13 December 2011

People Like It

One thing that pleases me is that almost everyone who plays King of Dragon Pass likes it. If I recall correctly, only two people took us up on our money-back guarantee for the boxed copy. (One said he was a Christian and objected to the magic, which seemed odd given how we made an effort to promote the magical land of Glorantha.)

The relative percent is about the same for the iOS version. There have been a total of 6. Refunds are handled through Apple, but I know one person simply couldn’t get the game to work on their iPod touch.

One thing I was curious about was whether our sale lured people in who didn’t like the game. This chart shows that there’s no particular correlation.

The chart also includes the number of gift purchases and redemptions. The numbers aren’t the same — either people are waiting to send out the gift, or people forget to enter it into iTunes or the App Store.

(“Gift This App” appears in a popup menu in the App Store, if you know someone who has an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad and needs a Christmas present.)

Ratings are also quite favorable. The current version has been rated 93 times, of which 85 are 5 stars. (5 are 4-star and 3 are 1-star.) And the reviews have been really good as well — 93 out of 100 on Metacritic.

11 December 2011

A Skilled Leader

I’ve seen a few questions about the named leaders, so I’ll amplify a bit on what’s in the manual.

By the way, named leaders are considered nobles (thanes), and are counted as such in the Clan screen.

Each leader is rated in seven skills. These are actually numbers, but rather than report them as 3.3 or 5.12, they’re categorized
Fair
Good
Very Good
Excellent
Renowned
Heroic

Normally any skill less than Good isn’t listed, to make things easier.

In the normal course of events, leaders gradually improve, until age 50. Elders may lose their Combat edge as they get older. (Once in a while characters can lose — or gain — skill in other ways.)

So what are those skills good for?

The quality of the advice someone gives depends on their skills. For example, Vordessa (with Very Good in Animals) can probably give reasonable advice about situations involving cattle health. But someone with a Renowned skill will probably have additional insights. The game favors the best advice, so depending on the situation, Vordessa will more often be giving Combat advice (since it’s Excellent) rather than Animal-related advice.

Leaders are sometimes explicitly tested in their skills. For example, the “Uralda’s Blessing” heroquest is hard because the quester must have a good enough Combat skill to survive the biting things. Or an interactive scene may let you pick who fights a duel or acts as an emissary. Depending on the situation, the game may only let you choose from characters who are likely to succeed. For example, if you won’t succeed unless you have a good bargainer, the “pick leader” dialog will only show characters above a certain level. (What skill is tested is not always obvious, and in fact more than one skill may be important, so you might want to sort the list several ways before picking.)

Leaders are also tested when they act as the clan’s agent. When you pick a response, somebody actually has to perform (or lead) the action. For example, this OSL code

Response 5: “We will go with you, but your clan will owe us a favor.”
{
# Calculate clan relationship bonuses
test Bargaining vs. Bargaining d5 + 1 + n, bonus: b

means that the leader with the best Bargaining skill makes the test on behalf of the clan. (The second “Bargaining” indicates that certain treasures or magic come into play.)

So the skills are quite important. You want leaders on the ring who can give you good values in each of the seven skills.

On the other hand, you also want seven different religions represented on the ring. This matches Orlanth’s first ring, and thus gives magical benefit. There are also times when a leader’s religion gives you additional options, like in this OSL code

[UroxOnRing] Response 6: Conduct a ritual to sense Chaos.

So picking a clan ring is a tradeoff.

Finally, no discussion of clan leaders should leave out their personalities. Everyone is an individual, with an aptitude for poetry, hatred of elves, or a solitary streak. This will color their advice (as they can’t resist from promoting their agenda), or drive their actions. Check out any statements a leader makes when you tap them in the Reorganize dialog, or watch for trends in their advice.

05 December 2011

Regional Variation

As I’ve mentioned before, King of Dragon Pass is big in Finland (right now in the App Store it’s the top selling Role Playing game and top grossing Strategy game). Finland has remained our number three market (after the far more populous USA and UK).

One change since last month is that Germany is now #6 and Singapore is now #10. The number are all close, but since this is total sales, this may be statistically significant.

The map makes it real obvious that we have very few sales in Africa or Mongolia (not surprising), but also none in Brazil (which does seem odd to me, since there is an App Store).

One item of interest is that sales in different regions don’t move in lockstep. The chart below shows currencies, not countries, so that data is easier to read. In most regions, you can see revenue jump at launch and when we had a birthday sale. But Norway instead had one huge day around 18 September, almost certainly due to a review. And in the second week of October, sales declined in the US (and countries where Apple doesn’t offer local currency sales), while they increased in Europe (at least the Euro-using countries). And the sales spike in late November (which I believe was related to the news about our Universal build) didn’t affect our big markets outside the US.


28 November 2011

A Big Game, Visualized

I’ve said before how King of Dragon Pass is a big game. My graphic designer wanted to get a sense of the game flow, so I put together a collection of iPad screen shots. This gives another sense of how big the game is — there are 49 screens here. (This doesn’t include the long game victory, because it doesn’t need additional layout or updated assets.)
This is basically the same number of screens that the iPhone-sized layout uses (there’s an additional annual recap screen, a menu screen, and interactive scenes have different sub-screens).

This is the complexity involved in a port to any platform. Even to iPad, each of these screens needs to have layout. Most of the code is the same between iPad and iPhone, but not entirely.

20 November 2011

Universal Update

Although there are still a few known issues, and none of the iPad-sized assets are final yet, all of the screens have been converted to take advantage of the 1024 x 768 pixel screen. (There are 49 iPad-specific .xib files, which specify layout.)

As I’d hoped, there don’t seem to be any problems with the 480 x 320 pixel version, so I can finally be confident that we can do a Universal version — one build that runs on either iPad or iPhone. Right now it’s about 242 MB (again, we don’t have final artwork so this could change before release).

Although the game art isn’t available at full-screen, we are taking advantage of the iPad screen to showcase that art by not covering it with text. In addition, scrolling choices is much less frequent. Advisors are always visible. And it’s now possible to read the manual from within an interactive scene (as per the screen shot above).

The Universal build has not been through any sort of QA, but I hope to start testing soon.

09 November 2011

iPad Update

Introduction screen (work in progress)
The first pass at doing an iPad build is just to get it running on iPad, making each of the 40 or so screens big. This is not yet complete, but all of the management screens, interactive scenes, and the intro have been converted. It’s kind of cool playing the game and seeing all the artwork, while very rarely needing to scroll.

On the other hand, it’s painfully obvious that we still need new assets, and a lot of attention to layout.

One interesting thing that has come out of this so far: there is one less management screen. The two screens that appear as part of Sacred Time can be combined into one.

I also have a rough estimate for the size: probably about 250 MB. That’s for a universal build that has assets at two sizes. This compares to 104 MB for the current iPhone-sized build.

It’s also less than a number of games I’ve downloaded, such as the special editions of The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2. And way less than RAGE HD at 1.21 GB!

That’s a plausible size, and it also doesn’t appear that I’ve broken anything on iPhone. So it seems likely that there will be a universal build. That is, an eventual update that will play in native resolution on iPhone and iPad.

