7 Reasons We Picked Unity as our GameDev Platform

December 9th, 2014 by dknuth

We’d been kicking around ideas for mobile games for several months. It looked like we were spending more time doing research and avoiding actually building a game. Finally the first week of November – yep, four weeks ago – we threw down the gauntlet. We’d better stop dreaming, planning, researching and get down to actually building a product. We decided, that the day of Thanksgiving – actually the day before I think – we should ship our first game.

Now, there was just a minor matter of deciding what game, spec’ing the darn thing, deciding on a platform, building, testing and launching. Long story short, we decided we’d do an Android game first and quickly follow up with an iOS one. This meant we’d have to use a Game Dev platform capable of supporting multi-platform. And of course it would support serving ads. As the game was going to be a multilevel one targeted to casual gamers, mere mortals (read our marketing folks) would have to be able to build levels, without relying on the developer – moi – for everything.  Thanks to the choice of our platform three ways later, HomeBound, our first game was launched on the Android store.

As the title of this blog post attests we selected Unity as our game development platform for the following six reasons.

The short version

  • An IDE doubles as a level editor
  • Unity lets you create ready-to-use Game Objects
  • Tweak properties easily, even at runtime
  • Easy integration of Ad platforms like AdMob
  • Phenomenal cross-platform support
  • Great developer support and community

The longer version

IDE doubles as a level editor Building levels in Unity could not get any easier than dragging and dropping objects into a scene view. You even get a game view that shows how the level will look like as you are building it. Although there are some great plugins that let you ‘paint’ your levels, for simple games the IDE does very well as a level editor. If you are having trouble aligning your sprites for the game background check out vertex snapping.

Unity lets you create ready to use Game Objects This has to be the best feature on Unity. Once you have a game object ready (something like Transform + Renderer + Collider + RigidBody + Scripts) you can turn it into a template (or a Prefab in Unity lingo) which can then be simply added to your scene as many times you desire. Crafting and manipulating objects this way can really bring out the creative you and turn a laborious level making process into fun.

Tweak properties easily, even at runtime
Unity has the so called Inspector view where you can play around with the properties of your game objects. Even the scripts that you write can expose their properties through this view. E.g. Planets in our HomeBound game could either blow up or not. The script handling this behavior simply kept a public Boolean variable as a switch and voila! Unity automatically puts a checkbox in the Inspector to turn on/off planet self-destruct! Going further you can even change these properties at runtime to do a fair amount of fine tuning. Games with lots of dynamic behavior can really benefit such a feature.

Easy integration of Ad platforms like AdMob
Google already has Android and iOS plugins for AdMob on Unity. They are quite easy to integrate and require no coding effort outside Unity. Simply install their plugin, copy some files and make the appropriate calls to launch banner or interstitial ads. Check here for details.

Phenomenal cross-platform support
As the name itself suggests, Unity aims to become a one stop shop in multi-platform game publishing. More than 10 platforms are supported which includes Android and iOS. Everything happens from within Unity, from building for a specific platform to pushing the app to a device. According to a survey by Vision Mobile, Unity is used by 47% of game developers as a primary multi-platform development tool.

Great developer support and community
Unity has been around since 2004; that is a good 10 years to have a thriving and mature developer community. Barring the most obtuse queries, you will get an answer very quickly in the developer forums. There are detailed text/video tutorials available within the Unity site itself and dozens more from 3rd party sites. The Unity Asset Store will satisfy all your content needs, right from scripts and sprites to complete projects. You can actually sell your wares there if you want to!

We’re still learning and will share in a separate posts 8 misconceptions we’d to overcome. Meanwhile good luck.

4 Steps to Hack Sounds for Your Game

December 5th, 2014 by admin

“Hey turn that down!”

At home I’m usually the one yelling this. Despite living in a house with two teens, where so much music is constantly playing,  it’s a miracle how little attention I’ve paid to the sounds in a casual game. So when we set out to build HomeBound – our first Android game it really hit me that I was utterly clueless. The good news about knowing next to nothing about something, is that you learn a boat load in a short time.

