Ian and I just had an interesting conversation about the iPad UI based on my feedback yesterday. Here are some of the things we’re going to investigate:
- “Detail mode” – should you have a mode where the camera is zoomed right in automatically, allowing you to fine-tune stuff?
- Linear orders editing – there should probably be some way of just moving an order around a plan in *time* using a slider, rather than physically having to do it, because the iPad lends itself particularly well to sliders. We’re almost certainly going to do something LIKE this.
- Unit selection – I currently like being able to both move the map and select units at the same time, but a better strategy may actually be to filter out unit selection and just use buttons on the side for it. Also, forcing buttons will provide an automatic solution for when units are too close together to select easily – it will just completely eliminate that problem.
- Orders menu – I highlighted this as a big problem. It could be something that’s done with a button or double-tap.
Most of this stuff is impossible to speculate about in abstract (it’s the UI version of “theorycrafting”, if you want a Starcraft analogy – I’m sure none of you did), so what we’re going to do is decide on a subset of things to actually implement; maybe actually following the paradigm of implementing multiple methods for different actions to see which ones work better.
By the way, by being really open about early *thoughts* like this, I really don’t want to attract comments like “OH GOD YOU ARE SO STUPID HOW COULD X THING POSSIBLY…” or “WHY ARE YOU NOT DOING Y…” This is not the point where we’re really looking for external feedback, as we’re still brainstorming – we haven’t even tested yet – I just thought it would be interesting to document the process in light of where we’ll get to eventually!
Thoughtful feedback is – of course – welcome, however!
We continue our blog series about bringing a popular PC/Mac/Linux indie game to the iPad…
I’ve just had my first couple of days with the “raw” build of FS iPad and I’ve been working on going through the entire UI making notes of conflicts and problems.
I feel reasonably positive at this point that some of the fundamental UI structures in the game will remain in-tact, but also that there are a lot of challenges.
At the moment, we’re using “hold down one finger” to open the orders menu – this is basically not working at all, so we’ll need an entirely different system.
Similarly, double-tapping to make a waypoint is pretty cool, but it’s very easy to accidentally double-tap when you’re either moving an existing waypoint, or scrolling the map around.
At the moment, we’re using “pinch-to-zoom” and “drag an empty piece of map” to do map control – as I’ve just told Ian I love the way both of these are working and I want to preserve them, even if we need something like a separate “I am moving the map around now” mode to do so. It just feels really natural, as that’s the way you interact with a map intuitively on the device.
It’s interesting how some small UI elements (like the aim handle) actually work reasonably well on the ‘pad. Obviously, they still do have conflicts and we need to work on those, but it seems like size / distance apart aren’t the only thing that matter with UI’s on the device.
It’s too early to suggest proper solutions to everything at this point, because every solution will have to be a compromise / balance with something else. The process of getting into the game a bit is productive though, and I hope to have most of my notes finished tomorrow.
The next stage is for Ian and I to figure out exactly what initial changes we want to make so that we can continue testing and iterating.
Hello, I’m part of indie dev team Mode 7 Games – we made Frozen Synapse. I was invited out to Minecon to give a presentation about it, and these are my experiences…
Right, let’s get this out of the way first…
The queue to get into Minecon was interesting. It was a fusion of what I call the “PAX crowd” (people who are into games because they care deeply about them as a form, rather than just as a casual distraction), families with kids and excited general nerds.
This demographic was fairly unique – especially the prevalence of the younger generation of gamers. It filled in a gap in my knowledge of Minecraft as a phenomenon: the idea of it being a family game.
I appreciated Mojang’s policy that everyone was in it together – contributors, fans and organisers were all milling around in the same place waiting for their passes – it was clear what kind of atmosphere they wanted.
Everything moved so quickly (thanks to the staff, who were working very hard trying to get everyone seen quickly) that this ended up being not only the most elegant solution, but also a nice chance to chat to people.
The show-floor itself was something of an enigma: a lot on offer was very specific to Minecraft fans and confused the hell out of me (and quite rightly so)! A massive, constant line for Jinx merch was a living testament to the power of Minecraft as a brand.
There was a fantastic little indie area which immediately made me sad that I’d decided not to stump up for a booth.
Here’s four games that really grabbed me:
Air Mech – a spunky little Herzog Zwei-influenced strategic blaster. I missed the chance to say hi to its creators but they looked really pleased with all the attention it was getting.
