3 Essential Tools For Game Devs

January 29th, 2015 by anshsingh

Here are some of the tools you might need to compliment your game creations. We list out some of our favorite and most used tools that use to add vital substance to our games. Everything from ads for our games to in-game sound creation is done using these handy tools. The some of the amazing sounds in our games Homebound and Follow the Dots was created by us using these tools (more on this). A few tools we recommend:

Screen capture – Screen capture is an important tool for the game developers both to track their own progress as well as provide people with quality promo content. It helps give potential users a better idea as to how the game will look on their device. Game devs can also see progress made from early Alpha stages to later Beta stages. Some of my favorite and easy to use apps are Mirror by ClockworkMod and AZ Screenrecorder. These apps are lite and have a simple design allowing seem-less capture on most devices. Mirror sets up shop in your notifications bar and shows you screen touches as long as you continue recording. Its a great tool for making promo videos for your games. AZ Screen Recorder is great for recording small bits and pieces. A floating box hovers around the screen which you can use to control where and what you want to record. It is important you don’t use clunky, unreliable screen recorders since they are known to cause the device to lag. AZ and Mirror are some device friendly and free options. Be sure to check them out on the Play Store.

InkScape and GIMPInkscape is a very handy vector graphics editor and the primary tool behind the awesome Follow the Dots and Homebound look and feel. The combination of the two programs (Inkscape and GIMP) allowed us to create some crazy good ads for AdMob and some great looking icons for the app drawer. One of the major reasons why Inkscape is so popular is because of its interface consistency and easy to use nature. GIMP is primarily used for image retouching and raster (JPEG, PNG, GIF and TIFF) graphics editing. Both these incredible softwares as free and open source. I would recommend these for if you’re looking create banners, icons and ads for your product.

Audacity Audacity is an excellent tool to record, edit and add tons of digital effects. An open source program, Audacity is great at multi-track mixing and a powerful program for audio editing. It works with a variety of audio formats and boasts a long list of comprehensive audio effects. Anyone can learn to use Audacity’s wide range of functions if you mess around with it long enough. A popular and highly rated audio editing tool, we recommend Audacity for all your audio editing needs.

Let us know what your preferred game development essentials are and why?!

4 Unusual Word Games We Love

January 19th, 2015 by anshsingh

Word games are hugely popular on the Android market – anagram games even more so. What draws us to these games and why is it so addictive? I think it’s the interactive nature of these games (utilizing the touchscreen) that appeals to our reasoning and thinking abilities. Like all word games, we often formulate our thoughts through construction of words. Moreover, these games use music, animations and a whole slew of level-up abilities to keep us engaged and playing for long periods of time. When was the last time you met someone that didn’t try to impress you with their words, its just human nature.

Here are four of our favorite games that’s taking mind share and space on our phones.

Jumbline 2 Absolutely enjoyed playing this simple yet challenging game. It has an extremely addictive Star Tower mode (where users have to build words which help the tower grow in size) and a quick thinking CloudPop mode (where the users need to figure out the word in the scrambled cloud and aim to pop it before it runs away). Especially recommended for casual gamers that want to pick it up for a bit and solve a few puzzles on the untimed mode. The in-game dictionary is a fantastic addition and helps with quick and easy meanings to word you haven’t seen before. Fans of this genre of games will enjoy it as evident from its reviews on the Play store. One of the real veterans of the word game genre.

Wordament An online multiplayer word game where you compete with over 500 players per given board to find the most number of words and make the most points. Created by Microsoft Studios, Wordament puts you against tons of other players as you look to create words on the board. Words can be made any which way as long as they are tapped in the right order. Go diagonal, backwards or sideways; just tap’em in the right order and you score points. I could almost see myself climbing up the ladder as I spent the better part of the week playing this game. The game gives you all the words you missed at the end of each round and players can see how it was formed on the board.

Letterpress Very intriguing game little word game developed by Sugarcube Games. An online multi-player word game where you make words from a set grid and color the letters you choose to make your words. Points are awarded for letters you use; if you use a particular set of letters you color them blue, your opponent colors them red. If you end up using any one of your opponents letters, they turn light red giving you one point and deducting a point from the opponent. Unused tiles turn dark red and any further use of them result in no points being awarded. A very popular game on the Play Store and on iOS, rest assured you will always find someone to play against. Users can play upto 4 different games at once. Strategically choosing your tiles and picking your first word was vital to dominating the rest of the game, that is not to say comebacks weren’t possible. Winners also get coupons and discount codes to various food joints. Pretty nifty game design and mechanics although it  does lack some basic settings and achievements options. Would definitely recommend you give this a shot.

WordKick A peculiar little game with a simple objective: turn one word into another. Users are required to change one word into another all the while changing only one letter and creating words as you reach your end word in limited number of moves. Looks pretty simple from the description but once you’re in game and the clock’s ticking its a whole different word game. The game also has a casual untimed mode which you can pickup without the stress and the pressure. Great simple UI and color scheme with easy word creation (would prefer to type).

