Thursday, December 29, 2011

Once is all ya get!

Once, just once. That is all one gets for something to be New.

So take for example trying to introduce my new game to my family (usually home brewers first audience). They are all excited to try the game, and i am very interested in watching them play to see how difficult the game is for a newbie. I also watch a lot more signs like frustration and assumptions etc. Generally (possibly always) i learn so much about my game and things to modify or clarify etc. It is a good time as the family is very complimentary and seem to really enjoy the experience.

However, this whole experience is fleeting. Fleeting becasue it can only happen once per family member. New is only NEW once. Which is a bit sad really. The second time or even after that i find that the experience of trying the game out again on these people is not as informative. They play like they have played before (sic) and generally are not quite as excited. So seconds is nowhere near as tastey as first time. I tend to learn so much less, except that the first levels are really easy now, as i am usually told, therefore not very interesting now.

I now have developed a plan, a method of getting the most out of my family for these first trials. I would recommend it to anyone in a similar position, and it is good in it's simplicity.


Try the game on one family member at a time. So i get feedback from someone like my son. All te while keeping the other interested members of my family well away from the trial. Then after some modifications based upon my first trial, i will probably approach my daughter. After some more mods i will se the wifey. She is the ultimate test for basic playability and responsivemness and feedback etc. the more i try to have accomplished in this one trial really shows.

So i get 3 initial trials and not one, like i used to when i used to show my game for the first time to the whole family.

Have fun,
Da Voodoochief

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

5 levels in and so much more

Development continues at a good pace here in my spare bedroom at home during this Holiday break. I am not quite sure what i am hoping to have completed by the time i go back to work in the new year, but i think it will be something fairly substantial.

Obviously i keep making levels, this is sort of to prove to myself that the concept and control scheme are worth pursuing. In fact i really believe they are, and i am astounded by some very recent play tests by friends and kids. They all sem to be able to play the game very quickly, which is a definite plus. After all games like Angry birds and fruit ninja do not really take skill initially to get people hooked on the echanism. Though my game has more of an initial learning curve (something i am afriad of), it seems to be much smaller than anticipated (Phew!).

So now i made a new level (this morning), i just couldn't help myself. I need to stop. Though putting ina  levels with lots of floating and moving platforms was a blast. I also got my collectibles in the game and then made it so the game remembered which ones you had collected on each level etc. Just like collecting stars in Mario. Collecting the stars will open up new levels, so if ya got stuck on one here and there, ya can just bypass it by doing well enough on other levels to colelct the gems.

Then this afternoon and a bit this evening i realised i needed to get my feedback in for someone pressing on the screen etc. This is a good thing to do an should make the learning curve even faster for new peeps. Now i have to admit something at this time....

 I think i have ben putting in ALL these most excellent features becasue i really don't wanna program the editor. I know you are probably laughing by now cvos i have created 5 levels by hand, but, well. Making the editor is a bit boring in comparison to writing deadly enemies or springy platforms. Maybe tomorrow eh ;)

Though at the moment i have started writing the Instructions class. More on that when I have done more i think.

Unity is tough to get into when i have a game to write. So not made much progress there, though my evaluation is about complete. Though the prognosis is not good for my purposes :(

The books, ahh, i really need to get more done on those, so that will be a focus tomorrow for me i reckon.

Now off to bed, i am tired.

Da Voodoochief

Sunday, December 25, 2011

4 levels done

Ok, so these are effectively example levels. But they do in fact show some of the gameplay off in a good way. There is a lot more i can add by expanding the gameplay experience with some new elements. That can come later, but now it is time to test those levels on unsuspecting friends.

That is what i thought earlier today, before i went off to a nice Xmas get together at a friends house. A place where my friend Mark cooks a very large English Xmas dinner and then some. There as always was so much food :O  My stomach will be moaning about this for most of the night now haha. Oh, back to the point. I took along my latest version of 'Eternal Recoil' and also took the apk file so i could put it onto his Galaxy tablet. Always good to check if these things just work or not.

Well first things first as we tried it on the Galaxy Tab, and yes it did. In fact it looked and felt exactly like the Kindle Fire version. This was a nice feeling i have to say. Then it was onto watching various people playing the levels, and me trying to keep as quiet as possible to see how they attacked each level. The only information i gave them was the Instructions the game and levels will have when finished.