07 November 2011

Sales Breakdown

It’s been a while since the last sales breakdown, and I know at least one person was curious about where sales were coming from. Here’s every country that accounts for at least 1% of total revenue:

US48.85%
UK14.36%
Finland9.61%
Canada5.72%
Australia3.42%
Sweden2.36%
Germany2.23%
France2.11%
Norway1.94%
Netherlands1.11%
Singapore1.07%

So a few minor changes, but even though Finland is now under 10%, it’s still solidly in the number three position.

The pie chart shows all countries, with the really small markets grouped together so the slices are visible.

We held a sale recently, to celebrate the game’s 12th birthday. I want to get a sense of what sales are doing after this unusual event before I discuss its impact.

05 November 2011

Pelaaja Interview


Before the iOS version was released, Janne Pyykkönen contacted me to request an interview for Pelaaja, the Finnish video gaming magazine. Janne’s article was published last month (in Finnish), and Pelaaja has allowed us to post the original English-language interview.

You were the producer, designer and one of the programmers of the original King of Dragon Pass. That’s quite a lot of titles, so how much was the original King of Dragon Pass ‘your project? And did you yourself originally come up with the idea of a Glorantha based computer game like KoDP?

The advantage  or curse  of being an independent developer is that you wear many hats. Luckily, I enjoyed all of those.

King of Dragon Pass was indeed an idea I dreamed up (though obviously many others helped bring it to completion). I actually came up with a different sort of game about the colonization of Dragon Pass as part of my tabletop gaming in Glorantha. It took a very different approach, but it showed that the setting would work for this sort of game. A few years later I figured out how I’d use this in a computer game.

The other designers were Glorantha creator Greg Stafford and another famous PnP designer Robin D. Laws. What kind of aspects of the game did each of you focus on?

Before development began, Greg and I bounced ideas off each other. Our thoughts were surprisingly in sync. As the project progressed, he approved artwork, and offered useful advice. We adapted the initial clan creation questionnaire from one he’d used in a paper & dice game.

I asked Robin to write the hundreds of interactive scenes, but he ended up fleshing out much of the game framework I’d come up with.

The original structure  management screens, advisors, scenes  ended up pretty much unchanged, though we added interactive battles thanks to Rob Heinsoo. Elise Bowditch and I wrote a few of the scenes. As far as design, I was responsible for the economic model, and tried to make it interesting and workable.

Why was the Orlanthi culture picked to star in the game of all the Gloranthan peoples? Was it because the viking-y warriors were seen as one of the more relatable ones, or was it more due to the setting of the Dragon Pass itself? It seems like a good choice at least from my own perspective, as at least many Finnish roleplayers were familiar with the setting from the translated RuneQuest material published back in the day, like the Snake Pipe Hollow adventure (which I dont remember anyone ever surviving).

One answer would be simply that in the fictional world, there already was the story of the recolonization of Dragon Pass by the Orlanthi. This gave us the most material to draw upon (such as Snakepipe Hollow). Of course, if it wouldn’t have made a good story, we would have picked something else.

The fact that KoDP takes place around 300 years before the published RuneQuest material also seemed like a nice twist on the setting.

Was it hard to design a truly Gloranthan fantasy computer game? The way the setting handles stuff like myths, magic and tradition (or even the titular dragons) is quite different from classic D&D-ish fantasy which dominates the gaming scene. And what is it for you personally about Glorantha that most captivates your imagination?

I think in most ways designing for Glorantha made things easier  so much detail already existed (even though we ended up filling in a lot more). Robin and I respected the setting, so it was easy to work with its creator, Greg.

And yes, Glorantha does have a different feel than other fantasy games. I was drawn to it by its strong mythic sense, and the fact that its cultures actually seemed plausible from an anthropological sense. In KoDP the trolls are antagonists, but in Glorantha as a whole they are just another type of people, and you can play them equally well.

In addition to your work with KoDP, youve been a pen&paper Glorantha contributor as well. Do you still play roleplaying games on tabletop these days?

A lot less than I used to, thanks to the iPhone project...

KoDP is one of those games which doesnt fall neatly into any usual computer gaming genre. Is it a strategy game where you dont even see any 'units' and the of the most important thing is your number of cows? Is it roleplaying when you control an ensemble that dies of old age and is replaced by new generation? Is it multiple choice interactive fiction? So, how would you descibe it yourself today? How would you personally describe it to someone who hears about the game first time now? What is King of Dragon Pass really about?


Im asking this since because the the critical consensus on the game was really mixed when it was released back in -99 (the Mobygames review index is hilariously polarized) and it seems many reviewers didnt know what to make of the game at all, and it still might be a ‘hard sell for a new generation.

Hmm, Mobygames seems to have ignored a lot of reviews, such as Pelit’s 94/100.

It’s true that the game doesn’t fit neatly into the standard slots. I think that’s a plus  the genres are useful for marketing, but they aren’t the only ways to have fun. If I have to describe it, I usually call it a "storytelling strategy game," because I think the stories are the key element, and because the rest of the game play most resembles the turn-based strategy genre. But what it’s really about is telling an interesting story that takes a generation or more to unfold.

Looking from the outside, King of Dragon Pass seems one of those games that really divided gamers but at the same time created a very enthusiastic cult audience. Is that true, and do you get lots of contact from eager fans still today? Can you comment on how the game was back then as a commercial success?

I was a little surprised at how well people liked the game  we had a money-back guarantee and only two people ever took advantage of it. Just this week I was wearing a King of Dragon Pass t-shirt, and a coworker (who didn’t know I’d created it) commented that he liked the game. The game’s been out a while but even so there’s still a residual community, and I hope it picks up again with the new release.

I’m told the game was in the top 10 in Finland, but in the rest of the world it didn’t do as well. We did have to make a second printing, but it wasn’t a commercial success.

How did the project to bring a new 2.0 KoDP to iOS start for you and where did the idea come from? I personally always thought of the game as a hardcore pc title but now realized its been out on Mac as well and you seem to have lots of previous experience on iOS platforms as well...?

[Oops, I somehow overlooked this question! Sorry, Janne!]

What kind of improvements have you done for the game? Did you have to drop any features that just didnt work on an iPhone?

The elements I dropped weren’t so much because they didn’t work, but because reimplementing the clan overview (with the little herds) and the clan rock (with the glowing runes) were way more effort than I thought they were worth.

So you had Olli and Jani helping you on the conversion. I guess theyll be able to tell me also what theyre actually doing, but how did you come in contact with these two originally, looking from your point of view?

When I worked at GameHouse, our sister studio was Mr. Goodliving, where Olli worked. Olli was a fan of the game, and pitched a prototype to Mr. Goodliving, shortly before they were shut down. As the game got more complete, we needed an artist to work on the new user interface, and Olli put me in contact with Jani.

I feel a bit sorry for Jani because he came onto the project fairly late, and I had to keep saying “no” to his suggestions, because the game design was already in place. But despite the constraints, he came up with some elegant ways to have a touch UI that was both functional and attractive.

The original art was one of the selling points in King of Dragon Pass. How much of it did you retain and how much did you have to get done again due the size constraints?

