Tag Archives: ipad

Quickly Convert Your Game Music to AAC on OSX

This is just a quick post aimed at iOS developers covering the incredibly easy command-line method to convert your music files to AAC format. The reason you might want to do this is because MP3 is encumbered with a patent which covers the distribution of MP3’s commercially, even as part of a game (see here). It should also be noted that Apple’s license for their hardware MP3 decoder does not in any way cover your distribution of MP3’s in your game.

You could convert to OGG Vorbis, which is of course free and clear to distribute as you please, however many devices (including iOS devices) do not support hardware accelerated decoding of OGG Vorbis files so you are losing some of your CPU cycles for your music decoding. Luckily, there is a third option: The Advanced Audio Coding or AAC format, which of course is supported in hardware by all of Apple’s portable devices. There are patents surrounding AAC but none of them restrict the distribution or streaming of files encoded in AAC.

Anyway now that I’ve spent all that time leading up to a single command, here it is…

afconvert -f m4af infile.mp3 outfile.m4a

And that’s it! As far as I’m aware you can use any of the iOS SDK methods for music playback with this new file.

A Post With Numbers In

Update (April 6, 2011): Hit 4,000 sales last month, and well on the way to 5k! 🙂

I haven’t made a real substantial blog post in a while but with my trip to GDC rapidly approaching and Red Nova being featured by Apple in “What We’re Playing” as well as a fairly significant milestone in sales of the game I figured it may be interesting to some to post some numbers, and talk a little about where Celsius Game Studios Inc. (oh yeah, I also got incorporated!) is headed in the near future.

First of all, the bit you’re probably here for: The Numbers™. Many developers are hesitant to discuss specific sales figures, either for fear of being seen as unsuccessful or because their sales are directly tied to their income, which I suppose is why these sorts of things are still generally interesting. I feel that Red Nova has been relatively successful so far and because sales of the game do not directly tie into my own income I think I can safely say that the sales of Red Nova are… *dramatic pause*… larger than a breadbox and smaller than an exotic super-car.

Okay, in all seriousness, and this is pretty exciting for me: as of this weekend Red Nova handily sailed past 3,000 sales. All over a period of just over 2 months.

While some of you may be looking at that and saying “big deal, Angry Birds sells that many copies in, like, thirty seconds” understand that the average iPhone app will see approximately 100-200 downloads over its entire lifetime. Sales-wise, Red Nova is already in the top 7% of games on the App Store! While I’m not popping any champagne corks just yet, considering that with no money spent on advertising, relatively poor circumstances surrounding the launch over the holidays and the fact that up until recently I was pretty much unknown as a game developer, I think I’m doing quite well for myself.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Red Nova still hasn’t hit its stride, and I don’t expect it to right away. Ultimately my plan all along was to release the game in episodic “chunks” to help make it easier to develop the game and grow its audience at the same time, especially seeing as, at least in the short term, I’m still limited in the time I can spend working on it. Also early sales help support the development of future episodes not unlike how Minecraft‘s sales model works, where the people buying the game now are getting an already good game for a low(-low!) price as well as a bunch of new content for free. So, I’d just like to take a moment to thank everyone that has already gotten the game so far for helping me realize my dream of becoming a game developer!

That being said over the next few months I’m planning on expanding Celsius beyond just myself, continuing development on new episodes and feature updates for Red Nova and, closer to the end of the year, beginning work on an exciting new game project I (cryptically!) hinted at a few weeks ago on Twitter which I think will be pretty damn awesome, and when I’m ready to talk about it in more detail I hope you’ll agree with me 😉

So, here’s to the future… it may still be up-hill, but it’s looking bright!

Red Nova: The Week That Was

Red Nova IconDespite my tendency to not frequently post to the blog here as much as I’d like, I figured I should probably post something about the launch of Red Nova seeing as it’s been out for a whole week. This isn’t exactly a post-mortem, but it’ll be nice to talk about how the launch went.

