Wednesday, 05 October 2005

Arcs of Fire - Tablet PC GameGot a Tablet PC and wondering about games on the platform? Yeah, me too. Recently I've been thinking about the Tablet PC platform in general (I have had four different models in the past few years) and what could make a difference in terms of more real reasons to need one (as opposed to want one, but hey - I suppose 'want' counts for something, too).

Some games have incidental (as opposed to direct and intentional) support for the Tablet PC, but what games are out there that are designed specifically for the Tablet? I know it's hard to design and build expensive games for an audience that won't let you recover your dev costs, but someone has to start somewhere. Microsoft should really push this envelope harder.

I did some searching around, and discovered one that I missed before. It's called Arcs of Fire - and appears to be written in C#. It's made up of a game engine, the Tablet Game SDK, and the Tablet PC SDK. Tied together, the combined platform makes for a game environment that lets you leverage all kinds of features of the Tablet PC - like pen pointing, ink and drawing, and screen rotation. On the web site, there are whitepapers, video tutorials and overviews (see the documentation section), and a whole slew of other technical information about the game.

Heck, the Arcs of Fire web site is cool in and of itself - when I go to provide my info to download the game package (which weighs in at 50MB), I am presented with text input boxes that sense my Tablet pen input device. I write in ink, and the web site code leverages the Tablet bits (the TIP, I imagine?) to convert my ink to text by default - very cool.

The site's ink-enabled forums allow you to write handwritten forum posts. It's a bit hard (read: impossible) to index those in search engines (including the forum search), but the concept and execution are quite well done. The ASP.NET source for the ink forums is also available for download.

Granted, you have to use IE to do these fancy things, but hey - someone should be able to fix that problem...

The Game

Oh, that's right - there's a game on this site... The source code for the game is available on the download page for anyone who wants to tackle that. After downloading and running the MSI installer, which includes a distribution of the required DirectX 9, you're presented with a rather nifty game. It's simple, to be sure, and it takes some getting used to. But for a tank-vs-tank battle, it's an interesting gameplay experience.

It's not much more than what you're used to in shoot-the-other-tank games with third-person, cross-section view. The difference here is that you use the pen to fire your ammo at the other side. Pressure, speed and inking gestures all make a difference in how your rounds get fired at your enemy. Background music and sounds effects make it more fun.

I'd say this is a good start to something bigger and better, for sure. I was mostly (and pleasantly) surprised to find a site and game that are geared directly at the Tablet PC user. Makes me wonder what other games would lend themselves well to Tablet PC deployment. Maybe use the pen to draw your strategy plan for the Terrans to annihilate the Zergs? Or maybe draw your next play from the virtual huddle?

Check it out at

Choose your player screen
Choose your player name (click to enlarge)

Game screen
Game screen (click to enlarge)

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