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3D indie adventure The Secret Castle examines Kinect from every angle


Sure, a lot of games have 3D graphics, with fully rounded character models and everything, but their playgrounds are essentially flat – Avatar in 2D. The Secret Castle is reach-through-the-screen 3D (without the glasses), letting players manipulate the setting to see around objects, new solutions popping out from behind pillars and stashed under toys.

The Secret Castle launched on iOS from Platronic Games earlier this year, using motion controls that allowed players to tilt their screens and peer behind things in the game's environment. It's free to try, like a lot of games in the App Store – and that last part is one of its problems.

"The game has sold a couple thousand copies since launch," Platronic Games founder John Francis tells Joystiq. "The reason I'd say that was poor is because even with a modest budget we never really recouped all sales. Everyone on the team was very passionate about the game and working for free on their nights and weekends.

"Also, our sales model was largely traditional in a growing free-to-play and socially media-driven market. Without Facebook plugins or a pre-established hardcore fanbase like you might find with platformers or tactics games, telling people you reinvented the hidden-object genre was a tough sell."

Platronic wants to give The Secret Castle one more shot at success, this time with a different kind of motion control: Kinect.

"The Kinect is, even after three years, largely untapped territory," Francis says. "The Secret Castle uses a 3D technique that hackers had been playing with for years and yet no one seemed interested in making an actual game out of it. Also, playing the game with Kinect is an entirely different experience than mobile. The 3D illusion we create seems to work much better by requiring the player to move rather than moving the device, which is what you do in the mobile version."

In the Kinect version of The Secret Castle, players physically look behind objects, tilting their torsos to see hidden things and grabbing what they find with an actual closed hand. It's a use for Kinect that hasn't yet been fully explored by developers, Francis says. Plus, the market makes sense:

"From a business side, the game will offer a lot more discoverability we think because the App Store is so incredibly crowded. Also, it was an early plan to make the game for consoles or handhelds as all of art and assets were high quality and ready for HD. But honestly, the game was and is about giving someone a new experience, something that would be new to a gamer who is five or fifty and one that could be enjoyed by anyone. Kinect seemed like the best fit for that."

The Kinect version is "largely complete" and just has to be optimized for Kinect 2.0. It has 25 levels – compared with the mobile version's 10 – and a bunch of new puzzle types, but Platronic still needs to find a few pieces of its own development puzzle. Namely, the "Microsoft" shaped piece.

"We haven't actually heard from them," Francis says. "We were invited to the Kinect for Windows program but since this is a console title I didn't want to take a PC development kit for that purpose. Obviously, we would love to hear from Microsoft because we could start work that much sooner on the game. I've been very impressed with the announcements involving Unity and the use of retail units as dev kits but there's no clear release date on that."

Currently Francis and his team are funding The Secret Castle internally, just as they did for the mobile version. The first time around, everyone worked for free and banked on sales to bring in the big bucks. The team is smaller now, since a few people left after the iOS launch. Francis is currently looking for engineers to help with the port. He says there's up to five months of work left.

When The Secret Castle hits XBLA, it'll go for $5 or $10, Francis says, depending on how much content ends up in the final game. He's hoping to hear from Microsoft soon. For now, the positive energy from The Secret Castle's iOS launch – yes, that "poor" one – keeps him going.

"The best thing was that people were impressed," Francis says. "Even on mobile, most people seemed to like the effect and the way it changes a pretty well mined genre. We had some fan mail, good reviews from the blogs that reviewed us, and genuinely positive reviews in the App Store."

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