Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gettin' 'er done!

After I completed the basic game play last night on trivia with the canned data I started working on getting it to work with 'live-like' data from the website. It's been a little slower than I hoped, but I've been getting the XML parsing integrated pretty well into the application. By the time I'm done, I'll have likely doubled the app size. :) This morning's going to be spent trying to get it to download the XML from the web and then get the parsing started. I've got plans for the afternoon, so I won't likely get back to this until tonight at the earliest.
I'm just liking how things are starting to come together and seeing hourly progress has been a wonderful change from the hours of beating my head against the wall. :)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Trivia Update

It's been a pretty good few days. I've finished the basic game play for trivia. I had previously done some background graphics and those worked beautifully in the game. There are still some things to do:
  • Icons for all of the categories (for buttons)
  • Question parsing in the application
  • Question creation on server
  • Database storage for game persistence on iPhone
  • More questions than I can even possibly imagine
I have been considering using XML as the format for the questions. I like it for a variety of reasons, but the problem is that its a very verbose format. Data transfer is always a concern with iPhone apps and the smaller the format and the more compression I can do, the less I need to worry about killing someone's phone while they play. I may still use XML as the full format but compress it before I send it.
As for the rest of it, the major part of the work that I need to do is get the server to start serving the pages. I'm going to be getting a basic XML file set up on the website so I can at least see it serve the file and then parse it on the app side. Then I can add a small interface one both sides to compress/decompress the data.
On the dev program front, I still haven't received the email or seen the website update yet. I'm hoping that soon things will be sorted out and updated.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Storm update

This has nothing to do with development, but I went out this morning to get the final storm totals here at the house. In places I've only got about 5" of snow, but on the lawn (which is actually where it counts) it's 11.5". That's good news for my lawn, which has been languishing in the unseasonably warm and dry weather we've been having.
School's closed again today, so I'm working from home. Cathy's also running a fever, so it sort of didn't matter whether school was closed or not. Not sure what's going on with her, as she hasn't really "seemed" sick over the past day, but she definitely ran a fever this morning (101.3).
That's all for now. Still not update on the Apple website about my approval nor any email from them. I'll post when I hear.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Fantastic news!

As I sit at home working on real work (and the occasional OVP work), I received a phone call from England (the +44 country code was a dead giveaway :). Anyway, I thought it might have been our friend Verona Chard (who is amazing), but it was APPLE! They called to confirm that my enrollment in the Developer Program had been verified and that everything was moving forward. They're sending an email with some more information about the program, but I did finally get notice that I'm officially in the program.
Yay. And yay again.
[Updated: 15:29] On the weather front, it's been very reasonable around the house. We've got about 5" of snow here, which is supposedly 9" less than we got at the old house. It's still snowing at a good clip, but the forecast is only calling for another 1-3", which is not all that much. I had been expecting more than a foot and 8" is manageable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Making Progress

Well, it's been a pretty good couple of days. Pretty productive, actually. Here's what's been going on with development.
With Trivia, I've been getting the view flow working the way I want, which has been great. I've been adding in some functionality as I go just to make sure that it works properly and it has been. Like I said before, this is a big "Yay" moment as I have been making good progress. All I can say is that I'm pretty stoked as I get moving with this stuff. It's been a long time coming, but as all developers can tell you, when you finally get something working and things start clicking it's hard to stop. :)
As for Samantha, I've been making some good progress on the game systems. I'm working on combat right now and trying to figure out how much some of the actions cost - it's been interesting seeing how tweaking elements change the dynamics. For instance, I increased the damage caused by an action by one point of damage and it completely altered how combat worked. I've been able to make some good progress on it, but there's a lot more to do still. I think I'm going to be able to start finalizing the systems in the next week and then start coding it up.
I think given the progress that I'm making on trivia, though, that I'll try to finish the coding for that by the end of next week and then it's just TONS and TONS and TONS of data entry trying to get the trivia questions in the database. I also need to make two versions of the game. One thing that I've seen again and again in the blogs I'm reading is that having a trial/lite version of the game, especially if it's free, really does a lot for sales. Owen at Streaming Colour is seeing about 2-3% conversion rate on lite-to-full version, which is just amazing (many companies are happy with 0.1% or 1/30th of what he's seeing). He has put his game on sale (it originally went for $4.99 and now it's being priced at $2.99). I think the $4.99 price was a mistake and the $2.99 price is a good price point. He's got a good game, but $4.99 was a bit of a put-off.
For Trivia, I'm thinking of pricing it at around $1.99 for the full version (lite will obviously be free). The lite version will also be locked so that it only asks for Kids questions (as opposed to the full version which will offer 7 more categories and a Miscellaneous category). I'm hoping that $1.99 is going to be competitive with other games in the market (when last I looked it was). I'm also hoping that the model I'm using where the questions are served from a central database will make it more interesting for people as the number of questions can be expanded. That, plus the online leader board that I'm going to do will separate it from several of the other offerings out there. So long as I can make the quality of the questions better, that may help differentiate. It's definitely not what I'm looking at for a huge cash cow long-term - it's a good way of getting Otto Von's name out there and generating some buzz for the other games (I hope). :)
We're supposed to get a major snow storm tonight (8+ inches), so I'm probably just going to hunker down and work on stuff as much as possible. We'll see how good conditions are in the morning as to whether I go in to work, but I'm actually planning on not going in right now and if I do, I will definitely be leaving early. And Susie's still planning on coming back Friday afternoon from her business trip, so it's a busy week and weekend.
On the Apple developer program front, still nothing. I emailed them on Monday and faxed the documents again, but still no word other than "Requested documents must be received". :( I'll post up more when I hear more from them.
That's it for now. Centennial, Colorado signing off. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Dev Program Update

