August 29, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-29

  • Finally! Managed to downgrade my 2G iPhone running iPhone OS 3.0 to OS 2.2.1 so that I can test an app which is misbehaving under 2.x … #
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August 27, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-27

  • Enough with the "Where's Facebook 3.0?" tweets already! It's not as if FB 3.0 is special somehow. Almost Every dev has to face same delays. #
  • It's annoying when people ask for apps to review but after you send it to them, they say "This doesn't suit our target demographic". #
  • Why the heck does @zubeme re-tweet stuff that I tweet and then follow that up with a "Follow me" message? Spam by another name? #
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August 26, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-26

  • RT @mideastyouth: Guler Sabanci from Turkey also made it to the Forbes' "100 Most Powerful Women" list. #
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August 25, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-25

  • Switching accounting programs and new app doesn't read QIF format export from the old app :( A little bit of Perl scripting and all sorted! #
  • Why is this post by Joe Hewitt that people are tweeting about so amazing? Plus, they call him Jeff Hewitt – do they even know who he is? #
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August 24, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-24

  • RT @mideastyouth: To the wonderful people of #SoSo, if you liked our videos please vote for them here! http://bit.ly/Ulm5T [and RT] #
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August 22, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-22

  • Ramadan Kareem to you as well :) #
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Applying Torque to Game Development II

When I wrote my first entry about iTGB and GarageGames, I mentioned that I would do a second post detailing my actual experience using iTGB and my impressions of it. So this is where I do that :)

But before I get started on that, I should mention one thing – the people I talked to at GarageGames were not sales people. GG does not appear to have any sales people as such. Everybody appears to wear several hats at GG and the people I spoke to were involved in development and documentation as well as handling the workload on the support forums. This might be another reason why things were so chaotic and I, as a potential customer, wasn’t getting the answers I wanted. But then again, I heard from somebody else later who said that they got an immediate response from GG, so maybe it was just me :)

But enough of that, on to the actual evaluation of iTGB. Now the way GG appears to position iTGB is that anybody who can work with their demo version of TGB can get going on iTGB quite easily. Unfortunately, this is not quite the case. If you have some knowledge of XCode and know how to troubleshoot XCode projects and so on, then you can get iTGB to work after some fiddling around. The default project that they ship with iTGB is not configured correctly. If I recall correctly, it was compiling the application under one name but was trying to launch it after compilation as another name and so would always say something like “Application <name> is not found at this location” or something to that effect. This could potentially confuse a user who bought the app thinking that things just worked out of the box.

In fact, the whole feel of iTGB is that it’s not quite ready for primetime. It’ll work but only if you are willing to put the time and the work in. You might have to go trawling through the source code to figure things out. You might have to modify source code. You might have to search the GG forums till you find a solution. You might have to apply patches. And so on. It’s rather deceptive of GG to sell it as a complete product when they don’t appear to have a complete product nor are they willing to support customers who’ve purchased the product and are having trouble with it after they bought it.

For instance, there’s forum threads like this one where a customer bought iTGB based on the hype and found that the product did not work out of the box. That thread has not one but two new iTGB customers asking for help. Have any GG support folk responded there? No. At the time of this post, even a month after the original post by the customer, and despite me having pointed to that specific thread several times in my conversations with GG employees, nobody has bothered to answer their questions. The attitude at GG appears to be, “The answers are there on the forums. You just have to search for it.”

Yes, the answers are there on the forums. But there are a lot of forums to trawl through. And while some of us might do it, a lot of people will throw up their hands in disgust and move on. Given that there are no refunds for iTGB (or TGB for that matter) once you pay for it, a part of me can’t help but wonder if perhaps this is what GG wants. They might consider it an easy way to winnow the serious developers from the wannabes but it’s again not a good way to run a business and certainly not a good way to build customer loyalty.

Speaking of loyalty, there are users on the GG forums who respond to support threads more often than the GG employees do. Some of them, as I’ve seen, do take the time to answer newbie questions. Of course, some of these people also have frustrations with GG because they’re questions and comments are probably ignored for months on end. So they tend to tell you how things are when you talk to them – they’ll tell you the good and the bad. But the response of one GG employee to these comments was to say something like “I wouldn’t pay too much attention to his words – he spends so much time here dissing stuff but has does not submit any patches to fix things” or words to that effect.

Excuse me? A customer has to pay for your product and then also help you fix it because you shipped something substandard? Are you serious? Well, apparently GG is. Or at least, some of the people who work there are.

I don’t like to criticize for the sake of criticism and when I do criticize I try to also offer suggestions as to how things can be improved. I did so when I talked to GG and they did make the usual noises about “We’ll pas it on”, “This will be given serious though” etc. but nothing appears to have come of it. If this is the same treatment that the forum folks get on a day to day basis, then I can certainly understand their frustrations and anger.

