It took me a while this year to go through the dozens of Thin Mints, Do-Si-Dos, and Samoas I secured last spring. I remember how hard I fought with empty promises and unconvincing pouts for just “one more box”, how I pleaded and bargained with those little evil cookie-keeper brats and their greedy families. I even stashed my very favorite Tagalongs in various hidden locations around the house so they would last longer. I was not letting anybody else, at least willingly, participate on that forbidden pleasure of licking layer after layer of sugary goodness.

At the very end, just before that last sinful bite, I paused full of doubt. I looked at that delicious cookie with anticipated regret for a while. But I could not help it. I gulped it just like all the ones before it. Just as last year, all good things get to an end. Would they taste as good if I had them all year round? Probably not.

The 7 Evil Projects

New project ideas are kind of like cookies. They are fresh and delicious when you first get them and start working on them. But if you let them linger for too long, they become stale. The year just started and I find myself with seven projects that need finishing before they get too musty. Some of them are new ideas, others are not so fresh anymore, but I need to finish them all as soon as possible.

To do just that I have devised a devious strategy that, I am sorry to inform, may involve audience participation. Let me introduce you both the projects and the plan.

The Plan

You all know by now the iOS developer community is chock full of awesome individuals, people that share a passion for what they do and have no problems sharing it with others, helping them get aboard and get better at it, honestly asking and answering questions that range from technical issues, to business practices, and even how much they are making. In other types of business maybe trade secrets, envy, and contempt for the competition are the norm, but not here! I am proud to be part of such group.

There is a thing though, that not many people talk about even in this community: projects in development. And sure, I worked for years in advertising agencies, I have been a business owner before, and totally understand the “competitive advantage means secrecy” point of view. Is just that, as an indie game developer, I don’t think is doing much for me. I do want to talk about what I am doing; I like to get input from all of you. Because I’m finding that, more often than not, your feedback points me in directions that I had not even considered before, and at the end make for a better product.

So talking this out with my friend George, we decided we were going to develop our next personal game project totally in the open. We will talk about anything that comes up: game mechanics, design issues, technical problems, marketing, motivation, etc. from beginning to end, and let people give us feedback at every step. George started this Monday, so go check out his Fairie’s Journey.

That was the plan until I realized I don’t have one game project, but seven Evil Projects in waiting. So if I am going to do one, why not all of them? Some are more interesting than others, so today I just wanted to show you what there is, and get your feedback on what aspects of these projects are you interested in knowing more about (use the comments below, or find me on Twitter!) I have grouped them in 2 sections, so let’s start with…

Motivational Tools with None of the Bullshit
and Other Web Projects

As I was saying last week, the Habit to Procrastinate is strong on this one. I would feel ashamed if it was not so common. What is to keep me from taking a nap right now, instead of writing this elaborate post? Only one thing: that you guys keep me in check. That was the whole idea behind iDevBlogADay: I need to blog; somebody needs to publicly lash me if I don’t; at the end you get some interesting articles published that would probably have never seen the light otherwise.

Evil Project #1: iDevBlogADay Redesign

iDevBlogADay has grown from its humble beginning when Chris Waite and me were sharing that same sentiment on Twitter, to a list of almost 70 people engaged in this weird blogging support group, plus thousands of readers that consider what we collectively write worth their attention.

The original website has not changed much from that hasty first week implementation. Sure it has worked well until now, but some of the upkeep is too cumbersome: every time somebody wants either off the list or into it, I have to manually sort things out; there is not even a page that explains how the whole thing works, or how to solve common problems. Last year I started working on some tools to help me out, plus a more professional look for it all. You can see the working prototype right here:

What needs to be done?
  1. If you were in your iPhone when trying to access that page, you didn’t see much. First thing that needs to happen is for the new design to work properly on small screens (is an iOS-related site, for God’s sake!).
  2. I still need to implement info pages, and some forms for people to sign up into the waiting list without having to contact me on Twitter.
  3. When somebody doesn’t publish on his day, the site should at least notify me, then make it easier for me to move people around from the main list into the waiting list and vice-versa.
  4. With currently 54 people in the waiting list, the question comes now and then… why not have more than 2 persons per day? Is the moment to decide, because if I finally go with this design that change is going to be more difficult in the future. Is that a sign that the design is not too restrictive?
What can I write about?

