Evoking retro memories with box art

We’re huge fans of the golden days of Atari. The box art was a huge inspiration and that wonderful feeling of being transported away from real life is something that we’re keen to evoke with our own games.

Take a look at this concept piece for some promotional artwork for our forthcoming arcade game Thundergun.

The art department are nerds for Atari box art and artists such as Steve Hendricks.

What do you think?

WKWebView, WebAudio and PhoneGap for iOS games

Here’s a handy little tip for anyone wanting to load files via AJAX in their PhoneGap apps that run on iOS courtesy of PhoneGap.

Our first attempts at creating games with PhoneGap were satisfactory but not brilliant. The frame rates were awful though the music and sound effects seemed to work fine. So we did a little digging and found that by default PhoneGap will use UIWebView, the default web view, on iOS.

You can change this to use the far more advanced and polished WKWebView (Web Kit Web View) which makes great use of such things as requestAnimationFrame. Something that is hopefully familiar to HTML5 game developers.
With WKWebView you also get to run against the superior JavaScript Nitro Engine which will massively increase the performance of your games.

Here’s how to implement WKWebView via your config.xml.

Add the following just beneath your <widget> declaration:

 <feature name="CDVWKWebViewEngine">
 <param name="ios-package" value="CDVWKWebViewEngine" />
 </feature>
 <preference name="CordovaWebViewEngine" value="CDVWKWebViewEngine" />

 

But we found that our audio now failed to load.

We use AJAX (XMLHttpRequest) to load our audio. To date it’s worked a treat. The reason we use it is because it’s a neat way to asynchronously load and capture the onload event and act upon it as we configure each audio file (volume, for example).

This works using a relative path.

Here’s some code:

 var request = new XMLHttpRequest();
 var url = "sfx/" + o.soundname + "." + AUDIOFORMAT;
 request.open('GET', url, true);
 request.responseType = 'arraybuffer';

You can see that our mp3 files are sat in a sub-directory called /sfx.

But WKWebView doesn’t like this. It wants its AJAX calls to be fully qualified from the http://

The change to the config.xml file is simple.

Add the following amongst your plugin declarations:

<plugin name="cordova-plugin-wkwebview-engine-localhost" spec="https://github.com/apache/cordova-plugins.git#wkwebview-engine-localhost" />

And change your content definition from

<content src="index.html" />

to

<content src="http://localhost" />

Hope that helps somebody!

New game on the iOS AppStore – Chaos Grid

Well it’s been a long, long time since we updated our blog. So it’s a real thrill to be able to announce that we’ve been working hard on making some new arcade games. But these games are a little different; they’re built using HTML5, JavaScript and CSS3 (as usual) but are also wrapped up and served to the iOS AppStore.

We’re currently using PhoneGap to do the bundling and it appears to be working just fine. There are issues with choppy performance but there’s a wealth of information out there to address this. Something for a later blog post.

So what’s Chaos Grid all about?

Well, it’s an homage to the earliest shooting games from the video game arcades of yesteryear. We took our love of Defender, Robotron, Galaxians and the 8-bit classic Gridrunner and built a game around their mechanics.

The screens above are the ones we use on the iOS AppStore and they pretty accurately depict the action. Though later levels become pretty frenetic!

If you’re a fan of the old school shooting genre and love those old beeps, whirrs, and electronic wind-up sounds then we’re pretty sure you’ll love the game.

Check it out on the app store today and tell us what you think :)
AppStore icon

Playing with a Star Wars arcade game idea, again

I’m not updating this blog often enough so I thought I’d just share some thoughts on a new game idea. The game is a straight forward arcade game though for me it’s a little odd as the primary focus isn’t on blasting and explosions. At least it isn’t yet! There’s time for that to change.

To get an idea for the style head over to my Playstar Arcade and play Night Bomber.
I’m loving getting back in to the pixel art style and sci-fi games like this lend themselves to it.

HTML5 as a search term – we’re almost there

I recently started poring over the search terms to the Playstar Arcade in some more detail.

