Archive for the ‘Links’ Category

Unicorn app icons

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

This is totally random, but like a week ago I was (as I often am) just looking at random games in the app store. This particular day, I was struck by how many games (several in a row, completely by coincidence) featured Unicorns in their app icon. Here’s a random sampling:

Wondercorn: A Unicorn's Magical Journey to Pleasure Mountain by Dana Bissett

Magical Unicorn Expo Pro by Blair Wheadon

An Iron Unicorn vs Attack Robots Game

Fairy Unicorn Race : The quest for the mountain of the sun



Amazing Princess Unicorn Kingdom Adventures

A Unicorn Fantasy - A Fairy Kingdom Castle Adventure Game

You’ll note the stylistic differences. (I far prefer the hand-drawn ones to the photorealistic ones.) Just a reminder that I was not actually looking or searching for unicorn games when I discovered these. Seriously. (Yes it’s possible I spend too much time browsing the latest game releases on app shopper.) No, that came later, after I realized this was such a rampant trend.

unicorn_rush It was then that I discovered my friend / developer acquaintance Ken (of Mind Juice Media) had released his game Unicorn Rush. (I’ve met him now a couple of times at 360 iDev and played this one a little over two years ago. Looks like it’s been out for over half that time!)

Also that the “unicorn genre” is so saturated as to include not just one, but several zombie/unicorn crossover titles!


A Zombie Unicorn Story

Unicorn Zombie Apocalypse PRO

I also discovered that to try and be “inclusive” and show a representative sampling of unicorn app icons would not only be foolish, but probably take me days to compile. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of apps with unicorn icons. Of course, it’s possible, maybe even likely that most or all of these titles are just trying desperately to capitalize on the success of Robot Unicorn Attack, a game so successful that it not only has a freemium sequel, but also spawned “Heavy Metal” and “Christmas” editions:

Robot Unicorn Attack

Robot Unicorn Attack 2

Robot Unicorn Attack Heavy Metal Edition

Robot Unicorn Attack Christmas Edition

The earliest unicorn app store experience I can remember was discovering that Minnesota’s own Mono had created an app that allowed you to make yourself into a unicorn, called Younicorn. That was back at the end of ’09, and I remember the link getting passed around the office, and some brief (but lively!) discussion about how easy it would have been to make, and yet, none of us thought of it!


Game Design: For Science

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

zooniverseSo, I’ve been following the Zooniverse projects for a while now, ever since the retired “Galaxy Zoo” project. For those not familiar, the Zooniverse projects (you can see a list of current projects on that link to their homepage) are basically crowdsourcing science. Each one takes a relatively focused (and menial) task that would take a researcher or research team years to complete, and makes a pretty simple web interface that allows “citizen scientists” to participate. The tasks all appear to be (at least from my limited experience — I’ve only done two or three of them) mostly image recognition of one kind or another. Interestingly, in the Zooniverse Reddit AMA (ask me anything) this afternoon, I learned that one of their retired projects was used to successfully train a computer to perform the tasks that the humans were completing, and thus, the project is no longer needed. That is some pretty cool computer SCIENCE.

Until today, I hadn’t given much thought into the people behind Zooniverse. But when I did think about it, I sort of assumed it was like rocket science — in other words, impossibly hard tech-wizardry. Reading the AMA where the team answered questions about quite a lot of their projects and process was for me a humanizing experience, striking home for me that, much as scientists are real people, (not superhumans), so too are the people who make really amazing software that advances science (also not superhumans).

As an aside, I think I have sort of an inferiority complex when it comes to “real” scientists. Not that I don’t know a few here and there, I do have a healthy smattering of PHDs in my facebook friend feed, (who for some reason don’t count). I think of “real science” as this thing that you have to be WAY smarter than me to do. When, in reality — or anyway my newly rationalized version of reality — I am now trying to internalize the idea that much of scientific discovery is not “breakthroughs” and genius-level eureka moments, but rather made up of tiny incremental observations and discoveries. Maybe this putting scientists on a pedestal comes from reading too much science fiction where there is a lot of hand-waving around what happens when the big breakthroughs are made. (This is actually something I do occasionally fault science fiction for, one of my pet peeves is when some near-future science fiction novel’s plot hinges on one or more breakthroughs that completely disrupt modern society, yet we’ve never heard of them before.)

Anyway, the Zooniverse projects aren’t quite gamefied, at least not in a competitive sort of way. I’ve “helped” a bit with a couple of the latest ones, and some of them give you some nice stats about how many images you’ve helped classify, and that sort of thing, which could be used to create a leaderboard or achievements, but the messaging around all the projects is much more about how you are helping further science than about how you can score more points or get the next gold star.