Photo: laffy4k via Compfight cc

It all began with an innocent question. “What about sound?” Don Knuth – (that’s a nom de guerre and not his real name) our young developer posed this question.  We were in the process of spec’ing the game (that’s a whole another post).

What about it I asked.

“Well we’re going to need music – lots of it, during game play, when user fails, crashes, gets lost, completes a level successfully…”

I said “Stop right there and make me a list.” The table below lists the sounds that he wanted and this was for a “simple” casual game.


Though we were not in the same room, during this conversation, Don sensed my cluelessness and tried to make things easy. Why don’t you focus on two or three things – the others we can even hack it. “For instance, I can blow into the mike on my computer to make the explosion sound when our spaceship crashes into an asteroid.” Any way I’ll save you having to read the more embarrassing parts of my education about music in mobile games. Here are the three things we did to get the right sounds, in a reasonable time frame and cost for our game. Hopefully this helps you in your own search. Share with us any hacks you have.

Make a list, refine, repeat It is useful to start with a blank page and make a list, however incomplete of all the sounds that you think you’ll require. Not the kinds of sounds, the mood, tempo or other attributes but just the sounds that you will need. If you are like me, you can work from the middle out – meaning during the actual game play, where the user spends the most time and work forwards and backwards. This usually requires a list of events that happen which your designer or developer would already have. The only thing you can be sure about your first list is that it is incomplete and you’ll constantly change. We keep our list on Google docs on a spreadsheet so that all of us can contribute to it. Once you have the list, based on steps 2 and 3 below, you will continue to refine it.

Do your homework Check out other games and instead of just playing them to win, listen to the sounds in the game. Whether Candy Crush or Angry Birds, my own favorite NinJump or that incredibly addictive yet at times galling Stick Hero, a great deal of time, attention and love has gone into layering sounds into these games. Try turning off the audio completely and see how the game feels. Turn it back on and see how bugging (or endearing) those pings when you pick up coins or explosions when you die are. Ideally create a list of sounds – primarily when they are used – as well as what theme music plays pre-game, during game and any events or interruptions. Now go back to your list you made in Step 1 and see what is missing, what could be different and refine.

Build up a library Luckily enormous amount of both royalty-free and even outright free music and sounds are out there. You can license dedicated music sites such as JewelBeat or the big stock photo/image providers such as ShutterStock, VectorStock and  123RF.com who provide sounds as well. Or from independents such as Incompetech (my own favorite) which carries music of every imaginable variety., all created by a single awesome dude Kevin MacLeod. In fact Incompetech provides a link to a large source of 3rd party music, in case you aren’t happy with theirs :) . Don’t forget to you can make your own sounds up, as Don so kindly pointed out. In fact the “Lost in Space” sound you hear on HomeBound is Don whistling into his mike, with an echo subsequently tweaked on to it!

Implement, don’t overanalyze This is the hardest thing to do, for someone like me. Everyone’s a friggin expert when it comes to music – so you could spend all the time arguing, time that you could be spending making a new game or promoting the games you already have. Sure music is important – maybe even critical to the success of your game but unless you put it out there, it doesn’t stand a chance. So get the music in there and get it in the hands of users (or testers if you want – and no your wife or boyfriend may not be a good tester) and see whether it bugs them, they turn it off, or crash just to hear the cool sound. It doesn’t hurt for you to play with it – see if it bugs you the fourth time around – does it feel weird to do it without the sound. It doesn’t hurt to  step back for a few days and return to it. Music like most things are subjective and there’s no accounting for taste. So let the users and the numbers drive you decisions.

In a future post I’ll share sounds that we particularly like in other people’s games. In the meantime happy hunting for sounds and games!

A Better Solution to Measure the Real Traffic to Your Blog?