So I got home from work this afternoon and had an email in my in box from Apple about the iPhone Developer Program.
In reviewing your enrollment status, we noticed that we are waiting for documentation from you in order to complete the identity verification for your iPhone Developer Program enrollment request. To proceed with your enrollment, fax the requested documentation to blah, blah, blah...
If you have already faxed the requested documentation, please contact us.
Yeah... So I sent them an email saying that I've already sent it to them three times - once last week and twice today (the first fax was at "normal" resolution - 200x100 dpi - so I sent it again at "fine" - 200x200). I just hope they received it, they process it, and we move on it. There are a couple of things I still need to work on for doing beta programs and such, so there are things I can be learning about once it's processed.
So anyway, now I get to wait - some more.

Combat Systems

Originally written 23 March 2009.
For Samantha, I have a lot of different possible ways to implement combat. I've been debating the different systems now for a while as mentioned in a previous post - casting points and mana pool. What seems to be evolving right now is a combination of the two, but with some modifications.
The first is that Susie liked the idea of keeping the casting points, but not in the same way that I had originally considered it. One idea now is that a player would have CP and whatever they didn't use in a single round would carry over to the next round. An example would be if you have 10 CP per turn and cast something that costs 6, the next turn you'll have 14. If you only use 5 of that, you'd carry over 9 to the next turn and so on. OR, it could only carry over what you don't spend up to 10 CP (in the example above only 5 would carry over to the third round). That's a lot more convoluted, though. It's certainly possible that if you're not casting a lot that you could really leave yourself open to some major damage (which would still deduct from your MP), but you might have a LOT of CP to cast some pretty major spells. I need to ruminate on it further to decide what to do.
I'm still pretty enamored of the idea of your MP being both your energy reserve and your health. I think it really adds something to the game. So I don't think that will change. As for how much MP someone has and how much the coven's MP comes into play remain to be seen. The CP concept just limits the number of things that can be done in a turn (as opposed to just arbitrarily limiting it to 1 or something). It also figures into the Affinities concept.
In the game there are going to be 5 different affinities - Fire, Water, Earth, Air, and Void. Each of them is represented by an arm or segment of a pentacle/pentagrams. Upon each arm is a gemstone holder. As players advance in levels, they can choose to improve their affinity with a particular element. For each gemstone (and the levels get progressively further apart), the casting point cost of a spell is reduced (to a minimum of 1). An example of this would be the following. Say a spell normally costs 5 CP to cast. If you have 3 gemstones of affinity in the spell's element, the cost would be reduced to 2 CP. If you gained two more gemstones of affinity, the cost would be 1 and stay there indefinitely.
One final thing about combat is that players can use items during combat. It will cost some number of CP to use an item, but some of the artifacts are things like mana gems that will restore some or all of your MP. That could be a huge boost in a long battle. Plus, those are likely to be for sale in groups of 10 or something through the App Store.
I'm still working through some of the logistics of the whole CP/MP thing, but I think I'm starting to come to some decisions on the systems and will be able to document the whole thing in the not-too-distant future. At least, that's what I hope. :)

The Waiting Kills You

As I mentioned in a post last Monday, I had finally gotten some kind of feedback from Apple about my application to the iPhone Developer Program. I had a status message of "Company Documents Needed". I sent in the requisite paperwork. And then I waited.
And waited.
And waited.
And the weekend came and went and still I was... waiting.
So this morning, one week after I sent in the documents originally, I decided that maybe the fax got lost or I was too quick to submit them or the fax wasn't legible or something! I decided to re-fax it again today. So now I sit around and