Not sure if web development is an area enough readers are interested about, so probably I can write about design considerations, both the graphic design and why I think iDevBlogADay works as nicely as it does. Anything else you want to know?

Evil Project #2: iDevTracker

After the unexpected success of iDevBlogADay I kept wondering… will this same strategy work applied to other areas? As you can see today, the “open development” plan has lots in common: I need to finish my projects, and get feedback; somebody needs to call me a lazy git1 if I don’t; you get hopefully useful information that you may not get otherwise.

How many people out there are in this same situation? They are maybe starting their indie development on the side, cannot spend too much time on it, then get distracted reading blogs, playing World of Warcraft, or taking care of the kids, and end up with stale projects that they abandon at the end? If I had to guess, lots. And you know what? Some of those projects are probably rubbish, but others… gosh, I wish there were more of the others!

So iDevTracker in a few words: you need to finish a project; somebody needs to show you how bad you are doing it this week compared with all the other cool indie guys out there; we get more awesome games! And in a few more words, here is the abstract from the site:

Submit your indie project. Tell us how far along you think you are. Add a small blurb about your progress if you want. Continue updating your project to get historical data and ballpark info about your effectiveness, inform the community about your progress, and see how you compare with other indie developers.

What needs to be done?
  1. Some forms still need designing and implementing, I am half the way there.
  2. I would like to have a beta of this one out soon. Is going to be really simple to start with: just add your progress, see how you are doing in comparison, browse projects by company, maybe some Google-powered charts.
What can I write about?

No idea. If you want to know more, or you have ideas about how this can help you, or what kind of information you want to track, comments are open.

Evil Project #3: Notedo

Tomorrow the Mac App Store opens to the public, and although I had been thinking for a while if releasing Pip for Mac was worth it (I already had it working with even iChat Theater support early last year), I decided against it.

All the same, I have been a Mac developer for longer than anybody without a product out there should be, so it was frustrating not to make something, anything, for this unique occasion. Anyway, I am kind of old-fashioned, certainly not cool enough to write a Twitter client; so what other app idea could I come up with that has been done a few thousand times before? Of course, a note taking/to-do application!

Noel talked before about how valuable having immediate access to writing a quick note and going back to coding was for him. I always found also that I liked the minimal structure of having to-dos and notes organized only by projects, maybe priority, but not other hierarchies. Chris has also been developing BrainWave, a light weight project management tool, because he could not find something that fulfilled his simple requirements. So with all this in mind I decided to do a really simple application with a minimum of features:

  1. It slides out of one side of the screen, activated by a global hot key. Same hot key hides it.
  2. It handles multiple projects, but you can only see and manipulate one at a time.
  3. You organize to-dos by dragging them up and down in the list, no folders or categories.
  4. You can collect pieces of information, either writing quick notes, or dragging images, URLs, etc. into the notes section of the project. To-dos and notes are separate tabs. That way you can keep all your ideas together.
  5. Everything can be controlled with the keyboard. Should be as easy as possible to activate, write a few to-dos, and deactivate, without using the mouse.

So is there no application out there already that does all this? Not that I have found. I am using a mix of web apps (Trac), Yojimbo, JustNotes, and others, so all the little pieces of information about a project end up all over the place.

What can I write about?

Although iOS developers will be familiars with the environment, Mac development has its own set of nuances. This application makes extensive use of Core Data, bindings, global events (that I had to get from Carbon and not Cocoa!), etc. If you get into non-game Mac development, you are going to find that although you get lots of stuff for free, some of the things interface elements that you would consider standard are not there. Making these behave appropriately writing them from scratch is what differentiates the good from the excellent. I am not sure if utility applications are something you guys are interested in though.

mcsymbol.pngEvil Project #4: Mystery Coconut’s Site

This one is probably the less interesting for the readers. I have to change the site’s design, basically because I am not a one-product company anymore. I want to reflect that, make the blog easier to read, have a repository of sample code for people to download, and maybe even advertise my free-lancing services.