July 22nd, 2009 by admin

The blogosphere is quite excited with the fact that Twitter is directing a lot of traffic to blogs & websites. But no one has been able to conclusively measure that traffic. Fred Wilson, struggled to interpret the data  from Google Analytics and measure exactly how much traffic came from Twitter. Meanwhile Danny Sullivian, ran his own experiment by tweeting a short link containing a tracking code and seeing how much bit.ly reported against Google Analytics report and his own server logs. The results seemed quite good but the experiment itself was not yet perfect. Bit.ly’s link counting is inherently flawed as I’ve explained in my previous blog.

It is somewhat surprising to me that after having Google Analytics for so long all of us are still struggling to measure correctly a specific channel of traffic to our site. As I have been working with several email marketing tools these last fews a simple solution struck me. I was quite struck by the simplicity of the solution and was wondered anyone has thought of it before? I’d urge readers (not you mom) including Danny and Fred try out this little experiment on their blog and see if they can quantify the exact amount of traffic coming in through Twitter (or bit.ly).

The Solution

Nearly all email marketing service providers and products such as AWeber, Campaign Monitor or MailChimp use a simple method to track how many people have opened their mails. Since JavaScript is not allowed inside the mail content, a Google Analytics kind of solution is definitely not possible. What they do is they embed a tiny (1×1 px) transparent image in the mail. When the mail is opened in an email client and the image is loaded, the server gets a GET request for that image and immediately knows that someone has opened the email.

On the same lines, for this blog post I have included an image in this blog post. But instead of directly storing the url of that image, I have first shortened it using bit.ly. When this blog is loaded on your browser, even if JavaScript is disabled, that image will be loaded, and hence bit.ly will register the count. Search bots, Twitter clients and browser plugins are not going to be interested in my image. So clearly the number of views reported by bit.ly for that image (and not for the blog’s permalink which I tweeted) will be a correct estimation of the number of humans who have clicked on the shortened link in Twitter. This will be smaller than what bit.ly would have recorded for the blog itself, and bigger than what Google Analytics will report if this blog is viewed in a phone which has JavaScript disabled.

Conclusion

This blog does not get a lot of traffic (yet), so the numbers may not make good sense. But if high traffic bloggers such as Danny or Fred Wilson use this little experiment on their blog, it would be worth seeing what the results are like.

This should also give Bit.ly some ideas on how to accurately measure link views and discard the requestes for only a link lookup. The solution may be involved as the user would have to embed a shortened link to a tracking image, but it should be ok if the user is really motivatedand wants to measure his traffic. Or better still, similar to Google Analytics, ask users to embed a small piece of code in the blog entry that they want to track. This code can be as generic as follows

<img src="http://bit.ly/mayanks/tracking/image">

When the browser makes a request for this image as part of loading the blog entry, the HTTP_REFERER should identify the permalink of the blog entry for which the request is being made. Just increment the counter for that permalink and you are done. I’d love to hear from others who have tried something along these lines and the results you see if you try this image embedding with a bit.ly link.

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Four steps to a clutter-free desktop

July 9th, 2009 by bikash

Most people we know get a large number of file attachments over email. These end up cluttering their desktop. Writer Chanpory Rith has evolved a simple method to avoid desktop clutter.

  • Set up four folders in your Documents folder – Inbox, Actions, Incubate and Archive. Make Inbox your default download folder for all applications. Move the scattered files on your desktop to the Inbox folder.
  • Twice a day process the files in the Inbox folder so that it is empty at the end of the day. Move the files that you can start working on immediately into the Actions folder. Use the Incubate folder for those files that you can’t deal with right now.
  • Work on the Actions folder and when done, move them to the Archive folder. If you are ready to deal with a file in the Incubate folder move it to the Actions folder.
  • Once a month backup the contents of your Archive folder.

Try it and let us know how it works for you.

Link Tracking – (lies, damn lies &) Statistics?

