Future Stuff

Future Stuff

I just wanted to share a photo I snapped this morning on my iPad. This is the current top grossing app iPad app on the App Store. It costs $8.99.

iOS 7 is a 3D operating system and the latest iOS chips are 64-bit. I believe that Apple is positioning their tablets, phones and future items as a true replacement for many gaming consoles and PCs used for work and play.

Look at the quality of some of the 3D titles available on the App Store. Playing them on your television with a controller is just an update away. From there, maybe it won’t be long before I can start working with Photoshop or Illustrator powered by a tablet or Apple TV.

As hard as it is to imagine, PCs could be replaced in the next decade and hopefully, it will be with something better–something we haven’t thought of yet.

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The Right Way

confusion-1

Cheesy clip art rules.

I just read an article about the difference between wireframe, prototypes and mockups in app design. My response to the poster was this:

Although it is important to have a common language with the people you need to communicate with, there is no one right way to develop any idea into a finished product. In my opinion, articles like this can intimidate developers and prevent them from finishing a project because they are too worried about not doing something “the right way.”

Many projects never get past pre-production. Many developers never make a game because they are afraid of how their peers will judge them when they don’t seem savy enough. Many programmers never finish a project because they are intimidated by the complexities of doing things “the right way.”

I’ve met with many developers and toured game studios. The truth is, there is no right way to do anything, there is only what works for you at the time.

Popular terminology, programming languages, coding techniques and hardware platforms change but the goal never does: Reach the finish line however you can.

…and never let someone stop you because you’re not doing it “the right way.”

Apple Now Gives 100 Promo Codes Per App Version (Instead of 50)

Apple Now Gives 100 Promo Codes Per App Version (Instead of 50)

I just snapped this photo about ten minutes ago. I double-checked on a second app and it’s true. Apple developers now get 100 promo codes instead of 50. This has been enacted retroactively on all our apps.

This is a good thing. We have found promotional code giveaways to stimulate our sales. Win-win.

Jumping

Jumping

I’m a huge platformer fanatic. This starts with Donkey Kong, matures with Pitfall and solidifies with Super Mario Bros. -the best jumping in video games that even Nintendo themselves can’t replicate.

Let’s make a glossary for the sake of this discussion…

Jump
Launching something away from the ground at some direction and some velocity which will be affected by a force (usually gravity) in order to return it to the ground. (Note: typically a plain-ole jump but this stuff could apply to slingshot-ting birds, firing cannonballs, etc.)

Return
Your return to the ground after jumping/launching

Jump Velocity
The strength or speed of your jump

Jump Direction
The angle or direction of the jump

Forces
Gravity, wind, friction or some other directional force that affects a jump in some way but the user has no control over.

Dynamic Velocity
Player has control over the strength or speed of your jump to some extent

Dynamic Direction
Player has control over the direction or angle of your jump to some extent

Committed Jump
A jump over which the player has no control of velocity or direction once launched (see: Castlevania, Scorched Earth, Angry Birds)

Dynamic Jump
Player has control of velocity, direction or both to some extent once launched. (see: Super Mario Freakin’ Bros., Sonic, Crash Bandicoot)

Floaty Jump
Dynamic jump into weak gravitational force resulting in oversteering through a slow return. Floaty jumps make it hard to apply your built in real-world understanding of physics resulting in unintuitive control. i.e. it sucks.

How do game developers program a jump?

First off, if your game does not rely on complex collisions with weird shapes or is not some sort of simulation you do not have to use a physics engine. You can write the code yourself.

I’m not discouraging the use of physics engines or other people’s code but if you’re really going to tweak the gameplay to perfection make sure you know how to change every value in the code like gravity, friction, velocity, etc.

How do developers code a jump?

Probably something like this:
If the player presses the jump button turn on gravity for the player and thrust him upward at a velocity that is higher than the force of gravity.
Since the gravity is always on (as long as you’re jumping) it will eventually override the vertical velocity and pull you back down. This results in a nice realistic smooth curve.
When the player hits the ground-turn off gravity for the player.

What can we tweak to make it more fun? Vertical stuff.

  • Vertical forces like updraft or gravity. For best result make it relate-able to real life so players can accurately gauge a jump-but don’t overdo it.
  • Vertical velocity value, the length of time that velocity applies (leave it on for a jetpack)
  • Player control over the length of time velocity applies. Here’s where Super Mario Bros. nailed it. The player can tap the button for a small jump or hold it for a higher jump. They can control the height of the jump by holding the button down longer. Genius!