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Small Victory

I've been working on some things for the Empire Lyric Players (making rehearsal CDs if you must know), so I haven't been working on Project Samantha. I have, however, been working on making a couple of things work with Trivia. I got several new books* on iPhone development and one of the books finally had an example that did what I'm trying to do with the game.
One thing about the trivia game is that while it's similar to pretty much any other trivia game out there, trivia games are, by their implementation, anathema to iPhone user interface guidelines. There's no navigating back, there's no lists... It just doesn't fit the paradigm. Of course, since most books about developing for a platform (and conference sessions) tend to encourage the existing paradigms, doing something weird like trivia doesn't flow from the general texts. Until now, that is. :)
This book that I picked up, Beginning iPhone Development, is quite nice and has an example about multi-view applications that was just what I needed to move forward. There were some things that I wasn't doing correctly (and didn't realize weren't being done automagically) that doomed every previous effort to failure. With this new-found wisdom, however, I was actually able to get some of the flow working correctly. There is still a LOT to do to actually make the game into a workable system, but this was one of those A-HA! moments that gave me an insight into how the paradigm works. I was also able to extend some functionality without any trouble, which shows that I'm actually absorbing some of the Objective-C.
So, overall, a big YAY today as I got moving a little closer to understanding. And as I mentioned earlier, Samantha will actually follow more of the standard paradigm so it should be easier than trivia - amazingly.

* If you're interested, here's the list of books I've picked up so far:

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Development Processes

One of the things I wanted to post about was the process that I'm going to be using with Otto Von. I have always been a big proponent of agile methodologies, so I plan on implementing that kind of process with my company. You can read my posts over on my software development blog for more information about the whys and such, but I think that it tends to provide the best mechanism for making gradual yet complete improvements to a code base. It's easy, especially as an independent developer, to get lost if you try to work from a full feature list - you'll get some things partially done before you start working on something cooler. And in the end you'll end up with only part of the software done and that part is less than satisfactory.
There are some things that need to be sorted out in advance. For example, in Project Samantha I'm considering a lot of the game play design - how do things work together? what kinds of values will I use for various attributes? what kind of role does random chance play? But these are all parts of a user story about it. In the trivia game, for instance, I can plan the timing of the answer period and the number of points independently of how many questions make up a game. Or what format the question data takes. So those separately are user stories, but the vision and the interface of the various subsystems needs to be laid out a little more in-depth before I begin.
The main problem with 'agile development' is the tendency toward cowboy coding. In this case, I use it pejoratively to denote the "just get started" mentality - without vision, the coding ends up being no better than a prototype. And that's not the plan - I need a high-quality, high-value game at the end of this. That, or become a joke with the App Store crowd.
I've found some templates for game design that I've been using for some other project ideas I had. I'm going to be putting Samantha in that template so I can start play-testing the systems as well as capture some of the "cool" ideas I've come up with. :) That, and it should provide some kind of hint about how much work this is actually going to be. I may need to delay some things for an update (like things for higher-level players in Samantha). I may need to just dump some ideas outright (too much to handle). I won't really be able to make those calls and figure out what's really going to be in the "release plan" until I have the subsystems described.
Normally the user story would be very high-level and it acts as a token for a conversation to be had between the developer and the customer/designer. In this case, since I'm both, I'm planning on capturing the "conversation" in the story itself (or in the design docs). Ideally I would be either the designer or the developer, but it's a one-man show, so some accommodations needs to be made. :)
I'll post things up as progress is made about how well the process works/doesn't work and what kinds of adjustments I think need to be made to my base process. In the future, when I'm making money hand-over-fist and can afford to hire actual developers I'll be able to look back at this as the early definition and trial by fire of the process. Yeah, about that...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quick post

I just checked the Apple iPhone Dev Center and it says that my application is in the following state:
Company documents needed
. Requested documents must be received to proceed with enrollment
I've sent them in (Monday), but I'm guessing that this is the standard message they post until they've actually processed the documents.
Regardless, I think things are still moving forward. Better than the "If you've already applied, we're processing your application" message it used to have. :)


I've added a Wiki to the Otto Von site for the products that will be coming out. I'm going to be putting things up there about game play and systems as well as general help files. Project Samantha in particular may be a very complex game on some levels, so rather than embed tons of help files, I'm likely just going to add some brief help and a provide a link to the Wiki so people can look up things there. I can't imagine there will be too much help needed for the trivia game, but Samantha has the potential for some dizzyingly complicated components.
Anyway, the link's above if you're interested. There's some regular Otto Von stuff (like articles about the company) up there right now and more will follow later.

