Friday, December 31, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #44

iPhone App Game Development Blog #44

Arrrgh! It's the end of one of the busiest years of my life! And so as it is the final day of 2010, it is of course time to do some wrap-up. As usual I'd like to jump right into it so here we go.

180 for iPhone - first things first! Our promotion has finally ended, after quite an interesting month (well over 100,000 downloads in just this month alone) we are still averaging hundreds of DLs/day for our game, which is awesome. Tonight (or thereabouts) we'll flip the switch back to paid and see what happens next. Of course I'd love to see the DL rate maintain it's consistency - that would be awesome - but I know better than to expect this. If we can get more DLs/day than we did at the launch of this campaign then i suppose it is successful enough, but honestly 100/day would be incredible. And so, this is all part of the experiment (and don't worry I will share it here). Know this much - prior to the update, we had a Free (limited) version available, which averaged 20 DLs/day. Full was getting less than 10/day.

Bizdev - things have been very busy in the background. So busy that I am going to express my exhaustion! Right now I am the bottleneck, as I have coders waiting on me for stuff but I've been swamped with other work and therefore progress on HcG projects has been placed on the shelf while I try to get on top of everything. Its a bit of a bummer but better than the other way around! Hopefully I can have things on a more even keel in a few weeks; for now I am concentrating on just paing the bills and keeping the lights on. It's been a very rough time getting income the entire year, and the last several months has been the worst, so now that I've got a source I need to do my best to keep it solid.

ETC - Year-end wrapup here we go! Gosh, I dunno where to start. 2010 was such a wild year for me. This was the first year in the entirety of my career where I spent the entire time trying to survive independent. It's been rough, and it finds me now without a penny to my name (almost..literally!), but a lot of credits which I didn't have 365 days ago and never could have otherwise without taking this route. No regrets!

It was a very crazy year for independent gaming, for mobile gaming, and of course gaming in general. Each have thrived and gone through some notable changes and massive milestones in the past 12 months. I am not going to tackle such an enormous subject here as I want to stay focused on the local stuff, so sticking to mobile for now - we've seen growth across the board, WP7 has launched, Android market has been growing considerably, Apple cracked the tablet market, and of course the iPhone 4 has been maintaining a very commanding presence overall. I think we are going to be in for a very interesting 2011 as the other competitors begin to mature.

PSP is fairly dead, lots of talk of PSP2/"the phone" (are they one and the same?) DS has been coasting and of course 3DS is primed to take center stage in a few short months. It's very fair to say that these devices are competing with the phones at this point.

Development-wise, I was a bit surprised how things played out in the iPhone scene. The device has very much become "the modern-day PS2," in that it is the device to develop for as it's on everyone's lips. It's not th emost powerful, but it's more than competent across the board. It's important to remember that the mobile arena is so different than the console arena in countless ways, so things could completely upend a lot quicker and easier than we would expect. All eyes are on the big companies right now to see where things gravitate toward; Apple does have a magnificent head-start and I don't see that changing for many months, unless their competitors make some real waves (spend serious money) to force things.

Scene-wise, I do see companies like EA stepping up in a big way to wrestle away control from the smaller companies (can many of them even be called companies? Maybe just basement studios?) I think EA is obviously making big moves to muscle the top, and it's hard to argue with their efforts - their work is superior, and their brands are smart. There's still so much anti-EA sentiment because of what they represent, but honestly so few can compete with their likes to provide "that console experience" that people really clamor for on the iPhone. They are not working it hard enough though, and it is hard to argue with that - but they are defnitely trying harder than most. Of course the likes of id and Epic are making huge moves to nip at their heels, and I think we'll see a huge second-generation blow from those guys - but they're still moving to slow, too staggered. Gameloft is sort of taking up the rear, the butt of many jokes but they provide a super-steady stream of quality software that no one can really argue with and I think they know full well how to manage in this marketplace. I am always rooting for them because they clearly are working hard, and "somebody's got to do it." It's really remarkable to see such a scrappy company trying so hard and in spite of their (undeserved) reputation, they keep putting out great product.

