So wow. That’s finally it for 2009. Like doing taxes ever year, I feel a special sort of obligation that I write some sort of retrospective, especially after such an eventful year as this one. Far more awesome than taxes. 😉
I wasn’t sure where to start, so I ended up categorizing aspects of the year. I’ll free form rant about each topic as I come to it.
– Free Smiles – iPhone Lite Version
– Smiles (all 3) 1.1 – New Sound Player
– Smiles (all 4) 1.2 – Improved Controls
– Smiles (all 4) 1.3 – iPhone 3GS and iPod touch 3rd gen compatibility (PowerVR SGX)
– iPhone Game Projects Book – Wrote a chapter on portability
– New Trailer for Smiles – Doesn’t sound like much, but I animated a mushroom for it
– Smiles Zen for Samsung Omnia II (English)
– Smiles Zen for Samsung Omnia II (Italian)
– Smiles Drop for Samsung Omnia II (English)
– Smiles for Windows XP and 7 Netbooks (Intel Atom Store)
Including all the update SKUs, that’s 18 things released this year. The last 4 items are only now starting to show themselves. Smiles Zen Italian has been available since the 30th, and is rocketing up the Samsung store charts. Yesterday it was #66, and last I checked this morning it was #31 in the UK… which makes me feel bad for the Brits, since it’s in Italian. 😉
The English versions I hope get approval early next week.
Smiles for Intel’s Atom Store got the thumbs up a few days ago as well. The Atom store is new and unreleased though, so I’m still a few months out seeing anything from that. CES, the Consumer Electronics Show is next week. And while we don’t have confirmation that Intel will be demoing the store at the show yet, as far as I know I should be part of the App Store roster. It might be purely for back room dealings between Intel and the OEM’s, but hey, that’s something. As for my contest placing, I can only hope they noticed niceties like the game automatically hiding the mouse cursor on Touch Screen computers. Subtle, but still. Smiles is a lot of that.
So while the last few months have been crazy busy and full of developments, the year itself has been jam packed with interesting and notable things for me.
There was the book chapter. As of about June, I’ve been able to slap the official title of “Author” on my list of credentials. I have one copy of the book framed and hanging on my wall, along with the various console games I’ve worked on. Pretty cool.
Also, my “Lite” version actually came out this year. I’d forgotten all about this. It was in the Apple queue late January as I found out I was an IGF finalist, which was neat. It meant I could play the “Try IGF Finalist Smiles for Free” card… not that it was a particularly profitable card, but it was one more for the deck.
During the last couple weeks of the summer, I made a brand new trailer for Smiles. Working with video was something I’d hoped to spend more time doing this year. The original trailer was hacked together using the most bizarre collection of tools I could find. Virtual Dub, Paint Shop Pro, my Canon G7 photography camera, and a really terrible video editing suite Video Edit Magic. For the most basic of editing tasks, it wasn’t that bad. But when I realized I was creating proxy files in Virtual Dub just to achieve the simplest of effects (rotation), yeah, something wasn’t right. The new trailer was my first real project using Sony Vegas (Movie Studio), a relatively uncrippled video editor priced under $100. I easily mixed together FRAPS footage, PNG files with Alpha (lower 3rds), a mushroom I animated in ToonBoom, video from my Canon G7, and some music I licensed to tie it all together. It all just worked, which was sooo nice. I’ve since picked up an HD 1080p Sanyo video camera (HD2000), and as soon as there’s a sale, expect to upgrade to Sony Vegas Pro.
Over the year, I released 3 updates for the game. The first was to solve a sound bug, since Apple seemed to have no interest in correcting a bug in their own API. The second was to fix a control responsiveness bug, something I didn’t realize was the problem until later. Finally, 1.3 which fixed several looming bugs (a statistical error, 1 last responsiveness tweak discovered in the Netbook builds), and adapted the game to reflect changes Apple decided to make to the OpenGL Driver. Fun.
So 18 things for 2009, all of them Smiles related. I would have liked something new, but 18 releases isn’t too shabby.
– Game Developers Conference – I was actually an exhibitor (see next item)
– Independent Games Festival Mobile – Smiles was a finalist for Best Game
– Silver Award from Pocket Gamer UK
– Ludum Dare 14 – 123 Entries
– Ludum Dare 15 – 144 Entries
– Ludum Dare 16 – 121 Entries
– “Cool Development” I hope to announce before GDC 2010
– Bronze in Samusung’s Omnia II Contest (Smiles Zen Italian)
The big OMFG moment of the year had to be my IGF nomination. I’ve been making games as far back as I can remember, and before I got my game industry in (late 1999), the IGF contest had already earned itself some notoriety and my own attention.
While working in the industry, the Game Developers Conference also had a mystique about it. I attended E3 in 2004 which was “cool” (year of the DS and PSP), but I’d already become extremely familiar with the game businesses unimaginatively boring sequel/licensing side… making the majority of content on display less than appealing to me. I was a game maker, not a gamer. GDC on the other hand was what I cared about. I knew some day I had to attend.
Fast forward to March 2009, I’m (haha) exhibiting an iPhone game at the show. What the! When did!? Wuh!
