Game Hack!

There’s a little more room here to write updates than Facebook and Twitter, so I’ll link here from those places so we can give you a bit more detail about what’s going on today.

We’re at the GameHack event at Pinewood Studios, London.  The challenge is to make a complete game in 24 hours, and it’s meant to start any second!

We’ve already sat through some Facebook propaganda and some extremely short talks by the companies that are actually sponsoring the event with prizes.  Facebook didn’t need to give us anything, except the comfort of their presence.

Katherine and I came with an idea already in mind, which has been something on the back burner for some time – but we actually never got started.  It’s based on a concept that Paul, our designer, came to us with.

Call it “lights out” or “bubble pop” or “whack-a-mole” – it’s that’s sort of concept.  Things appear on screen and you have to tap them.  Not very innovative when we say it like that, but there’s an interesting twist.

We’re going to make this game run on lots of devices.  In harmony!  If you’ve got an iPad and your friend’s got one too, put them next to each other and double the play area.  If you’ve got an iPhone and an iPad, put them together and make an oddly-shaped play area.  Got a whole bunch of friends?  We want you to be able to spread all those devices across a table and make one massive touch-screen game.

That’s about the extent of the game design that we have so far.  Updates to follow :)

## 11:57am

While a whole bunch of musicians and artists are still looking for teams and the larger teams are arguing over which source control system is going to work best, we’re off.

The first thing we have to do is work out how to divide up the screens on various devices.  The edges of the screens on two iPhones placed end-to-end just about line up with the screen on an iPad.  So how many lights (or whatever game elements we decide to use) will be on screen on each device?  60×60 pixels fits quite nicely on an iPhone.  However the two devices have slightly different pixel densities, so the same pixel size is going to be physically larger on an iPad than an iPhone.

This needs some trial-and-error, so Katherine is bashing out a simple little app to place buttons on a screen to see how they line up.

In this kind of arrangement…

## 12.27

Through the magic of green and blue squares, I think we have an answer.

On the iPhone, 80×80 fits perfectly on the 480×320 screen.  Through trial and error and using my pink plastic ruler, we worked out that 68×68 on iPad is roughly the same size, and this fits 15 squares along the long size, leaving 4px spare (padded by 2 top and bottom) and 11 across the shorter side, leaving 20px square (10px either side).

One of the things we want to be able to do using the game board is scroll messages in the style of an LED sign.  A 6×4 grid is probably too small for this so it won’t look great on iPhone alone, but going much smaller makes the iPad grid look insane.  Enlarging from the original thought of 60×60 has reduced the number of slots on iPad from 300 to 165, which is still plenty to make a manic game even with just one device!   And it’s better for fat fingers too.  How to communicate with players when only one iPhone is in the arrangement will be a challenge!

## 1.04pm

Lunchtime, and Facebook freebies!  A mousemat that’s not even in Facebook colours (apparently people still do use these!) and a sticker that is – as long as you put it on something blue.

## 2.41pm

A prototype!

## 3.06pm

While Katherine is beavering away with something resembling a game board, I’ve been trying to find a character set that will fit our size constraints.  Given 7×5 or even 6×5 this is pretty easy.  Making it only 4 wide presents problems with letters like M and W.  I found help on the internet with a variable-width character set that fits into 6 pixels high and where most of the characters are 4 or less wide.

That means that wide letters can’t appear on screen in full, but a scrolling message should still be readable.  Well, I’m not sure how much more than that we can do anyway – and besides the point is to have 2 or more devices talking together to make a nice big visible area.

Here’s how it looks made out of Xs, and that should be the hard part done.  For now :)

## 5.13pm


It says “HELLO WORLD!”.  And I promise this is important :)

## 6.48pm

Bluetooth is causing headaches.  We’re terribly shocked by this, but it’s still frustrating.

Also, piggy geeks ate all the pizza before I could even get close.  They plonked down a huge pile of (what I would consider to be) personal-sized pizza boxes and then tried to tell the frenzied masses they needed to share.  Didn’t happen.

## 7.14pm

The backup pizza arrives.  First in line, naturally.

## 8.12pm

The Bluetooth problem, amazingly, was that the devices were telling each other their names, and some of those names had an apostrophe in.  For example “Chris’s iPad”.  Stripping that out and communication is looking much better.  At this point, it’s not exciting to look at, but we do almost have an array of devices that share one game grid!

So, while Katherine’s been busy making that work, I’ve been making a ripple pattern to test it with.  In theory, this effect will extend onto as many screens as there are connected.  Exciting stuff!

## 9.47pm

So, as promised, the same pattern on THREE SCREENS!

