Casey’s Contraptions Weekly Update (Oct 29)

Casey-Portrait-2.pngI like to be as open as possible about any project I’m working on, whether it’s giving talks, sharing technology, or discussing sales numbers. That goes for projects in progress too, although sometimes it makes sense to wait a while before announcing them. In the case of Casey’s Contraptions, we had an early announcement because of the IGF entry, so we might as well start talking about the game.

At one point I was half-seriously toying with the idea of creating a Twitter account that would show our latest commits to Subversion. Apart from the 140 character limit, that falls in the TMI category.

So instead, I thought it might be interesting to give a weekly update with what Miguel and I have been up to each week. Hopefully it will give you a glimpse at what’s going on behind the scenes. Any feedback in what you want to see more or less of is totally welcome.

Week Of Oct 29

sidebar2.pngBoth Miguel and I felt this was a very slow week. I’m not sure exactly why, but I suspect post-IGF submission syndrome. We’re feeling the mini-crunch we did leading up to it, and now we have lots of not-so-fun tasks to do on our planes. Still, I think we’ve been slowly picking up speed. Next week should be a fully productive one.

Sound Effects

We added audio for in-game sound effects. Up until now we only had background music and no sound effects at all. Yes, that means we submitted to the IGF without sounds. Yikes! We had to cut corners somewhere. Fortunately, since the IGF takes updates, the next update will include some initial sound effects.

We’re using OpenAL for audio playback, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how simple and efficient it is. What a great change from using AVAudioPlayer!

We’re currently trying to define the style of the sound effects. It’s a strange mix of slightly cartoony, but not too much. Hopefully we’ll zero in on that next week.

Sharing Of Levels

Sharing of levels. We can finally share levels through email. It makes sending levels to each other much easier, and it should come in handy for the next round of testing. Of course, we still can’t reference an attached file from an email using the Apple API, so we’re having to submit levels and a screenshot to the server and store it there.

Sandbox editor

There’s more to creating a level than just placing objects. To create a playable level we need a title, a specific background, some goals, and a set of available items in the toolbox. Since we want people to share fully-featured levels, we’re building this UI right into the game, and it’s what we’re going to use to create all the levels ourselves. We can’t wait to see what people create, but, I have to admit, it’s somewhat of a pain to implement :-). We still have a few days of work in this one.

Right now it’s all using UIKit on top of OpenGL. I’m still waiting for a great, cross-platform GUI library + tools that gives us the basic features from UIKit + Interface Builder but it’s fully cross-platform.

Also, while Miguel isn’t looking, I’ll share with you what we have so far for the level editor sidebar.

In case you missed it, Casey has a Twitter account. And apparently he likes Angry Birds quite a bit! 🙂

Also, don’t forget to join the Casey’s Contraptions Facebook page.

Casey’s Contraptions And The IGF

casey.pngToday is the day! We finally announced my next game: Casey’s Contraptions.

This is a bit of a different project than some of my past ones. This one is a collaboration with Miguel Ángel Friginal from Mystery Coconut. I’m doing the programming, Miguel is doing all the art, and we’re both contributing equally to the design and everything else. It has been great having some awesome art to go with the game, but also to collaborate with someone really closely on the game.

Casey’s Contraptions was one of those ideas for a game that I kept wanting to make for quite a while, and now it was finally the right time. It meets the three main requirements that I’m looking for in a game project:

  • Something original
  • Has potential to sell well
  • It involves a creative activity (instead of something violent or destructive)

The idea of games based on mechanical contraptions is not new, but there are surprisingly few games based on it. We are hoping to bring a lot new to the table: Casey himself, unlockable items, interface built from the ground up for multi touch, modern physics simulation, social features, sharing of solutions, and even creation and sharing of new levels. We are really excited to be working on this project and we can’t wait until it’s released.



Casey’s Contraptions started as a prototype back in the summer. After a day or two messing with physics engines and creating some objects, I knew there was something there, so I spent a two more weeks creating an initial version. It wasn’t much more than a tech proof-of-concept, but it was clear that there was a game there (even with my horrible stand-in clip art assets).

I sent that built to a couple of friends for initial feedback. It was laughably early, but that’s the time when it’s possible to really make radical changes to the design. I knew the people I was sending it to a) were used to seeing games at early stages, and b) were not afraid to tell me if something sucked. Actually, I told them to skip the nice parts and just focus on everything that they didn’t like. Not surprisingly, that initial feedback was crucial, and really shaped how Casey’s Contraptions evolved since then.

Shortly after that, Miguel joined me full time on the game and we dove right into it. For our development, we used a super light-weight agile approach: We have high-level “user stories”, and two week iterations. Iterations are somewhat flexible (plus minus a few days) and we don’t strictly estimate the tasks, just take on as many user stories as we think we can do in that time. The important parts are to always be focused on the most important stories, and to take them to completion each time.

Miguel lives in Seattle and I’m in Carlsbad, so we do all of our work remotely. We use Subversion hosted remotely, and we’re in constant communication through iChat and email. That allows us to iterate on a piece of art, an item behavior, or a menu item multiple times very quickly. It’s not as good as sitting side by side, but I haven’t felt like working remotely has gotten in the way at all.

After a busy month and a half, we got to where you see it today, and we submitted the game to the Independent Games Festival (IGF).


Independent Games Festival

Some people have asked me why I wanted to submit it to the IGF. I have to be honest and admit that I had never really considered not submitting it.

I imagine everybody reading this blog knows about the IGF already. It’s the closest thing to the Movie Academy Awards that we have for independent games. There are many reasons why you’d want to submit your game. The amount of press and prestige associated with winning or even being nominated as a finalist is huge. The prize money is a nice touch, but it’s not really enough to make much of a difference in the game itself (I’m talking about the Mobile Category prize). Of course, there are many other fantastic games that are competing at the IGF (a total of almost 400 games!), so it’s hard to count on becoming a finalist.

One very real and concrete reason to enter the IGF was to have a very well-defined milestone. It wasn’t that different from one of our iterations, except that we had a real customer (the IGF judges) and a non-flexible deadline. That made us really focus our efforts and put in some extra effort in the last couple of weeks to get it in shape for the IGF. Looking back at the game just a couple of weeks ago, it’s amazing how far it came in that time.

igf.gifFor me personally, the biggest reason to enter the IGF is because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve followed the IGF since the first one in 1999 (which was, coincidentally, the first GDC I attended). Every time I walked through the booths or watched the award ceremony, I wanted to be part of it. So finally, this was my chance to do it. It was a great experience going through the process. Now the next life goal will be to actually make it as a finalist.

Submitting Casey’s Contraptions had another, unexpected side effect: It tipped our hand and forced us to announce the game sooner than we were planning on doing. It wasn’t until a few days before the submission that we realized the list of IGF games would go public right away. Originally we were planning on announcing the game at 360iDev in mid November, but this forced us to move the schedule up somewhat. Hopefully that will be a good thing and will allow us to build some good buzz in the upcoming months all the way until the release. Keep an eye out for a gameplay video and some hands-on previews in the next few weeks.

If you want to keep up to date with Casey’s Contraptions development, join the Facebook group, follow Miguel and me on Twitter, or keep an eye on the Touch Arcade thread.

This post is part of iDevBlogADay, a group of indie iPhone development blogs featuring two posts per day. You can keep up with iDevBlogADay through the web site, RSS feed, or Twitter.