June / July Update (Refactoring)

It’s been a busy two months. Most of my development has been refactoring. It’s really interesting going back and looking through my old code for game. Sushi Go Yobi was my first released game and I spent maybe a year of off and on work to get it to release. When I went back to refactor, I took a look at how messy everything was and just redid everything. It took about 3 weeks to completely rewrite most of it. The other refactor was Free Climber. This was my second release, and the code was a little better but that’s not saying much. Again, I rewrote most of the game and this time it took about 2 weeks.

I refactored all of the code in Sushi Go Yobi and changed some of the mechanics to make it a bit easier or more ‘fluid’. I’m releasing it as a brand new game called Sushi Free on the App Store, which will be free with in app purchases. It should be release any day now, I’m just waiting for the review with Apple to finish up.

The code for Free Climber was also completely rewritten and optimized. Some of the previous code was truly cringe-worthy: the climber has to grab on to “holds” to pull himself up the mountain. Each hold is a type of joint in Unity, and the strength of that joint is set when the climber is created at the start of the game. It basically determines how easy it is to hold on to the “hold”. I actually had a statement to look through every single game object in a scene and build a list of the game objects that were tagged as ‘hold’. On the first level there are over 600 holds! Incredibly inefficient. So all of those things were rewritten.

The other news was being accepted into Microsoft’s Developer / Unity partnership program, so I got a free copy of Windows 8, a Microsoft Dev license, and a free Windows 8 Phone to test with. So part of the time rewriting Free Climber was implementing some Windows Phone stuff. It’s out on the Windows Store now, but I still need to implement in the in app purchases for it.

Next steps:

I want to add a challenge mode to Free Climber, and see about porting it over to Android as well. And I want to start porting Sushi Free to Windows Phone and Android. After that I might take a little break from the mobile space and go back to working on Modern Tactics.

Sensor Tower Review

I wanted to take some time to write up a review about a service I’ve been using called Sensor Tower. It’s a website that have several tools to help optimize your game in the App Store.

What is App Store Optimization (ASO)?

Simply put, it’s a way to get more downloads. Marketing is a crucial component to a successful game on the App Store, and for many indie game developers like me, it’s more of an afterthought. If you’ve done much research into buying ads for your game, unless you’ve got the budget to compete with the likes of Candy Crush, it’s probably not going to make much of a difference. The same goes for paid reviews.

So what’s an indie developer to do? That’s where Sensor Tower comes in. It’s a way to research what keywords will best serve your game, so that when players are searching, you’re game is more likely to come up on their list of results. If you’ve ever done any SEO it’s a very similar concept. You want players to be able to find your game as easily as possible, without having a massive marketing budget.

What’s Sensor Tower do?

Sensor Tower will help you narrow down your list of possible keywords to those that are most likely to result in more downloads. Once you have a list of keywords, Sensor Tower will give you a traffic rating and difficulty rating, from 1 – 10.

sensor tower traffic difficulty

If you find keywords with a high traffic and low difficulty, then you can set yourself up to capture more downloads. It’s recommended that the traffic score be at least 4, but with scores less than 4 with a low difficulty that are relevant to your game, you could find success in that niche as well.

My Process

The game I’m currently working on is a free version of one of my previous paid apps, Sushi Go Yobi. I start with the Keyword Research Tool and just type ‘sushi’. This gives me the following list:

sensor tower research

This basically gives me a list of my competition. I can go through my best competitors and use the Keyword Spy tool to see what kind of keywords they are using. This way I can generate a list of initial keywords to research.

There’s also a Suggest Keyword feature. You can ‘seed’ this with a list of keywords, and it will generate additional, relevant words to research.

Once you’ve done some research and you’ve come up with a large list of keywords, the next took I use is the Keyword Optimization. I’ll just copy/paste my list and it will do a quick analysis and point out some helpful tips about the keywords.

sensor tower keyword list

This is my initial keyword list for my previous game, Sushi Go Yobi.

Like most areas in game development, it’s an iterative process. You start with something small (a single keyword), and start building your list, researching, optimizing, refining, and iterating through the process again.