After a set height however the player must come down so they do eventually lose control of the vertical velocity. Remember: the level design really matters here. Super Mario Bros. has three platform heights that Mario can jump to on any given screen. This means there are times that you can do a little vertical climbing even though the game is horizontally oriented (but this isn’t a discussion in level design so…)

That covers vertical motion. What about horizontal?

Good ole physics dictates that we can calculate vertical and horizontal math separately. So here’s what happens with horizontal:
The player can either NOT have control over movement in the air or they can press forward and backwards to guide the jumper. Friction should be added for a good heavy feel.

What can we tweak to make it more fun? Horizontal stuff.

  • Horizontal forces like friction or horizontal wind.¬†For best results have friction so there is a weight to the player.
  • An object in motion tends to stay in motion. You shouldn’t be able to turn on a dime in the air.
  • Horizonal speed at the time of jump affects the angle or direction of the jump. In Super Mario Bros. you have to be running to make a long jump. Although you can “steer” in the air, it is limited and the weight of the character feels great.

I simply want developers to think about and spend time on perfecting these values and forces. If you’re lucky it’ll feel like Super Mario Bros.

Now go play Super Mario Bros. and think about the forces, feel the control and you’ll start to understand why the jumping in Super Mario Bros. itself is fun to play with and has kept players coming back for over 25 years.

App Machine

App Machine Part 1

I had a fellow developer ask me how we had put out so many apps in such a short time and thought I would share my particular experience in creating our pipeline.

Make engines, not apps
We started this with our third app, Coloring Farm Touch To Color. The engine allowed us to change artwork in an image folder and content of an xml file to create a brand new app. We created a farm, safari and princess coloring app with this engine that are very popular. The original code took a few months to create and we added little features as we released new titles. We followed the same process for our puzzle apps, Puzzle Farm, Princess Fairy Tale and Animal World.

Reuse everything
We have accumulated a great library of sounds that we reuse frequently and try to reuse code for animations, particle effects, etc. Coloring Farm, Puzzle Farm and Animal World all used the same artwork and they were delivered to us from the artist in vector format with everything separated in easy to manage layers. This allowed us to take parts and rearrange, resize, etc. to build new landscapes, game assets and games.

Delegate
You have to delegate tasks to free yourself up for new responsibilities. Look for talent and start building relationships with people you can trust to carry on the work you’ve started. We owe our recent successes to Amanda Linn and Matthew Taylor, a brilliant developer and sound designer respectively. We are currently looking for more talented developers who can maintain our standards and vision.

I will continue this series when I am inspired to do so. That’s it for now. I have to get back to work.

The Games We Want To Play

The Games We Want To Play

Recently Netflix revealed that it looks at torrent services to see what movie and TV shows are in demand in a given area. When I look at the indie game scene I wonder if “big” publishers look to steam, mobile and the crannies of the internet for similar insight.

Apples and Oranges? You may be thinking that torrents reflect consumer needs while indies represent content creators.

What’s the difference? The average twenty-something indie developer has disposable income in his future, and we know he LOVES games. As many indie developers as there are, isn’t that very community a big enough slice of “core” gamers to measure consumer desires?

The very definition of an indie developer is an individual or small team making the games they want to play.

What’s So Good About FEZ?

What's So Good About FEZ?

I finally played FEZ last night on Steam and my expectations were modest; based only on what I had seen in Indie Game: The Movie and the elevator pitches of other gamers. I also heard that it was a game of exploration-something I love.

As soon as I began walking through the FEZ universe it was obvious that the developer had higher standards than most.

Let’s get specific with a bulleted list!

  • Many games use a SNES-inspired aesthetic but the ususal result is inconsistently pixellated sprites mismatched with an unlimited number of colors and “some chiptunes track” playing in the background. In FEZ the visuals have a beautiful color palette and specific style and the retro visuals are actually part of the story and gameplay. The music is original, purposeful and helps create an atmosphere.

  • The platforming is fun! Which is rare thanks to the floaty physics we have apparently accepted as the norm. The jumping feels right and the level design accents the control perfectly.

  • That’s another thing, great level and game design! You are slowly introduced to a modest set of mechanics that you follow like a trail of bread crumbs to the next satisfying reward. The level design introduces new experiences as the easily-grasped and fun control stays the same. This is how it’s done!

  • A sense of mystery without question marks: The game explains how it works through level design and via conversation with a little helper. It’s not overdone and it never takes control away from you. But, there is mystery in the world, the characters and the conversation. You will stumble upon things and not know what and why they are. Your imagination will fill in the gaps and euphoria will flow through your body like a delicious gravy (maybe this was just my experience). Books are loved because of the information you are not given.

    I’ll update the post if this opinion changes but my first time with FEZ left me wondering: Why do so few indie games have this level of quality?