Sunday, February 27, 2011

New OttoJotts UI Ideas

I was in the shower today getting ready to pick up Cathy from a birthday party (no, not that one - we unfortunately missed that one *headdesk*). This was not her cousin Zavi's party in Laramie but my best friend Dan's son Matthew's 6th birthday. It was at Chuck E Cheese's and now that I've wasted far too much time with off-topic over-explanation, let me get back to the point of this post - user interface ideas for OttoJotts.
So while I was in the shower I began thinking back to the days when I used to play Jotto and what usually had to suffice for Jotto sheets when we'd exhausted our supply. We opted for legal pads, a ruler, and a pen. So this made me wonder - what if I made the UI look like a legal pad (or at least just lined paper) and then had all of the buttons and letters be handwritten? I think it might be "retro", but I think retro is hip these days (it's so hard to tell sometimes). PLUS, it's something that I, with my limited graphic artist skills could likely pull off. That was a definite benefit.
I think it would be very cool to have a slick UI like, say, Words with Friends, but I'm just NOT a graphic artist. Been there, done that, got my wrist slapped. I may just need to accept my limitations on this particular point (not that I ever thought I was a graphic artist). What does this mean for Alpha 4? Absolutely nothing. I'm sure I'll find ways to try to derail myself from actually working on code and work on the cool new UI, but it needs to wait until Beta 1. The alphas are all about functionality; betas are about polish. So that's kind of the thinking for, say, April. And I've got a cool idea for the badges, but that's later as well.
I guess we'll see how well I can keep this "shiny new toy" on the back burner. I've actually managed to get most of the friend and game creation code done and in, which was surprisingly smooth. There's still a lot of hardening that needs to happen, but I think that once I get into that mode it will be straightforward to do pretty much the same thing to every file. Plus, I need to make the code a little harder to exploit, which I hope I can get done with a minimum of fuss. Let's just hope I can keep up some of the focus here to make this project FINALLY successful.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Decisions, decisions

So after sleeping on it last night, I have a plan. Scary, I know. I've always planned on integrating OttoJotts into Facebook as well and, since I'm going to do that, I think I need to release the game with 2 player games. First, as I mentioned in my previous post, I don't think there's really enough solitaire content to make the game compelling for 1 player. The 2 player game is really where it's at and, when I honestly think about why I did the 1 player game version, it was mostly to vet the concept and test the subsystems. Now that the 1 player game is mostly complete (sans hardening) it's time to really get into the 2 player game. I need to remind myself about the success that Words with Friends had and it's only a 2 player game - there is no solitaire game available.
So, with that said, I've recommitted myself to finishing the bloody thing with 2 player games available. I've been a bit down about the lack of progress and I'm sure that's what's going on (plus it's been a bit tight financially at Chez DeVoe). I think the need to make a bigger, better splash with OttoJotts is far more important than trying to get just something out the door. If I put out a piece of crap (fart apps, anyone?) then people are less likely to trust that my follow-up games are going to be any good. As the first app from the "studio", I need to make sure that it's a good one that people will think is good quality and good value for the money (if not excellent). Then, as my other apps come online, they'll be more inclined to get something else from me.
What this all means, I guess, is that I'm back on the initial track. After a reasonable night's sleep, I actually have some ideas for handling the game creation. Yes, it will take a little time to get it sorted, but I think it will be cleaner in the end, re-use some code (which is always good), and still meet the needs that the 2 player games require. So, back to the salt mines.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What to do?

So I've been having a bit of crisis of faith on OttoJotts. I think the game is pretty fun and should be enjoyable for total word geeks like me. The concern I'm having, though, is that as I get further and further into the two player games, the more things crop up that need to be addressed. For example, most recently I realized that in order to do two player games I need to revamp how the games are set up - and that they'll be different for 2 player than for solitaire. This, in and of itself, isn't what's causing the crisis, but rather it's the whole process. I've been working on 2 player games all this year. I haven't been doing it full time, but I've spent upwards of 2 weeks of actual time (80 hrs) working on it and I keep finding whole new sets of things I need to do before I can move forward. So now the question is - should I keep moving forward with the 2 player games and have them available at launch or should I launch the single player (solitaire) games and then, in an update, add the 2 player games?
I'd say that a fair portion of the games in the App Store are single player. You might be able to challenge someone to beat your score or something, but in general the two player/multiplayer market isn't quite as prevalent. So having 2 player, competitive gaming would be a differentiator for my game, but the time it's taking (or at least seems to be taking) is making me wonder if it will EVER get out.
Currently I'm still torn on what to do. I'm not sure that the single player/solitaire game is going to be compelling enough to keep someone playing. There's not enough there yet (achievements, etc) to make it something that a player would come back to over and over again. The graphics need to be redone to make it look a bit more professional (any graphic artists willing to work on a royalty basis out there?) and the game play needs to be cleaned up and the app hardened overall (error handling, etc). So I've still got at least 2 weeks of work left to do all of that, even if I dump 2 player games for now.
So, what to do?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Been WAAAAAY Too Long

Well, it's been a LONG time since I've posted, but we've had a LOT going on here. To give a quick run-down:
  • The 9-5 got interesting at the end of the year as my contract may have ended abruptly. Thankfully it didn't, but it was still quite a bit of shock that it might have happened.
  • The spousal unit got REALLY sick. Sick to the point where she's still on short-term disability from HER job trying to recover. And when she does recover, she likely won't have said job. *sigh* She's been overly prone to illness lately because...
  • The spousal unit is PREGNANT! Yeah, trust me - it was a surprise. A wonderful one, no doubt, but a surprise nonetheless. SO much to do and so little time. Due date is May 2nd and his name is going to be Andrew Ximun William. Yeah, we're sort of into two middle names. His big sister is just thrilled that she's going to be a big sister. :)
Other than that, the work I've decided to tackle for Alpha 4 is the meat of the project - two player, server-based games. That's requiring a lot of doing both PHP and Objective-C, but things are progressing. I've gotten a lot accomplished over the past few days, getting friends lists into the database and retrievable. I just finished creating accounts/logging into an existing account code. Took longer than I'd hoped but it came together nicely at the end. I'm storing hashed passwords (obviously) in the DB, but when I looked at the size of the hash I calculated half the size it really was, so I couldn't log in (because the two hashes didn't match - I wonder why?). I finally got that sorted out and things have progressed wonderfully since then.
Today has been a day about friends and creating games. I've got code in there to randomly find an opponent who's similarly rated (I'm using a modified Elo system for rankings). The idea is that you'll play someone who won't completely blow you away - unless you choose a friend who so far-outclasses you that it's ridiculous. Good thing is that Elo takes that into account and more than 400 point ratings differences tend to result in no change (as the result is practically guaranteed).
Searching for an opponent by their email is almost there as well. I just need to hook up the iOS code to do the query, but the PHP is solid on the back-end. One thing that I haven't done yet and I really need to make sure happens before release is to bullet-proof the PHP back-end. PHP is generally derided for being not-as-security-rich as some other technologies. If you've got pretty confined entry/exit points, though, I think it can be pretty solid. Regardless, in the interest of getting Alpha 4 done and out to testers I've neglected that, but it will need to happen for Alpha 5/Beta 1.
Also thrown into the mix is a new website design. I think I'm getting a lot closer to actually finishing this bloody project and I thought the old design (while state of the art in 2001) has not aged well and was in sore need of replacement. I've gone with a Wordpress front end, but I need to tweak the hell out of it to make it more aligned with my ideas. There are some things that I'm not grokking from the posting/pages side of things with WP, but I'll beat up on it once I'm done with Alpha 3.
So, that's it from here for now. LOTS happening, but hopefully this will be done by May and I can take my paternity leave in the knowledge that I've got my game in the App Store paying for at least some of the diapers we'll need to get.