Lean iPhone Game Development: Day 1

July 11th 2011

The first steps of any journey are the hardest. Today I was able to get most of the tedious things out of the way. But I was also able to squeeze some of the fun things in too.

The Busy Work

Although this project is not billable (workin' for free!), I set up a Harvest account in order to keep tabs on where my time is going. I want to keep time spent on this project to a minimum, so I’m using Harvest as a tool to keep an eye on things.

I also renewed my enrollment in the Apple Developer Program. My initial estimate of sunk costs was $99. I didn’t consider the tax. There’s always tax. The cost invested now is a total of $104.94, which moves my initial sales goal in the first month up to 150 units.

It’s going on 3 hours now and I still haven’t gotten a confirmation from Apple that my order was processed. This is just one of the many headaches I have to deal with involving the Apple mobile development process. They do desktop UX so well, why can’t they apply that to their web services?

The Fun Part

I came up with the idea for this project a while ago. I knew I’d have this large chunk of free-time ahead of me and wanted to work on a pet project I’d been thinking about for a while: Hell Panzers.

The idea for Hell Panzers is a mobile turn based strategy game using tanks. But really it was an excuse for me to mess around with NodeJS. I’d not only have to create a client to play the game with, but also a server to run the turn-based portion of the game. This idea was simply too large for my own abilities. I needed to scale back.

Sipping coffee one day, I had an idea. Re-create the Atari favorite Breakout, but put a modern spin on it. Breakout is a simple game. You control a paddle, you bounce a ball against some bricks, and the bricks disappear. That’s easy enough to implement. This simplicity makes it a blank canvas for creativity.

What if the bricks had personalities? What if they had different behaviors? What if they had cute faces? Or ugly, angry ones? What if they fight back?

There are so many possibilities!

Lunchin' and Sketchin'

My classical training is as a developer. I can picture how things should look visually, but I have a difficult time executing it (refer to my concept sketch from the last post). I’d need a lot of help designing this thing.

I struck up a conversation with Victor Sirotek about my idea. I work with Victor. He’s a designer at Mutually Human Software. But more importantly, he’s a gamer, he can illustrate, and he liked my idea. So we grabbed lunch.

Over some delicious cuisine we threw ideas back and fourth. Mostly about character design and gameplay. Having the bricks be just that, bricks, is boring. You hit them with the ball and they disappear. That’s not interesting. So we decided to give them faces. Angry ones. Ones that get madder and madder each time you hit them. They wobble and shake, get furious and attack you.

I sketched out the basic dynamics of the game (Breakout, but using a physics engine). Then Victor sketched a character in detail. At the end of lunch, our heads were swollen with ideas of how we want this thing to work. The biggest take-away from the discussion was the working title for the game: Bastard Bricks.

We both decided that before doing any actual design work, we should prove out the feasibility of the game dynamics. So tomorrow, I will create a functional prototype and get it in front of people.

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