Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas / Yule / Hanukkah to one and all!

Thanks for the support over the last year. Your comments and interest keep Fluttermind going more than any amount of sales.

2010 should be interesting. Flaboo! 1.10 and beyond will be available, and perhaps even the Mothwing Empire will see the light of day.

That's it - no more to see here, so go and enjoy the festivities.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Global leaderboards now in!

Not much of a blog, but global leaderboards are now in, thanks to Open Feint. It'll need some testing before I'm happy to send it off, but it's in! Woohoo!

That's 1 day turnaround time, folks. That's what I love about the iPhone...

Also, website is updated with video.

Holidaybegone - 1.01 imminent

So Flaboo is out and responses have been very good so far. For those of you who have bought it I send a huge 'Thankyou'. Please spread the word if you've enjoyed the game. If you're feeling particularly generous write a review or score the game in the App Store. It all helps. Indeed, it's vital for a tiny company such as mine to have good word-of-mouth in order to compete with the larger outfits.

Since the game was launched earlier than I expected I was planning on taking a break until January before doing any further work or PR for Flaboo!. You know, put my feet up and play those games I said I was going to play when I left Lionhead.

Things never work out that way, do they?

Several people have rightly pointed out that my lovely Flaboo! music isn't what they wanted to listen to while playing the game. Apparently some people want to play Norwegian black metal ("Nightspirit, nightspirit, Embrace my soooooooooooul!" intones Ihsahn) while bouncing a fat yellow chick into a bright puffy-cloud-filled sky. Others want to play the spoken works of Sylvia Plath and weigh up the relative merits of various white goods as facilitators of suicide while playing.

As a result, I just uploaded Flaboo! 1.01 to t he App Store. You now have the option to continue playing your lovely iPod music regardless of suitability to the game's mood. The update should be available in the next couple of weeks.

Now to rest... I mean, code the global high scoring. Hopefully I'll be done by Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Piracy? Already?

I'm doing very little work, marketing-wise, at the moment. Version 1.1 will be coming out in January with global high scoring. I'm waiting for that to be finished before doing too much PR. As such, I expect little initial interest in Flaboo! Word-of-mouth takes time and nobody knows a game exits until PR happens. Right?

Thus, I am - perhaps naively - stunned to find there are already countless crack sites out there with Flaboo! listed among their downloadable content. That's less than a week.

I have always assumed piracy was linked to price-point and that with Flaboo only being $1 I had little chance of being added to the list of cracked software.

As I say, naive.

If they can't afford a dollar then I can only imagine that the guys pirating it are genuinely needy: you know, destitute, smelly individuals with little chance or hope of a good life living in cardboard boxes while eking out a living selling matchsticks supplemented by their sales of iPhone games from the backs of lorries piled high with louse-infested sacks of games.

Hang-on... these are kids with iPhones.


Second, I'm surprised by the number of random people who now contact me thus: Dude - your game looks sweet and I'd love to give it a 5 star review in the app-store. Can you give me a promo code?

These aren't reviewers - who are entirely welcome to a code - but regular kids who just fancy trying their luck. To avoid paying a dollar. One. Dollar.

All I need is a few reviews saying: 'Dis shud be free' and I'll have the set.

The wonderful thing about technology is that it is a social catalyst: society morphs with it, often becoming unrecognisable in a short span of time. Some of that change is bad. The internet's anonymity and cheap data transfer have made piracy more pervasive than ever before.

However, with each negative change that new technology brings there is a corresponding change for good. In this particular case the world's vocabulary has been increased by one wonderful word.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Flaboo released

Flaboo! is now available here.

Overall, the release process was relatively easy, painless and surprisingly quick. It only took about 12 days in total. That's from 'Agh! I have sent the game off! I hope it works!' through 'What the hell is this form? What do they mean, "Please name the primary beneficiary?"' all the way to, 'Yay! My game is available for people to buy! Wow. Now I have to do the work in supporting it!'

Many thanks to the folks who have bought Flaboo! and also to those who have said kind things about the game. If you're feeling particularly generous, an iTunes rating would help build customer confidence and help the little yellow chick to fly even higher. Although he really should do more exercise, too.

