When I opened my email today, the first item read “Your app status is Ready for Sale”. Saying I was happy is putting it lightly. As these things go, here is my “official” press release.
At its heart, Connectorium is a game about systems!
When Nina wakes up one morning to a world where all connections have gone missing, it is up to her to help the people in her town, and to solve the mystery!
- 8 unique, randomized levels.
- Over 50 unique objects to interact with, each with its own sound effect.
- An engaging story, rendered in a “pop-up book” visual style.
- Narrated with a warm and quirky voice.
- iTunes: itunes.apple.com/app/connectorium/id559780664?mt=8
- Trailer: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvJpmEMKllM
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/GamesForSoul
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/GamesForSoul
And by “it” I mean the submit button on iTunes Connect! Connectorium is now officially pending Apple review!
Wow, it’s such a huge relief to be at this point, having completed something that I had set out to do about this time in February. I mean to write a full blog post about the whole process soon. But first I need to make sure the game actually gets on the app store, and I also need to focus on promoting it a bit, sending out review requests, posting on forums, and so on.
One noteworthy subject: I actually submitted the game yesterday. This morning for some odd reason I asked an incredibly basic, but fundamental question: can I unlock the frame rate on iPad? Now for the longest time I knew that the game was running at 30FPS on the iPad, and for the most part this seemed fine. The one area where it was kind of troubling was the sliding main menu, which using a touch control just seemed too sluggish. Two days ago I spent a lot of time tweaking that code which helped a little, but I wasn’t quite convinced.
Anyway, I’m not sure why I never investigated this further, and why it suddenly occurred to me to do so today. Short to say, there is indeed an easy way to achieve this in Unity:
Application.targetFrameRate = -1
This uncaps the frame rate on standalone versions (which is the default behavior anyway), but also sets it to 60FPS on iOS. And oh, what a difference it makes! The menu is nice, responsive, and smooth. The tutorial hint boxes move much more slowly. The connections move more naturally and the energy bursts are just…better! This put a huge smile on my face, and I promptly updated my app store submission. Of course this comes at some cost, namely a higher frame rate has a greater impact on battery life. But because Connectorium would probably not be played for hours at a time, it shouldn’t be a problem.
At long last, the Connectorium Beta for iPad is here. And not a moment too soon either!
Can it use more work? Yes.
Can the game-play, graphics, sound, etc. be improved? Absolutely.
Is it over schedule? You bet.
But at some point you just have to call it finished. Well, not quite… I’m sure a number of issue will come out of the Beta. But I won’t be making any drastic changes to game at this point.
I Need Your Help
If you own an iPad 2 or 3, I need you to follow this link and sign up with TestFlight to beta test the game. It’s a fairly simple process so go on, click on that link. In case you missed it, here is that link again: http://tflig.ht/GPJ2xL. Oh, and share this post with as many people as you can!
As project Connectorium comes to a close (and I know I have been saying that for a while now…), I’m letting myself think more openly about new ideas and concepts for a game; something that I have tried to avoid, fearing the risk of getting distracted from the job at hand. One particular idea has got me interested enough to do some research about. Now, whenever I want to share an idea or goal that is still in very early stages, I’m reminded of this TED talk. Apparently, sharing a goal with others will actually reduce the chances of you achieving that goal. I’ll let you watch the video to hear the logic behind that. But regardless, I think verbalizing something can often make it more concrete in my own mind. And I don’t exactly have a big readership, so I might as well be writing this to myself!
When I started this blog, what I really had in mind was exploring games that tap into our “human side” and explore morals and values within the context of an engaging game. Interestingly enough, Connectorium differs from this in two ways. It’s a game for children (I originally wanted to make games for an adult audience), and it doesn’t really focus on human values (the story does, but the not the game-play itself). With this new idea, I kind of wanted to go back to those original goals. So what is the idea, I hear you ask? Well, I want to mix these three things:
- Human Virtues/Attributes/Vices
- The News
- Artificial Intelligence
The story goes something like this: At an unknown point in time, what we know as “the internet”, becomes self-aware. Shortly after, having analyzed the huge sea of knowledge available to it, the A.I. realizes that it cannot, and must not, progress, as without interaction with humanity it cannot in any way distinguish wrong from right, and hence its actions may become harmful inadvertently. It then decides to select a single person, which it chooses through a series of logical inferences, to guide it and help it understand what makes a “good” human being. That person is you!