Retro City Rampage – guaranteed to be the biggest grossing indie game of next year (calling it), not just because its creator @BriProv is one of the nicest people in indie gaming. Seriously, this game is going to be flipping huge.
A Valley Without Wind – Arcen Games’ intriguing side-scrolling adventury, open-worldy, unique thing that is yet to get the traction it truly deserves. With the eternally enthusiastic and super-savvy @GameConnoisseur heading up its marketing, though, it will get there.
You may observe here that I’m indulging in what has been called “the indie games circlejerk” by just saying how nice everyone is all the time.
There is a point to be made here, though: one of the things that the indie games scene truly has to offer is a high concentration of genuine friendliness; I’m pleased that this is being retained as people make money and get a lot of attention.
Brian showing off Retro City Rampage
I made the point during my talk (which I thoroughly enjoyed giving, by the way) that it is a rare and precious thing that a big, successful company would invite essentially competing products to show off at its fan convention. I think that Mojang have a lot of foresight commercially by doing this, and it also sends a signal that they are still part of the indie games community.
Raise Your Weapon
The highlight for me personally was the Deadmau5 gig. I know some people had trouble getting in, but it certainly wasn’t greater than the trouble it takes to get into any kind of major club event.
I may write more about this at some point, but if you are any kind of electronic musician and you go to see Deadmau5, the experience is that of being completely schooled. He is just better than you: he’s spent more time thinking about most issues than you; he’s put in an insane amount of hard work to refine a very specific thing that is incredibly effective; he is relentless under an constant barrage of ridiculous public criticism.
I have infinite respect for him.
I’m very jealous of Brian Provinciano, who had dinner with the man himself: appartently they talked about Tim Horton’s, which is absolutely bloody typical, as this happens any time two Canadians are in a room together.
The tequila @meggertson and I were drinking at that event was also somewhat special due to the fact it was actually nice. I wonder if he ever managed to get the name of it…
It was amazing to be at the launch of an indie game in an expensive club with an A-list musician topping the bill. I never in a million years thought that indie games would become cool in a mainstream way – for better or worse, that is what is happening.
Vegas is expensive and ludicrous – I would suggest that you do not go there unless:
1.) You are going for one or two nights to gawk at it and see shows
2.) You absolutely love pure gambling, in which case I question your sanity
3.) You are amazingly good at poker
4.) You have a secondary reason for going
5.) [insert Carrot Top joke here]
And now, a brief selection of amusements suitable for public consumption:
- I was offered escorts by my taxi driver on the way to my hotel from the airport. “ALL GIRLS LOOK LIKE PICTURE!” he insisted. I think “time to solicitation” is a good metric for the general seediness of a location.
- I was offered blank receipts with which to commit tax fraud by my taxi driver on the way from my hotel to the airport.
- Terry Cavanagh and Petri Purho had an epic spontaneous wrestling match in the corridor of the Mandalay which was completely astonishing. My video of this cannot be posted for legal reasons.
- Deadmau5 starting his set with a chunky house remix of part of the Minecraft soundtrack.
- The slot machines in Vegas airport coupled with the fact that it is impossible to purchase books there.
- The slot machines everywhere – I was surprised they didn’t have slot machines in the toilet.
- Andy Moore and Petri Purho having a statistically-driven argument over whether Canadian or Finnish soldiers were better.
Barcraft is the best thing ever to happen to competitive gaming. It brings people out of their house, gets them to socialise with other fans and opens up e-sports to public consumption.
The Vegas Barcraft took place at Insert Coin(s) on Fremont, which has a fantastic arcade…
…a couple of pinball tables and a nice big screen.
I caught all of Naniwa vs. Nestea, which was awesome, and got to talk to high-level Zerg @drg_kazuke during it, which was equally awesome.
While I was there, the trailer for Michael Krukar‘s TL documentary started playing, and I heard _ensnare_ blasting out throughout the venue – fantastic!
This Barcraft was a little low in attendance due to organiser @wabachaw having to struggle last-minute to put stuff together. The atmosphere was still great though – I wished I could have stayed the whole time.
I’d love to attend the London Barcraft for next MLG so maybe we can put together a community meet-up for that – I know that a few of you are SC2 fans.
The Game Itself
Not being a big Minecraft player myself, a lot of the content went over my head. However, I was inspired to start playing version 1.0 properly and I’m enjoying my strange poky little house to which I have added an impressive basement entrance to a gigantic cavern.