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 11.57.37 PMWhich brings me to my next example of crowdsourced science, the far more gamefied “puzzle” game, Phylo. Phylo is played by moving squares around the gameboard, matching their colors vertically, and trying to optimize (or eliminate) empty space between them horizontally. The link between science and what you are doing in Phylo is a bit harder to grasp than in the Zooniverse projects, but as near as I can tell, the colored squares represent genetic sequences of DNA or RNA. From the project’s about page: “By taking data which has already been aligned by a heuristic algorithm, we allow the user to optimize where the algorithm may have failed.” The game is interesting at least, to the puzzle gamer in me, if not actually fun (it would probably be considered fun to some people, I can’t quite decide why I don’t think it’s fun, even though it’s got that “just one more game” draw for me), and they have packaged up the game with a leaderboard and “levels” (that all represent sequences that need matching). There is even an end-game condition, whereby you have to meet the “par” set by the computer algorithms before you can complete each game.

So back to my observation that scientists, or at least the computer programmers who help scientists are not superhuman, and my final link-observation that much of the Zooniverse code is up on github. This means that, if I had the time to spare and inclination (and an image cataloging project I wanted to crowd-source) I could probably get a pretty decent head start by checking out what they’ve already put together. That observation led to my thinking about whether the power of lots of humans playing could be harnessed to create the ultimate video game. A kind of crowd-sourced game design. I imagine a sort of branching-path puzzle game where at the root node, the game is in its simplest form, (and probably least creative). Then, you give the player a choice of whether they want x feature, or y feature. You measure how many people chose x vs y, and you make games x and y also, so you can measure how long players “stick with” both. (One assumption here is that a “sticky” game is good game design.) You could build this incrementally, so maybe in the beginning only a few branches are “built out”, just to have some content, and then you keep building branches, ideally in direct response to additional user feedback or surveying. Wouldn’t that be fun? The problem is that of course you need to generate the “branch ideas” from somewhere. Maybe you also let the players contribute ideas that also get voted on. (A sort of “other” survey answer.) Dunno, it was just a thought. Might be fun tho.

Emotiv Kickstarter Ends This Weekend

Saturday, September 14th, 2013

20130914-083342.jpgI just got my reminder email that the Kickstarter for the Emotiv Insight is ending in 3 days (38 hours now). Just like the Ouya, Oculus, and Google Glass, I’m deciding to pass. Not because I don’t believe in the products, but because I think it is too soon. These first-run products are too limited. They are all, in my opinion, important evolutionary steps in their particular niche of the human tech tree, but none meet or exceed what I imagine to be the potential inherent in their design.

Kickstarter has been amazing for getting these revolutionary products (sans Google Glass) into the hands of consumers without needing the infinite pocketbooks of, say, google. I do think human trials are an important fist step in the process, but only google really has the capability to do an 8,000 person beta test. So the other products, even though nobody knows really what they’re for, or how they will be used, have to be dressed up as a finished product. (I guess the Ouya is the outlier here, it’s a perfectly viable product already, just needs more games, IMO. It’s also not doing anything particularly revolutionary.)

Puzzle Up, async tetromino action

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I spent some time this morning writing up some feedback for a relatively new game in the app store that seemed at first like it would definitely be right up my alley. It’s called Puzzle Up, and is essentially an async version of a game where you fit a given set of tetrominos into an empty bunch of squares on the gameboard. I’ve played a few different versions of this type of game over the years, I think Zentomino was the first one I played (it hit the app store in August 2010, and was by the makers of a very popular Tangrams app at the time, TanZen), followed shortly thereafter by Doodle Fit. (Which must have done well, because they eventually made a Doodle Fit 2.)

Anyway, here’s what I wrote in a TouchArcade forum post about Puzzle Up:

I don’t feel like I have a good enough sense of what is transpiring on the other end of the game. I would like some kind of replay of their fumbling through the puzzle I sent them. (Ideally sped up, so I don’t have to sit through a seven minute animation if they took the whole time.) I know this would be difficult, but it would really help, IMO. At the very least, I think there should be an intersticial view before I start the puzzle they sent me that tells me how they did in the puzzle I sent them. There may be this screen already, but it doesn’t include the puzzle I sent, (I don’t think), and only includes their time.

Another thing is that, after a game ends, it seems like we just start another game right away, which is super confusing, and leaves me with the impression that this thing just goes on forever, and why would I continue to play it? At the very least, the app should definitely ask you if you want a rematch with the other player, maybe giving you some stats on that screen about your plays against that player. (Check out the game over screen in Lost Cities for an incredibly well done example of this.)