I found something quite interesting. A number of search terms carried the phrase “no download”.

Here’s a brief summary:

  • free online ipad games no download
  • mobile games no download
  • online ipad games no download
  • free games no downloads
  • free mobile games no download
  • free online games for ipad no download
  • free online mobile games no download
  • online games no download
  • free online games with no download

I receive a healthy amount of traffic from search engines, most of which are on desktop. I’d love for this to shift to mobile but that will take some time. None the less it’s encouraging to see that people are looking for games to play and are aware that games can be played without the need to download an app.

Although the phrases listed above are all variations on a couple of themes they show a brief insight in to the mind of the searching gamer. That list accounts for around a third of all phrases that include “no download”.

The intriguing phrases are the ones that contain “iPad”. I imagine it’s fairly common knowledge amongst the iOS community that there is no support for Flash or any other 3rd party browser plug-in. So this can really only amount to games that can be played in the web browser natively.

The same cannot be assumed for those searching more generally for “mobile” or simply “online”. But by virtue of the fact that they’ve included “no download” I’d assume that they are referring to browser games.

There is a clear opportunity for HTML5 games here. As the quality of HTML5 gaming rises (and it should as publishers demand more visual quality at least) we can hopefully start to see a level of education amongst the browser gaming public that “HTML5”, at least in a gaming sense, can be synonymous with not only quality gaming but crucially “no download”.
Strictly speaking it could also become synonymous with “online”. But let’s not muddy the water as its real strength is of course in “offline”. That’s a different story.

HTML5 is quicker to type and probably ultimately far easier to remember.

Let’s look at that list again with the words changed to suit the HTML5 developer.

  • free HTML5 ipad games
  • mobile games HTML5
  • HTML5 ipad games
  • free games HTML5
  • free mobile games HTML5
  • free HTML5 games for ipad
  • free HTML5 mobile games
  • HTML5 games
  • free HTML5 games

We’re getting there…

Continuing to target the arcade gaming niche with my HTML5 games

Ever since my first foray in to browser gaming I’ve stuck to my goal of creating the kind of games that I enjoyed in my youth. Generally speaking this means classic “pixelled” sprites and the control of an on-screen character / spaceship / vehicle of some kind. Ideally I’d also throw in bombs, lasers and explosions a plenty. 
If I’m honest it’s also a pretty easy style of game to write.

I guess right now I’m wondering whether it’s right for me to continue to target this niche in retro gaming or whether I should move on a bit and challenge myself with a different genre.

There are benefits to maintaining a niche and also several drawbacks.
The benefits clearly come in the form of brand association and search relevance. The more I can focus on writing about a specific area of mobile gaming the more I improve my chances of being returned favourably in Google et al.

But sticking to a niche also narrows my opportunities in the wider field of attracting work. Whilst I’m always going to favour working on my own projects and my own designs I can’t disregard the fact that there is some value in being a coder for hire.

Arcade games, the classic ones (which I guess we now refer to as retro arcade games), offer some wonderful pointers for achieving an optimum in designing games for casual mobile play.
Arcade games almost by definition were games that you could play and access quickly and each “go” would last for little more than a few minutes. This is what your single coin gave you and if the experience was a good one you’d possibly sink another coin. If not you’d move on and find something else.
This has real parallels with today’s online games scene. Especially the mobile web gaming scene.

HTML5 game portals tend to target mobile devices. The good sites are clean and optimised for display on the smaller screens. As such they are pretty straight forward to navigate around and generally uncluttered. The same cannot be said for the desktop equivalents which in many cases are more of an excuse to litter the screen with advertising than offer any kind of a gaming experience.

My stats continue to show me that my games are popular. When somebody visits the site they generally play around 3.2 games per session before they disappear. 6% of visitors exit via an advert. I’m not actually sure whether those 6% have enjoyed their time on the site and played that average 3.2 games or whether they’re simply hacked off with the experience and were looking for a way out. I guess there’s every chance this is the case.