At the same time, I would like to keep the cartoony casual style. Even if I do serious (read boring) to-do applications, I want the company (read me) to concentrate on the fun stuff (read games), and a light-hearted theme can do wonders for how you think about yourself, your company, and your products.

What can I write about?

Apart from design issues or marketing, not sure what else will come out of this one. Any ideas?

But Didn’t You Say You Were a Game Company?

Finally we get to the interesting part: the 3 evil games.

Evil Project #5: Casey’s Contraptions

As you may already know, I am collaborating with Noel Llopis in this project. This should actually be Evil Project #1, because it is the one that I am working the most on, and that needs to be out faster.

This project was kind of a surprise for me. After working on the prototype for a while and decide he wanted to go ahead with the project, Noel had difficulties finding an artist whose style fit his idea. I suggested a 50s style Hanna Barbera or Warner Bros. could work, and Noel asked me if I was interested in giving it a try.

Now, I have worked as a graphic designer before, but not as an illustrator. I was also ready to go on my own doing game programming, and was even thinking of outsourcing the art. But I had bought a Wacom Tablet a year back and had fun doing Mystery Coconut’s site header graphics, so I reluctantly agreed.

Now, after Casey went public, lots of people have commented on how much they love the art style. Some even offered me work as illustrator for their games! All I have to say is that I am glad you guys like it, but I am not a professional artist by far. I am slow, and I don’t have the training, and more important, the confidence, that is achieved through experience. For now, I will continue drawing because is fun, and kind of relaxing. But not sure I see it as an important part of my freelancing services. Time will tell, I guess.

What can I write about?

Noel was supposed to write weekly about our progress, but he has been too busy, so I guess I can do it instead. Some people have also asked me about how I get the brush style of these illustrations, what programs I use (Adobe Illustrator mainly), etc. so if that is something that interests you I can probably write a post about the whole process. We also ended up with lots of interface designs that we are not going to use in the final product, so a roundup of what was discarded and why may also be interesting.

Evil Project #6:
Legend of Robin Hood

Number 6 is finally the one that I was supposed to talk about today! Basically is a turn-by-turn strategy game, in which you either control Robin Hood and his Merry Men, or the Sheriff of Nottingham and his Men at Arms. The gameplay started as something loosely based on the old board game “The Legend of Robin Hood”. This game is from 1979 and was published by Avalon Hill, so the rules are pretty wargamy. Although I played it just a couple of times a while ago with my good friend José Miguel Ramírez, my interest in this game was picked up again when I discovered a full print-n-play version was available online: you can get it, plus a plethora of other nicely designed board game aids, in the Headless Hollow site.

My goals with this game were:

  1. To create an easy to play game, that could interest equally strategy gamers and a more casual ones. The theme here was important, and so is the art style. So Robin Hood with Playmobil style chubby characters, including warriors in hobby horses, seemed like a win2.
  2. It had to follow in general the main events in the Robin Hood legend: things like the archery contest, assaulting castles, disguising and infiltration, robbery and collecting taxes, recruiting your men, and even public executions. Most of these things are in the original board game, and is what makes it the best Robin Hood board game ever published.

  3. It had to have randomly generated mini-adventures, but not be a rogue-like or a twitch game. I wanted a slow paced turn by turn strategy game, but it needed both short term and long term goals. Players will have multiple of these goals, each one rewarding different amounts of victory points depending on difficulty, and will be able to choose what ones the pursue.
  4. I wanted it to be asynchronous multiplayer, but better than to have to wait for your opponent to do its turn it will play entirely against the game’s AI for the short term goals, and only the long term goals and story line will be affected by what other players do. On that end, all the players playing the same side will be affected by how well everybody playing the game is doing, and will have to decide on the right tactics for their side to win the game. The game will work in “seasons”, and although any player will be able to join at any time, the overall winner will be decided at either the end of the season or when a side has obtained enough victory points. At that moment the game will start over from the beginning; a new battle of wits between Robin Hood and the Sheriff will ensue, and players will be able to change sides if they want.