As for the indies, that's a whole other story. It is hard to talk about that stuff without degenerating into absolute soup - independent games are really the heart and soul of this whole marketplace. It's a victory and a shame at the same time; so much great product is popping up everywhere, and at the same time the market doesn't know how to handle the majority of it and everyone really just suffers as a result (so many games never get any press, devs charge nothing for their work, half-realized crap keeps flooding the marketplace and dominating the charts). Still the spirit is very strong, and a very steady flow of excellent product is consistent. iPhone is a gamers paradise! I think we'll see a new generation of product in the coming year, but safdly I fear that the indie glory days in this market are just about dried up. Of course, I did say the same exact thing 12 months ago..

Overall 2010 was a wild and crazy year, I learned so much, I was hoping it would be the year things would "break" for me after all the set up 2009, but it looks like 2009 was really just the warm-up for the warm-up. This year was huge, good and bad things happened, but ultimately my game released, we got it into countless thousands of hands, and got quite a bead onto where to head next. And so I go forward with my head held up to handle the next phase!

SHOUT-OUTS: Here's where I give thanks to all the supporters, both in the digital realm and in real life, to those who helped get things where they are now (particularly over the course of the last 12 months) Without the help of so many, I would have absolutely been stalled at the starting line. Here goes, thanks to..
Ben Ma, programmer of 180 and my co-conspirator at Headcase Games. There would be nothing without this guy! A great friend, and very wise in the whole mobile game scene. He dragged me into this mad nightmare!!! Pauline Laciste, our musician, and sound FX. She volunteered to help very early into development and I cannot wait to work with her again! Ciji "StarSlay3r" Thornton, she's in the game of course! very instrumental in helping us promote the game leading up to and during the release, and we got huge exposure thanks to her help! Albert Yale, another programmer who I have worked with in the past, who provided some very valuable support during the production and especially up to the last days prior to release of 180. Andy Marchal (my old roomie) for buying me beer and chicken wings, and donating hardware to the project. Mong Skillman and Mandoline Grill for sucking me into the food truck scene, and helping us to promote as well! MVG, Kyle, Alex and the rest of videogame coverband Tanuki Suit Riot for always being supportive of HcG in several ways. Indie Games journalist Jeriaska for always being supportive and helpful, sharing some drinks and giving us press.. Omaha Perez for helping me find some work and hanging out, buddies Joe McGuffin and Paul Scarlata for being sympathetic, funny-guy/super-player sammer_i, Leffelmania and "LOL" Larry Charles for future opportunities, fellow devs Craig and Gavin at Retro Dreamer and of course Tiny Technician, Annie and Brian at DoubleBear for getting me to PAX, SoCal Mike and Steve at, Mike Selinker, Chip and the crew at B-Team Podcast, Phil, CJ and the other talking heads at my favorite podcast Player One, Aaron at Race to the Moon/Royal Court Games, Eric "Rustysabre," Brett at AppAddict, Jorge at oldSchoolJunkie,, AndyTHPS and An Endless Sporadic, TJ Slater, my buddy Josh for always helping out when he could, Edwin and Skillz and JeffyM and the other usual guys who will hang out for some drinks and listen to me whine about the state of everything, the helpful posters over at NeoGAF who were kind enough to check out the game, some people who were kind enough to give us some hi-visibility tweets/coverage: Dan "Shoe" Hsu, Matt "Trainyard" Rix, cathlin, KuyiMobile and MindjuiceGames/FreeAppCalender for donating some advertising space & generally being friendly and supportive, William at GameGiveaway for giving away 180, Daily App Dream, awesome reviewers at lootNinja, thinkdigit, noDpad, theportablegamer, appSmile, appTilt, thenakedgamers, geekTechLive, girlgamersuk, all the various folks who were kind enough to give us kind ratings/reviews on iTunes, devs , , , , eJayStudios, all the usual twitterers (,, , , , , (thanks for so many RT's!!!!!), , , ,, , , , , , ,,
, , ), theAppera, Gamasutra for giving us lots of features on the front page, all the TouchArcade poster crew who kept our thread lively, particularly B34$T, cjsbug, songbird, Haruhi, Goimot, mrUgly, Koone23, cloudcastles, missLashes, JCman7, spyky, brassica, jjjmedia, TAStan, raptor200, JJdaboss, jwcasser, DaveMc99, smes3817, laceDolphin.. Thanks to TA for having a forum and letting me exist there..! Thanks to the LAPD for never arresting me for vandalizing, sindeegee "16 bits of Fashion" for 180 iSnuggies, thanks to my folks for throwing me some dollars when I was about to be on the street, and my girlfriend for the same (and putting up with me in general) and.. whew.. is that it? pant pant.. Thanks to YOU for reading my blog, playing my game, and spreading the gospel!

