Last time we took a look at the history behind Firemint and its popular Real Racing series. In this post we are going to go into a bit more detail on just how these games came about: design troubles, device compatibility considerations, gameplay mechanics, and ideas that help to define a developer and its products. Enjoy!
Everything To Everyone
A whole lot of iOS gamers are familiar with the Real Racing series. It’s well known (and rightly so) both as an example of the ever-increasing visual prowess of mobile gaming platforms and because it’s just plain fun. But creating something with so much quality and depth takes plenty of effort, especially considering that there are several possible generations of hardware to play it on. It’s quite the list, really, ranging from the original iPhone through the 3G, 3GS, 4, 4S, and now the 5. And let’s not forget the iPad, iPad 2, 3rd Generation, 4th Gen, and the adorable iPad mini. Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about the iPod Touch 1-5, either. So that’s, what, like 16 different iOS devices total, right? Each of them with their own limit on supported operating systems. Even ignoring the hardware side of things, that’s still at least five different OS platforms to check for compatibility.
The original Real Racing was developed in 2009: the middle of the iPhone 3G’s life cycle. Since the 3G was built around the earlier generations of iPhone, compatibility wasn’t too much of an issue. Real Racing 2, however, pushed things quite a bit further and gave the team a little difficulty when making it compatible with older devices. The game hit the App Store when the 3GS was still going strong and the iPhone 4 had only recently become available. According to Real Racing 3’s Development Director, Kynan Woodman, “Real Racing 2 was the first game where challenges with legacy hardware arose, but we managed to support everything back to the first iPhone on Real Racing 2.”
Even with a still comparably small list of devices and iOS software to worry about, things were starting to get more complicated. Firemint even went so far as to develop two separate base sets of code for its follow-up racing game: one designed to take full advantage of the iPhone 4 and fourth generation iPod touch’s specs, and one for everything that came before it. The different codes were then tailored to make the best use of their intended devices as possible by way of including different art assets, using higher framerates, etc.
Real Racing 3, on the other hand, will most likely break with that tradition of near-universal iOS compatibility. A number of older devices are incompatible with iOS 6, and many of them also lack the processing power to manage more demanding games. Compatible devices haven’t been officially announced yet but Real Racing 3 is “… using Open GL ES 2.0 and relies on this for the advanced lighting,” said Woodman. “Everything prior to the iPhone 3GS only supported OpenGL 1.0.” Given the specificity of that statement, it’s looking like support for anything predating the 3GS is off the table. It’s amazing to think that the lighting is what’s primarily responsible for the game’s hardware compatibility. Of course, iOS hardware upgrades are always an option and with each new release, prior versions become even more affordable.
What’s really interesting and even downright commendable about Firemonkey’s approach to Real Racing 3’s development, which began mid-2011, is the way it didn’t let hardware limitations dictate the design. “When we started developing Real Racing 3,” Woodman said, “we started out with a core question: ‘What could we achieve, if we imagine, even just for a moment, that we have no limitations whatsoever.’” It was a question meant to steer (no pun intended) people away from worrying about whether or not their ideas would be feasible on any particular iOS device and get them thinking much more freely.
In other words, they tossed all preconceived limits out the window and let their imaginations run wild. So they got to work creating the racing game they wanted to create, with no consideration as to whether or not the hardware could handle any of it. “We went into this project anticipating hardware as powerful as the iPhone 5,” Woodman said, “so when the iPhone 5 did come along, we were ready.”
The idea was to design the game first, then worry about hardware specs later. It gave the team at Firemonkeys more of a chance to explore their ideas, and to play around with any concepts they could dream up and give them a real shot before deciding if they would work in Real Racing 3 or not.
So they worked backwards; developing Real Racing 3 as they saw fit, then hoping they could find a way to put it on Apple’s current and at the time future hardware. Ideas were given time to be fleshed-out rather than getting the axe early on thanks to the “no limits” approach. This led to the inclusion of an honest-to-goodness rearview mirror to help keep an eye on everyone currently eating your dust, a larger number of racers on the track (22 instead of the previous 16), new events that have never been used in a Real Racing game before that also sadly haven’t been specifically named, and real world racetracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Silverstone.