Radical Concept

Originally written 18 March 2009.
So I was reading through Daniel Cook's blog at Lost Garden about paintbox games. Danc is one of my former coworkers from Anark and one of the most brilliant individuals I've ever had the opportunity to know. He has an incredible talent of being able to synthesize global concepts from a number of disparate ones - like taking quantum mechanics, audio, global financial markets, and user interface design and coming up with a way of examining Nintendo. He boggles my mind, actually.
One of the things he said really made me sit up and take notice. In a blog from 2006 of all things, I found the following in his description of paintbox games: "The player can build or assemble something new and unique to the world." This got me thinking about Project Samantha, of course. One of the things that I have been working on lately is the list of artifacts that are available in the game. This began as the basic list of "mana gems" and moved into "affinity stones" and then into "creature body parts" (being like a Red Dragon's Claw). One thing that I liked from the origianl AD&D was the whole idea of people creating various artifacts (Machine of Lum the Mad). I began creating a list of mythical people from the game's past (including some obvious ones like Eisus (Susie spelled backwards) and some other that are names of characters I made for D&D). But it got me to wondering, though - why not allow players to create their own artifacts?
By allowing people to create their own artifacts including some easy ones like mana gems and using creature parts from guardians they kill to really difficult ones, players would be able to impact the future of the game directly. One thing that I want to do with the Trivia game is set it up so that players can submit questions and they'll get credit for it when the question is displayed (like, "Who won the MLB MVP trophy in 2009? - Provided by Joe Blow"). But in Samantha, players can create artifacts that will bear their name (the "Diadem of Joe Blow"). I need to figure out exactly how that's going to work in practice, but I think the idea is SOOOOOO completely compelling that I have to find a way to make it happen.
Anyway, that's just some thinking while I work on game systems. Yet another system to design and implement. Yay. :)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I've been really inspired by one of the iPhone developers who's been blogging about his experiences. His name is Owen and runs Streaming Colour Studios (his blog is located here). It's been a fascinating read and he's been brutally honest about his successes in selling iPhone applications. I found him through Slashdot and have been following him ever since, including going back and reading his earlier posts.
I've been inspired to talk about the business side of things because of his blog. I think a lot of people expect that developing for the iPhone will mean success like Ethan Nicholas' success (or Steve Demeter's). Thankfully I'm a lot more pragmatic than that. I'm hoping I might be able to get an extra sushi dinner each month from this. :) Not that I'd mind that success - hell, it would be awesome to be successful enough to do this full-time. As I mentioned, that's a long-term goal.
I've been piggybacking a bit on Owen's blog (and his links to other blogs) to see how other developers coping with things like price points, lite versions, etc. What kind of success are they seeing (or not seeing)? What kinds of strategies are they employing to try to maximize their sales? What kind of "sweet spots" in terms of pricing are they seeing?
I've been thinking about it especially as regards Project Samantha. How am I going to monetize the game? Will I have a free version and a paid version? A free version that can be upgraded in situ to a full version? What kind of security implications does that have? Do I keep the game free and offer paid add-ons (like iMob has done with respect points)? If there's a free vs. paid version, what restrictions do I place on the free version?
I'll post up more on what I decide to do when I finally decide to do it. I'm leaning in one particular direction and will make it clearer when I have a chance to really assess the benefits. In the meantime, Owen's blog has been fascinating. I also stumbled upon Snappy Touch's blog. He's working on a game idea that's similar to one that Susie and I thought of back in November - still in development. But he made a quick and dirty app called Tea Time! that gave him some insights into how the App Store and Apple's approval process worked. Again, fascinating reading.
As I come across more blogs and resources that I can recommend, I will add them here. Until then, enjoy these two very readable blogs.

Project Samantha

Just to whet some appetites about Project Samantha, I wanted to sort of lay out what I have in mind in broad strokes and leave the actual descriptions about what I'm working on until after I've got the game in beta. I expect to have a lot of posts about specific decisions and directions taken in the game in those posts, including how play testing affected the final incarnation.
Generally speaking, I'm envisioning Samantha as a multiplayer game with some single-player aspects to it. Actually, it's mostly single-player, but the multiplayer aspects are more around socialization and networking. Having played some games with networking components, I have some strong opinions about how those aspects will work in Samantha. It will be significantly streamlined and should be faster than some other apps in the market.
The main concerns I have are the graphics and the sounds and music. These are certainly areas where I am less than adept (not that I'm really that adept at anything else) :), so I have worries that the app will get dinged by reviewers and players for these areas. I hope that Susie can help out with the sounds and music. She has offered to do something for the music and I hope we can get some good sound effects as well, but these are definitely the areas I'm most concerned about. I'll likely get something reasonable for graphics, but I'm just not a digital artist by any stretch.
I think I have enough people who will sign up to help on the beta, though. I was very concerned about the potential bandwidth problems for two reasons. The first is that I have limited bandwidth on my site (I can increase it, but it does cost). The second is that more network traffic means less battery life on the device. While I think that a lot of people are beginning to play games while plugged in, it certainly wasn't the original design goal for the iPhone. The more I can compress the transactions, the less bandwidth I use and the less I chew up the player's battery. Besides, there's something interesting about trying to compress things down more and more and more. I know one of my friends, Cooper, gets a thrill out of it. And let's face it - if we could all be more like Cooper, we'd all have much better software in the world. :)
I am trying to see if I can get this project done by the end of June, which gives me about 3 months. I'd like it approved by Apple and available for download by then, which actually means that I'm going to try to finish up by the middle of June at the least. Aggressive, especially doing things that I don't have all that much experience in developing. Yeah... About that...
Anyway, that's the goal. As I mentioned, when I hit Beta phase (which I hope to be mid-May), I'll make public all of the other posts I've got here about Samantha. And then maybe the name will make sense.