Does that sound like a difficult one to pull off? That’s why we also have Evil Project #7!

What can I write about?

This one is very much in the planning phase, so I will pretty much write about the whole process. The first posts will probably explain the game mechanics in more detail, but feel free to ask whatever you want to know!

Evil Project #7: Elephant Racing

The last project is my attempt to create a fast to develop, casual game. It all started when my friend José Luis Laviña sent me a Christmas card with a photo of him and his wife vacationing in Thailand, mounted on an elephant. I could not stop thinking about the elephant for rest of the day and the result is this crazy game idea.

  1. The player is participating in the annual racing-through-the-jungle-on-your-elephant competition.
  2. He has pole at the end of which dangles a banana. Player uses the banana as bait to steer his elephant through the path in the jungle. Path contains traps, impassable rocks, and other obstacles.
  3. Player has to balance steering where he wants to go with moving the banana away from the elephant’s trunk; if he grabs it, he stops to eat!
  4. You have a supply of bananas, that you can use to replace your bait, or to throw at the elephants of the other participants.
  5. There are also banana trees, that you either need to avoid (the elephant will stop), or use to replenish your supply. Some of the trees contain tigers that will attack you too!
  6. Other things that can be used to scare elephants away (like when you are done replenishing your supply of bananas), are mice, or loud noises (trumpet? Shotgun?). All these can be used on your opponents too.

That’s it! I love the steering mechanic (having to balance where you want to go with avoiding the elephant’s trunk), as well as the interesting possibilities that using your resources on yourself or on your opponents open.

What can I write about?

This one is even more green than the previous one, but probably needs a prototype right away to check if the main mechanic is as sound as it… sounds… on paper. I was thinking of using only Core Animation for rendering both this and the Robin Hood game (no OpenGL, no Cocos, or external frameworks). I can write quite a few posts about how to get graphic atlases, frame-by-frame animations, and how to integrate it all into the main game loop. Core Animation is a pretty powerful, ready to use, rendering engine, and I think is time it stops being relegated to match-3 games.

To Be Continued

So there you have it, 7 cookies that are going to go stale and end up in the trash if you don’t help me out. Do you want to know more about any of them? Anything specific you think I should talk about next week? What do you think is interesting? What do you think is just stupid? Use the comments below, I am eager to hear your ideas.

1 Thanks George for expanding my English vocabulary.

2 By the way, those character drawings are living proof that open development produces better results. Thanks a lot to all the people on Twitter that gave me their opinion when I started posting the first doodles! More soon.

10 Responses

  1. Wow – so many cool projects. iDevTracker and the todo app both sound really useful. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the development of those. If you can pull it off, and im sure you can, Legend of Robin hood sounds like a winning game. I particularly like the plans you have for multiplayer. I’m also hugely interested in hearing about core animation. I use cocos2d but I know you’ve said in the past that core animation has a lot of power (a sentiment shared by Apple too). On a final note, personally I am interested in the web development side of things – technical framework, back end, typography, design, and all that jazz.

    Christopher Waite; January 6, 2011, 1:22 AM

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  3. I love the new iDevBlogADay look and feel. That elephant game sounds really fun, I will be looking forward to that. I can’t wait to see where you go with the art for it. Just because you’re slow at art doesn’t make your art any less valuable. Your art style is awesome and I hope to see a lot more.

    kwigbo; January 6, 2011, 6:10 AM

  4. Wow, sounds like you’re keeping busy! Definitely looking forward to iDevTracker as well as those posts on how to make a real game with Core Animation.