Incorporating these tracks into Real Racing 3 is something that Firemonkeys is understandably excited about, especially considering all the work that went into the process. Each raceway needed to be thoroughly documented and multiple reference photos had to be taken. Once that step was finished it was time to research each track’s elevation data and use it to create a close digital approximation. It’s not a simple process, but the results are well worth it.
Of course, there’s also the Time Shifted Multiplayer everybody’s been talking about that allows players to race against friends and foes anytime, anywhere. “We didn’t start out with Time Shifted Multiplayer,” Woodman said, “we started out by putting real names on the cars and pretending that we had the ultimate multiplayer mode. It felt great and we worked our way back from there to Time Shifted Multiplayer.” It’s a method that’s resulted in some impressive new software technology that’s garnered a fair amount of attention since its announcement. It may not have ever come into being without such an open approach to design.
We’re still a ways off from Real Racing 3’s February release date, but that hasn’t kept people from talking about it. Not just the pretty graphics or the smooth controls, but also the unexpected surprises such as the Time Shifted Multiplayer which we’ll be taking a look at in the next post in this series. Even so, Firemonkeys is still holding a few of its cards close to its vest. It’s exciting to take a moment to consider just what it is we haven’t been told yet.
Talking to Terry Cavanagh (pictured, left), the first thing that jumps out at me is how pleasant he is. How soft-spoken and thoughtful he comes across as. Particularly for somebody who tortures people.
An award-winning independent developer from Ireland, Cavanagh has become known for wonderful, mercilessly difficult games like VVVVVV and Super Hexagon. The latter is Cavanagh’s first iOS game; a low-fi arcade gauntlet that challenges players to move left and right to survive an incoming barrage of lines and shapes for as long as possible. It bent our brains in circles and became a surprise cult-hit on the App Store, moving about 72,000 copies since release, according to Cavanagh’s last look.
Wonderful. Mercilessly difficult. The two don’t quite go together, do they? Against all odds, however, it seems that driving people mad is what’s driven sales for Super Hexagon. It’s a phenomenon that beckons the question: why is a game that’s so hard so very easy to love? What makes difficulty so satisfying?
“I think it really comes down to a couple of small things,” reflects Cavanagh. “The main one is that it’s fair. It never feels like…” he pauses for a moment. “Put it this way: whenever you mess up in the game, it always feels like it’s your fault, and that’s really, really important.” We’re talking about his game, but Cavanagh’s first guiding principle speaks to a fundamental shift in values within the industry.
Where once it was understood – embraced, even – that quarter-sucking games would be hard-wired for player failure, notions of ‘cheapness’ have taken over. Blistering difficulty can still exist, but with less erratic exceptions and more dependable rules. If dependability is one piece of the difficulty puzzle, it becomes clear in talking more with Cavanagh that simplicity is its interlocking mate.
“With [Super Hexagon], the sort of things that can happen in the game are very simple, very learnable. In a sense, nothing comes out and surprises you.” Almost immediately, he corrects himself. “Well I suppose that’s a lie…waves are decided randomly at the edges of the screen… [but] every pattern in the game is discrete and learnable. That’s a big part of the game; training your muscle memory and getting to know the patterns.” An important distinction, it seems. Nailing down the difference between too hard and just hard enough means understanding that systems can be complex, but that learning them shouldn’t be.
Playing Super Hexagon, it’s easy to see the way that approach informs every layer of the game. Case in point? The score. Far from recycling the bloated arcade method left over from the coin-op era, Cavanagh gives players only one measure of success: time. An ever-present reminder of the true game at work…survival of the fittest.
Soon after the game’s release, it became apparent that this choice just may have been the unexpected ace in the hole. Players would tweet out their latest time, wearing it like a badge of honor. Super Hexagon has no formal social features, no “tools for virality,” but armed with their hard-fought numbers, players began jostling for position in a metagame of milliseconds. I ask Cavanagh if that was part of his plan all along, and while he won’t speculate as to the social impact, I may have just discovered a third rule of difficulty.