I’m always a big fan of stats in games, so I’d love to see more of them in general. The gamecenter leaderboard for number of victories is a good start.

In general, I think this could be a really fun game with a bit more polish. It’s like an async version of Zentomino or Doodle Fit.

I hope that wasn’t too harsh. The developer was looking for feedback. I do think showing your opponent’s turn is an important part of any asynchronous game experience, and you even see it ignored in some pass and play game modes (if there’s no hidden information, this may be excusable, because everyone could be looking on while you take your turns, but I’ve seen this problem in games with hidden information too).

As I said, Puzzle Up does have potential, but it feels like slapping asynchronous single player onto a game that pretty much already exists. Incidentally, this is pretty much what Zinga did with their recent release Gems With Friends. (Essentially, it’s an async version of TripleTown.) Puzzle Up even has some similarities to Gems With Friends in that the game is split into 3 “turns”, with each turn resulting in a score. You sum total of all three turns is your score for the game, and whoever has the highest score at the end wins.

There’s one other game that deserves a repeat mention here, and that’s Dawn of Play’s fabulous Dream of Pixels. Dream of Pixels also has a game mode similar to this style of gameplay, (it’s called puzzle mode), but the difference is that you’re still constrained by Dream of Pixel’s primary game mechanics, (which are out of scope for this rant, so I’ll let it suffice to say that you should check it out if you haven’t already). This is so much more satisfying to me, because it doesn’t feel like a game I’ve played before.

I’m neck-deep in Apple’s GameKit code to support turn-based asyncronous play in my next game, so all of this thinking is definitely relevant to what I’m doing these days.

Dream of Pixels

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012

I have been remis on here not writing about a game I got to help beta test called Dream of Pixels. It’s been available on the app store for exactly a week today, and has received some amazing reviews and press, over at TouchArcade, as well as some other crazy prestigious places like Kotaku and IGN. The game’s designer, Žiga contacted me months ago to say he liked Go-Tetris, and would I like to test his latest Tetris-inspired game. Of course I said yes, and I was VERY pleasantly surprised at how great it is. We’ve exchanged more than a few game recommendations in the time since, and it’s clear we share very similar game tastes. I’ll admit to a bit of jealousy at how great it looks and feels to play. It’s a brilliant game that turns Tetris on its head and does something different with our friends the tetrominos.

Dream of Pixels is an absolutely fantastic game, and if you buy one tetris-inspired game this year, it should be Dream of Pixels. If you have room for two Tetris-inspired games, then I also recommend Oppo-Citrus.

Pumpkin Tetris

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Over the years I’ve seen a number of Tetris-themed halloween costumes, but this is a first for me! Some dude made Pumpktris (is that pronounceable?), which is to say, a playable version of Tetris in a Pumpkin. Follow the link, or check out the video below:

360iDev 2012 & Game Jams in general

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I went to 360iDev, an iPhone/iOS conference that has been going on for a few years now, devoted entirely to iPhone (and now iPad) development. I actually went last year too, and that year had been to WWDC only a few months before. It was my first time at either conference, and I got a lot out of both of them. But the fact that 360iDev can even hold a candle to the flame that is Apple’s flagship developer conference (WWDC) speaks volumes about how great it is. This year, I elected to go to GDC instead of WWDC, but I still wanted to go to a big tech-focused conference, so I went to 360iDev.

Both years at 360iDev, I took part in the 360iDev Game Jam. (I also wrote a blog post about the game I made last year, which I then called ColorWheel.) This year, I teamed up with a guy named Levi that I’d never met or worked with before, we managed to make a pretty cool (albiet very simple) little puzzle game in the allotted 12 hours. I’ve tentatively started calling it Cloud Growth. I just finished a write-up of Cloud Growth, including some more details about the game’s development over on the Game Jam website. The theme of the game jam this year was “growth”, and our game heavily features clouds, so the naming was not particularly creative. The mechanics aren’t particularly creative either, but I can’t remember playing a game with them before, so I do want to polish this little prototype up, and release it at some point.

Anyway, Game jams are awesome. If you are interested in making games I would highly recommend the experience. But don’t take my word for it! At 360iDev, I attended a talk by Phil Hassey, an indie game developer who made a name for himself with a fantastic RTS called Galcon. Phil’s talk was mostly a postmortem for Galcon and his latest game Dynamite Jack, but he must have plugged Ludum Dare about twenty times. (He helps run the thing.) Ludum Dare actually happens bi-monthly. I was going to participate in August, but spent Friday evening working on a project to make games easier for me to write instead. (I will probably talk more about that project here on this blog eventually.)