I am very pleased to say that watching them play was very rewarding. They got through the first introductory levels fast and then completed the 2 more difficult levels fairly quickly. They all seemed to enjoy the experience and yes, one has to take friends opinions of ones games with a large pinch of salt, as they are usually way more positive cos they know you a friend created the game.

The best part was after i got back from a quick visit to the loo, the kids were all fighting over who could have the next turn to play the game. This was such a nice warm feeling inside :)

Next up i will add some collectibles and a few other touches to more complete these test levels. Then i think i might try and find some other programmers, to see if i can get some help to make the game bigger and more rounded all over.

Now i am off to try an soak up all that food i ate :O

G'night all,

Da Voodoochief

Saturday, December 24, 2011

More Game Dev and Unity too?

I have been very busy these last few days.

I now have a 3 level game, though one might argue that they are not quite right for the first three levels of my game. In fact i would assume they would be spread a bit apart, though the first level is designed to be the first level for sure. this has been going well as along with the three levels i now have a results screen and a proper ready screen and level selection screen. This also keeps tabs on how many times you succeeded or failed the level and the best time etc. So far so good.

I think i will add in an instruction class next and pop instructions into the first couple of levels etc. then i can truly test how well it can be played, without me giving the instructions etc. so far my Daughter can play it easily, and with a surprisingly large amount of skill for so little play time. My son has yet to play and will be my next test victim. The wifey played it but i am not sure she will have the patience for this kind of game unfortunately.

Still along with all this i have been looking into Unti3D, and i have to say that is a lot to take in, and i do not have long to look into it. time will tell if i get to really play with it or not.

I still have not sorted out my advertisement stuff in either the Android or iPhone devices, which is a pity and something that makes me a bit depressed tbh. I have been working more on the Childrens books pages and get closer every week to be ready for release. I now have two leads for illustrators that I hope i can work with for the second and third books. Time will tell, but i am very excited and hopeful.

That's all from me tonight,

Happy Holidays

Da Voodoochief

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ads make me all AdWhirl

Ok, so my game is Ad supported. I got iAd into my iPhone version, but since we updated to the new XCode and New Marmalade versions, we cannot get the darned thing to build. Still an ongoing issue which will be resolved soon i hope.

So all this Ad stuff is a nuisance. It really is, there are so many ad suppliers, and as a businessman (yeah, soemtimes i like to dabble in this), i would like the best return I can etc.

Anyway, just signing up for ALL these different agencies and groups is a pain in the ass imho. Now i have accounts for everything it seems everywhere. But i can never ever seem to find very clear instructions as to what to do to install SDKs and then what to do when i have. If they include an example i tend to rip that apaprt to make it work. However it all seems a little, cobbled together.

I hate wasting time on getting ads into my games when i could be spending those hours making my game better in so many ways. So what to do? Well i am using Marmaalde and so need to use what they call Extensions to get my ads to display. iAd now works I am told in version 5.2, though i have yet to witness this myself. While i was looking into adMob i found AdWhirl. What the Heck is that i thought. Well it appears that once setup it will supply you with Ads from several different ad suppliers. Wicked i thought, sounds great. It also happens some nice chap (i'll have to find his name...) has created an extension for this thing. Woot, that sounds right up my alley. Well as it happens he has also created an example and then he added instructions. OMG..... i was shocked.

Well after following the install instructions i was happy to see the whole thing compile. So far so good. Next up was to run it on my Kindle Fire, and here is where i presently reside. I get an assert saying it could not load some adWhirlib or something. I am not sure what to do about this of course. I guess i need to go read more forums.

Still, Ad support seems to be a pain, i wonder if anyone had it all go in easy?

Good luck out there and Happy Holidays

Da Voodoochief

Sunday, December 18, 2011

What Game will do well ?

I am a bit frustrated i have to say.

I really want to have my Indie games be financially successful. The need and desire for this has several aspects to it. It is not just an avaricious thing like it could be. Though i know everyone wants to make oodles of money (of course).

1. I have a family to support so spending all my time developing Indies detracts from my family time. If the earning of money for the time i spent doing it, it would pay me back time elsewhere.