“I think you’re dead right about the score being an exact measure of how good you are,” says Cavanagh. “If you’ve lasted for 14.36 seconds, that’s an exact measurement; it tells you a lot of information, which is not like the kind of scores we’re used to seeing. People are used to seeing exaggerated scores, scores that are multiplied by a million. Scores where there are all sorts of measures in place to prevent you from knowing how you’re actually doing. I think having a score that means something makes the score important to players.” Something to strive for. Arguably, difficulty becomes easier to cope with when success isn’t obfuscated by jargon, when players feel like they’re being rewarded for of their work.
Inevitably, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Feeling rewarded. Yet in some ways, that leads me back to square one, wondering what could be so rewarding about frustration. About losing. Pausing again, Cavanagh responds simply.
“I don’t know if I really think of the game as frustrating.” Only then do I realize, I’ve never asked what he does think of the game. So I ask.
“I feel like you’re trying to get into a rhythm with the game; when you’re playing the game really well, it has this sort feedback, and your senses are going off at the right time, and you’re making all the right moves, and everything…just feels right. And the game is about trying to get into that frame of mind.”
And perhaps that’s when something that’s so hard becomes so easy to love: when the pursuit of that feeling is more satisfying than the experience of not always finding it.
Everyone’s messed around with building bocks in some form or another at some point in their life. Everyone. It’s kind of a universal thing. Which is a big reason as to why I’m somewhat amazed that very few people have attempted to merge the concept with interactive design. It’s one of those ideas that doesn’t seem obvious until someone comes up with it. And Boldai came up with it.
Blocksworld is, in essence, a set of virtual building blocks. Structures can be cobbled together, tiny people can be crafted, and all manner of impossible creations can appear with a few taps and flicks. But simply creating a thing is only the beginning. Once that mutant frog or towering skyscraper is complete, it can be brought to life or used as an asset in an animated movie or even video game. This is because it’s more than just a sandbox, it’s an incredibly easy to use toolset for creative types.
Any iOS user can open up Blocksworld and create whatever their imagination can come up with. Then they can use it to create their own action movie or turn it into a game, then they can share it with the world on the official website. Or Twitter and Facebook, of course. The tools are rudimentary but the sky is indeed the limit.
Blocksworld is still in beta but is expected to release later this summer. There’s no official word on pricing yet but users will be able to purchase additional content packs (prices also TBD) in order to bolster their creative arsenal.
Hex codes and RGB values might sound like another language to many but they’re vital tools of the trade for designers and developers. Every color has its own hex code and RGB value which in turn can be used to re-use the color elsewhere such as on a webpage or when programming a new app or game.
Finding out the codes is not always as easy as it should be though.
Enter Color Matcher, an app that takes out all the trouble. Simply run an image from the photo library or directly from the camera, and take a look. Colors can then be put into palettes to be easily organized and a recent history section makes it easy to consult earlier color entries.
It’s the kind of tool that will instantly become a firm favorite with designers and developers alike thanks to its simple yet effective layout that works just perfectly.
Color Matcher is freely available for all iOS devices now.
If you’re a designer, creative person or just like viewing the latest projects that people are working on, Dribbble is for you. It’s a community created by Dan Cederholm for designers, developers, artists and other people that show off their work in small, cropped “shots”; and its free to sign up, start browsing and following creative people from around the globe.
Dribbblr is the perfect companion to the site; developed by Tapmates, it makes use of Dribbble’s API to offer up an extremely well-crafted experience that’s tailored for the iPad’s display. Shots are shown four to a page in landscape mode, and two to a page in portrait mode; these are full-size images so it’s easy to navigate through. You can use the app to browse through everyone’s work even if you’re not a member of Dribbble, but signing up for the service will allow you to browse shots from people that you follow.
It should be noted that the Dribbble API is still in beta form, so any app that uses the API can only read data from Dribbble’s server. That means that commenting, uploading, liking a shot and following other users isn’t currently possible. This is why the developers have bundled a browser with the app, so that the website is only a tap away.