So how would the game play? Very vaguely, what I’m thinking about is that you are given a period of time, during which you are given an array of different news articles (or a short summary), pulled from real news sources. You then have the task of selecting ones that you think are significant in terms of human values shown. You present each selection to the A.I., which triggers some sort of conversation about what value (or vice) is being shown in the article, whether you think it’s a good/bad/necessary thing, and so on. Over time, this actually trains the A.I. such that it is able to guess what newly presented articles are about, and what your views on it would be, based on your previous comments. At any given time, you’ll also be able to view what the AI considers to be the most important aspects of humanity, e.g. truthfulness, generosity, greed, and so on. At the end of the game, based on how you have trained the AI, it will make a decision about how it wants to proceed. Examples of outcomes could be:
- Reveal itself to the rest of the humanity, with the aim to aide it in its progress
- Remain hidden, and aide humanity’s progress
- Self destruct
- Attempt to destroy humanity
- Continue the search for more guidance about what makes a “good” human being
Of course what I have explained above is very vague. More so, it is very difficult to achieve. Having a meaningful conversation with a computer is very difficult and longstanding problem. In terms of learning and having the computer look at some text and be able to figure out what the related values are, I have been looking into different algorithm, and specifically implementing an artificial neural network, for text classification. Certainly a non-trivial problem.
The other thing I have been thinking about, is that more often than not, A.I. in popular culture has been represented as a dark, sinister being, out to destroy humanity based on its ill-conceived notions. I want to avoid that. Similar to Isaac Asimov, I want to emphasize the idea that whatever it does is confined to the rules that you set for it, which is very much in your control in the game. And it can very much be positive.
Recently, Valve announced that they will be releasing an amazing tool to the community, for free. It’s called Source Filmmaker. Now, this isn’t just some beginner tool that they have built for the community. It is an incredibly powerful application that Valve has used internally to produce their own marketing videos, including the very popular “Meet the Team Fortress” videos like this one (warning, it’s a bit graphic).
Having worked on a couple of amateur film projects before, I was really excited about this and signed up for the Beta. As I write this, I’m downloading the 10GB program!! I’m really curious to see what sort of stuff I can come up with. I realize that it would take incredible effort to get something decent looking, but that’s the point. It’s always awesome when barrier to entry is effort and creativity, rather than money. I feel like this is what has happened with the music industry in the past decade (you can get ridiculously powerful software and hardware for very low prices and produce pro-quality stuff right out of your bedroom if you know what you are doing), and now it’s happening with the film industry, for example with most DSLRs now producing amazing quality HD video, at a tiny fraction of the cost of a proper filming cameras.
Can’t wait to see what people will come up with using this tool!
Well, it has been 2 weeks since I last posted. I had initially promised myself that I would update the blog twice a week, but I guess a bit of a break now and then is to be expected. But I realize the longer I put it off, the harder it is to back into it. So here is just a quick update.
First thing is first: Connectorium! It is certainly getting to a point where it feels like a complete game. Though I initially meant to be in Beta by the end of May, things have dragged a bit so I’m still another week or two away from that. The thing that is taking the most time (as I have mentioned before) is all the drawings for the cut scenes. 7 out of 8 levels are complete. What remains is 1 level and the ending cut scene which are partially done. There are also a few tweaks I want to make here and there and finish a couple of half-done music tracks. Anyway the point being: Beta is coming soon and if you are reading this (yes both of you!), I’ll be looking for testers.
On the other front, because I had promised myself, as of the end of May I have been looking for a job. I have been having a hard time though. Part of it is because I am inclined to stay in Australia at this point in my life, and the game development scene here looks somewhat lacking (though there is a huge indie scene it appears). Another part of it is that I have now had a taste of working for myself, and on a game, and that makes it very hard thinking about “just a job” with little creativity involved. I have been even thinking about becoming a freelancer. That’s something I intend to research a bit more. I realize it is not easy, especially because it involves business skills which I don’t necessary have at this point. But the prospect of having a bit more freedom in terms of projects I work on, and perhaps having more time to work on my own projects, sounds enticing.
In the mean time, I’ll be getting over a nasty flu I picked up a couple of days ago. It really does kill productivity!
I have been working full time on Connectorium for nearly 3 month now. This week for the first time I felt my productivity was below par. It has simply been very difficult to keep motivated. I think this is in part because I’m doing a lot more drawing, and a lot less coding.
Nevertheless today I managed to get a good chunk of work done, and hence feel like posting an update.
Here are some of the things I have been working on:
- I have most of the drawings for 7 out of 8 levels. That leaves 1 level, and the ending cut scene to go.
- Various sounds have been added here and there, most notably to the score screen and also to the cut scenes (e.g. there is a woosh sound when a drawing pops up).
- Background music has been added to cut scenes and game level.