2. Making money is a side effect of making a game that is popular. I write games so people can appreciate my art, my skill, my creativity. I get a big thrill knowing that people are playing my game. Sometimes in the past I have received fan mail from games players and i can tell you first hand, that it is a wonderful feeling. I really want to see as many people as possible playing my games.

3. This games industry has become quite turbulent and seems to me to be getting more and more turbulent as time goes on. This means I fear for the permanency of my job now more than ever. Ever since THQ arbitrarily laid off everyone at Mass Media a couple of years ago i have had this slightly paranoid feeling of being on the edge of losing my job (yes i also work professionally in the games industry.

4. Independence.. I really want this. I want it because Interviewing for a job in ya late 40's sucks. Who wants to do that, i know i don't. Also having Independence will allow me to code most anywhere. I have been very fortunate in my 16 years over here in the USA to meet really nice people. A lot of these people i call good friends. Heck, my children and theirs have been growing up together.. or were, until they had to move to another state because of the job market here in southern Cali. I want to visit all these people spread across the USA, and i would love to do it over a whole kids school summer break. How fantastic would it be for me to go around the USA for 6-8 weeks towing my trailer and yet working at the same time. Freakin wonderful!!

Back to the main main title. My frustrated quandary.. And i am very sure i am not the only one in this situation.

I started work a few days ago on a bouncing game idea, and i love the way it feels already. But there is a lot of work involved in making this game because of the quality level i want and because of the number of levels etc. I tend to work on the level design and level feel as much as i do programming a whole game, I love balance in games.
Anyway i also have a strong idea for an RTS game, it has a design that seems to give it a unique but very accessible edge, so i wanna do that too. Only.. I can only write one game at a time. So how the Heck do i decide which game to write? Which is possibly gonna be more popular? Which is most likely to be more visible?

I have no answers so i am frustrated.....

Good luck to all you other devs trying to make this decision, I hope ya make the right call.

Da Voodoochief

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Marmalade #6 - iAd issue, Kindle Fire

It has been a fairly busy couple of days. I really thought that the iOs version of the game would be good to go by now. Unfortunately there have been a bunch of unforseen issues. So i will discuss them, and then go on to describe my Kindle Fire and dev for that device.

iPhone version is not ready yet...
1. On wednesday i worked with me mate Paul for quite some time, maybe 2 hours in total. Doing a few things, but majorly trying to solve the iAd crash issue. Every time an iAd was served it crashed the game, or it did 9 times out of 10. After some debugging i traced it to a problem with the IwGxSwapBuffers() call. And this did not match the example that did work. So once i was armed with this i decided to attack the forums, information in hand. Well now i new know to search for i discovered a bunch of threads on this subject. One o fthe main ones mentioned there had recently been a fix (this fix had taken a startling 6 or 7 months to obtain, OUCH!!!!) with the latest update to version 5.2. Sweet!

2. So Paul tried to update the Mac to 5.2 and had issues, which he eventually traced to the fact he needed an update for XCode as well. Simple enough... only... he is still struggling to get the thing downloading to his iPhone and working correctly since all these re-installs. What a palarvor and what a mess. I hope to resolve this really fast and get our game into submission asap.

Meanwhile back at my ranch (ok, my house in the suburbs).
1. I had tried to get the download to my Android tablet (Kindle Fire) working on Tuesday only to be foiled by who knows what. Shortly after that my KF was nabbed by the wife to play 'Where's my water', and i have hardly seen the machine since. Anyway my mate in Utah grabbed my code from my subversion repository and grabbed a version of Marmalade and then built and ran it on his Android phone. that weas very exciting of course, and he showed me it working via skype.

2. Friday turned up and i stole my Kindle Fire back. I had done a bit of research and it seemed that the JDK that i used was broken (it was the latest version 7). The advice was to go back to version 6 update whatever. so firstly i asked my mate to send my his built APK file to try  and see if i could put that on my Kindle. I used dropbox and once it showed up the install went flawlessly and Whamo, i had the game on my device. WOOHOO!

3. Next up was to build my own, so a quick uninstall of jsk7 and then find the jdk6u29 version and install. so far so good. It did not work, i was bummed. It was having issues locating the jarsigner and so i new it was my install that was somehow missing. It then dawned on me that i had provided an environment variable for JAVA_HOME and so went and changed that to the new JDK directory.