Monday, March 16, 2009


There's been a little bit of good news on the Apple Developer Program front. The program is what Apple uses to identify iPhone developers and how those developers distribute applications to testers and customers. It costs a little bit of scratch ($99 for standard developers) to enroll, but it's the price of admission for developing for the iPhone. Yes, the Android is cheaper (i.e., free last I checked), but it still has a while before it catches up with the iPhone in distribution.
Anyway, I signed up originally for iPhone development through my wife's Apple account (since she had an account from when I bought her an iPod a couple of years ago) instead of creating a new one under my email address. It just seemed pointless to create another one. Unfortunately, what happened was that any communications from Apple came to her email. Since she wasn't looking for them as something to keep, they ended up in the digital circular file. :(
That changed, though, when I decided yesterday to just create my own. I submitted for the Apple Developer Program again under my account. Amazingly, today I got a request for some information from Apple about my company. They wanted some kind of documentation stating that Otto Von is a real company. Since it is, that was easy and I faxed back the proof.
It's a small victory, but it's something. I had been concerned that my application had been lost in the shuffle or that Apple was just really 4 weeks behind on approvals. I'm glad that I was mistaken and things were quick to get moving. Again, yay!

Trivia Game Update

So you might be asking yourself why I've posted up about things like the logo and not at all about the trivia game that I said I was working on creating. The reason is that the trivia game is somewhat stalled while I read through several different books about iPhone development. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've been trying to do some things that are not completely supported as iPhone paradigms.
The basic flow of the program is simple - one view moves to another. The thing is that it doesn't use the navigation toolbar (the bar at the top of the view that lets you navigate backwards ("pop" the views)) since that doesn't make sense. But just displaying a view and navigating to another view that doesn't provide direct navigation back isn't something readily supported.
There's a paradigm shift between MFC's doc/view architecture and the iPhone's "kinda" MVC (model-view-controller) model that's just not sinking in quickly for me. That or I understand it but can't seem to get the code to do what I want (which actually may be more likely). As a result, I've been spending a lot of brain share on the other game (which is actually a bit more iPhone paradigm-friendly) I'm developing.
The other major hurdle to the trivia game is, of course, the questions. It's not that I can't think of any - let's get real. :) What's troublesome is the data entry. I'd like to have thousands of questions (if not tens of thousands) and that's a LOT of data entry. Given Taekwondo three times a week, ballet for Cathy two days a week, and ELPs rehearsals two days a week, there's just not a lot of time to do tedious typing. Plus, this second game, which I am posting about but those posts are private right now, has the potential to really make a HUGE splash and actually generate some good revenue. That's my hope at least. Then I can hire Jason Hayes to write the music for it (his music is completely made of awesome). :)
Anyway, I wanted to sort of clarify what was going on there since this is theoretically a blog about development. I will likely start making some of the 2nd game posts (codenamed "Samantha") public since I'll be talking about how I'm making the game, not what the game is or the context or anything. It should be general enough to start making those available for review. :)
Of course if you have any questions, feel free to comment. I hope that it will prove interesting for some people at least.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Otto Von Logo Redux

So I spent some time playing with some clipart that I got from a heraldry site and created a new logo for Otto Von. It was interesting exploring Gimp again - I hadn't used it since I purchased a copy of Jasc's Paint Shop Pro a few years ago. Still, it was a good experience and I've updated the website with the new logo and made some additional changes to announce and explore the new direction.
One thing that may not be evident for some people who've known me for a while is that originally I had planned on having two companies - Otto Von Productions, which worked on business software, and Snowy Range Software, which made games. The reason was that I saw OVP as the catalyst that drove Snowy Range - without the income generated from business software sales, Snowy Range wouldn't happen. I've since modified my position such that I think that OVP really can work just on game software since the investment is pretty minimal (less than $2k on software and hardware) for mobile device game development and it's also what I originally wanted to do (write games).
So, there's a new logo on the site. There's a motto for the coat of arms - Cave Canem. I hope it precurses some great things to come. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Otto Von Logo

