, multi-touch technology (MUMT)? The size of the devices gave us a real opportunity to create a tabletop experience around the games. Bringing board games to life felt like a really great idea. But also the fact the devices came in such large size meant they would really feel like board games. The multiple touch points meant that you could get multiple players all playing at the same time. 

How did MUMT help you differentiate your apps? The fact that we could design a completely simultaneous four-player game with the multi-touch feature was very different. Normally, we’d design mobile games where you’d think about an asynchronous single-player, multiplayer experience. Designing with the multi-touch feature was very different. The opportunity with these games was huge: we were recreating that board game feeling where you’re all sitting around having a much more social experience. The fact that all of these technologies were there meant that we could think of ways to keep the players engaged while playing so that they were able to review what their next move would be and carry on while the main player was taking their turn.

What were some of the design challenges?

Designing for the touch screen, you have to feel like you’re making the game come alive. We wanted to make more than a simple board game translation. We wanted to make sure we were maximizing the whole experience. That caused challenges because obviously when you have four players around a huge device, and you are all trying to play, you constantly have to try to make sure that the person who is actually playing feels like they are in control and the people around them don’t get too disoriented.

In Scrabble, you can choose your viewpoint.

One of the other challenges was with Scrabble. There is a secret element in the tile rack so we had a challenge as to how to communicate that experience to make sure people were not cheating and they were able to play the game as effectively they would normally would. So, we created some companion apps for Scrabble people could download and then connect their mobile device to the main device and have a secret view of the game as well.

What are important factors developers need to consider when developing for multi-user, multi-touch systems such as the Lenovo YOGA Home?

It is important to make sure you are designing to take advantage of that big screen. If you are coming from mobile and are expecting games to be presented on a 4x9 screen, then you have to blow it up to the size of some of these new devices. You need to make sure your assets can handle that and your rendering systems will be able to recognize the frame rate. 

Zoom-in play in RISK

We also wanted to create the feeling that a person was really in control during their turn. In RISK, when you’re playing with all of your pieces around the globe, you’ve got a 2D map of the world. You're moving your pieces between your armies, but when there’s a battle, we zoomed in on the pieces and were able to replay the battle with a set piece. We moved the viewpoint in so that we could zoom in and show more detail of that piece in game play, rather than from a fixed viewpoint. 

What are the particular skills a developer needs to code for the MUMT platform?

Internally, we are all C++ programmers. The design challenges you’ll face means you have to have a good design team that is making sure they take account for the big screen action and the multi-touch.

What surprised you about developing for MUMT?

The size of some of the devices was absolutely brilliant. With that tabletop, you can really bring the game to life. You don’t get that with any other device [that feeling of] being able to have four players doing things all at the same time and feeling like they have tangible board game in front of them.

Risk, Game of Life and Scrabble are available in the Windows 10 store now. This story has been edited for clarity and brevity.

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