If you’re like me, you would rather spend time actually making games. But to ignore this aspect of game development can really limit getting your game into the hands of players. I would recommend Sensor Tower to someone in my same position – it’s fairly intuitive (although I do think it would help if they provided a ‘Getting Starting’ guide), and it really speeds up the process of ASO. For me, that’s the largest benefit; it gives me more time to focus on making games, and does a lot of the heavy lifting of ASO for me.

Check out the Sensor Tower home page, and the Sensor Tower blog for a lot of really good suggestions or sign up for their free trial and check it out yourself.

May Update

No major updates this month. I’ve had a few non gamedev projects take up some of my time. It’s always a struggle for spending my limited time away from my day job. I want to primarily make games but I need to spend my time doing the things that are most profitable. It’s a strange balance that doesn’t seem to have much of an equilibrium.

Anyways, I’ve had two projects I’ve been working on. I started Sushi Go Yobi Free. I’m planning a lot of upgrades, bug fixes, and reworking a lot of the core concepts. I’m really excited to see how this one does. I’m taking a short break from the initial work on Sushi to work on a iOS port of CivClicker. It’ s a game that plays off the recent popularity of Cookie Clicker and really expands on it with a Civilization theme. I really enjoyed playing it and contacted the original creator, asking if he would be okay with me porting it to iOS, and he didn’t have any problems with it.

So I’d like to finish that up, then release Sushi Go Yobi Free. After that, maybe it will be time for a desktop game?

New iOS Game Skeleton Slayer Released!

I made another short game in the style of my previous game, Zombie Raid, but I wanted to improve on everything. I made it 3d this time, a variety of levels, and different wizards that can be selected. It’s a game where different types of skeletons advance on your position and by flicking your fingertip you make your wizard throw a spell in the direction of the flick. As time goes by, more and more skeletons appear.

It’s completely free, so check it out.

4 ss 4 4 ss 3 4 ss 2 4 ss 1

Screenshot Saturday

Right now, I’m working on a video game adaptation of the table top game Spycraft 2.0. It will be a turn based tactical / rpg game. This past week I’ve been working on character creation. In Spycraft, like most table top games, character creation is a massive ordeal. So I’m only about 20% of the way this process.

One hurdle I would run in to in the past, when I would try to prototype out a game like this, is how to incorporate complicated gameplay features that would span multiple character levels. For instance, during the character creation the player selects a feature that gives them a +1 to a certain skill, and then every 3 levels afterwards they get another +1. I struggled with a solution that wasn’t really messy. I finally decided to create a Level Up Modifier class that keeps track of all the benefits that should be gained and at what level.

Zombie Raid Coming Soon

The past couple weeks have been busy with the move and new job. However, I was spending some free time working on one of my more involved projects, just chipping away at it. One of the things about being an indie developer is that feeling of being completely overwhelmed by the scope of a project.  With this game I wanted something fairly simple, with one primary mechanic and one level. The point of the game is to last as long as possible, getting as many points as possible. I added the game center integration for iOS so you can compare you score against others. It should be out on the App Store in a couple of days.

Monthly Update – Feb ’14

It’s been a busy month for me, personally. I released Free Climber for iOS near the end of January. It’s been interesting to see how it’s played out and how users interact with it, since I added Flurry tracking analytics to the game. Since the release it’s had a little over 10,000 downloads.

I’ve been prototyping out two ideas I had. One was essentially “Grand Theft Auto but with animals”. I think it has a lot of promise but as I began to implement some basic functionality, I’m not to the point where I can have all the art assets to any meaningful place. So I’m going to put that on the backburner until I’m able to get the art worked out.

The second game I’ve been scripting out is a more simple 2d action platformer. My work on this has been progressing nicely, and since the mechanics are relatively simple, my focus on this game is ‘polish’ or ‘game feel’. It’s rather abstract but it’s those little things that really give the game an extra… well the only word I can think of is ‘feel’.

The other big thing going on is personally, I’ve moved to the Atlanta area to start a new web development job. It will still be another week before I have internet access at home, and there’s still plenty of unpacking to do. So that has really slowed down my game development. I’d also like to redo this site and have the blog as a separate page, but we’ll see how much I’m able to get done with everything else going on.