Week in Mobile: Vita’s Draw Slasher is the right kind of iOS port

Mobile ports can be sloppy affairs. Still, if you’re going to move your game from one device to another, you might as well choose systems with the smallest possible gap between them.

For Polish indie developer Mass Creation, one of those systems is the PlayStation Vita, for which it released a small, $6 title called Draw Slasher in late April last year. Now the ninja-action game, which only requires your fingers to play — to slash, run, jump, and dodge — is on iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch, which are all touch-screen devices just like Sony’s handheld.

“What makes the game fun?” Artur Gosk, the game’s producer, told GameZone. “First, everything you see and hear. All the graphics were made on 2D sprites, which makes the game one of a kind. Each location and each opponent was made in a classic hand-drawn style. The story is told through animated cutscenes with a really cool voiceover. It looks like a cartoon. Second, the mechanics. You draw and tap only, and it makes the gameplay truly unique. No other action game was all about drawing.”

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Gosk said that the original Draw Slasher: Dark Ninja vs. Pirate Monkey Zombies came out in 2009, before the megapopular Fruit Ninja, a similar game (sort of) where players swipe the screen to burst fruit as it flies up in the air.

The new Draw Slasher includes a few additional modes: Arcade, which works in a bit of tower defense, along with Survival and Challenges.

“Both [Vita and iOS] hardware are similar,” said Gosk. “Touch-screen controls are much alike, too. As the touch screen was the only common input, we didn't need to worry about the rest. This made the porting not really difficult, especially while we're experienced in making games for Apple's touch-screen devices.

“Optimal memory management was the most challenging part of it, as making 2D games, ironically, needs more memory than 3D.”

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The developer’s tweaks to the iOS port really only included making the menu and HUD touch-screen friendly. Considering the benefits, that was a small price to pay, at least for Mass Creation, which knows the App Store well and has been releasing games there for five years.

“There are pros and cons for both platforms,” said Gosk. “IOS has hundreds of millions of users who wish to spend a little or nothing at all. There are only a couple of million PS Vitas sold, but their users are less likely to 'instabuy' games. They prefer bigger titles, and they are willing to pay more, so you can't afford to make a crappy game for them.”

Gosk said the main difference between the platforms is visibility, which is a lot better on the PlayStation Vita — a boon for struggling indie devs. “[When] we published Draw Slasher on the PlayStation Network in the PS Vita category, there used to be less than 100 games, so the visibility was quite high, and Draw Slasher was among three or four new games at the moment. This means new products can reach a potential customer quite easy.

“On the App Store, it's really difficult to achieve a certain level of visibility when there are hundreds of new applications published every day. It's even harder now when there are so many free-to-play apps taking away your audience.”

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So should more developers take advantage of these two platforms, which are so comparable? It depends on the game you’re making, said Gosk. Releasing games for consoles and handhelds is definitely more time-intensive and technical: The quality needs to be higher, the publishing process is more complicated, and so on.

“First of all, we make games which perfectly utilize a specific platform's features, in this case the touch-screen controls,” he said. “If you make a game about drawing and want to port it to a device with different controls — [in other words] use the analog sticks instead — you'll most probably fail.

“It works the other way too,” Gosk said. “Take Grand Theft Auto 3/Liberty City/San Andreas and the latest Tomb Raider for iOS. Playing those games with a gamepad was really great, but with virtual buttons — without any press sensitivity on a glass, and the amount of buttons spread all over the screen — it's not that cool anymore."