July 17, 2012

When highscores go global

We have plunged head first into the world of databases and online functionality lately, and while those unlock the possibility to do some neat stuff, there are tons of things below the surface to consider. Data security first and foremost obviously, but what else?

We have been thinking a lot about how people use Internet on their mobile devices. Are they usually on WiFi? What kind of data plan does an average user have? How much data is it ok to transfer each time we, say, download highscore? This article gave us some perspective on the US market, which could be considered our main market area, but we still need to find out how things work in mainland Europe or Russia, both of which are also important to us.

So as much as we would want to see our new shiny database filled with entries, we politely ask the user if they would like to have just an offline highscore funtionality instead.

So this is what we go with right now:

Last week we finalized our newest addition to WP7 catalogue, which should be though the  certification process this week with any luck. More on that later!

July 3, 2012

Maybe we'll stick to indie marketing for now.

So, we made an expedition into the swamp of online advertising the other day. Boring statistics reveal that a) paying for online ads isn't all that effective for a small WP7 developer, or b) we are doing something very wrong. Maybe both, back to the lab!

This week we have been dabbling with SQL and PHP again, programming an online highscore funtionality for another Kajak team. This has been a great opportunity (read: pretext) to rewrite some messy code from earlier, making it easier for us to apply online highscore functionality in our future games as well.

Speaking of which, if things go all right, we will publish a fun little game for WP7 soon! Beyond all the fun the game is also an experiment to see how we can affect the downloads of another WP game by releasing a promotional minigame. We will go into more detail about it in a later post.

June 20, 2012

What is this, a review!?

Hello readers, meet Cripplecat, our new Lumia 610 test device. Since we have been busy with outsourcing projects again this week, we thought we might as well introduce this little thing and share our thoughts about it with a few lines.

If you happen to be a WP7 developer, there are two sides to this device. It's existence will force you to decide whether you want to set some limits to your design, or cut out a portion on potential audience by opting out 256 devices. On the other hand this device offers pretty good bang for the buck, which means it has a good chance to gather more of that audience we ever so desire.

We found 610 to be surprisingly agile little thing. There's no noticeable lag anywhere, and in most cases it performs much better than many earlier devices with 512 memory. However, we ran into serious problems when running the graphics intensive Spiritual on it, and thus decided to make the game unavailable on 256 devices for now. Developing games for 610 shouldn't be a problem though, if the memory usage is well thought out from the beginning. We admit that this has been a bit of a learning experience.

For end users  still without a WP7 device this phone is an excellent choice, especially if you want the best value instead of best performance. There are some apps Lumia 610 will not work with, including Skype, so you might want to check out before marching to the store.

June 11, 2012

Busy busy business

Whoa! Several weeks went by just like that. We are sorry to have missed some blog posts between this and the last one. These weeks have been quite eventful, so lets take a look at some past events:

Riku Leinonen has joined our crew for the next few months, as it turns out our 3:1 ratio of programmers and artists needs even more imbalance. Welcome!

Break MORE Aliens! has been published, and we even stayed on schedule. A future blog post will go into more detail about the publishing process, advertising, reviews ans all that jazz, but right now you can:

Check out the game itself! (If you have a Windows Phone)
Take a look at the official trailer!
And read through this awesome review by wpcentral.com!

We were lucky enough to teach game programming basics last week at Kajaani UAS, very rewarding experience. To all our students, thanks for attending, and keep making games on your own time! To all those who took entrance exams during the week, see you in September! ;D

Along these we have been, and still are, working on some very interesting subcontracting projects.

Next week we will finally begin our grand summer project, stay tuned! TJR out.

May 17, 2012

256 was not enough!

Hello again after two weeks! TJR HQ has moved to new business premises and we hope we can resume active blog keeping.

Headlines of the week: For the first time we failed a Windows Phone Marketplace certification process. Twice, to be exact, but for very different reasons.

Spiritual, our most graphics heavy game so far, hit the recently lowered ceiling for memory usage on WP7. (90 MB for the new WP Tango devices, note to developers.) This is actually very welcome wake-up call for us: While 256 MB of RAM is not much for a modern smartphone, it should be more than enough for a game like this. Back to optimizing, and let's do that from the beginning with the next project.

Then there is Ouroboring Life, which apparently is our first R-rated title. In case you are unfamiliar with the project, it is a simple rhythm based life simulator where your goal is to achieve perfect life after a few generations of fortune building. The game was made for this year's Global Game Jam. You can get better idea of what it's all about by watching the trailer.