All four of them are of course quite popular. We’ll try to unearth a few undiscovered ones in an upcoming post. Meanwhile tell us about your favorite ones.

4 Simple Sounds We Hacked at Zebu

January 16th, 2015 by dknuth

Last month, just as we developed our first game HomeBound, my colleague wrote about our education on all matters sound! Since then we’ve put out our second game and continue to learn. One of the challenges we are constantly faced with is, how to put out a game as fast as we can, without compromising on sound – yet not spend all our time listening to sound files (and there’s loads of them out there). Here’s the story of four sounds that we’ve used in our games that we quickly hacked in our …err labs!

Lost in space – we wanted to convey a fun yet definitive sense of being lost in space, when the user goes off screen in HomeBound. Others had done to death the variants on everyone’s favorite Twilight Zone and other (old) tv shows. As we headed down the wire, I finally settled for my 3rd whistle glissando piece with some echo effect added that while not entirely creepy had a sense of eerie about it. You’ll have to play the game to figure out if it works!

Rocket booster HomeBound is all about hopping from planet to planet on a spaceship, collecting stars and avoiding those pesky asteroids. So much of the game play involves the spaceship traveling and we wanted a really cool sound for the rocket booster, each time the ship sets off. After much searching and not being happy, we produced a really cool sound by blowing hard into the (laptop) microphone, filtering and then looping it to produce our present rocket booster sound.

Popping the dot – in our latest game, Follow the Dots we wanted to emulate the (fun) sound of popping those bubbles in bubble wrap – which of us hasn’t loved doing it. Try as we did, we could not get it to sound that way, by actually popping bubble wrap. Finally, as I kept banging away my old mouse, it dawned on me. Recorded the mouse click and applied a band pass filter and voila we had our popping a dot sound!

Missed a dot We came up with a nice animation, a flash of black screen followed by all the dots falling down, when the player missed a dot. We needed a sound that was distinctive yet neither grating nor bugging to the gamer and in keeping with the falling dots schema. After listening to a whole slew of sounds, I recall taking a break in frustration, for a late dinner. At some point, during dinner a bulb went off and we had our sound. It’s the sound of a single grain of rice, falling on a steel plate – I’m not making this stuff up! Try it out for yourself.

Early feedback from users has been quite positive on both the games and the sounds. So sometimes the sounds we seek for our games may be no further than our work tables (or in some cases) dinner tables!

3 Finger Runner Games We Love

January 14th, 2015 by krishna

As we prepared to release Zebu Games’ latest Follow The Dots, we spent a good deal of time playing with finger runner games that are out there. One of the many joys of game development is the number of other games we get to play – not just the popular ones but many hidden nuggests. Today I thought I’d share three of my favorite finger runner games out there. I know there are numerous others out there and each of you probably has your own favorite. Drop us a note and tell us about your favorite ones.

Follow the Line The original finger runner game – its popularity (more then 10M+ downloads) reflects its appeal. In it’s own words, the game is “Just keep your finger on the screen, stay inside the line and walk through randomly generated maze. Don’t step into obstacles or traps and run as far as you can.” The randomly generated maze, the obstacles and the nice trail of orange dots as you move your finger and the human desire to constantly out-do ourselves is what makes the game addictive. While numerous clones have sprouted, we like the original.

Fast Finger A finger tracer more than a finger racer, it’s an interesting twist on a classical finger racer. Unlike most endless (finger) runner games, Fast Finger, is very much a bounded runner game – with a start and an end on each screen. The trick is to get from the start to the finish inside a time bound (very quick, quick, quick enough) without hitting the walls, corners and various other obstacles such as rotating or swiveling saws. My introducing three different time limits for each individual run, and multiple runs in each section, the game becomes an endless runner with numerous intermediate performance measures. The video replay of your moves at each individual run is a nice touch and allows you to take stock before you improve your score for that individual run. Very nicely done graphics, strong UX showing starting and finishing points and use of the (endless) video replay all make it charming. Think Follow the Line broken into individual sections that you can get to re-try and improve upon and a lot more active (and sharp) obstacles with cool video replay!

The Impossible Road - while the previous two are free, the Impossible Road, with its origins in iOS has brought the same minimalist design and nearly impossible game to Android (at $1.99). The game is a roller-coaster like blue road, set in absolute white background with a white ball that rolls at very high speed. Using left & right arrow buttons to navigate the white ball, you have to get past gates while (trying) to stay on the road. You have no control over the (high) speed and only saving grace is that even if you fall off the road/ribbon, if you hit it again (on your way down), bounce or stay on, you get credit for all the gates to that point. They didn’t call it Impossible Road for nothing. Not for the faint-hearted, but hugely different than other endless runners. Check the video review below.

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.