Go beyond yourself.

A Year’s Recap: GameSalad, Corona, and iTorque 2D

Today is Tax Day for Americans, and many of us need to recap what has happened to us financially in the last year in order to fill out the necessary forms to send in to the government in order to find out if we owe more or are due a refund. For iOS and Android developers, if you’re properly reporting it (and you should), we can see how profitable (or not) we have been with our releases to the App Store and App Markets. And, like New Year’s Day and other moments of reflection, we can also see whether or not we could have done better or have been going in the right direction for the past 12 months.

One year ago, I was a die-hard GameSalad fan, and they had just released beta version 0.8.5 of their game creation tool for iOS. The iPad just came out a few weeks before, and just in time: I was able to release my first iPad game using GameSalad, Archangel: Vengeance of the Makuzi Ascendancy. Things were looking up, but I knew I already hit a ceiling with what I could do with GameSalad.

Archangel: VMA was an arcade version of my previous game, Archangel: Fate of the Galactic Commonwealth, which was made with iTorque 2D from GarageGames in the summer of 2009. With the lack of support for arrays, along with other specific programming concepts I required, I couldn’t make anything more than a simple shooter. Personally, I believed my game deserved more than that.

Going back even further, iTorque 2D, in my personal opinion, was so difficult to work with, that I was honestly barely able to get my binary to compile and run successfully. From being thrown into the fire with the poor and incomplete documentation and sample apps, to a creator/editor that looks and feels like a wall that was painted over a dozen times, to discombobulated Xcode flags that needed to be set which had to correspond to another set of discombobulated flags set inside my TorqueScript code, to the frustrating slowness, crashes and lockups of my game on the device, I felt I was just trying to complete the game just to get my then-$750 investment back (it’s $99 now, ouch!). I couldn’t even fathom trying to go back and perform updates and tweaks without pulling my hair out again. That, plus the fact that the iTorque engine was basically abandoned for several months until the company regrouped themselves and very recently started to update the engine and started to get some decent documentation going. For me, my iTorque 2D license is a permanent one, so if I have some free time, I’ll download it and see what it can do. But, until they really clean up their code (hell, the app is still labled “Torque Game Builder” and TorqueScript is notoriously slow enough that they recommend using C++ instead), it may be too little, too late.

Which brings me back to GameSalad and Archangel: VMA again. Ever since they quietly gave me the pinkslip from being a Sous-Chef (I logged into the forum one day to do my share of the basic forum cleanup, to which I found all my admin privileges gone), and haven’t been contacted via email or Skype regarding betas or pre-public announcements, I believe I’m no longer under the restriction of their NDA. While I was never going to be a jerk and spill my guts out, I can say that almost everything I know is already public on their forums, especially with a recently revealed corporate roadmap for everyone to see. What took them so long, I still have no damn idea. But, now that the CEO of GameSalad just rang my virtual doorbell, I hope he can finally shed some light inside that company that I’ll be able to repeat here in an upcoming blog post, especially why development and communication has been so slow or non-existent over the past year.

The corporate roadmap of GameSalad looks promising, but still leaves a lot to be desired in terms of how much more they’ll offer, and more importantly, how long it will take to get it. Even though they’ve grouped it in seasons or quarters, I’ve read a disclaimer somewhere that the timeframes could slip even further. Three of the most critical features (in my opinion): Game Center, universal binaries, and tables/arrays – are not going to be around until “spring,” “summer,” and “winter,” respectively. Thankfully, they’ve backtracked from the requirement of a GameSalad logo splash screen, but I can’t update Spellcaster because it doesn’t run properly with their latest version. So, if I’m going to have to rewrite the game, then I might as well do it with another engine.

In retrospect, here’s a sample of what they were able to accomplish in the last year:

  • 0.9.2: (1 month ago) – bug fixes
  • 0.9.1: (2 months ago) – Mac App Store, Pause
  • 0.9.0: (4 months ago) – updated GUI, additional fonts, new splash screen, faster loading times
  • 0.8.9: (8 months ago) – new blending modes, bug fixes
  • 0.8.8: (9 months ago) – Retina Display and “resolution independence,” iAd support (Pro only)
  • 0.8.7: (10 months ago) – more touch attributes for iPad, bug fixes
  • 0.8.6: (11 months ago) – gravity as a vector, global sound controls, bug fixes
  • 0.8.5: (1 year ago) – preview player updates and various fixes

That’s really not a lot of progress in a competitive world like this is, but we were on the playing field during that time, so it was probably hard for us GameSalad developers to see the big picture. That whole “GameSalad Direct” fiasco didn’t help either. Keep in mind that I’ve already paid my annual $99 “early adopter” Pro subscription a while back, but that will likely expire and go up to $499 before I get to see the features that I will really appreciate.