The original artwork (such as the ink and watercolor scenes) was the property of the artist, and they sold much of it over the years. I now have the remaining scene art, and people can buy it at http://daviddunham.etsy.com/.

We scanned the original artwork at 640 x 480, and then did retouching and color correction using Photoshop. The iPhone has a smaller screen, so we could just use the digital art. But we no longer had all the originals available, and wouldn’t have the staff to rework them in any case. So there’s no version of the game optimized for the 1024 x 768 pixel iPad screen.

Do you think its possible the revival of the game might also bring about some sort of digital distribution deal on pc or even console direct download shops? In fact, I guess many fans of the original are wondering why we havent seen it yet in a place like Steam where many eccentric games seem to thrive today... I think I read somewhere (RPG.net discussions maybe) that some sort of trouble did  prevent the republishing at least in some point...?

No, it is not possible to distribute the original game digitally. I think people don’t realize the difficulties of trying to use a 10 year old development system  which had been discontinued before KoDP’s release  to change the game so it wouldn’t require a CD. We spent a fair amount of time on this but were ultimately unsuccessful.

KoDP can be quite daunting for a beginner due its complexity and the fact that things dont work quite as same as in normal fantasy games. Do you have some words of wisdom to offer new players who would like to become clan chieftains in Dragon Pass? What are the most important things or principles to remember? (I might personally say ‘Dont piss off the ducks!)

First, listen to your advisors. Second, read the manual! If you don’t read the manual, at least read the Info available from the starting screen. We’ll be posting a series of tips on our Twitter feed, @KingDragonPass.

On the other hand, perhaps pissing off the ducks leads to an interesting story (and there’s always Restore if you decide to change your mind).


04 November 2011

Finland

Finland was always a big market for King of Dragon Pass, thanks in part to a glowing review in the January 2000 issue of Pelit, which was then the premier game magazine. The review was 2 2/3 pages, and gave the game a rating of 94/100. We were then picked up by the game store Fantasiapelit, which kept the game in stock for years (they got our last boxed copies).

This time around, I got help from Olli Sinerma and Jani Lintunen. (I contacted Olli to see if GameHouse would publish the game, but they decided not to. Olli believed in the game, and put me in contact with Jani.) As it happened, Olli writes for Pelit, and was playing board games with the editor-in-chief of a new magazine, Pelaaja. So it was easy to make sure the magazines were aware of the game. And, we once again got good press coverage.

Pelit didn’t give us quite as many pages, but again we got a 94/100 rating. You can see what it looks like above.

Pelaaja picked up on the Finnish connection, and interviewed me, as well as Olli and Jani. They had never reviewed an iOS game before, but ended devoting 4 pages to King of Dragon Pass. (I will be posting the raw interview text later.)

Once again, the Finns seemed to love the game. As I write this, it’s still the number one selling game in both the Role Playing and Strategy genres. It’s still the number 4 grossing game, and was at one point the top-grossing app (not just game). Despite being a country of around 6 million, Finland has been our third largest market. Thank you!

31 October 2011

iPad Plans

A number of people have asked if the iPad build would be Universal — the same app running in native resolution on both iPhone (and iPod touch) and iPad.

We don’t know.

It is absolutely our plan to do that — I’d like people to keep their Game Center achievements, or play on any device. But we’ve also been actually developing for only two days, and it’s early to make promises.

Although there have been only two days of coding, I didn’t even start that until I came up with a design that should work on iPad. There’s no value in simply blowing the existing interface up to fill the larger screen — iPad can already do that. Well sure, you’d have crisper text, but you’d still be scrolling through advisors and text.

And, since we didn’t have a perfect crystal ball in 1997 when we began our art pipeline, the highest resolution available for images is 640 x 480 pixels. There’s no way to fill the iPad screen without introducing some distortion, however kind a good filter might be.

Someone asked if it would be the same UI as the desktop version. Besides the fact that the original crammed in a lot of controls and wasn’t at all touch-friendly, I think we can do a better job presenting information with the extra real estate.

So there will be larger images than the iPhone version, and larger text.

Now that iOS 5 is out, what about iCloud? Wouldn’t it be cool to play a game on your iPad, and play a turn or two on your iPhone while you’re waiting in line at the post office?

Of course it would. But what happens if neither device is online, and you play a few turns on each? There would need to be a way to resolve the conflict. And UI to specify whether to use iCloud at all. This is starting to seem like a lot of work that would actually not be that great a benefit to that many people. I don’t want to delay the project for features that won’t actually let more people play, so there will be no iCloud support.

So there’s still a lot of uncertainty — I don’t know for sure it can be Universal. Likely this depends in part on how large it ends up (it will almost certainly be at least twice as big a download), which I don’t know. And I don’t know how long it will take. (So far none of the approximately 40 screens is really redone.) But I hope that still provides some information as to what’s going on.

Oh, one more thing. If you only have an iPhone or iPod touch, and it’s a much larger Universal build, what’s in it for you? I have at least one new scene (with new artwork) planned, and there will be bug fixes. So hopefully it will be worth the download for everyone.

30 October 2011

Trial Version


A number of people have wondered why there’s no trial version of King of Dragon Pass. After all, we know that our Windows/Mac demo, which ends after one year, helped convince people to buy the full game.

 In fact, we think a trial would be the best way to introduce people to the game. (The casual game industry did a fair amount of testing, and found that sales were best when they offered a 60 minute free trial.)

But, according to the App Store Review Guidelines,
2.9  Apps that are "beta", "demo", "trial", or "test" versions will be rejected
which is pretty definitive.

So we would need to come up with something that is a self-contained game. A common approach is to offer a “Lite” (sic) version with say 10 levels, and a paid version (ideally through in-app purchase) with 100 levels. But King of Dragon Pass is really not this sort of game. What kind of story just stops arbitrarily after one year? Or even ten? Many games would make this more acceptable by having a score, but again, King of Dragon Pass tells a story, not a number.

So far we haven’t come up with any ideas that seem likely to pass App Store review. So we’ve been putting development energy into things like VoiceOver support or an iPad version.

28 October 2011

Happy Birthday, King of Dragon Pass!


The original version of King of Dragon Pass was released to the world on 29 October 1999. On Saturday, it turns twelve years old! That means it can finally play itself, since the version in the iOS App Store is rated 12+.

To celebrate, we’re putting the game on sale for US$5.99 (it’s normally $9.99). This special price is good for one week only, beginning 29 October 2011.

Version 2.0 was already significantly improved from the desktop version. Now we’re making it bigger than ever: we’re creating a build that will take advantage of the iPad screen. With about 40 screens to adapt, this will take a while, and we don’t have a release date.

I’ll be discussing the iPad build in the future, but I want to remind people that the original artwork was scanned at 640 × 480 pixels, which is much smaller than the 768 × 1024 pixel iPad screen. However, we will use the larger (compared to the 480 × 320 pixel iPhone) artwork, and take advantage of the extra screen real estate to reduce scrolling and make items easier to target.

25 October 2011

Our Newest Ring Member


One of the features in the latest update (version 2.0.4) is a new advisor. Like many in the game, the art is based on a real person. In this case, it’s one of our beta testers, Liana Kerr.

