Sparks Fly on the iPhone with Ohmz
by Deborah M. Fike · 06/04/2009 (3:19 pm) · 7 comments
With more than one billion apps downloaded just nine months after the AppStore launch, the iPhone continues to surpass expectations on what this handheld device can achieve. It's not surprising that many developers are reaching for a piece of the $5.4 billion mobile gaming market with the most disruptive device the industry has seen in years.
Enter Suggestive Content Interactive (SCI), a company devoted solely to iPhone and iPod Touch game development. SCI just launched its first iPhone game, Ohmz, a colorful pachinko style game where players are challenged to catch falling objects. The more pegs that the orb hits, the more objects get put into play, and the more intense the game gets. As usual, a pixel is worth a thousand words:
Designer and Programmer Brian Chaon, Producer Dave Haas, and Artist Jordan Frayne all took time out of their busy point release schedule to talk to me about using iTGB to create Ohmz. Read on and enjoy!
Where did your inspiration for Ohmz come from?Brian: When we started Suggestive Content Interactive, we were discussing different ideas on what we wanted to make first. We had several great ideas on the table. While brainstorming I remembered that I had the pachinko project I could use as a tech demo. I am a big fan of pinball and I played a lot of PopCap's Peggle. I had been spending a lot of time in TGB trying to figure out how to create the ball bouncing effect of pachinko style games, and I was able to get it down fairly quickly. I showed it to Dave Haas and he immediately announced that this was going to be our first project. I then went to work improving it and spent some time with the team to figure out how to make it control best on the iPhone. The other big step was to make sure that it wasn't a “Peggle Clone” like most pachinko style apps are.
What was your development progress like?Dave: Nine people total were involved in development process. Even our interns had an impact on the scripting of the game. We were very open with communication. We had a very diplomatic working relationship with all the members on the team. It was usually a majority rule as far as any changes or adjustments go.
Brian: On the programming side of things, it was kind of interesting really. Rather disorganized at first because we were still organizing roles. I was the designer and Torque scripter for at least the first half of the project. Mind you I am not a programmer, but I understood how the scripting worked, at least enough to get results. As the scripting became more elaborate we picked up Mitch Thomas to do the dirty work from there on out. In the middle of development, I experienced a death in the family, and my involvement on the project decreased to near nothing. During this time Mitch went on to partner with Kyle Hoosier to help get through the scripting. One would work on the project until they got stuck or tired and then pass it off to the other. This all went on while they were working on other projects. Needless to say a lot more got done than I would have been able to do as far as scripting was concerned.
Jordan: As an artist, the unusual thing about creating art for the iPhone is the pixel depth or size. Art on your monitor appears very different than it does on the iPhone. This would be easy to deal with if it wasn't my first time creating artwork for this platform. I figured that most things on my monitor would appear fuzzy or pixelated, where on the iPhone they would become crisper. Pixel painting, which I normally laughed at, became very important and showed me that the human eye mixed with the current screen technology are very powerful things. One pixel of color can make a world of difference on any given image.
"Pixel painting, which I normally laughed at, became very important and showed me that the human eye mixed with the current screen technology are very powerful things." - Jordan Frayen, Artist
What software did you use to create Ohmz?Brian: I built the tech demo and early versions of the game in TGB. The other programmers had their own version of TGB as well and a lot of testing happened there. When something worked in TGB and we wanted it implemented into the game, it then went over to our current version of the game on iTGB. Then we hammered out any possible compatibility issues and sent it home with Dave to test. The artists mainly used Adobe Photoshop. I actually created the Ohmz picture on the front page and icon in Adobe Illustrator based on a drawing by Jordan. We used these tools because we already had licensed copies of them before we started SCI (apart from iTGB) and they did what we needed them too.
What were your biggest technical hurtles?Brian: For me it was really sitting down to figure out TGB. The best advice I can give to new people is to keep going and don't get discouraged. Learning the scripting is not a fast process, but the more time you spend with it the better you will get. By the time I stopped scripting for the project, I knew quite a bit more and understood the logic much better than when I started. I am still an amateur when compared to programmers, but I am proud of what I know.
