April 20th, 2008
UFHO is a unique turn-based multiplayer puzzle game that blends an original concept with addicting game mechanics and a bit of strategy. The resulting mix is a great gaming experience that will probably keep you hooked to screen for quite a while. We had the pleasure to interview the Italian developers behind UFHO and learn more about the concept and development of the game.

Q: We'd like to know a little about your background. When did you guys started making games?

I always had a strong passion about making games, but I never had the skills or the means to actually create one. When I met Alessandro I slowly convinced him to embark on the adventure of making games, and his expertise in communication and advertising was fundamental to bring our game to the light. I pushed him so hard towards making games because I felt the need for italian developers to think about some new concept, so we started with the only idea of making “something new”.

Q: What were the first games that you have created?

UFHO was our first real game. Personally I created some games while at school, something for the cellphones and then some experiments in Flash for the Wii, but never did a complete game like this. After I entered Alessandro’s Visual studio we worked on an advertising game, and with this experience we moved towards real game making.

Q: Can you introduce UFHO to our readers?

UFHO is a multiplayer turn-based puzzle game. The initial idea was inspired by the movie "the Cube", in which there's some people challenged to traverse a labyrinthic place made of some rooms connected together. This free and random structure should have been used as a basis for an adventure game's world.
This way players would have a game world where eveything is enclosed in hexagonal "rooms" (or open spaces) linked together, that rotating on themselves gave life to a world with neverending opportunities. We felt though that such a complex structure would have confused the players, which were already busy with the "adventure" aspect of the game. Adding this random mechanic (that moreover it had to be hidden from the player) would create a great disorientation.
Thus UFHO was born: "What if we use this hexagonal world to build a puzzle game?" After some testing we knew the game would work on its own, but for the sake of strategy we added the powerups... The multiplayer aspect though was there from the first day, we always thought it was a must-have. Now we know UFHO is a great game and we think everyone who spends a little time with it will fall in love with this little strategy game.

Q: Is UFHO free to play?

Yes, absolutely. No ads, no banners, no fees.

Q: What are the basic requirements to play UFHO?

Read the instructions before playing. We put also video tutorials into the site, to help beginners. We also have a podcast with games from the pros, for the experts.

Q: How many people worked on it and how much time did you invest in the project?

We were only two persons: one worked on graphics and programming and the other on graphics, advertising and community management. Then there were a lot of friends to make tests...

Q: What are the games that influenced you the most in your work?

Personally speaking, I love Nintendo games. They are not hardcore or casual games: they are structured to be simple on the surface, accessible to everyone, and then very hard to complete and very interesting for the ones who want to dig in deep. I can’t say UFHO was influenced by a game in particular, but maybe when I thought about the moves-powerups relations I was thinking about this scalable experience.

Q: Can you tell us about the rules and the main objectives of the game?

The objective is very simple: take as many gems as you can. The first to get 11 wins the match. The rules are that you can move from room to room only if the respective doors are aligned. To do this you have to rotate them. Of course it’s not that simple, because players must not only race for the gem like crazy, but they must counter every move of the other one. In the struggle for a gem, if you’re too far you should always spend some moves to slow down the opponent, and some to move yourself. This way you can achieve big turn-arounds... and the results are really surprising in terms of strategy!

click thumbnails to
enlarge them.

click thumbnails to
enlarge them.

Q: What about powerups? How do they work?

At first we thought the game without powerups, but it was obvious that we needed the “random factor” to spice up things. The powerups are really what tells good players from bad ones, because using them at the right time is very difficult. To get a powerup you must move onto it, and it will go into the powerups bar at the bottom of the screen. To use it (in your turn) you must click on it and then perform an action that depends on the powerup chosen. Some are instantaneous (like the Extra moves and Extra Time), some needs the player to click on a room (like the Block room), some to click on an area button (like the Double rotate). Most powerup cost moves, so it’s really difficult to understand if it’s good to use them or spare them for worst situations.

Q: Being a multiplayer game, UFHO provides also extra features, such as friends, user search, ranking etc... How do they work?

We have some tools for community making: UFHO has a chat when you enter the Lobby, and has a chat also when you are in the middle of a match. Moreover, users can request friendship to others so when they are online they can find each other more easily thanks to the Friends list. We also have an extensive ranking system that stores all sort of things, like matches won, lost, left, gems taken, powerups used, turns wasted, and so on. User search is simple as never: you put the name and you hit search! Of course you can also run an advanced search based on the country, rank, or city of the user.

Q: The website says that the game is in "beta". When do you think the final version will be ready and what additions are expected?

This first phase is all about testing. We’re going out of the “beta” version in a matter of days, as soon as we launch the game outside Italy. You can tell from the header on the pages if we’re in “beta” or not. We expect to add some nice new features, like in-game tutorials, a better chat system, and then tournaments with prizes.

Q: Was UFHO developed in Actionscript 2 or 3? What is you current preference, and why?

UFHO was developed in AS 2.0 because when we started development Flash Player 9 was not very common on the users’ PCs, so we thought that by aiming for the Flash Player 8 the game would reach a wider audience. I currently don’t have a preference, I think AS 3.0 delivers better performances but since UFHO is not a fast action game Player 8 is still our best choiche because of its diffusion.

Q: What were the most challenging phases during the development?

The testing… we were not really that experienced about developing real time application and I was amazed at discovering how many bugs it had because of the slow internet connections of the users. Coping with them was the hardest part in the development process.

Q: Talking about the multiplayer side of the game, how did you develop the game logic? Is it all on the server side?

No, only the matchmaking that happens when you press on the Play button inside the game is server-side. You press the button, a server-side extension puts you in a queue, then when another player presses it you’re joined in a game.
From then on the server only transmits the events from player to player, since the game is based on turns I thought that it was better to have every player send the moves to the other during his turn. This way every player would always see his turn perfectly and make his moves, and the workload for the server is not that much (a message to dispatch every second?)

Q: Flash games are constantly getting more complex as the flash player evolves. Do you use any additional softwares for managing the project? (editors, versioning, debugging tools etc...)

We used only the Flash editor to create the game, and then of course we used SmartfoxServer for creating the infrastructure of the community and to handle real time gaming and chat. The multiplayer interaction part of the development was helped by SmartFox because of the trace function of the server-side extensions, which helped a lot in handling all the bugs related to the interaction over the net.

Q: If you were to give a couple of suggestion to younger developers willing to create their games, what would you recommend?

I can think only of one thing: you have to be passionate about games. You have to love them. If you think of making games only to make money, then it’s best to leave this market to the others because it’s a very hard place with a lot of competition. Also creativity helps: I think that nowadays most people count on the experiences made by others to do quick cash-ins. But in the end they wouldn’t pay, so I recommend to develop new intellectual properties and concepts to enter the market with a fresh game. The players will appreciate that.

Q: Can you tell us about your future game related projects?

Now we’re focusing on the international launch of UFHO. We’re also exploring the possibility to bring it to consoles or touch-screen devices. UFHO has a long way to go, and we will still focus on it for a while.

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