The Firing Line: 5 questions for 17-Bit on Skulls of the Shogun

Why are skulls so tasty and delicious?

The Firing Line: 5 questions for 17-Bit on Skulls of the Shogun
| Skulls of the Shogun

Skulls of the Shogun went live on Apple's App Store today. We really liked it when it came out on Windows 8 earlier in the year.

So much so, in fact, that we gave 17-Bit Studio's game a Silver Award and called it "tight, fast, and remarkably fun".

We even went so far as to suggest that "Skulls of the Shogun shakes the cobwebs off the turn-based strategy genre with some style".

So, to say we're pleased that the game is finally out on iOS would be a bit of an understatement.

I got a chance to catch up with 17-Bit CEO and creative director Jake Kazdal to find out what's new in this iOS port, what the toughest challenge the studio faced in developing for iOS was, and why skull eating should be encouraged.

Pocket Gamer: First up, could you tell me a bit about Skulls of the Shogun?

Jake Kazdal: Skulls of the Shogun is a fast-paced turn-based strategy game in which we've blended the gameplay of Advance Wars with fighting game speed and styling.

It's all wrapped up in a hand-painted package that's heavily inspired by 1960s anime, and with a storyline that's firmly tongue-in-cheek.

We have a six-episode story-based campaign that should take about ten hours to complete, and over 30 unique multiplayer maps (playable by two to four people).

There's a ton of content in there, and there aren't any IAPs. Everything's included out of the 'box'.

The gist of the story is that you're General Akamoto, Japan's greatest military tactician, who's been stabbed in the back on the eve of his greatest battle.

He wakes up in the samurai afterlife ready to retire. Alas, things won't be quite so easy. An impostor has taken his place on the Shores of the Dead, and Akamoto won't rest until he kills his doppelgänger (for the second time) and eats his skull.

What are the main changes in the iOS version?

After finishing up the Xbox 360, Windows Phone, Windows 8, and Windows tablet versions of Skulls of the Shogun, we moved on to create a supercharged version of the game on Steam.

We added some new features for which fans had asked (like persistent units) and a progression system where you earn XP and unlock emblems. Plus, we created a brand-new episode in which we pick things up immediately after the original's ending.

Oh, and there's also the new Tanuki monk unit, which sports an impressive pair of bells.

Skulls of the Shogun on iOS is based on that version, so it has all the new stuff in there AND cross-platform async multiplayer.

That means that you can have a bunch of games running, take your turn on an iOS device, then go home to your PC to take your next turn on the Steam version.

There are push notifications on each platform to let you know when it's your turn. As long as you're using the same Skulls of the Shogun account across all platforms, the experience should be seamless.

We hope to take that cross-platform experience onto whatever future platforms Skulls of the Shogun might surface on. Our engineering team spent quite a bit of time getting it to work in the first place.

What was the most difficult thing about porting the game to iOS?

We already had a great touch interface up and running for the Windows 8 tablet version, so that wasn't a problem. The biggest challenge was the difference in screen resolution.

The original Skulls of the Shogun was designed to run at a 1280x720 resolution on a game console, but the iPad's Retina display is 2048x1536. That's almost 3.5x the number of pixels... and on a handheld device no less.

Fortunately, we were very smart when we originally built the assets for the game, so everything looks incredibly crisp in this iOS edition.

When you zoom out all the way on one of the huge maps, you can really take in the eye-popping density of everything moving around on that lushly animated battlefield.

What are you most proud of in the game?

For me, it's the story. It's not exactly the first thing you'd think of when you hear "turn-based strategy game," but the campaign mode has so much love put into it.

It's the result of a collaboration between multiple writers, most of whom have a penchant for terrible '80s action movies with even more terrible one-liners.

Most Skulls of the Shogun reviewers single the story out for being particularly enjoyable, so hearing that always makes me smile.

Lastly, what's your best tip for someone who's about to play the game for the first time?

Play the campaign mode before jumping into multiplayer. It's a disguised tutorial in which you are eased into the gameplay systems.

You'll be a far better player if you go through the first few campaign levels before challenging the rest of the world. And you might get a laugh or two out of it, too.

Harry Slater
Harry Slater
Harry used to be really good at Snake on the Nokia 5110. Apparently though, digital snake wrangling isn't a proper job, so now he writes words about games instead.