Next: global leaderboards and Facebook integration!

P.S. Forgive the lack of wit or humour in this post. I'm jetlagged from a two-week behemoth theme park holiday in Disney World.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Music and Up, Up and Away!

I went through three musical revisions on this project. I feel a little like Goldilocks.

First effort (rough and unfinished) was this. Feedback was that it was a little too cold. See - porridge analogy? No? Never mind. Consider this a similie free zone. After spending over a day coming up with various ways of microwa... (no metaphors either) 'humanising' it a bit, I decided to try again with something completely different. Something delicate, moving, and... stringy?

As a result, my second effort was this. I composed the strings on - believe it or not - an alto glockenspiel. I think it's musically successful, but seriously depressing in a 'This Mortal Coil' way.

Also, as I really have no ability whatsoever with drums, I used a Tenori-On to come up with a glitch beat, but the result was... um... variable. No, that's too polite.

Dear God.

The drums.

They sounded great in my little studio/office, but if you play it on anything like an iPhone or iPod speaker...



As a result, I decided to go with this piece I composed a while ago. I think it fits and hopefully will neither aggravate nor detract from the playing experience. Mayhap it'll even enhance the mood for people playing on headphones.

To the App Store we go!

As of the 26th of November, 2009, Flaboo was sent off to the Apple App Store approval folks. Hopefully they'll be kind to this fat yellow chick and allow him to be released into the wild where he belongs.

Wish us both luck, and keep a look out for this little icon at an App Store near you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Flaboo! Off to Apple Next Week!

I've learned a few things over the last month. They were odd lessons: the sort you pay for without knowing exactly what it was you wanted to learn, and then sit weeks later, honking out scales on an instrument the size of a walrus wondering if the strange, threatening man who claims to know how to play the tuba is actually a music teacher, or a brickie whose house you turned up to one day who thinks it's hilarious you pay him £20 a lesson when he wouldn't know Chopin from Rodan the spikey-nosed monster Godzilla once fought.

Here's a clue:

(The top one is Chopin)

Believe it or not, this wasn't a massive tangent. No, really. Oh, maybe it was. Anyway...

Lesson 1: Names are very important. In my head, 'Bounce' has been 'Bounce' for as long as I've been thinking of it. That's ages (a random value which expands or diminishes an amount corresponding to the distance to the nearest Microsoft employee).

Despite this, apparently, other people in the world have the gall-faced-bear-cheek to think their
game is more deserving of the moniker. In fact, I can't help but feel that - in light of the most recent baby boom (yes, of course having more kids than usual during the world's worst recession is the best of all possible plans - no really) there'll be a lot of cheques written to and from Bounce Smith, Bounce Jones, and all the other little Bounces out there once I reach my dotage. Or maybe there won't. Perhaps cheques will be treasured and meted out like golden tickets to a version of Willi Wonka's chocolate factory run by the same people who own Pound Land...


The bottom line is that there's already a 'Bounce'. And a 'Bounce On'. And 'Bounce Up'. And 'Mr Bounce'. And so on.

As a result, it seems that only coining a brand new, ludicrous, non-existent name will stop 2 billion people having got there before you. As a result, Bounce is now 'Flaboo!'

Look left and you will see the title screen in all its majesty. Look right to continue reading.

See. I wasn't joking. 'Flaboo!'

In this year's 'flu season, can I suggest you all start sneezing 'Flaboo!' whenever possible? Please? I can't afford marketing.

In renaming the game, I've embraced the silliness suggested by the title and made various changes.

1) The game now yells 'FLABOO!' at you when you start. Just in case you forgot how silly the name was when you read the icon on the app page.

2) I've given random pieces of sage advice (like 'use an air horn when kids cry in restaurants) that float about in the background. Obey them!

3) Coffee now plays a large part in the game. I know that's not strictly 'Flaboo' related, but I have started calling coffee 'a nice hot steaming cup of Flaboo!' just to get people talking. As I said, marketing is expensive.

Lesson 2: So, music is a funny thing. Not funny 'haha', more funny in an 'oh, why did you have to sit next to me on the tube, you strange, smelly, vaguely threatening man - and didn't you take me for tuba lessons for a year?' kind of way.