Like most of my game making nerd brethren, I’m your textbook introverted social reject (well maybe not textbook, as many of my friends can attest to my unique personality). Add to that the secluded indie game developer lifestyle, saving money by cutting overhead costs way down, working from home. I quite literally hid away from the world for 3 years developing, prototyping, and pitching game projects.
So March rolls around, and I find myself in San Francisco exhibiting my game in a quarter booth. Ordinarily I’d expect my nerd-vousness to be doing something less than positive to me (my last public speaking engagement left me at a loss for words), but instead I’m going 1000 miles per hour tapping adrenaline and energy reserves I didn’t know existed, and loving every minute of it. I’m even at the show kicking myself for not Canada-fying my booth in some way, to give the CBC a reason to talk to me (the only Canadian in the GDC Mobile). Where ordinarily, I think the last thing on my mind is being on national television. 😉
So if years started and ended in March, that week alone would have been enough for me to call 2009 my most awesome year as a game developer yet. But that’s just one month.
Some time after the conference, I received the most unexpected yet much appreciated thing in the mail. An actual frame-able award from Pocket Gamer. So now, alongside the framed copies of my various commercial games is this bright and colorful “Pocket Gamer Silver Award” for Smiles. Very cool.
Ludum Dare I’m going to dedicate a whole separate post to. In summary, we saw ridiculous growth in 2009. I’m completely baffled with everything that happened on that front too.
Cool Development. Yep, that sort of vagueness should be familiar to anyone that reads my blog. It’s something extremely awesome I did, that actually worked out. I expect this tease to crop up a few more times between now and GDC. If everything works out, I hope to announce it before the conference. Time is getting tight though, with just over 2 months left, so we’ll see.
Finally, a Bronze in the Samsung contest. It’s a pretty good xmas gift finding out $2000 is en route for my 3 week Samsung porting diversion. That covers the cost of the phone I had to buy, the Visual Studio license I needed for WinMo and Intel, with a little left over to buffer up my January(?) profits. I only wish the payout was last month, so I could have fattened up my 2009 taxes. I’m optimistic about 2010. 😉
So without a doubt, it’s been an eventful year. Even with these past two lists, I have the suspicion I’ve still missed something. I’m almost certain the big things are all covered though, as well as most of the fun smaller ones.
They say few businesses are profitable in their first year, and I’m no exception.
But though my wallet isn’t bursting with profits, and I didn’t ship anything new, I did achieve pretty much every other major business goal I had for the year.
I gave myself the freedom earlier in the year to begin development of my next “Big Deal” project. But as the summer was winding down, smart business thinking meant revisiting what I had and making the most of its momentum.
That’s what lead to the PC version of Smiles. And while the PC version isn’t yet available for sale, I did manage to ship a version of it before the end of the year. So to look at it one way, in 2008 I was able to brand myself an iPhone developer, and in 2009 I added PC developer to the list.
In addition, I somehow found time to finish the first Windows Mobile port of the game. I was expecting Android to be the first non iPhone platform to get the game, but it turns out Google doesn’t like us Canadians yet (free Apps only).
Finally, the thing I’m referring to as the “Cool Development”. Being vague may as well be my middle name, but I think that name does it justice. If you pay any attention at all to our industry, you can probably do the math and figure out what it is. But if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to act like it’s a complete surprise that nobody saw coming. You’ll act surprised for me, wont’cha? 🙂
So with all that ground work in place, 2010 could see me moving back to a decent wage purely from royalties… which is pretty awesome. That’s the hope at least. It is a lot of work, but luxury and freedom of being self employed is totally worth it. Also, I still like Ramen and Kraft Dinner, so I can make it work. 😀
What’s Coming up in 2010
GDC again, more ports, 1-2 new products, and progress on the big one.
GDC 2010, after the awesome that was this year, how can I not go to the next one? I imagine many people go to the conference for networking and all that businessy stuff. Me, I think of GDC as “Nerd Party”. Perhaps in actuality it’s just networking, but I prefer to think of it as dangerous. Fill a convention center with nerdy game creator types, and dangerous things can happen. 😀
Ports are the obvious one. I already have Smiles running on Windows, Linux, and Windows Mobile (but just one specific device currently). So expand on the already growing list. My business strategy boils down to essentially: if it has 3D hardware, supports native C++ development, and offers a 70% (or better) royalty rate, then I may as well support it. As far as the ports are concerned, I already finished the majority of the heavy lifting over the past couple months. I have a few things I personally require before I can release a “PC proper” port of Smiles (Netbooks are totally different), but for the most part it’s all there now. After some cleanup, it’s just a matter of adding all the new targets.
The 1-2 new products is exactly that. The Smiles porting is all about adding more platforms, so if there’s something new, it too can be ported to many new devices.
And of course, the “big one” is the project I’d like to be doing right now. The majority of this porting work is, as I see it, the ground work needed for the next game. It’s far more demanding graphically and technically than Smiles is, so Smiles also helps me by acting as the benchmark. If Smiles runs 60fps on a platform, the big one can probably pull 30 fps. If it runs 10fps, well, further assessment will be needed. I don’t expect to ship it this year, but instead am looking at it as my IGF Entry for 2012 (i.e. October/November 2011). Even the smaller projects I’m considering for this year are incremental steps towards this larger one.
So that’s my look back at 2009, and my look ahead at 2010. Next I need to find the words to summarize the insanity that was Ludum Dare in 2009.