Our Ramblings. Our Thoughts.
After a rather lengthy hiatus, we’re glad to say we’re back. There’s lots to update on the old game, the new game and the future of games in general.
We just wanted to quickly say we’re still alive and are just as ambitious in changing the industry as ever. We have a tons of ideas and we look forward to making them known to the world soon.
This post is just to let you know we still have a pulse and that there will be significant movement in 2013. Hopefully, you’ll be there to join us.
OK, now that I’ve got your attention… I’ll explain. Freemium should be viewed for what it is, a tactic. As such, it cannot become the de facto standard by which our gaming market exists.
A tactic can only be successful when it is properly deployed. Which means that the general (you) must understand his troops (app) as well as his target (paying players). A Greek phalanx, naval raking fire, and panzer bliztkrieg are all fine examples of successful tactics that have been employed. Note also that in these examples, each tactic is impossible to deploy by the other example tactic. In other words, just because Capcom could make money hand over fist with the Smurfs, does not mean that your game can leverage the same “troop” assets to achieve your goal.
Don’t be so quick to jump on the freemium bandwagon just because others have had success with it. A smart general would never even consider using a tactic that his troops (app) could not properly execute. Sure, you could use your archers to melee attack mounted cavalry, but that’s just stupid.
Really think it over, should you be giving your game away? If you do give it away, are you hobbling it by making it an incomplete experience? No one (or rarely) does someone want to play a game where they feel like they need to spend more money to really enjoy the experience. If you think your game is worth something, charge for it. If you make a good game, people will buy it.
Owner’s of Apple devices have shown that they are willing to pay for quality. It’s your job to give it to them, not give it away to them. That is unless you really know your troops & target, and it’s the best way to achieve your goal. Not just because those guys did it.
With the proliferation of free, lite and full versions of apps floating around, sometimes I see people wonder how to manage them. This is just a short little post that talks about how I do it for one app that I manage for a client.
The bulk of the work is actually handled by git. We have a free and 3 paid versions of the app. I won’t name the app, but I can describe how each version differs. The free version has a handful of assets to play with. Two of the paid versions are different themes of the same app. Each one has a larger set of assets that match their corresponding theme. The last one, also paid, is the same underlying app, but marketed to an entirely different customer base and again has a drastically different collection of assets.
What’s different in each app?
Basically, what’s different is the following:
- Bundle ID
- App Icon
- Assets (images)
- Maybe some button text
How does git help?
With git, I make a working version of the app. I then do a check in and tag it. I then modify all the above items for the next app. Check it in and tag it. You get the point.
For future versions (new features, bug fixes), I just checkout from those tags, reapply the new changes and then push to the App Store.
Granted, I could probably also use branches, but that seems like too much work because then I’m mentally tracking 4 versions of the app, which I don’t want. I want one app mentality, that just gets compiled 4 different times.
It’s been awhile since we talked code here and I thought that would be a good thing to share with the dev community.
I hope this works well for you too. Lemme know if you have any questions!
New Job Achievement Attained
I just wanted to take a moment to give an update from our last post. I wrote about how I needed to get back to one FT job to allow me to work on games as my second job in after hours. I’m proud to say that it has been completed.
Granted, there’s still a lot of stuff to “clean up” and it’ll take into January to really be going, but I should start to get some game dev time back relatively soon . However, it’s nice to see a plan come to fruition then be executed upon quickly. It sort of gives us hope that other plans we have in mind and in the works will also play out just as equally as good.
Game Ideas and Tech
While we’ve been getting our personal lives in order, it’s interesting to see our game dev play out. We knew our game needed some iOS 5 stuff, but it appears as if to get a full experience down right, we may need for the latest generation of tech to come out.
In September, I demo’d the game to some folks and while it worked well for them, it also hid some flaws in the system. The 4S seems to not suffer those problems which is great news for us, but bad news for our customers. In addition, we’re noticing some lag in our AirPlay setup. In addition, to really utilize AirPlay, we need to take advantage of the 4S dual-core A5. Prior to the 4s, you needed an iPhone, an iPad 2 and an AppleTV to play our game via AirPlay. With the 4S, and some trickier programming, you only need an iPhone and AppleTV to play. Of course, you can still just do iPhone to iPad gameplay as well, but we’re thinking AirPlay will likely be more fun.
