Archive for the 'Psychology' Category

Present.app

December 30th, 2012
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

Both my own siblings and my wife’s siblings have had a Christmas present exchange for the past couple of years and although the gifts are never extravagant, we always try to make them thoughtful. This year we thought it might be fun to give our siblings a choice of which present they wanted. We thought of making a card with the various options printed on it but then I came up with the idea of making a custom app that could serve the same purpose.

But I didn’t want it to simply be a card analog. It would have to take advantage of some of the unique features of iOS and do things that a normal card could not. Maybe we could somehow sneak it on to their iPads without them even knowing and surprise them with it! I was really excited about the idea and so I immediately sat down and started cranking it out. Thus, Present.app was born. (more…)

Zurp 1.0 Postmortem

December 15th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

Last September I wrote a blog post introducing Invader Zurp which revealed a little of the back story on how I came upon this new game idea after it’s first 2 months in development. Fast forward to 3 months later and Invader Zurp had just hit the App Store! I thought it would be useful to sit down and review the last 5 months of development, kind of plan out where I want to go from here and go over the events and insights that I thought were most influential during development.

The Story So Far…

So to recap the original blog post a bit, it was the middle of the summer (2011) and I had been working my brains out on Cannonade for the previous 6 months. I was a little discouraged at that point because progress wasn’t coming quite as quickly as I had hoped. Reception from my testers (just friends and family at that point) hadn’t been as positive as I had wanted either. I still had a very clear vision of what I wanted Cannonade to be and still believed that there is a ton of untapped potential for multiplayer-only games on iOS. But there was only so much I that could do as a one-man team and testing a multiplayer game can be quite time consuming. I took the family on vacation in early July and was able to step away from things for a while. It was then that I got an idea for a single player experience that distilled the core gameplay mechanic of Cannonade down to it’s essence. Thus Invader Zurp was born. Within two weeks I had modularized the Cannonade game engine, re-written the graphics sub-system in OpenGL ES 2.0 and had a working prototype. And it was fun! I found myself on very long “testing” sessions playing even after I had verified my fixes. I seeded the first alpha version in early September and wrote the introductory blog post. Then began the journey of finishing the game and kicking the darn thing out the door. (more…)

Invader Zurp is on the App Store!

December 15th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

Aright it’s here! Invader Zurp, the project I have worked so hard on for the last 5 months is now for sale on the App Store! I want to thank all my wonderful testers for all their time they put into playing it and even more for the thoughtful and productive feedback that they so lavishly furnished on me. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Check out the gameplay trailer here:

Now Go Get It!

Application-Specific Bullet Physics Optimization

December 13th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

In developing Cannonade and Invader Zurp I have invested a fair amount of time becoming familiar with the Bullet Physics Library and trying to milk every bit of performance out of it as I can. Realistic physics simulation plays a crucial part in both games and is also the performance bottleneck in the majority of gameplay scenarios with both. When trying to optimize for performance I generally see myself using two kinds of approaches. One is a higher level algorithmic approach that tries to see ways to create less work or avoid work in order to keep things going fast. Once I have nailed down as best I can, the minimum set of work that I really cannot avoid doing, then comes the work of getting down and dirty and speeding up the routines that actually do that work. When I initially approached the problem of speeding up Bullet, I first simply treated it as a black box (work that I wouldn’t be able to avoid) and explored what kinds of compiler configurations I could leverage to create the fastest possible execution of the physics simulation work. Later, after I had nailed down the gameplay mechanic for Invader Zurp I was able to start specifically attacking the set of physics simulation work needed for the game and whittled it down to a much smaller amount using some simplifications, accuracy compromises and psychology.

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Think Tank: Never let a good idea get away again!

November 28th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

So I have these thoughts…a lot. No not that kind! 😉 I get these fun ideas for neat projects or crazy inventions as I am driving in the car, singing in the shower, lying in bed or even in the midst of coding. Really creative ideas that may or may not be realistically viable but worthy of entertaining nonetheless. I get really excited and start working it over in my mind. It feels like inspiration. Then something happens… Life resumes and I need to deal with the actual task at hand. No worry, it was such a compelling idea that I will surely remember it later when I have cycles to devote to it. And then I never think about it again. Or even worse, the next day rolls around and I all of the sudden remember that I did think of a cool idea the day before, but I can’t quite bring the memory into focus. Does any part of this sound familiar to you?

Write It Down

“No more!” I declared. Nothing gets remembered unless it is written down. Hmm, idea notebook? TextEdit file on the computer? I did the text file thing for a while but I kept forgetting that it was there or didn’t have access to it at the time. No worries… Evolution of the computer to the rescue! Transferred things to Notes.app on the iPhone. Not good. Too jumbled, un-organized, too much information presented in-general. I knew of the million and a half “getting things done”, task management, mind-mapping and brain organization apps/ecosystems out there. But I found most were too general for what I wanted and too heavy. Well, if you want something done…

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Invader Zurp

September 12th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

So for those of you on my Cannonade TestFlight profile, you might have noticed that I havn’t seeded a build for about two months. I have a good explanation for this.