My girlfriend looked over and commented, “I see you put the mine in your house so you can work from home.” I guess the secret, if there is any, to Minecraft is that it reflects your personality whether you want it to or not.
As I said at Explay this year, the main reason I love working in indie gaming is the sheer number of astonishing experiences it generates. Personally, this was an incredible time: I made great new friends just by tweeting the fact that I had arrived somewhere; I hung out with indies I respect deeply and I got the chance to be at the epicentre of gaming coolness for a few days.
There has been some negativity surrounding a few things that happened. All I can say is that I hope it’s resolved and that people don’t dwell on it too much: it had an incredibly minor impact on everyone who attended.
I’ve thanked them already, but I just publically want to thank the Mojang team for setting it up: they did an extraordinary job of managing their first event.
I hope it happens again and that I’ll be there for it!
Actually, it’s more like a giant nexus of three hotels, at the apex of which (Do nexi have apexes? This one does) is a kind of infinite gambling hub. Small Japanese ladies sit enraptured by the clunky rotation of colourful images and the gentle pulse-wave beep-boop of imaginary potential; intense nerds in pastel colours hunch over poker; a huge shiny white car rotates slowly on a podium.
All of this is overseen by a po-faced tribe of completely square men all clad in black, curly umbilical cords of transparent plastic extending from, it appears, their heads.
Above, I have documented the “Sports Book Area” which is mostly for the benefit of Ian Hardingham.
On the plane, I read Demand by Adrian Slywotzky (which I’d recommend to anyone who reads business books) and Booky Wook 2 by Russell Brand (which is basically a morality tale about how being consistently impulsive makes you an annoying self-pitying git).
At one point, unprovoked, our pilot piped up, “Here’s a gambling tip from us at Virgin Atlantic: we hear red and black are quite good.”
I am speaking tomorrow night for half-an-hour about Frozen Synapse – I have an outline structure for what I want to say, and I will be incompetently playing single player LIVE ON STAGE for quite a long time. I’m hoping that my many, many hours of experience watching amazing casters like Tastosis, WolfTrap and TotalBiscuit will benefit my own self-casting, but I may just be gibbering and dying to the AI.
Now, I’m off to meet a man I have never met before who is “wearing a black hoodie and green military hat” – like I said, inauspicious starts…
Here is Part 1 of my Minecon travelblog, written while I was still in the UK
It begins, as most journeys do, inauspiciously.
The Britannia Europa is what happens if you allow a nasty old pub to fester and allow its dark faux-wooded frame space for expansion, stick a weird patio and 1970′s sliding door on the front of it, then call it a hotel and allow brazen, shouty people to stay in it.
I am here because I have an early flight.
I have an early flight because I am going to Vegas.
I am going to Vegas because of the existence of Minecon – a fan convention for a multi-million-selling indie game – and because of the existence of Frozen Synapse, a non-multi-million selling indie game.
Both of these things would have seemed implausible to myself four years ago.
At the moment, I’m caught up with the the flatness of airport shuttles and scanned travel insurance documents, but the 10.5 hour flight should provide enough time to contemplate what I’ve got myself into this time.
Team Liquid are one of the greatest (and best known) Starcraft 2 teams in the world.
Documentary maker Michael Krukar contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to allow him to use some _ensnare_ tracks (my chiptune side project) in a documentary which is being created to support the team and I accepted!
The track from the trailer (“Top Five Control”) is available on my album Impeccable Micro, which is “pay what you want!”
I’m not receiving any money from the documentary itself, so if you like the music, please support me by picking up my albums.
Anyone who knows me has been bored at some point by my rantings about the awesomness of the pro Starcraft scene, so being involved with it in some way is fantastic. The fact that it’s Liquid is also cool – the first pro match I ever watched was TLO vs. oGs.Hyperdub from GSL Season 1.
If you are intrigued by the documentary then check it out over at Team Liquid.
Also, if you’ve never watched pro Starcraft before, I recommend checking out GOMTV.
I’ve decided to attempt a series of regular posts to go behind-the-scenes a little bit on the iPad launch of Frozen Synapse. In an ideal world, I’ll be doing a more significant post every week, with a lot of little updates in between.