For months I've been using Boards of Canada's 'Music is Math' as a stand-in for my own music. I wanted to ensure that the game's mood was all set up before embarking on a musical spree and creating something potentially jarring with the game's rhythm.

My usual musical outings sound like this. It's a little sloooooooowwwwww for a game as bouncy (I mean 'flabooey') as mine. But since the game's finished I now have no excuse for not writing the music and getting it just right.

I wanted Flaboo! (gesundheit) to be 'all of a piece' with no part jarring, or seeming out of place. A one-man-show like mine is probably the easiest way to pursue this... or it would be if I could write happy music with a modicum of sincerity.

I'm not a miserable git, but I don't like my music too saccharine: unless it's so happy it comes around the other side of 'twee' and starts sounding sweeter than unicorn farts. Then I'm up for it. Like múm.

As a result, Flaboo! (Oi? You looking at my pint?) now has music that sounds... um... surreal. Anyone remember Marble Madness's weird FM-synth ambience? Imagine that with a slightly reluctant beat and you're half-way there. The other half is a wide open vista dotted with the carcasses of worn-out gods who have been ignored to death. And twinkly bell-ish bits.

As a result, this game about a little chick who desperately wishes to fly despite his excessive weight now has a very specific, unexpected character. It's already a slightly strange game and it just got a little stranger. Personally, I like it. I hope others will, too.

I'll update this post at some point soon, after I've done the final mix.

Lesson 3: People love repetition. And people hate repetition. As developer, I've now played the game over a thousand times. Personally, I got a little tired of playing the same bits over and over again, even though I loved the simple, rhythmic nature of the game.

In order not to bore myself into an awkward somnolent state, Flaboo! (who?) now randomises every aspect of the game once you get over a certain height. Didn't like that stack of single clouds on your last game? Well, this time you might be plunged into darkness, with only lightbulbs to stave off the shadows. Next time it'll be different.

In addition to the randomisation the game intelligently alters the pacing of the game so there is a constant rhythm of tension and release. Not enough games do this. They are either easy or hard, or random mixes of both. Who hasn't put down a game because of some stupid difficulty spike?

Flaboo! looks at your game-playing session as a waveform and adjusts the difficulty dynamically, flowing neatly from 'challenging' to 'comfortable' and back again as time goes on. As a result, you're never bored and you're never frustrated. I believe this is where the populace usually says: "Result!" I wouldn't know - I don't get to see them much.

Anyhow, once I've remixed the music, this game is going off to Apple for approval.

Please wish both me and the little chick good luck.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Release... pending

I can't believe it, but I'm almost done.
Bar saving out high scores, options to turn the sound off, pause screens and similar trivia, it's done.

Best of all, the game is really good. I'd buy it (although saying that reminds me of Buffalo Bill preparing for some naked mirror dancing in Silence of the Lambs - but maybe that's just me. Wait... I'm drifting...)

...and I've always thought you can tell how good a game is by how long the testing process takes.

Testing the game takes a long time. This is not because there's so much to debug (it's a modest little title, as it was supposed to be), but because I keep forgetting I'm supposed to be debugging it and find myself - half an hour later - staring at the Game Over screen wondering what it is I was supposed to be doing.

After the enormous massive-team, aeon-long timescale endeavours of the Fable series, this is a small, simple, addictive, fun little game. No feature-bloat. No agonising over key design decisions, story points, or cuts, and now it's pretty much done.

There has been something quite wonderful about the process of making Bounce, and the demands it has placed on me, personally, rather than some other unfortunate. Turnaround speed and feature implementation is frequently measured in minutes.

I make up to eight builds a day. That's not just eight compiles, but eight instances where I feel such a significant amount has changed that I need to individually name and backup the file to avoid significant (and heartbreaking) loss.

Here's an example. Up until yesterday, the beginning of the game was far too abrupt. From the start menu you tapped the screen and you were off! The time limit began ticking down immediately. It was jarring and stressful, nothing like the calm, rhythmic experience that the game was supposed to be.

