GDC 2013: Hands-on with Vendetta Online on the iPad

MJ Guthrie
M. Guthrie|04.03.13

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GDC 2013: Hands-on with Vendetta Online on the iPad
GDC 2013  Handson with Vendetta Online on the iPad
When we talk about getting our hands on a game at GDC for a little playtime, we don't usually get to literally grasp said game in our fingers. But that's exactly what happened when I tested out Vendetta Online on an iPad 3; instead of just relating to the space-based sandbox through the standard accessories like mouse, keyboard, or joystick, I held the entirety of the game universe in the palms of my hands. My own 10 digits were the only accessories. And the experience impressed me!

I had the opportunity to sit down with John Bergman, Founder and CEO of Guild Software, to talk about the new iOS platform for Vendetta Online while doing my best Goose impersonation (he's way better than Maverick) playing it.

Vendetta Online iPad screenshot
One world, many platforms

One of the first things I should emphasize is that unlike a number of other MMOs that are utilizing tablets as part of their gaming experience, Vendetta Online isn't using mobile devices as just a companion with some aspects of the game; mobile devices can play the game itself. And by play the game, I mean the entire game! As Bergman said, "It's a full port of the game. Nothing's stripped out of it."

Basic training is not online, but once players finish that, there is just a one-click process to get into the full universe with everyone else; once you enter the game world from the tutorial, you enter the same realm that all PC players and Android phone users are already in. In fact, players can move between the PC and mobile devices using their same account, playing wherever happens to be most convenient. Bergman stated, "Everything is unified, so you can easily transition from one to the next." He anticipates a growth in the population with the mobile users, not just from PC users switching between devices.

The tutorial, however, is one thing that differs between the platforms, for obvious reasons. Players learning the controls for the iPad version need to learn specifics for the tablet, not for the PC. "Tutorials are substantially different than what [players] went through on the PC; they're much more easy-going," Bergman explained. He believes that player expectations and experiences coming into the game via the mobile market will be markedly different from those of players introduced to the game on the PC.

Another difference? Although iOS players will see "exactly the same graphics as used on the PC... there are a few extra graphics on the PC that [the devs] haven't quite had the horsepower to bring over yet, things like detail textures that take a lot of memory and full screen glow effects." Fortunately, Bergman told me, "Those will be coming in the near future."

Speaking of graphics...

Vendetta Online iPad screenshot
Looking good

My journey with Vendetta Online actually started last year when I covered its 10th anniversary celebration for Some Assembly Required. At that point, I used my newbie (read: not very impressive) pilot skills to zip about and capture as many screenshots as I could of the major fight going on around me before I was blown to smithereens. The space battle was beautiful to behold, both in terms of the scope of the event and the graphics.

Fast-forward to GDC and my first personal look at the game on iOS. If you think graphics were sacrificed in order to get the game to run smoothly on the the iPad, think again: The very first thing that struck me (and actually surprised me the most) was the crispness and the vibrancy of the graphics. I was quite impressed with how beautiful the game looked; in fact, the game actually looked significantly better on the iPad than it did on my PC. Bergman assured me it wasn't my imagination; Apple's 2560x1400 "retina display" is much higher-resolution than almost any monitor you can buy.

Trust me when I say these screenshots do not do the game justice; you really have to see it for yourself.

Vendetta Online iPad screenshot
Hands-on play

So what about the nitty-gritty of actual play? The game is pretty intuitive (even for me), so someone who wasn't up to speed on all the controls in the PC version could pick up the iOS version and do fine. The tablet won't have complete customization options, but a selection of interfaces for players to choose from will most likely be available.

In the default configuration, the action parts of the interface consist of a virtual joystick on the lower right of the screen and arrows on the left that relate to WASD (both areas lend themselves to continuous touch). On the top is chat and across the bottom are four customizable buttons that you can change to fit your needs. Rotating the ship is done by tilting the iPad. (Since I'm a PC user, I wasn't exactly used to moving my gaming rig in order to move the ship!)

Although there is a fire button on the left (yes, that big red button!), Bergman explained that "you don't actually have to use it much on mobile because the game has an auto-fire that activates when the reticule in the center of the screen is over the lead off target for the enemy ship." If the target moves out of range or breaks lock by hiding behind something, the auto-fire won't engage. Why have an auto-fire feature on the iPad? Because, as Bergman put it, "Requiring the user to press three things at once is kind of too much -- it has to be down to two thumbs and nothing more."

Everything is touch-enabled. Players can also target by tapping the screen, and drag and drop works for things such as missions. You can also plug a keyboard in and use keyboard controls for the game. For chat, however, the game does have its own soft keyboard for typing. So even though the tablet won't have complete customization, a selection of interfaces for players to choose from will most likely be available.

How do the controls actually feel? Let me say this: I actually flew better on the iPad than I ever did on the PC!

Vendetta Online iPad screenshot

Measuring up

I had to know: How did the iOS users fare when pitted against PC users in PvP? If you're worried about being at a disadvantage while on the iPad when up against folks who've been mastering the game on the PC, think about Bergman's answer:
"Just within the last month on the forums, there's been a big controversy because we now have Android phone players -- just phone, not phone and a controller, just phone alone -- who are beating the desktop players [in PvP]."
It turns out that the Android players have heavily configured their interfaces, which helps them to feel comfortable at the controls. There will not be any plug and play support for the iOS at launch, but Bergman did assure me that it will be added as soon as possible. He also noted that the changes that those Android players have talked about have been integrated into the default configuration for the iOS.

Vendetta Online iPad screenshotCome to mama this spring!

The game is obviously quite playable and looks very good, so when will we see Vendetta Online iOS launch for the public? "It's practically done," Bergman noted. "We've already had one build approved by Apple for release, which is an important litmus test for the iOS, but I decided not to release it because I wanted to do more polishing on it."

Wait, more polishing? Yup. And it turns out that the gorgeous version I was playing is not even the up-to-date more polished build that is is currently making its way through the Apple approval process. Launch is planned for spring.

Now that it's almost done, how does it feel? "I'm happy that it's working well," Bergman said. "Everybody thought I was a little nuts back in 2010 when I started down this road, and at the same time everybody's been kind of paying attention."

After the iOS

In conclusion, I asked what the future holds for Vendetta Online after the release on the iOS platform. After thinking a moment and noting that the game will be playable on the PC, iPad, Android tablets, and Android phones too, he added, "We'll have it on your wrist watch as soon as we can, then on microwaves!" Then, all kidding aside he described the roadmap for the rest of this year and next: After the iOS release stabilizes, work will focus on gameplay content, graphical updates, and some expansions. "The general idea is Vendetta Online 1.9 by the end of this year and 2.0 -- a major expansion if all goes according to plan -- the end of next year."

Massively sent its ace reporters to San Francisco to bring you back the biggest MMO news from this year's GDC, the largest pro-only gaming industry con in the world! Whether it's EVE Online or Star Wars: The Old Republic or that shiny new toy you've got your eye on, we're on the case, so stay tuned for all the highlights from the show!
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