Wednesday, February 9, 2011

iPhone App Game Development Blog #46

iPhone App Game Development Blog #46

Whewww.. Cruising into February. Another year, same old business. I am going to shake things up a little bit here, and break from format once again. Here we go.

180 - working hard on development for Android platform, the game is actually quite far along. Very playable in it's current state, running excellent, it feels quite weird to have "the same old game" rewritten and running in a whole different operating system. If all goes well, we should see a release before the end of this month. I have a good amount of work on the non-coding end of things to deal with in preparation for the release, and am doing my best to keep on top of it. I have to give big shout-outs to Alex (current Android coder) and Ben (original iOS coder who is supporting) for making this happen! Expect a new game mode or two, and a visual facelift (as wel as some feature polish) to some degree. We will seek support from our fanbase to help spread the word following release!

HcG Bizdev - well, things are always very busy in this regard. I am always talking to whoever I can, to whatever degree - in some ways this is the most important aspect of development. I am determined to release a brand-NEW game this year, one way or another. Keep your eyes peeled! In the meantime, I am overloaded-busy with (non-game) freelance work right now, to the degree where I have guilt about stopping to type this. So much is going on!

- Our Facebook page grew nicely recently, helped out by the iOS gamer/dev community and some very nice contests. This is instrumental in the forthcoming Android launch - please support us and Like this page and participate in the activites!

- Retro Game of the Day is on hiatus for the moment, unfortunately. I love writing them, and people love reading them, but I need to find a better way to steer it back towards our brand. I'll pick it up as time allows (especially nearing Android launch)

- is also going fairly steady, I optimized the website for iPhone display (at last!) Still trying to find a useful way to increase traffic over there as well.

- Podcast! I want to do one! I need some support, I started looking into the nuts and bolts of this but it was a little beyond me. If anyone wants to help out in anyway (editing, distributing, hosting, anything) please contact me. I've a lot to say - I liked doing YouTube's (especially since it is so easy) but the limitations over there really never it useless for what I would prefer to do.

What Else is Going On - ah yes, my impetus to write. There's so much going on in the world of video game news right now.

First up, Nintendo DS - launch is imminent. I have been fairly lukewarm on this device (especially following seeing it last year in my own hands - demo 3D (noninteractive) video), but as time has passed the notion is growing on me. For the first time in countless years (maybe 20!), I am excited to see a new console! I am drawn to this thing not merely because it's "a new Nintendo device" or even as a successor to the hugely successful DS, but because it really does seem like it will be a very cool toy and I think we will see some fairly novel games on there, the likes of which might even bring me back to how it felt being a gamer in"the good old days." Games were less structured, more about novel and gimmicky presentation (although held up by substance) and I have a strong inkling that we may see a fair enough resurgance of such a game on this new platform. The price doesn't seem terrible, and though the tech and battery life are a bit of a concern, I think the pros outweigh the cons. No idea on when I will pick one up (if ever...) but I certainly anticipate the launch!

Sony PSP2 - NGP - call it what you will - this thing confounds me. My feelings on hearing of the announcement of this new device were a mixed bag of disappointment and disinterest. I want to point out that I am no Sony-hater, I really do want them to prosper once again (and I feel that they are doing a good enough job with the PS3 these days) but, to echo what so many others are saying, this new device just feels like such a rehash of the same ideas they had back in 2004 when they were pushing prior to the original PSP release. Yes, it's a nice and competent piece of hardware. Gorgeous graphics, interface looks sturdy (finally), and so forth. I still don't see this properly competing in the handheld market. It's not got any kind of "wow game-changer" like Nintendo's crazy 3D display, and it doesn't seem like it will pose too much of a threat to the growing legions of the phone gamers, especially as they move into their following generations. Sony have an amazing piece of hardware, but it is wrong for this market, it's a niche device and they'll price it into oblivion.

It's actually got me rethinking the philosophy of the much-hated PSPgo - costs a lot, no UMD, but things are different now. The form fact of the go is nice (it's small and "tuckable" in your pocket), tons of games can be had for a song, no more loading issues I'd imagine - and you can snap one up second-hand at this point. It's no competition for the DS at this stage (still), but provides a fairly affordable alternative with some very capable tech. Yeah, I never thought I would be singing the praises of this thing, and if the 3DS wasn't a heartbeat away from release, then the prospect of picking on up wouldn't even seem out of the question any longer.