## 11.33pm

I made plasma!  We might be calling it Plasma Fest!

## 1.42am

I’m quite tired. But I made more plasma, and something that resembles gameplay! When you tap one blob, another lights up. Except for one time in this video when the same one lit up again in a different colour. Oh well… Also I realised why the intensity of the yellow and blue is greater than the purple, which I think is nice and gassy whereas the others are a bit dense. But it requires more concentration than I have right now to regenerate the animation frames, so that won’t happen for a while at least! For my own later reference: #9020B0 :)

## 2.31am

Bedtime, for a few hours at least. It’s going to be called Plasmafest and we just connected 3 iPads and 3 iPhones and everything worked as expected. We have a to-do list for the morning. Everything has to be ready by 11.30am so it won’t be much sleep, but hopefully enough that I can actually drive back afterwards!

## 6.33am

Back in Pinewood after basically no sleep, but a change of scenery and a change of clothes. Better than nothing I suppose. Katherine stayed up coding anyway, and now it’s super awesome, only missing that elusive gameplay. Messages between the devices are lag-free, and two iPhones can connect alongside the long edge of an iPad!

And there’s still 5 hours to go!

## 8.10am

We played a game! Two people, competitively, over two different iPads. With just one more pair of hands I’d be able to make a video of this.

## 9.30am

Bah, not enough free t-shirts to go round :(

## 9.39am

Just some polishing left to do. The game is mostly styled up, talking among many devices and running games for up to 3 players. In this video, you have to imagine that two of us are fighting to put out our own colour. However, I had to hold the camera, so I left Katherine to it!

## 10.20am

With basically nobody talking to us for the past 23 hours, we finally have something that looks interesting, pretty and fun on the table in front of us, and it’s turning heads.

Three lads staggering by with sleeping bags just declared it “wicked”, and gave me chance to explain what it’s about ahead of the presentation that’s coming up shortly. Katherine just got challenged to a game by the other girl in the room, who said it was “awesome”. One of the judges came to have a look and said “wow” a few times, which can’t be a bad sign. A security dude stopped by too, but he wanted it to be “more like Draw Something”. Oh well.

Personally, I think it’s the impact of having a scrolling LED-style sign moving across a number of devices that’s getting it noticed. It does look pretty cool doing the set pieces – scrolling “Ready” at the start of the game and doing a left-to-right wipe at the end of a game. The gameplay is fun – because two players get tangled up while they’re playing – but spectators can’t actually see much when it’s just a frenzy of hands trying to put lights out.

I think we can do no more. The app achieves everything we set out to do. There’s a few ways to crash it that we already know (one of which I decided to demonstrate to the judge dude, but I won’t do it again in the proper demo!) but there’s plenty of ways to show it off. I’m not really sure how much we’ll be able to show in the demo as it seems to be an overhead projector that would fit one or two devices, but not the array we’re intending. Let’s wander over there now and see what we can do :)

## 11.30am

It’s all over bar the shouting.

And OMG suddenly we’re popular! We’d taken to trying to entice people to play the game as they walk past because the demo we’ll get to give on screen can’t possibly be as effective. The projector just barely fits two iPads side-by-side. The demo will probably be 3 iPhones and then an iPad and 2 iPhones.

So we have a setup on our table with 3 iPads and 2 iPhones together. Lots of people asked what it was about. Someone walked over and simply said “can I touch it?”. Well, obviously. We got filmed by the official Game Hack cameraman, where I apparently garbled too quickly and – naturally – because the devices had been sitting for a few minutes, Bluetooth was exceptionally slow to connect. Another judge had a personal demo and appeared to like it, also saying that he’d love to use the sprawling device concept to set up a large play area for war games.

The judge from Marmalade had a look but clearly it wasn’t what he was looking for. Can we throw an Android device in there? Nope, because Apple’s Bluetooth implementation won’t talk to it. Amazingly, we had actually considered this, but it’s just not possible.

We’re getting a lot of passing trade without even trying! The consensus seems to be that it’s simple, fun and looks awesome :)

## 12.15

“Everyone’s talking about your game. Can we see it?” :)

## 12.24pm

Presentations are about to begin!

## 2.23pm

That was a lot of presentations :) Captain Obvious was a highlight, and I wanted to see more of the one with the cardboard monsters. Our first demo with 3 iPhones worked perfectly, but we could only connect one iPhone and one iPad for the second. Still, virtually everyone had something not quite work right. And at least we have a finished game :)

## 3.08pm

Win win! Twice!

“Best Use of Mobile” AND “Most Innovative Idea”. You’ll probably hear more, but we need to get on the road :)

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