App Developer Diary Part 1: Game On

caped-freelancer

This is the first installment of one journalist’s diary designing a game. It is a genuine, behind-the-scenes look at what it’s like to develop an app, from conception to release, for Apple’s iPhone.

This isn’t your regular developer diary. There’ll be no talk of code and classes, no discussion of the intricacy of integers or vileness of variables. In fact, before we begin my journey into game design, I’ll take a moment to set the scene.

Late last year, I hit the 3-year mark working at a big name mobile game publisher. My grand scheme, after graduating from college — studying for a degree in “Computer & Video Games” — was to take a job at an established game studio, learn my trade, garner some valuable industry experience and then go solo. Deep down, I wanted to make the kind of games that weren’t being made enough: Katamari Damacy, Rez, Jet Set Radio Future and Vib Ribbon.

I wasn’t exactly sure what going solo entailed, but I knew it involved me ploughing my own creative furrow. More importantly, after doing the full-time thing, I also knew that my solo endeavors wouldn’t involve a regular 9-to-5: I work best during night hours, while the city sleeps, like Batman, but with less scowling and cape swishing.

Fresh from college, when many of my peers were jobless, or asking their ‘clients’ if they wanted to supersize, or, worse still, working in QA for a game developer, I landed myself a producer role at a big-name mobile publisher. In just my first year as producer, I found myself working on projects for hit Hollywood movies and my favorite comic book characters.

A New Beginning

For three years I rolled around the company, shifting job titles and launching products, hoarding experience like a demented katamari. When the time came, though, I packed up my Mac mini — the only Apple device in the office — and moved on.

And here I am now, a freelancer, doing what I love — being a creative consultant, journalist, musician. Except that in the process of working for that game publisher, disillusionment set in. I still love playing and talking about games, but those three years sitting behind the wizard’s curtain utterly dissolved my passion for creating games.

Until last week, that is, when I was approached by an iPhone development studio to get involved with their latest project. The three-man team, located in Barcelona, the UK and Finland, had developed a game engine prototype for iPhone.

Breaking Out From the Mold

paper-breakerThe dev team’s prototype takes a traditional bat-and-ball game and injects it with physics. They need me to introduce some depth to the game’s design, though, working on everything from the gameplay mechanic and fundamental rules to artwork and sound effects.

As a game concept, though, bat and ball is a dead donkey that has been flogged, with the bat, until only dust remains and then the dust has been flogged some more, just to be sure. And then somebody set fire to the dust. A quick search for Breakout on the App Store reveals a torrent of bat-and-ball games, all reiterating the same concept.

There are some exceptions, however. Paper Breaker takes the breakout concept back to the drawing board, literally. It’s got a hand-drawn aesthetic that, although it doesn’t introduce any notable new twists on the genre, still feels good to play.

Most of the clones aren’t as imaginative as Paper Breaker, though. They seem more like thinly veiled attempts to quickly cash in at the App Store before the bubble bursts. But I’ve got an idea, something that’s going to take the traditional bat-and-ball genre and twist it into something utterly new. Now I just need to convince those clever coders to make it.

Next time: Olly pitches the concept to the coders. Is it really a new twist to an old genre? And do the coders even like his idea? Find out in the next thrilling installment of TheAppleBlog’s App Developer Diary.

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