During the game you come across life events, two of which are pretty hardcore: "Just enjoyed your first XXX!" and "Got an STD..." While we understand the cultural differences, it was still a bit of a surprise for the game not to pass the filter in some areas. We decided we're against the idea of changing the content, so we simply removed a few regions from the list.

Ouroboring Life is available for PC here and for Windows Phone here (both free!), in case you want to check out all the hardcore action yourself. :P

May 3, 2012

Tests were conducted on aliens

This week's, or should I say last week's, blog post is a little late since we've had all sorts of crazy stuff going on, sorry 'bout that. We should be moving to new premises soon, and we just got our new website published a while ago. If you haven't seen it yet, please take a look and let us know how you like it!

To this week's topic then: We were lucky enough to get some Kajak students to help with testing Break MORE Aliens! last week, and the results were very interesting. Thanks to everyone who participated!

We thought this would be an excellent chance to take a closer look at BMA! through some of those comments and suggestions we received. We will explain some original game design decisions as well as why we are willing to tweak some parts of the game based on the comments.

"The balls bouncing is too slow and the player have too much time to do nothing."
"The scrolling texts are disturbing, because I don't know where I should concentrate."

We're not certain whose idea the scrolling texts were originally, but one of the reasons we have kept them there is that reading them is precisely the kind of thing player can do when the ball is taking it's time bouncing around, which would be pretty hard to mend without breaking the core gameplay too much. We were happy to also receive positive comments about the quotes, which has been the general feedback in the WP7 Marketplace as well. Few of the quotes actually contain information that is more important to player, and we've made those bright red to help them stand out more. However, we decided to remove all other colors from the quotes and also make the default color a bit dimmer as well. Thank you for pointing those out!

"There are quite a few powerups, which is a good thing on the other hand, but that's why you should make them more regocnizable. Which affect the paddle, which affect the ball, which are 'general' powerups"
"Powerups are very unclear. The laserblasters look like a beer bottle, and the others are pretty random expect the resize icon."

This is something we have been somewhat worried about as well, but there's only so much you can do with the limited amount of pixels. The original game had higher resolution powerup symbols, but they were against the overall visual style, and more importantly, appeared so small on the screen that it was still very hard to make out what they were supposed to represent. We also received several comments about there being too much powerups on the screen at the same time, so we reduced the amount a little.

"The player can't tell from the hearts that they're the extra balls and that player's board shows the health (?). This is a good solution otherwise, but you should put balls in stead of the hearts, if I understood correctly."
"The health hearts are also unclear as to what they refer to. Do they mean how many extra balls I have left or do they mean how many hits I can take from the aliens?"

 Actually this might be something where we have probably made a mistake with the game design by making it overly complicated while trying to actually keep it simple. There are three ways those hearts can be lost during a game: Whan a ball is lost (so they are kind of like extra balls), when aliens reach the bottom of the screen, and when player takes damage. We felt it was the simplest solution to combine these, and then added the most obvious symbol we could think of from the world of videogames, the heart. By the way, the condition of the city in the background also reflects the amount of hearts the player has left, did anyone notice that?

"The cannons on the side of the board don't feel like a very powerful powerup, their rate of fire is so low."

All you need to know about the laser cannons is that they're stackable, and you should aim to stack five of them. ;)

"Why the nuke is exploding in the city!?! Shouldn't the player protect it ? Also, the nuke flashes the screen witch makes the game uncontrollable for a second and this is issue when you should see the ball and the bat."
"I think it [the nuke] should be THE powerup, one that leaves positive feeling to the player without any negative effects."

Nuke is meant to be a double-edged sword that player should avoid in some situations. In the original game Nuke did two damage to player, but we decided to nerf it down to one. The bright flash is also a part of this "double-edger sword philosophy." Although it may be a little weird in the otherwise light setting of the game, the Nuke is one of the elements that also has a deeper meaning, and we also wanted to make a little room for tactical thinking in the seemingly simple gameplay. Whis is why there are other powerups with seemingly negative effects, such as the one that shrinks the brick.

"The pixel art/retro look is really nice and works well with the music."

Thank you! We saw similar comments a lot, and we're very happy for that fact. Retro always has it's place, and we were very lucky to find such fitting music when we worked on the original game. Again, the musician is Multifaros, you should definitely check out other stuff he's done as well!

If you feel like discussing more, please do, and thank you for hearing us!

April 21, 2012

Status report, stat!

Since we don't have anything too specific to report this week, we thought we might as well shed some light on several projects we are working on and their statuses, so here goes:

Break MORE Aliens! is nearly finished and will go through some testing and analyzing by Kajak students in a few days.We're pretty exited to hear their thoughts on it!

Spiritual is not under active development, but we have plans for the additional content, which will most likely be published during summer.

