Ben Ward's Blog
Launching Safe Cracker

This is part two of a blog post series on creating the mobile game Safe Cracker. If you haven’t read part one, you can do so here.

The team was working to complete Safe Cracker throughout November and December. We had no real release strategy initially - we just worked on it as quickly as we could. We knew the quality bar we wanted to hit, so it became an intense slog to get the game where it needed to be. As things came together, I came to realise that launching before Christmas had suddenly became achievable.

Every year Apple shutdown the developer publishing tool, iTunesConnect, for the holidays. Even the brilliant people at Apple can’t work every single day of the year! The company is very good at messaging the dates of this shutdown to devs ahead of time, so we suddenly had a deadline. If we wanted Safe Cracker to launch in time for Christmas then we NEEDED to meet that date. We killed ourselves to get the game done before iTunes Connect holiday shutdown.

As the deadline drew closer I began to slightly panic that things wouldn’t be done in time. I had been slack in getting a decent brief to our composer, and as such he was suffering the knock-on and the work was coming in hot. It was time to make contingency plans. I actually submitted a version of the game with slightly unpolished SFX in order to hit the deadline. I knew that it could take a couple of weeks to pass through submission, so this build would be our backup if things didn’t come together in time. Fortunately, this build was approved by Apple and held offline as our backup. At least we had something to release for Christmas now, even if we couldn’t pull the final SFX together in time.

I’m incredibly fortunate in the people I work with. Neil, the Safe Cracker Audio Designer, is not a man to miss an opportunity. I had left him in a bad situation by not providing enough time and information, but he didn’t let this beat him. Poor Neil pulled out all the stops and stayed up crazy late for several nights in a row to work on the game’s sound effects! We worked together to finish the game, and were able to submit the proper version to iTunesConnect in time to be approved before shutdown. Woo!!

Even though the game was finished and approved, the work of an independent developer is never done. In the old days when I worked in console development the studio would celebrate and we would all have a few weeks off to recuperate. Not so when you’re also responsible for the publishing side of things! I went straight into building a press release to announce the game, and also pull together the release assets: screenshots, gameplay breakdown document, video trailer, etc. A note for other devs who might be reading: don’t underestimate now long this can take. It’s a major undertaking which can be just as difficult as mastering a game!

Once the assets were created, I paid for a press release service to supplement my own mail blast to my existing PR list. I don’t think the paid-for service was massively worth it and I’m not going to bother using them again, but it was an interesting experiment. I then leaned on contacts in specialist press for coverage, calling in as many favours as I could. Unfortunately, if I’m honest, it didn’t work very well; I think industry has changed a lot since my days of AAA. Either Safe Cracker didn’t appeal to the (hardcore) specialist press en-masse, or there has been a big change in how games press cover mobile games. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

Not to be deterred, I hassled Apple with information about the game. It took several attempts to get through to my contacts at Apple, but eventually I was able to chat to them directly and explain why Safe Cracker was worthy of their attention. Their internal teams reviewed the game, and eventually it was featured in the “Best New Games” category over Christmas. This was a fantastic achievement, and something that I’m really proud of.

I’m a little surprised that the specialist press were so unreceptive to the game, but I think it’s indicative of a growing negative attitude toward mobile in general from those guys. That said, it didn’t make a big difference for Safe Cracker. The Apple feature spot more than made up for the snub, and to be honest it has made me re-evaluate my marketing priorities for the future. The world is changing, and it pays to stay impartial and go with the tide on things like this.

I worked over Christmas to create the game’s first level pack, released in mid January. It actually doubled the size of the game, with another 64 levels. I was able to build all the new levels and associated mechanics inside of two weeks, which was a bit mental to say the least. I also took the chance to localise the game into several new languages, including Mandarin Chinese. Over the next few weeks the Android version launched with mixed results, but that’s for another blog post…

Safe Cracker was downloaded over 350,000 times in it’s first month. It was also played over 1,000,000 times in that period. It’s stats for number of sessions per user and session length all break industry averages. Since then the game has broken one million downloads overall across all platforms, and has been the fastest growing game I’ve built so far. Usually I find myself being hyper critical of the games I build, only seeing the faults. However, I’m really proud of Safe Cracker. I think it achieved most of the things I set out to do, and it’s performance has been decent.

In the months since Safe Cracker launched I’ve been pulled onto another urgent project; a geography quiz title called Worldly. However, that game is now pretty much finished, so I’m really looking forward to getting back to Safe Cracker. It’ll be nice to optimise the game, bring it to new platforms, and perhaps even grow the game in unexpected ways. Thanks for reading this post, and if you haven’t tried Safe Cracker yet then you can download it from here.

Finishing Safe Cracker

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’ve been working on a physics puzzle game for the past few months. That game is called Safe Cracker, and it was released on iOS just before Christmas. It’s rolling out to Android as I write this, and other platforms are planned too. So far it has been played over 2 million times, which I’m pretty happy with considering it has been available for only about 2 months.