Cutting to the chase, the launch exceeded my expectations with the game racking up a number of impressive reviews from a bunch of review sites including TouchArcade, 148Apps and AppSpy (which I shall present at the end of the post). Sales for the first few days were also suitably impressive but due to a number of big-name launches on Thursday (expected) and EA lowering the price on over 60 of their games to $0.99 (unexpected!) enough noise was created to effectively put a damper on things. I knew I could probably weather Thursday’s big launch announcements because not all of those games would be at the same price point, but I’m fairly certain between pushing other apps down the ranks along with Red Nova and the $0.99 price point the EA sale had a negative effect on the launch.

In the below graphs, green represents Arcade, red Action and blue All Games.

iPhone US Chart

US iPhone Chart: This is a graph of both excitement and disappointment

Backed by a number of positive reviews the game shot up the charts, even briefly hitting 156 (or so) in the Top 200 iPhone Games on the US App Store. It hit 44 in Arcade and very nearly hit 50 in Action games as well. I even suspect if this wasn’t such a volatile time on the App Store those rankings would have probably been a bit stickier, and with hindsight being 20/20 there are definitely some downsides to launching during the holidays. However it’s entirely possible that had I not launched when I did things may have played out differently in other unpredictable ways and I can’t exactly take the launch back, so there’s no sense wasting time wondering what could have been. Also, the holidays aren’t even over yet, Red Nova is moving around in quite a few iPad charts, is seeing some good movement in Germany and Japan on the iPhone, and I may have an ace or two left up my sleeve so who knows what could happen in a week’s time 😉

iPad US Chart

US iPad Chart: The term "rollercoaster" comes to mind here

All that being said, I knew the risks of launching this time of the year and even if you could potentially call the sale an unfair move, business is business and I’d rather focus on all the positive things that came out of the launch instead of things I can not change. This is definitely a beginning, and a pretty damn good one at that.

Special thanks, as always, to Dave Frampton for the ever-awesome (and free) MajicRank.

Red Nova Review Roundup

Red Nova received a number of reviews in the first week. Most of which were overwhelmingly positive, and even the more negative reviews hit a lot of the good points so I think in this respect I’m off to a great start. I think my favorite part is how most of the sites caught on to the different things I was trying to bring to the table with the game’s unique control scheme that I designed for the ground up to be less frustrating (though by its nature less intuitive) than what we’ve seen in action games on iOS thus far.

TouchArcade – I’d call this one overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t have hoped for a better review. “It has an interesting premise, one of the smartest control schemes I’ve seen, Game Center integration for high score bragging rights, and above all else it’s just a blast to play.”

AppSpy – Can’t go wrong with “almost flawless”. Also I believe this is my first video review ever, which was pretty exciting. “Red Nova may only be limited to the single gameplay mode, but its execution is almost flawless and perfectly suited for all iDevices.”

148Apps – A mostly positive review but Ben definitely put the game under the microscope. I don’t think that’s a bad thing as the only way to improve is to know where your flaws are. “From the superb control scheme to all of the small enhancements mentioned earlier in the review it is clear that Red Nova is, indeed, a very professional product.”

Slide to Play – Slide to Play gave the game a 2/4, which is not awful, but I have it on good authority it was very nearly a 3. A goal to strive for with future Episodes I think! “Red Nova has some interesting ideas, but they don’t always work out the way they should.”

Simple-Reviews – Definitely can’t go wrong with a 4.5/5. “Red Nova is a must have game for anyone who loves space shooter type games!”

Oaggle – Definitely seemed to really dig the game! “It’s well worth the $0.99, and I’d even say that it is a must have.”

Wifivoltage – Short but sweet review. “I’m not into making big gaming reviews, all I know is that I only bother to do some when I find something I really like and well… I did this one so, go get it!”

Meet – A pretty big Japanese website that gave the game a 3.5/5. I had trouble translating it but it seems that they had some trouble getting the shields to work correctly but otherwise they appear to like it! I suspect the control difficulty could be chalked up to the language barrier, but that’s only speculation at this point.

Touch my Apps – Not exactly a review, but Touch my Apps included Red Nova in a list of “10+ New App Store Games To Watch” which is pretty awesome, I’d say!

