Alpha tomorrow

May 12, 2009

Babe on a beam will be available for alpha testing tomorrow Wednesday 13 May 11am EST.

Send us your UDIDs to get in on the action.

20090506_Coming_Soon.2

One of the hardest parts of the this project is working out scope. More and more ideas are flooding in but at the end of the day, we’ve only got budget to release one level on spec. The audience will decide how far this game goes…

After a few uncertain days when our main development box died, we got quickly back on track this morning. Lots of things lining up for the beta release but I think we have enough to get out to testers with. It’s only a simple game after all and the target audience is probably not you lot! {;-)

Provisioning pain

May 6, 2009

Went through the tedious but necessary pain barrier today and yesterday getting my head around Adhoc distribution of the game. iPhone app distribution is anything but user friendly. What a ridiculously convoluted process!

bomb

It took me a long while to realise that to build an app for distribution outside of the Apple iPhone App Store  you need to use a Distribution Provisioning Profile (not a Developer Provisioning Profile) which does not allow the app to run directly from XCode. I don’t know if anyone else out there found this as confusing as I did but it certainly chewed up a few days. Generic error messages like “Unexpected error (0xE8000001)” really didn’t help either. A crucial missing piece of the puzzle involving creating a Code Signing Entitlements file does not appear in the Apple Development guide at all. The blogosphere is full of frustrated developers complaining about the process of signing their apps.  I can only imagine how many more apps there would be if the process for deployment was any easier. I was ready to explode with frustration a few hours ago. Now at least I can feel a huge sense of relief, if not accomplishment. It is just a software build after all. Back to the game itself.. And here’s hoping that our little fella doesn’t fall foul of Apple’s somewhat arbitrary content approval policies.

A day or two past our original alpha milestone, we have a couple of Adhoc test apps to play with. Anyone who wants to participate, register your device and we will be in touch.

Design tweaks

April 27, 2009

20090427_babeBig happy face on baby and big happy face on me as the most complex part of the game slots into place – the failure sequence when our character loses its balance and falls off. That little green bit under the baby’s but is nothing rude, just the geometry actually being balanced in the game.

Jim has rearranged the code to make it a lot easier for us to lay out animated sequences as well. Whetting my appetite to get Sanctuary running on this engine.

Next stop – the GUI…

Approaching alpha

April 23, 2009

We have now locked all the art assets for the alpha version of the game. Hoping to have everything in place by the end of the week so that we can then focus on scoring and such-like. Last post I mentioned our new Animation Tester tool. This is starting to make a real difference to the pipeline. All this is is a separate project, made in Unity 2.5, that the team artist Jeremy can open in his PC copy of Unity. Unity iPhone as yet still is Mac-only and we started to find places in the codebase where iPhone hooks would result in not being able to play through scenes on PC.

By introducing a new Unity project as a staging area for art, we’ve given ourselves a lot more flexibility. We can now preview all animations in situ without having to trawl through the game. Next up it would be good to be able to preview each ‘shot’ (cut sequence) comprising more than one animation but we may not get around to this in the near future. Hardly any shots in this game to speak of.

animationtester1

BTW Interesting to see that Unity has blogged that Subversion and Perforce support is on its roadmap. We’re using the Unity asset server at the moment, powered by PostgreSQL, and no dramas but I would feel more comfortable entrusting version control to a dedicated provider.

Finally, quick plug to Firemint down in Melbourne who have scored a huge hit with the highly addictive iPhone game Flight Control. A great example of a good idea well executed without too much fuss. Inspiring stuff. The small print is that the developers have been in business since 1999 which only goes to prove that overnight success is rarely that.

Animation Testing

April 23, 2009

The outcome of this week’s problems importing animations has been a pause to look back whether we did enough testing of our pipeline. In all the excitement of getting the core game mechanic underway, I think it’s fair to say that I ignored the devil in the detail. Not only were we never getting precisely the correct animations playing in Unity but we didn’t plan for testing precision. After a few hours of going around the houses (easy enough in a small team) we have now got a rudimentary ‘Animation Tester’ scene going in which it is easy to preview any and all animations in Unity independently from gameplay. Our little game doesn’t require anything too complex in terms of bespoke tools but the scripting support for auto-generation of scenes and builds is pretty impressive. Mind whirring as to how to take advantage of this for future projects… but really need to finish this one first.