As such I decided to add a countdown to the beginning, in cute Japanese racing-game fashion. I went downstairs to my sound recording PC, booted up Audacity and counted down into a microphone three times. I layered these over each other, then pitch-shifted the sample up an octave. I then split the file into the individual sounds and plonked them in dropbox, a remarkable little file-sharing and backup utility.

I returned upstairs to the dining table where I code (my wife, Kara, is appalled that our main living space has somehow become my office) and dragged the files from dropbox into the game project. Done.

I could see the outcome and efficacy of my design decision less than half an hour after I made it. I repeated this process about 6 times for the different sounds and found I had finished the entire game's sound effect set before lunch. Yes, alright, I did at one point have a balloon that sounded like a very specific brand of American flushing toilet, but I went back and changed it. In minutes. Not months.


I must make mention here of the wonderful sfxr, without which the whole sound creation thing would have been much more painful. Anyone who ever worked on the C64 will find themselves crying a small tear of nostalgia.

So now I have a game sitting in front of me. It requires a few cosmetic tweaks, but it's pretty much done...

...or is it? Now I have to make a decision whether to release early and update, or alternatively to keep adding to the feature-set. I mean, I have a great idea for a way to use rare cheeses in the game. And don't get me started on how a hard-hat could really turn the whole bonus experience on its head.

Perhaps things haven't changed quite so much after all.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Back to (Film) School

I have just completed a condensed film course at the London Film Academy. It was only a week long, but somewhere a time-dilation took place and we managed to squash in about 6 months of material.

As a result of my one-week course, I am now an expert in all aspects of film-making, and may now point at cinema screens and exclaim, "Oh, nicely done, Quentin" or, "What were you thinking, Mr Spielberg?" with a sense of fraternal entitlement.

I wish.

Instead, I now have a new-found respect for all crew and cast on even the tackiest, most inept atrocities committed to celluloid (Mr Boll - call me now so we can share a bottle of wine and weep together over the beauty of your work).

Most surprisingly, knowing what I know (that film-making is impossible) I realise that all films must be imaginary. All of them. Star Wars? I made it up, mate. Never 'appened.

You do not concur? How can I convince you? Ah! Let us examine the plight of the 'focus puller' as an example of film-making's impossibility.

The focus puller is the chap responsible for keeping the camera in focus at all times. As a humbler member of the pseudo-military film-making hierarchy, your average focus puller is not allowed to look into the camera viewfinder. Ever. It's practically a firing offense. He is also not supposed to look at the director's monitor either, as that's not a true representation of what is in focus. Despite this, he is expected to keep the camera in focus at all times, leaving the camera operator to concentrate on framing and keeping the camera-hogging boom-mike out of shot (anyone see the original cut of Arachnophobia? I swear the boom mike should have had top billing).

So what does this poor unfortunate use in order to keep the camera in focus? What sophisticated technologies does he employ to work his craft? Does he staple a bat to the side of the camera and listen to its plaintive cheeps in order to determine the distance to the actor's nearest eye? Perhaps he employs a laser sight with a specific focal range, like a redneck rifleman at an Obama health-care-policy press-conference?


He uses a tape measure.

The poor bugger runs around on the set, placing himself approximately where the actors plan to be, measures how far it is from there to the camera, then uses a pen to mark the position on his white focus wheel. He repeats this for every mark the actor plans to hit.

When the action starts and the (expensive) film stock is being recorded to, he wiggles the wheel around trying to match up to the marks he made previously at the appropriate times, ensuring that the in-between-points are also in focus. If the actors miss their marks by a bit - which they will - he has to... um... guess how far they are from the camera.

Yes, that's right. Guess.

This is only one small part of the insanity that is film-making. I can add others: having to load camera film with your hands thrust through holes in a small black bag (note: if you have a bit of fluff in the bag with you, it's likely to end up on film more than the actors or even the boom-mike).


Of course all these screw-ups (focus, fluff and the rest) are only discovered once the film has been developed. This is usually when the actors have gone home, and long after you've lost that 4 hour slot where the local council shut down Oxford Street for your car-chase.

I can now see why David Lynch said he's never using film ever again.

This insanity is not limited to the shooting period. Production is equally demanding. As a producer you need to be able to read a script and spot every single cost involved.

