Microsoft Surface, the incredibly awesome giant touchpad, will bring the classic board game Settlers of Catan to the masses, thanks to the efforts of Vectorform Games. However, those masses will be limited to playing in hotels, on cruise ships, and in other large public venues.
Playing Catan on Surface is much like playing the analog original. Players claim resources, roll dice, and build things. In fact, players still roll a physical set of dice, as Surface includes an IR reader that displays the number rolled (actual numbers are printed on the dice) on its screen. The inclusion of a physical set of dice was very important to the development team, who wanted to preserve the “board game” feel for the player. As a tabletop gamer myself, physically rolling dice is paramount to my enjoyment. Okay, maybe not paramount, but it’s still pretty nice to be able to do that.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Kevin Foreman, Lead Game Developer for Vectorform Games, at PAX Prime and talk about how Catan was brought to Surface. But before you dive in to the interview, have a look at Settlers of Catan being played on Microsoft Surface.
Trung Bui: Tell us about the development of Catan on Surface.
Kevin Foreman: We’ve been developing for Surface for about two years now and we have a lot of experience creating a bunch of different user interfaces. We brought a lot of our experience to the digital board game era/platform. The hardest part of development was figuring out what people did not want to give up from the analog version of the game and keep that stuff on the digital version. We set out not to make a video game, but a digital board game experience. We still have the physical dice, we think it’s huge. You still have a true randomness factor, as opposed to a random number generator behind the scenes and not giving you true random numbers and that’s awesome.
Another thing is we wanted free-time trade, you can trade resources any time and we think that’s also a huge inclusion. We think we can do a lot of automation with a digital platform as well. When you roll a 4, you get that resource automatically, nobody has to figure it out. We wanted to make a hybrid of the awesomeness of the analog version and automating what is annoying in the analog version in the digital platform.
Automation is a big factor since it cuts down on the unnecessary length of the game.
KF: It also prevents a bit of cheating, as well. You can’t place a road unless you have all the resources required. Having the digital version keeping track of those kinds of things for you, we think is awesome. And the greatest part is being able to throw physical dice on the board and not worrying about knocking over any parts of the game board, that’s another really cool part of being on the digital platform.
Seeing how Microsoft Surface costs a lot of money, would it be fair to say that it’s not something that’s meant for general consumer use?
KF: Microsoft is targeting Surface at commercial venues like hotels, cruise ships, restaurants, and the like. We really think it would be awesome in a gaming store. Gaming stores always have tournaments going and being able to show your whole breadth of board games in a store on the digital platform is huge. It’s obviously not a consumer device and Microsoft knows that and is only really targeting commercial venues. We’re not just working for Microsoft, we’re a platform agnostic company. We love to do iPod/iPad stuff, Windows 7, mobile, Xbox, PC, websites. Wherever a game platform fits, we’re going to try put our games on that platform. Yes, the Surface is definitely a luxury item, but we don’t want to just target the Surface for games.