Therefore, while fate threw a wrench in our game dev timeframe, it appears as though it may have been a blessing more than a curse. Only time will tell, of course.
Our next update should hopefully have some game play video of our game that should be pretty darn cool to see. See you then!
This post is aimed at those who haven’t taken the Full Time indie plunge. It’s for those of us who keep our day jobs in addition to trying to get our indie game biz off the ground. If that’s you, great. If it’s not you, I won’t be offended if you stop reading.
2′s cozy, but 3′s a Crowd
Fast forward to now, I have a FT job and I have to pick up some side jobs to help cover the bills. I don’t live an extravagant life, but rather am burdened down by some debt that really needs to be paid off. Therefore, I have my day job then I have my night job. Where does Area 161 programming fit in? That’s the problem at the moment. More often than not, it doesn’t fit in at all.
As odd at this may sound, it wasn’t clear to me for the longest time what was wrong. The past few months I noticed the lack of progression and just figured it was me being lazy. This would discourage me even more because I didn’t feel lazy. Area 161 is important to me, but progress we just slow going. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, then something I did totally unrelated helped me see the light.
Numbers Never Lie – Time for change
I decided to whip up a little spreadsheet that outlined my expenses vs my income. I didn’t do this for Area 161, I just did it to satisfy my own curiosity. I knew that I was taking on side work to help pay off debt, but what wasn’t clear to me until I made this document was that I was also taking on side work just to live. After paying off bills, I realized that I had roughly $200 a month for groceries, entertainment and children incidentals. There was no way I was sticking to that, therefore I was actually losing money per month at my current job. This got me thinking: Why am I in my current job?
I got out of consulting and into a FT gig because I needed health insurance (I knocked up my wife) and a W-2 (to qualify to buy my home). Now though, the baby is born and the mortgage is already in our name. One thing is my wife freaks out about health insurance since we have 3 kids. The thing is though, the health insurance we have from work isn’t that much better than the health insurance we had when I was a contractor. It’s slightly better but we still pay out the wazoo for copays and stuff. I’m better off trying to create my own group for health insurance than to continue in my FT solely for the insurance.
Contracting – The Answer to All
One thing I realize also is that when I was contracting, I was making twice (yup, twice!) what I am making at my FT job. Therefore, even if we do spend a bit more in buying insurance as well as paying more out of pocket initially, we’ll likely still make out better going the contractor route vs the staying the FT course.
In addition to that, that bump in income means I can jettison my sidework. I can return to having just a FT job and Area 161 can be my night job. That is very important to me. I realize that we won’t be an amazing company til I’m FT on Area 161. However, I realize I won’t be able to go FT on Area 161 until we release some games, which requires I spend some decent hours on it before I go FT.
Contracting tends to be feast and famine. Let’s face it. At times, contract work dries up. You find yourself with a week or month with nothing to do. Most folks dread that because they don’t plan for it. I, on the other hand, will not only plan on it but look forward to it. During that time, I’ll be able to pretend that I’m FT on Area 161. I’ll be able to work 12+ hours a day on the game while sending some emails out to line up work. It will help expedite the goal of being FT indie game maker that much quicker.
Another aspect of contractor work vs FT work is stimulation. When you’re on a contract gig, there’s a sense of urgency. Every hour you spend is an hour someone has to pay you. Therefore, they don’t waste time. The lay the work on thick and throw you right at the big problems that need to be solved. I find that emotionally invigorating and intellectually stimulating. Compare this to FT work where you have meetings, work on never ending tasks, do more maintenance vs engaging work, etc. This drains me emotionally and intellectually. This in turn affects my energy to work on Area 161. If I’m jazzed and excited about work, then I find it very easy to transition to working on my game code. Therefore, I’m looking forward to having that moving forward as well.
Contractor Achievement Achieved
Feelers are out and prospects are looking good. Hopefully soon, the contractor achievement will be re-unlocked. In addition to just plain contracting, there’s other systems in play behind the scenes. I have laid out plans for 2012 to act as a angel investor of sorts to Area 161. By that, I mean, I can see a way to take advantage of a new technology window in 2012. If I pull off the plan, I’ll create a nice little “nest egg” to use as the funding for Area 161. If I’m going to have a day job, it may as well be helping me towards my indie game dev goals.
