Tag: iOS

The Day We Fought Space: innovative shooter

Probably my favorite new game I saw at GDEX last weekend was The Day We Fought Space, an iOS game currently under development by TursiopsStudios.

I got to play it for a few minutes, and didn’t have enough time to fully explore it, but even from what little I did get to experience, I am blown away by the creative weapons and innovative controls.

Just a few of the weapons available in the game are shown in this teaser.

Most players will use the touchscreen for controlling the ship, but I preferred playing it with a wireless gamepad as a two-stick shooter. The left stick moves your ship while the right stick very cleverly integrates both aiming and spread. The Y-axis of the right analog stick aims your guns up/down, while the X-axis allows you to spread or narrow the field of fire, to enable you to concentrate fire for big, tough enemies, or spread it out wider to take out masses of smaller enemies.

The game is just packed full of fresh ideas. I didn’t think to get an accurate count, but it looks like you have about 20 (!) different space ships to choose from, each with its own unique weapon and characteristics. It’s almost too much — I’d rather see a complete game made per ship, so that each one can have the opportunity to shine in the spotlight.

The scrolling space shooter has been a bit neglected in recent years, but TDWFS shows that there’s still plenty of life in it. I’d love to see this game ported to consoles and PC platforms.

I don’t see that they’ve announced a release date, but this will be one to watch.

Mario on iOS, Nintendo copyright takedown

Nintendo announced the first (authorized) appearance of Mario on iPhone a few days ago:

There’s much to be made of this.

Ten years ago, while the Wii was selling phenomenally well, there were some wild rumors about Nintendo and Apple teaming up to bring games to the Apple TV device. But, while tantalizing, these rumors never panned out, nor really made sense. While both companies were extremely successful on their own, they didn’t really seem to need each other, or have any reason to cooperate. Nintendo software licensees could have certainly helped put Apple TV in many more homes, but what could Apple have offered Nintendo, who weren’t having any trouble selling the Wii?

Fast forward to 2016, and the successor to the Wii, the Wii U, is widely regarded as a misstep for Nintendo, and now it appears maybe they do need some help. But rather than looking for it in the living room, where they are poised to launch their next-generation NX console in a few months, right now they are going straight for the pocket. Meanwhile, Apple’s huge hit from 2006, the iPhone, has been a juggernaut for much of these last ten years. And here is where Apple and Nintendo can help each other out.

It’s the first time in decades that Nintendo has put software out on a platform that it does not own. This could be seen as a concession that Nintendo is no longer dominant in gaming hardware, or simply an acknowledgment of the vitality of the mobile gaming market. While Nintendo have been hugely dominant in the handheld market since they released the Game Boy in 1989, smartphone and tablet devices have in the last decade created an even bigger market for games. With the massive success of Pokemon Go earlier this year, the writing was on the wall, and Nintendo making this move now only makes sense. In fact, it’s probably overdue.

Entitled Super Mario Run, it appears to be an endless runner type game rather than a typical 2D platformer. Due to the iPhone touch screen being the only controls, and a desire to make the game playable one-handed, this design addresses the constraints imposed by the user interface in about the only way that would work well.

More Nintendo Copyright Takedowns

Nintendo also made headlines this week by issuing takedown notices for a large number of unauthorized games that infringe upon Nintendo-owned trademarks, particularly Mario and Pokemon. It is not surprising at all that this should happen, but still disappointing for people who built or enjoyed those games. While many of these games may have been derivative and inferior games done in homage of, some were parodies or innovative or just fun, well done fan homages.

It’s too bad there doesn’t exist a legal framework in which fan-made games can co-exist peacefully with official releases by commercial studios, but licensing is only a solution if the IP-holder embraces it. Nintendo are within their rights to take these actions to protect their trademark and intellectual property rights, of course, and perhaps it is necessary for them to vigorously defend their trademarks or risk losing them entirely, but it’s nevertheless possible to set up a legal framework by which these unofficial games could be allowed. While it’s entirely ridiculous in my opinion for Nintendo to claim copyright and trademarks on speed run, Let’s Play, and review videos featuring their products, something like the Nintendo Creators Program would make a lot of sense for fan-produced games.

What might such a program look like? I would propose something like the following…

  1. The fangame creator would acknowledge that Nintendo created and owned whatever they owned.
  2. The fangame creator disclaims that Nintendo do not have any responsibility for content the fangame, and that the fangame is not an official Nintendo release.
  3. Any revenue derived from the fangame would need to be disclosed and shared with Nintendo.
  4. The fangame could be nixed by Nintendo (pulled from release) at their sole discretion at any time.

I very much doubt that a company like Nintendo would ever agree to such terms, but it’s too bad. Apart from perhaps Nintendo, everyone is worse off because of it.

