September 12, 2009
The Games that GarageGames Plays?
A few weeks back, I wrote about my experiences with GarageGames‘ iTGB product and what I found missing from it, as well as how the product could be improved. Of course, my blog doesn’t have that many regular readers and I don’t update it that much. So the notes were just for those searching Google for opinions on iTGB so that they would know all the facts before they bought the product. So I was rather surprised when I received a rather vitriolic comment on the second post about iTGB which attacked me rather than provide anything more concrete about the iTGB product itself than to say that GarageGames is “one of the very few companies that’s out there trying to provided productive tools for development on the most open, accessible platform there is today.” (his words, not mine).
The comment did read a bit as if it had been written by a GarageGames employee and I said so in my response to him. And I also re-iterated the points that I was complaining about with regards to iTGB – that GarageGames was misrepresenting iTGB as an easy to use tool when it really wasn’t. Plus, their support (both pre- and post-sales) is barely there since they seem to depend on users searching their forums. Why pay a lot of money for a product which is billed a “professional” level when the support just isn’t professional level?
He came back with more vitriol and personal attacks about my competency to judge the product but never really responded to the “sock puppet” thing except to deflect it with a comment about how he liked sock puppets and so on.
If there had been one comment, I would have thought that the guy was somebody who came across the blog accidentally and was just hurt by the besmirching of the good name (as he saw it) of one of his favourite products. But two comments? That seemed a bit beyond the call of duty. So I took a look at my comments section and I noticed that both comments had come from the same IP.
So I did a look up on the IP and this is what I found (I’ve taken out parts of the page and am showing only the two relevant bits):
Hmm … so the comments were coming from somebody who was staying at a hotel in London? What business traveler actually takes the time to respond to blog posts if they are traveling? That looked a little suspicious. Of course, one might point out that I had no reason to actually believe that s/he was a business traveler or that s/he wasn’t an employee at the hotel or that the person might have been on vacation and spending a rainy day indoors by looking for some trolling action. All of this was possible 🙂 But the tone of the e-mail and the rabid defense of GarageGames, made me think, now more than ever, that this might be an employee of GarageGames.
So I checked on another thing. I checked my Apache server logs to see if the person had come from Google or some other search engine to my site. I wasn’t very surprised to find that this wasn’t the case. They weren’t referred from another site but came to my site directly – probably via a bookmark or a link from an e-mail.
Sure, again, this wasn’t conclusive proof. There are utilities around that help you erase your tracks, to hide referrers and so on. But it was beginning to look more and more (at least to me) as if this person was from GarageGames and was simply trying to make the company appear look good by making all sorts of claims. Honestly, it would have made GarageGames look much better if they’d listened to my constructive criticism and made some changes. But this probably was cheaper 🙂 (Again, I should try to be objective and mention that it’s possible that GarageGames as a corporation might not have known about this little stunt. It might have been just one individual acting on their own.)
Anyway, I didn’t see much point in following this up further because I didn’t have conclusive proof. Plus, the individual never came back and so I just let it go. That was, till today. Today I was taking a look at the GarageGames forums for something and came across this post:
What? A GarageGames employee was actually visiting London the same week that the comments appeared on my post from a London hotel? How coincidental can that be? (Actually, to be fair, it still could be coincidence but it’s beginning to seem more and more like it isn’t …) According to his profile, Brett Seyler is an employee of GarageGames (and I think I read somewhere else that he was director of technology or marketing or something …).
So did Brett Seyler post those comments? I don’t know. It’s possible that this was still done by somebody not connected to GarageGames. It’s also possible that there were other GarageGames employees traveling with Brett and the comments came from one of them rather than Brett himself. I have no way of knowing. But the evidence is piling up against GarageGames and if these shenanigans indeed were carried out by one of their employees, then they are indeed rather contemptible. Fix the issues, acknowledge you have issues, don’t try to intimidate people and spread false propaganda – that’s how I would approach it. But then again, I’m not a corporate type 🙂
August 22, 2009
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 🙂
Posted by Fahim at
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.
July 21, 2009
Will Mobile Androids Eat Blackberries off Their Palm?
When it comes to mobile development, there are a lot of platform choices available to developers – iPhone, Android, BlackBerry, Palm Pre, Symbian, Windows Mobile … and given how many mobile platforms are out there, I might even have missed some 🙂 As a consumer, deciding what you want is simple enough – buy the applications for the platform that you use. But for a developer, the choice is a more complicated one. And I’m not sure that there are enough resources out there which cover all the relevant/important factors.
If you do a search, you’ll find that most articles are targeted towards a US audience – they talk of the mobile carrier (AT&T vs. Sprint vs. T-Mobile) or the number of handsets available for each carrier or of GSM vs. CDMA when it comes to carrier. But they leave out things like: are developers outside the US even able to get into the developer program for a specific platform? Sure, most of the consumers for mobile applications probably come from the US but developers are global. Whether you are in the US, Germany, Sudan, India, Sri Lanka, or Australia, a developer is a developer. We are a breed that likes to tinker, to experiment, to write code on platforms we haven’t explored before. So, shouldn’t somebody be considering the non-US developers as well?
Take Android, for instance. It might be hyped as the best thing since the immaculate birth of the iPhone, but for developers, as far as I can tell, Android is a closed shop – only those who can sign up for Google Checkout can get on the Android developer bandwagon and that lets out anybody who is not in the US or UK. At least, that’s what Google Checkout told me when I tried to sign up for one of their “merchant” accounts (or whatever it is that Google calls a Checkout account that is used to sell goods or services). Now I might be wrong since I haven’t done enough checking into this but the whole “US and UK” only thing puts a damper on my enthusiasm for Android development.