If you happen to need some iOS help on your game or non-game project, don’t hesitate to reach out. We do plain old app development as well as game app development. No guarantee on availability, but hopefully, our schedules can match up and we can build something fun together. If I’m booked, then I’m sorry. I won’t be taking on “sidework”, because I’ll be working on my games!
A Little Backstory
For the first official company trip for Area 161, we wanted it to be something different, something special yet still related to gaming. Therefore, we decided to go to MineCon. Here’s the interesting thing though, neither of us (nor our artist) has played the game.
Why go to MineCon if we’ve never played Minecraft? I couldn’t tell you. When the announcement came that there would be a MineCon, I told Smiley, “We need to go to this. I’m not sure why. I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. The only thing I know is that my gut says we should go to this.” So I bought us tickets, booked us a room with a view at the Mandalay Bay, we convinced our wives to let us go. And now, here we are.
The Mojang crew didn’t really do a Postmortem Wrapup or anything like that, though there were some technical discussions. Most of the lessons I’ve gleamed have been more confirmation of ideas or realizations of things observed. With no further ado, here you go:
1. You never know who your audience will be – There is somewhere between 30 to 50% of non-typical gamers here. By that, I mean there are kids, parents and grandparents here in attendance. It was one of the few things that Notch (the Minecraft creator) did comment on. Once you put something out there, you can’t really control who does what with it.
2A. Focus on constantly iterating and sharing with users – This one is kinda of hard with iOS to the extent that Minecraft did it, but I do have an idea in lesson 3B below on how to do it. With roughly 4 million purchased units before their 1.0 release, they had a lot of feedback. The 4M buyers also proved to them that they were on the right track. A common theme spoken by the Mojang team through various sessions and panels was the importance of rapid iterations to help find the great game that’s fighting to be freed.
2B. Marketing doesn’t matter – I’ve read this numerous times before in many software/gamer stories. Basically, what it boils down to is that if you make a great game, marketing doesn’t really matter. In today’s world of always on, always present internet, as long as you make a great product, people will find it. I think marketing is definitely needed for poor games. I’d say that marketing might even be needed to help bring a really good game to light. However, I think if you’re doing lesson 2A and are iterating on and creating this great game, then marketing is more distracting than helpful.
3A. Community is huge – Here’s one area that probably doesn’t fit many games. “I’m making a holiday themed tic-tac-toe game. How much community can I find?” There’s two answers I’d give to this. First, if there is no community that loves it while it’s being born, then I’m afraid there will likely be no customers around to buy it once it’s made. Therefore, you might want to rethink your idea and possibly start a new one. Second, if it’s the greatest idea ever and you know why, then it’s your duty to prove that to the world by doing lesson 2A. As it gets better and closer to your vision, then you will attract those to you that have the same passion and ideas. However, just be aware that the max community for your idea may only be hundreds or thousands of people vs millions.
3B. Charge money for your work to find those that care – One thing that dawned on me is that people were paying over $15 to play Minecraft Beta. Notch even said, “People were buying it when all they really got was a thank you from me and nothing else.” The things I’ve heard from indies is that the more they charge, the less time they have to spend supporting the idiots who download it when it’s free. Above I mentioned constant iterations while building your game. In iOS we have to go through the app store. I think this is where Area 161 may have hit on something. If you look at our roadmap for our first game, you’ll notice that a true “1.0″ release won’t really be until version 3.0 of the game that is available to customers in the App Store. Someone mentioned that Fieldrunners was originally launched without sound, but instead with text in the description that said, “Sound coming soon!”. We intend to charge $1.99 for our game and then tack on another dollar per major release til we max at $9.99 for version 9.0 in the store. If a customer buys in early, they save money. However, they need to pay us something for our work, otherwise chances are they won’t really care about the game and they surely won’t care about us, the game makers.
4. Dare to be different and stick to it – Minecraft is a different kind of game, so that lesson applies to it. However, that’s not what I’m thinking about. MineCon is in Vegas and so is the Pinball Hall of Fame. Smiley and I played a few pinball games back in our day, so we decided to head on over there. We found some classics that we loved, but we came across something totally new to us and pretty darn amazing: The Pinball Circus. It was an experiment from Williams. Instead of horizontal play, it was comprised of 4 levels of vertical play. The thing was that 2 were made and production was ready to begin. At the last minute, they pulled the plug. I’m telling you, this pinball game alone would have kept me playing pinball. It would’ve influenced copycats and pushed innovation even further, resulting in what I bet would’ve been a pinball machine that you had to duck to get into because it surrounded you. Instead, they killed production and pinball continued on to slowly fade from existence. Area 161′s entire premise is unique device interactions, so by default, every one of our games will be different and completely unlike any other before it. Some will likely not catch on as much as others, but that’s okay. Our mission is to push the device interaction and inspire others to move beyond the “Make a genre game. Release. Repeat.” cycle that many game devs are stuck in.