Regardless mobile arcade games  and mobile game design (HTML5 game design) continue to challenge my brain cells. I’m always thinking of new elements to games that I scribble down for later reference and often draw upon them when I’m thinking of the finer details of a game’s execution. 

I use SNES and Arcade emulators (ZSNES and MAME) on a regular basis to research gaming styles, challenges, reward systems and every other vital element of a good gaming experience. 
MAME generally offers that throwback to the mind boggling and dazzling array of cabinets that beeped and zapped at me as I stalked the arcade for that perfect way to spend 5 minutes and 10 pence. I suppose it gets me in the mood :)
The SNES games on the other hand are showing me the visual style that I’m aiming for. Especially in my most recent game Jumpin’ Jasper which was every bit a SNES inspired game.

I’ve not set out to find any magic solution here it’s really just a Sunday morning blog update with a coffee and some thoughts. 
I have to say that playing and designing retro-styled arcade games still thrills me. There’s a lot to be said for this.
I may be missing a trick or two by not becoming a more high profile game developer but maybe that’s not for me. 

An old manager once said to me “Stick to what you know by all means but do it well. Do it very well. Be the best at what you do well and above all enjoy it.” 

Article about the perception of HTML5 as a gaming technology on Gamasutra

I recently posted an article on Gamasutra about the association with HTML5 and gaming. I go in to a little detail about how we as HTML5 game developers can improve the perception of HTML5 as a viable medium for mobile gaming.

You can read the full article here: The public perception of HTML5 and its association with games

Some (more) thoughts on a football game

It’s World Cup year. As a football lover I love the world cup finals. This year we are in Brazil, the home of traditionally the most exciting team in the world. Brazil are generally the neutrals favourites and have, in years gone by, come to epitomise a free flowing style of football that is both easy on the eye and extremely effective at opening up the opposition’s defence.

I’ve thought about making a football game before but have never really settled on a design that suits the nature of the touchscreens that I target.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a game in which the player controls an attacking player with the sole goal of dodging oncoming defenders.
For as long as he has his finger on the screen the player is controlling the movement of the player. It’s all about timing. When an approaching defender looks as though he is about to slide in the player must lift his finger off the screen. This triggers a jump from his on-screen attacker.
If the jump is well timed the play continues until the attacker reaches the edge of the box.

Now it’s about position. As the player steps on to the edge of the 18 yard box the game automatically shoots. But it’s not over yet, the player just has the keeper to beat. To maintain the momentum I don’t want to completely stop the action for the player to place his shot. Instead I’m going to give him as long as he has earned!
For each well timed jump to avoid the defenders the player earns valuable time. Also, to distract the player in to changing direction during his run toward goal I will drop bonuses on to the pitch. The more the player collects the longer he has to aim his shot at the goal.

After each attack it’s the turn of the opposition to attack. But I’m not interested in displaying that. For that I’ll roll a dice and present whether or not they scored to the player. I want to get right back in to the attacking phase so that the player is primarily concerned with scoring goals.

I think I could probably take this design forward in to an initial concept with some crude graphics.

Taking on the app stores – step 1: Google

I’m on something of a mission to have my HTML5 arcade visible to the search engines. Naturally I’ve a number of keywords and phrases that I want to have positioned favourably in Google et al. My goal is to have phrases such as “free arcade games” on the first page of results and ideally “above the fold”.
To this end I’ve done a good deal of work in making sure that the site’s content is specific, relevant and perhaps most important of all unobtrusive to the player. I think I’ve achieved a reasonable balance.

Every once in a while I grab a coffee and spend 5 minutes punching in variations on my keywords in to Google.
The most recent search phrase was “free arcade games for ipad”.

