Week in Mobile: Dual-screen game Salvaged may be the coolest tactical shooter in the galaxy
A small team in Bristol, U.K. is making one of the smartest tactical-action games we’ve seen since X-COM.
You may not have heard of it yet, but Opposable Games is a seven-member team that has worked for the likes of Sony, LucasArts, DreamWorks, and Eidos. Together, they’re creating a tactical real-time shooter called Salvaged that you play on two screens at once: the PC and a mobile device.
“In Salvaged, you have no direct control over your team,” studio co-founder James Parker told GameZone. “You tell them where to go, what to target, and what to interact with, but they are essentially A.I. units operating under your command.”
Players receive information two different ways: from the control screen on their iOS or Android device, which provides a top-down view of the situation, and their PC monitor, where they must rely on the eyes and ears of their team.
“The challenge becomes all about the tactics you use, the positioning of your team, the choices you make, and the speed at which you can react to the changing situation,” he said.
Players take charge of a Remote Interstellar Salvage Crew (RISC), coming up against alien enemies, dangerous looters, and space plagues in a constantly changing universe. From the mobile touch screen, which acts as your command center, you can assess the situation at hand and issue orders.
It sounds difficult to monitor two screens at once, but Parker assured me it was actually less confusing than people think.
“As we've seen in mobile, when used well, touch screens can be much more flexible and intuitive than other control schemes,” he said. “The only new thing we're doing is asking people to look at two screens at once, and as we've seen with TV-watching habits, that's actually a thing that people are getting increasingly familiar with.”
Opposable has also received funding to research how players manage their focus: for example, how much time they look at each screen in different scenarios, which helped inform design decisions like where to place HUD and interface elements.
In play, Salvaged works a lot like a roguelike: The wrecks that players explore for salvage and black-box flight data emerge from a deep, procedurally generated system, and as characters get hurt or killed, players will need to recruit new ones. Parker said the team took the “X-COM route,” giving players a crew that improves their usefulness and skills over time. Players might find themselves emotionally attached, and since they’ve spent time with their crew and have literally been looking through their eyes, it might make them think twice about swapping out an existing team member.
“We want [players] to be constantly discovering new things — so we're not leading them by the hand, we're just putting it all in the world to see what they will find,” said Parker. “We're also going to be offering a Spelunky-style daily play so that everyone is served the same wreck and have one opportunity to do their best incursion to compare with their friends and the rest of the world via the leaderboards.”
Parker said the biggest challenge for the team has been making the game seamless across platforms. Over the last couple years, it’s developed its own solution called One Touch Connect, which simplifies syncing down to launching the game on your PC and then hitting a button on your iOS or Android device.
“The best thing about showing off Salvaged is that you can explain it in loads of words, yet as soon as you actually hand it to someone — it just clicks,” said Parker. “People haven't really seen a proper example of how multiscreen play can improve a game, and lots of people have written it off as something that doesn't work or that nobody wants.
“There's lots of ‘companion’ apps, and there's lots of Wii U games that don't take full advantage of the unique opportunities that are presented,” he said. “In Salvaged, dual-screen play is so integral to everything in the game that it has to work, and when people realize it does and that it creates gameplay you couldn't otherwise have, they are really pleasantly surprised, and once they're past that point, they can just get on with enjoying the game.”