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Inside Dev Story: Gnomic Studios (Square Off)

July 7, 2011 No Comments


It has been awhile since we had one of our awesome virtual sitdowns with one of the many talented developers in the Windows Phone community. Today we take the time out to toss a few questions at Gnomic Studios. They are well known for their game Square Off that at first was a XBLIG classic and then made the jump to Windows Phone 7.  The outcome was the same though as the average player review is 4.5 stars. We also reviewed the game and gave it a perfect score.  Sit back as we take a closer look at the awesome developers at Gnomic Studios.

Gnomic studios? Where did the name come from?
Scott and myself threw around heaps of names when we first started making a game and it took a long time to think of anything we liked. We both agreed that “Gnomic” sounded pretty cool.

How did the game come to be?
Initially we thought we were making a 2.5D run ‘n gun zombie shooter, code named Throng. We were entering the 2009 Dream Build Play competition, and 7 weeks before the submission deadline we realised there was no way we were going to do our idea justice. After a radical rethink we stripped out all graphics, removed gravity and iteratively tested some different ideas. Pretty soon the core of what Square Off is today was formed. With just a few weeks left we still had place holder graphics of squares for the player and circles for the enemies. Since we really couldn’t decide what the characters would be we stuck with the squares and aliens made sense as the circles. Luckily the Square Avengers turned out to be pretty cute, which is all down to Scott’s awesome art style.

Squareoff is a huge hit on XBLIG. What do you think made the game stand out in that market?
The quirky graphics certainly help. People love the expressions of the characters. We also put a lot of time into making the game fun. At it’s core it’s a twin stick shooter, much like Geometry Wars, but we also focused on making local multiplayer a core element. It can be fun and challenging on your own, but it’s at it’s best with two or three friends on the couch.

How did you plan to translate that into the mobile world?
Since multiplayer is pretty much out of the question for mobile versions of this game, we had to concentrate on the single player experience. We wanted it to be a port, which meant not adding a lot of features. It was crucial that the game performed well and still looked good.

What things were changed to better mold the game for windows phone?
We really tried to keep everything as close as possible to the Xbox version. The menu system was completely rewritten for touch control and we had to make the levels a bit easier to account for the more difficult controls. The biggest change was some pretty major optimisation of the models and textures. Adam had to completely re-texture every level, bake the lighting into the vertex colors and do multiple iterations until we found a sweet spot. The particle system also had to be completely rewritten as WP7 doesn’t allow custom shaders yet.

The controls are tight on Square off for the 360. I think you guys made a great choice with the controls on WP7. Did you play around with other controls schemes?
A twin stick shooter does not easily translate to a touch screen device, but we’d seen some games that worked well so we knew it was possible. The controls were one of the things that had many rounds of tweaks and we ended up giving the user multiple options for how the touch-sticks worked.
Tons of people think that Square Off should be an Xbox Live title. How do you feel about that?
Honoured, and also vindicated. Before it was released we submitted it to Microsoft but they knocked us back. We’re hoping they’ll still consider allowing us to add Xbox Live support in an update, but let’s not hold our breath!

Any free ad supported game in the future?
We’d really like to release a free version. We may well have an announcement on this in the near future.

Any more levels or updates in the pipeline?
I doubt we’ll be adding new levels, but we’re still planning on releasing an update which includes online highscore tables as well as various features and fixes, including German localisation.

New games?
Development on new games is happening, but at a slow and steady rate at the moment. We’ll announce this once we are more certain what the game(s) will be.

That’s it! Hopefully we will get to see more games from Gnomic Studios soon.
Don’t forget to download Square Off!!! It is really an awesome game


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