4. It worked.. It had ben building but not deploying. Now i can deploy and install or even run it directly. This has allowed me to play the game on a real touch screen device and not just in a simulator. I am very excited and the only thing stopping me getting the Android version published is I need an advertising extension.

As you can see, i faced a number of trials and still do most likely. But i am hopeful that the approval system for the iPhone app will go through fast and without a rejection once we get the thing working again.

I am sure there will be more coming soon :)
Da Voodoochief

ps. one last note!  I added a nice icon to the build and now on my Kindle fire desktop i can see the HotChicks Icon, it is cool and very exciting!

Friday, December 16, 2011

My new Game has been done Already?

During the last few days a couple of people have shown me 2 games Doodle jump and Funny Bounce. It seems that both these games are indeed the same (on first perusal), but I was shown them because i described my new game to these people.

Interestingly the games they showed me are similar in foundation to my own. Though the gameplay will be a bit different since i made the decision to go puzzler and not just travel down (up?) a level in more arcade style. To be honest they are more similar than i would want them to be, and i am sure my game could be mistaken for them. Only.. I know what kind of quality and all the parts and elements i will be putting into my game. Both these two are very simple to lok at and have simple elements to play with/against. Mine will have a lot more going on.

Let's take the background as my first example. Both these two games just progress up the screen in the screens width. Whereas my game has a wrap around mechanic for endless side scrolling. As i used in a previous game 20 or so years ago (Car-Vup). Ok, so ya don't play the background, but ya do play the foreground elements, such as platforms and bouncers and turbines etc. These also obey the wrap mechanic and make prgogressing up a level an interesting experience I hope.

One question that came up from several people was (and i paraphrase here) "Have you cheked out the other games on the phonetype?". Well the simple answer is no. If i wanted to check out all the games on Android and iPhone i would have no time left for actually writing games. So instead i come up with a mechanic for playing my game that i think is interesting and go from there. Hoping that i will be new and creative and people will like me, really like me. As it is with my new game. Those two games mentioned above even use one of the extra game modes i was gonna do, tilting the screen slightly left and right to scroll my screen. In their games of course they move the character, and i have to say that the technique works rather well. But just trying to go up a screen and not falling has limited appeal to myself. I find i get bored a bit quick doing that, seeing how high i can get.

So at the moment I feel i am bringing a lot of new fun and enjoyment and elements to this (gonna call it a genre now!) area of phone gaming. I do have a choice where i could make a completely new game, and that does appeal as well. I have about a dozen designs and i am sure by the end of writing this i will have a few more i would like to try.

I make the games i do because i thought of them. I might have some unconsious leanings from things seen and experienced before. But then is all we create born from our experiences? So i will strive to make the best games i can.

Da Voodoochief

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

New Game dev - Eternal Recoil update

I am loving the development of a new game. Using C++ again for making games seems to make it quite enjoyable. Also using the tech and SDK aspects i am now familiar with means i am writing a game and not fighting with Tech so much.

So the old working title was 'Eternal Recoil featuring Bouncing Bob'.
The rename is 'Eternal Recoil featuring Bob the Frog'.

This has come about due to my crappy artwork and my kids comments. After seeing the platforms that the player bounces on, they commented they looked an awful lot like lily pads. then they said i should change my yellow ball (Bob) into a cute frog. So they found me one online to use till i get real artwork. I do think the game is much better with a googly eyed frog though, haha

Check out this mid game screenshot...
 What ya seeing in that screenshot is Bob the Frog falling down to the ground below. The lily pads (sic) are moving around the screen in the horizontal direction, and you can tell their speed by the  green smoke effect they drop and leave behind. The hearts we should all ignore as an old item for me to know the code is working. The clouds and buildings etc are the main background and are there to show motion and give a sense of being somewhere. The background color changes based on how far through (up) the level you travel. Eventually going black and stars appearing in the sky, and finally the moon.

So far Bob bounces quite nicely and can bounce off the platforms, enabling him to get higher and higher. This game is about cute, and i am hoping to make it cute enough that people will at least try it, just to see how sickly sweet it really is. It is loking more like i will make this version a puzzle game, and not a full arcade game type experience, though that may come soon after, as that is usually my fave to do. Though i also like puzzlers :)  The aim wil be to help bob get to the Moon, a place he has dreamed about jumping too all his short life.

