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Shawn

The Scope of Territory WAR

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Posted by Shawn on May 14, 2008
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Every so often I create a flash that I consider the "culmination of everything I've learned in flash up to this point." Newgrounds SIM and the original Territory WAR are good examples. And now I feel confident in saying the same for the successor to one of those games, Territory WAR Online (TWO for short). TWO is easily the most encompassing and advanced project I've ever tackled, and I'm happy to finally be in a position where I can look back and say that. I'm not trying to be boastful, it's just that the development time put into TWO deserves to be explained. Furthermore, this game required the efforts from MANY more people than just myself. So when I say "scope," I'm talking about the scope of the game itself in comparison to other flash titles, but also the scope of how many people were needed to get this game to a finished state.

To get an idea of what I'm talking about, check out the map:

World-wide contributions for Territory WAR Online

Key people involved:

Myself- (Ohio, USA) This is probably obvious, but I had to list it anyway. I created the original Territory WAR, so I designed the sequel as well. I handled the programming and overall production of the game. I also provided some of the animations and graphics when possible.

XGen Studios- (Alberta, Canada) Simply put, without XGen the online component to this game would not be possible. Learning to create and developing a server-side flash-based communication system was far more than I could handle by myself. XGen proved that their lightweight MMOcha technology was successful with Stick Arena, so they were at the top of the list of people for me to contact on the matter. Turns out they were accepting other developers to share their system with, so a partnership was born. Special thanks to Skye Boyes and Jordan Dubuc, whom I have been in direct contact with for a majority of this project. (xgenstudios.com, mmocha.com)

Poxpower- (Quebec, Canada) Pox created a vast majority of the game's artwork, particularly the levels themselves. I have moderate skills in art and design, but nothing near good enough for what I wanted to produce for this project. I had worked with Pox in the past on Newgrounds Museum, and was familiar with a lot of his other work, so I hired him on contract basis to produce level art for me. If you're curious, just take a look at the screenshots to see what this guy can do. (thepoxbox.com)

The-Swain- (Florida, USA) Swain is another NG buddy of mine who happens to excel in the area of art. One night while helping me playtest the game he offered to make a level, and thus the castle was born. And due to the tactical approach of its design, it might end up being one of your favorites. (theswain.com)

Josh Kemp and Jason Turner- (Ohio, USA) Josh and Jason form the duo known as KT-Records. Both are talented musicians and personal friends of mine, so having them create tracks for the game was a natural choice. Two of Josh's original tracks were recut for the game, as well as one of Jason's. They also collaborated to make a brand new fourth track, heard in the volcano level. They refused to accept any payment for their work except for steaks and chinese food. (ktrecords.newgrounds.com, kelwynshade.com)

GoreBastard- (Earlestown, England) GoreBastard produced the 'Speeding Rampage' track that I used in the original, so I thought it was only fitting that I have him make me a new version for TWO. A little bit of monetary compensation later, I had an amped up and perfectly looped version to use in the game! (gorebastard.newgrounds.com)

DarKsidE555- (Germany) Looking to keep the spirit of metal in the game, I approached DarKsidE and asked if he'd be interested in producing a custom track for one of the levels. He said yes, and you'll be able to hear his work in the Island II level, which is a remake of the original. He also declined any payment, instead opting for a round of beers when I meet him next year at the 2009 Newgrounds Mod Meet. (darkside555.newgrounds.com)

So as you can see, this game contains development assets from all over the world. Each person I worked with is insanely talented in their own areas of expertise and it was an honor to work with all of them. Last but not least I can't leave out the beta testers, whom are too numerous to name. But I thank all of you as well, because proper beta testing is a core component to any game's production that can't be overlooked. And given the amount of things that can go wrong with an online game, extra testing help is a Godsend.

When I set out to make Territory WAR Online, I wanted to improve upon the original in every possible way. Territory WAR became very popular and has been a consistent source of traffic for my site for years now. Given the expectations, I knew the sequel had to be really impressive. The first and most obvious area of improvement? Graphics.

Graphical comparison

It's really not even fair to put the games side by side. The graphics from the original game are borderline terrible, even for my own standards. I could have done better back then but I was also pressed for time to get the game out for the Armor Games contest, so graphics sort of took a backseat. Having someone like Pox work solely on the graphics takes a huge load off my shoulders, as I can focus on the programming. Which leads to the next core improvement- the game engine. The original game was very functional, but tended to be slow and clunky. Collisions were not very precise, and often led to glitching. Plus, the terrain wasn't even destructible. With the advent of the BitmapData class in Flash 8, I was able to not only create destructible terrain, but also make a collision engine that was much more accurate AND efficient. Tyler Glaiel (GlaielGamer) was the first to show me the possibilities of this feature, and after I saw it I knew I had to take advantage of it.

Next up was gameplay. The first game only offered three weapons- grenade, rifle, and boot. Limited weapon choice was a big criticism, so this was a necessary area of improvement. I added a new type of grenade (impact), that explodes on the first ground it touches, offering new strategies. I also added a rocket launcher, offering the ability to create an explosion from a linear aim. Given the fact that the terrain was now destructible, I added the ability to build walls and platforms to ensure that you never got stuck. Again, this feature also presents new strategies since you can use them for team protection, mobility, and opponent-barriers.

Then of course, we can't forget about what puts the 'O' in TWO: online play. This was my first attempt at creating an online game, and it was definitely a learning experience. Originally I just wanted to create a Territory WAR sequel with the improvements I listed above, but once I learned of the online possibilities of flash I figured I had to give it a shot. I've made a lot of flash games prior to this, but nothing had me quite prepared to tackle online play. The biggest issue, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, is just that so many things can go wrong. No longer are you worrying about single .swf file, but two, that are constantly sending updates back and forth to each other at a fast rate. A server sits in between them, processing and relaying the messages where they need to go. Essentially, there are three potential areas in which an error can occur, making it more than three times as hard to track down bugs and glitches. If one tiny thing becomes de-synced between two games, it can cause major problems. It also makes testing more time consuming, since two copies of the game must be loaded up at once and be connected to the server to test even the smallest of changes. As frustrating as the process has been however, I wouldn't trade it for anything. It's given me invaluable insight, and has provided what could amount to endless replay value for my game.

The only real thing I did not manage to improve upon is the story/mission mode... which has actually been removed. If you played the original you probably noticed the less-than-stellar AI, which would often shoot itself or just shoot the ground. If the engine had remained the same from TW to TWO, fixing these issues would not be a problem. However, TWO features destructible terrain, which adds an exponential amount of complexity to the AI functions. In the previous game, the AI knew it could always walk from one end of the board to the other, and generally make a safe play decision where it stopped. It also "knew" that all gaps were jumpable. But with TWO, the level could be reformed to any configuration at any time- gaps that require platform placement, routes that require navigating a series of jumps, situations that can be easily exploited by the other player. TW could be broken down to a series of logical steps, whereas TWO presents a changing battlefield where strategy varies from turn to turn. Suffice it to say, writing an AI to play at even a basic level in that environment is way out of my league, at least for now. I'm hoping the ability to play real people makes up for not being able to play fake ones.

Regardless, creating Territory WAR Online has been an adventure like no other. I often wonder if I'll ever want to do something like this again. The immediate answer is no, but deep down I know I'll be back for more eventually. For now though, I'm just looking foward to finally releasing it to the web for everyone to see. I'm long-overdue for my 'next big thing.'


Posted to: Behind the Scenes, Content Updates

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