The development process of Safe Cracker was long and fragmented. It actually started as a demo written by myself and a friend. We wrote it to learn the game development platform Unity; we didn’t intend on making a proper game for commercial release! However, as the ideas came together it became obvious that the game design was a good one, so we continued to work on it. You can read about this early development time in a couple of blog posts here and here.

The game was built in several stages: the initial prototype, a longer, more intense second phase, and then the longest and most difficult final push.

1. Prototype phase

The prototype was built over the course of a few weekends in Portsmouth. The two of us built the game in several hack-a-thon sessions, fuelled mainly by beer and pizza. Safe Cracker was originally conceived as a version of Peggle which could be rotated 360 degrees. We quickly realised the similarities between rotating the level and spinning the lock on a bank vault, and the rest of the theming really wrote itself.

The first versions were grey and industrial in appearance. Our first concept was heavy metal, with yellow/black hazard lines and brushed metal everything. It looked pretty nice as a style, but I’m extremely glad we evolved into the more colourful design later on. 

In terms of gameplay, the first version was basic: you’d spin the level and control the path of a ball as it bounced around inside. The aim is to collide the ball with various switches around the level, activating them. Originally the plan was for the player to activate the switches as fast as they could, beating a level timer which we set for each level. However, this felt quite dry and not as deep as we’d like. During the prototype I added “star switches”: special switches which had to be activated in a certain time before they expired. This was great as it allowed us to implement the timer in a more interesting way, as well as rate the player’s performance at the end (did they get all three stars?). It also had a great effect on the players intentions as they play the game - most people beeline for the stars and work out the most efficient route between them.

Actually the prototype stars were slightly different to the final game. Initially each star had it’s own timer, so you’d have to get the first star within a certain time and then the second would become available. It was too complex, so I ended up simplifying it down to one timer for all three stars. This not only made the UI and mechanics simpler, but also gave the player more choice about how they wished to complete the level rather than the designer imposing it onto them from above. More strategies is always a good thing. 

After building the prototype there was some disruption in our personal lives, so we basically did nothing on Safe Cracker for several months. It became clear that my partner couldn’t continue to work on the game (he emigrated!), so I made plans to finish the game on my own.

2. Second development phase

The second stage of development was about a month long, and was basically just me hacking about on the thing. I build a new UI system, finished off the 64 levels to final quality, built multiple game modes (standard and time attack), power ups, achievements and leaderboards, etc. etc. I also decided that the game should be freemium, so I spent a while integrating in-app purchases and advertisements. Finally, I spent an awfully long time tweaking the physics and controls until it felt perfect. That actually meant adding several control schemes, but I’m largely happy with how it turned out. 

It was an incredibly productive time. That said, I did lose some time due to not knowing Unity well enough. I’d write a system, then go back and rewrite parts of it several times to be more efficient. Nowadays I know the best way to approach things, but back then I was still new to it all.

3. The long final push

I knew that the game still looked a bit shoddy. The brushed metal artwork wasn’t particularly attractive, and didn’t appeal to a mass-market audience. I brought an excellent artist on board (one of the chaps I had previously worked with on Tiny Invaders) and he immediately improved the game 1000%. He introduced the characters of the thief and Nano, and stylised the whole game as a steampunk kind of fantasy world. The artist and I worked together intensively for several months to polish Safe Cracker to a very high level, and both of us killed ourselves to make the game as great as we could.

We also bought in an excellent composer, again the same guy I had worked with on Tiny Invaders. The composer created an absolutely incredible musical score for the game. However, I knew this guy was excellent and I wanted to push him further. I asked him to create all the sound effects for the game as well; an area he had never worked in before. As I expected, he knocked it out of the park with amazing voices for both characters, as well as suitable ambient noises. It pays to have a single person controlling the entire audio scape, and I’m glad that we were able to push for this. 

Eventually the entire game was finished, and we launched just in time for Christmas.  Look out for the next part of this blog post: the release strategy. 

Rebranding Supergonk

Supergonk is the name of the company I publish my games through. So far it has largely just been an empty container; I’ve preferred to let the games themselves do the talking. You could be the biggest fan of Capitals Quizzer (my flagship game), and likely have never even heard of Supergonk. This was all by design - I didn’t want the company to be the focus of my first range of mobile games. It was all about the games.

As the business has grown, the need for a more well-defined company profile has arisen. This is largely because I’m dealing with many partners across the world, and it’s a good idea to project a positive image when interacting with new people. It’s also where customers look to when they need tech support, so it’s important that the company looks the part to the general public.

This week I decided to rebrand Supergonk, and actually turn it into something I didn’t mind talking about as a separate entity from the games. As such, I present the new Supergonk logo:

The logo is designed to be simple and flexible. You can put it on any coloured background, in most situations, and it’ll still look ok. This is important, as I’ve got a couple of games in the pipeline which are very different from Supergonk’s existing portfolio. It was vital to me that the logo was able to adapt to a variety of artistic styles.

There’s also a new Supergonk website. You can see it at www.supergonk.co.uk. I’ve included product information and FAQs on each of the pages in an effort to help gamers out before they email for help. If their question can be answered without having to go to the trouble of drafting an email then all the better. There are also more obvious links to download the games, which I hope will improve conversions.

