About Robostrike

The free game concept

Robostrike is a action and tactics free multiplayer game where robots fight in real-time controlled by 1 to 8 players. With Robostrike, you can create your own game boards and share them with the other player within the online community. In its internet game version (webgame), you may play in one of several possible modes: Registration to the game is free but you may also play without registering or get some hints on how to best play the multiplayer game and learn its fundamental moves.

Credits Robostrike was created in 2001. That’s a long time for an internet totally free game and we owe it to the loyalty of the many players who helped us building this community. Robostrike now has an history which we can recount ... (read more)

The free online game origins

The Robostrike project is born in Nantes, France, during the summer 2001 from a chat among three friends Bill, Tchitch and Chris, all three passionate with computer and new technologies. At the time, the flash / shockwave macromedia reader was a small technological revolution. In addition to what it brought to the web in terms of new graphics, sound and animation possibilities, all in a small size swf, it also introduced radically new programming opportunities for developers. In particular, version 4 of the Macromedia Flash reader and later supported a real programming environment in actionscript with communication facilities that allowed, at last, to build a full-fledged bidirectional communication between clients and server (the html of the time was limited to simple query/reply kind of relationship). This opened up plenty of possibilities. How about a new multiplayer flash game without equivalent on the internet as a challenge?

At the same time, another kind of game was taking shape: the world contest flashforward. Each year, this festival awarded the best flash developments in various categories and one of the categories was online games ... :)
Building Robostrike had always been a hobby for us. But why not try also our luck with this contest?

The choice of a tactics game

Basic flash games (also referred to as casual games) are not very interesting as a client/server development. On the opposite, a multiplayer real-time tactics game could turn out to be a real technical challenge without much equivalent on the internet at the time.

Even today, free online multiplayer game done 100% in flash and that do not require download are still rare and far apart. We still had to figure out the concept. We were looking after a tactics game whose lifetime would be long while keeping a certain amount of real-time interactivity (that is, not chess-like). That’s when we thought about porting to the internet the excellent Roborally game by Richard Garfield, edited by Wizard of the Coast. Our first step was to ask the editor for an authorization to do the port and we launched ourselves into the ride. We had one year to build an operational version before the next Flashforward submission deadline of our online game project.

According to the competencies of each of us, we shared the tasks. Tchitch being experienced in java development took over the server development with Tomcat. Chris, with his experience in flash resolved to handle the game interface (that visible by users). Bill, given his other commitments, handled the initial setup of the internet website and its hosting.

First steps of the free game online

Chris’ experience in Flash was limited to graphics animation – complex, but with very little coding. He then first had to get a hand on the actionsript language used by flash applications. A multiplayer game such as Robostrike is made up of few thousand lines of code and, comparatively, only few graphics. However, it has to be perfectly optimized to run on any computer, regardless of the browser, OS or connection speed of the user. As any good hobbyist developer, Chris decided to familiarize himself with ACtionscript by building a first free game: the famous TChris ;) better known under its original name Tetris.
It is still available as a Tetris like free game without download or as a free Tetris game to download

After this little warm up comes the time of the first Robostrike versions. You can see here the first mockup of the robots battle game, dating back 2001 and here the very first robot moves materialized as arrows.
  then
Fortunately, things have evolved a bit since then ;)

That’s when we learn about the negative reply of Roborally editor who, as a matter of principle, doesn’t wish to create a video game of it. We are forced to revise our plans and to come up with an entirely new game play. After many iterations and refinement, we came up in early 2002 with most of the current rules. From Roborally, only the robots battle game theme was actually kept. As it turned out, this was a good thing since the rules of the board game turned out not to be suitable for the more real-time and multiplayer kind of interaction we were aiming at.
 then

The game first online release is achieved in May 2002. This version also exist as a downloadable freeeware game but isn’t working anymore (just for the archive and curiosity).

This first version of the multiplayer online game didn’t meet the success we were hoping for. For several months, we hit into a series of technical problem having to do with the java server development with Tomcat, the later crashing after each upgrade. Despite our best efforts, we fail to stabilize the server. Meanwhile, Tchitch, called by his professional duties is forced to leave the project in june 2003.

The server is crashed, the game doesn’t work anymore and all the time invested in the development appears to be wasted!!! While understanding and considerate of Tchitch decision, Chris isn’t ready to give up so close to the goal.
     But how can he alone help our robots to cross the desert ... ?

A new hope

Chris calls Bill to the rescue. Bill had followed the project since its inception but hasn’t been able to dedicate much time to it. That’s when a major opportunity presented itself: Microsoft just released the .Net framework and Bill was eager to try this technology out with a development. Robostrike will become his playground for that.

Out Java, within two months, Bill develops a new game server from scratch in C#. A large portion of the client/server protocol is revised at this occasion and improvements are made on the security of the communication as well as the data storage. The multiplayer game server engine is setup in August 2003 on a new machine and in a new hosting environment provided by Oceanet Technology. Although the hardware is costly, we were going to benefit for many years of a free hosting thanks to Oceanet Technology who also want to test the .Net framework.
We therefore address here special thanks to Pierre Voillet and Bruno Grimaud for this very nice help.