Say one scene in your opus, 'Cockneys Tighten Their Bottom Lips and Point at Each Other a Lot,' features a car chase scene in Oxford Street. The scene also has a live chicken in it. In the scene a car drives up the side of Next and onto the top of a double-decker bus, but note it also has a chicken in it.

As a producer, you need to look at that scene and spot that that you now require an 'animal wrangler'. You then have to find your chicken-specialist-animal-wrangler, ask if he's available, find out his hourly fee, factor that into the cost of the scene and return to the director to tell him he can only have one car in his car chase because the chicken costs too much to shoot. Or that the car will have to bypass next and drive up the side of Primark instead.

So production is also impossible.

While on my course, I was also surprised to learn that a director has relatively little to do with the cameras, instead focusing on the actors' performance. The overall 'look' is very much down to the director of photography's efforts.

I also realised that writers are rarely consulted in the development process after the screenplay is finished, regardless how much the film might be their idea. I think this might be a recurring theme throughout all aspects of the entertainment industry.

So, other than scaring small baby jesuses out of me, what else did I learn?

The course covered writing for cinema, how to direct actors without annoying them, how to ensure your shots are not ambiguous (you might see a piece of paper and know it's a death threat, 'cos you wrote the script, but the audience will just see a piece of paper), lighting, camera operation, editing, sound recording and production.

I'd love to say that all this learning culminated in a day of actual film-making, but that would be a lie. We filmed our scripts after only 3 days of lectures. For the shoot, we needed to have the final draft of the script worked out, discussed and agreed upon in advance, which necessitated home-work.

My group partner, Lucy Wigmore, and I made a short film called 'Sign Language'. It was the touching story of a poor, abused, emotionally fragile female hand, and a boisterous, initially insensitive male hand, and how the two of them close the massive emotional divide between them. It lasts just over 1 minute. I'm quite pleased with the result, but can't share it because there's a chance it could be entered into a festival (and festivals discount anything publicly available including YouTube, or HateTube as it is rapidly becoming).

Overall, this course made me realise how leisurely and stress-free our little corner of the entertainment industry is by comparison.

Just think; in videogames, if you screw up, you might have to stay late one evening to fix the mistake. In film, you have to explain to a producer and an irate director how the entire set has to be re-built from scratch because your hands were a bit fluffy when you loaded the film and Mr Lint now has a starring role.

Finally, I must thank our DoP, Mark Carey, from whom I learned a valuable piece of movie lingo.


'Ow. Ow! OOWWWW!!!'


'Please remove this crocodile clip from my finger. You have just clamped it to the hottest light on set.'

Sorry, Mark.


On an unrelated note, this is a lovely example of the sort of thing that got me into coding in the first place.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

It's a Wonderful Life

When I first left Lionhead to start this little venture, many feared for my mental health. They had images of me spending the remainder of my days attired only in a large, saggy pair of y-fronts, my critical and intellectual faculties slowly being eroded by the soothing wash of daytime TV, lamenting past glories like a WWII veteran on remembrance Sunday.

Bar the occasional foray into the world of the 'Dave' TV channel, and the bizarre realisation that I have a strange fondness for - of all things - Top Gear (I loathe cars, hate driving, and have no ambitions ever to own a pair of string-backed gloves) I have largely managed to avoid this fate.

My days are now filled to the brim with sitting in front of XCode, mad dashes around the internet desperately attempting to fill in the large blanks in my game-engineering knowledge that have developed over the last seven or so years of 'being a creative director', musing in coffee shops, and hoping to all that is unholy that nobody 'does my game before I do'.

Far from being bored and be-panted or lamenting the passing of great projects from my life I have instead discovered the incredible motivating forces of naivete and ignorance. There is a colossal universe of things I don't know out there. And it's bloody marvelous.

A couple of weeks back, I was looking at Victorian damask wallpaper patterns (which are - strangely - going to play a large part in my future), old eastern European light bulbs and the soothing aesthetic qualities of dust. This week, I'm renewing my acquaintance with verlet integration, parallax scrolling and alpha channels.

