How a tiny team crammed console’s biggest games onto mobile - and their bold plans to do the same for next-gen games too.
While the phones in our pockets are as powerful as the consoles under our TVs these days, it’s rare that traditional video games work well when they make the jump to smartphone.
High octane shooters with twitch controls rarely work on a small touchscreen: it’s no secret that Angry Birds was such a success because it was designed with the iPhone, not the PlayStation in mind. Gaming icons like Sonic have only managed to stay relevant by adopting the tactics of the new stars of mobile gaming: casual gameplay you can start and stop in seconds and touchscreen controls.
Sometimes though, a PC or console classic works perfectly on today’s new tech - we just need to be reminded. We’ve seen how the team behind Baldur’s Gate, tired of casual puzzle games with adorable animals, brought the hit RPG to the iPad.
HyperDevbox has pulled off something even more unlikely though: it's turned a series of mammoth, obscure Japanese RPGs into the biggest games on mobile. Literally. Spectral Souls, and sequel Blazing Souls Accelate can take 100 hours or more to complete. Not exactly the sort of thing you can plough through in between bus stops - so how did they do it?
“We just strive to bring cool games to hot platforms and develop original games for a global audience,” Carlo Perconti, the CEO of HyperDevbox, tells Red Bull UK.
His team of 10, based in Japan, port and publish hit console games on mobile, but not just any old games. They specialise in bringing cult Japanese hits to mobile, the sort that might get overlooked by Call of Duty obsessed Western publishers, but still get gamers hooked and talking about them online.
Spectral Souls is a perfect case in point. It’s a horribly addictive tactical or strategy RPG - think chess meets UFC - with a rabid fan following first released on Sony’s PSP handheld in 2006.
Back in 2010, while the rest of the gaming industry was still chasing after the next Angry Birds, Perconti saw the opportunity to bring the game to mobile. Despite its huge size, he could see the nature of the gameplay meant it’d work just fine on touchscreens. “It doesn’t rely exclusively on fast reaction player abilities or game mechanics, so you have the time to think about your next move and play with less stress than let's say, a fast paced action game,” he says.
He was right. Spectral Souls first hit the Android Google Play store in 2011: despite its pricetag (An eye-watering £8.19, far more than most mobile games), it’s been downloaded thousands of times, and still boasts an average rating of 4.5/5 - almost unheard of for a mobile game.
Perconti’s smartest move though was to bring Spectral Souls to Android instead of iPhone first - at the time, a much smaller platform, but one with lots of die-hard early adopters eager to get stuck into an adventure game with a deep story and complex gameplay, not just a single jump button to tap over and over.
“I personally had the idea to bring the first full size Japanese tactical RPG to Android,” says Perconti. “Back then, many Japanese companies didn’t believe in the Android market…I thought there was an incredible opportunity for HyperDevbox to bring something to RPG gamers and take the lead, so I contacted [Spectral Souls creator] Idea Factory and convinced them to let HyperDevbox work on the Android port of Spectral Souls.”
Making them was no small order though. The PSP was more powerful than a 2011 smartphone, so things had to be chopped and changed, and even then it was still a struggle to fit everything on a memory card. In fact, Spectral Souls was the first Android game to cross the 1GB threshold - not much less than most Xbox 360 games today.
“Well, a lot of things had to be changed, the graphic engine and sound engine,” says Perconti. Just making the game run on lots of different Android phones was a challenge in itself.
“As you could imagine, if you add to this the large ecosystem of Android devices, the task was huge but the rewards too - it took almost eight months to develop the game from scratch, but one by one we got over all the obstacles and finally delivered the game to a large audience.”
The game was an immediate smash, and last year, the team followed it up with an iPhone port, and the sequel, Blazing Souls Accelate, on Android.
“The reaction was awesome, we knew we were right to port this game and we knew the timing was right too when the game got released and received its first comments. With Spectral Souls we demonstrated that Android devices could directly compete with iOS games,” he says. “We got some comment about the price but honestly, the community really supported the game.”
Perconti thinks the games have been so popular despite their intricacy because they let you play your own way.
“It’s all about moving your characters to a strategic position to launch skills or use special items...I believe they’re addictive because there’s no ‘set in stone’ rule - each player can develop their own ways for beating the game and strategies therefore the game adapts to each different player. In addition, since you can combine so many characters and skills, the possibilities - and outcomes - are gigantic.”
HyperDevbox are now putting the finishing touches to the iPhone version of Blazing Souls Accelate, with a launch just around the corner.
“Game development takes time, but I can announce that we are currently polishing our iOS version of Blazing Souls and we do expect a submission to Apple in the next three or four weeks.”
There’s also a version of Spectral Souls for Windows Phone 8 on the way, and it’ll run on everything from high end Samsung devices to Nokia’s cheapest Windows Phone. Though Perconti hasn’t set a date for it yet, he’s hoping to get in early once more with Microsoft’s smartphone software.
“We want first to bring the full game to Windows mobile gaming community,” he says. “If there’s a good feeling from that community, we’ll then see how we could add new Windows Phone specifics to the game.”
Perconti doesn’t want to stop there though. HyperDevbox was built off the back of porting PSP classics, but they’ve aiming much higher - they want to bring full, power hungry PS3 and Xbox 360 games to your phone.
“HyperDevbox is looking more to port titles from Xbox 360 or PS3. Nowadays Android devices, and in general all mobile devices, are getting more and more powerful day after day, so it’s time to deliver ultimate HD gaming content - otherwise what would be the point in buying the latest expensive new device?”
Why indeed. While Sony and Microsoft are pushing on with their next-gen consoles, thanks to people like Perconti, you can expect their current games to have a long lease of life on your phone, if not your TV.
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