So why download this one, anyway? Well, for one, it’s free (paying $2.99 will remove the unobtrusive advertising), but two it’s also a strong application both in design and usability; comments slide in with a barely audible click, the title bar has a lot of personality with the handwritten typography, and the main loading indicator is a bouncing basketball, tying into the Dribbble theme. It’s the perfect “coffee table app”; like a virtual magazine that updates itself whenever new shots are posted to the website. Dribbblr will also inspire without an Internet connection with a nice collection of wallpapers for the iPad and so is a great one to get, especially if you’re itching to show off your device.
Posted November 2nd, 2010 by Brian Hudson Our Rating: :: SOLID TOOL
Graphic artists and designers looking for a vector-based drawing solution for their iPads might want to take a look at iDraw, a solid vector-based drawing app that lets anyone create good-looking designs.
Remember .™? If you don’t, the title was the debut of London-based iPhone development studio ustwo™. The game was 2D and involved the user guiding a white dot around a playing field, trying to avoid red matter (triangular), and collecting blue matter (circular). It hit the mainstream for a number of reasons, firstly for its design ethics, but secondly and most importantly being that it was the first ever application to have hit the App Store, whilst having been designed from concept to final within a 48 hour period.
This had never been done before. The thought of developing a polished title such as .™ within such a short period of time, to most other developers I imagine may have started their worst nightmare. There are going to be 6 titles within this ‘exclusive’ set of apps – sorta a “collect em’ all” diddy. The first was .™ which we profiled a few weeks back, and the next is supposedlyInkstrumental™ CRAZO™ (although as we mentioned in our previous first look, the studio themselves isn’t sure if that’ll ever see the light of day, yet.)
In the meantime the studio isn’t standing still, today announcing the sequel to their debut hit title. Calling it ..™. Having not seen the game yet myself, or had chance to play with it, I can only go off this visually stunning teaser trailer which the company has just released above, which to me seems to convey we might just be in store for some 3D goodness – (well .. I hope so)! While it’s not clear if this sequel will follow the 48 hour development method ustwo™ are now famous for, you have to admit that ..™ trailer is pretty damn trippy.
Having played .™, it’s addictive nature tends to bring with it high replay value, and as with any title, high replay usually means value for money. With no word on price yet, it’s hard to judge if ..™ will live up to it’s original – but according to ustwo™ we won’t have to wait long to find out. The title is expected to hit very, very soon.
Update: In a stark move, the studio has created a fully interactive online version of the upcoming game. Part of their new ’48App’ section, you can now play both .™ and ..™ flash versions – here. Looks like ..™ will be 3D after all! Although, it’s still unclear whether the game will use touch and drag gesture controls, or take advantage of the accelerometer. We’ll see!
Delayed but not forgotten! Ok, so this is the most people I’ve ever had to apologize to at once, well except for that night in Vegas…on stage with Cirque Du Soleil…I’ve said too much. Regardless I must apologize for the delay of our Design A GelaSkin contest, as it turns out even we are not immune to the technical difficulties of the interwebs. Alas it’s all done, our galley is set up and awaiting submissions, our voting plan is setup, and I’m just itching to see what kind of creativity you, our readers, are really made of.
If you haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about here’s a brief recap of my blog post a few days ago. Today we are beginning a new contest called Design A GelaSkin, if you’re not familiar with them, check out their site, each case is truly amazing and we need you to design one for us. If yours is chosen not only will you get a free skin for yourself and your very own 148Apps T-Shirt but also your design will be on a limitless amount of skins that we will be sending out for promotions and giveaways around the world!
Even if your not an artist we still need your help on picking out the best design so please come vote!
Welcom to the Design A GelaSkins Gallery Page. All submissions are added the night of submission so if you don’t see yours right away don’t fret, it will be there in the morning. To keep things honest voting will not take place until all the submissions have been made. In the mean time feel free to make comments about them at the bottom. Click here for more contest details. Spread the word!