When I started Big Blue Box, one of the things I loved about it was that I had the ability to ensure my working environment was agreeable to me at all times - we all did. Visitors may well remember our rather curiously individual lamps (mine was a chintzy red affair with a tasseled lampshade) and refusal to use anything other than indirect lighting. This control largely passed once our company had gone from 'bizarre cottage industry base' to 'colossal, mature development studio'.

Seeing as I'm now my own boss (I'm thinking of trying to undermine myself in the eyes of me so I can wrangle my way into a more senior position) I'm finding a great, simple pleasure in being able to craft my day's mood as I see fit through lighting, musical ambiance, and even physical location.

I've never worked so hard in all my life. Nor have I ever felt quite so personally rewarded.
Fluttermind's first game's main hero, an overweight yellow chick with a cheery expression, is now alive and sitting on my iPhone blinking cheerfully at me. There's a way to go yet, but it's really coming along.

What will tomorrow bring? No idea, but I really can't wait to find out.

Back to Fever Ray and a glass of red wine, I think.

P.S. Here's a Yann Tiersen track for all of you out there who have ever tried doing anything creative:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Farewell to Albion

On 22nd May 2009 I left Lionhead and the world of Fable for good.

I started Big Blue Box Studios on the 10th of June 1998 with my brother, Simon, and artist, Ian Lovett. We had no idea what we were getting into, but by God we were going to give it a try. Our original developer diaries are still here, for those interested.

On leaving - having spent 11 years in largely the same company - I found myself thinking about many of the things that seemed important to me at the company's original inception.

Only Nice Folk Need Apply
Let's be honest. Game development is a little wee tiny tad of a bit stressful at the best of times. After 36 hours straight, we developers are inclined to be less fragrant than we'd like, and perhaps driven to the extreme ends of our damaged personalities; psychotic rage, catatonia, repeating meaningless streams of numbers over and over again (12), all sorts.

As such, a sunny, friendly disposition is a godsend. We'd worked with plenty of talented people in the past, but we also appreciated the necessity of working with people both talented and... 'nice', people who'd have your back when the chips were down (and metaphors extended beyond their natural limits).

I think my feelings (6) toward those still at Lionhead is a testament to that policy, and the fact that it's upheld even today.

Never Get Big (you know, 19+ staff)
Anyone who knows me will be aware that I'm not exactly razor-sharp when it comes to the picayune details, so hopefully Ill be forgiven if I report figures less than accurately.

If my memory serves me, at its very largest Fable's team reached the size of approximately... um, 1 billion staff members. Or thereabouts. That does include contractors, of course.

There have been whole forests devoted to the subject of (154) increasing team sizes, and the detrimental effects to communication caused by increasing the workforce by even one small person (and by God, we really tried to make the height restriction policy work).

Despite this wealth of knowledge, somewhere along the line, we failed, and broke our 18-man limit. By over a hundred people.


That's a lot of birthday doughnuts. One set every 3.56 days. Fat (19285).

Being Useful
Having gone from 3 (3) guys in a bedroom to our galaxy-sized team, I found that at some point I'd mysteriously stopped actually... making anything.

Sure, there's some of my dialogue in the Fable games, together with naming conventions, concepts, characters, scenes and so on that I guided, suggested, or specced out (the Music Box dream sequence from Fable 2 being the largest and most recent example), but for me that's not quite the same as something created from beginning to end without any other external party.

On reflection, it sounds a little childish, like the toddler who wants to walk up stairs without mummy's help.

But on the other hand, I didn't start BBB to become management. I joined this industry in 1985 with the firm belief that I would always remain a developer.

Sayonara Fable
So, with two Fable games and Albion behind me, it's time to do something new.

Who knows where Fluttermind will go. That's why I chose the butterfly motif (also I'm not enormously directed in my thinking (22)). For now, I'm simply delighted to be able to make something again using my own hands, to have a reason to draw, code and learn new tools.

I know about another billion iPhone developers have gone there before, but I don't care.

This industry is supposed to be about delight. The delight we feel when something appears on screen in a magic of pixels, from nothing. The delight we feel when we explore other people's worlds.

And the cost? All you need is a little time, patience, and motivation.

Let's see where we flutter, shall we?

[ is alive]