The Drowning is going to get a lot of attention as a first-person shooter that was designed from the start for a touchscreen tablet. The 3D game from Japan’s DeNA studio in Stockholm breaks new ground because it has a new control scheme for a type of game that is usually best played with a console game controller or a keyboard and mouse.
The Drowning debuts today, and it will be a test as to whether gamers will really take to shooter games that are specifically tailored to tablets. If The Drowning succeeds, then iOS could expand the multibillion-dollar first-person shooter game market to a new beachhead in smartphones and tablets. And that could change the whole makeup of what is popular on mobile game platforms.
Ben Cousins, the former Battlefield game developer who created Scattered Entertainment studio to build The Drowning, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the whole effort to build this mobile shooter was aimed at producing a true triple-A-quality title akin to the biggest games on the home consoles. The game features high-end graphics, intense action, a unique story, and a more intuitive way to play shooters.
“We created an experience that was meant to be played on a tablet first,” Cousins said.
The Drowning has been in beta testing for three months. The story focuses on the post-apocalypse world as seen through the eyes of a few survivors who have to fight off zombie-like monsters who were once human but have been transformed by oil spills into soulless creatures. During that time, DeNA’s game makers tuned it based on consumer feedback. The weapons were tweaked to inflict the most appropriate level of damage. The company also added virtual stick control, so players can control the game from fixed points on the tablet’s screen if they wish.
The team also added an asynchronous multiplayer mode, dubbed a “boss hunt,” where players can fight big enemies on their own and then message their friends to attack if the enemy escapes. Many players can participate in those boss hunts.
The studio is trying to pull off what has been impossible so far: making an original first-person shooter that works well on a touchscreen. Most FPS games require a mouse or game controller. It’s too hard for most players to use touchscreen-based controls to shoot, move a character’s body, and change the direction the character faces all at the same time.
But Cousins showed in a demo that his team has come up with a clever solution. In The Drowning, you tap two fingers on the screen to shoot your gun at any given point. The shot is fired at the midpoint between your fingers. If you want to walk somewhere, you simply tap once on the screen and the character automatically moves to that spot. If something is in the way, the character finds its way around barriers and eventually moves to the spot. To look somewhere, you simply swipe across the screen.
These gestures are relatively simple, and they can work well on a touchscreen once you get used to it, Cousins told GamesBeat.
When it comes to monetization, DeNA’s staff Japan offered good advice. They showed the Swedish team how to implement new mechanics for monetization. You can spend money to get a rare part, but you can’t spend real cash to buy a weapon outright. You always have to scavenge and assemble the weapon from parts. You can purchase energy if you want to have longer session times. That’s like buying five more turns with a quarter in an arcade machine.
The game has 30 levels and 15 environments with a couple of different modes for attacking or defending. Cousins said the basic game takes about 10 hours but could take 15 hours to 20 hours if you craft all of the weapons in the game. The development took about 18 months.
“It took a long time to find the fun in the core game mechanics and work out exactly how the game would play. “Getting the user interface to the point where it was fast and understandable was very time-consuming.”
DeNA generated more than $2 billion in revenues last year, and it is expanding aggressively in the U.S. and the rest of the world. It has scores of millions of users and more than 2,000 games.