Lets rewind back to right after my last Cannonade seed build. I was on vacation at the time and had the opportunity to stand back from Cannonade and evaluate things from a different perspective. Sometimes I don’t think I seek out those opportunities to just sit and think as much as I should (just thinking sometimes makes me feel a bit lazy for not doing). At one family gathering I observed my older son playing Fruit Ninja on his aunt’s iPhone. I was aware of Fruit Ninja and knew that it was a definite App Store success. As I watched him play I thought to myself “That just one play mechanic. One. Repeated, millions of times over and over and over.” This is the typical MO of most games that are successful on the App Store. Simple, easy to pick up and well implemented with good production values. With Cannonade I am trying to break new ground on the App Store. I still believe that there could be a place for deep multi-player experiences on the App Store and I think that Cannonade is on the right track. But watching Fruit Ninja got me thinking. Did I have a single, fun gameplay mechanic that I could repeat millions of times? The core fun mechanic of Cannonade is “Knock Your Friend’s Castles Down.” Maybe I could modify that to just “Knock Castles Down.” Even knocking down dumb castles was fun in and of itself. Maybe I could repeat that experience millions of times and put out a more limitedly scoped single player experience? I decided that it would be a really fun exercise and that I would put Cannonade on hold for a few months while I brought this new single player game to market. I call it “Invader Zurp“.

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Language Aid: A Postmortem

August 27th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

Language Aid is a system-wide text lookup tool I developed and sold for the past couple of years. I recently decided to make it free and release the source code. This is the story behind it.

Rewind to 2006, I was just winding down active development of Vision, my OpenGL Window Sever/UI Framework. I had started work on Vision in college 3 years earlier and had been churning on it full-time for the previous 2 years. I had decided that it was finally time to get a job and so I interviewed around and accepted a position at Apple. I had two weeks until my start date and I wanted to do some programming for fun that was completely different from what I had been doing.

Iron Coder[0]

It was during that two week period of not yet working for Apple that Wolf Rentzsch started the (now defunct) Iron Coder contest. The way it worked was that the organizer announces an API that each of the contestants must use somehow in their entry and then 24 hours later a theme is announced that entries must also somehow incorporate. I thought it was just what I needed. A fun, small-scoped project with a little bit of competition. So the day of the very first Iron Coder arrived and the contest API was announced: The Accessibility API. Accessibility API? What’s that? Until that moment I had not been aware of it but it was actually just what I had been looking for to solve a different problem I had. I started researching it and immediately there were portions of it that were very interesting to me. Specifically, the ability for programs to inspect and copy data (like displayed text) out of other running applications was of particular interest to me.

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Achievement Brain Chemistry

June 4th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

One crucial aspect of my game that I have been thinking of for a while has been that of in-game achievements. There is just something about the hormones that get secreted in your brain the first time that sound or notification goes off that hooks you like the first line. I have come up with an initial set of 40 achievements that I will hopefully have implemented by the next seed. Your challenge: tell me what you think in the comments below, let me know of any cool ideas you have for achievements and bonus points for anyone that can name all the movie, video game or cultural references below.

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When Bullets Move Too Fast…

June 1st, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

Did you know that bullets (and other quick moving objects) in video games sometimes exhibit magical properties if they move too fast? If they gain enough speed, sometimes they can even pass completely through other objects without leaving a scratch or affecting them at all! You might have seen this happen occasionally in games that have a lot of complicated physics simulation. Sometimes fast moving objects just seem to pass through the ground or other objects. Unfortunately this is not a desirable user experience and it quickly breaks the illusion the game is trying to convey. This phenomenon is called “tunneling” and game developers attempt to deal with it in a variety of different ways. I thought I would share my unique combination of techniques to deal with it that I used in Cannonade. I have not seen this specific combination of techniques explained or suggested anywhere and so I thought it might be beneficial to share what I have learned with others who might also be suffering from object tunneling woes. First lets explain how most modern game physics simulation works and investigate why this problem crops up.

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Cannonade 0.5.8 is now seeded

May 9th, 2011
Spencer Nielsen Follow snielsen42 on Twitter

The focus of this update is the new in-game tutorial! Now when you first launch Cannonade if you have never run through the tutorial it will prompt you to do so. The tutorial level is meant to teach new players how to use the battle interface and get them some target practice with the fundamentals. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!

Complete Changelist:

  • Bumped engineCompatibility to 0.5.8. (this means all games previously created by versions <= 0.5.7 will be deleted)
  • Initial implementation of the tutorial game type and level.
  • Made some menu refinements and added a “Wiki/File A Bug” menu option.
  • Made it so that you are prompted to run through the tutorial if you havn’t before on that device.
  • A few quick menu sound effects.
  • Added detailed statistics gathering.
  • Fixed lots of little simulation execution bugs.
  • Tons of leak hunting.
  • Added friends info to the game server packets and cleaned up the server code a bit.

Alpha Testing List

Would you like to be one of the awesome alpha testers that help make Cannonade great? Send an email to: [email protected] and I will reply with instructions on how to get onto the Trac server, Testflight list and tester forums.

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