State of the Game
If you’ve heard me talk recently, or seen anything about how FS has been doing, you’ll know that we have over 300k users now. Sales continue to be good, even with the massive numbers of discounted copies which were sold during the Humble Indie Bundle and we’re confident that we’ll have a good Christmas.
We have some challenges still to overcome: as Ian mentioned, we’re taking on a new person to help us provide better support and updates for the existing version; at the same time we’re pushing forward with the iPad build.
Thoughts on iPad
I’m a very recent convert to the iPad and I absolutely love it. Here’s why in a nutshell:
- It’s much faster to do certain things than an equivalent device or netbook
The combination of portability with a very effective “sleep” mode make it the thing I reach for when I want to check something or look something up.
As a musician, I’m very keen to try out things like Touchable which look like they could transform some of the stuff I do.
In terms of games, I just whipped through Scribblenauts (which is just pure unashamed silliness) and I am being entertained by Infinity Blade right now. Ian is a 100 Rogues fan so I probably will pick that up too.
Will it work?
FS is a complicated game and it’s not for everyone; much of the iPad market is casual. However, we’re starting to see people hankering for deeper games. Here are the conditions in my mind for FS performing well:
- Great interface
- Great press / feature by Apple
We’re quite lucky in that FS’s existing performance means that iOS sites are willing to talk to us and take us seriously. I’ve had mails from quite a few indie devs recently along the lines of “journalists don’t reply to my mails”.
The sad fact is that there has to be SOME kind of story behind what you’re doing. “Unknown dev announces unknown new IP with generic-looking gameplay and not-very-good-art” is not a story, and it’s hard to make it one.
I think with FS that getting the attention of the media will be easier than for some other projects, that just leads to…
Jabbing My Fat Finger At the Screen
How are we going to make the interface good?
The PC interface for FS is far from perfect, I will admit that freely. It’s massively improved from what we started with way back during the early days of development, and for the majority of play it works very well. There are specific situations though, where it can still be a nightmare, and I wish we could solve all of those problems.
I think we can solve SOME of them, and I hope to do so, but how will this translate to the iPad?
I think one of the core issues is differentiation – it’s very hard to know what you are selecting at any one time, especially in a cluttered view. I have some thoughts on this which are germinating, and I hope to try out our existing build of the game (which is basically vanilla – i.e. your finger is the mouse right now) seriously very soon and start making a list of interface problems we need to solve.
Hopefully I’ll be able to talk through those on here at some point.
I’m away next week (and I don’t currently have clearance to tell you why!) and I will keep you updated on my…movements.
Let’s take this wonderful journey into the world of touch together…ugh. Better end there.
Guys, I’m aware there are a couple of competitive issues which are really causing problems at the moment. I have a timeline to fix it – we’ve just hired a new programmer to basically look after FS so that we can deal with these problems much quicker.
Whenever I talk to indie devs I mention the benefits of selling directly – I think it’s something that everyone should do for a variety of reasons.
Show Me the Sales is an initiative started by Cliffski to create something which is going to be good for both buyers and sellers of indie games! It’s simply a collaborative sale between a bunch of indie devs, intended to draw attention to each other’s games, while giving YOU people lots of money off…
Let’s take a look what we’ve got here…
Laxius Force III – The Last Stand
Space Pirates and Zombies
Magical Diary: Horse Hall (yes, HORSE HALL)
AI War: Fleet Command
Gratuitous Space Battles
New Star Soccer 5
Revenge of the Titans
TV Manager 2
Frayed Knights: The Skull of S’makh-Daon (blimey)
…oh, and some game called Frozen Synapse.
All of these games have hefty discounts – if you can’t find something in there to please you then, I submit, you are hard to please.
Please do tweet, blog, Facebook, Reddit etc. etc. all this stuff – indie games live on the oxygen of publicity.
This has been in the works for a while – we still have a lot of work to do on the interface as well as some additional tweaks, but then it’ll be time for beta.
We’re hoping that it’ll be out in the first half of next year – we’ll be more specific about that eventually!
I should mention that you will definitely be able to play cross-platform with the iPad version.
Finally, I don’t want people to worry that we’re going to abandon FS on its current platforms – we’re actually working right now to hire another team member so we can give it more attention and update it more efficiently.
We gave the guys who turned up to our pub meet in Nottingham a sneak peek of the current iPad build! Here are some photos…
(If you’re a journalist and you’d like to post these photos, drop me a line at paulmode7 at gmail dot com)