Anyway, for NGP I predict failure, sadly. For Sony's Android "Playstation Suite"service, I think that is actually more appealing/potential, but I don't see it taking off for a multitude of obvious reasons. I am writing them off again. As for 3DS, it will have an amazing year, but I do think it is actually kind of a stopgap for whatever's next. Nintendo will have to change up their game across the board, down the road, even more dramatically - Wii is old, expensive portable games that AREN'T in your phone are going to go way out of style in a couple of years, if that.

On the general wireless/mobile side, things are still disorganized and messy, the whole marketplace is still a huge huge mess. There's a very steady stream of worthwhile software releasing very consistently, if you are a gamer you are living very high on the hog right now and you have no excuse to be bored; there's a steady stream of excellent product always releasing, with no end in sight. The problem is, novelty has been lost, and people can't appreciate things anymore because of what has happened. I really don't know how we'll dig out of this pit, just wait it out for awhile I guess. The downside is that many developers don't wanna invest time/budget in longer-lasting games, and I think that is holding us back. The audience don't wanna pay anything for them, or even give them a chance, and so the culture does suffer. Fortunately, it doesn't take much, and sooner or later someone (besides EA etc) will step up and reshape things.

Lastly, I want to reflect on the always amorphous video game industry on a broader scale. 500 layoffs between several Activision studios today, it is a shame, but my patience for the whiners has gone beyond thin. Activision is not an evil entity. They make excellent productions, they pay great developers huge amounts of money and give them tons of leeway in crafting their wares. Apparently, as time passes it becomes more cases of them giving devs more rope to hang themselves with, and that is increasingly becoming a bigger problem in big studio production. Riskier development means a blander culture, and while many are quick to attack ATVI and their cohorts, they have been trying really hard to deliver a solid mix of old and new the past few years, a steady flow of quality product. The press, the fanboys (same thing if you ask me) will ignore the positives in lieu of the usual punching bags, but what else can you expect (particularly given the reactionary nature of a nation of net-surfing zombies) I guess no one really cares anyway; that is the point, if people DID care they'd vote with their wallets differently. ATVI can only give people what they want, and as I mentioned they will always spike the punch a bit more often than some of their competitors, and for that I'll give them kudos. In spite of it all, this does really all point to a bigger problem:

The industry here is just very unstable, as ever. Parts of it crest while other parts trough, and this has been truth since time immemorial really. Blame yourselves for having short memory! I've mentioned it many times before and I will continue to stand on my soapbox on the matter until I am blue in the face, our industry is heading very steadily towards another major shakedown. Like it or don't, things in a rapid see-saw field like this one can never stay in one mode for too long, and over the past several years a lot of long-held principles have been falling like dominoes. There's a reason why I (and so many others) are doing what we can to make some noise in the scary new frontier, it's called prospecting and though the initial gold rush might be over, there will be plenty of folks looking to develop beachfront properties in due time.

Digital Distribution, on a large scale, is coming. Cloud computing is coming. Software publishers in their current capacity are becoming dinosaurs, and I think we are going to see some dramatic shifts in hardware likewise. The phone is the new PC, and consoles are going to be gone forever in a few years. Don't believe me? Pull your head out of the ground ad do your homework, get a little schooled on the history of our industry (and tech in general) and pay any kind of attention to the trends and it suddenly becomes quite easy to see where things are heading.

As for the layoffs, lest I seem insensitive, I guess it behooves me to be very clear on this: my heart goes out to those whose careers and livelihoods have been affected, especiallythose of you wo have worked so hard to do a good job. The long nights, the lost weekends, the diminished quality of life. I've borne the brunt of plenty of it all in my own time in this industry. We are past the point where we can just blame greedy executives though. You can't expect a huge company to keep floating all these smaller limbs while they back-and-forth through their development cycles. By now it is fairly well blueprinted how to make a "good game," look at Visceral, look at Irrational, look at Insomniac, Naughty Dog, Bungie, etc. Maybe these are somewhat lofty devs to compare to, but even playing second fiddle to any of them a dev could always do quite well. The risks are greater now, it takes longer to make a game, it requires more manpower, dedication, money. It is senseless to try and keep half-productive studios on life-support when both they and their franchises are flagging, even a lot of the bigger brands really don't make enough money to support such a blood-sucking infrastructure. Yeah, the publisher holds some serious blame, but unless there was some kind of hostile takeover to begin with, the smaller developer really must accept some of the initial responsibility for all of this as well. Both from when they handed over the reigns to a newer/more powerful entity to run things from on high, to how well they did (or didn't) continue to manage things in their own microcosm.