Just a quick note about Otto Von and logo. As you'll notice, there isn't one. I have an idea for one but need to find the time to make it work. I think the idea I have is kind of cute but I need to figure out how to get it to work.
Once upon a time I was in graduate school for a degree in Early Modern British History. I had to take 3 semesters of classical Latin and saw, at one point, a great photograph of a mosaic in Pompeii. A picture of a dog on a chain with the words "Cave Canem" beneath - Beware of Dog. Since Otto Von Productions is named for my late Schnauzer Otto (he passed away this December), I thought a logo of a coat of arms with him on the shield with the words "Cave Canem" as the motto would be ideal. I just need to get some time to figure out how to do it, but if I can then it will emblazon all of our titles. :)
Cave canem has been adopted by several other groups, but there don't seem to be any in the game-o-sphere, so I think I'm fine there. I may also modify it slightly to be Beware of Otto or something, but for now that's the idea.

Second Game

Originally written 11 March 2009.
So if this works, this should just be a draft until I actually post it when I'm done. I don't want to give away too much to potential competitors, especially folks with more experience developing iPhone apps than I have who can beat me to the punch.
The game idea is a multiplayer Wizard game where players take on the role of a Wizard/Witch/Warlock (why do all of those begin with 'W'?) where they battle other Wizards and fantasy creatures. They can form covens/guilds and fight other covens for control of magical sites around the world (e.g., Stonehenge). They can acquire mystical artifacts to make themselves more powerful. And they can participate in determining the fate of the world (good, balanced, or evil).
There are so many concepts that I've been documenting and exploring regarding this game. I've been playing iMob a lot and seen what they've done. I like some of it, dislike parts of it, and generally thing that it could have been a better game if they'd thought through things a little more. For instance, they have missions that make no sense to run - the XP gain is so crappy the mission is pointless. And they mistakenly attached monetary gain to the missions and thought it would be sufficient motivation.
Anyway, I've been trying to adapt the things I've learned/synthesized over the years of playing games and talking with brilliant people I know (like Danc and Cooper) to get a good feel for what a "fun" game would be like and, perhaps, make a little money at it. The entire goal of Otto Von has been to free Susie from having to work at Lockheed. If I can supplant her income with something else then she can quit. And if I can make even more at it, then I certainly wouldn't mind being a game developer full-time. :)
I'll start by talking about the combat system decision I just made today. I had been considering two different ways of managing combat in the game. The first method was to have casting points, which were similar to movement points from some RPGs. The idea being that you'd have a certain number of CP each 'round' of combat and that each spell would cost a certain number of CP. For higher-level players, this would mean that low-level spells were cheap and you could cast a lot of them each round (since it had become kind of 'automatic' to cast them). But it would also mean that some spells could take a lot of time (more than 1 turn's worth of CP). For example, if you wanted to cast a Fireball, it might cost 8 points. Problem was that you only got 5 points a turn. Fine - you begin an incantation in one turn (and spend all 5 points) and then next turn your spell completes (using 3 of your 5 from that turn). This would almost certainly require some kind of health system though - energy/health/mana - didn't matter what it was called, but it did require tracking damage.
The second approach was to use a kind of Mana Pool system where each player had a certain amount of MP available to them and could use it to cast spells during a duel/encounter. The MP would regenerate slowly over time (well, not too slowly). The "cool" idea I had about this was that damage would also deplete your MP. One thing Susie and I had talked about was having some kind of "magical tie" to the world and I liked the idea that as you cast spells you were "killing yourself" a little at a time. Another concept that this supported was that we wanted covens to play into individual duels somehow and in this scenario your individual MP is bolstered by a certain percentage of the total coven MP. Bigger coven = bigger benefit. The benefit here was that there wasn't a separate health system - everything was covered in one stat.
One thing we want to do is make dying a very damaging thing, but also relatively rare. In iMob I've died 38 times. But it doesn't really mean anything - I don't lose all of my money, I don't lose my stuff - it's just a random stat. In our game we wanted to make it so that dying meant something major - you lose your stuff and your money (more on money in a later post). You end up in Limbo until your coven can resurrect you.
What we've decided on is the Mana Pool format. I loved the single stat and especially liked that each spell you cast causes you personal harm somehow. It makes the game a little more exciting, I think, and it adds a real consequence. Yes, you could cast that fireball but you might end up dead if the other player hits you hard enough. Maybe you should cast that Shield spell after all... :)
There are still some details to sort out regarding the actual system but I'll be working on that over the next couple of days so we can start to play around with it and see what it looks like. If it plays well, we'll use it as is, otherwise we can tweak.
Anyway - that's it for now. I'll store this for now and post it publicly later.

First Game

The first game that I've been working on developing is a trivia-style game. Because it's not like anyone else has had that idea for the iPhone yet. (That would be sarcasm). There are currently at least 5-10 games for the iPhone that are trivia-based games with one using the same style of game-play that I'm exploring.
For those that know me, they know that trivia is one of those games that I love - I mean truly love. I know a lot of information about things that have no practical relevance and I delight in knowing it. Like knowing that the plastic end of a shoelace is called an aglet. Yeah, sad, I know.
When I left iTi in November Susie (my wife) and I began talking about things that I could do and the one thing that made the most sense was to write games for the iPhone. We were getting new phones at the end of November and it just made sense to work on iPhone games since it's such a hot market. It's also a tough market. I heard that there are now over 25,000 apps in the App Store. A lot of them are free, but a significant portion cost something. And Apple apparently keeps 30% of the sales, meaning that on a $4.99 game, the developer's only getting $3.49. No wonder Apple likes the App Store. :)
Anyway, Susie and I came up with a list of like 15 game ideas. A couple of days later it dawned on me that I should do something that I know well - like trivia! So I began working on a trivia game. And ran into my first roadblocks.
As I mentioned in my first post, I've been developing software professionally for over 15 years and writing code for almost 28 years now (scary, huh?). Most of that development work has been in Windows using Microsoft Foundation Classes (what MS pushed for years before they came out with .NET and C#). Developing for Mac is a bit different and some of the things that I'm used to doing in Windows aren't available or are done in a way that's just different enough that my brain can't seem to grok it. In particular, I ran into issues with views and view controllers. I'm actually still having some trouble with them and have sort of put development on the back burner.
The main features of my game are that it will have a server back-end that will provide the questions. The main benefit that I see with this approach long-term is that if the back-end works properly then I can expand it to be practically any other platform - Windows, Mac, Android, etc. If you're at all familiar with NTN trivia, this would be a mobile version of that. Online leader boards, etc.
I've also flirted with several different ideas for how to monetize the whole enterprise. One idea is that I provide the game for free (which gives me a much broader exposure) but then put ads in the app (using AdMob) and/or on the online leaderboard (using Google AdWords or similar). This would be a good passive revenue stream and be completely independent of Apple's limits on payments (I have read that they don't issue any payments unless you surpass $250 sales in one region).
Another idea for generating revenue is to have a free version that doesn't store your scores online or track your progress, but lets you play a few games before needing to restart the application. The issue I see with that is that it could likely be cracked very easily and then people would be able to have unlimited play (without the leaderboard).
In all situations, security and insuring that the player has a legal copy is one thing that will need to be addressed. It's also something I need to learn how to do effectively on the iPhone. I read a post by the author of Dapple where he said that the first sale of his program was to a cracker who posted it up on a warez site within 5 hours. Ouch.
As for the trivia game, I've started building the question database and hope to be able to find solutions to the navigation issues I've been experiencing. The issue I'm running into is that while the game flow system I have in mind is simplistic, it's not fully supported by the iPhone paradigms, so I have to find ways to make it work within Apple's constructs. Once that flow problem is resolved, I should be able to integrate everything else relatively easily (there is plenty of sample code that does what I want to do). Then I just need to make sure the application is secure and get it published. :)
More to come later.

So, who IS this Bill guy?