I’d love to know what you think of this redesign. Thanks for reading!

Veteran game developers break away from the “big business” games industry to try a new approach: making smaller, better games for a more modern and socially-aware audience. In a first-of-it’s-kind public experiment, the team will publish daily video blogs, design documents, source code, concept art, and more to fully document their unique experience. You can log on and track their progress, view their bugs, and even see how much money they are making in real-time. Communicate directly with the developers to influence future projects, help bug test or translate the games, or even pledge money to their cause. Gain insight into the dev’s daily lifestyle, diet choices and fitness regime as they try various methods of bringing the art of computer programming into a more responsible working environment. But most of all, play the latest and most innovative games, each created with a simple guiding principle: fun mechanics first.

This was the first note on what would eventually become Hogrocket, my stalled video games development studio. The intention was to “pull back the curtain” and show a more realistic view of how games are made. It wouldn’t be filtered - if it all went wrong then it would be documented for all to see, warts and all.

This note was written before Kickstarter and all the transparency it has brought to it’s funders. At the time this was written it was a pretty radical idea. Of course, the actual business we built turned out to be very different to this initial mission statement… but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

What do you think - is this a good idea for a studio? A terrible one? Revolutionary? Or naive?

Before it was Tiny Invaders…

Before we decided on the space virus theme for Tiny Invaders (www.tinyinvaders.com) it was actually set on a farm. There were no microscopic aliens in the blood stream; it was all about sheep on a train track. Weird eh?


Here are some of the original sketches for the sheep designs - I still think they are super cute. The guy on the left is the normal, every day sheep. The middle guy was ill or infected or something, I can’t remember why he’s green exactly. The right-hand guy is a rocket sheep… I think he jetted off into space if you didn’t collect him in time.

Here’s what the game might have ended up looking like. I prefer the alien virus theme of the final game, but it’s interesting to think what might have been…

Safe Cracker development update

If you’ve been following my blog, you’ve probably wondered what has happened to Safe Cracker over the last few months. If not, let me bring you up to speed. Safe Cracker was a game demo made in a few days by me and my buddy, Adrian. It was a prototype designed to help us learn some new technologies and give him a demo for his showreel. The great news is that it served his purpose, and Adrian found himself an excellent position back in the games industry. Mission accomplished!

Unfortunately, the game itself got a bit ignored in the meantime. I was working on other things and Adrian was preparing for his new job and new life abroad! However, Safe Cracker was too good to leave as just a prototype, so I’ve decided to finish it to release-level quality and ship the damn thing. This blog post is a quick run through of what I’m doing to accomplish that. 

 

1. Planning to finish

The prototype was many things, but well structured it was not. The code was all over the place and didn’t fit together very well internally. This is due to two reasons: we were completely new to the technology (Unity), and we were drunk when we wrote most of it! So first task was to sort out the backend and make it better structured. The risk with this is to get carried away and over-engineer really complex systems for no real benefit, so I was keen to plan out exactly what was required up-front and then implement those systems only. In the end it wasn’t a huge deal, and only took about 3 days to do the majority of the re-write.

The other massive bit of restructuring was in the UI (User Interface, or “menus” to most people). We didn’t really have a solid plan in place for how they should work during the prototype, so they ended up a bit all over the place. I sat down for a day and worked out exactly what every screen should have on it, making sure there was no redundant information. I also wireframed every screen (i.e. drew it all out as little boxes) to make sure all the interface elements would fit in the space I had available. This was a larger amount of planning than you’d think, as I plan to ship Safe Cracker on a variety of devices from mobile (tiny screens) to desktop PCs (big screens). You need a different style of layout for each, and getting those to work in harmony can sometimes be a pain in the ass. 

 

2. Designing for release

I also started thinking about the release strategy. It makes sense to think about these things during development; if you don’t then you’re in for a hard time when release rolls around. Some developers don’t like thinking about “businessey” things; they put it off and put it off and the result is that they don’t release anything! I’m definitely not going to be one of those guys, so “getting the damn thing done” is always at the forefront of my mind. 

I’m still not sure whether the game will be premium (pay up front) or freemium (free to download, pay for enhancements); I think it’ll come down to exactly how interesting the final game is when I play test it with a bunch of people. For now I decided to design to accommodate both, which meant splitting the level list into several “worlds”. These worlds not only make a handy punctuation point for the player, but they are also a useful splitting point should I want to introduce freemium DLC or whatnot. 

Don’t get me wrong, there will probably be a lot of re-sorting of content once I’ve decided one way or the other. However, this is what I’m going with for now. 

In the end I decided on 8 worlds, with 8 levels in each (classic Mario design). That’s 64 levels to finish and polish. The prototype actually had more than that, but a lot of them were poor to play or repeated from previous worlds with only a slight twist. As I knew this game would be competing on quality with other, similar titles I wanted to make the levels as good as they possibly could be. I went on a major level cull, removing any which weren’t fun to play or didn’t make the grade for other reasons. I split the levels into groups of 8, and assigned a theme to each world. For example, World 7 is the “laser world”. The first few levels introduce the laser mechanic, and the last few are harder to test the player. World 8 also uses lasers, as well as all the other mechanics which have been introduced so far. 