5. Start building now: whoever you are, wherever you’re at – One surprising thing at MineCon is the push to convert it’s game players into game makers. There are lots of panels and sessions dedicated to helping you become a game maker. They have an Indie Game Pavilion where 12 indies are displaying their games. Next to the pavilion is the Indie Theatre where the indies get 30 minute slots to show off their games on big screens and get to talk to potential customers. Notch said he wanted to give indies a chance to show their wares, because he realized his luck with Minecraft. It also helps the Mojang team deliver this message that everyone should try to make games.
In a panel, even the Mojang artists get in on the “Start building now” theme. They suggest putting crappy, first draft art into the game just to get something going. An underlying message of Mojang is, “Look we’re just normal people like you who like to play games. The only difference between us and you is that we took the time to actually build a game of our own to sell. You should do the same.”
6. Have an awesome release party – To go along with lessons 2B and 3B, if you know the 1.0 version in the App Store is not going to be the greatest than you don’t have to worry about celebrating it. Instead, you can just release it and get immediately back to work to deliver 1.1 to the App Store. If App Store version 3.0 is the first version that matches what you wanted in the game, then wait until 3.0 makes it live to have your release party. Grab as many users from your community together as you can and have a party in person or virtually. It doesn’t have to be 5000 people at the Mandalay Bay like MineCon. Instead, it can be a pizza party at your local pizza joint or near disneyland or something. If only 4 people show up, who cares! That’s 4 more people than it would’ve been on your own and I bet you those 4 people will help you sell a ton more copies of your game if you treat them right.
That’s it for today. I hope at least one of these lessons helps you out.
Many of us know this, but I’m surprised at how little everyone else sees this happening. We’re in our little bubble here, and we get labeled fanboys, or geeks and the like. Call us what you will, one thing is for sure, iOS is poised to be part of every form of digital entertainment and info access that we all partake in daily. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad have each become the de facto device in their category, and in many respects they created their categories. The advancement and integration of these devices through iOS is revolutionary. Having interconnected data between different devices available at all times cannot be overstated. As a side point, I was really overjoyed and so deeply satisfied when I bought Starbase Orion. I started up a game on my phone, and then when I picked up my iPad, there was the games savepoint! Back to what I’m talking about though. Apple TV is part of iOS as well, and mirroring is just the first building block of where that technology will go, and all tied in under the iCloud too. When the actual Apple TV that is a TV comes out, Apple will have pulled off what Microsoft and Sony have been wishing they could do for years… become the home entertainment hub. Apps, Games, Movies, Music, Television, calendars, appointments, phone calls, video calls, information access, siri interfaces. It’s all happening, and we get to have a front row seat as devs. The programs we design get to leverage all of that. From mobile casual, to living room immersion… they will be seamlessly joined. Now think of what that means. Really consider the ramifications, and the possibilities. I know we at Area 161 are busy mixing colors and prepping our future canvas already.
Today is the Start of the End (Sorta)
Smiley and I have never developed a game before, much less released one. We don’t know much about crunch time or any of the other horrendous stuff you hear about when you read about game dev. We will very soon though.
Today marks the day that we begin the final process in wrapping up the first version of our first game: Fling Shot.
I’ve been slacking in the dev department because of some big deadlines in my personal work life. We should have started this process a few months ago. Oh well, it is what it is. There’s no looking back now, only moving forward.
This is where I think those full time Indies have an advantage. To be able to dedicate 16 to 20 hours a day for the next few weeks would be awesome. However, Smiley and I both have full time jobs so that’s not possible for us. According to our realistic expectations, that will be the case for the next few years. Only, it’s going to get worse.
We’ve mapped out the next several minor and few major releases of Fling Shot. We have a lot more art and animation to coordinate. We have additional gameplay features to add like multiplayer, achievements, etc. Therefore, while we’re excited about the release, we realize it’s not going to be a point where we can release then sit back and be amazed at our work.