Before I go on I must at this point pledge my love for Apple’s iPad. I’ve had an iPad since its launch and have very much fallen for its elegance, execution and simplicity. Contrary to popular opinion I also rather like its sandboxed nature. I’ve no intention to “jailbreak” it. There’s no need. Not for me. It does what I want it to do and then some. Most important of all though it plays HTML5 games like a dream.
So appearing favourably for a search phrase containing the words arcade, games and ipad is a key goal for my plans of 2014. Free is obviously also an important word since HTML5 games tend to be largely synonymous with free gaming just now. I guess that will change. It’s interesting that I’ve not identified HTML5 as a key search word just now. I’ve made some provision for it but until it becomes a key word in the mind of the public searching for games on their mobile I’m less concerned about it. That said part of my mission is to create that relationship amongst the gaming public with the words HTML5 and games.

So what do I get when I punch “free arcade games for ipad” in to Google?

Well, disregarding adverts, I get several results before my own site playstar.mobi is returned.
I set out to take a closer look at the links that preceed my own. Here’s some detail.

Results as at 21st February 2014

1. http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/60-best-free-ipad-games-692690
A very respectable list of free iPad games available from the app store. Very difficult to compete with as some of those games are AAA in iPad terms.

2. http://toucharcade.com/2013/12/25/best-free-iphone-and-ipad-games-of-2013/
Different games but the same premise. A list of very good quality games that you can install and enjoy for free before you hit the brick wall of In App Purchasing.

So far it’s hard to see where my humble little HTML5 games arcade could possibly fit in to the big world of iPad arcade gaming. But I’ll persevere.

3. https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/namco-arcade/id465606050?mt=8
This time a direct link to some of the games that influenced me both as a boy and as a “grown up” game developer. Geez. This is getting tough. How on earth can I compete with this?

4. http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2373779,00.asp
Holy hell another list. This seems to be the way to get your pages ranked well. TechCrunch, TouchArcade, Apple and PCMag are all well ranked within Google so this is no surprise. It’s looking quite ominous a task.

5. http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-31747_7-20110992-243/the-best-free-ipad-games-period/
ANOTHER take on the best free iPad games available to us in 2013. It’s becoming very much a trend is this. I doubt the authors care a jot about what games are good and what are bad. They just want their site ranking well for these search phrases. “The best free ipad games, period“. Well if that’s not arrogant I don’t know what is. Arrogant link baiting. Wow. The internet sinks a level.
This list is different but really no different to the others, other than it ranks lower in Google’s index.

I offer some very simple arcade games that are based on a simple premise: shoot, dodge and blast your way to the top of the high score table. It’s old school and I’m starting to feel like I cannot compete.

6. http://ipad.about.com/od/Action-Arcade-Games/tp/The-Best-Action-Arcade-Games-For-The-iPad.htm
I couldn’t see a date alongside this entry. I think it may be a couple of years old given some of the titles on offer – “Rage” for example.
I quite like this list. It’s simple and honest. But still it points directly to the app store. HTML5 gaming hasn’t a sniff. Yet.

7. http://ipad.about.com/od/iPad_Games/u/A-Guide-To-iPad-Games-And-Gaming.htm
I didn’t delve too deep here but it looks like all the results of number 6 categorised. The author is the same. Yup, very much an SEO exercise.
“Daniel, get us listed up there with Techcrunch for free iPad games. We’re about.com for God’s sake. We need to be registering.”

8. http://iappguide.com/ipad/top-games/arcade-games/free
Hang on. This looks different. I’ve never heard of iappguide.com. These guys could well be HTML5 focused.
Alas, no. It’s another bunch of links to the app store. To its credit it looks pretty well maintained. Right now Flappy Bird is all the craze and there’s a bunch of “flappy” games on offer. No HTML5 but it’s a bit different. Credit to them for weighing in at number 8 but I’m not sure I’d install any of their listed games. It’s just a list and feels pretty pointless. i.e. content I could get just by going to the app store or reading one of the previous 7 lists.

Lists, lists, lists. There’s no experience to be had here. Just lists. If you play Google you can position yourself well but have limited relevance to your audience. I’m not convinced lists are what people searching with the word “arcade” are after. I’m possibly (and probably) wrong.