But back to using iTGB. I worked out the main issues with compiling for the iPhone and managed to get their demo application working. I then started working on a project of my own. Setting things up for left-right or up-down movement and gameplay appeared fine. There were a few issues but overall it worked. And being able to set up a game scene visually was certainly a great boon. But when I wanted to get some of the physics working – such as have a cannon ball being fired from a cannon and moving according to the laws of physics, things didn’t work so smoothly. There are a lot of settings to get physics working and some of the settings would interfere with others. Sometimes I’d have things working right but at other times it wouldn’t work so well. It was a frustrating mess where I basically was reduced to changing a setting, compiling the game, running it to see how it operated, and then going back and changing another setting, and then repeating the whole process.

I finally gave up and did something I should have done in the first place before I got all caught up in the glamour of using a WYSIWYG game editor – I gave about a day of my time to cocos2D. I was able to achieve my aims quickly, in a manner which made sense and I didn’t have to go through a whole bunch of trial and error cycles. And since cocos2D is free, the price is definitely easier on the pocket than iTGB :)

If you are not a hard-core programmer and want something easy to work with, and don’t mind the outdated documentation, the lack of proper support, and the need to sort through various XCode issues before you can get started, iTGB still would probably work for you. But if you don’t mind working through a bit of code to get what you want and actually enjoy seeing how things work when you do your game, then cocos2D might be more your cup of tea (or coffee or brew of choice). Of course, it also depends on the kind of project you want to do … but in the end, my final conclusion has been that you just can’t beat the price of cocos2D. And as far as I can tell, it’s being developed much faster than the paid game creation solutions :)

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Posted by Fahim at 7:08 am  |  5 Comments

August 17, 2009

Applying Torque to Game Development

I’ve done a fair number of iPhone applications over the last few months, and a few weeks ago, I decided that it was time to move on to the next level and try my hand at an iPhone game. Now, I’d done a couple of games before, but they were static board game type of games – no animation and no fancy stuff. I wanted to do a more ambitious game this time. So I began looking at the various game engines around for the iPhone to make my job easier.

My main three choices were Unity for iPhone, Torque 2D for iPhone, and cocos-2D for iPhone. Of these, I would have preferred to go with cocos-2D because it was free but at that point in time, it looked to me as if it would take me a long time to get going with cocos-2D. I wanted to get my game going quickly and so I decided to concentrate on Unity for iPhone and Torque 2D for iPhone (more commonly known as iTGB) for the time being.

What I really wanted to do was to use demos of the two programs and determine whether they would suit my needs. But it turned out that neither company had a demo for the iPhone version on their site. So I contacted the Unity folks (on a Saturday, if I’m not mistaken) and asked them if there was a way I could try out the iPhone version of Unity. I received a response within a couple of hours, if not within the hour. They were courteous, told me that they could certainly get me a demo for the application, and told me the procedure that I had to follow. I responded back and had a Unity for iPhone demo within 15 minutes. They even responded quickly to some questions I had about 2D game development for the iPhone using Unity.

As far as iTGB went, GarageGames, the company which develops and markets iTGB, didn’t have a contact e-mail address anywhere on their site. They had a contact form and I sent in a query via that but didn’t get a response even after a day. (I still haven’t received a response to that initial mail) I was already feeling a little uncomfortable with a company which didn’t seem to care too much about sales or dealing with their customers but I had gone through Unity by this time and while it’s a great development engine, I didn’t think it really worked very well as a 2D game development tool and I was interested in 2D development. Yes, the folks at Unity had explained to me how I could go about doing 2D games and they’d even pointed out a 2D game done on Unity which was doing extremely well on the app store but as I mentioned initially, I was interested in getting going quickly and Unity didn’t appear to be the route if I wanted to do a 2D game. Plus, I kind of liked the look of the graphics they had for the iTGB marketing material on the GarageGames site – and that was my undoing, pretty graphics 😀

Since I had kind of ruled out Unity and still had not heard back from GarageGames (GG), I decided to try and contact somebody at their forums. So I started this new thread on their forums. (Please note that this thread has since then been hidden by GG folks because they consider it to be uncomplimentary to the company – but it’s not been locked. At least, at the time of this blog post.) I received a response within 15 minutes from a GG employee who asked me to contact him directly. He did respond quickly to the first couple of e-mails I sent him but the GG folks appeared to consider Unity a threat and made comments like “I can chalk up Unity’s quicker response to them having less products, a smaller forum, and 4 times the amount of employees ;)” I found this kind of competitor-bashing a little unprofessional. They weren’t trying to apologize for their lack of proper pre-sales support but instead bashed their competition.

This behaviour was a bit of a red flag for me and I discussed it with Laurie. I told her that I didn’t like the behaviour of the company but I still thought the product was good. However, I wasn’t sure I wanted to deal with these people. But after some discussion, since I was still convinced that iTGB might be worth trying out, we decided to continue discussion with the GG folks. Unfortunately, discussion wasn’t very easy.