The iPhone on the other hand provides a developer program that you can sign up for quite easily. However, the market has been flooded with a plethora of useless apps coded in a matter of days (if not hours). Apple seems to have no real love for the developers developing for their platform, nor any desire to address any of their frequently voiced grievances. For the moment, Apple appears to be content to sit back on their laurels and play “Lord of Monopoly” with the poor deluded souls that are in search of the pot of gold at the end of the iTunes Store rainbow. So sure, you can get on the iPhone platform quite easily, but getting your app on the app store, (and making any real money) might be harder.
For some of the others, like BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile, the whole app store concept is something that they came up with after the success of Apple’s own app store. Some are already in operation, others are planned or just getting started. However, they had other distribution mechanisms before that. So it’s not so bad for the developer in terms of how they distribute and sell their apps. Of course, again for non-US/European developers, it would be easier to have a central marketplace or store which sells their app for them and sends them the money. PayPal isn’t everywhere nor is accepting online payment as easy for developers in the rest of the world. Heck, I can’t get payment in any form except for a bank transfer over here!
So for most of us, a centralized app store which does all the e-commerce stuff is still a good idea. But of course, as I mentioned above, the playing field is never level and, ironically, if you’re not in the US, you’re usually shut out. And US developers are the one’s who least need these mechanisms since they can at least receive online payments via PayPal quite easily 🙂
But unfortunately, that’s how it is at the moment. There are those of us who would like to develop for other platforms besides the iPhone, which is becoming rather tiresome in their arbitrary (and often self-contradictory) decisions regarding what is allowed and what’s not on their app store. I wish some of the other platforms would get their act together and allow global access to their individual marketplaces as Apple does. This would at least give some of us more options and perhaps even make Apple re-consider how they administer their own app store and review apps. But for the time being, global developer choice is still a dream ….
July 7, 2009
The Wrath of Apple?
A couple of weeks back, I came across a few apps on the Apple app store which had what I thought was a neat concept – a mini-app store, or rather, a list of applications provided by the same company. Since Apple had approved these apps and they were in the Apple app store, I figured that I might as well implement the feature in my own apps that I did from then on.
I was mindful of the fact that Apple has strict guidelines (sometimes unstated ones :p) and so didn’t want to infringe any of these. However, in this case I thought I might be on solid ground since there were several other apps on the app store which already implemented the feature. I was even careful enough to do things pretty similar to how it was done by these other apps so that I wouldn’t infringe upon some unstated guideline.
So imagine my surprise when I submitted my app and almost immediately received a rejection stating:
“Thank you for submitting WordOne and WordOneLite to the App Store. We’ve reviewed WordOne and WordOneLite and determined that we cannot post this version of your iPhone application to the App Store because your applications contains pricing information in the binary and/or marketing text (Application Description / Release Notes). Providing specific pricing information in these locations may lead to user confusion because of pricing differences in countries. It would be appropriate to remove pricing information from these locations.”
Now I read elsewhere (later) that Apple indeed objects to pricing information being included in the app because they say that it will confuse users. And I can understand this. However, I had done that only because the other apps available on the app store already did this too. But I didn’t want to go through a protracted session of debating with Apple and so simply changed my application to remove the pricing information and resubmitted it.
However, I did want to know what the actual guidelines were. So I responded to Apple and asked them for a clarification on their guidelines because they already had apps on the app store which included pricing information (only in one currency mind you) in them and those had been approved. I even provided a few examples.
That might have been a mistake 😀
Because today I received not one but two responses from Apple. The first one was a reply to my question about clarifying the position on why my app was rejected while they approved other apps with pricing information. It simply said:
“Thank you for your email. Unfortunately we are unable to provide addition information at this time. Thank you for uploading a new binary. We will notify you if there are any further issues.”
So no information. Apple will do as Apple pleases. No surprises there 🙂 But the second e-mail, sent a few hours later was the dreaded, “Your application is meeting unexpected delays” one. Specifically, it said:
“Your application, WordOne and WordOneLite, are requiring unexpected additional time for review. We apologize for the delay, and will update you with further status as soon as we are able.”
Now I don’t know for a fact that my application was delayed because I questioned Apple about their decision. But on the other hand, the timing seems a little suspicious to me. I’ve never received an app review in any time longer than seven days before. Every time before, for about seven apps, I would get an update, regular as clockwork, on the seventh day. If it was rejected, and I fixed the issue, I wouldn’t hear back from Apple again till seven days had passed.
For my eight or ninth app, the delay went from seven days to nine days but that was around the height of WWDC and the release of OS 3.0. For these two specific apps, I got my first rejection in about four days and then the second notification about “unexpected delays” came three days or so after I questioned the process and right on the heels of their other response. So forgive me if I find the timing a little too pat 🙂
So what’ll happen to my app? I have no idea. I have heard of other developers who have had apps sit in the review queue for months without hearing anything back from Apple at all. Maybe that’s what’ll happen to WordOne and WordOne Lite. I don’t know. But I hope that this won’t be the case and the delay is genuine and my apps will see the light of day within the next week, especially given stupid release like this that Apple seems to let through without any thought at all. I can always hope, can’t I? 🙂
Posted by Fahim at
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