 

3. Remembering the little things

There are also a lot of things to plan for which you wouldn’t normally think about. An example: screenshots. A lot of downloads on the App Store are driven by people seeing a cool screenshot and giving it a try. We fell foul of this when releasing Tiny Invaders under Hogrocket. Our screenshots just weren’t interesting enough, or decipherable to someone who had never played the game. I’ve learnt from past mistakes: Safe Cracker HAD to be instantly appealing from a static screenshot, and also explain itself and it’s mechanics without requiring a video or tutorial. 

To accomplish this, the first thing was to add variety. In the prototype the entire game was in three colours: black, red and green. I’ve added a lot more colours in the various worlds so the player gets a changing palette as they play. More importantly, it gives me a greater variety of screenshotable areas for the App Store description. 

I’ve also simplified some core mechanics, like the 3-star system. In the prototype the stars had to be collected in sequence, which added some complexities (like showing which stars were available to collect, and which weren’t). It was just a bit to complex and ruined some of the messaging, so that’s been greatly simplified now. 

4. Designing for quality and ubiquity

When making a game like Safe Cracker, you are going up against a lot of competition. I haven’t looked, but I’m sure there are already a bunch of similar games like it on the App Store. This game will not compete on it’s originally, despite the fact that I think there are some cool new mechanics in there. It’ll compete on two things: being better quality than all those other games, and being in places where they are not. 

To the first point, quality, it’s largely self-explanatory. Safe Cracker needs to be polished and tweaked until it’s as perfect as I can possibly make it. It needs to look good enough to entice people in from a single screenshot, and it needs to feel good enough so that when people play it they immediately want to tell their friends about it. It sounds obvious enough, but making a really good, well-polished game is my aim. 

Secondly, ubiquity. This game needs to cast a wide net, and be in as many people’s hands as possible. It has the potential to appeal to a wide demographic - not just the 18-34 male, but a long way outside of that too. There are several ways to achieve this, but for now I’m concentrating on availability and localisation. Safe Cracker will play on many different mobile devices (iOS, Android, and maybe others), and it won’t require a top-of-the-range handset to play. Despite Safe Cracker being a full 3d game, I’m targeting an iPhone 3GS as the baseline - if it works on that then it should be alright on most things. 

I’m also planning on making the game available in many languages, and many territories. All of the main European languages are a no-brainer, but I’m hoping to get Chinese, Japanese, Russian and Korean done too. This has worked really well for me in the past, so I’m going to give it another shot. For now the key thing is to make the in-game text simple and versatile; less prose is better. 

There’s loads more to talk about as I march toward getting Safe Cracker finished, such as the cool new volumetric lighting system, the tilt controls, or the sexy 3D GUI. But yeah, it’ll have to wait for another blog post! Thanks very much for reading!

Going multiplatform: was it worth it?

Ok folks, let me bring you up to speed. I run a mobile game development company called Supergonk. I make quiz games on various topics - things like “guess the capital city” or “how well do you know the Bible?”.

My first game, Capitals Quizzer, initially launched on iPhone only, and was slow to start. I continued to improve it by adding iPad support, more game modes, improved graphics and sound, etc. Despite the game being free-to-play, it struggled to achieve many downloads until one important update: localisation. As soon as the game was available in non-English languages, it skyrocketed. The game reached #1 in free apps in several territories, including Germany, France and Spain. 

Since those humble beginnings Capitals has continued to receive many updates. It’s now available in nine languages, has thirty-four game modes, and is quite a nice package now. Over 14 million game sessions have been played, with many millions of unique users downloading the game. Capitals has been rewritten several times, and it’s technology has gone on to spawn five other quiz games.

These games all share a common code base, and are now available not only on iOS but on a variety of Android stores too. I also recently launched a version for the new Blackberry Z10, with Q10 support arriving soon as well. Oh and the Mac OSX version is almost ready to go now. I’m currently juggling 36 different SKUs; in other words when a new version is ready to be released I need to re-build and package the games 36 times and upload it to all the different web portals.

Doing all of this is a LOT of effort. I’ve spent about a year and a half getting the games onto all these platforms; it’s a serious endeavour. The real cost of multi platform development isn’t just getting the thing running in the first place, but also all the ongoing maintenance. The platform holders all do billing in different ways, and require a lot of hoops to be jumped through before they become viable for business. Sorting out the financial side of things isn’t trivial - it’s a big job. There’s also silly things, like screenshots. Each platform/web portal requires their own screenshots in their own resolutions, in all the languages they support. For all my games on all platforms we’re looking at almost 1,000 screenshots to maintain. It’s mental.

HOWEVER, the burning question is: was it all worth it from a financial perspective? Was it worth spending months and months building support for all these other phones, when I could have just made more games for iOS? Let’s find out…

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Part 1: Creation

iOS: this was the first platform I built for, and the easiest to work with. All the tools are very well made, everything makes sense, and there’s lots of support if you need it. There are also a lot of third party libraries to do things like analytics, advertising and other monetisation. Easily the best platform to work with, by some margin.