The e-mails from GG became less and less frequent. I’d respond and would have to wait a day (to account for the time difference) and then send a reminder before I’d get another response. I kept saying that I was in a hurry wanted to get things sorted out but GG (or at least the person I was talking to at the time) didn’t seem to have the time. Now in his defense, I don’t know if he was actually tasked by the company to respond to these pre-sales questions or if he was taking it up out of the goodness of his heart in his spare time. The impression I got of GG is that they really are a sort of a “garage” operation. They don’t seem to be very organized, don’t seem to have that many employees, and certainly didn’t seem very professional in their approach to things. At least, not professional in the sense I looked at business dealings.

Their offer was this. That I should purchase Torque Game Builder (TGB), their desktop game development offering, at full Indie-developer price and they’d let me evaluate iTGB, which costs $500 more, for free. Of course, if I decided that I liked iTGB and went ahead with a game, then I’d have to pay the extra $500 and buy iTGB before I released the game. I found this “solution” to be a bizarre one. I wanted to demo the product and I would have to pay for the demo? So basically, I wasn’t actually getting a demo but instead was paying for the demo. Sure, it was less than what I’d pay for the final product but if I didn’t like iTGB, then I’d be out of pocket for $250 (the price of TGB) and the only person benefitting would be GG since they got $250 out of it. I’d have nothing except for a paid version of TGB that I didn’t need since I wasn’t interested in desktop development.

I told the GG employee this. He didn’t respond back. I asked for a response in the forum thread I pointed to earlier. Still no response. I finally wrote to him and CCed every contact e-mail address he’d provided on the thread and also sent a copy to their contact form for good measure. I finally heard back from somebody else in the company. He was at least prompt in his responses and I was able to get some answers. But again, I also got a bit of Unity bashing along the lines of Unity might be good at pre-sales but they never fix their bugs etc.

And this too, I did not like. Tell me what’s good about your product. Don’t tell me what’s bad about your competition. I’m interested in learning about *your* product. Not how well you can trash that of the competition. Of course, I must admit that I never mentioned iTGB to the Unity folks (there was no need at the time) and so have no idea if they would have behaved the same way. But I do find how GG behaves in this situation a little amateurish and unprofessional.

Anyway the long and the short of it was that the person I talked to was adamant that they couldn’t give me a demo in any other form except for me ponying up $250 for the TGB Pro version. I was assured that if I could develop a game with the demo version of TGB, then iTGB would be fairly straightforward. I told them that what I was interested in was the actual deployment to iPhone since that doesn’t get covered by a TGB demo and they told me that it was very easy (it didn’t turn out to be so easy when I tried later, mind you.)

Since I was still looking at the pretty iTGB graphics and was convinced that that was the way forward (based solely on my work with the TGB demo) and since time was passing on and I wanted to get going on the game project before some other paid work I was supposed to start work on came up, I finally decided to bite the bullet and pay the $250 to get the evaluation of iTGB. At this point, the person from GG I was talking to was very responsive. He got me the iTGB evaluation within 15 minutes or so, if I recall correctly and did respond to the questions I had.

I did criticize how GG handled pre-sales and how they dealt with potential customers and I pointed out ways that they could improve the process. I asked him to forward this information to GG management so that they could try to improve things for their potential customers. Did any of this get forwarded? I have no idea. And given that corporate machinery moves very, very slowly, I probably won’t see any of it implemented for several months even if they decided to do something. But the feeling I get is that nothing will change.

But what happened with my evaluation of iTGB? That’s a tale for another blog post since this one’s getting overly long anyway :) The only other thing that I have to mention is that I would be hesitant to write about a product and a company like this if they’d actually been courteous enough to provide a demo version for potential customers. But since they appear to make you pay for the demo, I consider myself a customer rather than somebody who’d received a review copy and I feel it an obligation on my part to document what happened so that perhaps other potential iTGB buyers would have all the facts at hand. To this end, I’ll add my impressions of iTGB (and the trouble I had with it) in another post.

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Posted by Fahim at 7:48 am  |  No Comments

August 11, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-11

  • "WordOne" – iPhone application for writers to keep track of progress made on writing projects and manage writing goals. http://is.gd/2b3i9 #
  • Why are people re-tweeting the BS from Tim Langdell without mentioning the fact that he's a total scam artist? #
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August 4, 2009

Tweets for 2009-08-04

  • Free iPhone app that helps you keep track of Gnomedex, the premier technology conference for geeks :) http://is.gd/21fSq #
  • Apple finally approved my Gnomedex app. So there's only two more apps left in the review queue but they have been there for 5 weeks now. #
  • Ah, the joys of coding :) Those guys at GarageGame talk a good game about iTGB but it definitely isn't ready for primetime :( #
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