More info as it arrives.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Marmalade #5 - Ads and iAds

This is part 5 of me talking about using the Marmalade SDK for the first time to convert a game i have out on the Windows Phone 7.

Ok so the conversion went well. Trying the game on several versions of hardware showed up right away that i was not using frame compensating (obviously i knew this). I came up with a plan and it was easy to solve this issue. Sounds were not sounding good, with so many clicks in them. Still another easy to clean up item. The game is playable though and still seems like fun. So what do we have left ?

Well after playing the game on the iPhone it becomes apparent i really have a very short list of things to do. Below is the list and status and thoughts on them.

1. When tombstoned or removed as the active focused app, the game still runs like it has full focus. I tried to find the information i needed in the SDK documentation, but failed for a while. Then a friend came and lent me a hand, or eyes :O. It is in fact named as Paused.... Bah!  So there are a couple of callbacks to know when you lose and regain app focus. Sweet. That will be easy to do tomorrow.

2. Fix clicking SFX, my mate Paul has this sorted i am told. Will check it tomorrow. No idea why they went clicky in the first place though.

3. The game is setup to work in landscape mode. However on the iPhone there is an oddity where landscape can mean either way across. The screen flips and such, but it is odd. On the Android for example it stays in a single landscape mode (oops, that is a premature mention!). Not sure if i ned to address this or not at this time.

4. Crashing.... The game crashes after about 4-5 levels on the iPhone, but does not in the simulator. I suspect it is running out of memory due to a leak, but i am not sure as yet. More investigation is needed by simply turning off certain aspects of the game game code till it remains solid and doesn't crash. just because i do not have a debugger does not mean i cannot find it :)

5. Adding in the Ads, this is after all going to be our revenue stream. The iAd extension is remarkably easy to use. Only it seems a little unstable. So far the game can crash as soon as it is served Ads, or maybe later (could be our 5th level crash?). Now i know from the forums that other people have had to deal with this. So i ave a couple of things to try. First off will be to try the example and see if that ever crashes. If not, then i will mimick that. Still, the iAd crashing stuff has ben a bit of a pain. Mostly becasue i do not have a lot of access yet to an iPhone or iOS device.

6. Get all the publishing information taken care of before submission. This is things such as Icons or description files etc. My mate Paul has published about 8 apps/games so far, so i hope that will go smoothly.

Yes, i will still need to purchase a version of Marmalade before i publish. It's a funny thing, but i really want to pay after i make money and not before. Is that bad?

One Note:-
I did attempt to join Marmalades App program, where they sell your game and promote it for 20% of the revenue after the portal or publisher fees are taken. I am excited by this deal and hope they do great promotion. However Hot Chicks the card game did not meet their quality level to get approval. Maybe my new game will :)
If anyone has done the App program and has any information that they can reveal, i would be VERY interested in hearing if they thought it was worthwhile to them to do it.

Da Voodoochief

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Game is tasteful?

History and Reasoning:-
Quite some time ago i decided to create a game called 'Cards en Fuego'. However it did not get many downloads, but as it is Ad supported i could track the amount of playtime the game was getting. It appears that it got a lot of people coming back to play again and again. However both myself and my partner felt like one of the problems with the initial download numbrs was that the name was not in English.

So we reskinned the game and relaunched it as a new game called 'Cards on Fire'. This we felt would be a great move and it did not take too long to reskin the whole game. Once it launched we took down the original version and then waited with high hopes of doubling our measly 1.3K downlaods of the orignal. The downloads for this version were actually lower than the downloads for the original, barely making it over the 1K mark in the first week. Very disappointing and also we think proving that the name did not appear to matter. However, once again the retention the game was showing was very good. A lot of playtime for so few people. We had also gone to only approximately 5 downloads a day.

We really felt at this point that awaremness or visibility was a major problem. As of course i have noted before on the Xbox for my games. Great sell thru, but hardly any downloads.

