Warning questions: yes, Dead Cells will be a premium mobile game. The game is paid on a PC, on consoles, this will remain on mobile phones.
A year ago, Motion Twin (the developers of Dead Cells) entrusted Playdigious with the job of porting Dead Cells to mobile devices and gave them complete freedom of action. It was a great day for Playdigious, because Dead Cells won many prestigious awards, received amazing coverage and, of course, liked the players .
When Playdigious started working on Dead Cells, they could not even imagine what problems they would face. However, the team had experience porting complex projects. Previously, they worked on Evoland 2 from Shiro Games, a challenging RPG with an average transit time of 20 hours. Even its developers did not believe that this was possible on mobile devices due to the complexity of the game .
But guys came to success!
How to transfer a reactive, action-packed, game-oriented controller with roar to mobile devices and tablets with a single touch screen?
1. The first prototype
For a start, it was necessary to make sure whether the mobile devices would pull the game at all. The first build, with no controls or anything else, was created just to test the functionality and see if there were any technical obstacles. Spoiler: they were not.
Switch version of the game was also in the plans. It is important to understand that today’s mobile devices are much more powerful than many people think. Obviously, from the technical side there are some additional restrictions, such as a variety of devices (especially Android models), texture optimization, use of RAM, not to mention the different versions of the OS. About Android with their fragmentation and the huge difference between the GPU on different models is not even worth talking about. However, in general, modern mobile devices are very close to the Nintendo Switch in terms of technical specifications. So, if you are planning a Switch version of the game, look at mobile devices for a start.
As noted earlier, there were no insurmountable technical obstacles (we don’t talk about Haxe / Heaps, because it’s not the path of the author of the original article). It was not easy – on the contrary, the task was damn complex, but not impossible. Porting games, in particular on mobile phones, is not trivial. Unfortunately, Dead Cells will not be supported on “old” devices, but (thanks to QA) the guys are confident that the game can work without problems on all supported devices.
2. Look at the original control (feel the pain)
We all know that the mobile port will never be the same as on the original platform (PC or console). For Dead Cells, the main task was to take all the controls and find a way to make them enjoyable on a mobile phone.
3. Start by moving.
After checking the first prototype, I had to think about the UX and put on a few mockups and tests. Where to begin?
In Dead Cells, one of the key features is movement. The player should move, run, crouch and jump easily. This question was worked out with the team in past games.
Movement left and right did not cause problems: you can use a virtual floating panel. Today, the accuracy of this solution is much better than in the past, and many mobile games use it. Players are already accustomed to this, and Playdigious could screw this decision.
With jumps and evasions, everything is much more complicated. Both are vital in Dead Cells and used constantly.
How to provide convenient controls for this?
The first option was in the form of a single sliding button for both actions. This would allow both gestures to perform both actions. But…
It did not work. It was a nightmare to play – low accuracy and persistent inaccuracies in recognition. Does not fit!
Start over. One button for jumping and one for dodging. With the right positioning, this could be a good solution. But still, there are so many buttons on the screen, so the guys tried other options.
We got rid of the Dodge button and decided to use the swipe on the right side of the screen to dodge. And it worked!
Swipe-for-Dodge is a great idea, but not for all team members. This is a completely different way of playing, and they were not happy with everything. Thus, by default, they left the option with two buttons.
4. We can move! What’s next?
Let’s talk about what happens next:
- use of skills;
- the use of weapons and potions;
- how to get through the door without breaking it;
- how to talk with characters;
- how to pick up items or interact with things, etc.
Skills and weapons. The Jump and Dodge buttons worked well, let’s repeat! The task was to find the correct location of the virtual buttons. The team looked at how other successful games, such as Fortnite and Lineage 2, deal with this, to better understand the habits of the players. How do they move? How do they jump? How do they manage the interface with a large number of buttons? Thanks to the tests of other games, the team decided that everything was fine with their management.
Menu buttons and potions (and homunculus, only shhh! This will appear later in the game). On a PC, you just need to press “Esc” to open the settings menu; on consoles you click Start or Options. But on mobile phones you need something on the screen to open the menu. For a long time the menu was right on the HP panel, and the developers got used to it. This was not the first time such a solution was used in a mobile game. And there was confidence that it would work.
