ActionChess 1.1.3 – release notes and update plan

Just thought I’d write a quick note to let you all know that the bug-fix-only release has hit both ActionChess and ActionChess Lite today. (Yesterday now.) I don’t think I’ll have the next update submitted until at least this weekend. I’m planning on at least one of the following features (but hopefully all of them) in the next update:

  • A new game mode: Puzzle Mode
  • Global High Scores (working with GeoCade)
  • Multiple Game Saves (one per game mode)

Realistically, if I shoot for all of them (and I am), it might not be until the following weekend. But we’ll see. I’ll keep you posted.

Update (5-10): I may have been a bit ambitious guestimating two weeks for these three features. It’s been two weeks now, and I’m partway through all of them. I should finish the multiple saves tonight. Maybe I’ll push that to apple for approval before the other two, but I’m not sure yet. So far, I’ve got about a half-dozen puzzles for puzzle mode. It’s harder to make puzzles than it is to solve them, but I’m far enough along that I’m now confident it’s worth the effort. My only worry is that it may be difficult for me to make mid-level difficulty puzzles. So far all of them have been really easy, or really pretty hard. We’ll see. I’d like to launch the feature with 100 puzzles. I don’t know how realistic that is, but it’s my goal for now.

so easy a 13 year old can do it!

picture-21I’m guessing this will be big news soon if it’s true, but the new iPhone game Mad Cow Fury (app store link) claims to have been written by a 13 year old boy, Nicholas Weintraut.

picture-12That’s right, all this stuff it’s taken me months to learn… yeah, a 13 year old kid can also do it.

In other news, John Bauer and myself are starting a Minnesota iPhone Users’ Group. He registered, and we’re going to make it the source for news about where and when we’ll meet when we figure that out. Right now we’re thinking about getting together every other week or so. We’ll probably just sit in a coffee shop and code. Let us know if you’d like to join.

Maybe Nicholas is from MN, and he’ll come hang out with us.

iPhone Match-3 games & Review Sites

So I’ve been working on a list of Match-3 games for the iPhone for a few weeks now. So far the list is up to 52 entries. And this is without including any “falling blocks” games, (columns or dr. mario style games would qualify as match-3 by some definitions), or any Zuma style “shooting match” games, both of which there are many. I’m also not counting the Fuzzle style make 5 by moving 1 piece at a time games.

This is my first link to a “published” google spreadsheet, and I think it looks rather nice. In that vein, I think I’ll also publish the list I’m working on of iPhone review sites.

Please let me know if you have any additions or suggestions for either list!

ActionChess 1.1.3 submitted

ActionChess 0.1.1 was released last Thursday (along with ActionChess Lite). I submitted another update to ActionChess tonight that fixes a bunch of bugs (see below). I think ActionChess Lite will probably lag a day or two behind it, since I just need to port these changes to it. I wanted to get a lot more into the second ActionChess update, (how about a new game mode or two?!?), but alas it was just not to be. I had too much going on this weekend, and too many bugs to squash.

Here’s the changelog:

* fixed bug with saving multiple high scores after a game
* fixed can click start game from the info screen (and possibly config)
* fixed can click “(opens in safari)” text to open a text input box
* fixed game didn’t save when sleep button is pressed
* replaced Icon.png with better render

Special thanks go out to my friend and co-worker Justin (Dez) for finding a lot of these bugs the day the update was released. Thanks Dez!

3D Tetris Variations & Polycubes

3dtetris_1I recently purchased a Virtual Boy from ebay. I did this not because I’d had a virtual boy when I was a child, or because I’d always wanted one, but because I found out there are not one, but TWO versions of Tetris for the system, one of which is completely in 3D. Well, actually, since they are for the virtual boy, they are both viewed in 3D, but the game titled 3D Tetris consists of actual 3D pieces in a 3D playing field. (I scoured the internet to find this screenshot, so you’d better appreciate it.) The Virtual Boy version of 3D Tetris is just okay. I think the controls are pretty good, but there isn’t much depth to the gameplay, and I hate to say it, I really wish there were some way to save my game. You do get to pick a level to start from, and choose a difficulty. If you start on easy, the game is really easy. It mostly just gives you pieces that are made up of 3 or less squares.