On the flipside, Ansca Mobile’s Corona SDK just released their latest update three days ago to the public, even though paid subscribers like myself have been toying with the daily builds up until that point. In the past year, they’ve merged Corona Game Edition into the full package, split up the annual subscription prices for iOS, Android and both ($199, $199, and $349, respectively), not to mention the addition of a Windows-based SDK as well! I’d like to write out a bullet list for Corona SDK’s added features and fixes as well, but frankly, it would be way too long.

I really can’t give enough praise for these guys, since they’ve been churning out updates and bug fixes faster than I can compile my games and apps to utilize them. They’ve had OpenFeint support a while now, but with Game Center in the picture, it just makes any good game even more appealing to buy and play. The only critical thing missing – in my opinion – is support for the Mac App Store. I’m sure they’ll get around to it, but I’m hoping it’ll be sooner than later, and at least throw it into their product roadmap.

So, with the iPhone four years old now and its little big brother (eh?) iPad now a full year old, Apple is definitely on the move (I’m sure Apple TV will have an App Store soon, too – hint-hint, guys!). The move is working for Android as well, though devs are complaining there’s just not enough money to be made there yet. Either way, we’ve got to be on the move with them, too. Just look at the recently posted chart on Flurry Analytics’ blog regarding the growth of mobile games over the past year.

 

If the last 12 months are any indicator of how things are progressing in the mobile gaming world, you might be able to make an educated guess how the next 12 months are going to play out. Same goes for your middleware or game development kit. GameSalad has had its shakeup and their new roadmap shows some signs of progress. GarageGames had their shakeup as well, and also looks like they’ve resumed course with iTorque 2D (iTorque 3D had fallen victim as a result of their shakeup). But, if you had to compare, Corona SDK is far ahead of the pack already with the most integrated features out of the box. 2011 is already 25% done and it’s going to continue to be a crazy ride.

So, what’s in store for BeyondtheTech over the next 12 months? Ultimately, I want to get out of my full-time job and become a full-time app/game developer. Maybe one or a combination of these games and apps out there and in the pipeline can make that happen. With that in mind, I plan to rewrite all my existing games and apps with Corona SDK.

That’s it for now. Sorry for the long read, and I hope you can share some of your dev stories as well on what’s to come.

 

6 Comments

  1. April 16, 2011    

    Hi Raphael,

    It seems like the last year was basically a disappointment with GameSalad. It’s a bit of a surprise to me, as you were one of their biggest fans.

    There have been some mistakes made by the GameSalad team, but they seem to be correcting those mistakes and moving in the right direction. It’s slower than it should be, but there is good progress.

    The removal of the splash screen is huge. The Mac App Store support seems to be a similar feature to Android support… probably even more successful for some developers too. (Example, tshirtbooth seems to be doing well on the Mac App Store. Other than firemaplegames taking advantage of the Amazon’s version of an Android app store, I don’t know of any recent independent developer success stories… not from our group.)

    And regardless if Android is successful or not, GameSalad is supposed to be getting Android support later. Meanwhile, I’m not sure what’s going on with Corona… and Corona doesn’t have web support. (GameSalad web support is lousy, but GameSalad has a head start.)

    Example – Game Center… I don’t see it on Corona’s API list.
    http://developer.anscamobile.com/resources/apis/
    I remember Carlos announcing that Game Center support was coming, but I don’t know if it’s launched yet.

    If GameSalad actually includes Game Center support before Corona, I think that would look bad for the Corona team. “Spring” is now. That means Game Center could be added to GameSalad at any time between now and late June.

    If Corona works better for you, that’s cool… so why waste time looking back? I like the idea that you want to make a business for yourself. So, why limit your options? If you’re doing this full-time, you can easily afford both GameSalad and Corona.

    I think it’s important to have fun! That’s most important with building these games. Don’t make enemies or carry around anger / bitterness. It could negatively influence your work.

    I know there’s a lot of issues with GameSalad, but I didn’t let that stop me from building BOT. While incredibly challenging, I’m having a lot of fun with the project.

    …and I’m still watching Corona. It’s like a carpenter, sometimes you need a hammer and sometimes you need screwdriver. So even though GameSalad might be a little screwy at times, I’ve done some great things with the software.

