By Jamil Moledina, Games Strategic Partnerships Lead, Google Play
In the coming months, we’ll be seeing more media players, like the recently released Nexus Player, and TVs from partners with Android TV built-in hit the market. While there’s plenty of information available about the technical aspects of adapting your app or game to Android TV, it’s also useful to consider design changes to optimize for the living room. That way you can provide lasting engagement for existing fans as well as new players discovering your game in this new setting. Here are three things one developer did, and how you can do them too.
Infinite Dreams is an indie studio out of Poland, co-founded by hardcore game fans Tomasz Kostrzewski and Marek Wyszyński. With Sky Force 2014 TV, they brought their hit arcade style game to Android TV in a particularly clever way. The mobile-based version of Sky Force 2014 reimaged the 2004 classic by introducing stunning 3D visuals, and a free-to-download business model using in-app purchasing and competitive tournaments to increase engagement. In bringing Sky Force 2014 to TV, they found ways to factor in the play style, play sessions, and real-world social context of the living room, while paying homage to the title’s classic arcade heritage. As Wyszyński puts it, “We decided not to take any shortcuts, we wanted to make the game feel like it was designed to be played on TV.”
For starters, Sky Force 2014 is played vertically on a smartphone or tablet, also known as portrait mode. In the game, you’re piloting a powerful fighter plane flying up the screen over a scrolling landscape, targeting waves of steampunk enemies coming down at you. You can see far enough up the screen, enabling you to plan your attacks and dodge enemies in advance.
Vertical play on the mobile version
When bringing the game to TV, the quickest approach would have been to preserve that vertical orientation of the gameplay, by pillarboxing the field of play.
With Sky Force 2014, Infinite Dreams considered their options, and decided to scale the gameplay horizontally, in landscape mode, and recompose the view and combat elements. You’re still aiming up the screen, but the world below and the enemies coming at you are filling out a much wider field of view. They also completely reworked the UI to be comfortably operated with a gamepad or simple remote. From Wyszyński’s point of view, “We really didn't want to just add support for remote and gamepad on top of what we had because we felt it would not work very well.” This approach gives the play experience a much more immersive field of view, putting you right there in the middle of the action. More information on designing for landscape orientation can be found here.
Like all mobile game developers building for the TV, Infinite Dreams had to figure out how to adapt touch input onto a controller. Sky Force 2014 TV accepts both remote control and gamepad controller input. Both are well-tuned, and fighter handling is natural and responsive, but Infinite Dreams didn’t stop there. They took the opportunity to add cooperative multiplayer functionality to take advantage of the wider field of view from a TV. In this way, they not only scaled the visuals of the game to the living room, but also factored in that it’s a living room where people play together. Given the extended lateral patterns of advancing enemies, multiplayer strategies emerge, like “divide and conquer,” or “I got your back” for players of different skill levels. More information about adding controller support to your Android game can be found here, handling controller actions here, and mapping each player’s paired controllers here.
Players battle side by side in the Android TV version
Infinite Dreams is also experimenting with monetization and extending play session length. The TV version replaces several $1.99 in-app purchases and timers with a try-before-you-buy model which charges $4.99 after playing the first 2 levels for free. We’ve seen this single purchase model prove successful with other arcade action games like Mediocre’s Smash Hit for smartphones and tablets, in which the purchase unlocks checkpoint saves. We’re also seeing strong arcade action games like Vector Unit’s Beach Buggy Racing and Ubisoft’s Hungry Shark Evolution retain their existing in-app purchase models for Android TV. More information on setting up your games for these varied business models can be found here. We’ll be tracking and sharing these variations in business models on Android TV, including variations in premium, as the Android TV platform grows.
Reflecting on the work involved in making these changes, Wyszyński says, “From a technical point of view the process was not really so difficult – it took us about a month of work to incorporate all of the features and we are very happy with the results.” Take a moment to check out Sky Force 2014 TV on a Nexus Player and the other games in the Android TV collection on Google Play, most of which made no design changes and still play well on a TV. Consider your own starting point, take a look at the Android TV section on our developer blog, and build the version of your game that would be most satisfying to players on the couch.