It's the last day that 180 is free. Spam it out wherever you can :) Happy New Year everybody!

Monday, December 20, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #43

iPhone App Game Development Blog #43

What's up everybody! Just in case you thought I croaked, I thought it'd be a wise idea to check in and drop some blog knowledge on you all. Here goes.

180 for iPhone - it's become rather customary for me to start up any entry by delving into this familiar subject matter. As an aside, it is pretty wild to consider that it's been nearly a year since the game sat 75% completed on my iPhone and I was wondering if (or when) it would ever get completed. So much has happened in the time since.. and scant little in some other ways.

The game has been running through a Free Promotion for about two and a half weeks now, we are just trying to get as many downloads as possible at this point. It's been a very successful campaign overall, as we near 100,000 downloads since the beginning of the month (that's 100,000 on top of the downloads we'd already seen). Personally, I'd have loved to be approaching 250,000 - a quarter of a million - and though we did have a very good opportunity to ensure that possibility, we didn't pursue it (would have cost upwards of a grand, and well - I am giving away my game for free over here, y'know!) 100k+ is not a bad consolation prize, and though I don't expect to see much sales (if any) following the conclusion of the campaign, the desired result has occured (more visibility for us) and for that I am grateful.

Some devs/customers might scratch their heads as they read this "what, are you mad, man?" The point is this - not everything that one does should be seen as a move calculated to turn a profit as quickly as possible. The App Store economy and culture has proven this countless times over in over, in several cases. There are plenty of useful "side effect" opportunities that one can pursue through such a promotion (hell, from an entire project's development). Rather than look at each project/promotion as a money maker unto itself, sometimes it makes sense to look down the road and see what else can happen, "the bigger picture."

Without straying too terribly far off-topic, the game is going to be free for exactly 10 more days. Please help us continue to spread the word, tell people to grab it and check it out while there's still time. You know where to find it :)

Bizdev - Well of course all of the above rambling leads right into this of course. 2010 is just about all wrapped up, and so what does 2011 hold in store for Headcase Games? As usual, I can only provide vague answers ('cause I am an annoying SOB, mind you) but those who've been sharply watching our 180 thread on TouchArcade might have heard me spill a bean or two regarding future events..

One thing which is absolutely certain is that there is absolutely honest-to-goodness development going on right now, after a very long drought. There are two different projects underway, neither of which I've ever alluded to before, and at least one of them will surface in the next couple of months' time. I've been doing a lot of work in the background to make this a reality, and it's very important to the future of this outfit that it is put forth shortly. It's a very exciting time over here, but mind that there have been so many fits and starts during the genesis of this entire operation that I've learned my lesson about letting the cat out of the bag before it's time. needless to say - there's a reason that I've not been writing blog updates (or retro reviews) for some time.