- There is a volume control script now that cross fades between music and the voice over (once that’s done).
Here are some of the things that are most immediately on my radar:
- Finish the cutscenes. This includes adding the story text, and backgrounds.
- Add some more sounds in a few places.
- I need to do some UI touch ups. Most importantly the main menu.
- Beta Test!!
I have also been thinking about voice acting options. At this point voices.com looks like a good potential. At any rate, I will only do that once I have finalized the story and tested it thoroughly, as re-recording is not really an option.
Here are some of the drawings:
Here are a couple of screenshots (click for larger image). I think I had posted the lights level before, but since then I have implemented the “fixed item” feature as you can see. The school level has the most connections in all the levels (a total of 16, and there might even be a couple I have missed). Note that the white item is “Teacher” which I haven’t got around to drawing yet:
I’ve also uploaded a new track (which is a variation on the main theme, also available on my soundcloud account):
Today is the last day of April, and with it comes another milestone for the Connectorium project. As I had mentioned earlier, I’m actually well ahead of the schedule I had set for myself. That schedule involved having 5 complete levels and 1 cut scene by the end of April. As of tonight, I have 7 more-or-less-complete levels, and 3 cut scenes.
BUT, I also have a better feel for what it’s going to take to finish this project. And it’s a monumental task. I have written a first draft of the story, but it’s going to need a heck of a lot of work to get it to a point where I can actually use it in the game. Here is a laundry list of just some of the other things that need to be done:
- Add 2 or 3 more levels and add the story as appropriate.
- Add sounds for a number of levels.
- Revise and add help text for all connections.
- Add a menu to the game.
- Oh yeah, play testing with, you know, actual kids!
- I have some ideas for replacing the info mechanic for the connectors, but that might be a lot of work…
- That whole thing about voice recording.
- Lots of little features here and there.
- Testing, testing, testing.
Did I mention I want to finish the bulk of this by the end of May? It’s more than ambitious, but let’s see. I think I need to write a little road map and see what things I can forgo when time is up.
Anyway, just for good measure, here are some of the drawings for the new cut scenes:
After a grueling couple of days, I finally have a build I’m comfortable with sharing. it is available on PC, Mac, and iPad for anyone who would like to try it out and give me feedback. I’m not going to beat around the bush, and will give the links right here, but please do read on for some important information:
For Windows and Mac you’ll need to extract the zip and run the app. For iPad, please do sign up with TestFlight and let me know so I can send you a tester invite. It’s an easy and great way for you to pick up the build, try it, and give me feedback.
What Is This?
If you haven’t read my earlier posts, Connectorium is an educational children’s game about systems. It explores a world where all forms of connections have become “undone”. It’s up to Nina, a little girl who lives on a farm, to figure out why and restore the connections.
What I have in this build is a very basic proof of concept. It contains two levels: Breakfast, and The Farm. I have not really fleshed out the story very much, let alone include it in the game, so for the time being this is a simple prototype of the core game play and mechanic. I feel it’s important to get feedback from both children and adults, and get the basics right, before I commit too much time to the content.
Just to give you an idea, I intend to have around 10 levels in the finished game, including some of the following:
- Family School
- Digestive System
How Do You Play It?
Simply click (or in the case of iPad, tap) and hold on any item, and drag the mouse or finger to begin creating a connector (a blue arrow). Release the mouse or lift your finger on any other item, to complete the connection. Once you think you have figured out all the connections, click the finish button to receive a score and move to the next level.
Additionally the shuffle button moves the items around so as to minimize the tangling and crossovers between the connectors.
What Am I Looking For?
Feedback. Any kind of feedback. Of course given that this is an early prototype, the best kind of feedback is going to be about the core game mechanic. Is it fun? Is it dull? If so what is fun or dull about it? Does it encourage learning through discovery? What can improve or enhance the mechanics. What additional things would enhance the learning and the fun aspects?
At this point I’m less concerned about the fine details of presentation. I already have plans for improved visuals, sounds, and music. But you are still welcome to give me any comments in that regard.
What Should You Keep In Mind?
If you are testing this with a child, that’s awesome and ideal! If you are trying it yourself, which I highly encourage, I ask you to put your “child hat” on. Try to see the game with that fresh point of view. The game is intended for children, and intentionally kept simple, although exactly what age I’m not sure about and that is something I want to figure out as part of this test.
I look forward to your feedback!
The timing of this is just right: Connectorium is just far enough that I can send the details and a screenshot. If I get lucky and the demo is accepted, I’ll receive passes to the festival which is great (though the flight is going to be really expensive). Either way it’s a good goal to aim for.