3dtetrisThis wasn’t the first time I’d played a version of 3D tetris, however. In fact, not more than a few years ago (possibly as many as 5), there was a time when I was SERIOUSLY addicted to 3DTRIS which is a flash implementation of this type of 3D Tetris, playable in your web browser. I think this relatively simple flash implementation gets a lot of things right. It may have been one of the first high score lists I’d ever seen that keeps track of scores for “the last 24 hours” and “the last 30 days” in separate lists.

But I don’t think even the flash game was the first place I’d played 3D Tetris. Way back in high school, I remember distinctly discovering a version of 3D Tetris called Welltris. I’m not sure if I even understood it enough to play it. Looking at the screenshots now, I’m still not sure I know what’s going on exactly. I also didn’t know if Welltris was the first version of 3D Tetris ever made, so I did some google searching, and it looks like both Welltris (pictured above and including game’s designer, Alexey Pajitnov who was also the developer of Tetris), and another game called Blockout (pictured below, and obviously a more direct ancestor of all these modern 3D Tetris variants) were both released in 1989. I have no idea which was first, and it was probably close enough that it doesn’t matter.

Enter today, when I reluctantly purchased Polycubes on my iPhone for ninety-nine cents. I say reluctantly, because it’s hard for me to justify purchasing games that are obvious clones of games I could be playing in flash… for free. The flash games were obviously first, (although just as obviously still clones) and I have this inclination to distrust developers that just make clones of already-existing games. (Flash games are somehow different because they’re free to play. I see it as sort of the democratization of video games.) Anyway, there are so many game possibilities out there, why make a game that already exists? (There are actually tons of reasons to do so financially, but that’s a topic best left for another post.) Anyway, let it suffice to say that curiosity overcame my disinclination, and within minutes, I had absolutely no regrets.

Polycubes is pretty no-frill at this point. I’m really hoping the developer decides to add some more features. I’d give at least my pinky toe to see the piece coming up, for instance. I’d also like a way to access the high scores, and I’d give out huge bonus points if there were any sort of online high score tracking. Right now I think it’s supposed to tell you if there is a higher or lower score already played with the same game configuration, but even that doesn’t appear to be working for me. (Either that, or the fact that the game doesn’t remember your previous game settings is making it impossible for me to play the same configuration more than once.) This leads nicely into the main reason why I’m particularly impressed with this implementation. I guess at least some versions of Blockout also have this ability, but on the configuration screen (the only other screen other than the game itself) you can choose the size of the gameplay area, the starting level, and also choose from three different types of pieces to play with, simple, medium, or complex. That leads to a whole heck of a lot of gameplay possibilities. Dialing the playing field up to 16×16 is almost unplayable, but totally fun at the same time.

I’m clearly a geek for this sort of stuff, but I have no regrets about picking up Polycube, and neither should you. Not to mention, hey, it’s A LOT cheaper than buying a Virtual Boy on ebay!

ActionChess Sales Stats

This is the first of probably a whole lot of posts about how well ActionChess is doing in terms of sales. In general I am a proponent of radical transparency, and since this isn’t my full time gig anyway, I feel no compulsion not to share this info.

Read on for all the nitty-gritty sales data from the first two weeks of ActionChess in the App store.

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ActionChess Update REJECTED!

On monday night, I found out that the update I’d submitted about a week previously was rejected. Specifically, it was because I had been using the standard “reply” icon (UIBarButtonSystemItemReply) for a sort of back arrow in my user interface. Here’s most of the relevant bit from the rejection letter:

“Applications must adhere to the iPhone Human Interface Guidelines as outlined in iPhone SDK Agreement section 3.3.5. The Reply button is to be used to send or route an item to another location. Implementing standard buttons to perform other tasks will lead to user confusion.”

They also mentioned that it would be appropriate for me to use a custom icon, and linked me to the “iPhone’s Human Interface Guideline” document, which I have read (or at least scanned), which was why I knew this was bad in the first place.

picture-11Here is the way the “return to menu” button looks in the game right now:

picture-2…and here’s the way it looks now that I’ve changed it for the update:

Yes, that is the “up” arrow turned on its side. I actually think it looks better in-game than it does floating disembodied and out of context here, but it doesn’t matter, because I’ll be changing the whole UI quite a bit when the designer that I’m working with comes through anyway.

I spent some hours last night and re-submitted the update, and also the Lite version (since it had the same problem, it seemed the safest thing to do).

ActionChess “Lite” Submitted to the App store!