June 30th, 2009 by admin

The last couple of months have shown a shift in Internet traffic – from being search engine (read Google) directed to social media driven. I believe, the main reason for this is what Fred Wilson calls the Power of Passed Links. That is, I click more often on the links that my friends tweet in Twitter or share on Facebook than on those I find by searching.  Fred has seen this dramatic shift on his own website. Earlier TechCrunch presented a similar observation and was quick to embrace a personalized short domain name (tcrn.ch).

In a recent article titled “How Twitter Might Send Far More Traffic Than You Think“, Search Engine Land, compares the statistics provided by Bit.ly and Google Analytics and is awed by the difference. My own sense is that before all of us get rolling on this Social Media Optimization (SMO) effort, it would help to take a hard look at how link statistics are gathered and tracked by tools such as Bit.ly.

Simply put link tracking tools store the number of times a short link has been looked up. When such tools first emerged they captured imagination of a lot of people as potentially a simple replacement for Google Analytics.  However, the statistics provided by link tracker function in tools such as Bit.ly can be very misleading.

Since only the link look-up is counted by link trackers, all search engine and Twitter crawlers that de-reference a short link get counted erroneously as look-ups. Most of the newer Twitter clients de-reference a short url, and show the target domain name, complete url or the title in the tweet message. Which effectively means that the moment you publish a Bit.ly link on Twitter, it’s link count could potentially shoot up to as many followers as you have, even if none of them actually clicked through the link.

In my view, this is one of the biggest challenge that Bit.ly and others of its ilk will face to present an actual view’ed link as against merely looked-up link.

In the near future, I anticipate that more people will use their own short domain names and their own url shortening service to protect their brands.  Pure play URL shortening services are bound to get commoditized. For pioneers such as Bit.ly to retain their market share, it is critical that they evolve to provide vanity shortening services and emerge to be the analytics tool of choice for SMO by providing ever more accurate viewed statistics as against looked-up statistics.

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Making your numbers tell a story

June 18th, 2009 by bikash

President Barack Obama’s administration yesterday announced its draft plans for new financial regulations. Given the financial meltdown of the last twelve months, it is safe to assume this is some pretty important stuff. However, even economists who’s job is to comprehend and comment on the same, can’t all agree what it means. In case you feel I am being harsh, here’s a lovely excerpt from the actual document, thanks to Felix Salmon of Reuters.

    The United States will work to implement the updated ICRG peer review process and work with partners in the FATF to address jurisdictions not complying with international AML/CFT standards.

Talk about failing to communicate simply and clearly. In Felix’s words,

    “In a nutshell: If you thought this was going to make the current horribly-complicated system of financial regulation less complicated, think again.”

As someone who spends much of his day, when not watching others’ mind-numbing presentations, creating content myself (with Open Office Impress), I have come to worship the word of Edward Tufte and admire the work of the folks at CommonCraft and Presentation Zen. The President’s men and the rest of us could learn a lesson or two on how to make our words and numbers tell a gripping story. Prof Hans Rosling’s video below, is living proof that with a little effort we can all do it!

hans_rosling

How often have we stared at a table of data or a graph unable to make head or tail of it? Professor Hans Rosling, global health expert, shows how our world view is distorted by pre-conceived notions. He transforms complex data into a riveting story on the social changes that are taking place in the world. Click here to see the video.

This article appeared in the June issue of ZEBU Crossing, our monthly newsletter. To subscribe to ZEBU Crossing, fill the form at the top right of this page.

A Call for Responsible URL Shortening Services (RUSS)

April 29th, 2009 by admin

The rising popularity of twitter has given rise to a whole new genre of services centered around URL link shortening. Link shortening services such as http://bit.ly and http://is.gd have garnered a strong following. Twitter’s 140 character limit on message length or tweets is the primary reason for the growth of these services. Besides saving precious char length, these shortened URLs also reduce transcription or copy/paste errors in emails/IM. tinyurl.com the granddaddy of URL shorteners simply provided what’s termed a 301 redirect to the given address. Over time however these services have become highly innovative and provide many more features. A recent article in searchengineland discusses the features of various link shortening services and in comparative detail.