We’ve been blessed by a number of helpful and perceptive testers, willing to spoil their potential fun by playing a buggy copy of the game. Since they’re all volunteers, I added to the pool of beta testers as the game got closer to release. Even a game as repayable as King of Dragon Pass will eventually become jaded, and I wanted fresh eyes. (I did however take a number of testers who had played the game before, figuring that a gap of 10 years would make a difference. And these players could tell me if it was still true to the spirit of the original.)

Unfortunately, something went wrong with our bug tracking system, and I can’t get exact counts of how many bugs each beta tester sent. But even without exact statistics, I know it’s Liana. Although she was an old hand, she dove in, and played seemingly endless games, trying out different approaches, and sending all sorts of reports.

Her enthusiasm was remarkable for someone who had already played the game a lot. Here in her own words is her introduction to the game:
“Back in 2001, when my boyfriend and I were at college, he gave me King of Dragon Pass for Valentine’s Day. (Reader, I married him.) I would have enjoyed it well enough if it had just been a clan simulation based around cattle management, exploration and battles, but the sheer amount of random events and notifications, the focus on mythology, the gorgeous artwork and exceptional writing kept me playing it for years, until I thought I had quite played it to death. Even then, every so often I’d still have the urge to build up a happy little Peace clan swimming in cattle and trade goods!”
Once the game was released, I began working on VoiceOver support, so that blind players could enjoy the game too. There were a few bug fixes in that build too, so I sent it to my stable of testers (plus some blind players). You can imagine my surprise when Liana decided to try the game using VoiceOver! Not only that, but she continued sending insightful feedback that helped make the game more accessible.

This was so over the top that I wanted to do something special to say thank you. I asked our iOS artist, Jani Lintunen, if he could create one more set of advisor faces, and he graciously agreed. Since this was to be a surprise, Jani had little to work with. (By contrast, when Stefano Gaudiano did associate producer Elise Bowditch and myself, we gave him photos of our parents.) But he nailed it. Liana says, “The picture of her when she’s old looks very much like my mom, but older (and my husband thinks it looks like my mom’s sister). It’s really eerie!”

Many testers helped make this game more fun and less buggy. I was lucky to get their help. And lucky Liana was willing to play yet again. Thanks again, Liana, and maybe some day I can arrange a visit from Cragspider…

24 October 2011

Sales Breakdown

I thought it might be interesting to share where and when sales of King of Dragon Pass happened. Since the game is only available in English, you’d expect sales to be best in the USA and the UK. And that’s what Apple’s reports show. Almost 48% of revenue is from the US, and 15% from the UK. But more surprising (at least to someone who doesn’t know the game’s history): over 10% of sales are from Finland (a nation of under 6 million people). We can thank the magazines Pelit and Pelaaja for letting the Finns know that the game was out. And of course the players who have kept it in the charts (currently it is #1 in both Strategy and Role Playing categories, both in units and revenue).

A bit more surprising to me is that the game is so popular in France (about 2.3% of revenue). Or that Singapore is the biggest market in Asia.

Games are a hit-driven market, so you would expect to see an early sales spike as the release and our PR hit. We were hoping that the tail of the chart wouldn’t get too low, and while it’s a bit too early to be sure, that looks possible.

The orange graph shows what happens when we release an update.

Although there are some drawbacks to selling in the App Store (Apple doesn’t allow time-limited trials, which would probably be the best form of marketing), in general it’s proven a good way for a small developer to reach customers. In the first six weeks, we sold more copies for iOS than boxed copies of the Windows/Mac version. That’s lifetime sales. We’ll probably hit double by the end of next month. Some of the sales are to people who enjoyed the original game, but obviously many are playing for the first time.

16 October 2011

Other Clans

Several players have been wondering just how King of Dragon Pass manages the other clans in the game. What’s tracked? (I think this usually comes up in the context of whether a second raid on a clan will find them weakened.) Is there an artificial intelligence?

I just fixed a bug where a clan would raid you with 0 weaponthanes, so yes, the game obviously keeps track of that! In fact, I think this bug completely answers the question, in that the AI is clearly not up to player standards.

But it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, the game lets you interact not only with other clans, but groups. Some of these groups are worshippers of a specific deity (e.g. the Uroxi), others are actually much larger or amorphous (the trolls, dragonewts, or Horse-Spawn). This is one reason Horse-Spawn raids can be common: you are actually being attacked by different war bands. For simplicity though, the attitude and other relationship values are common for the entire group.

It’s also worth remembering that King of Dragon Pass tells a story. It’s not a simulation of Iron Age magical economics. So while the game does track food, population, cattle, etc. for every clan, it’s not trying to exactly duplicate what a human player would do. (If it were, the story would probably not have a happy ending…)

So yes, if you trade a treasure, the clan will almost certainly still have it if you go back. If you kill many of their warriors, it will take time to recruit more (just like it does for you). If they’re too short of cows to trade, it may be a while before they have enough. Their chief will remain chief until something happens, etc.

Early in development, we contemplated making King of Dragon Pass a multi-player game. This is one reason every clan is completely detailed. But we never figured out a way to make an interesting story game with multiple participants. There can, after all, be only one King of Dragon Pass!

07 October 2011

Android Thoughts

We haven’t gotten any requests for Windows Phone 7 versions of King of Dragon Pass, but we know some of you wish you could play it on your Android phone (or I suppose other Android device, though not many of those have sold).

I’ve written before about how Android was not a possible platform when we started the iOS version. (Not just unviable, impossible.) Even if it had been, A Sharp is a small studio, and can only do one project at a time.

So what about now? King of Dragon Pass is released on iOS, after all.

Well yes, but it’s not done. We’re still working on Accessibility, using VoiceOver technology to allow blind players to enjoy the game.

On the other hand, that effort is pretty far along. Why not do Android next?

I always hate to say “no,” but I think an Android port is extremely unlikely.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that device and OS fragmentation is not a problem. And let’s assume that Android piracy is somehow dealt with (or is actually no worse than iOS piracy).

As I keep saying, King of Dragon Pass is a big project. It took 20 calendar months to do an iOS version (admittedly there were some months in there when we undertook other projects). All of the user interface code would have to be written from scratch for Android. Much of the user interface art would need to be reworked (since not all Android devices have a 480 x 320 pixel screen). So an Android version is close to the same amount of effort.

A Sharp has no expertise in Android development. In theory, we could get someone else to do it. However, they would no doubt want to be paid. (Coding 40 screens is a lot of work, if I haven’t mentioned that.) Since King of Dragon Pass is a proven product with a good reputation, it might make sense for someone to do this for royalties. However, the studio we talked to mentioned that Android users are notorious for not being willing to pay for anything. (They do both iOS and Android.) So given the scope of the project, they were not interested.

The alternative is to pay someone prior to release (and thus take on the risk of Android users living up to their notoriety). If King of Dragon Pass had become a smash hit, the risk would be less, and there would be more money to pay for the development. Unfortunately, King of Dragon Pass is probably among the top 25% of games by revenue, but it is not a smash hit.

