GDC Online 2011: Dragons vs Unicorns for Everyone

Spending time at GDC Online 2011 was interesting.  While the conference is much smaller than the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, the specific focus on all things online offered a lot of interesting content and new technologies to learn about.

Digital Harmony Games’ introduction of Dragons vs Unicorns might have been my last meeting before I flew back to San Francisco, but it showed off something I have been waiting for in mobile games for a while now.

True real-time cross platform gaming

I met Chief Operating Officer Keren Kang when she demoed an early build of the game.  Keren explained that the demo she was showing wasn’t for gameplay.  Instead, she brought along a pre-alpha build to show off the feature that, so far, has me very impressed.

Dragons vs Unicorns could be considered an action defense or tower defense game in the loosest of terms at this point.  The final product of the game will consist of players defending their castle tower from the opposition by hurling objects through the air and releasing minions on the ground.

As a freemium game, the up-front cost is nothing. Digital Harmony plans to include microtransaction purchases for consumable items and items for high levels of customization.

Dragons vs Unicorns will also include social gaming features.  Some of the features that will be added are a real-time chat, leaderboards, badges, achievements and friend lists.  I asked about a third party social networking solution like OpenFeint and she said they were looking into adding the service, but were looking at these social features as inclusions into their own game.

The game is planned to have both a single player campaign and multiplayer matches.  The single player is planned at twenty levels each containing twenty sub-levels.  The single player content will be used to familiarize players with the gameplay and raise their levels for multiplayer battles.

But all the planned features really pale in comparison to the tech demo she showed with the pre-alpha of Dragons vs Unicorns.

Support for Dragons vs Unicorns includes iOS (iPhone, iPod, iPad), Android (mobile, tablets), and web browsers (PC, Mac).  All three will be able to communicate with each other through WiFi and present real-time multiplayer.  The backend of Dragons vs Unicorns is cloud-based with persistent player data layered with their patent-pending Harmony Tech, the system that allows for cross platform gaming.

Keren’s example was demoing the build on an Android phone and a iPhone running on WiFi.  Since the gameplay isn’t balanced, Keren asked me to focus on the syncing of the two devices in-game.

Watching the Android and iPhone communicate with identical gameplay was impressive.  There was no lag between the two.  It was possible to see both phones displaying the same action, but from the point of view of that specific player.

Keren also mentioned that they had tested WiFi from Austin to Korea with no noticeable problems, so worldwide support is possible.  She also said that they were in the process of developing for 3G in the future, but they were trying to find the best solution for the varying data connection issues.

Obviously, with the lack of full scaled assets, effects, and balancing involved, Digital Harmony still has a bit of a way to go before it can truly present a full game experience with cross platform support.  Keren informed me that Digital Harmony was aware of the polish it would need to apply to the game before the planned release next year.

If the cross platform tech can already support itself through Android and iOS with tablet support planned, Digital Harmony might really have something with their developed Harmony Tech, the brains behind cross platform support.

Dragons vs Unicorns has a good amount of development time before its planned release next year.  That gives Digital Harmony time to implement the gameplay in conjunction with Harmony Tech and polish the experience of the game.

I’m very curious to see the end result of Dragons vs Unicorns.  If Digital Harmony can really deliver a cross platform experience, there is nothing stopping the company from exploring bigger multiplayer experiences for the future.

I have to thank COO Keren Kang for demoing Harmony Tech and Dragons vs Unicorns. Digital Harmony Games could have a true game changer by offering a real solution to cross platform gaming.

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