Version 1 wrap-up doesn’t really mean we’re done
The thing we realize is that as soon as 1.0 is uploaded for review, we have to immediately commence upon the next update to Fling Shot. In fact, we realize that we’re going to have pretty much a few years worth of work before we’re “Done” with Fling Shot, if we’re ever get “Done” at all. Here’s how we see the update cycle for Fling Shot.
Whole number releases (1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc) are major feature releases. Here what we’re thinking so far:
1.0 – Initial release; One dart type (a bee), one board type (a hive), single player.
2.0 – Second dart type (TBA), second board type (TBA), local multiplayer.
3.0 – Third dart type (TBA), third board type (TBA), internet multiplayer;
4.0 to whenever – Additional dart and board types, plus other features we’re brewing but aren’t ready to speak of yet.
Dot releases (x.1, x.2, x.3, etc) are minor artwork/animation releases. Here’s what we’re thinking so far:
x.1 – Add a character type (fat, skinny, dopey, jock, etc) for the current dart type
x.2 – Add a style type (disco clothes, athletic uniform, tutus, etc) for the current dart type
x.3 – Add a slight modified look (damaged, bigger/smaller, different background, etc) for the current board type
x.4 to x.9 – Repeat the above 3 steps for 2 more iterations.
“We can barely make one game.” “I know, so let’s make two!”
This is where things get hairy. To be a real game company, we realize that we’re going to need more than one game. Go figure! LOL Luckily, Smiley is finding his groove so we have several concepts in the wings. Our problem now is not coming up with game ideas, but rather determining which one to execute upon next.
Fling Shot is a cutesy, fun game that has one unique device interaction: making your iPod/iPhone seem like a wiimote with your iPad and/or AppleTV. While we think it will sell some, we’re realizing that it’s not going to be the next top seller. Our game requires at least 2 devices (3 if you want to play on an Apple TV) in it’s first release and up to 4 or 5 on later multiplayer releases. The masses don’t have multiple devices…yet.
Smiley has come up with other game ideas that are sort of along the same vein: Cute with a technical twist to create a unique device interaction. Which to me is more of the same. They’re content wise different than Fling Shot, but in my head they’re the same because they’re simple games with a simple technical design. (Note: Simple is a relative term here. Making your device act like a wiimote isn’t simple [Well, actually it is when you see the code, but I digress.], but by simple I mean having only one technical hurdle to overcome to make the game.)
One of his ideas though (which technically, hasn’t even really been nailed down yet) is vastly different. The thing I like about this idea is that it has mass appeal. It will take a long time to build it, especially with our small inexperienced team. However, for a sophomoric offering, I can think of no better game to release.
Smiley said, “We can barely make Fling Shot. How are we going to be making those updates to Fling Shot, while also undertaking this massive new game?”
My response was, “I’m not sure how, but we’re going to have to.” The way I see it is this. We both realize that we’re not going to be able to retire on Fling Shot. It’s going to be a fun game and we hope it generates decent sales, but in no way are we delusional that in a few months we’re gonna be swimming in cash. In order to do that we need something that’s going to sell not because it’s a “better” game but because it appeals to a different customer segment.
Project Codename: Mario
I officially dub our next game with the codename: Mario. No, we’re not making a copycat game of Nintendo’s Mario franchise. It’s not a riff on Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, Mario Kart, etc. Instead, I’m dubbing it Mario (Smiley doesn’t know that’s the codename yet, but I hope he likes it! LOL) because this idea was born out of a challenge that I issued to him: “You need to come up with the Mario game for the iOS ecosystem. We need to have the iconic game that when people think about iOS devices, they think about this game.”
I think about how Myst forced many a people to buy a CD-ROM drive simply to play it. My hope and expectation is that Smiley’s idea is so compelling that people who don’t have any iOS devices (or have only one) will say, “Wow, I HAVE to play that.” Thus, they will go buy some devices simply to play it. If they already have multiple devices, they will get it and say, “This is what the iOS platform was created for.”
Dream Big or Go Home
I mentioned in our last post that you need to dream big. Project Mario is as big as you can get. The reasoning behind wanting to do this though has nothing to do with ego, cockiness or anything of that sort. Rather, it has to deal with money. No, we don’t want to be rich and have money to buy Ferrari’s or anything like that (though we both agree we need to buy a place in Hawaii that we can vacation and work together at). The reason we need a blockbuster has more to do with practical reasons vs selfish ones.