I suppose another great risk we could take would to create a version for Kindle Fire. That’s close enough to mainstream Android that it would be easy to then do an Android version. The upside may be higher (Amazon actually knows how to sell stuff — both the Fire itself and products for it), but the drawbacks are the same. (It’s still a big project we can’t do or afford.) And I am extremely dubious about how Amazon treats app developers.

So at the moment, I see no road that would lead to an Android version. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but the ways to make it happen didn’t materialize.

But hey, it took 10 months for an Android version of Angry Birds to come out. Something might happen in the next 10 months. But don’t hold your breath.

06 October 2011

Contacting Us

Although we’re totally happy with getting comments on this blog, it sometimes feels odd carrying on a lengthy discussion about, say, game balance under a totally unrelated subject heading.

I realize social media requires an account, but these discussions are probably interesting enough to be conducted on Facebook or Twitter. And those channels just seem better for an unconstrained conversation.

Another important contact is bugz «at» a-sharp.com. This is the email address for our bug tracking system. A number of you have already used this, which is great, because it’s easy for us to get back to you and if necessary, get additional information.

Thankfully, I don’t think anyone has used the worst possible way of getting ahold of us: App Store reviews. Don’t get me wrong, we love reviews! But we have absolutely no way of replying to you. Please write your review, but then contact us through one of the other channels (including this blog).

04 October 2011

The Trouble With Branching

I’ve written a guest post for Betterblog, the blog similar to this one run by Failbetter Games. I’ve been greatly enjoying their Echo Bazaar browser game, which is a narrative game inspired in part by King of Dragon Pass (though it goes in a very different direction). My article discusses the approaches both games have taken to putting actual narrative into games.

One note about Echo Bazaar: don’t be put off by the Facebook or Twitter login. It absolutely does not spam your social network.

02 October 2011

OSL (King of Dragon Pass scripting)

Several people asked about the scripting language used in King of Dragon Pass, OSL. This stands for Opal Scripting Language, since “Opal” was the code-name for the game. Apparently we once called it “MiniScript” (but quickly dropped that name).

Our original plans were to use a multimedia development system, mTropolis, and augment it with C++. I’m not sure if scripting was in the original plan, but if not it didn’t take long to add. Scripting languages tend to be much higher-level, are often domain-specific, and intended for use by people who aren’t programmers.

In 1997 we didn’t have a variety of existing languages to plug in. (Today I’d probably use Lua, though others might pick JavaScript or C#.) So we came up with our own. The basic idea was that a relatively non-technical author could create files that were almost valid code. I figured we were going to want to review them anyway, so I didn’t worry too much about syntax errors, or doing things that would be moderately complex.

You can see a sample of scene coding on our site (it’s too large to include here).

The main features were:

Structure
We needed to support multiple responses and advice. There are no functions, but there’s simple branching.

Tests
A core concept of the game is that most results are not certain. They require an individual to perform a deed. In game terms, this is a test. For example, one of your leaders will test their Combat ability against a dueler. Or the lawspeaker will test his Custom when arguing a case. Or a ring member will test their Poetry (a composite ability) against the surliness of the clan when trying to calm them.

Tests have two outcomes: win or lose. So OSL has those keywords. Sometimes, the degree of success matters, in which case the variable q is set to the amount the victorious side won by.

Variables
All variables are global. However, single-letter variables are reset to 0 at the beginning of a scene. Variables are easily accessible to the C++ code, and are actually one of the principal ways that the multimedia code can talk to the other portions.

Variables can contain a floating point value, a string, or refer to a person, clan, or tribe. In the latter case, specific attributes could be used (e.g. otherClan.chief or c.leadership). Variables could also hold lists of values.

Functions
We started out with special-purpose functions, often used so that script could handle interaction (such as ChooseSacrifice). But our C++ programmer, Shawn Steele, realized that we could come up with generalized list functions
c = StrongestMilitary(ClansWithPositiveAttitude(NeighboringClans))

Placeholders
All text allowed for placeholders, which would be replaced by a value
response 2: “The <survivorClan.plural> are our neighbors.”
Some of these were context-sensitive, to allow for English grammar (<him/her>). And we had a special placeholder used to vary text (to provide more repeatability).
Bargaining with bandits is <d3:giving chickens to the fox/a sign of how weak we think we are/doomed to fail>

OSL is definitely a “little language” — it’s not Turing-complete. But it serves its purpose pretty well. Robin Laws was able to describe scenes which needed very little cleanup to compile, our QA team was able to read the logic, and it helped glue the mTropolis and C++ code together.

29 September 2011

Feathered Scrolling

I think 2.0 really is an improvement over the original game in a number of ways. One aesthetic improvement depends on technology.

Our original multimedia engine, mTropolis, didn’t support alpha. A pixel on the screen came from only one asset. But iOS supports alpha blending, so we can have translucent effects.

iOS is also a multi-touch OS, designed for small screens. Scrollable areas don’t have always-visible scroll bars, so sometimes it can be hard to know that they can be scrolled. There are a number of approaches one can take to telegraph* this to the user. One is to fade the edges of the list. King of Dragon Pass does this.

The idea is that the list smoothly fades out when it can be scrolled. It may be a subtle cue, but it looks better than a hard crop. (And in my opinion, looks much better than drawing a box around the list, which we usually had to do in the original.) The list above is feathered on both top and bottom.

The implementation is a UIView that embeds a UIScrollView, and sets a layer mask. It’s the scroll view’s delegate, and changes the mask so there’s no feathering if the view can’t scroll in a particular direction. Here’s what one of the key methods looks like:


- (void)featherTop
{
if (fMaskStyle == kFeatherTop)
return;
fMaskStyle = kFeatherTop;

// Set up a mask to fade just top
CAGradientLayer* gradientMask = [CAGradientLayer layer];
gradientMask.bounds = self.layer.bounds;
gradientMask.position = CGPointMake([self bounds].size.width / 2, [self bounds].size.height / 2);
NSObject* transparent = (NSObject*) [[UIColor clearColor] CGColor];
NSObject* opaque = (NSObject*) [[UIColor blackColor] CGColor];
[gradientMask setColors: [NSArray arrayWithObjects: transparent, opaque, opaque, nil]];
[gradientMask setLocations: [NSArray arrayWithObjects:
[NSNumber numberWithFloat: 0.0],
[NSNumber numberWithFloat: kPickListFeather / self.bounds.size.height],
[NSNumber numberWithFloat: 1.0],
nil]];
self.layer.mask = gradientMask;
}


And, here’s what the effect looks like up close.

The iPhone screen is really small, and you need to pay attention to every pixel. Polish like this is really important. It may be subtle, but it just makes the app feel a little better.

* OK, I really wanted to use this word because its meaning is now so divorced from the original literal meaning.

20 September 2011

What’s New?

