Choplifter is one of those “old school” classic shooters that still brings back warm memories for many gamers. Game veteran Brian Fargo was one of those gamers. And he did something about it. Using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine 3 technology, his studio built a re-imagined Choplifter for console DLC to make the most of today’s gaming capabilities. Now the development team has worked with NVIDIA to bring this console update to Android tablets and smartphones using the latest Tegra technology. John Alvarado, technical director at inXile Entertainment, talks about what mobile gamers can expect in this game in this exclusive interview.
How have you worked with NVIDIA on Choplifter THD?
We’ve received quite a bit of help from NVIDIA on getting this game ported from what was originally a console release on to NVIDIA tablets. They’ve provided help with tools, such as performance analysis, and we’ve been able to send them builds and help with any debug issues because the engine we’re using, Unreal Engine, was not completely ready for tablet at the time that we started trying to use it. So there were issues that needed to be fixed and they helped us with that.
What have they provided in terms of tech that’s helped with the development?
The performance analysis tools they provided were great. They’ve actually put together a suite of tools to create a development environment to help with developing for NVIDIA tablets. They provided those in their development kit and they helped us understand how to use them.
How does the game make use of the latest Tegra Technology?
We’re taking advantage of the power of their Tegra technology to be able to run Unreal Engine. It’s quite a large engine and has some steep requirements for CPU and their tablets have the power to support it.
How does this impact the gameplay experience across the platforms you’re targeting?
It allows us to use a multiplatform engine, Unreal, which we were already using for the console version of Choplifter. So it makes it an easier port for us and allows us to keep the same code base.
What are the challenges of developing for Android devices today?
The challenges are like in the old PC days when there were so many different manufacturers and so many different specs for the target device that you really have to find a common denominator or lowest performance level that you’re going to support and deal with all the minor differences. For Android what we found both on Choplifter and in our port of the Bard’s Tale is that there’s a spec, but not all the firmware manufactures are able to meet that spec, or they have bugs. So a lot of the issues that come up in support end up coming down to bugs in firmware. It’s just a big challenge because there are so many different devices out there.
How does NVIDIA help you with those challenges?
There’s not much they can do to deal with this proliferation of devices and all the different specs. They can only deal with their devices in providing their APIs that work across versions of their tablets. That’s all we really need and they’re great at that.
What are your thoughts on what can be done with tablet gaming today?
It’s interesting because games that were cutting-edge console games a few years back are now able to be played on tablets, so there’s almost no limit on what you can do. We’ve brought over Choplifter HD and the original game that we made when the company first started, The Bard’s Tale, and it’s doing really great. It’s given it a second life.
How has the Unreal Engine 3 helped with this mobile version?
Unreal is a multiplatform engine so Epic Games did provide some support for tablets and it’s on-going and still evolving, but it gave us a great starting point from which to get this game up and running on tablet.
How does Choplifter reimagine the classic arcade game?
While the gameplay remains 2D, the entire experience has received a massive upgrade thanks to Unreal Engine 3. The battlefield is alive with enemies from every direction on foot and in assorted vehicles that will challenge any pilot. Things ramp up pretty quickly and by the tenth level, strategy plays an integral role. Choppers come equipped with limited missiles and fuel for each mission, and while you can maneuver to use your rotor blades as a weapon, advance planning is required when entering a fray. Armor damage and passenger capacity also play a role in how often you’ll need to return to the safety of your base. This side-scrolling action game delivers on the sense of fun that made the original game a classic. The choppers have a good sense of weight, and momentum does play a role as you dodge enemy fire and come in low to rescue people.