The way I see it, once we launch our second title, we will have two games in the upgrade process I described above. In addition to that, we will have to begin work on a third game. Simply due to the amount of time it will take for us to work on three games, we HAVE to be full time by game three. That’s why we need to do our massively appealing game next. We need the most bang for our buck (or in this case), the most buck for our time.
By game three, Smiley and I will have to transition ourselves into new roles. He’ll have a staff of creative people to inspire with his grand ideas and I’ll have programmers that I’ll need to inspire to figure out how to execute on the output of the creative staff.
In addition, by the time game three is released, we’ll have to start working on those custom devices that I also mentioned in the last post. Those will require a lot more work because it will be hardware as well as software.
One Step (and thus Game) at a Time
As you can see, there’s a lot of stuff we have to do in Area 161. However, none of that can happen until we release Fling Shot. Yeah, we could abandon Fling Shot and move straight to building game two, but that’s not right. I’m sure there are many people out there, constantly changing to chase the better idea vs finishing up what they’re working on.
My dad (our artist) loves the music composer: Philip Glass. Philip is extremely successful. In an interview with him (sorry, can’t find the link) someone asked him, “Were you the best student in your music classes?” He responded, “No, there were students who were far better than me.” The follow-up, “Why do you think you succeeded and became well known while they didn’t?” His answer has always stuck with me. “I guess it’s because I actually finished pieces. They were brilliant but would never finish anything, just wander from one great idea to the next.”
Smiley doesn’t think he’s one of the greatest game designers of our time yet, though I know he is. I don’t think I’m all that great of a programmer, but Smiley knows I’m brilliant. On our own, we’re destined for mediocrity. Together, we’re destined for greatness…but only if we deliver. With that, I’m off to code.
What We Are
As we’re trying to get our first game out the door, I came to a realization. It was something that Smiley already knew and understood. I sorta understood it also, but semantically I was just a little bit off base. You see, this is how I saw ourselves:
An iOS game company pushing the boundaries of device interaction.
Which is cool and fine sounding. It pretty much explains what we’re thinking about the company – right now. It also covers what the company will be doing for the next few years. Then it hit me though, that really doesn’t explain us quite right. I thought about it and really, this is what we are:
A game company that leverages new ways of device interaction, which currently designs exclusively for iOS.
Note the subtle difference. They both say the same thing, but the latter is more closer to reality.
What We’re Not
This helps explain our lack of understanding for game devs who leverage their IP across many moblie platforms. It doesn’t make sense to us, because we ARE NOT a mobile game company. Our short-term goal is not to get our games on as many different mobile devices as we can. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s to make the best possible experience on one and only one platform: Apple’s iOS platform.
The long term goal, and the whole point of our company, is to create unique device interactions via games that should be fun to play. Hopefully though, we make you pause for just a second with a smile and say, “That’s pretty neat how they do that.” We hope to make something that will start off as foreign (because it’s new) feel completely natural (because it’s what we as humans expect).
From Apple’s Dictionary app, we get the following definition of “device”:
1 a thing made or adapted for a particular purpose, esp. a mechanical or electronic contrivance
2 a plan, scheme, or trick with a particular aim
3 a drawing or design
Definition 1 Explained
We have dreams, huge dreams, of how to push device and human interaction. These dreams include devices that fit in your hand to devices that you can ride in, all the way to devices that you can walk through that will change your perception of reality. We can’t afford to create all those things. Luckily, for us, Apple made the first ones which we adapted for our particular purpose. Apple does a great job at creating devices and the software stack that runs on them. They’re not quite where we want them to be just yet, but they’re getting there. They are also more aligned with our vision of the future than any other platform. That’s why we’re exclusively Apple, not because of market share, not because they’re the coolest kid on the block, but rather because they’re the only company we see out there that gets what we’re trying to do. Even if they weren’t the most popular mobile platform, we’d still choose them because it’s what they’re doing that’s important to us, not the fact that they merely exist and have the most customers.
Definition 2 Explained
Someday, we plan to make our own devices. It’s inevitable that we will have to. We figure that we can probably use Apple’s platform for about 5 to 10 years, to create the foundation of our company. After which time, we’ll have to create our own devices to execute our visions. Not the portable kind of devices, that’s not a space we want to get into since we can leverage Apple’s. But those other kinds we mentioned: the kind your ride on or walk through. We have a scheme to trick you with a particular aim: to suspend reality.