    • April 17, 2011    

      Mike, I’ll be blunt yet polite – I have regrets that I basically wasted a good six months when I bought but shelved Corona for a few months while blindly believing the team at GameSalad that significant progress was on their horizon, according to them. Back then, they were looking to put good GameSalad devs in the frontline for their GameSalad Accelerator program, but even now, it doesn’t seem like much has taken off from that endeavor. Also, for example, it was over a year ago that they talked about adding support for arrays, and as you can see by the new roadmap, that support won’t be in by the end of this year. I had even suggested a quick workaround by modifying the Load/Save Attribute Behavior to allow an expression, such that it can be indexable, but even that, like most other seemingly easy suggestions and quick fixes, seemed to have fallen on deaf ears for so long. If there’s anything that bothered me more than anything, it is their lack of communication, and it’s honestly insulting why they have never explained their reasons behind it.

      Game Center is currently offered in Corona SDK through a built-in feature of OpenFeint. It will offer it natively without OpenFeint in an upcoming build; but for now, it more than suffices, as my game Rico: Mercenary for Hire is proof that it already works great with OpenFeint and Game Center.

      I don’t know what you mean by “Corona doesn’t have web support,” but if you’re talking about games and apps themselves, my game can do asynchronous HTTP requests and uploads files via FTP. That blows the doors wide open for anything from loading/saving variables on the web to passing values to another app or user, to turn-based multiplayer, and so much more. If you’re talking about technical support, Ansca has an online bug-tracking database, online forums, bug submission form, and direct email to support@anscamobile.com, to which a ticket is opened up.

      Why am I looking back? That’s what the article was about: it’s a recap. Also, like I stated, Steve Felter, GameSalad’s newly appointed CEO, just contacted me yesterday to open discussion regarding the issues and stance of GameSalad. If you recall, I was contacted by COO Frank Coppersmith months back regarding a position, but keeping true to their methods of communication, it just went silent. As a paid user, I will respond to Mr. Felter in hopes to get some very direct answers to some very direct questions (if you have any specific questions you want me to ask, let me know). Another reason I’m looking back is because since I’m still a paid GameSalad Pro subscriber – and like I am a paid licensee with iTorque 2D – I strategically keep all my options open and review them for my benefit, as well as readers like yourself who is considering the various engines for development. Lastly, I want healthy competition. The more one engine advances, other engines will be forced to advance as well (if they want to do it right). It’s obvious that it’s heavily unbalanced, and a drag-and-drop system (the only main advantage GameSalad has) becomes secondary when you realize you can easily code your way through. And I’m proof that it’s easier than you might realize or are willing to believe.

      You’re on GameSalad, and “still watching Corona.” Likewise, I’m on Corona, still watching GameSalad. Competition will and should benefit all of us in the end, so we’re both doing the right thing – ultimately doing what serves us best. I just know that, going forward, I have to have the best tools at hand to get the job done, and right now, that tool is Corona SDK.

      Keep in mind that there’s more to it, too: I’m coding. I’m a programmer now. Corona SDK uses Lua, which is a popular language in the game development industry. It’s what built extremely popular iOS games such as Angry Birds, Diner Dash, Tap Tap Revenge, and Tom Clancy’s H.A.W.X., as well as desktop games such as World of Warcraft and Civilization V. Just check here for a larger list of games made with Lua. Having that under your belt could put you in a different league altogether and help you into the door at big-time game development companies like EA, Gameloft, and ngmoco. It can also lead to learning other programming languages like C++ and Objective-C.

      • April 18, 2011    

        Hi Raphael.

        Well, yeah… there was like a six month wasted period with GameSalad. From the middle of last Summer to the end of the Winter, GameSalad was weak. I’ve pointed out the obvious to the GameSalad community. If you’re paying for an annual subscription, you basically paid for six months of nothing. Yet, the team is fixing things, which is why I don’t think it’s necessary to bash them. The community has made their point and the GameSalad team appears to be listening.

        It wasn’t clear to me that Steve contacted you directly. I didn’t know what you meant. Now that it’s clarified, isn’t that a cool thing? It was only recently that they got the 6.1 million dollars in funding. With more money, it seems more likely that good things can happen at GameSalad.

        When I mean web support, I mean like in the browser… like Flash. I’m planning to build an online arcade, so that’s a feature I’m watching.

        The other online features in Corona are important too, but somewhat disappointing to me. I wasn’t happy with the way the web popup worked. Communicating with a server is a huge feature. I can build some awesome games with that.

        GameSalad also uses Lua, it just hides it from the user. GameSalad is an interpreter, making the development language English and Math. In this computerized era, people shouldn’t have to speak to machines. Those machines should speak to us. I like that GameSalad is software that works harder for me, rather than having to work harder for Corona.