Android: Quite a pain to write for if I’m honest. There are lots of annoying language quirks (like having to support both C++ and Java, and bridge communications between them), lots of hardware issues (like infinite numbers of screen resolutions, file size limits, varying memory limits, etc.) and the pain of multiple marketplaces. I decided to support only three: Google Play, Amazon App Store and Samsung Apps. Each store requires it’s own unique version, with unique integration code and permissions. Here’s the mini breakdown of each store:

  • Google Play: They have a pretty terrible code and web portal, although it does seem to be gradually improving. There are lots of mad “gotchas” to watch out for; for example Google rolled out a massively complex and error prone IAP (in-app purchase) system for version 2, only to ditch the entire thing and basically start again for version 3 a few months later. That wouldn’t be so bad, but the two versions have different feature sets, so you need to support both if you want to cover all bases. Arghhh! Even with all this stuff integrated properly, about 1/3 of the time the user’s purchase will just fail for no apparent reason. That’s potentially a third of your revenue down the toilet. Double arghhh!!!
  • Amazon App Store: The best of the Android stores. I would say that it even rivals the iOS setup. Their code is simple and works well, and integration was a breeze. They are currently in the business of matching Apple feature-for-feature, which is great. Amazon is the developer’s friend on Android for sure. 
  • Samsung Apps: Their code is fine and integrates well, and their web portal is fine once you get past the initial confusion. I would say this is an easier store to support than Google Play, but not as nice as Amazon. One highlight is that they send you videos of your app should you fail submission for any reason. That’s a really nice touch and extremely helpful in diagnosing any issues. 

BlackBerry 10: A really nice platform, and great to work with. The company is also great at interacting with devs. I had a few issues getting the tools up and running and also getting my first batch of apps approved, but this was pre-launch and to be expected with early software. Overall, BB10 was great to work with. 

Mac App Store: I haven’t actually launched on OSX yet so can’t talk to the submission process, but integration was an absolute cinch if you’ve already got an iOS build. For my IAP and GameCenter integration I changed two (just two) lines of code between iOS and Mac App Store. It really is that trivial. Awesome stuff. 

——-

Part 2: Performance

In my mind there’s only two metrics worth considering here: downloads and revenue. For the following data I’ve combined all six of my games into one total. First up, downloads. This is the number of downloads (as reported by the app stores, not active installs) for each platform in the last month (from 7th April 2013->7th May 2013).

  • iOS: 66,103
  • Google Play: 18,623
  • Amazon App Store: 2,292
  • Samsung Apps: 2,919
  • BlackBerry 10: 872

I’m seeing almost three times as many downloads on iOS than all the Android platforms combined. Whilst this isn’t strictly a fair test (the games have been available for longer on iOS and had a longer period to establish themselves), it’s still pretty conclusive. A lot more people are playing my games on iOS than Android. Unfortunately, BlackBerry 10 barely even registers.

Now onto revenue. I’ve combined all types of income (direct purchases and all forms of advertising) and normalised it to $100. The real numbers are much larger than this, but doing this normalisation gives a good way to compare the app stores.

  • iOS: $100.00
  • Google Play: $7.30
  • Amazon App Store: $1.39
  • Samsung Apps: $0.99
  • BlackBerry 10: $0.00

So for every 100 bucks made on iOS, I’m seeing less than ten dollars from all Android marketplaces combined. To put that another way, I’m making ten times as much money on iOS as on AndroidConsidering there are only 3 times as many users on iOS I think it’s fair to conclude that Apple are a lot better at getting people to buy stuff on their platform.

As for BlackBerry 10, I haven’t made a single cent on that platform yet. Not one person of the 872 who have played have decided to spend any money, and advertising is a no-go on the platform as no mediators currently provide an easy-to-integrate SDK. Ouch. :-(

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Part 3: Conclusion

To answer the question of “was it worth going multi platform?” is a difficult one. The answer will be different for every developer. For me it’s been a great learning experience; I’ve enjoyed improving my programming skills and learning how to build a really complex set of systems from the ground up. It’s given me a great deal of knowledge in an area where I didn’t previously have it.

I’ve also gained an appreciation for just how long it takes to do what many indie devs call “the little things”, like managing business relationships and taking screenshots. I think I’ve about reached the limit of what one person can manage successfully on their own - in order to grow the business any further would require more full-time hands, and that’s a whole other decision to make.

In terms of profitability, no. It hasn’t been worth it. So far Android has failed to live up to it’s promises of being a viable platform to grow a business on. It simply doesn’t make enough money to justify the time it takes to support the platform, at least for a small developer like Supergonk. BlackBerry 10 is non-existent in terms of creating revenue, although it’s still brand-new so we can cut it a little slack. Will it grow in the future? Well they’ll have to do something pretty major in my opinion…

Anyway, if we’re talking in pure business terms then I almost certainly would have been better off concentrating on iOS and iOS alone. I’m lucky that my iOS revenue has been able to “carry” the other platforms, but many devs don’t have that luxury.

