Tag Archives: game

WordMix on tablets, learning Japanese

A recent WordMix update brings much improved support for Android tablets as well as experimental support for Japanese dictionary.

Improvements to the layout for 7″ and 10″ Android tablets were long overdue, fixing some issues where activities and controls looked out of place because they were initially created and optimised for mobile phones.

WordMix in Google Play Store

Further I based the App’s theme on Holo for Android 4 and on Material for Android 5, ditching the DeviceDefault as a recommendation. In my experience, vendors quite often ship a DeviceDefault implementation, that is inconsistent, incomplete and quite often breaks visual appearance. In order to work around inconsistent presentation on some Android devices, I have decided to pin the theme to a set of known appearance with some custom styling, bringing a consistent look across all Android 4 and Android 5 devices (Android 2 and 3 support has been removed).

WordMix Pro in Google Play Store

Only new feature is the experimental support for Japanese as a language, including a Japanese dictionary (needs to be downloaded after installing the App). Japanese is particularly difficult to implement in this game due to the high number of different letters and combinations. Similar sound combinations have been combined as single letters, allowing to choose the specific sound by tapping on the dice. Feedback is appreciated!

As always, get it in Google Play Store, while it’s hot!

Chicken Tournament for Android

Long time no post about the Android version of Chicken Tournament. But it’s doing very well, despite lack of time. ūüôā And the best, you can already check it¬†out in Google Play!

Screenshot_2014-09-07-16-14-52

New particle systems

A couple of updates later, the completely rewritten game now features improved particle systems like blood, feathers and fire and comes with limited keyboard support. Especially the new feathers took careful design and tuning to get the physics right but I’m very pleased with the optic result and performance. Of course, cranking up the amount of effects, I’m sure it can bring every device down.

UI sound effects improve overall feeling and experience. Having in mind that this game was completely written from scratch using a self written engine and pretty much not reusing any code, I am extremely proud of the result.

Career mode

Screenshot_2014-09-07-17-50-27

The new career mode features an experience and skill system for your hero, level by level. You can collect different hats that will further improve your skills and stats.

In Google Play

Chicken Tournament Demo in Google Play
Chicken Tournament Demo in Google Play

 

The demo version can be downloaded free of charge, it’s ad-free but has a limited feature set. Those features are without limitations tough, like pay-2-win or In-App-Purchases. There is a fully featured full version, meant to support me and my work.

But some important features are still missing though, like:

  • Multiplayer mode
  • Playing as chicken
  • Highscores and ranking lists
  • More and more and more optimisations

I’m just one man, please be patient. If you find bugs of have suggestions, please email me at ct@saschahlusiak.de.

Screenshot_2014-09-25-21-48-16

Thoughts on Google Play Game Services and games

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

getGameHelper().setMaxAutoSignInAttempts(0);

but that’s not the point. Give the power back to the user!

Chicken Tournament for Android in development

After more than 10 years I decided to port Chicken Tournament to current Android smartphones. Due to the differences between the platforms, this will result in a new game and a new engine, but because of lack of time and resources, I will reuse the models and most of the textures. OpenGLES 2.0 though allows me to massively improve the quality of the graphics.

The PC version and the android version will not be compatible.

Please follow the official Chicken Tournament facebook page to receive more information and updates. A very early development version allows driving the harvester over a plain using the accelerometer to steer. The chicken are nicely animated using vertex shader.

Development screenshot of CT for Android
Development screenshot of CT on my S3

Freebloks-1.5 for PC available

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 VIP – donate version of Freebloks

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.

Screenshot_2013-07-31-08-57-00

Dropshadows for Freebloks for Android

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.

Screenshot_2013-04-18-12-01-57

Much improved AI speed for Freebloks for Android using jni

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.