9. http://iphone.mob.org/genre/arkady/
Proceed with caution! I’m not convinced that this site is a friendly site.
It’s the first site on the list that offers games outside of the app store. Yup, you’ll need a jailbroken iPad for this lot.
If you’ve jailbroken your iPad you’ve really missed the point. You probably should have some form of Android detritus like a Nexus 7 or Samsung Galaxy Mega. Both fine bits of kit but for my money inferior to Apple’s offerings. Anyway, that’s technical opinion and I try to avoid that.
I don’t like this site. It’s just a bit “hey look at my adverts”. There’s no promise of an experience to be had here. Just a vehicle for ranking highly and splurging adverts at you.

10. http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/muo-free-ipad-games-addicting-arcade-edition/
Aaaand another list. A bunch of iPad games that somebody has hastily assembled without any real thought or care. Actually perhaps there was some care taken not to replicate what Techcrunch or About.com were offering.
This is a terrible list wrapped with some adverts. Again.

I must be close to being listed. Surely.

11. http://www.imore.com/namco-arcade-ios-freetoplay-classic-arcade-titles
205 words in this article. 205 words. The rest of the page is adverts and links to other site content. Those silly enough to fall for it have commented in the comments section. Jesus.
So for anyone genuinely looking for free arcade games to play on their iPad it’s looking pretty grim. Unless they’re happy with wading through a list of somebody’s opinion as to what’s good they’re not really going to get the “arcade” experience.
Perhaps that’s not important.
I perhaps need to think about this.
Most people surfing the web for games were probably born after the glory days of arcade gaming. Is it really right that I should harp on about the beauty of playing games and striving for the high score for the cost of a single coin?
Maybe not. I am quite possibly barking up the wrong tree. But that said I’m convinced that what was fun for me as a boy 30 years ago ought to be fun for today’s casual gamer. The challenge of a good arcade game with that single goal of dominating the high score table – the one thing that identified you as the “best” – has to be a worthwhile pursuit.

12. http://playstar.mobi/
HUZZAH! I made it. Amongst the endless lists of lists I made it.

So what does a searcher see for their “free arcade games for ipad”?
To better understand this I’m going to try and step inside the mind of the searcher. What kind of a person might want to find free arcade games for their ipad?

Free games for iPad is quite different to free arcade games for iPad. At least I think it is.
If you include the word arcade you’re looking for something quite specific. That’s not to say you’re looking for something from 30 years ago. Not at all. But you’re looking for a style of game that almost by definition is brief, challenging, entertaining and most likely pretty intense.
So far a few of those lists have thrown up their own results and a bunch of the games listed are very good. Very good indeed. But they’re not “classic” in their execution. Not necessarily.
So from this I deduce that what I want from my searcher is an unwritten desire to play “classic” arcade games.
To have my games returned without having to supply an extra (and arguably implied) keyword is good.
The person I want to be searching for “free arcade games for ipad” is an iPad owner (obviously) and somebody interested in (ideally) classic style arcade games from what I would call the golden era.
This is both useful and limiting.
Useful in that it provides a niche target audience to aim for an limiting in that it restricts me to that very same audience.
Nonetheless I am happy to target this audience.

So what words greet my searcher?

Well right now it’s

Free Mobile Arcade Games – HTML5 gaming – No Downloads, no installs | Play Where can I play games on my iPad, Android, iPhone or iPod Touch for free 

Woah. Look at that – HTML5 gaming.
If I can get this person to click they’ve suddenley (hopefully) made an association with free and/or arcade gaming and HTML5.
I’d be happy with either of those associations.
One day HTML5 will be a key search phrase for anyone looking for a particular style of game. Ideally “mobile” and possibly “free”. Whether that shifts to the stinking world of In App Purchasing remains to be seen but certainly the mobile angle is key.

Same game > any device. That has to be a winner. It is afterall our unique selling proposition to our audience.