Definition 3 Explained
In high school, either right before I met Smiley or shortly thereafter, I made a drawing. It was a design for a cool device that would allow for all these amazing things to be experienced by the person in it. I sketched it out pretty quickly, then I thew the drawing away. It was in my head. I knew it would stay there for the rest of my life. Even if I had wanted to make it at the time, I couldn’t. Technology just wasn’t there yet. Coincidentally though, due to cutting edge prototypes and current trends, technology should be there about 5 to 10 years from now. What a coincidence because that’s about the time we figure we’ll be ready to implement that design from over 20 years ago.
What’s Wrong with Being a Mobile Game Company?
Nothing. Look at NGMOCO. They’re whole point was just mobile gaming and they made out like bandits! There are plenty of others to list as well. You can make a lot of money too, if you do mobile games well. I think it’s still up for debate on whether the cost of cross-platform adds to the bottom line or not. But for the sake of argument, let’s say it does make sense from a cost/profit perspective.
If all you want to do is make games and get those games into AS MANY hands as you possibly can: Good, great, go ahead and port your game from iOS to Droid, WinMo and Blackberry.
If all you want is to make some fat cash making games without a care as to which platform it runs on: Go make wads of cash by building for the most popular mobile platform there is.
If all you want is to make games that are stuck in your head for mobile devices because it’s the smallest barrier for distribution: Make and deploy like no one else can.
The point is this: Don’t just exist for the sake of existing. Find out what your goal is and base every single decision you make in your business support that goal. Otherwise, you’ll wind up several years down the road, wondering why you’re doing this or why you don’t feel like a success.
Dream Big or Go Home
Lastly, dream big. Don’t pay attention to the press. Don’t pay attention to market trends. Don’t pay attention to what’s hot in the App Store. Spend what little time you have between game making and enjoying life with friends/family doing one thing: Dreaming big. Life’s already full enough with other worries, you don’t need to add more things to worry about. Spend that time living in the future where your dreams are reality. Even if you only make it halfway to your dream, as long as it’s a big one, that will be a lot further and closer to happiness than you are today.
The Lead Up
We’ve been working on our project “Darts” for almost 2 years now. Granted a lot of that time was spent on one time, ramp up items. I had to learn how to program using the iOS SDK, Smiley had to learn how to discover his inner game muse and we had to figure out what we wanted in a company. I would say that stuff took over a year. We’ll always be working on those things, but the bulk of the work is done. From now on, it’ll just be honing the skills/ideas in each respective area.
The second year consisted of me learning how 3D space works. (Not like OpenGL 3D syntax, but actual 3D space terms like Euler Angles, Quarternions and Rotation Matrices.) After learning all that, I had to figure out how to make an iPod/iPhone act like a Wiimote to an iPad/AppleTV. To me, I had a hunch of how to do it using CoreMotion and a little player imagination. I figured if we could pull it off, that it would be pretty amazing.
Well, we pulled it off a few months ago. The first iteration was always a bullseye. LOL So it didn’t work out so hot. The next iteration, I realized that I could probably pull it off with 2 points of reference. The thing was though, I didn’t want to extract the player from the suspended reality session invoked by our game. If we sucked them into the game world, then ripped them back out to do a 2 or 3 step config session like the Sony Move does, I knew we’d have a crappy experience. Therefore, I presented Smiley with a challenge: I want our config screen to be a mini-game within our game world.
At first, Smiley was doubtful, “We have a game we’re building already. It’s not going exactly fast. How are we going to make yet another game inside of it?” This is where having a business partner is great, I said, “I don’t know. That’s your job, Mr. Game Designer. All I know is that if we have a lame config screen, we’re gonna have a lame game, so work your magic.” I had faith in him.
Soon, Smiley was calling and we worked it all out. Our config screen would indeed be fun.
Building the Demo (Actually just a snapshot in the build cycle)
It’s pretty amazing, yet sad, how a great device interaction idea can take over a year to create and define within your head, then get boiled down to like 10 lines of code. I had to break some of those lines into their own functions just so I could feel better about the time to lines of code ratio! LOL
I wrote the 2 point calibration system pretty much in one brilliant all-night code jam. (If it’s only you coding, does it still qualify as a jam?) I pictured what the classes needed to do and pretty much wrote it. It was probably the first time that I was able to see iOS code in my head and properly translate it to screen in a fairly easy manner. (I’ll share the code in a later post, probably after we launch, since this post is more about the demo aspect vs the code.)