Make that several reasons. I don't like to trumpet it outside of here, but I have been absolutely pounding the pavement trying to get gigs so I could pay rent, buy food, all that good stuff. 2010 has been my biggest money pit of a year possibly since I've had a career (13 yrs now) and while it's been expensive "making things happen," the actual ROI I've seen from the things I've created has been so tiny that it's negligible. This isn't surprising, given how things turned out, and to be honest, I expected worse. I had always intended to supplement whatever earnings I got from HcG with a day job, but it's been terribly rough to land anything for a number of reasons. Thankfully, something did recently fall into my lap (well, hard work and lots of hunting led me to it) and I am busting myself trying to deliver output for it right now (it's a lot of work!) But it's a good gig, it's the type of work I enjoy, and though it is compounding things enormously right now, I am very happy to have found this as it will make everything easier. The downside is that I will have to be pulled back from some of the fringe stuff I usually dabble in (retro game of the day) and perhaps even, which would be a shame as it's been steadily growing. But something's got to give.

Anyway, to sum up.. I am working on some big things. Keep an eye on Headcase in 2011!

What Else Is Going On - A strange year for me as I've really ignored a lot of the goings-on in console gaming (which spawned me!) It feels like a fairly dull Xmas season. PS Move? Kinect? And what the heck is on Wii? This is the dullest holiday season I can remember in several years! I guess it is all relative, there is a full staple of games to enjoy right now no matter your preference - but nothing feels sharp, unique, special. It feels like such an in-between time for gaming, and I suppose it's not hard to imagine why given the political and economic goings on in big studio development the past couple of years. As they've been going kind of haywire, and things have been pushing conservative coupled with a lot of the bigger franchises (particularly the rhythm games) going beyond stale, we are left at kind of a dead-end of creativity and excitement for the time being. Don't get me wrong 2010 was one of the BIGGEST YEARS on record all told, but it's rather shocking to see one of the pillars of the whole period to be such a void. Anyway, it doesn't seem like anyone really cares, and maybe that's a sign of things too. The hobby has plateaued, if only for a short while. Given the usual build-up/build-up/build-up that gaming usually does through a console generation, this is the period where everyone would start drooling over what lies around the corner (which is usually well-publicized at this point in the cycle). Thing is, there's... nothing. The big guys are playing around with their motion-control gimmicks to avert everyone's attention, and Nintendo is of course putting the final touches on their next portable domination due in the Springtime. Overall, things feel tired, top-heavy, even over themselves.

Even with mobile gaming, where I've been spending the majority of my energy, things seem to be at a bit of a standstill. We have Angry Birds and Doodle Jump and such still ruling the roost, which seems absurd to me. These are inconsequential one-offs, in a way , catapulted to maddening heights of grandeur simply because the industry is asleep at the wheel. EA or Activision should have a stranglehold on the entirety top ten of the iTunes App Store charts by now, and if not them then the new kids on the block (Popcap, Gameloft, Zynga). I know this all takes time and perseverance, but none of this is new and honestly 2010 should have been the year that this fell in line. I am not complaining about it, I personally am proud to see such indie strength making waves up that far and high, but it does point to a bigger issue about where things are, where they "should" be and what the heck can we expect next. This leads into something else:

The App Store is a giant MESS. The indie scene, mobile gaming, XNA, what-have-you, all these structures are just a big endless confusion. There's no rhyme or reason to any of it, between the developers, the media, the distribution networks, and ultimately the audience's expectations and perceptions. It's such a godwaful mess that at times one can get very discouraged. There's a reason the scrappy independents will continue to stick it out, because in spite of all this fiasco there still is a lot of opportunity to seek out, if one can afford to stick around long enough and make some sense of it all. Honestly I am surprised how everyone does seem very short-sighted and nonchalant about the whole of it (again, I am looking at other developers, the media, distributors, etc). This free-for-all spirit that many claim "has passed" has indeed left a powerful energy in its' wake, and this chaos will not settle anytime soon. A year ago, after much research I had expectations that a lot of things would be figured out by now and I am so surprised to see that there's so little momentum on things getting recitfied; I expect the next couple of years in mobile/indie/"alternative" gaming to continue to follow that initial speedy burst with a lot of slow, sloppy, half-hearted follow-up. Ultimately, I feel for the audience; they will receive a lot of interesting, affordable product, and much of it will be interesting and worthwhile, but so much of it will just be glazed over or considered "disposable" at best, and completely ignored at worst.