So for me it’s been fun. I’m a much better developer now than when I started this whole multi-platform experiment. Should YOU take your games onto every mobile platform under the sun? Well, that’ll depend entirely on what you want to get from it I suppose. Just don’t hope for endless riches… that certainly hasn’t been my experience.

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Part 4: The Future

This single month snapshot doesn’t tell the entire story. Generally Android is growing, whilst iOS has (for me) reached a peak. The momentum is certainly with Android at this stage - I think it’s still got a lot of growth in it. Here’s a graph of the last six months of downloads on Android:

Notice the green trend line - it’s definitely going up. Hopefully it’ll continue to climb over the next few months. That said, it might just be because the apps are relatively new on the platform and it’s just establishing itself. Perhaps it’ll flatten out from this point onwards. Who can tell?

Now let’s compare it to the same graph for iOS:

That said, my iOS downloads have looked like that for years now - it’s very stable. It tends to always track downwards ever so slightly, and then spike back up again when something big happens (like a new version getting released, or the game getting featured). Still, iOS would have to drop majorly, in a way I’ve never seen before, to be comparable to Android revenue. Personally I don’t think that’s going to happen. In my experience iOS is still the cash cow and I see no reason for that to change in the near future.

Will these trends continue? It’s really hard to say. Perhaps I’ll do another update in another 6 months and we can see…

Thanks for reading! If you want to give my games a try, visit supergonk.co.uk.

Game idea: Near-future Racing

A little while ago I wrote a document outlining a cool idea for a new racing game. At the time I was thinking of where the PGR franchise might go next, given that the original developers (and my previous employer) Bizarre Creations was now defunct. My thought was that it would be interesting to go into the near future, taking the same kind of street racing but making it a bit more interesting with the addition of high technology.

I dug this document after seeing the adjustable airbrake things on the new Pagani Huayra. These flaps could be seen as the forerunner to technology I thought would be cool to use in this game (check out the Ferrari FZ65 in the doc below).

Have a look at the document and let me know what you think. Cool or crap? Personally I’d love to play this game, but then I would ‘cos I wrote it. Apologies it’s a bit text heavy, but there are some terrible sketches at the bottom. :-)

 

Near-Future Racing Outline

Premise

Thirty years from now, racing will have radically reinvented itself. Organised race sport has moved into the cities, providing the spectacle of Monaco every single weekend. Strict rules have been relaxed to provide maximum thrill for the huge crowds. Super secretive car manufacturers unveil their latest concept cars on the starting grid, and their drivers are some of the biggest celebrities on the planet.

You are a rookie driver on the city racing circuit. Join a team (Ferrari, Lotus, BMW) and drive their latest and greatest concept cars to victory. Tour the world of the future and race through both familiar cityscapes as well as newly developed districts. Drive your advanced vehicles to their limits, and become the greatest driver in the world.

Timeline

  • The present: Formula 1 is increasingly moving to cities, and is proving more popular than bespoke circuits.
  • 5 years from now: Most of the F1 season takes place in city circuits
  • 10 years from now: Radical rule changes lead to more street-based cars, with varied specs and capabilities. The era of all cars looking the same is over.
  • 15 years from now: New racing leagues break away from F1, creating business rivalries and a change of attitude: entertainment is king.
  • 30 years from now: The sport is almost unrecognisable from today, with various high-powered street cars racing around closed-off city circuits.

Gameplay

This game sits firmly between arcade and simulation. It has a detailed handling model and relatively realistic physics, but is set in a world of near-future fantasy. It can be summarised as “street racing in the year 2040”. All of the racing is grounded in reality (no rocket cars, no driving up walls, no powerups), and the game should catapult the player into a believable near-future world.

Tracks

Location examples: London, New York, Shanghai, Delhi, Moscow, Los Angeles, Honolulu, Dubai, Johannesburg, Sydney, Seoul, Monaco, Tokyo.

The world’s most glamorous cities (and the best up-and-comings), all expanded and enhanced with the projected advances in architecture and technology over the next 30 years.

YES: next-generation skyscrapers; steel & glass, unusual shapes and designs, incredibly tall. Next generation roadways, realistically integrated into the existing street systems. New bridges and tunnels added. New high-capacity highways, possibly stacked on top of existing roads. Huge new elevated flyovers, drive-through “lobbies” of the largest commercial buildings and hotels. Extensive integration of new public transport systems (used to provide visual wow moments - trains flying past, passenger VTOLs overhead). Tracks are dressed with next-gen racification such as lasers, projections, very large banners, and video walls.

NO: loop-the-loops, corkscrews, or other unrealistic track configurations. Also no to spaceports or nuclear missile silos or any other unbelievable city construct.

Ideas for London Circuit:

The race starts alongside the River Thames at Westminster. Another London Eye wheel has been built next to the existing one. An elegant and futuristic double-decker bridge stretches over the river by the Houses of Parliament. Most noticeably, a huge new maglev train system has been built running along the river (it’s a high-speed link to the new Estuary Airport). As cars line up on the starting grid a train flies past at 400mph, blowing dust & paper over the racers. Enormous video walls dominate the riverside skyscrapers, advertising whatever technological marvel is an essential purchase this month. At one point the track dives underground into a new tube station unloading area (taxi rank?), with the platforms/tube trains visible through clear perspex walls.

Ideas for Honolulu (Hawaii) Circuit:

The race starts along the famous Waikiki beach. Immediately visible are several huge new hotel skyscrapers, some with completely transparent fronts to provide the best view of the beach. To avoid ruining the view the city planners haven’t widened the beach road, but instead built a completely new underground layer below it. There are several on-ramps to transfer between the levels, and when taken at speed these will propel race cars into the air. The track goes through the (expanded) Honolulu Airport, and onto one of the closed off runways. However, the rest of the airport is still open - it would be economic suicide to close all the runways during race weekend! As such, there are huge airliners landing and taking off during the race. Next-gen passenger VTOLs land right next to the track, ferrying their important passengers to their spectator positions. The track also visits Pearl Harbour (still home of the US Pacific Fleet of the future), where the racers get to glimpse the most advanced aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers in the world.

Ideas for Los Angeles Circuit:

In 2040 the LA city authority have finally realised that they need to build public transport, after their road traffic problem became unmanageable. Virtually every highway now houses at least one active Maglev track in the central reservation, and in many cases the actual path of the roadway has been compromised as a result. This makes LA a technically demanding course to drive, with roads dodging between train stations, helipads, pedestrianised zones, and new bus routes and shelters. The car isn’t king in LA anymore, but it has made the downtown area a much more interesting race track as a result.

Ideas for Monaco Circuit:

Built around the roads of the legendary Formula 1 circuit, this track is still the jewel in the crown of the racing world. The Monaco road planners are less concerned with practicality, and lean more toward providing a spectacle to the race-going public. Large sections of the harbour are now filled with the latest playboy craze: floating casinos. These stunning buildings are built in the style of the grand casinos of old, but using cutting-edge materials to give them a neo-contemporary feel. Huge next-gen pleasure boats sit in the harbour, with private helicopters and VTOLs constantly landing and taking off from their decks. The most noticeable addition to Monaco is a vast new bridge over the harbour, built for high-speed traffic to bypass the inadequate cobbled streets of the city itself. The bridge is a spectacle in it’s own right though; it is built entirely from transparent material! Driving over the bridge is experience enough as you peer down into the water below, but racing at 250mph across it is something else entirely…

Ideas for San Francisco Circuit:

There is always a need for traffic to cross the San Francisco bay from the city to Oakland. At present the two bridges - the Golden Gate and the Bay Bridge - are constantly choked with traffic. Perhaps in the future there has been a breakthrough in materials technology, and now it is possible for tunnels to be laid down on the seabed underneath the bay. This would solve many of the cities traffic problems (multiple new, high-speed roadways) as well as providing an amazing area to race in. The materials themselves could even be translucent (like a scaled up version of the walkways you see at aquariums), revealing the shadows of boats on the surface above. You’d catch glimpses of the silhouette of the Golden Gate bridge from beneath the waves, and then blast out onto the surface and double back to cross over the famous landmark itself.

Driving Experience

An organised sport, with huge fanbase and international appeal. Everything is believable and grounded in reality.

YES: player joins a race team (manufacturer or corporate sponsored), season-based racing format (and single player career mode). Each race is a huge cultural event for that city/area. Driving model is realistic, but exaggerated to account for future technology. “Powerups” can be utilised in certain cars, i.e. advanced KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) in the BMW E3. However, these “powerups” are always technology-based, grounded, and believable.

NO: destroying opponents, fatalities, smack talk between racers, projectile weaponry.

Cars

Manufacturer examples: Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, BMW, Lotus, Bugatti, Maserati, Pagani, Koenigsegg, Lamborghini.

Imagine the next generation of cutting-edge concept cars; the vehicles our children will dream about. They should be realistic (no rockets or jet engines), insanely desirable, and have a clear development path from present day production vehicles.

YES: KERS devices, advanced wings/spoilers, electric or hydrogen powered engines, airbrakes, next-generation airbag systems (internal and external?), computer-assisted steering & braking, next-generation ABS systems, next-gen cooling systems (and associated big intake valves), coloured carbon fibre, movable parts (to assist high-speed driving or cornering), super-strong transparent materials (“bubble” domes?), advanced hazard detection on windshield, detailed paint jobs and liveries.

NO: flying cars, jet engines, driving upside down, unbelievable acceleration/braking/top speeds, energy shields, missiles or offensive weaponry.

Car idea: Ferrari FZ65

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The grandchild of the Ferrari FXX project, this angular and aggressive-looking race car was built for the track. It’s front scoops and tiny headlights are reminiscent of the FXX, as is the boxy rear section. The most striking addition to the car is a comprehensive computer-controlled airbrake system. 55 movable panels slide away from the bodywork independently; all helping the car to corner. Under heavy braking (i.e. at the end of a straight) all of the panels automatically flip open, giving huge braking capacity and making the car look like a giant red puffer fish! As this car is driven around the track there is an audible CLICK CLICK CLICK as the flaps deploy and retract under instruction from the computer. The entire surface of the car appeals to move and ripple, and in bright sunshine the reflections give it a beautiful glimmering appearance.

