Highborn Developer Diary - Why Doing Highborn Justice Meant Doing it Old School

May 5, 2010 at 12:13pm

In the latest Highborn Developer Diary, Vice President of Design, Adam Isgreen, dishes on strategy games, the iPhone, and why Highborn is kickin' it old school.

"Why Doing Highborn Justice Meant Doing it Old School"
By Adam Isgreen, Vice President of Design, Jet Set Games

Once upon a time, we, the founders of Jet Set, made some well-received real-time strategy games. With Highborn on the iPhone however, we’ve said “no thank you” to the core component of that genre: real-time play.


Maybe it’s age? Not likely. Did our tastes change? No, it’s not that either. It’s all about the iPhone itself, and how it desires to be used. When we created Jet Set, we decided early on that any game we made would be appropriate for the platform we were putting it on.

RTS is a genre that gets faster and more click-intensive with every new entry that comes along. They cater to interacting with a lot of units, scrolling, and being everywhere at once... and that’s not what the iPhone wants to do. The screen real-estate is limited on device, making RTS-style UI a concern. Dedicated buttons may help, but are nowhere to be found. Classic RTS conventions like band-boxing and scrolling would cover most of the screen when used, blocking your view of the action. Touching and ordering units would also obscure the action. In total, it’s just not what the iPhone wants.

Highborn approaches things at a gentler pace, giving you time to think about what you want to do before you do it. When it’s your turn, it’s your turn. Dexterity isn’t a concern. Enjoy figuring out your strategy. Drink an iced-tea while you contemplate your next attack. If your mom calls while you’re playing, tell her you love her. Highborn automatically saves your game, so you’ll never lose progress to a call or message. While you’ve got her on the phone, ask her if it’s best to hit the wizard tower with a war machine or a militia unit. She may have some important insight.

But this isn’t just about UI. There’s usage patterns to consider. You play RTS in longer sittings, from 15 minutes to an hour or more. Sure, many of us have burned through our iPhone’s battery in one solid gaming session, but that’s the exception, not the norm. We wanted Highborn to be a game that could be played in bursts. If you’ve got five minutes to spare while waiting for lunch, the bus, or standing in a line, you can make some meaningful progress in Highborn.

Multiplayer was also a major factor in moving the game to a turn-based experience. Maybe it’s because we all love Scrabble on the iPhone, and the ability to have multiple games going at once with multiple people is a large amount of the appeal. So in Highborn, yeah we’ve got that. Goof around in a game with your significant other (all the while promising that you’re not “going easy” on them) while you fight tooth-and-nail against your most recent nemesis. Facebook Connect turns any friend into a potential opponent.

Once you get your hands on Highborn (and that’s not far off now!) we think you’ll agree that moving away from the real-time experience was not only the best thing to do for the game, but the right thing to do for the device it’s on.

Want to learn more about Highborn? We're releasing new nuggets all the time! Keep checking Jet Set's Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Flickr pool for new information, art and screenshots.