Freebloks 3D is now also available on F-Droid, an alternative app store for Android containing only completely free and open source software. This version is free of any non-free dependencies or libraries.
I recently updated the Google Play Game Services library of Freebloks 3D for Android and the BaseGameUtils, as recommended by Google. Not reading the ChangeLog, I was confused that my game tried to auto log in to Google on the start, disrupting the user experience I built around that. Even after dismissing the login dialog once would show the dialog again in the next Activity that is derived from BaseGameActivity or uses a GameHelper object.
Searching the Interwebs I found the FAQ, which explained the change of behaviour, and I am sad that the game itself once again becomes more and more insignificant:
The default behavior of BaseGameActivity and GameHelper is to show the user the sign-in flow (consent dialogs, etc) as soon as your application starts. Naturally, once the user signs in for the first time, they won’t see the consent flow again, so it will be a seamless experience. […]
The first time a game is started, the user will be prompted with a full screen dialog asking the user for consent to post on their behalf to Google+. The user hasn’t seen anything of my App yet and still Google tries to put itself into the foreground. After the user signed in, this might become a seamless experience but being prompted with this dialog does not seem like a good experience. Especially because there is no warning or explanation of what this dialog does.
It is important for the user to sign in as early as possible so your application can take advantage of the Google Play Games API right away (for example, saving the user’s progress using Cloud Save, unlocking achievements, etc).
I noticed that usually I want to explore the game a little before signing in to Google. I’d like to find out if the game is a game I’d continue to play and once I get engaged with a game, I am willing to sign in to use the additional features. I know I am not an everyday user and I am aware that logging in to Google gives up some privacy. And before I haven’t decided to continue playing a game, I do not want any information to leak or social activity to be generated.
Obviously this reads to me as:
it’s important for the developers and Google to get user generated activity and data as soon as possible.
And is again another step towards games telling the users what to do.
If the user cancels the sign-in flow, BaseGameAcitivity/GameHelper will remember that cancellation. If the total number of cancellations reaches a predefined maximum (by default, 3), the user will no longer be prompted to sign in on application startup. If that happens, they can still sign in by clicking your application’s Sign In button, if you provide one.
Is not signing in to Google not a choice anymore but an error? If I dismiss the dialog because I do not give consent, is that assumed to be an error? Do I have to be prompted again even though I made the choice to not log in? Do I really have to dismiss the dialog 3 times until the game believes me that I do not want to log in?
The games are taking over!
I noticed the trend of games beginning to control users, of being needy, wanting attention, and developers seeing games only as a way to generate a stream of content or resources back to the developer.
Games these days:
- show popup notifications that they want to be played.
- make the user attend the game by long running tasks in the background that finish whenever. Building a building may take 5 hours, after which I have to open the game again.
- want you to share everything on Facebook or Google+ (“Your creature took a dump. Share on Facebook?”). This is not to make you happy or to provide a game element, it is purely to attract other people and make them install the game.
- tell you exactly and in detail how to use it. A lot of games begin with a 10 minute intro (“now click here”, “now buy upgrade”, “now shoot”) to make sure that the user understands the concept of buying upgrades and in game currency. This leaves very little room for experimentation and explorations, because users need to follow the strict predefined path that generates revenue.
- lock you in. Using In-App-Purchases basically makes you rent the game, it is like Prepaid and the decision to stop playing a game is harder, because you have money that will expire. When you buy a game and own it, you have the freedom of choice to not play it. Buying your right to play the game over and over will most likely leave you hanging in an awkward spot when you decide to stop. Oddly enough these games are advertise as Free or Free2Play or, less often, Pay2Win.
- use gamification to seem more interesting. Most games implement achievements in a way, so that they are not game elements. The Google Play services offer achievements that are outside of the game, meaning they don’t change the game flow, giving the user no actual value of an earned achievement. While the wording suggests the user benefits from earning an achievement, this is likely to drive engagement with the game but will not result in higher user experience or even fun. I fear the day users wonder about the motivation to achieve anything.
- artificially restrict themselves but still take over your time. Why does building a house takes 5 hours sometimes, while the game does not any other game elements during that time? I’s making me hooked, telling me to go on with my day but of course I will always have the game on my mind and I have to come back after 5 hours. The game dictates when the user can play with it and when he can’t. It is not the users decision anymore to play and spend time with the game.