Alright, well that went on a fair bit longer than I expected it to (shocking!) I need ot wrap-up and get back to the aforementioned freelance work. Thanks for reading, consider what I've said and do your part to spread the word on 180 - our work is not over yet!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

iPhone App Game Development Blog #42

iPhone App Game Development Blog #42

Wow. WOW! It has been one of the busiest weeks of my life. Good stuff happened, bad stuff happened, weird stuff happened. All in all my head is still spinning from all the activity around here, I figured it would be a good time to step back and deliver a status update on things. Here goes!

180 for iPhone - well, the Grand Experiment is in full swing. A week ago, after some buildup, we reduced the price of this game to FREE and let loose with the media barrage. The biggest point was partnering with GameGiveaway, which got us unheard-of exposure. As their iPhone app rocketed to the top, the prominent feature we got by association meant that we got some heavy-duty numbers of downloads, much much heavier than anything we had ever seen. My head is still reeling from this - 100,000 downloads of 180 as of today! (We were at 23,000 a week ago). Yes, the majority of that were free downloads, but to me it is very worthwhile to have my app in so many user's hands. Realistically, 100,000 is still a tiny number in the big scheme of things (and further, a good portion of that number may never even launch the app!) but for a tiny little developer like us who has never got any major-league attention, it certainly is a case worth celebrating!

So what next? We have collected an enormous amount of useful data during the course of this experiment, and while it is not yet over (the app is free for the entire month), the relatively big exposition sure is. Our visibility burst nice and brightly for a moment, and it's steadily been tumbling back into the nether since (we are no longer charting) but the opportunity to showcase our product was wonderful, and it led to some useful developments. This brings about a lot more behind-the-scenes work for me to deal with, as we try to chart the next course of this plan.

Bizdev - As things have been completely wrapped-up with the promotion and all that it entails for so long, a lot of things have been cooling on the shelf. Sadly, they will stay there for the time being as there's plenty of fallout to deal with. It's a busy and crazy time of the year, and of utmost importance for my own well-being is A. finding a way to get paid and B. keeping things running with Headcase in a satisfactory manner. I like to keep it vague on this blog for obvious reasons, but rest assured work is being done now on different productions - and some of them will actually give some yield shortly. I am working hard to follow that up with other sensible steps, and a lot of that requires me being out "in the field" talking and schmoozing and making the necessary connections. I do quite a lot of that, and more needs to happen until I can lock down into heavy production mode once more. It is very gratifying to have enough things moving forward in a positive direction (especially in light of all that's been happening) that I can see more big news to announce in the near future, when the time is right. As I mentioned, I am still in the middle of things - I need to properly organize and display the data we've collected over the past week, it makes for some extremely interesting/useful reading if you've a mind for development and sales. Watch this space, hopefully it will see light within some days.

What Else Is Going On - Plenty! The App Store education continues! True to form, we have good/nasty luck all rolled together as Headcase seems quiet during all the industry's quiet times, and as soon as we decide to make some kinda splash, the rest of the world seems to do the same with everyone else! We just missed the meat of it (and it's surely affected our follow-through, drastically) but anyone who is partially paying attention can sense that right now is probably the busiest period in the entire year, on the App Store. It's exciting and maddening all at once. For my fellow small indie developers who are releasing projects right now, I feel for them, as they are up against a particularly nasty amount of huge-name competition. There's just less and less room for smaller projects to carry any water these days; if you aren't a particularly well-known name and your work doesn't measure up to the higher standards being put out by the Moneybags pubs and devs, then you are in a real world of hurt right now as your apps are just getting utterly lost in the noise. I am so happy we decided to concentrate on being free for this period rather than expect to recoup any sales, because - although I strongly feel that my product is certainly worth some money - with the way things are right now, the odds of getting much back versus the good we can do by continuing promotion are really night-and-day differences.

