Blog posted by Ste Pickford on Wed, 19 Jan 2011
Subject: Naked War PC
I spent last week programming - yikes - doing a fix to the Naked War server code that I'd been putting off for ages. Some changes I made to the website late last year meant that new players couldn't sign up to play Naked War, which needed fixing. I'd had a few emails from people who wanted to try Naked War and couldn't, and existing players who wanted to get new friends playing the game, so it really needed doing.
I'd been putting off doing the fix for a few months partly because Magnetic Billiards graphics were taking priority, and partly because Naked War wasn't for sale any more so it was hard to justify spending time on it. Both true, but the real reason I'd put it off for so long was because I was terrified of touching five year old code, and maybe breaking it.
For those who aren't familiar with the game, Naked War is a fun turn-based two-player strategy game for PC. The game is played in short five minute chunks, where first you watch your opponent's turn, then you setup your own turn in response - turns which involve moving four soldiers around a little island map, shooting at the enemy, collecting pickups, and jumping in and out of tanks and helicopters. Turns are uploaded to the Naked War servers once completed. The opponent is then notified by email, and can download the incoming turns from their Player Stats page on the Naked War website.
John and I designed the game together, and John programmed the PC game client while I did the graphics, as usual.
I was handling the Zee-3 website at the time, so as an extension of that I ended up with the job of programming the server code to receive and organise turn files, and deliver these through the Naked War website.
I've been an artist and game designer for most of my career, so this was pretty much the first bit of 'proper' programming I'd ever done in my professional life (I did a website-based high score table for Wetrix, written in Perl back at Zed Two, although I had to get Steve Hughes to write the hard encryption / decryption code for me - my code just did a bubble sort on the score table).
I was convinced that it wouldn't work, and was struck with terror every time there was an error while we were building and testing the server system. I constantly expected the server system to fall down whenever people played the game, and always found myself mildly surprised when games were played and completed without problems.
Blimey, it worked! No doubt there were still bugs and errors in there, and the code wasn't brilliant, but it did the job.
I was still terrified whenever I had to make the most minor changes and updates to the code though. What if it broke and I couldn't work out why? What if every Naked War player started complaining that they couldn't play and demanded a refund? What if the whole server exploded the moment I uploaded a new bit of code? Argh!! Drawing graphics didn't have any of this stress.
Well, I finally bit the bullet and did a big update to the server code last week, and gave the Naked War website a spring clean. It all seemed to work, and soon after there were new players firing turns back and forth, which was cool.
After finishing the update, I reflected on how long the Naked War servers had been running. Jan 2006 was about the time we got the first alpha testers playing the game through the server.
Five years is a long time in video games. Some EA games have their online servers switched off 18 months after release, which I find shocking. When we were launching the game one or two people voiced worries that buying it was a risk as we might switch the servers off. Well, I guess we can't guarantee they'll be there forever, but I'm proud of the fact that a poor little indie like us can keep our online servers running for longer than a big, rich publisher like EA.
Playing Naked War again made me realise that the game is looking a little long-in-the-tooth now. The game itself is still really good, I think - probably the best game we've ever designed - but the UI and some of the graphics are looking a bit clunky and dated now.
We really want to do a sequel or update to the game, perhaps on a more suitable platform than PC download with email turn notifications, which I hope we can find the time to start work on this year.
In the meantime, we've decided to make the game completely free to play. I was updating the server code anyway, so I switched the system to completely free mode while I was in there. Hopefully I won't have to modify that code ever again!
If you want to give it a try, just download the PC client from the Naked War website, then make a Zee-3 account here and sign in. I'm always up for game.
» Naked War website