Chromodyne: A Successful Failure

I’ve been thinking for a while about writing up a postmortem of my first crack at making a Real Game, Chromodyne, for a while now. The worry is, of course, that someone may look at this as some sort of horrific waste of time and tell me I’m mad for trying to break into the App Store when… oh my god it has how many apps? However in all honesty, despite the less than stellar sales leading to what one might declare a failure on the App Store, for a number of other reasons, I feel Chromodyne has been incredibly successful and I wouldn’t have it any other way (well, except maybe the whole not selling well part).

What the hell are you talking about?

What I mean when I say “successful” I mean that on the whole, even considering the time I spent working on it only to have it sell a few hundred copies so far, I still learned a lot of valuable lessons, met a lot of awesome other developers, and it helped prove to me that I had what it takes to develop an entire video game from start to finish and to kick myself in the ass and finally decide that I should follow my dream of becoming a game developer.

What went wrong?

There were a few key things that I feel went wrong that, hindsight being 20/20, I would have done differently. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Not enough exposure – I didn’t enter into this whole App Store dealio completely blind to the fact that in order to become successful people need to know about your app. I definitely made a decent stab at it, but my relative newness to the whole scene plus working a full-time job at the time hampered my ability to really get the word out.
  • Poor branding – I fretted a long while over trying to give the game a neat and catchy title, as you should try to do, however I really didn’t think this whole “Chromodyne” thing through. After trying to explain the game to others in person, it’s definitely a clumsy name when spoken and makes it difficult for that whole “word of mouth” thing to work when people don’t know how to spell it to look it up online. Also, in retrospect, the icon could probably have used a bit more work to make it pop more on device and on the app store.
  • Fiddly controls – One problem you can not ignore in game design is how your players interact with the game. If the player is constantly fighting with the controls they will never truly get to enjoy the game and you run the risk of them abandoning it for something else. In the case of Chromodyne, I was well aware of the issues with the controls and tried to minimize their impact as much as possible, but by the very nature of the game field layout it meant that the inner-most rings were difficult to touch accurately. As well, I felt that with practice people would become better at the game and that’s what many of the reviews revealed. However, as the cliche goes, the first impression is the best impression.
  • Choosing an over-represented genre – Approximately 105% (or so) of the games on the App Store are match-3 games. Even though one cynical critic (the only bad web review I received, I might add) accused me of trying to jump on the App Store Gold Rush Bandwagon(tm) the reason I decided to try my hand at a match-3 game for my first game was because I felt it would be much easier for me to complete a game with a smaller scope in a reasonable amount of time. Speaking from experience, I have a tendency to come up with grand designs which would take a large team a couple of years to complete, so I had to learn to work within my own ability to actually make something.

What went right?

  • Learned a lot about game development – If anything I took away from this whole experience, it was a lot of experience about the game development process, including learning things about the iOS platform, the App Store, and various new programming techniques that helped make it a lot easier when I started work on my second game, Red Nova.
  • Made something I’m proud of – Despite all I’ve said about Chromodyne so far, it’s my creation and I’m really happy that I made it. It may not be perfect, but it has gotten some good reviews and on balance it may not be the best game in the world but it’s still pretty darn good. As well, I think the thing I’m most proud of are the story and characters I created for the game and maybe some day in the future Gary and Zarlax will ride again 🙂
  • I’m following my dream – As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve struggled over the years trying to figure out what direction I was going to take in my life. Games and game development have definitely been a passion of mine, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do professionally, but ultimately I had to make Chromodyne first to prove to myself that I had the ability. So Chromodyne was the catalyst of this at times scary but entirely exciting new path I’ve taken in my life. Also, it helped to show the people at the Genesis Centre, the startup incubator I’ve been accepted into, that I have what it takes to, as they say, do this thang.
  • Met a lot of amazing people – Through all of this I’ve met and connected with some really great people in the game development community on the internet at large and it’s really helping me feel like I’m a part of the industry now, however small my part is at the moment.

What’s next?

After six months in development, I’m on the verge of submitting my new game Red Nova to the App Store, and from all I’ve learned and all I’ve worked towards I’m confident it will be more successful than Chromodyne. How successful, I have no idea, but hopefully enough that it will allow me to keep working on adding updates to Red Nova and to start making other even more complicated games in the future. That being said, I’m currently working on getting into a position where I’ll be able to hire a 3D artist early in the new year. In addition to taking Celsius Game Studios from “one guy hacking on games in his living room” status into “if you squint hard enough, it looks like a real company” territory, it’ll help me focus solely on game design and development and allow for the creation of a larger variety of and even better looking art assets than I can eke out with my meagre art ability.

Finally, in celebration of Chromodyne being on the App Store for a little over a year (since October!) I am going to, tongue firmly in cheek, declare Chromodyne and Chromodyne HD Celsius Game Studios Not-Quite-Greatest-Hits and drop the price permanently to $0.99. You can learn more about them at the game’s page.

Too Good to be True (So Far)

So yesterday I started using a beta version of MajicRank by the most excellent David Frampton of Majic Jungle Software. MajicRank is a tool that scours the App Store for your apps and checks to see if they’re in the Top 100 in any of the categories on the App Store. It’s pretty awesome.

Yesterday being the launch of the iPad in the US, and I having Chromodyne HD available along with the launch of said iPad.

However, whereas the iPad launch was hugely successful, Chromodyne HD? Not so much.

Now from my frantic Twittering, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell… as for most of yesterday evening Chromodyne broke into the Top 100 in Arcade and Puzzle for iPad games. That felt great let me tell you!

Great right up until I got the daily sales summary this morning, that is! Apparently that slight surfacing into the top 100 amounted to 1 sale. Kinda sucks, hey?

I suspect the reason I’m ranking so high in those categories is that there aren’t that many games in those categories (yet) and that Chromodyne is near the bottom of the pile, but the bottom of the pile is so close to the 100 point that a single sale will do something like this. This is quite possibly also why Apple is hiding category views for iPad apps in iTunes and only showing the Top 50 on the device itself.

What sucks for me, with my currently lousy non-existent advertising budget and lack of coverage due to bigger titles getting the spotlight yesterday, is that I can’t actually take advantage of that placement in those categories. Nobody can actually see that my cool little game is in the Top 100!

I'm at the top, of the bottom!This is what excitement looks like.

It’s still early days yet and my porting of Chromodyne to the iPad was a fun experience, which effectively didn’t cost me anything except a few days of time. So I’m not upset or anything, and I wasn’t expecting miracles. There are a few pending reviews of Chromodyne so I hope they come out eventually, and that should help 🙂

In the meantime, I do want to thank everyone who shared my (misplaced) excitement last night, at least I can say that Chromodyne made it into a Top 100 list!

Chromodyne… HD!

Well, the iPad is out and Chromodyne was successfully ported after a marathon session of epic proportions. Amusingly, Chromodyne HD was submitted after Chromodyne v1.1 and was approved before. Some may say I amuse easily, but I was amused.

The Port

Thanks to some experience writing game engines for other platforms before, about 90-95% of Chromodyne’s graphics code was already resolution independent. After updating my XCode to the 3.2 Gold Master, I clicked the handy little “Convert this project to iPad” menu option and was playing Chromodyne in the simulator in mere minutes! Though everything else was really horrible looking because none of the 2D assets were scaled properly and some of the menus looked like crap on the huge screen.

So really, most of my time was spent creating high-res 2D graphics (even though the cutscenes are pixel art, for the most part, those are seriously high-def pixels!) and fiddling with the perspective/view on the gamefield because it was way too freaking big keeping the same perspective as the iPhone version.

I don’t know about the final build yet, but the simulator in the GM release of the SDK didn’t have 3D acceleration! I can understand why some devs were reluctant to release their apps sight-unseen to the App Store.

The iPad Only Version

If anyone actually wonders why I went with a stand-alone iPad version of Chromodyne, the biggest motivator is that the app bundle for the HD version with its 1024×768 graphics assets is larger than the 20 MB OTA limit. Basically I still want people to be able to get the iPhone version over 3G.

The Price

I’m also selling Chromodyne HD for $1.99 instead of 99 cents. I figure the larger, higher resolution game experience warrants a slightly higher price point. We’ll see how that plays out in the days to come anyway… at least I can have a sale at some point without going directly to free. Definitely something I regret when I priced Chromodyne originally.

The Numbers

I’m half-tempted to post sales numbers for Chromodyne HD as time wears on. If anything to see how things are going. I’ve seen that the game lists for the iPad don’t have any top lists for subcategories yet, which is pretty bad news for small devs such as myself. Sales for Chromodyne have not been anything to write home about, but they’ve been steady at least.

Anyway it’s been a fairly exciting few days, and at least I can say I was here from the start. Whatever that actually means, only time will tell.


Thoughts on the iPad

Well, Apple finally released their oft-speculated-upon tablet, the iPad, today. The response I’ve been seeing across the interwebs has ranged from comments reminding me of the hubris inducing pessimism surrounding the launch of the iPod, to the completely ridiculous sort of grandstanding that comes about whenever the press catches hold of something that’s “going to change the world!”; like, how it’s going to kill the mouse and keyboard or something. That’s like saying the computer will kill paper and pens, or the Segway will kill walking, or… ingesting pop rocks and soda killed Mikey. See what I’m saying?

What about me? Small game designer/developer guy you probably haven’t even heard of until now? I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and the iPad is balancing on a knife-edge between success and failure.

Stick with me here.

I think where the iPad’s potential lies is as a beefed up PDA/planner with the capabilities of an eBook reader and some of the power of a laptop, like editing documents and viewing large videos, while still being in a small form factor with an amazing battery life.

The problem with the iPad, at least as far as I can tell, is that Apple has actually created the iPad’s worst competitor. By placing the iPad as a device in between PDAs and laptops, Apple believes that they are competing with inexpensive netbooks, but in reality, I think that the iPad’s biggest barrier for growth will be it’s older, yet shorter brother, the iPhone!

Look at it this way: the iPad instead of being a small laptop without a physical keyboard, ports, etc., is more like a large iPod Touch or iPhone without the phone and camera parts. People are going to look at their iPhone and think “why would I want an iPad? My iPhone does practically everything I need it to do and more, and it’s more portable to boot.” It’s an even worse value proposition if these people have laptops already. The problem is that by making the iPad behave more like an iPhone and less like a laptop, many people, I think at least, will view this as an iPad vs. iPhone question rather than an iPad vs. netbook or laptop question.

Don’t take this as me completely writing off the iPad. I don’t think it’s going to be a Segway, but I’m not really sure if it will end up being an iPhone or iPod. I do think it will find it’s place in the market, but I think that iPhone OS and the hardware may need to go through a few revisions before it can really get a proper foothold.

I suppose I should talk about gaming and the iPad while I have you here, seeing as that’s kinda my thing.

First off, I think that we’re probably going to see a divide between gaming on the iPad and the iPhone/iPod Touch. Nothing huge but because of the iPhone’s phenomenal success, I think that there will still be a massive demand for small form-factor games that specifically target the iPhone. On the other side of that coin I think that the iPad, by being larger with more power and having a higher resolution will allow more freedom of expression for game developers. But this is good! More choice is never a bad thing when it becomes trivially easy to port your software between these devices, you just have to make sure you design your software with an eye towards running on many devices (this was a good idea before the iPad, in case you didn’t get that memo).

Earlier today I read an article suggesting that the iPad was going to be end of the sort of small developer that found success on the iPhone because it allowed for small teams to produce small games but reach a large audience. I definitely don’t see that as an lesson to take away from the iPad. I do agree 100% that developing games on the iPad, specifically to take advantage of the iPad hardware, will be more time and money intense, however it’s not like the iPad is going to kill the iPhone. Hell, I’d even go so far as make the rash and wildly assumptive statement that most small iPhone devs can blissfully ignore the existence of the iPad and still be able to make a comfortable living selling their wares to iPhone owners (as they are legion).

My personal goal is to see Celsius Game Studios games on the PS3 and 360, so I’m not dreading the iPad. Quite the contrary, I view it as yet another exciting platform with a potential audience for my games.

Also, much like “Wii” humanity will somehow come to terms with “iPad.” You can quote me on that.