I remember the first good build that ran with the new code. It was 5 am. I fired up the app on my iPad 2 and on my iPhone 4. I ran through the config, got to the game screen and viola! Success! I was moving my little icon around iPad screen via my iPhone acting like a WiiMote. I added the build to TestFlight, fired it off to Smiley and went to bed.
Soon, Smiley had played it. We were both jazzed. We let our kids play it. My son was a bit sad. See, prior to this new build, he always got a bullseye because we didn’t have any way to actually aim. (See our post from May to see the old build.) Now, he had to aim and it wasn’t always hittin’ the bullseye. The thing that marveled Smiley and I is how our kids just accepted the fact that the iPhone/iPod could act as a Wiimote. They didn’t find it amazing, they just expected it to work. Which is good because then it means it feels natural, which is what we’re aiming for.
Smiley and I have full time jobs, so progress after that was slow. I had high hopes for the 360|iDev game jam. Not that I needed a game jam to work up the energy to work on the game. Quite the opposite, I needed an excuse to pull another all nighter. Work has been busy and so our game dev time has been lacking. I yearned for a good 12 hour session to get things done.
Therefore, a few weeks ago, I packed my bags and headed to Denver.
We’ve had a working demo for quite some time now. So, to Smiley and I, seeing the Wiimote action is old hat. We’re starting to move onto the polish phase of the game dev cycle. The mechanic is done and now we need to convert the tech demo into a game. While at the conference though, I caught up with Oz and Arial. They’re the makers of appFigures and Pixelwave. We use Pixelwave to handle all the graphics and sound for us.
I was telling Oz about the progress while prepping the demo. Soon, the app was fired up on both devices and I casually showed him how it works. I’ll always remember his reaction. “Wow, that’s pretty cool. It’s like a Wiimote. Can I try it?” I hand him the device and he gives it a whirl, before continuing with, “You told me it tracked my movement, but I didn’t think it would be this fluid. It’s like a Wiimote!” Oz is a smart guy, so seeing him be excited was pretty cool. I demo’d it to a few others and most seem to genuinely intrigued by the demo.
With new found excitement due to my successful demos, I tackled the game jam with the hopes of adding a lot of polish by morning. In my excitement and eagerness to improve the demo, I jumped straight into the code. Our game only runs on the device, it doesn’t work on the simulator. Therefore, you can guess what happened next.
Soon, people were wandering around the game jam wanting to see demos. It was then that I realized the errors of my ways. In my eagerness to add polish, I overwrote the working demo. I should not have done that. I should have, at the very least, copied the project to a separate directory (or pulled from the git repository into a separate directory). A lot of people would want to see my cool sounding idea, but alas they could not.
I worked all night long during the game jam. With the help of too many devs to name, I made some good progress. Not as much as I would’ve liked, but it was progress nonetheless.
The next day we were to demo the games during lunch. I got a working build ready minutes before the demos started. When my turn came up, I figured it would be sweet to demo on a projector. Using an iPad is cool, but using a giant projected image is even better. I ran my demo and it didn’t seem to work. I ran it again, but it seemed broken. I was bummed to say the least.
What was to be one of the most glorious game demos in history went down hard in flames. Afterwards, I ran the build again locally and it all worked. Then it dawned on me, the demo wasn’t broken but the iPad was merely rotated the wrong way.
The post is purposely a mix of highs and lows, because that’s life as a game developer. One day, you feel like you’re on top of the world and other days, you feel like you’d be best under a rock. Now, personally, I’m a huge believer in Fate. There was a reason I was not to demo on the big screen. Perhaps I woulda got booed…perhaps I woulda made all the other devs feel puny. LOL Whatever the reason, it was not meant to be. Therefore, we just have to move quickly at getting the game to market. The sooner we do that, the sooner we’ll be able to start getting feedback from the masses.
The biggest takeaway I had from all this was this: Don’t forget what we do is magical. As game developers and app developers, our job is to make something magical. We probably do it more often than not, but the magic ebbs over time as we work on a project.
The other thing that became clearer to me was a revelation about Area 161. Smiley had a better understanding of it than I did, but we’re on the same page now. But’s that’s the subject of another post.