Skip Olivares writes
I wanted to write and say how glad I was to see King of Dragon Pass for the iPhone.  I bought the original version way back when and played the heck out of it; I have fond memories of staying up late and playing the game.  I've been waiting for another product release from you, but a revised KoDP is the next best thing.  However, that got me wondering if I should get the iOS version or just dust off my old copy of the game.  I noticed you said you added new stories; can you tell me how much was added?
There are currently 25 new scenes in the game, and it’s possible to add a few more. There are also a couple new advisor faces. And there is a lot of new advice for them to say, predominantly in the management screens (where for example they now remind you of your most relevant Sacred Time magic allocations). There are also new treasures. And the manual is in the game, so you can refer to it wherever you are.

The Lore map is new, thanks to Colin Driver. It does a better job portraying things that are actually mentioned in the game, instead of trying to show greater Glorantha.

Game Center is new for iOS — not everyone will care, but I think it’s still worth signing in to Game Center and earning achievements. And other iOS niceties include things like a zoomable map (something we always wanted to do but cut from the original).

We also removed some things — hopefully decisions that weren’t that interesting (like optimizing patrols and crafters, or worrying about sheep).

And there are a lot of bug fixes. I was actually surprised at how many bugs had been in the game, apparently unnoticed, since 1999. Most of them were minor, like typos, though a few would cause problems. (Given how large the game is, I don’t feel like it was actually all that buggy. Software always has bugs. I think my surprise is more that nobody noticed — or maybe we didn’t have a good way to report them in 1999. Maybe nobody cared because they were so minor.)

While the game is still not the easiest, 2.0 took some steps to make a death spiral less likely (if you dig yourself a really deep hole, you will still have a hard time getting out). I did tuning specific to each of the difficulty levels.

And none of these changes can be applied to the original. So if you want them, you’ll need the new version.

But yes, I think it’s the same game, just a better incarnation. So if you haven’t played before, I completely recommend 2.0 for iOS. If you have, you’ll have to decide for yourself.

19 September 2011

Thanks!

We released King of Dragon Pass for iOS on 8 September, and it’s gotten a very warm welcome. Of 136 star ratings in the App Store, 128 are 5-star ratings. And some really great App Store reviews. Here’s what might be my favorite (from the UK store):

It's impossible to describe the emotional tug you feel when an old and trusted advisor, who you've watched grow from a young upstart, dies of old age.
Or when an exploration team disappears into the wilds, never to be heard from again.
Or when a cursed clansman, shunned by his peers, sacrifices himself to stop a raid.
This game will never leave my iPhone. That's the only accolade possible.
It’s also hard to describe how all this makes us feel — but it’s definitely a positive emotion!

While we don’t release specific figures, I do want to talk about sales as well. I have to say I’m astonished by the shape of our unit sales graph. The left half is what I expected — a launch splash, followed by a gradual decline as other games push ours out of the limelight. But then sales began to climb again! For several days in a row, so it’s not just a fluke.

While we did get a number of favorable reviews on a number of web sites (which we’re slowly collecting on our Reviews page), their timing really didn’t seem to correlate to sales. So my conclusion is that it’s due to word of mouth — after you play the game long enough to give it a recommendation, you do just that. Thank you!

As an independent developer with no marketing budget, word of mouth is critically important to the success of the game. We’ve tried to make that easy (with Twitter and Facebook buttons in the app), but ultimately it’s your credibility on the line when you recommend us. We really appreciate that.

And, I have to ask you to do it again. We just released an update (2.0.1). The way the App Store works, each version has its own ratings. So King of Dragon Pass will drop to zero 5-star ratings. If you can, please go back to the App Store and rate it again. If you already wrote a review, I don’t think it makes sense to do that again. But if not, those help too!

Thanks again for buying the game, and for letting people know about it.

10 September 2011

Repeatability

Many people have been wondering how repeatable the game really is. If there are only 500 scenes, what happens when you play for a week?

It’s certainly true that the same basic situations are going to recur. But we took a number of steps to help things feel fresh when they do:

No scene will randomly repeat for at least five game years.

And by then, it’s likely the context will be different. Is Dorasa still the tribal queen? Have you patched up a feud? Did you finally get fed up with your Trickster and outlaw him? Can you still afford to pay off a request for wergild? The same situation could easily have totally different ramifications. (This is one reason KoDP isn’t a pure storytelling game, but has a relationship and economic model.) And of course, in a different game, the context will certainly be different.

Most scenes have five responses. We tried to make all of them reasonable choices, so you can explore alternatives. (Even bad alternatives might end up with amusing consequences, and a single choice shouldn’t doom you.) And very often a response will test the abilities of a clan leader, and thus have either a successful or unsuccessful outcome.

A number of scenes have internal variation. For example, in one scene a ring member dies tragically. The specific ring member is random. And there are four possible deaths.

On top of that, flavor text is often randomized. Here’s some of what you see if that ring member was slain by a Chaos horror:

text: The ring gathers in sorrow around <c>, who was struck down by a weird Chaos monster <d6:that had the body of a giant snail and the head of a dragon/that looked like a deer but had the face of a troll/that had the body of a scorpion and a human head/that was hiding at the bottom of a pond/that was living inside one of our cows/that was lurking among the trees at the edge of our tula>.

Finally, if a scene logically can’t repeat within one game, it won’t.

So you could think of King of Dragon Pass as composed of a number of storytelling motifs, which it repeats in endless variation.

07 September 2011

King of Dragon Pass Is Out

King of Dragon Pass is now available in the App Store in the US! (A few hours before the 8th on my clock, but who’s complaining!)

What’s Next?

Releasing the game isn’t the end of the story. Besides trying to market it, we have a backlog of about 20 bugs that are worth fixing. (None serious enough to prevent launch, because they’re minor typos or extremely unlikely, but we’re perfectionists at heart.) And we really want to add VoiceOver support to the game, so blind players can run it. There’s also another scene or two I want to add.

No timetable for that (partly because a few other projects need to come off the back burner now that 2.0 has shipped).

Beyond that, the future is unclear. Needless to say, the better the sales are, the better the odds of spinning off other projects.

But what’s immediately next is waiting impatiently for 8 September to roll around to where I live!

06 September 2011

Android Update

We’re aware that there are a fair number of Android devices out there, and that some of them are owned by King of Dragon Pass fans.

We also know that things have changed since we began development about 20 months ago. Unlike then, the Android Market is now available in Finland (which is one of our most important markets). And unlike then, the Android Market will now accept apps as large as King of Dragon Pass. (Sadly, we’ve heard about some problems facing developers with Amazon’s Android App Store.) So unlike when we started, an Android version is at least conceivable.

It would still face a number of hurdles. The biggest issue is the same one that the iOS version faced: King of Dragon Pass is a big game, with around 40 screens. We’ve worked out the new layout, but that’s for a 480 x 320 screen, and many Android devices vary. The UI would need to be reworked for a new API and a new language (i.e. all the code would need to be rewritten). Even if it’s easier the second time, it would still be a long-term project.

Is it financially worth undertaking such a major project? The easiest way to justify it would be if the iOS version sells really well. So ironically, the best way to convince us to port King of Dragon Pass to Android would be to buy it for iOS. (You don’t need an iPhone, after all. Used iPod touches are apparently under $100 on eBay, and if you want a larger screen, iPad is still the only choice that really makes sense.)

One thing hasn’t changed: A Sharp is still a small studio, and can only do one project at a time. (And we’re not done with iOS once the game releases. More on that in the next post.)