We also fell into a problem with collision several times. It would work on the computer and in the simulator, but not on the iPod Touch. Sometimes Torque decided to throw a curve ball and suddenly collision would stop working all together, and I would have to remake the level to get it to work again. I am sure there is probably a better way to fix collision but the remake method worked.
Another hurdle was making sure that we were not overwhelming the iPhone. Our game can still bog down the system, but it doesn't happen as often as it used to. Initially we had too much going on, such as a collision emitter on each of the pegs that got pulled. If a slow down occurs now, it is usually when a player has an extremely good throw and they put in forty plus objects into play. At that point, though, you almost want the game to slow down so you have a chance of catching what you need to. If there was a PC version, I would be tempted to code the slowdown in.
One of the last hurdles we overcame was getting the saving system to work. This puzzled us from the start. We were not quite sure how to get it to work. Then there was a post under Resources on GarageGames by Dave Calabrese called Loading and Saving Game Data on the iPhone / iPod Touch that brought that into light. I would like to thank Dave Calabrese for the resource. We then handed the game over to our intern Jonathan Brunz. He executed it without a hitch and implemented the high score save into the game just as we had requested. So in turn we upgraded his intern status to being one of the programmers on the project, as you will see on the credits page.
We are not quite done with our hurdles, though. We have a few things that we are doing right now to have ready for our first update. Sorry can't tell you much about that at the moment. Right now we are waiting for GarageGames to jump the 3.0 compatibility hurdles. Once that is smoothed out you should see hopefully see our first update.
How long did it take to create the beta build?Dave Haas: Two months. It probably would have been earlier if we had a dedicated programmer from the start. Brian was doing most of the programming in the beginning. But he even will tell you that his ability is limited.
Brian: My ability is limited as a programmer.
Brian: I actually was a graphic designer/artist for a few years. Had we had actual programmers from the beginning and had me helping with art, I have no doubt that we could of had a beta on the iPhone within a couple weeks. I was doing a lot but I was learning as I went, which wasn't the most efficient way of doing things.
How did you accomplish QA?Brian: We never had a dedicated QA person or a full on testing phase. Shh. Dave and his wife did a lot of the testing. When business hours were over, the iPod Touch that we were building on went home with Dave. The next day he would be in with a list of issues. We would hammer those out and send him home with the iPod Touch again.
Suggestive Content Interactive found a resource posted by fellow GG community member, Dave Calabrese, that fixed one of their saving issues during development.
What did you learn in creating Ohmz?Dave: I learned that marketing is way more important than I ever thought it would be. You could have the world's greatest game, but if the buying public doesn’t know it’s out there, you got nothing but software sitting on a shelf.
If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
Brian: We started out with the intent of having the development process fully scheduled out, but as we moved forward it became a little more chaotic. Some of the reasons were beyond our control, but had we been a little more structured, we may have been able to beat Peggle out the door. Steps are being taken to make sure that we improve structure for our next projects. And as I mentioned earlier, it would have been nice to have a real programmer in charge from the beginning.
What can we expect to see next from Suggestive Content Interactive?Brian: As far as Ohmz is concerned, we are excited about what we have in store for its first update. We have a feeling it will give the game the edge it needs to pull ahead of its competitors.
Dave: We are also about to go into pre-production for our next project. I really can’t go into too much details but, it's going to be on a much larger scope. I hope that the next project will push the limits of our creativity and really set us apart from the rest of the crowd.
Brian: We are pretty pumped about what the future holds. All I can tell you is that one of our next games has trolls in it and will be aimed again at the casual market.
"I learned that marketing is way more important than I ever thought it would be. You could have the world's greatest game, but if the buying public doesn’t know it’s out there, you got nothing but software sitting on a shelf." - Dave Haas, Producer
Thanks to Brian, Dave, and Jordan for providing me with lots of content for this interview. Good luck with the Ohmz update!
For more stories like this, check out GarageGames' Developer Interview series.