One of the most attractive features is link analytics provided by bit.ly and several others. The link tracking is unobtrusive even as I am redirected to the target web page and the quality of reporting varies by service provider.

However, some services, most notably ow.ly and digg.com have taken a more extreme role. Instead of redirecting the URL, they keep the user on their domain and display the target website in a frame. One of the biggest problem with this approach is that, inserting the shortened link in my twitter message or other posts will not count to that website’s incoming link. Trackbacks, on your blog will not work with these links. Google’s crawler will not give credit to the target website, for this shortened URL as it technically does not point to that target web page. This is a serious limitation in a SEO conscious world. Secondly, they use up pricey real estate on your browser, for free, by placing a top bar with their own branding . Talk about being intrusive!? And finally do we want to be reminded yet again, against the usage of frames?

Digg succumbed to pressure from user complaints and removed the top bar for regular users. A Google search on “remove digg bar” shows that people just don’t want this feature, and in fact a lot of those motivated people have designed ways to disable it.

For applications on Twitter that analyse what links people mostly talking about, URL shortening introduces a whole lot of challenges. Typically to just know what a shortened URL is pointing at, You need to issue a HEAD request to the service provider (bit.ly/ow.ly). Since usually it’s a redirection, just taking the ‘location’ value from the response is adequate. The HEAD request just gets the header response as against the whole body with a GET request. This is optimal if you have to process say a half a million links a day.

Now, if you apply the same logic to digg.com or ow.ly, things get squirrely. You get a 200 response from digg.com and a 403 (unauthorized access) response from ow.ly. A 200 response is essentially the html document itself, whereas 403 error prohibits that http request (HEAD). In either of these cases do we get information about the target page? NO. For these services, you’d actually need to download the page (a GET request), parse the HTML, and extract the target address. Obviously this model is not only sub-optimal, it is highly nonscalable. You’d have to manually add parsing code for each such service. Moreover, if they change their layout tomorrow, your parser will fail. There are numerous other services which behave this way.

URL shortening services are here to stay and touches almost every web user. If you are providing such a service you are owning up a certain responsibility towards people using your service. You just cannot be insensitive to them.

Remember with great power, comes great responsibility

Will Twitter fly for B2B marketing ?

April 9th, 2009 by admin

Every marketing person around the world is thinking of using the magical 140 characters , that is a Twitter feed, to achieve his objectives.While Dell can get a pulse beat of what their customers are thinking, about a new product, Pizza Hut is making news with the announcement that they’re hiring a summer “twintern“, or Twitter intern, to start on June 1st as reported in this article. However, like any other social media, when it comes to marketing to other businesses, Twitter is still behind B2C marketing.

Though blogs are where majority of B2B marketing discussions take place, there is enough evidence to show that the discussions are slowly but definitely shifting to Twitter. B2B marketers have to invest time and resources to manage Twitter. How do you justify this in the the current financial climate with shrinking marketing budgets? Marketers don’t know if customers are engaging socially and if so, does it convert into a purchase decision making? It is this lack of measurability of ROI that makes the decision ‘ To Tweet or not to Tweet” particularly harassing for a B2B marketer.

For those sitting on the fence regarding this, forget the hype,  focus on what you know about good marketing and communications regardless of the channel, and look at Twitter through that lens.

Building relationship with the Alumni

March 14th, 2009 by bikash

Alumni have always been one of the most visible faces of an educational institution. However, most institutions, with a few exceptions, do not  leverage this brand in a consistent manner. At a time when institutions are competing for resources and attenti0n at a global level, this is a trick that most of them are missing.

Companies like McKinsey do a fantastic job of reaching out to their alumni through their alumni portal. These alumni are often on to the next big thing. By associating with them, companies are able to leverage them, even if implicitly, as brand ambassadors  and potential clients in the future.