ActionChess LiteI spent some time yesterday… and again some time today… getting ActionChess Lite all ready to go. I decided on allowing three game types, 3-minute Timed Mode, Specific Piece Mode: The Whole Set, and Specific Piece Mode: Bishops. I went back and forth about that last one. I thought about choosing Queens, but feel like it’s too easy. Thought about Pawns, but that’s too hard. Bishops is a nice compromise, I guess.

I also gave away a bunch of promo codes for the game today on Touch Arcade. I hope that got it some much needed eyeballs, and I also hope it wasn’t premature. The impending 0.1.1 release should fix a whole bunch of bugs, and generally performs much better than 0.1 did. (I hope that gets approved soon.) If it’s not approved by Wednesday, I’ll probably send an email. It’s been a week and a day already, although I suppose technically I re-submitted the binary a week ago today. I don’t know what that does for the app submission “queue”.

The other big thing that took the most time about the Lite version is that I decided to incorporate AdMob ads into the menu screen. They’re at the top of the screen, where you don’t click anyway, and as soon as the app is released, I’m going to switch it to display (as much as possible) only the link exchange ads. This means it’ll just show ads for other games that show ads. And then those games will show ads for ActionChess Lite… hopefully exposing more people to ActionChess who might not otherwise have seen it. It’s all about the evangelism here, not about making money. (I’ve seen the statistics on how many views you have to get to make money on iPhone ads, and it just doesn’t seem worth it at this point.) Anyway, hopefully the ads won’t detract from anyone’s enjoyment of the game.

There’s also a handy button to purchase the full game from the App store. The button doesn’t take you there before asking if you’re sure though. I don’t want anyone getting pissed off about that. Obviously, the screenshot shows that dialog in action.

two of my favorite “indie” iPhone games

In some strange cosmic coincidence, both DropOut and Claustrophobia had updates released this evening into the app store. These are both incredible action puzzle games that I have spent lots of time with, and both are games that I’ve meant to write about here, and just hadn’t yet found time. Both games are also deceptively simple in concept, but lead to some really fun tetris-like brain burning when you’re in the middle of a good long game. So, in alphabetical order:

claustrophobiaClaustrophobia, by David Leblond, is a collapse-like color/shape match-3 game (the shapes are new in this update). You’ve basically got a bar in the middle of the screen, and that’s where you’re releasing your blocks from. Blocks can either launch upwards or fall downwards, and if they hit or make a group of two or more of the same color/shape, then that group is removed from the game. If blocks are left without anything underneath them (or above them), they’ll fall, and in the case of the top gameplay area, they’ll fall all the way down to the bottom gameplay area, possibly scoring you big points, or possibly just mucking things up for you down there. The game’s namesake comes from the fact that both the top and bottom blocks are moving continually toward the middle, and when either of them reach it, that’s game over. There are special types of blocks that slow or speed up the block movement, and some of the strategy comes from knowing when to use or avoid them.

For a very, very brief period of time (two days, I think?) I had the high score on the “Normal” game mode of Claustrophobia. David took that score back from me shortly thereafter, although neither he nor I can come close to the scores getting submitted for “Easy” mode. Go figure.

dropoutDropOut, by Curt Stein, also involves falling blocks, but you don’t control when they get released, they just fall all at once, as the row at the top of the screen fills up. If you have any column of blocks all the way to the top of the screen (thus blocking any part of that row from falling), then the game vibrates at you angrily a few times before game over. You can move the blocks that have already fallen either left or right, and they’ll wrap around the sides of the screen. Whenever a group of 4 or more blocks of the same color is made, those blocks are removed from the game scoring you points and making combos.

DropOut also has both bad and good special blocks, the good ones have stars on them and are basically just worth extra points (but they’ll fall off the bottom of the game if you let them get all the way down to the last row). There are also locked blocks, that prohibit the movement of their entire row. This is where the strategy comes in, and the game transcends a simple one-dimensional Yoshi’s Cookie clone. DropOut can get really intense after you’ve played for even just a few minutes, and I found myself getting done with a game and realizing I’d just been playing one game after another for over an hour.

For about a week after the game’s release, I also had the global high score for DropOut.

Both of these games are super fun, and well worth picking up. I’ve actually emailed back and forth with both developers, and they have been super approachable, and given me the advice I’d been asking for in regards to my own iPhone development. I’m excited to play with the updates and see what’s been changed. Highly, highly recommended.