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.
Any plans to bring Carcassonne (also on Xbox LIVE) to the platform?
KF: What we really set out to do with touch platforms is take the iconic games like Catan and put it on this platform. We are definitely researching other good games that would be good on either Surface or any other platforms. We're huge fans of Dominion and Stratego, there's a huge catalog of games that we feel would be awesome on Surface. It's a perfect fit, in our opinion. You have the physicality of the dice on a digital platform combined with an automation, it's a very good marriage.
It's very organic.
What I enjoyed about playing Catan on Surface was actually being able to throw the dice on the table as opposed to having to press a button.
When you have a game like Catan or Dominion and bring it into a digital medium, do you feel like it would degrade the nostalgia experience at all? For example, setting up the board and pieces.
KF: There are some games that may not do well on a digital platform only because there is a of physical-ness to the game. If that's hard on the mechanic, then it would be tough to pull off on the digital platform. We think there's so many games out there that have just regular pieces on the board and if we can easily replicate that on Surface. We think the vast majority of the board games out there that people enjoy would do very well on the platform and not lose what made the analog version awesome.
Are you planning on anything else after Catan to put on Surface? Or are you just focused purely on Catan right now?
KF: Yeah. We're a small studio, we have 10-15 people just in Vector Forms alone. It's not a huge team yet, but we're growing very rapidly and we're trying to get Catan out by Holiday 2010. Right now, we're focused on that as far as board games go, but we have a ton of stuff in incubation. We're always constantly coming up with new ideas to put on the platform, but we don't have anything to announce right now. However in the future, we will.
Awesome. Thank you very much.
It is important to know that, yes, the Surface platform is incredibly expensive, but playing on it is unlike anything I've ever experienced. I would love to see Surfaces pop up in game stores, as both a board game device and a D&D tool (grid maps I don't have to draw? Awesome!), though those days might be a long way away. Until then, I'll still be satisfied playing Catan the old fashioned way.
Ranters, did any of you have a chance to try out Surface at PAX Prime 2010? Where would you like to see Surface units installed?
Thanks again to Kevin Foreman and Vectorform Games.