Archive for February, 2013

Upgrading Blues

Posted: February 9, 2013 in Musings, Programming

So I thought that it’d be pretty simple to upgrade Numberheads from an iPad-only app to one that supports iPhone as well. But as the gears began to turn…

iPhone portrait mode. iPad landscape mode. Three different aspect ratios. 50 mByte download size limit. Uh oh. Put it all together and it spells trouble.

I planned to only support iPad when I started this project, so I set it up as landscape mode. But that just isn’t right for iPhone. This style game seems to be usually presented in portrait mode. But it’d be crazy to have the iPhone version of a “universal” app (one app to run on the iPhone or iPad) be portrait and the iPad version be landscape.

All the art has to be reoriented for portrait mode, and three versions need to be created and stored in the app to support the three different aspect ratios.

At least all the art was created in Adobe Illustrator, so scaling will be easy and artifact-free.

So while there aren’t going to be a lot of code revisions to add iPhone support, there’s a lot of time to be spent in Photoshop and Illustrator. Ah well, live and learn.

Sleepy Dev Day

Posted: February 7, 2013 in News

{Yawn} didn’t sleep at all last night! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghFBvBmXv4E

So rather than try to work on marketing Numberheads I did what was easier for me, even when sleepy – I worked on development.

Actually the only thing left for development is to port the Numberheads app to work on the iPhone. I actually don’t have one (although I have one of every iPad for testing), or didn’t until today. I found that you can get a good used iPhone 4 on Ebay with a “bad ESN” (won’t work with any carrier) for about $100 bucks — it arrived today. Maybe a little worse for wear with a few thin scratches on the glass but it works just fine.

One of the truly amazing things about Unity3d is that you can just toggle a selection from “iPad only” to “iPhone + iPad”, click BUILD and, as Jackie Gleason would have said “AWAY WE GO.” Remarkably, it just worked! I played the game for a few hours (well, I at least, find it addictive!) and all’s well as far as I can tell. Nice!

I have to do some work on the presentation and make a new game setup (a “scene” in Unity parlance) that will better fit the small size, but that’s not really a lot of work. The real issue was whether or not the game code would run fast enough on an iPhone 4 – it did. An iPhone4 is a reasonable baseline, since IIRC older phones are sort of obsoleted at this point since they can’t upgrade past iOS 4.2.1 and Numberheads requires iOS 5 or later anyway.

So overall a good day in spite of fuzzy brain syndrome.

I’m glad that I’m not depending on app sales to eat. After about a week on the App Store, Numberheads has sold about 1 dozen copies. Truthfully, I didn’t really expect app nirvana on day 1, and I know that getting discovered means spending gigabux or doing guerilla marketing.

So far, it looks like the best methods are promo code giveaways and social networking using twitter and/or facebook.

There are plenty of sites that will let you pay reviewers to buy your app and write nice reviews. I don’t want to go that route. There’s also twitter spam. Naah.

I have real doubts whether all the websites that put up reviews can actually affect your sales in anything other than a transient fashion, but I’m going to try it anyway. It seems as if discoverability on the Apple App Store is a hit-and-miss thing. You need reviews to get noticed, you need sales to get reviews, and you need reviews to get sales. Almost like a catch-22, eh?

Catch-22 cover

The Numberheads Backstory

Posted: February 1, 2013 in Musings

The idea for Numberheads came from my own frustration with playing match-3 games like the amazing Bejeweled and Chuzzle (both of those names are trademarks of Electronic Arts). It wasn’t the gameplay that frustrated me, but the colors drove me nuts!

I have to admit to being a little colorblind, and that little was enough to make me have to work a little harder to play these games. Some other similar games added more colors as levels increase; sometimes so much so that I couldn’t play them. Or I’d get eyestrain.

So the lightbulb went off “why not use numbers!” . I was only going to create a prototype, for fun, and at first I was thinking of matching numbers that are the same, like 1-1-1 and so on. Then I latched on to what turned out to be the two key features of what eventually became Numberheads:

  • Use number sequences to create a match
  • Pieces can move in all 8 directions and not just up-down-left-right

Both of these things turned a simple software project into something quite a bit more complicated. It’s not that hard to create software to match three things that are the same, as you can tell from the huge number of matching games on the App Store and elsewhere. But number sequences are another matter, and it took a long time to get it right. Allowing moves to be in 8 directions made the development of software to find hints a lot more difficult, especially one to find hints in a reasonable time.

I’m sure programmers reading the last paragraph are pulling out the “BS” card here, but if you actually try to create an engine that can check for the user having created a number sequence match when moving two pieces, and do so quickly enough that there’s no perceptible delay before you begin to remove pieces upon success – and on a relative weak compute platform like a mobile device – well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. It’s even worse when trying to create an engine that can present a hint to a user within a few seconds – there are a lot of permutations when pieces can move in eight directions.

Disregarding software design issues for a while, games also have to be fun, right? I thoroughly loved the first version of Numberheads, but all my beta testers told me it was confusing. That version was a lot different than the one released on the App Store. Rewriting and tuning the second version created something that I found myself addicted to playing; and, more importantly, others felt the same way.

Now that it’s out in the wild, we’ll see what everyone else thinks…

Made it!

Posted: February 1, 2013 in News

Numberheads is now on the app store. I’m going yacht-shopping 🙂