Meanwhile, the game acquires a new look, released in September 2003.

All tests are passed successfully, the new server works to perfection and Robostrike can finally take off. After a bit more tweaking and thanks to the novelty of the multiplayer online game concept without download, Robostrike is now on the path to success.

Robostrike’s heyday

The year 2004 will become a landmark in Robostrike’s history with 450.000 visits and an average of 1.700 visits per day. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t make it to Flashforward. We never had the slightest feedback following our submission nor any clue on the selection criteria. This contest, where web-agencies congratulates each other seems the closed garden of established companies in the sector and doesn’t leave much room for hobbyists...

In April 2004 however, our efforts are finally recognized. Several players notify us that the famous French magazine “Science&Vie Micro” (SVM) just released an half page article full of praise. It speaks of Robostrike in terms of a “flash game marvel” and grants us 5 star on a total of 5 in its permanent web guide (see original article in French).

This article leads to a peak of traffic up to 7.715 visits on the day of its publication (see graphics). The server runs at a high speed ;)

The player community keeps growing with the release in May 2004 of a flash forum internal to the game and the translation of the game into several languages.




A big thank you for their translation and help to Pyra (German), Rote baron and Dragoo (Spanish), Xrbot (Portuguese), Sitka (Dutch) and Leleft (Italian).
 

 

 

But, unsuspected, the threat of the increasing success of Google was growing ...
 

The full flash game site referencing war

How to step from heaven to hell? Try gOOgle!

Robostrike’s success is entirely based on the interest of the game itself and its online community, not on its optimization for search engines. However, by acquiring 75% market share over all manual search engines, Google has, without intent, progressively relegated Robostrike and other full flash websites to the hidden alleys of the web. Google’s results are based on a complex algorithm that works very effectively on text-mainly websites but is blind to complex flash code. This effect was made even worse by a technical problem that lead to the complete removal of Robostrike from Google index from September to November 2005…What Google does in general, with all its free applications, is very nice. But concerning flash website, it’s a mass destruction ... we’ve literally been annihilated.

Following a disk failure in April 2007, we also find out that server hardware has a limited lifetime of about 4 years. Bill and Chris have to once again invest in a new machine…free games can actually become very costly ;)
To survive in the Google web era, text content is necessary. Fine then, following the machine replacement in September 2007, we setup a html-based forum (yetanotherforum). With it, the player community can consolidate and exchange using many additional features compared with the flash version.
In December 2007, the flash game acquires yet another look update as well as a map publication system which allows player to share their boards.

During the following 2 years, the game won’t receive much addition. That is, until Dharokan enters the scene ...

2010 Robostrike is back

September 2009, Dharokan, who has been a RS moderator for many years, proposes to help us improving the game and board graphical design. His first mockup shows interesting opportunities for improvement.

However, much work is needed besides the graphics because such design also requires updating and optimizing a large portion of the actionscript code of the game. But Dharokan has many talents, including that of managing to put the admins Chris and Bill back to work ;)

Chris and Dharokan work from October 2009 to February 2010 on the new graphical design for the boards and on the game animations. They come up with a new version offering players more than a thousand combinations of color and background textures.

We wish to thank Dharo for his involvement and his important contribution. Without his help and perseverance, we couldn’t have completed these evolutions. Here is an example for the transformation of the famous board “Blitz” created by Airwalk (example before/after)

To avoid slowing down the systems of our users, several performance tests are performed on the scripts and animations of the game using a variety of browsers.


 

 

 

 

 

 
Here is for instance the impact of a robot explosion on the CPU usage.
Other animations and graphics improvements are scheduled for the months to come.... :ninja:


Unfortunately, shortly after the online release of this new version in February 2010, we are hit by a new major crash on our hardware in March 2010. After 3 years, the hard drives are once again out of order. This was our game server :crybaby:

That’s one time too many, Bill and Chris are not willing to invest again in a new costly machine!

On the bright side, the hosting technology has evolved a lot in these last years. They decide to move Robostrike to a VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosted in a cloud computing environment. This technology is inherently more robust than a dedicated server since VPS can be relocated on different hardware in case of failure. The hardware itself is fully redundant and equipped with RAID 10 hard drives. We should be safe from any further hardware failure now. This however implies a huge work for Bill to bring all the development from a windows .Net environment to Linux and to setup the new server.
 

Since we are redoing all the setup, how about switching to a more powerful website and bring all social networking facilities to robostrike? We choose Drupal as our CMS (Content Management System).

It allows to setup rich, feature full websites that are also able to evolve and customized to integrate the flash aspect of Robostrike. Here again, thanks to Dharokan again for his help and feedback on the look for the new site.

After 3 months of hard work we are ready to restart in May 2010 on healthy basis with a new forum and a new game website that search engine will love :p

 

We have plenty of ideas on how to improve Robostrike free online games and develop its social network aspects. If you’d like to help, you’re very welcome to participate to our improvement workshops or to contact us. We can’t do it all at once though. That is why the next steps will concern the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as well as a new vote system for the shared boards. The 2004 record of 7.715 visits in a day remains to be broken. A major difference though is that, today, we are ready ;)