Note: when you think over the UX = NEVER think over the players. And please make more playtests. Playtests showed the team where they were wrong. Placing the menu on the HP panel was not enough, you need an icon for the Menu! And they added it.
Interaction. How should players control the passage through doors, talk to characters, pick up objects, weapons, etc.? How should all these different actions work on a mobile phone? Playdigious did not want to add too many things to the screen and make the player understand all this. One button will be enough, so they did: add a new button “Interact”. Finding the right visual asset for this was not an easy task, but with the right icon and some visual signs and feedback, this button has become very easy to understand and use.
For all these buttons, many layouts and tweaks were involved, but thanks to some tests, they managed to get something nice. In addition, from the very beginning, they had the idea of letting players choose how they want to play, so the developers integrated some features inspired by Evoland 2 … But we will come back to this later. At that time, Laura still thought that the game had a lot of buttons, but during the game itself did not pay attention to it and just enjoyed the process.
5. How the hell do we have to arrange all these buttons?
Well, let’s remember everything that needs to be placed on one small screen:
- Floating panel (on the left of the screen – there is no discussion here, since players are used to it).
- Jump and dodge.
- Skills and Weapons.
- + all interfaces that already exist on other platforms: Health Bar, Gold & Cell Number, Map, Timer, etc.
It was important to adapt to small screens and a completely different way of playing: hold the device with two hands, sometimes on the go.
This required some hard work on the interfaces.
The developers simply could not save the existing interface; everything was at the bottom of the screen, and this does not work well on mobile devices, since the players would overlap everything with their fingers.
In the end, they all shoveled; The health panel has moved to the upper left corner of the screen along with Gold and Cells. The map moved to the upper right corner along with the Timer and Keys.
It left a lot of space downstairs – and that’s where the controls were located. The pad area is on the left, and the other controls are on the right, with a small exception for the Potion and Gomunkula button behind the HP panel.
6. Give players freedom
It is difficult to make the game perfect for everyone. Even inside the office. Everyone had their own ways of playing.
What can you do about it? To do the same thing that they did with Evoland 2, and what Laura expected from the very beginning: to give the player freedom.
You can translate it like this: give players the ability to customize controls and experience according to their needs.
Since the button layout was really confusing, Playdigious implemented what they called custom controls: in Settings, you can move and resize buttons as you like.
Also, remember the Swap Test for Evasion, which we set aside for later? Surprise! He is back. Not available by default, of course, on as an option. Players just need to activate it in the settings!
Another frequently requested setting is fixed pad. An idea that came after a lot of playtests and past mobile gaming experiences. 80 percent of players prefer a floating pad, and 20 percent – fixed. So, as in Swipe to Dodge, the player can now activate this parameter in Settings.
7. New game mode with automated actions.
At the suggestion of Motion Twin, the Playdigious team also added a new game mode so that these new controls do not significantly affect the core game experience.
The idea was to help the Dead Cells friends to go to the mobile version and, possibly, attract new players. Playdigious called it Autoataca. As the name implies, the main attack (melee attack) automatically hits nearby enemies.
Forward to conclusions
To summarize, now we have:
- User interface specifically for mobile devices (and tablets).
- Two game modes: original and auto attack.
- Possibilities of customization of controls.
- The ability to Swipe to Dodge instead of a button.
- Option for fixed pad.
- External controller support (MFi and Bluetooth).
All this in order to make the game as close as possible to the original on the PC and consoles.
When porting mobile games (or console, or somewhere else), you have to make some concessions. You must make controls and interfaces suitable for the target platform. But you can also change some features to unlock the potential of the platform.
For Playdigious and Dead Cells, the difficulty was to put all the controls on the touch screen (and on mobile devices, the controls often represent the user interface). They knew that there was no ideal solution for everyone, so at the early stages they decided to provide an opportunity to customize the controls.
Porting the game, any game is not an easy task. You will have to live with a bunch of limitations of the original platform, and therefore many developers are often scared when talking about it. But this is not impossible. Many games are not portable, but during the porting process, some developers may find new ways to play, and for some, the porting process will be so easy that you ask yourself: “Why hasn’t our game been on this platform before ?!”