It feels these days like there’s a game jam every weekend. Last weekend, for example, there was a game jam devoted to making games in the universe of Adventure Time, the TV show. (If I hadn’t been exhausted from a full week of 360iDev, and my lack of sleep that Tuesday night, I’d have been seriously tempted to take part, because Adventure Time is awesome.) A few months back there was a game jam where the participants were supposed to create games inspired by a twitter parody (@petermolydeux) of the relatively famous game creator/producer, Peter Molyneux. I think Peter Molyneux even attended the event!

Previously, I’ve also participated in the Global Game Jam. I can’t wait to do more of them.

Everything is a Remix

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

I’ve often gotten down on myself because I feel my primary form of creativity is taking things that I like from different sources and combining them. I’ve even gone so far as to talk about “combinatorial creativity” as an abstract concept (though I’m not sure I’ve done so in writing anywhere before today – I should look).

Anyway, today I stumbled onto the series of short films called Everything is a Remix, which (after having only watched the first two of four) I would (nonetheless) highly recommend.

I’m not sure I would go so far as to say that literally EVERYTHING is a remix, but I do think most forms of modern media are heavily inspired by (and often remixes of) existing art of some kind. Obviously, my games are no exception. I want to talk more about this idea, and “combinatorial creativity”, but I’ll leave that for a future post.

Professional Game Development Development

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Minnesota Mobile Game Developer Group

So after much discussion yesterday, I finally took initiative, and decided to make an idea a reality that I’ve had for a while now: starting a local meetup for mobile game developers. I set up a google group today, and spammed a bunch of local mailing lists I’m on, including our local IGDA chapter, Mobile Twin Cities, and the Cocoaheads of MN. My co-worker Breon, who is going to be a co-organizer, posted it over at the MN Android Developers Group, and the TC GTUG (Google Technology Users Group). I even have a pending event listing at

We’re obviously casting a wide net, so I hope everyone who might be interested in it gets to hear about it.

Game Camp

But a monthly user group isn’t the only thing we’ve got in the works! I recently stumbled onto the website for Game Camp, a bar camp style conference for game design. Here’s what the website says it’s about:

GameCamp gatherings are for the people who are building that world. It’s for the designers, coders, artists, writers, thinkers and, above all, the players who are making the 21st century the century of the game. GameCamp is about more than making games: it’s about playing them, thinking about them and how they affect our lives for good or for ill.

In the immortal words of Liz Lemon, “I want to go to there.”

We are in the VERY early stages of planning, but right now we’re
thinking this should happen in October of 2012 sometime.

National Game Development Month

And finally, there was one other game development community effort I discovered this week. I have no organizational stake in NaGaDeMo, (or National Game Development Month), but as a 3-time NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) alum, I know how powerful these shared experiences can be. And since I’m already working on a number of games, I don’t think it’ll be that great a stretch to start and finish a new one in the month of June.

I’ll definitely be posting more on at least some of these topics in the future. Here is the post about our first Mobile Gamedev Meetup next Tuesday, where you can find the eventbrite link and read about where and when exactly we’re going to be meeting.

Pit Chess / Recent Addictions

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

On Friday, my game designer friend Patrick alerted me to a post over at Play This Thing about Pit Chess. You can play Pit Chess on Kongregate, and it’s essentially a cross between chess and Drop 7. In case you’re not familiar, Drop 7 is a game where pieces with numbers drop from the top of the screen. You have to match up the numbers with positions on the gameboard to remove them from the board and score points. Pit Chess takes the pieces-drop-from-the-top mechanic and adds chess pieces and movement to the whole thing. Pieces drop whenever you make a move that doesn’t capture a pawn. As long as you continue to capture pawns, the screen empties, and you play cleanup for a while. When you inevitably run out of pawns to capture, you go back to capturing other pieces. The game emphasizes alternating between these two modes of gameplay by giving you a point multiplier that goes up as long as you capture pieces that aren’t pawns. There are Kongregate high score tables for highest multiplier, as well as highest scores in the two gameplay modes. I really dig this game, and sort of wish I’d thought of it. (It would have made a great Action Chess game mode!) Then again, I’ve got a lot of stuff I’ve worked on for ActionChess that hasn’t (yet!) seen the light of day.

I’m going to go back to playing fez now. I tweeted about this already, but there are Tetris shaped constellations in the night sky in Fez! I’m not even a fan of platform games usually, (although I played a fair bit of Mario III, and certainly Mario 64 back in the day), but Fez is just appealing to me on so many levels. I was pretty hyped up about it after seeing Renaud Bédard talk about the tech behind Fez at GDC earlier this year, and it’s definitely lived up to my high expectations so far. As an aside, we all have our indie developer crushes. One of mine is definitely Renaud. Check out this list of games he’s worked on!