The App Store is really turning into such an unruly monster, in so many ways, that I absolutely do not want to approach it in the terms it invites people to, anymore. I have learned that there are a few other things you can do (have to do!) to seek success in this crazy market, and playing the traditional game is really not relevant anymore.

Alright, I am really sleepy. There's mountains of laundry to fold, dishes to wash, and plenty of other digital loose-ends to tie up as well. Plus, I will be enjoying a few days away from this madness in Vegas two days from now! Wish me luck - the odds are better than on iTunes!!

Lastly, to sign off I want to note that I have quite the laundry-list (laundry, here he goes again about his laundry) of folks to thank for their help during this promotion. Lots of devs, lots of friends, lots of fans.. we couldn't have got anywhere without your help. If I've not pinged you back since you said something for us, know that I haven't forgotten, I am just catching my breath. I'll hit you up individually very soon, but in the meantime, big thanks :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Retro Game of the Day! Space Invaders '91

Retro Game of the Day! Space Invaders '91

Space Invaders '91 by Taito, released for the Sega Genesis. Do I really have to say what the year was?

Everyone with any knowledge of videogames is well-aware of the original Space Invaders and its contribution to the culture of gaming. Strangely, few words are ever written about its sequels which released in the years that followed, until the franchise became somewhat trendy again in the mid-2000s.
In the late 1980s, competitor Namco released an update to Galaga, their popular Space Invader-inspired title. Galaga '88 was a fresh re-imagining of their original title, which had a healthy following in it's own right (many gamers will agree that Galaga - 1981 version - was the first true "successor" to Space Invaders, and effectively replaced it as the single-screen alien blaster of choice). Galaga '88 stayed quite true to it's roots, with a hefty audiovisual upgrade and some other fancy tweaks to make the old feel modern.

The game was a big success, and many in the industry stood up and took notice. Apparently Taito felt very strongly about this, one way or another, and took the event as an excuse to rip-off those who'd already ripped them off in the 1st place. And so to answer the call of Galaga '88, Space Invaders '91 was created.

Like the other upgrade, SI91 was a reimagining of it's source material which did not attempt to stray far from it's path. The game was made much prettier, as the advanced 16-bit visuals were a far cry from the primitive blocks making up the scenery in the initial iteration. More backgrounds were developed, and new features such as boss battles and cow-protecting bonus rounds were introduced. Most notable was the inclusion of power-ups; shooting a "bonus ship" no longer merely yielded points; rather special weapons, shields, and time-stoppers could be obtained.

The new recipe worked. The game felt like an appropriate update for the period, and the original gameplay was strong enough to carry this game. Like Galaga '88, the enthusiasm was short-lived. Both games were notable, but the shadows cast by their predecessors were far to tall to get out from underneath. Space Invaders and Galaga, original versions, were such important and monumental titles that their popularity easily outlasted those of their "superior" sequels. SI91 is a joy to pick up now, it looks and handles well, and a few sessions are easy to lose track of time with - but most gamers will continue to gravitate to the iconic titles from which they spawned.

Our hit iPhone action-puzzle game 180 is available now for FREE until the end of the year! Pick it up while you can!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

180 Full Version is $0.99 on iTunes!

This action-puzzle game is shooting up the iTunes charts - grab it now while it's hot!
Currently charting high up in Puzzle and Arcade categories, with well over 100k downloads in the past month!

Full game details available at and on iTunes.