Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Napalm Squid launches it's first game: the Daily Slide Puzzle

It is coming to the end of the financial year at work and having not taken much time off from my day job as an ASP.NET developer in the last twelve months I had a bunch of holiday to use up before February 28th. I had the last five days off last week and I used them to finish up a little side project I've had running for a while now.

Napalm Squid

A few months ago myself and a friend, Damien, decided to have a go at making some casual games and see if we couldn't make a few quid along the way. We originally talked about this back in October 2009, Damien had a domain name that he's been sitting on for a while and logo to go with it, Napalm Squid Games was born.

The Idea

Back in October I had been messing around writing some collision detection in ActionScript and I had a little tech demo of some arbitrary shapes that slid against each other but never overlapped. Playing around with this demo reminded me of the slide puzzles I used to have as a kid and I started thinking that a slide puzzle might be a good 1st attempt at a game for us as they are pretty simple, the rules are basic and well known so there wasn't much for us to think about. In the interest of getting to version 1 and actually launch something we decided to go with this concept for our first game.

Now, I'm not fooling myself. This is in no way the sexiest game ever made, nor will it make us our millions, but you have to start somewhere and keeping it fairly simple has allowed us to produce something to a reasonable quality in a fairly short time frame and it's important to get something out of the door.

Building The Game

These days there are a hundred and one platforms you could go with for developing casual games all with their pros and cons. The iPhone is the obvious one, everyone has heard at least one incredibly success story of how a guy spends an afternoon locked up in his room and emerges with some game on the App Store making ridiculous amounts of money. Then there's old faithful Flash. Flash has been around since the dawn of time and folks like Shockwave.com have been using it since the then-Macromedia (and now Adobe) set the site up in 1999. The original Shockwave platform is a bit to old and dormant for my liking to be considered a serious contender. Plus, I've grown to loath Lingo even though eight years ago it was the best thing in the world and really got me started in programming.

There's also a bunch of other new(ish) web based platforms that I'm keeping in mind like Unity, which looks really nice as it can publish to the Web, iPhone and to the Wii, and would allow me to develop in my beloved C#, as would Microsoft's XNA, which can be used to publish to Windows and the XBox Live Arcade.

Most of these would involve some learning on my part as the developer (Damien is a game designer), even the ones which use C# naively as there are whole new class libraries(XML) or programming paradigms to learn (Unity) . Having been a big fan of Flash and ActionScript for years and being well versed in the MovieClip I chose to go with what I know.

Other Stuff

In getting this 1st game released there has been so much other stuff that's taken a bunch of time too.

Making Money

Ahh money, we love it! and if this is ever going to be a viable concern there has to be a way to make money from it. After a little bit of research I found Mochi Ads from Mochi Media.

Getting this up and running was possibly the easiest thing I've ever done. Sign up, create a profile for the game, download some ActionScript and add one line of code to the game. Monetization sorted...

Websites

We obviously needed a website or two. It's no good having a web game if you don't have a website to host it on.

Being a web developer in my 9-to-5 meant this wasn't such an issue. I got some cheap but good quality hosting from Dreamhost which I've been really impressed with to date, you get full Shell access to your account which is always a bonus and you can host as many domains as you want, use as much disk space as you want and thrash as much bandwidth as you need.

In office hours I'm an ASP.NET developer and I love it, years ago I was all about PHP but I've grown to realise there are better ways to spend your life. That being said, the cheap hosting is Linux hosting and so in the interest of getting to version 1, I went with the PHP based Zend Framework. I'd had a look at the Zend Framework about 6 months ago when I first me our current student placement, Ben Waine, who was singing it's praises. I like ZF, it works as nice as any other MVC library I've seen, however; at the end of the day, you still have to write your logic in PHP which makes me feel ill.

What Next

Getting our first game released has given us a real buzz! Since I put the site live last Wednesday (7 days ago) I've fixed a bunch of bugs and made a few tweaks to the game. Nothing gives you the impetus to fix an issue more than having the bug out in the wild and visible to your users.

Damien is working on up the idea for our next game while I do some R&D on the programming side. We'll also be doing a few updates to Daily Slide Puzzle, largest of which will be the ability to play previous puzzles.

It's exciting times and we've certainly got our work cut out for us.

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