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Crafting Windows Phone's finest strategy game

Last week, we took a look at an online multiplayer strategy game called ARMED! – available on Nokia Lumia. Sickhead Games is the company behind the game and we caught up with the team to find out what it takes to create a great mobile game.

Based in Dallas, Texas, USA, Sickhead Games consists of 4 programmers and 2 artists and has been around for more than 10 years. During that time they’ve worked on a lot of game technology and developed educational simulations, as well as game prototypes for various clients. ARMED! is their first independent game as a studio.

If you’ve played ARMED! you’ll notice that it shares some similarities to some of the great PC-strategy games of yore. Did they take inspiration from some of the greats to develop ARMED!?

“Definitely! Civilizations, Dawn of War 2, Diplomacy, Masters of Orion, and even Chess.

The gameplay evolved a lot over development, but our rule was to not make it a tower defense game which are all too common on mobile.” explains James Ford, programmer and game designer.


To set this game apart from the others on the market, they wanted to deliver game with the best possible graphics, while trying to avoid some of the challenges that brings.

Tom Spilman, programmer and co-owner of Sickhead Games used some methods from past projects:

“ARMED! is a graphically rich game for mobile devices and making it work at all was technically challenging. A lot of techniques we picked up making games in the early days of 3D graphics accelerators helped.”

“The biggest challenge was being able to bring the level of detail from the concept art to the 3D models within the limits of mobile devices.” continues artist, Joe Espinoza.

By being able to solve the problem of how to get realistic looking models running smoothly on a smartphone touchscreen, they were able to concentrate on creating the gaming environment and the rest of the ARMED! world. It’s time to head to the drawing board, explains Russell Fincher, artist and co-owner.


“For the individual units, we usually start by brainstorming with hand-drawn concept art on paper. Once we decide on a direction, a highly detailed, high-poly version of the art asset is created in Max. A low-poly version is then created, and we use xNormal to compare the two and bake the details into the texture maps used on the low-poly art asset in game. This gives us art that implies a lot of detail, but has relatively simple geometry… which is crucial for us to achieve good performance on mobile devices. The baked textures are combined with additional markings and wear in Photoshop.

Environments are created as a low-poly scene in Max, and textures are painted on the models directly using Mudbox. Painting textures with Mudbox allows us to easily paint across seams in the geometry that are created when the texture coordinates are mapped on the mesh. Some of the ground textures were created in a terrain-generation program called Vue.”


Graphics are nothing without an actual game, of course. How did they write the code for the game?

“We have decades of combined experience writing C++ code, but ARMED! is written purely in C#. We love the language and the ease of development it allows us. It has also made ARMED! super easy to port to various platforms including Windows 8. We highly recommend it for beginners and experienced developers alike.”

ARMED! on Windows 8

Tom then tells us how long it took to create:

“We came up with the initial concept and rough prototype for ARMED! back in early 2010 when asked to pitch concepts for a Windows Phone launch title. We actually started development in November 2010 and worked on it between other contract jobs throughout 2011. We shipped for Windows Phone in December 2011, so roughly a year of development with lots of distractions in between.”

If anybody is looking to create his or her own mobile game, Joe suggests this little tip:

“Plan it out and make sure the team has a clear direction of what type of game and visuals you are wanting to create. Sure, things will change throughout the course of production, but if the team has an overall plan of attack, then the production cycle will move along much easier.”

As ARMED! continues to receive positive review after positive review, the team have no intention to rest on their laurels. As long as people continue to play the game, they’ll continue to update it, adding new platforms, features, units and maps. And what about new games? Tom concludes:

“We have already started discussing what our next game will be. We haven’t really made any decisions yet, but I expect we will start it later this year. Watch this space!”

If you’ve not yet downloaded ARMED!, you can grab it for £1.29 ($1.49) at the Windows Phone Store.