Where did the games go that gave power and freedom to the players to do what they want to do? With room to explore? With having game elements to actually fill 5 hours of time, then waiting and being ready when I come back to it? Where did the love go to provide the user with a fun way to pass his time?
This is not about the user anymore. He is not the customer, he is the good to be sold, the “conversion” to be made. The game is just the means and additional game elements are in the way. Games became a pure medium for developers and Google to say to users: “Give me your money”.
Where was I? Oh yes, disable the auto-login.
Easy enough the above behaviour can be reverted by
but that’s not the point. Give the power back to the user!
While I have frequently improved and updated the network compatible Android version of Freebloks, I have always neglected the Windows version. The Android version gained features like player names and the ability to choose the colors to play with. While the Windows and Android version always stayed compatible, the PC version simply did not offer these features to connecting Android devices or when connecting to a dedicated server.
Now Freebloks-1.5 for Windows is available, which lets connecting Android devices use all features and offers the player to choose his colours as well as to choose a name (which is not displayed in the game but on connected Android devices). If you frequently play Freebloks over the Internet, it is recommended to download the new version here:
Freebloks 3D for Android is free software, it’s open source, completely free of charge and you can modify it to any extent. Free software however does not mean it has no value. That’s why Freebloks comes with the feature of in-app donations to support the developers.
You can choose how much Freebloks is worth to you, you can donate any amount you like or you can purchase the new published version called Freebloks VIP, that is identical to the free version but paid to show the support to the developers. The only visual difference is the coin in the app icon indicating your support.
Please don’t take free software for granted.
Freebloks 3D for Android is the Android port of the PC version of Freebloks 3D for Windows and Linux. Like the PC version, the Android port is completely free software, available for free in the Google Play Store and the source code being available on GitHub.
I strongly believe in Open Source software and that it can help to make the world a better place by making knowledge and power available to everyone. While many hours of work went into the Android port, I feel good to completely open the software for others to study, to modify or contribute. A lot of my knowledge and skills come from the study of others work and my contribution to open source software is my attempt to give something back in return.
If you like Freebloks, please be encouraged to contribute, send be feedback, work on the code or support the developers with a donation. The recent update makes in-app donations available for users. These in-app items acknowledge the work of the developers and are completely voluntary. Freebloks will always be free but relies on your contribution!
So if you think, the game has some value for you, please consider a donation of your choice.
The latest update of Freebloks 3D for Android adds nice drop shadows to falling stones. Instead of “correct” shadows using shadow volumes in a stencil buffer, the android version renders a pseudo drop shadow texture on the board. The shadows are not always correct, but it is much easier to add individual tinting, alpha or scale effects, depending on the distance of the stones. This adds a more realistic look and is easy on the hardware, because there is no need to recalculate the shadow volume each frame.
For the port of Freebloks 3D to Android I rewrote all code from C to Java. While that was working fine and resulted in greatly simplified networking code, the speed of the AI was not so great. It took up to 10 seconds on a fairly powerful SGS 2 for the computer to find a good move.
I was trying to move the CPU intense routines of the AI to C again, using jni as a bridge between Java and C. The simple network routines should stay in Java.
But the transfer of relevant game data to C and back to Java turned out to be very ugly, yet the solution was incredibly simple:
The Freebloks code was always split in two parts, the GUI/client part and the AI/server part, with the client and server always communicating using network sockets. Yes, even the single player version starts a network server and connects to localhost. The original source code always contained a package for running a dedicated server.
It was incredibly easy to copy the dedicated server code into my project, compile the C code with the NDK and connect it to Java with only a single jni call. It was running out of the box, with almost no change of the original C code at all! Since the server is running in a thread started from the native C code, there is no additional jni call neccessary and no data transfers except for the sockets.
The average duration for the AI to calculate a complete game dropped from 87 sec to 28 sec on my SGS 2. The version 0.0.2 in the Google Play Store supports ARMv5, ARMv7 and x86. Grab it now! You may also download a free apk file here.
And please don’t forget to give feedback.
I just pushed a first playable version of Freebloks for Android, a port of Freebloks 3D to the Android system. It’s a very early development version and very rough, but you can start a single player game and join a network game and place stones. The user interface still needs a lot of love, but I might push a preview version on Google Play soon. Please get involved on GitHub, if you want to contibute.
Here are two screenshots: