BallZOut

So we’ve almost won the October Challenge now:

  • Make a game — check.
  • Take it to market — check. And no rejection cycles, even!
  • Sell one copy — 11 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, 53 seconds to go!
ballzoutheader.jpg

This was a rather enjoyable little frenzy, actually, much more so than we’d expected given our previous history with commercial games programming. Which is actually a fair bit, starting with porting Dark Seed II to the Mac waaaay back in the day right up to little trifles (and some not so little) you can find on the App Store now. But the common thread throughout all of those is that our creative input was for all practical purposes zero; they’re either porting existing code, or implementing somebody else’s specifications. Doing so rather well, it is generally agreed, mind you; as nicely exemplified in what’s still our favorite review ever:

… Overall, Horse Racing Manager is a great port of a good game. It is bugless, it is an almost perfect replica of the PC version, it just isn’t a game that the average gamer would ever want to play.

Hey, it keeps the mortgage paid. But there is a certain lack of creative fulfillment itch there, which over the years every so often we’d consider scratching. But then we’d remember that producing a successful game generally requires a vast array of talents which we pretty much completely lack, from artistic to marketing; and return to our accustomed mercenary pursuits.

Fast forward to September 27th when we stumbled across the October Challenge; and as it so happened, we’d just been moping about losing on October 10th the kinda cool we thought “BallZOut” name that we’d registered with Apple last spring for a project that ended up not happening, now that you can’t squat on App Store names anymore. Plus, we’d been thinking gee it would be a good idea to get some actual experience managing a Game Center enabled app before somebody required that in a project bid. So hey, let’s see if we can indeed achieve a MVP in twelve days flat — a challenge, indeed!

First thing was the game concept. Narrowed it down pretty quickly to a level-based physics puzzler being the only thing of conceivable practicality given a twelve day time frame; and as our name is “BallZOut”, well let’s make it … knocking. ballz. out. Like marbles, or curling. With some obstacles to make it not completely trivial. Yep, that’ll do.

Engine choice given the concept was immediate; as big fans of cocos2d, we’d bought the LevelSVG code referenced here to support the author back when it first came out, and it demonstrates Box2D physics engine integration and Inkscape document parsing for level design. So hey, there’s most of the heavy lifting done already! And yep, that worked out pretty much as well as could be hoped.

So, on to design. Did we mention above that trolls completely lack artistic talent? Why yes, yes we did. So how, you ask, do we address that problem? Why, by frantically mining every clip art/sound collection in our archives and every free clip art/sound site on teh Intertubez, that’s how we address that problem. Plus picking over the discards from our last project that involved a real artist, in return for throwing in a referral screen. Topped off with laying out all our text type stuff with Comic Life Magiq as a substitute for any actual art skillz. We’d like to think that didn’t work out half bad. For lacking completely in both investment and talent, anyways.

Game Center integration went pretty well, although designing in multiplayer somehow wasn’t practical in the timeframe. We’d like to get around to that sometime. As with a vast array of other features. And more levels. We did rather underestimate how long it would take to design levels even vaguely interesting, the last couple days were mostly spent constantly downgrading our expectations of how many and how interestingly designed it would be acceptable to ship with. 20, by the time we’d achieved a state of complete panic a few hours before Lose Your Name Day™. Definitely, we would like to find the time to up that. Significantly.

But under pressure of immediate deadline, we offered it up to the Apple gods just in time, and in the ten days since we did some looking around for easy ways to throw up a support website; settled on Templatic’s iPhone App theme, which worked out pretty well we think to throw up a website in an afternoon. The $99 we paid for that being the only cash investment involved here so far, other than $29 for the newly commercial Zwoptex native version, a handy and highly recommended tool for your sprite sheet creation needs. Add in the probably 80-90 or so hours we spent finding artistic assets and doing the coding, and, hmmm, well, we’d still have to sell a pretty unlikely several thousand to make the exercise remotely worth it compared to doing a couple weeks’ worth of contract hours, actually.

But hey, as we mentioned at the start, it was quite a different experience and surprisingly fun to just full steam ahead weighing nothing but “latest wild idea” vs. “time ticking away” minute to minute. Not news to anybody who does these abbreviated development contests regularly, no doubt; but doing it just for the sake of it, that just doesn’t quite get us revved up. Add the “… and sell one copy”, now the addition of that external validation condition, that suckered us right in. So here we are … waiting to see how that works out!

Alex | October 19, 2010

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