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Slant Six Games talks Galactic Reign's cinematic space battles

Galactic Reign was quite the revelation when it appeared on Windows 8 and then Windows Phone 7 and 8 last month. Here was an exclusive strategy game for Windows platforms with cross-platform asynchronous multiplayer, and Microsoft basically forgot to tell anybody about it before release. But it’s definitely worth playing if you enjoy competitive strategy games. Check out our review to learn just how the game works.

One of Galactic Reign’s most unique aspects has to be its large-scale space battles. See, the fleets of ships that clash against each other in the game can number in the thousands. Instead of rendering these battles in-engine, the details about each side’s armada are sent to the cloud. From there, a cinematic video gets constructed and sent back to the game for players to watch.

The technology for those cloud space battles comes from Canadian developer Slant Six games. Last week at GDC 2013, we chatted with Paul Martin, Director of Technology and James Ricker, Cinematics Director about Galactic Reign’s videos and Slant Six Games’ experience working with Microsoft. Head past the break for the full video interview!

A tale of two developers

In talking with the guys at Slant Six Games, we learned a great deal about the division of work behind Galactic Reign. Previously we had assumed that Microsoft simply contracted Slant Six to develop the game entirely, with Microsoft acting as the publisher (as they often do with Xbox Live projects).

As it turns out, the game concept, artwork, and most programming duties were handled by Microsoft Studios. But Microsoft had come up with the quirky idea of rendering the game’s battles in the cloud as opposed to within the game itself. To do this, they looked to Slant Six Games.

The Canadian developer took the data that Microsoft’s game gave them, constructed a cinematic engine to bring the battles to life, and then sent the resulting video back to the game itself. James Ricker (who has a background in cinematography) was instrumental in achieving the dynamic look of the battles.

Potential for the future

One clear drawback to Galactic Reign’s cloud video creation technology is that after the users’ moves have been submitted, they have to wait a few minutes for the battle videos to process and become available for streaming. That time delay sort of limits how the tech can be used in the future games.

While this technology is truly in its infancy, it still holds a vast amount of potential for turn-based and strategic games. Just imagine playing a game like Total War: Shogun 2 on your phone without having to miss out on the large-scale battles. If the delay between requesting a video and the video’s availability ever gets down to 30 seconds or less, I could see a lot of demand for this tech from tablet, mobile, and even PC developers.

Galactic Reign at GDC

Paul Martin and James Ricker of Slant Six Games

Paul Martin (left) and James Ricker

Later on at the Game Developers Conference itself, I was heartened to see Microsoft promoting its game in a couple of ways. For one, they delivered a post-mortem lecture about Galactic Reign’s development. We’ll bring you guys more details about the panel after the videos become available.

Second, the game featured somewhat prominently at the Microsoft GDC lounge area (essentially a large booth promoting Xbox 360, Windows 8, and Windows Phone). Visitors could play against a Microsoft staff member from either a Surface RT or Windows Phone on display. On the last day of the show, staff even distributed Galactic Reign shirts and tote bags to attendees.

Not quite as effective as announcing platforms and sending out press releases in advance of a game’s release, but it’s a start!

Galactic Reign costs $4.99 on Windows Phone (Store Link) or Windows 8 (Store Link (opens in new tab)). Try a few multiplayer games and you might just get hooked.

QR: Galactic Reign

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

  • This game is awesome. I bought the windows 8 version and was instantly addicted to it. If you like games like civilization, you'll appreciate this game. It's a lot simpler so the games go by quicker. 5/5 rating!
  • "Not quite as effective as announcing platforms and sending out press releases in advance of a game’s release, but it’s a start!"
    Wait, you're saying things like that might help to promote a game and increase its sales numbers?
  • I'm highly addicted to this game, it's really great. Waiting for the battle's can be a bit of a downer, but if you play it like you would Words by Post and understand it may take a minute before the other player makes a move, it's not as much of an issue.
    Very interesting to find out that Microsoft made the game, but Slant Six developed the cloud CG battle tech system. I had thought Slant Six made the entire game until now. Now back to the game!
  • And the game just received an update...
  • I don't get the attraction of this game.  You spend a couple minutes outfitting your ships and your fleet, then wait 3-4 minutes while it renders and then watch a 10-15 second clip of the results.
  • You can just turn the videos off if you don't like them.
  • Yeah, I agree this sounded really great, but the whole waiting for the action to happen sounds dull.
  • Microsoft should have this game be one of the Red Square deals and fast. They need to drive adoption of such a unique and well designed game. Its something that only the Windows ecosystem has and they have to maximize these type of things.
  • I love this game! Great to see it getting more coverage.
  • Informative inferview with some cool guys!
  • Are those battles made up of stock clips? As in, are you likely to see the same sequences play out multiple times. It's a nice idea in essence but any idea that requires the user to wait for feedback is gonna be a tricky sell. Surely the game could dynamically create the battles in the hardware rather than a video to reduce all that waiting. Although I suppose the graphics would have to be scaled down for the phone then. They should probably stop the engine making cuts every 1 or 2 seconds too. Obviously a computer has to make the edits but it can't be that clockwork. Editing needs to flow to the needs of the shot. What this could allow for though is games that give you some sort of graphical fidelity the device itself isn't capable of. But then we'd be getting into the realm of cloud streaming of games which would be quite possible on 4G devices.
  • I think it can't dynamically create the battles because of how many ships are involved. Each side can have like 10,000 ships; I don't know the actual limit. I agree that it cuts too frequently. One good thing is you can rewind and fast-forward through the battle videos at will, as well as turning on indicators of of side and unit type like in the header image.
  • The thing with the cuts are that they happen at 1 or 2 second intervals regardless of what the image is on screen. I'm a terrible editor and I still wouldn't do that. Wonder what a version of this on Xbox would be like seeing as it would be able to just render the battles in engine. Does the game hold up outside it's gimmick?
  • Yes, it's actually a well-made strategy game. It lacks a substantial single-player component so you basically need other people to play against in order to enjoy it though. And the videos can be turned off entirely (I keep them off), so they're more of a bonus than an integral part of the game.
  • This game looks really cool, but it doesn't really do anything for me.  I'm just going to stick with QONQR.