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