Screenshot_2013-02-11-14-27-24

Out of Memory in GLSurfaceView on resume

The SympTom

After publishing WordMix with the OpenGL accelerated 2D game view (using GLSurfaceView), I received weird crash reports from some devices, mostly out of memory from within the GL context:

android.opengl.GLException: out of memory
 at android.opengl.GLErrorWrapper.checkError(GLErrorWrapper.java:62)
 at android.opengl.GLErrorWrapper.glGenTextures(GLErrorWrapper.java:350)
 at [...]

From the very limited information the Google Play Developer Console gives me about crash reports, I assumed it only affects devices running Android version 3. Modifying the code only caused the out of memory exception to be thrown at random other places, even at GL10.glClear(…)!

I also found out, the crash only happens when the user finishes a subactivity that would leave to the activity containing the GLSurfaceView. Users were complaining about the crash happening before starting a second game, which puzzled me, because all my rendering code seemed to be working fine on all devices running Android 4. Everything worked fine without the GLSurfaceView as well.

Looking that the source code for GLSurfaceView, nothing interesting was changed between Android 3.2 to Android 4, so the GLSurfaceView was hardly to blame, but more the hardware, drivers or specific OpenGL implementation.

The problem

The actual problem was very hard to track down and took me several hours and was particularly hard because I did not have an Android 3 tablet for debugging:

Up to Android 2.3, views were drawn in software and later composited using the hardware. Android 3 introduced an alternative hardware accelerated drawing engine for everything that uses Canvas classes. This alternative render path is disabled by default in Android 3 and supposedly enabled by default in Android 4 (previous blog post).

When I found out, that the Samsung Galaxy S2 does not enable hardware acceleration by default, I did set

<application android:hardwareAccelerated="true" ...>

in the AndroidManifest.xml for all activities that should support hardware acceleration. Using hardware acceleration for the activity with the anyway hardware accelerated GLSurfaceView did not make much of a difference. But accelerating the results or preferences activity, for example, gave a nice performance boost on my SGS2.

It turns out that the crash happens in Android, when an activity, that contains a GLSurfaceView, is paused for a fullscreen activity, that is hardware accelerated. When that hardware accelerated activity is finished, the underlying GLSurfaceView is screwed up, throwing out of memory exceptions, even though the GL context is completely reinitialized correctly.

The solution

Yes, I should have tested more the effects of hardwareAccelerated=”true”.

Leaving that attribute entirely unset is recommended for Android 3, especially when you use a GLSurfaceView, and should not hurt Android 4 devices as well. Setting a reasonable default value is then up to the manufacturers.

Summary

  • and suspend that activity by starting another fullscreen activity
  • and that activity is hardwareAccelerated by setting so in the AndroidManifest.xml
  • and you target Android 3 devices
  • expect weird behaviour like out-of-memory exceptions

Welcome to fragmentation. Just let hardwareAccelerated be unset.

First playable version of Freebloks for Android

Freebloks-0.0.1_pre1.apk

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:

 

WordMix Pro going 3D

WordMix in the Google Play Store

WordMix Pro arrived in the Google Play Store. While WordMix will stay free of charge, selling a pro-version will support the developing of the game and helpkeeping the free version adfree. So far the Pro version does not have much to offer but some more background images for the game. I do not intend to make the gameplay differ between the free and the payed version.

A 3D OpenGL interface for the game is under development and will be available in the pro-version soon.

Check out the first screenshot:

Chicken Tournament source code on GitHub!

I finally published the source code of my biggest game so far¬†Chicken Tournament, which I created about 10 years ago in C++. Starting in 2002, at the age of 18, it¬†took me 13 month to create the game and a lot of my blood went into the game, and I’m still proud of the result.¬†Over the years many people asked me for the source code or parts of it to study, and I never hesitated showing the code around, but never wanted to actually make it OpenSource.

Now the complete source code of the game (excluding source of the models and the video so far) is available on GitHub and contains the resources, the game logic, libraries and the Microsoft Visual C++ 6 project. Along the source, the DirectX7-SDK is needed to successfully create a binary.

The game is not under development anymore and big changed are unlikely to happen. Please respect my work.