Animations import gotcha

April 15, 2009

A few days slip by and then suddenly it’s over a week since my last post… Today’s work was all about trying to smooth out our animation pipeline. Due to the nature of the game (balancing a character with the iPhone’s accelerometer) we didn’t notice at first that animations were not being imported properly.

What at first seemed to be a minor issue turned into something more worrying – Unity seeming to add spurious keyframes to the FBX animations exported from Maya. Advice via the forums suggested that we needed to look at using an earlier FBX exporter but even with a 2006 version the same problem occured. What seems to have fixed the problem though was separating each animation into separate files. Initially we had grouped multiple animations into FBX files and cut these up in Unity. Doing the slicing in Maya seems to have done the trick. *touch wood*.

Waiting for Colorado to wake up to confirm this.

Babe walks down beam

April 3, 2009

Using Unity’s remoting feature, I’ve just tested the core game mechanic, balancing a baby on a beam. Very satisfying end to the week. Still some issues, principally that the iPhone build crashes almost immediately but on the desktop it’s looking pretty good. Animation blending works very nicely and physics takes over when you lean too far to the left or the right.

We changed the pipeline today after realising that we were ending up with redundant meshes in the project. I have a feeling that the instability on the actual device is related to the current size of the build – 30Mb.

I’ve set a deadline of Tues morning for our first complete build of all components. At that point I’ll have a better perspective on what additional challenges we might need to incorporate to make the initial release memorable. That said, I’m feeling pretty good about the project given that everyone starts smiling when they take over the controls. That can’t be too bad can it?

Baby is balancing

April 2, 2009

20090402_babe

A day of firsts all round. We got a set of basic assets into the project to test the balancing mechanic. Already I can see that with the proper attention to tweaking difficulty this could be fun to play around with. I’m inspired a litttle by Pocket God which has done really well on the basis of it being more entertainment than game.

A few hiccups setting up the asset management pipeline. I gave up trying to get the Unity Asset Server running on Debian and set up a new CentOS box specifically for unity version control. We have now tested checking in both art and code updates and while I’m still a bit suspicious of proprietary version control software (what’s under the hood?!) so far so good.

Unity really is quite amazing in its capabilities. Today I finally got a baby balancing mechanic to play with and there is hardly any code written so far.

End of week 1

March 27, 2009

End of the first week of the Build phase. It’s been a frustrating day but now when I take a moment to look back on what we’ve achieved things are looking fine.

We have pretty much finalised the look of the game, established an asset pipeline betwen Maya and Unity3D, and level 1 is looking reasonably complete. Looking forward to the first build.

Not everything went to plan. We still have not worked out how to achieve a toon shader look. Having trouble finding ANY iPhone titles with the aesthetic we want but haven’t given up just yet. Also, we’ve had some hiccups establishing a clean line of communications using our online project management and version tracking software. We’re using my old favourite trac for all documentation and issue ticketing but uncovered a defect (missing feature?) which have slowed us down (no alerts when an attachment is added to a ticket). Similarly I was hoping to utilise Subversion in parallel to evaluating Unity’s Asset Server but we hit several obstacles. The number of files in Unity projects makes checking out files slow going. We decided to simply check in Unity packages today to save time (relinquishing any real version control of the elements within the package). Also still no luck getting Asset Server tested. We needed to manually request an eval license for the Unity Asset Server client (not the best product name in the world)  something I overlooked in the process of installing the server and failing to get it working on Debian. Given the high quality of the documentation for other software components, I think Unity could improve the Asset Server instructions. The documentation is written to suggest that a Server menu option is available inside Unity3D without mentioning that this is conditional on having a client license. Not the most intuitive thing when you are used to a world of free software clients and paid-for servers. The inverse is true in this case, Unity charge US$499 per client and give away the server (built around PostgreSQL).

Nevertheless it is a small team and process hiccups aren’t so big a problem at this point. Communication is going well and the important thing is that work on building the game mechanic is underway and everyone seems to love the art. The unexpected early release of Unity 2.5 for Windows has also given us Unity on all team machines which is a bonus considering we are all new to the product. A promising start.

Now I have to go off and mark student essays! Enough procrastination..

Unity 2.5 / iPhone

March 24, 2009

Quite an exciting week for technological change. Unity3D has a new release out, 2.5, and for the first time the authoring tool is available for Windows. Expect to hear more in the press about this. Most game developers have historically been working on PC platforms so no doubt there will be a rush to explore the new tool. At the same time, Apple has announced the impending release of the iPhone SDK 3.0 with over 100 new features. A good time to be cooking up iPhone apps methinks.