Interplanetary is going through a slower phase in development at the moment. This is because we prefer it to have our full attention once we can get cracking again.

Dr. Globdor is coming along nicely. We mentioned last week the possibility of a PC release, and that's actually become our main focus. We will not release a finished game right away, but instead give players the essentials and a chance to give us input on which features they'd like to see in the finished game. Because we're indie developers and not a major publisher, this is actually a valid strategy and not an excuse to cut development time. ;)

Besides those we are of course working on subcontracting projects all the time. And finally, here's a little sneak peek to a whole new game project we will be working on this summer:

April 15, 2012

Dr. Globdor on rampage!

We were going to write about something else for a change this week, but Dr. Globdor has us completely ensnared! A new major feature we have been working on this week is level editor, which seems to be something that should help the game stand out on WP7. If all goes well, users will be able to share the levels they have made, too! We are also considering the possibility of publishing the game for PC, which would make it our first official PC release by the way.

In other news, the major update on Break MORE Aliens! is coming along nicely, and we are actully plotting on having some Kajak students test the game for us this week. ;)

The early version of Break MORE Aliens! was already published for a Nokia game competition (3rd place!) earlier and has thus gone through the crucial peak of release downloads. We are thinking about covering some of those losses by making a new, simple game with similar theme and a direct link to Break MORE Aliens!, once the major update is released. We will cover both in more depth later, stay tuned!

April 6, 2012

Dr. Globdor

Last week I promised there would be more on Dr. Globdor, our crazy little project made for teaching Windows Phone development at Kouvola.

At this point the project is pretty much finished if we look at the original specs; we added a simple particle engine and a couple more enemies and such even after Kouvola, and will upload them for our students to see shortly.

However, as it so often goes with these projects, we have some ambitions to develop the game further and make it an actual release. Working with Globdor is very enjoyable. Much like with Break the Aliens! and Break MORE Aliens!, we are aiming to make an enjoyable game with retro feel, but top it off with some modern elements like pretty pretty particles. We have also been planning the possibility to release the game on some other platforms besides WP7, and adding cool features like, say, a level editor?

And that's not all, at this point it's fairly safe to say that you can expect a 4-6 part tutorial on how the original, Kouvola version of game was made.  Plus the source code, spritesheets, music and all that jazz. We will strongly encourage anyone who's interested in game development to make their own game with the help of those, it's a ton of fun, and even more so if you can build a little team to work on it! :D

And by the way, happy Easter to everyone celebratign it, and equally as good weekend to the others! See you next week, TJR out.

March 31, 2012

Our week at KSAO

½ of TJR spent the week 12 at Kouvola, teaching Windows Phone 7 development at KSAO. The trip was not only a huge success, but also fun and educational for TJR as well, so I thougt I'd write a few more lines about it here.

 We decided early on, before the trip, that making a game is the only proper way to learn to make a game, so we asked the Kouvoleans what kind of game they would want to make. 2D platformer excelled in the voting, and we nodded our heads in agreenment, thinking that we could include pretty much all the essential elements of WP7 game making in the process.

The process of making an example game started about a week before the actual trip, and we went wild with it, this time we could use any crazy idea without worrying about target audiences or plot, as long as it would have all the needed elements and be finished within a week. Thus, Dr. Globdor was born! This is not the last you will hear from him either, but let's focus on Kouvola for now.

We only had five days to teach the whole process, and unlike originally intended, most of the students didn't have any previous experience of working with XNA, only basic programming skills. Needless to say we were a little worried about how things would turn out with such a tight schedule, but the KSAO folks proved to be one of the most motivated groups of people we have even seen!

The students were divided into four groups,  each with a goal to come up with a different theme for their games. After the themes were decided, the programmers in each group were to write the code based on the samples we provided, with the necessary tweaks needed for their own projects. The artists were to create matching graphics, complete with sprite animations. When each day was through, we spend some time commenting the code produced, helping to understand and remember the workings better. We also threw in some game design pointers here and there.

This tactic proved succesful as we managed to convey most of the knowledge we intended, and we were amazed how it all seemed to sink in. Pretty much only two things from the original list of things to teach were left for the follow-up session; particles and publishing. Here are a couple of screenshots from the WIP versions (most of the graphics are placeholders!) of their games, we can't wait to see how they will look like in a couple of weeks when it's time to publish:

What we learned was that it is possible to pour unbelieveable amounts of information when the people receiving it are motivated and interested in the subject. We should've probably honed both our strategy and material some more before the trip, but this time both worked out great.

So thank you KSAO, we hope to see you again! More about Dr. Globdor in the coming week.