Interview: The creator of Air Soccer talks about Windows 8 development

When Microsoft first announced their plans for the Windows Store feature in Windows 8, they also launched a contest where developers could submit Modern UI apps that would be released as part of the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8. One of the winning apps turned out to be the arcade game Air Soccer, created by developer Imran Shafiq of Dangling Concepts.

As a result, Shafiq becaome one of the first software developers with a public app available for download in the Windows Store when the Consumer Preview version of Windows 8 launched in late February. Shafiq has since released updates to Air Soccer that added cross platform multiplayer with the game's Windows Phone 7 counterpart.

We got a chance to ask some questions to Shafiq about his work on Air Soccer for Windows 8 and his plans for future games, including a upcoming title called Chess Wars.

First, can you tell us about your app and programming background?

I have been programming in Microsoft technologies for about 12 years. Visual C++, MFC, Win32 API, DirectX 8, C#.Net, Silverlight, XNA and now WinRT XAML. I currently have one app on Windows Phone "Air Soccer Fever" and I ported it to Windows 8 as well. I am working on one app for Windows Phone, Tank Arena, and one app for Windows 8, Chess Wars.

When you first heard about Windows 8 and the Windows Store, what was your first reaction?

Windows 8 Modern Apps design (previously called Metro) is a breath of fresh air. I got early access to the OS and WinRT API and I was immediately hooked to both, a great user experience and an excellent API. The introduction of Windows 8 Store is a blessing for commercial and Indie developers alike. Due to its discoverability, reach and monetary benefits, I decided to start developing for Windows 8 immediately.

How did you come up with the idea for Air Soccer for Windows 8?

I already had released Air Soccer Fever for Windows Phone 7. When I heard about the Microsoft First Apps Contest for Windows 8, I immediately decided to port Air Soccer Fever to Windows 8 since it is a great casual game for that form factor. Air Soccer Fever was a winner of the competition and I got a Windows 8 tablet and a lot of exposure out of it; thanks to Microsoft.

Overall, are there any tricks to making a touch screen based Windows 8 app or game compared to making a regular PC app?

The most important thing is the Microsoft Modern Apps Design specification. Good User experience design is essential in any application whether its built for Windows 7 desktop or Windows 8 Tablets but it becomes even more important when designing apps for Windows 8 tablets where touch first rules. Charms, Contracts, AppBars, Live Tiles, Push Notifications are important for a great Windows 8 Modern App. Microsoft has extensive documentation, guidance and samples available in these areas.

You had one of the first third party Windows 8 apps released in the Windows Store. How did that feel and what has the reaction been like since the game was released?

It was an amazing feeling to be part of the Windows 8 timeline. My game was featured in the Windows 8 store and got a lot of attention especially after the multiplayer implementation across Windows Phone and Windows 8. Since then, Sony featured the game for their upcoming Vaio Windows 8 device.

You also linked the Windows 8 version to the Windows Phone version. How hard was that to do?

Real-time multiplayer gameplay is not easy to implement especially due to latency and the non-deterministic nature of physics simulation. Fortunately there are services out there that can make the multiplayer communication very easy but you still have to implement the logic for your game. I used the Photon library provided by ExitGames. It's a great technology for implementing multiplayer games.

You have another project you are working on for Windows 8. What can you tell us about that?

I am working on two games, Tank Arena for Windows Phone and Chess Wars for Windows 8. Chess Wars will provide features like 1 player against device, 2 players on same device, local (LAN) multiplayer, online multiplayer gameplay, observe online games and learn from Grand Masters etc. Target release date is November 15th, 2012.  I have submitted Chess Wars for the Microsoft apptivate initiative so please vote for it.  Tank Arena is a 3d tank shooter game which will provide Tank battle against the device, 2 player multiplayer Coop and 4 player multiplayer death match. Target release date is January 15th, 2013.

How do you feel about some of the comments made by other game developers that feel that the Windows Store and Windows 8 are making the PC more of a closed system?

I don't think that's the case. In my opinion, Windows 8 makes the PC even more attractive for game developers. There are two versions of Windows 8 which can be targeted for games. Windows 8 Pro (desktop) and Windows 8 RT (essentially tablet). Windows 8 Pro desktop is the same as Windows 7 desktop so any game that can target Windows 7 desktop can target Windows 8 Pro. Windows 8 RT on the other hand has a different technology and distribution model. Apps and Games have to be specifically developed for Windows 8 RT in the new Win RT API/technology and they are distributed solely through the Windows 8 Store. Even apps/games for Windows 8 Pro desktop can be listed in the Windows 8 Store. That's discoverability. That model has been successful for iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Phone. Moreover, since the Windows 8 RT shares the core with Windows Phone 8 and both allow native development (C++), I think its makes the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 a very attractive platform for games.

Finally, is there anything else you wish to say about Windows 8 and its upcoming launch?

I am super excited about the Windows 8 launch and the opportunities it bring. Microsoft has got it right this time and I am happy to be witnessing and taking a part in the Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 eco system.

We would like to thank Imran for answering our questions

Images via Dangling Concepts

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