        I didn’t know that about Game Center and Corona. So, I checked it out. http://developer.anscamobile.com/reference/index/openfeintinit …that looks more like the hard work of OpenFeint to me… http://support.openfeint.com/dev/game-center-compatibility/

        It’s cool that you’re comfortable with Corona. I had trouble with it. I also felt like an outsider in that community, as I’m very active member of the GameSalad community. I have some experience with Lua, Objective-C and Java (Android). It wasn’t as fun with GameSalad. The software makes game development more fun.

        That’s my main point. I think it’s great that you’re building a business, but are you having fun? We’re not breaking bricks here. We’re making games. This shouldn’t feel so difficult. HA. And yeah, GameSalad blunders are largely responsible for that. But looking back at 2010, GameSalad was one of the highlights for me.

        If GameSalad wanted to hire you now, would you still go?

        Me, I think it’s better to run my own business. Perhaps it’s better for you that things turned out the way they did. Maybe you would have ended up with no job in Austin, Texas. From what I’ve seen of game companies, they’re really not the most stable of career choices.

        • April 18, 2011    

          If it comes off as bashing GameSalad, I apologize. I made no bones about it in previous posts on blogs and forums: GameSalad is a great game development platform in its own right, and I certainly had a lot of fun using it. But, especially if you have experience with programming as you say you do, you might be having a lot of fun creating a game in GameSalad, but you can’t argue that the limitations of not being able to develop the way you’re used to, or the way you want a particular process to go, or want a part of a game to run can make you to ask them to fix it – or if you’ve become frustrated enough, to try something else.

          I do believe they deserve some sort of public prodding for the rollercoaster ride they unnecessarily put a lot of us through, whether it was GameSalad Direct, the previous lack of a roadmap, the lack of response time for support questions, and finally the lack of their direct explanation of their communication issues. Believe it or not, nearly every meeting and correspondence I had with GameSalad from the beginning of my NDA included phrases like “we can’t say” and “not able to discuss that at this time,” which begged me to ask, “then why the heck do I have an non-disclosure agreement if you’re not agreeing to disclose anything?” In some ways, I felt that the NDA was just to keep some of the more prominent, vocal, and/or equally-demanding GameSalad developers at bay, in hopes to calm down the rest of the community.

          Let it be known that I’ve equally been critical about iTorque 2D during my time with that engine. GameSalad’s animation speed literally lapped the performance of iTorque 2D. In Archangel: FGC, I had 10 simple asteroid sprites with physics, floating across the iPhone’s 320×480 screen, and the framerate started to drop. With Archangel: VMA under GameSalad, I was able to pull off 100 of the same asteroid sprites with physics on the iPad’s 1024×768 screen, and the engine wasn’t even fazed. That alone led me to drop iTorque 2D altogether.

          Now, the fact that Mr. Felter contacted me directly shows a great sign of hope. In retrospect, my blog posts feel like an EECB, and like most EECBs, I only wish it never had to come to this stage to get the attention it deserves. I know the changing of the guard is important for that company. Even before GameSalad Direct was announced, I was literally trying everything I could to get a hold of someone there who knew what was going on. That ultimately led me to apply there for the then-open positions, as I also saw it as a way to right a wrong. When someone within the company (who will remain unnamed) contacted me, he divulged information, only to tell me that “they’d tear [his] head off” for doing so. I was under NDA, so why should it have been a big deal in the first place, and what kind of hierarchy was there that would make him fear for his life (so to speak) in the first place?

          “Would I go?” is a good question, especially in this economy. In some ways, a sure paycheck is better than a varied royalty/commission check. And, even with the new CEO at the helm, I’m more hopeful. But, I’m becoming more proficient in coding again and if I want to be a viable asset to any company, I want to be more than just proficient – I want to be indispensable.

          Some people did pretty well on GameSalad last year, you included. Although, I don’t know if that’s been attributed more towards your Unofficial GameSalad Textbook instead. On a similar note, the third-party tools for GameSalad are relatively expensive (and honestly, many of these “necessary” features should have been part of the GameSalad Creator application to begin with to make it a more robust development platform), compared to many of the third-party tools for Corona that seem to align more with streamlining your work process and add finishing touches to both your game or app, and an already robust platform.

  2. Kevin's Gravatar Kevin
    August 16, 2011    

    Please adapt the sequel to iPhones. I loved the original but can’t afford an iPhone AND an iPad. Please release the sequel to iPhones. Thank you.

  3. Alien's Gravatar Alien
    January 17, 2012    

    Sci Fi prop is a good idea. Is there someplace I can see a demo of it before I purchase?

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