The irony of this situation is that Nintendo can copyright and trademark its characters, but not the mechanics or genre of game. (Nor should it.) Someone can invent the infinite runner, and Nintendo can decide to do a Mario infinite runner game, and not owe anything to the inventor of the infinite runner game. So can anyone else. And Nintendo can make a running and jumping platform game, and anyone else can too, duplicating the Mario mechanics and rules system entirely if they should wish to, but simply can’t use the name Mario or the likeness of any of Nintendo’s graphical or audio assets.

Open Letter to Smart Phone Manufacturers

Dear Smartphone Industry,

I don’t need a bigger screen, OK? I need a screen that will fit comfortably in my pocket. My front hip pocket to be exact. The dimensions of the Samsung Galaxy S5are about as big as I can go. Really, the S2 was more comfortable.

I don’t need a thinner phone. I need a phone that feels comfortable in the hand.

I don’t need a thinner phone. I need a phone with ample battery, such that I don’t need to charge for several *days*, despite heavy use of the device. If you made the phone phone that was inch thick, and all that extra space was battery, and I could go a week without charging, that would be AMAZING.

While we’re at it, I would also really like intelligent battery management. I would like apps that need to use the network to not talk to the network directly, but talk to a network handler, which will determine if/when to allow the data to be transmitted. I can then configure the network manager to either not allow any transmission (like airplane mode; saving maximum battery), or allow all transmissions at any time (fastest response but lousy battery), or burst mode (leaving the transmitters off most of the time, but waking up and reconnecting every N minutes, sending/receiving data that has accumulated in that time, or when I request it).

Lastly, tell network providers to quit bundling apps with their phones. I don’t want or need so many of them, and there’s no way to uninstall the ones that are baked into the firmware. I can figure out what I need and install it. If I’m upgrading or migrating from an old phone, it should carry all that stuff over, with all my settings and data anyway. There’s no need to bundle anything. Just provide me with a bare phone.

And tell network providers that they must roll out security updates in a timely fashion (days, not months) so that users aren’t left vulnerable. Frequent, more granular updates rather than one or two monolithic updates before support for my handset model is dropped entirely, would be great.


The Flappy Bird Flap

Flappy Bird: the Justin Bieber of indie mobile games?

The game development community has been buzzing with controversy over a game called Flappy Bird since the weekend, in an incident that has even gotten headlines in the mainstream media.

As of Sunday, the game has been taken down by its creator, Dong Nguyen, in response to harassment and even death threats, due to all the negative attention the game has received in the wake of inexplicable sudden popularity of the game.

Allegedly the game had been earning $50,000/day in ad revenue in recent weeks, since becoming the most popular download in the iOS and Android stores. There’s a certain amount of professional jealousy about this success, considering how undeserving the game is. As well, there is a great deal of resentment that the game’s art style appears to be borrowed from Super Mario Bros, and seems to ride the coattails of Angry Birds, and directly rips off the play mechanics of a variety of similar, earlier games, none of which has been anywhere near this successful. Since the takedown a slew of imitators have flooded the app stores with play-alike games, some of them parodies, some seemingly earnest ripoffs. Even crazier, a few people have put their iOS and Android devices with Flappy Bird installed on eBay for a ridiculous markup.

The combination of the game’s popularity, and lack of originality or quality makes a Justin Bieber analogy seem apt.

After hearing about the game for the first time on Friday night, I had to try it if I was going to have an opinion on it, and my impression is that the game is indeed not very good, yet it does undeniably have an addictive quality to it. Flappy Bird is starkly simple, lacks depth, and brutally difficult. In terms of “finish”, it is only rudimentary in it’s polish — there is a (apparently broken) leader board, and the graphics have a few color scheme variations, but beyond that there’s nothing. It has the feel of the first or second project of a newbie game developer, and tried to build a game imitating another game, without originality or polish, using ripped art assets and a derivative title that rides the coattails of both Super Mario Bros. and Angry Birds. No wonder the game development community is howling. Yet, apparently this minimalism has struck a chord with many players who appear to genuinely like the game.

Success is an enigma… an aggravating, annoying enigma

It’s seemingly inexplicable that this game should be super popular, and therefore curious. I suspect that the popularity is not accidental, but rather arose out of a perfect storm of factors.

First, it seems likely that the Mario pipe graphics account in part for some popularity, as it makes players curious about the relationship between this game and the Mario world. This might serve to entice would-be players to download the game and try it out. As well, the word “Bird” in the title probably contributes to curiosity as well, due to the popularity of Angry Birds.

Further, I speculate that the game inspires people to talk about it, either about how bad the game is, or how aggravatingly difficult it is. Some players may play it for the sake of irony, or to laugh at it. I downloaded and played it just to see what all the fuss was about, and to develop an informed opinion so I could write about it, and to see if there just might be something there that I could learn from to make my own games more popular.

Even so, for the game to have so many downloads, it must have some genuine appeal that keeps players interested after trying it. It seems unlikely that the game could generate the type of advertisement revenue we’ve heard it has if people were only downloading it to play it a few times and laugh at it. It seems that a substantial number of players actually like the game, or perhaps play it out of a sort of perverse masochism, hating the game’s rage-inducing difficulty as they try again to beat their high score, while hating the entire experience for being so utterly basic, so unvarying, so stupidly hard and unforgiving.

The simplicity combined with the difficulty probably accounts for the game’s appeal, whether people genuinely like it or hate it with a passion. And the controversy over the rip-off aspects of the game probably only added fuel to the publicity fire, resulting in this weekend’s climax. The game had been out for several months before suddenly catching on, though. What was the event that triggered the sudden spike? I’m sure every game developer is dying to know. Was it “organic” or engineered? Was it an accident or is there genuine merit to the design, hidden to critics and game developers, despite their scorn?

The fact that Nguyen has taken the game down, walking away from a $50,000/day paycheck may be the most remarkable development in this story. The pressures of all the attention, so much of it negative, must be incredible for him to shut down such an income stream. Of course, he may already have enough money in the bank that he’ll never have to work again. And there may be a few battles over that revenue to come from the various IP holders who feel wronged. But it seems like Nguyen may have been most sensitive to the criticism of the quality of the game itself. This is a most un-Bieber-like plot twist.

Flappy, we hardly knew ye

I don’t yet know what to make of all this, but it seems to point to a business strategy of making very simple, unoriginal games, rather than auteurs striving to craft high quality, original games that innovate. I guess it depends on what motivates you as a developer. But if I had even 1/100th the success of Flappy Bird with my games, I’d be set up to quit my day job. One tenth, and I could be free to make whatever games pleased me, to whatever standard of quality I wanted, for the rest of my life, regardless of whether any more of them were popular. It seems worth pursuing, then, to explore this apparently untapped “shitty games” market to see if setting my sights lower could bring greater rewards. The risk involved in a game that can be developed in 2-3 days, compared to the potential reward, seems far more attractive, compared to spending months or years building a labor of love that may or may not have an audience beyond the author.

Game Maker Studio 1.0 Launched

Today YoYoGames announced the launch of Game Maker Studio 1.0. This long-awaited release finally gives Game Maker developers the ability to build games that run natively on Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and HTML5. I’d heard some time ago that there was a Symbian module in the works as well, but I don’t see any mention of it in their releases — I doubt that it will be missed. Also announced today is that Game Maker HTML5 is no longer a standalone product, and has been folded into Studio.

I participated in the HTML5 beta as well as the Studio beta, and reported a fair number of bugs. While I’m enthusiastic, I think it remains to be seen how successful the new Studio will be — the impression I’ve gotten from my limited work in HTML5 is that the differences of each platform impose constraints on a unified project, and often during the beta I found that stuff that worked in a Windows build didn’t in HTML5. Hopefully that’s all just part of the beta. I definitely like the direction YoYoGames has been headed in, and as long as they execute, it should be a good time to be a Game Maker developer.

The highlights of Studio:

  1. Multi-platform build targeting
  2. Source Control
  3. new built-in Physics features

Game Maker’s proprietary language, GML, is going through some redesign as well, but we probably won’t see the full vision for a time, until Game Maker 9 is released. With Studio 1.0, it seems that YoYoGames has started deprecating certain functions, in order to drop Windows-specific stuff and embrace a more platform-agnostic approach, which should mean that developers won’t have to worry about whether a given instruction makes is supported or makes sense on the OS they’re targeting. Hopefully this will encourage cross-platform application releases and make them the norm rather than the exception.

With the launch, YoYoGames announced pricing, and it’s a little different from what I expected. The base Studio Core (giving you Windows and OS X build capability) is $99. Considering that Game Maker Standard was $40, roughly doubling the price to give you access to OS X seems reasonable.

The HTML5 module is an additional $99. $199 was the original price of HTML5, so for $198 you get Studio with the HTML5 extension. I think a lot of Game Maker users were shocked at the price jump, but when you consider how cool it is to have the capability of distributing your games through the web with no extra plug in or extension needed to run, it’s awfully nice.

The mobile platform modules are another $199 each for OS X and Android. This means the full Studio suite will run a developer almost $600, or 15 times what it costs for Standard. YoYoGames justifies this by saying that these are optional modules for professional developers, and I’m sure it costs them lots of money to develop the runner for these platforms. It’s a bit odd to think that for just $200 you can reach 3 major platforms, but to get another two platforms it triples the price. In any case, the idea seems to be that the ease of selling on the mobile markets makes it worth the cost of the tools, and I’m glad they tiered their pricing rather than force everyone to pay full price all or nothing. Starting out at $99 or $200 is a lot more reasonable, and buying the mobile modules later takes a bit of the sting out of the price. Compared with Unity Pro, which is $1500 for its base, and an additional $400 each for iOS and Android, it’s still quite inexpensive as a professional developer tool.