So whats next.. My partner and I banged our heads togetehr and decided to try something we had not wanted to go near. A more Risky version of the game.This time using pictures of semi naked women. These pictures also had to be something that our wives would not balk at :)

The Game gets Girls:-
Now of course there are moralistic standpoints to take about having pictures of scantily clad women in ya game, and it did bother us that we were going to try this out. We decided we should be 'Tasteful' and in reality it was going to be just another reskin. This time the cards in the game would become pictures of females and also we could enhance the product by giving it a more personal feel, by adding pictures of women on the pause screens and game over showing their feelings at the current situation. This did indeed enhance the product and in fact i would say the whole game experience was improved when the card matching no longer required you to simply look at numbers to match. Now you had to look at details such as the color of their bikini or the color of their hair etc. A more interesting game for sure. One more note i might add at this time is that obtaining these pictures of the ladies was costly, and that is a cost we hoped to recover with a lot of downloads.

I made the decision that i would not put this game on the Sorcerygames web site, a decision i now find to be silly. The game is very tame, but is still the same good game we wrote initially.

So the important question is how has it done on the Windows phone 7 platform. As we did in fact release it about 6 weeks ago. Well it's initial downloads are around 3K, so that is 3 times better than before. But not the 10x or more we were hoping for. The idea of using this titilation factor we hoped would allow us to get noticed on the WP7 marketplace. I would not say that it was a great success. It is though a success in the fact that the daily downloads are around 50 or so, getting the 10x we had hoped for. All in all the experiment has not really proven much one way or the other (apart from continued downloads).

So now we are hopeful that the iOS and Android platforms being about 100 times the size of WP7 could bring in that 100x more revenue from Ads. That will at least allow us to pay for the development costs and maybe buy us some lunch.

An interesting experiment, but inconclusive.

Da Voodoochief

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Marmalade #4 - Pc to Mac to iPhone!

I that title sounds ridiculous, or at least it does to my ears (eyes?).

However it is in fact a true explanation of what i did yesterday, or was it the day before. Well anyway, the facts are still the same.

Cross platform development is the single biggest reason i went looking for an SDK to do this job. As coding all the separate systems manually is a very large task. Obviously i have chosen the Marmalade SDK as it covers so many platforms and also I can write in C++.

Now my game, although not finished in the PC simulator (where i code the game primarily) was looking pretty good. So along with a friend of mine we decided it was time to see if we could get the game over to his iPhone (i don't own one yet). This blog post is about what happened.

1. My friend Paul set up his Mac with Marmalade and also after some trials and tribulations got it to put one of the hello world samples onto his iPhone.

2. Paul arrived with his Mac in hand and i copied my whole project directory onto a thumb drive and we copied it onto that Macbook. Then he decided we should compile it if it will and just see what happens. Well shockingly the whole thing compiled (apart from a typo from me). Then we got even braver and ran the compiled code. Once again we were Shocked to see the Mac simulator running the game on the Mac, mere minutes after copying it over. At this point we were very HAPPY with this SDK.

3. Next we were going to attempt what we really want to work. Can we get this onto an iPhone. Paul connected it up and a few minutes later we were once again shocked and exhilerated to see the game running onto theiPhone 4. We then followed that up by running it on the iPhone 3G. Ok, so i should point out here that the game at that time did not handle different screen resolutions and it does not properly handle the diferent processor speeds. BUT Oh My Goodness. Within 15 minutes or less, we had the game running on an iPhone.

THIS is what cross platform development should be like. though as you can tell we have had various milage before out of such cross platform sdk claims. This has to be one of the smoothest. In fact it was smoother than the Xna windows versions of my games to the Xbox versions. which is an amazing thing to say, as they were pretty straight forward.

Needless to say, this whole episode has inspired me to code more than i expected and i now handle different screen resolutions and also a bunch of other features have turned up in the game overnight, haha. I only have one issue remaining and that is....

4. In todays test the function to get the screen resolution returns a Zero on the iPhone, so the game defaults to a conservative 480x320 mode on the iPhone. Hopefully there is a cure for this as my re-scaling code is all in, it only neds to know the dimensions of the screen to work.

Both Paul and myself are very happy with the way this conversion is going. The only thing that concerns me at the moment is the thought of having to actually go Pay for the excellent Marmalde SDK, as we will need to buy two copies  :O  Pity i cannot get them on payback from ads or something haha.

Super Summary:
As per the title of this post. We did in fact go from PC to Mac to iPhone (and iPad), within minutes. YAY!

Da Voodoocheif