Educational institutions can draw some lessons from their corporate counterparts in this regard – how to reach out to their large alumni network in a manner that makes the alumni want to associate  with their alma mater. This relationship building, like brand building, is a process and cannot be achieved overnight or through advertisement alone. It takes time and effort, but the results, when they come, can be extremely rewarding for the institutions.

3 reasons why we picked BatchBook as our CRM tool

March 8th, 2009 by krishna

Over the last fourteen years of being mostly a marketer and occassionally a sales fella, I have run through my gamut of enteprise and entrepreneurial CRM software. The only one I came to nearly loving was the original (free) Seibel Personal Edition, which we used in our first startup, Impulsesoft. Despite the lack of multi-user support in Siebel PE, we made do. Alas just as we were hitting our stride, they discontinued it—I suspect, when they found out that I was actually able to get my job done with it.

With the virulence of a jilted lover I ran back into the arms of that rule-lined temptress Microsoft Excel. I’ll admit I flirted with ACT, had a drunken evening with GoldMine and actually paid $29.95 for Iambic‘s SalesWarrior on my Palm powered Kyocera phone (circa 2000). Yet I always returned to Excel. By the time Salesforce.com began its meteoric rise, I had become a bureaucrat. So I watched from the sidelines – a C-level executive who no longer used anything other than Excel.

Starting again on our own, and boot-strapping Zebu meant I was back to donning the sales hat, working the phone, pressing palms and mailing my heart out. So we were back to looking for CRM software! Of course with the world having moved on, we never bothered looking for a PC client, and decided to go Web 2.0 – the bulk of my evaluation time was spent with HighRise, ZohoCRM and BatchBook. While I briefly spent time playing with PipelineDeals and Oprius, I was already too far along, with the others, for these to ever be serious contenders.

For those of you looking for the Quick & Dirty summary version here it is:

BatchBook – we picked this finally because of

  • its simplicity – unbelievable simplicity
  • the fiendish power of superTags
  • its incredible support

and while we have become paying customers of BatchBook now, when we started its pricing (which began with a free offer for three users) tipped us over!

For those of you who want more, check out the presentation that was made internally to share why BatchBook.

HighRise We began with unabashed admiration for 37Signals. We found ourselves reading, watching and discussing DHH & JF.

  • we started as (paying) BaseCamp users and struggled with use of separate tool for contacts
  • we also stumbled initially because their free version did not support three users(our team size then)
  • they’ve arguably led the simplicity (less is more) movement;  But we kept running into things, we wished were there in HighRise, and did not get the feeling of being listened to.
  • pricing was a niggling more than BatchBook, but was not a deal killer

One of the mysteries I never figured out was, I got going using HighRise, but could not never get the other members of our team rolling – maybe ‘coz they were moonlighting then or for some other reason. But by the time we got to evaluating BatchBook, my partners got active and BB edged out HR! Once we got rolling with BatchBook, while we did find many things missing in BatchBook as well,  that we’d have liked to have, superTags almost always gave us workarounds.

ZohoCRM Personally, I have been a big advocate of Zoho (Projects, Writer & Sheet)

  • ZohoCRM is almost the antithesis of BatchBook or HighRise – every feature imaginable is available
  • Even a highly motivated user, as I think of myself, needs a one or more unit college course to use it
  • alas – the near poetry of Zoho Writer or more recently Folders is totally lacking in the ZohoCRM UI design – the sheer complexity resulted in loss of ease of use and the UI left much to be desired. Seems like someone not yet steeped in the ways of early Zoho products designed it. Deal killer!

This might explain why, despite Zoho’s 3 user free license, I could not get any of my partners to use Zoho CRM.

Now that we have been ardent, paying customers of BatchBook, key areas we are hoping to influence include:

[a] more extensive reports (of anything v anything in the database, ala Quicken, my all time favorite)
[b] better sales deals/opportunity tracking without losing the ease of use, nor contorting too much with superTags
[c] even stronger API support, so that  can extend reports and synch with other apps.