Car idea: Lotus Esperante

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A logical progression from popular two-seater sports cars like the Exige, the Esperante improves on the classic design with an automated spoiler system. When the vehicle drives over a certain speed the onboard computer unfolds an additional two rear-spoilers. These flaps curl open like an exotic plant, taking 1.5 seconds to fully deploy. Once open, the spoilers provide additional down force for cornering as well as an impressive visual spectacle. The most talented drivers will take manual control of the spoiler system, constantly opening and closing the flaps to achieve grip through corners, whilst minimising drag on the straights.

Car idea: BMW E3

The latest and greatest electric car from the master engineers at BMW. Not only does the E3 boast the most efficient drive on the circuit, it also recycles spent braking energy in it’s next-generation KERS system. This impressive speed boost can take an experienced driver from middle of the pack into pole position. The only downside of this impressively high-tech system is the amount of heat generated, leading to large and distinctive air intake fans on the front of the vehicle. The KERS battery is charged under braking, but drivers must manually activate the enormous cooling fans several seconds in advance to achieve an optimal boost.

Car idea: Bugatti Uberon

Desperate to get back to their world-beating glory days of the Veyron, Bugatti have spent recent years in private testing away from the race circuit. The result of this extensive R&D period is the B7 internal combustion engine; perhaps the pinnacle of fossil fuel based engine design. It’s also one of the noisiest and most powerful machines on the planet. The Uberon is built entirely around this engine, and has the greatest top speed of any road car in existence (326mph). It looks the part too, with huge fuel tanks and thunderous exhausts protruding from it’s streamlined bodywork.

Car idea: Lamborghini Cavallo

Resembling the stealth fighters of yesteryear more than a sportscar of 2040, the Cavallo is the ultimate example of style and speed in one well-engineered package. New for this year’s model is a complete carbon-fibre bodywork, coloured in the traditional Lamborghini yellow. The angular faces and sharp edges make this vehicle look both intimidating and hugely capable in the right hands. Advanced manufacturing techniques have allowed the entire bodywork and frame to be created from one solid piece of carbon fibre, ensuring superior strength as well as a visual appearance which is sure to turn heads.

About motivation…

-It’s easy to get caught up in making the BEST IDEA EVER.

—The problem is that everybody has a different version of the best idea ever.

—-Your own view will change over time too.

——In the process of making that idea you’ll work intimately with it, and see it’s flaws exposed.

——-It will no longer be the best idea ever. To most people it probably never was in the first place.

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Every creative person follows the above process, and every creative person experiences that point when they lose faith in what they are doing. They lose motivation simply as a result of working intimately with their own projects.

It’s a hump, and a pretty big one to get over. I know lots of extremely talented people who really suffer with this mid-project lack of faith, and it often leads them to make bad decisions. Some drastically change their project and perhaps lose what made it interesting in the first place. Others go round in circles, softening all the sharp corners and losing the edginess which they once had. Worse still, many abandon the project completely - “the next one will be better” they say…

Of course when they get to the next project they run into the same problems, and the process repeats. How many creative people do you know with a string of unfinished projects behind them?

People in this situation start to look inwardly. I should know - I’ve done it myself a thousand times. Why can’t I make the best idea ever? It must be me who is faulty. Other people have made the best idea ever - why can’t I? The cycle continues… The only thing that can possibly break it is a change of mindset. 

Being able to finish a project isn’t anything to do with the project itself. It’s to do with the mindset of the person who is making it. That person needs to have the confidence, discipline and determination to work within boundaries and finish the damn thing. Forget the idea of making the BEST IDEA EVER - that’s a fools errand. Get it done, get it shipped, and then use what you learned on the next thing. 

The best movie directors, musicians, game developers or comic book artists all have one thing in common: they’ve finished a lot of projects. They might not be 100% proud of some of their earlier work when compared directly against their best stuff, but they understand that it was all part of the process to get where they are today. 

So, you persevere and finally finish your project. You might not have confidence in it just yet, but at least you have the finished project. People can watch your movie/listen to your music/play your game/read your comic, and feedback can be gathered. Talk to them, and see what they thought of it. There will ALWAYS be things to tweak and areas to improve. It will probably turn out that this one wasn’t the best idea ever. Maybe no idea, in the history of man, has been the best idea ever. But your idea is finished, and people are using it. That’s amazing.

You’ll have improved your skills and gained lots of knowledge en-route, which means that your next project will be even better. Practice makes perfect, and through working hard and stubbornly you’ve had a lot more practice than those who abandon their projects or go around in circles. 

Remember, it’s impossible to be the best with your early attempts. Don’t get disheartened and don’t give up. Stay positive, and ship the damn thing!!

The video games industry could learn an awful lot from this guy…

As we continue to diversify as a medium, we need storytellers to point us in the right direction. The classic argument has been “only 18-34 year old males buy console games, so that’s all we can cater for”. That doesn’t hold up today - with new devices and digital distribution our demographic has already changed. Now is the time to act on stuff like this.