I decided that I should do something more descriptive than the obligatory "description" that's posted on my blog user page about who I am, what I've done, and what I'm doing. So, without further ado, here we go.
I'm a software developer and manager who's been doing this professionally for almost 16 years. I've been writing software since I was 12 on a mainframe at the University of Wyoming and later in 9th grade using my Commodore 64. :) My first job was at HP and I loved the company - some of the people, not so much. Regardless, it was a great exposure to how enterprises develop and release consumer electronics. I worked on TWAIN, which allowed image editing software packages (like PhotoShop) import images from scanners directly (i.e., no saving the file and opening it - you just "Acquired" the image from the scanner software and BAM! there it was in your editor). I was a major contributor to the 1.6 version of the standard and learned a LOT about corporate/business politics there. I worked at HP for 6 years and was a manager of a software quality team for a year before I left in July 99.
I left to join a small startup in Boulder called Anark. I was a lead engineer there and led two versions of the authoring tool Anark Studio. The company was funded from VC money and while I was there we had two rounds of funding (I believe). In the end, I worked there for just over 3 years and was laid off in Aug 2002 due to budget cuts (high burn rate on the VC money, I imagine). It was also a month before I was supposed to get issued new stock options - you can draw your own conclusions on timing. I also worked with Danc and others to create a new agile development process for the company. That comes into play later.
I was unemployed for about a year following that, doing some part-time work and consulting for a game development company called Saint Studios (it's apparently not around anymore). I helped them define a development process (pretty much the same one I helped create at Anark). I also led the development team in determining whether to make, buy, or re-use 3D game engines. I had a new job before the decision was finalized, but I believe they decided to make. Could be why they're not around.
In January during my year off my daughter Cathy was born. It was great, but VERY different, to be a stay-at-home dad for her first 8 months. I'm not cut out to do nothing all day but care for a small child - Susie (my wife) was a God-send during the period. I love my daughter deeply, but there were times when I hard a hard time. It's tough and I have a lot of respect for parents who can do it.
I moved to Echostar (DISH Network) in Aug of 2003. I was hired to lead the OpenTV development team - they write the E* applications on set-top boxes. In what was likely an indication of things to come, I never interviewed with or even met the team that I was going to manage and on my first day of work my boss was sick and not present. Yeah, it was a precursor no doubt. I worked at E* for about a year and did what I could to change how the team developed software. I was happy to say that by my departure we had released 3x more projects than they had in the previous 3 years combined. Given that it was only 1, it wasn't hard, but it still showed that the team was capable of doing more. And we even lost 2 engineers to attrition while I was there.
I departed E* in Sep 04 and quickly found a new job that started in Nov at HID Global. It was HID Corp then and I was hired to be the manager for the VertX development team. It was a completely different industry than any I'd been in before - physical security. Fascinating stuff and I had to pick it up quickly. Needless to say, I started seeing what could be done to improve software processes and pretty soon afterwards began proposing some changes. Then something weird happened - my manager changed his mind about my role and hired someone else to manage the team. It was a bit off-putting and wasn't the first time he'd done so, or so I was told. Very disappointing. I got assigned to work on a national standards effort for the Security Industry Association. Talk about the blind leading the sighted. I had to pretty quickly come up to speed on security and then be able to speak authoritatively about it with industry veterans. Thankfully the people at SIA (especially Monica, the director of standards) and the people I worked with on committees (especially Hunter Knight from ICS, Per Hanssen from Salient Systems, and Rob Zivney from Hirsch) were incredibly helpful and provided much-needed insights. I did that through June of 08 when I (and most of my team and management chain) were laid off.
I was then recruited heavily for a job in Boulder (I was living in south Denver by this point) with imaging Technology international and I decided to go ahead and do it. I was leading a software team developing for custom industrial ink jet printer systems. I loved the VP that I was going to report to and I saw his vision and agreed 110% with it. He and I were working closely on trying to implement his vision. Unfortunately, he left in Sept of 08 and his vision departed with him. By November management and I had determined that there really wasn't a place for me in the new organization, so I was let go. There's more on that in my SW development blog.
I was out of work for about 8 weeks when I stumbled into my latest role at Maptek. Maptek provides software to help plan and develop mining sites (like open pit mines). It's once again an industry that I know nothing about, so the learning curve is pretty steep. It's been interesting work, though, so I'm hopeful that it will lead to something good. I'm currently a contractor, but it's a 3 month contract. The expectation is that I'll be hired on full-time once the contract expires in April - we'll see, I guess.
As for Otto Von, it's one of those things that I've been working on in a variety of forms since 1997. I did officially incorporate in 2001 and it's an official C corporation. I am the President and CEO, but since I'm the only employee it's a bit of a misleading statement. I'm also the VP of Engineering, Lead Developer, and regular SW Engineer. :) So, yeah. I've laid out my hopes and dreams for OVP in previous posts, so check those for what I hope to gain from it. Mostly what it comes down to is that there are games that I want to play that no one's writing, so I guess it's up to me. I'd rather have a whole team of developers that I can guide in creating those games, but since I've had trouble getting commitments to making that happen, I'll just do it myself. And besides it won't hurt to have all the money to myself - all $1.99 of it. :)
So that's all for now, I guess.

What This Blog's About

So here is the ubiquitous first post about what this blog will cover. I own a company called Otto Von Productions, Inc. based in Centennial, Colorado (south Denver). I've changed the business over to author entertainment software for mobile devices (read "games for iPhone" :). I'm working through the maze that is Apple's Developer Program and will occasionally post up some info about that as well as posts about the games I'm writing, what the thoughts are about them, etc. so people can see the development process writ small.
I will likely keep posts about development projects in the works more private until the games are completed and submitted to Apple, but then I'll open them up for everyone to read through. I hope that it will provide some kind of help to developers of mobile software as other blogs have been to me.
Thanks for reading!