Saturday, June 02, 2012

Play testing the Lords of Midnight for iOS

In 1984 a game called Lords of Midnight written by Mike Singleton was released for the ZX Spectrum, conversions to the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC soon followed. It came to dominate my game playing during my mid teens, games came and went, but always I returned to the War of Solstice and the Lords of Midnight.

The Lord of Blood stands in the Keep of Blood looking north towards the invading armies of Doom Guard as they pour through the Gap of Valethor and onto the Plains of Blood. Things are not going well for the Free.

The game had a well written back story, and for the time an amazing amount of depth to the game play. A unique blend of war game, strategy, and landscape that was ground breaking...

The Lands of Midnight

...and thanks to Chris Wild's bout of nostalgia in the early nineties, and his port to MS-DOS, I went on playing the game. There was even a multi-player version of the game, called Midnight/MU built, allowing you to play online through your browser. It seems I wasn't alone in my nostalgia.

But things changed with the arrival of the iPhone, and even more so with the arrival of the iPad. I thought the iPad was the perfect platform to revive the game. While it was epic in nature, the turn-by-turn nature of the game meant that unlike some other strategy games it was well suited for the dip-in and dip-out nature of gaming on the platform. More so, I wanted to play my favourite game on my new hardware. I stopped playing Chris' port and started to think idly about porting his code, or more likely his Midnight Engine to iOS. I poked around in the source code, but eventually decided against it. Instead I waited. Someone else was going to do it, it was just a matter of time.

My patience was seemingly rewarded, there was going to be an iOS port and Chris Wild and Mike Singleton were going to work on it together...

...but time passed, actually quite a lot of time passed, more than a year, and it started to look like vapourware. Until just a couple of months ago Chris posted some video footage of the game to his blog. It existed, if only in the roughest sense, and it was playable.

The pre-alpha demo of Lords of Midnight for iOS

Content to wait at that point, I sat back. Not only was there going to be an iOS version, but because of the way Chris had ported his Midnight Engine, using the cross-platform Marmalade SDK, there was going to be a port to Android, Mac OS X and MS Windows. This wasn't just an simple iOS port, this was a cross-platform remake of the original game. There was even discussion of finally making the almost legendary missing sequel The Eye of the Moon.

I waited, I'd gotten good at it...

The Lords of Midnight for iOS

...and then Chris put out a call for play testers. I didn't spot it, but amazingly my editor at O'Reilly, Brian Jepson, did. I managed to make it into the play test, which is another one I owe Brian.

Play testing the iOS port

The graphics are still the original imagery taken from the eighties, and the interface is still a bit shaky, and there are a few bugs in artificial intelligence, but I'm enjoying having early access to the game. I'm enjoying wallowing in my eighties nostalgia.

But beyond that I think, that with the bugs and interface problems properly addressed, and the graphics updated to something that looks at home in the twenty first century, that this is still and above all a solid game. That in fact this is a game that appears as if it was always intended to be on the iPad, as if it was always meant to run on touch hardware. The new platform suits it, like a new suit of clothes.

This isn't an ageing rock star coming out of retirement for one more nostalgia tour, this is something bigger. Just like it did the first time around, I think the Lords of Midnight for iOS could change how gaming is done on the platform.

Not bad for a game that's now approaching thirty years old?