05 September 2011

Money Talks

Apple completely changed the mobile game business with the App Store. In the old days, game developers essentially sold their games to the mobile carriers, who would then add the title to the menus which were called “decks.” Navigation on most phones was pretty cumbersome, so if you weren’t in the first page of the menu, you didn’t get many sales because nobody would see your title. And, I use the term “title” on purpose, because the decks were text-only. Players had to choose your game solely on its title. This meant that many games were licensed, on the theory that if you liked Wheel of Fortune on TV, you’d like it on your phone. (Or at least you’d know what it was.) The App Store means that developers can sell directly to customers without a title-picking gatekeeper, and can use graphics (the icon and screen shots) and ad copy to help sell. (And you can do external marketing because you can link to the App Store.)

One feature of the App Store that resembles the old decks is the top 10 lists. Placement there can make a huge difference in sales. And people discovered that one way to get there was to be so cheap that your game is an impulse buy (increasing sales, which got you in the top 10, which meant you could stay in the top 10). So in a kind of prisoner’s dilemma, a race to the bottom began, and today many games sell for just a dollar or two.

It’s kind of odd for what are presumably the best products to be priced so cheap that people might buy them and forget to launch them. Because most of the time outside the App Store, price is loosely correlated with quality. Filet mignon costs more than hamburger — but it’s a better cut of meat. Normally, you expect a $4 product to be better than a $1 product, even if you aren’t in the mood to spend $4.

Of course, software costs money to create, and you need to sell an awful lot of it to recoup your investment if you’re only getting $1/copy (less Apple’s 30% cut). So not everyone sells for $1 (especially if a product isn’t of extremely broad appeal). Microeconomics suggests a smooth demand curve, where as price increases, sales decrease. I don’t think the App Store fits this model precisely. Not only is there the top 10 effect, but you need to price in increments of $1. And, the prices are all so low that there’s as much psychology as economics involved. Below some price, an app is an impulse buy. $1, $2, maybe even higher, is not a big barrier to purchase.

$1 is the lowest price, but are there any others that make sense? I’m heavily influenced by tech columnist Andy Ihnatko, who discussed this in a talk. After closely following the App Store, he concluded that there are several sweet spots for pricing: $3, $5, and $10. Obviously you’ll have fewer customers pricing an app at $5 (compared to $4), but mostly you lose customers going from $3 to $4, so you might as well pick $5. $10 is notable as the highest price where an App Store listing alone is enough to sell someone — more than that and you will need some additional form of marketing

So what happens when you put these two factors (price = quality, special price points) together? I haven’t done a totally comprehensive survey of the App Store, but premium games are often $10 when new (and often more in iPad versions). When I first noted it, Chaos Rings was $10; it’s now down to $7 but Chaos Rings omega is $9. Final Fantasy III is $16, as is Final Fantasy Tactics.

And I certainly think of King of Dragon Pass as a premium game. There are no ads. It was designed for 40 hours of play, and insane repeatability. The artwork is really good. And many of the testers didn’t run into bugs at all. It’s also a single purchase — you’re not going to get nickel-and-dimed with in-app purchase. On the other hand, while it’s a great game, it may not be for all people —  you actually need to read to enjoy it (even though I’ve seen a 3 year old choose to launch it multiple times).

There’s another important feature of the App store: ratings. Apps that are impulse buys get a disproportionate number of 1-star ratings. Presumably people end up buying things they don’t actually like, and then take it out on the app. (This is even worse for free apps.) Andy Ihnatko claimed that ratings are one of the most important things people use when deciding to buy, so it’s worth thinking about how to avoid bad reviews from people who aren’t really your target market in the first place.

We thought about all this, and also ran it by our testers for confirmation (none of whom objected to our decision). We’ll start King of Dragon Pass at $9.99 (far less than it’s ever sold for before).

In summary, many games use price to say, “Look at me!” We’re using it to say, “This is an awesome game.”

02 September 2011

Prepping For Release


King of Dragon Pass has been approved for sale in the App Store (a little sooner than I expected), and I’m busy getting ready for its release next week.

One aspect of this is preparing screen shots, both to supply to the media, and to show off the game on our web site.

I thought it would be interesting to recreate the same screens I’d used before. (I did switch from a sword clan to a spear clan.) It’s interesting to compare what we could do in 1999 to what a pocket device can do today (we couldn’t do transparency or anti-aliased text 12 years ago).

30 August 2011

King of Dragon Pass Is In Review

King of Dragon Pass has hit a really big milestone: it’s submitted to the iOS App Store and is now waiting for review by Apple.

To get there, it had to meet our standards for quality (we rejected the first release candidate), and Apple’s technical requirements for metadata, code signing, and API usage.

Now we wait for Apple to approve the build, which is likely to take a week (although I don’t know if the US summer vacation season will impact that). That is, assuming it gets approved — this is not a formality, and in fact I’ve gotten bug reports from the review process.

That gives us some time to prepare marketing material and second guess our thoughts on pricing. Once we get approval, we’ll pick a release date (the US Labor Day holiday could impact this if it doesn’t delay review). We want to be able to let the media — and you! — know beforehand.

Looking a bit further ahead, we will do at least two updates. There’s around 20 bugs which are worth fixing (but weren’t worth delaying for). And then I want to finish supporting VoiceOver, so that King of Dragon Pass will be accessible to blind players.

So with luck, it will be out in the first half of September.

24 August 2011

Release Candidate 2

Last time, I said that creating a release build “might introduce subtle bugs.” Sadly, this turned out to be true.

Any sort of change can introduce bugs, which is why towards the end of a project, the bar for fixing bugs gets higher. In this particular case, it turned out that the debug logging had an important side effect, which  masked a bug that could occur when one (but not more than one) of your clan leaders died of old age.

In some ways the bug was minor (reporting “he” instead of “she”), but you get to know your leaders, so this really stood out as jarring. Anything that breaks the fantasy is important.

I also wanted to do a little more tuning of the economy, and fixed a few low-risk typos.

Like I said before, having more than one release candidate is common. You hope otherwise — the idea really is that you are happy with the quality and could release the build — but it’s not cause for alarm.

So, RC2 is going out to our testers, and I still think a September release is likely.

19 August 2011

Release Candidate 1

King of Dragon Pass just hit a pretty important milestone. I just sent out a release candidate to our testers.

Different studios define “release candidate” differently, but in general it’s a build that you wouldn’t be ashamed to ship. There may still be bugs, but they are rare or minor enough not to be a problem for the vast majority of players. Typically you just fixed a bunch of bugs, so you need additional testing to make sure the fixes haven’t introduced new bugs. It’s common for a game to have multiple release candidates.

Also, this is the first release build we’ve distributed — there are no more debugging aids (like the incredibly handy log file). This alone might introduce subtle bugs.

The point is, this still doesn’t give us a release date.

Once we’re satisfied that the game really is in good shape, we’ll submit it to Apple for approval. That can take an unpredictable amount of time, but they actually seem to have really caught up, and the odds are as good as I’ve ever seen them.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re done. There’s still testing to do, and we need to work on the marketing. And there’s some stuff I’d like to add in an update.