    Luke Rogers; January 6, 2011, 7:39 AM

  5. Wow, so much to think about! There’s seven worthy projects there. I guess the real challenge is how and in what order do you tackle them? If it were me, I’d a) try to put some rough time estimates to the various projects and b) see if it’s possible to split them up into chunks. Once you’ve done this, then you can start to look for the low hanging fruit – are any of these projects able to be finished inside a week? If so, I’d suggest doing them and getting them out there… Or how about allowing yourself a week to prototype the Robin Hood and Elephant games? Use pen and paper or whatever’s simplest and iterate some ideas for a set amount of time. By the end of that time you’ll have a much better idea of what would be involved for full development… Casey’s Contraptions seems like you’re main thing at the moment though – how close are you to submitting? The to do app sounds like a winner, providing its simpler to use than JustNotes. Perhaps you could put aside an afternoon a week for the web site side of things – that way iDevBlogADay and iDevTracker still get some love without sucking up all your time. Then the rest of the week you focus on your main projects… Sorry for the ramble – one thing I know for sure is that you’ll want to reduce this list to something more manageable, at least in the short term. Good luck!

    George Sealy; January 6, 2011, 1:43 PM

  6. Thank you all for your comments!

    @Chris: it seems you are interested in most of those projects! Is going to be difficult to know what to write about next! :) I will tell you though that I do most of the back-end web projects in PHP, and I although I used the Zend Framework before, now I do everything by hand. Way simpler code, and no unnecessary OOP.

    @kwigbo: I think you are the only one that has shown any interest at all for project 7, and I keep thinking it has so much potential… Probably I need some art to get people interested ;) Thanks for your words about the illustrations, but I still say that is more about feeling confidence in what I do than anything else. I totally don’t feel at the same level with the drawings than, for example, with coding, where I know I can just jump into whatever difficulties without blinking.

    @Luke: lots of people seem interested into iDevTracker. Maybe I should do that one first so I can put the rest of the projects up there.

    @George: woah, man! I should contract you as my project manager! I was going to use a more relaxed way of doing things… something like, “what do I feel like working on today + what will give me something interesting to write about?” :) But thanks for the extensive comments, for sure I will try the “low hanging fruit” approach!

    Miguel A. Friginal; January 6, 2011, 11:13 PM

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  8. I’ve been following your graphical musings on the Robin Hood game on Twitter, so of course I’m interested in that. I also really like the elephant racing idea. Would that be a top down perspective game, or what viewpoint were you considering? I definitely think you should get that one done quickly because it sounds like a lot of fun :)

    Eric; January 7, 2011, 9:23 AM

  9. Así que todo el día pensando en el elefante, en lugar de pensar en tus abandonados amigos españoles.. jeje. Aún con todo me alegro de que nuestra felicitación te inspirara, veo que tu imaginación sigue en constante ebullición, ¡como siempre! Y la verdad es que el juego suena muy divertido, mucho más que el paseo real sobre el elefante que nos dimos en Tailandia, así que ya estoy deseando ver un prototipo y probarlo (¡puedes contar conmigo para ayudarte a probar todos tus proyectos!). Por cierto, por si quieres añadir más elementos además de plátanos comían caña de azúcar (puede ser una fuente de energía para que tu elefante vaya más rápido).

    José Luis; January 10, 2011, 7:52 AM

  10. Otras ideas: Los reyes de Tailandia son los únicos allí que poseen elefantes blancos (aunque en realidad no son completamente blancos, sino albinos). Si en el juego hubiera forma de conseguir uno de estos podría ser más grande y rápido que los otros (aunque no necesariamente sea así en el mundo real), para plasmar de algún modo su carácter sagrado. También está Ganesha, el dios con cabeza de elefante, pero no se me ocurre cómo meterlo fácilmente en un juego de las características que propones.. Curiosamente la montura de este dios es un ratón, y sin embargo en la cultura popular occidental suele creerse que los elefanters tienen miedo a los roedores.. curioso, ¿no?

    José Luis; January 10, 2011, 8:11 AM

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