01 August 2011

September

The question on everybody’s mind (including ours!) is, when will the game be out? The obvious answer is: when it’s ready. So when’s that?

Ideally software would never ship with bugs. Or at least with no known bugs. But that’s pretty much impossible. Some bugs maybe very hard to reproduce. Others may have very low impact. Sometimes it’s not every completely clear if certain behavior is a bug or not.

King of Dragon Pass has followed a conventional software development model: implement the features, go through a period of stabilization during which no features are added, test internally and externally.

Some of our testers have thought the game is ready for some time. However, I get to see all the bugs (typically a beta tester will report a handful). They’ve run the gamut, from crashes that could affect everyone, problems on certain devices or iOS versions, bugs in new scenes, the wrong sound effect for a dialog, memory leaks, etc. One category of bug has surprised me a little: the number of bugs and typos in the original scenes. Those have been there since the 1999 release! Some were introduced just before that release, which explains why our QA department didn’t catch them. And, it’s a really big game, with a lot of content, and a lot of randomization. If things don’t happen in just the right order, you may not get the bug.

Anyway, we’ve been getting bug reports and fixing them. This time around we don’t have one or two full time QA people, so the stabilization period is perhaps a bit longer. On the other hand, two thirds of the game has survived the test of time — we may be finding bugs in it, but they didn’t get seriously in people’s way so far. And the new code is working pretty well, without major bugs in a couple weeks. And some of the important code paths have recently been tested (e.g. I just won a long game as Queen of Dragon Pass).

So the plan is to send out two more beta releases. In addition to the testers who’ve helped so far, we’d add another batch of new testers. The second would be a release build (without the useful tools that allow easy reporting and identifying of bugs, but matching what we’d ship). If all goes well, we’d then submit to the App Store.

So what could go wrong? Obviously it would be someone finding a serious bug. Especially if it’s in a release build with no handy debug information. Or play balance is off, and more tuning needed. Either way, the release clock would be reset.

App Store approval is a big wildcard — Apple has occasionally rejected (or worse, not reviewed) apps for what appear to be capricious reasons. However, currently 94% of apps get approved within 7 days. And we’ve certainly tried to play by the rules.

iOS 5 is another wildcard. We’ve been testing with it a prerelease version. A new version might introduce new incompatibilities.

Once the app is approved, we don’t plan on releasing it immediately. As a small development house, we don’t have extensive marketing plans, but we do want a little time to make as big a splash as we can.

So what does that all mean? I think it’s safe to say that we plan on releasing the game in September. If all goes well, as early as the second week. (Likely something will go wrong, but we can slip three weeks and still be September.)

We’ll certainly be letting you know more as the actual date approaches.

And now, to investigate the bug report that came in while I was writing this…

07 July 2011

More Testing



I’ve been thinking about what it will take to get KoDP to the App Store. Right now,  the game seems to be working pretty well. And I think the UI has gotten a lot more polished thanks to feedback from our testers.

But the end game is not extensively tested. So I think I may need a new breed of tester. Unlike the previous crop, this probably would be someone who has played before, because I’d like someone to win the long game.

In addition, the prospective tester
  • Has an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad capable of running iOS 4.1 or higher.
  • Is willing to use prerelease software. The game may crash, be impossible to win, or have other bugs. Saved games may not be loadable by future builds.
  • Is good about noticing things that seem odd, and then reporting them.
  • Reports them to us! The game isn’t under NDA, but there’s not much value in blog posts that an unreleased game has bugs.
  • Has access to WiFi (you’ll download the game on your device, and it’s about 99 MB).
  • Volunteers. Apple also restricts promo codes, and reviewers and other marketing needs will come first.
If you’re interested, send an e-mail to bugz |at| a-sharp.com. Please include the type of device you have and its UDID.

To get your device ID:
  1. Launch iTunes on your computer
  2. Connect the device
  3. Click the device in the DEVICES list on the left
  4. Click the Serial Number (to show UDID)
  5. Select Edit > Copy (to get the UDID on the clipboard)
Thanks for your help!

04 July 2011

KoDP Update

For various reasons (including illness), it’s been some time since the last post. Sorry about that.

King of Dragon Pass is now a lot closer to being complete. In fact, yesterday I went through the manual again, and was able to remove the “first draft” warning. (The manual wasn’t really a true first draft, since it was adapted from the original game’s manual. But some elements of the game have changed, and some are new. So the manual needed to be treated as a new project.)

One way I can tell it’s closer: it’s possible to win the long game. (Doing so revealed some bugs, which are now fixed.) I’m in the process of trying to win a second time, though my clan leaders don’t seem to have great heroquesting skills this time around…

Anyway, other than “Test,” the to-do list is basically empty. Which is a good thing, since a number of recent bugs were introduced while making other changes.

Testing is going to determine the release date (just as it did in 1999 — we slipped our original date slightly so that QA would have more confidence in the build). This time around, it’s mostly our volunteer testers, who have been finding a number of issues.

So while I don’t have a date, code-wise (if not bug-wise) the game is ready to go. So let me go back to trying to find bugs, and I’ll be able to give more details…

08 May 2011

Manual

The game manual is basically the last development task before the game is truly feature complete. And I’ve finally begun converting it from the original PageMaker files to HTML with CSS.

The original was 60 pages, which is a lot to read on an iPhone. We’ll either make the same HTML available on our site, or more likely convert the multiple pages to a single PDF. (I’m not sure of the best tool to do that with.)

As usual with early screen shots, I need to caution that things may still change.

Once the manual is complete, we’ll send the game out to a new crop of testers. (We got about three times what we needed for the first round, so we have a pretty good-sized pool of potential testers now.)

24 April 2011

Feature Complete

I keep looking at the To Do list, and it looks like all features will be implemented very soon (perhaps even today), with the exception of the manual. There are tasks that need to be done before release (such as update the FAQ to reflect the new version), and bugs that should be addressed, but it looks like everything I currently plan to do is done.

Of course, I could be overlooking something. And that’s why I’d like to accept a small number of testers. (It needs to be small in part because Apple restricts development to 100 devices.) The ideal tester:
  • Has not played before (OK, that probably leaves out most readers).
  • Has an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad capable of running iOS 4.1 or higher.
  • Is willing to use prerelease software. The game may crash, be impossible to win, or have other bugs. Saved games may not be loadable by future test builds.
  • Is good about noticing things that seem odd, and then reporting them.
  • Reports them to us! The game isn’t under NDA, but there’s not much value in blog posts that an unreleased game has bugs.
  • Has access to WiFi (you’ll download the game on your device, and it’s about 62 MB with overly compressed artwork).
  • Volunteers. Apple also restricts promo codes, and reviewers and other marketing needs will come first.
If you’re interested, send an e-mail to bugz |at| a-sharp.com. Please include the type of device you have and its UDID.
To get your device ID:
  1. Launch iTunes on your computer
  2. Connect the device
  3. Click the device in the DEVICES list on the left
  4. Click the Serial Number (to show UDID)
  5. Select Edit > Copy (to get the UDID on the clipboard)
Thanks for your help!