Friday, 30 May 2014

The End of Placement

Its coming to the time for the end of my placement, and in this post, I want to talk about the benefits I feel that exist with doing a placement during a degree in an indie games company. I am fully aware that there are many cases of students disliking placement, but in my case, I have had a really good time.
My placement started 11 months ago in July 2013, and since then I have developed my abilities more than I could have imagined I would and have been offered a great deal of experience. At the time of writing this, I have been a major contributor in developing 4 games/apps, of which 3 have been released for mobile devices: Chicken Jumper, Medical Me and Jellyflug Antibody Assault, and helped testing in 3 other games. As soon as I joined Troll Inc, it became apparent how much I needed to pick up and learn, and with that, I feel that I have learnt so much in a short space of time.

At the start, as with every new placement student at Troll inc, I was instructed to refresh my skills in Unity3D, a simple start, to what was going to become 11 months of hard and rewarding work. At the end of making videos for Unity3D, I was thrown in the deep end where I was given Jellyflug Antibody Assault to work on with 5 other developers at the time. This was to be the first big project I ever worked on. Working on the game covered almost all aspects of making a game for mobile, including getting involved with some art.

As the year went on, and programmers finished placements, Jellyflug Antibody Assault was finished and it was time to move on to another project, this was when I started working on Chicken Jumper and Medical Me, and then not before long working on another app yet to be released.

Working at Troll Inc has been great, not only has it given me amazing experience and helped me develop my skills, it has given me the opportunity to release games and apps to the market, allowed me to work closely with different aspects of the game development team and cemented the idea of working in the games industry. It has also given me the confidence to work on apps and games by myself, which will surely help me a lot in my final year in uni, where I am to design and create a game by myself.

For the report for my placement, I constructed a graph that shows a self analysis of skills learnt over the course of the 11 months and my perspective of their importance to working in the games industry and my degree. I feel it is interesting to look at as a 'look back' at the previous year, as it clearly shows that over the whole year I have learnt new aspects and techniques of creating games and apps for mobile development. It is important to keep in mind that this is a graph with values decided by me based on their importance, with key skills ranging from creating level art to testing and performance optimisation. For each of the new skills I learnt week by week, I rated them on a scale of 1-5, 1 being a minor skill, and 5 being a major skill learnt.

Before I started at Troll Inc, I had only been programming for 2 years, with little knowledge in various languages, and now I feel more competent and have been introduced to new languages and software(for me). I have become really comfortable with C# and the Unity Engine, but I was also given the opportunity to try out Xamarin for app development and explore app development for Windows Phone 8 using Visual Studio. This is something I was not necessarily expecting to do when I signed my contract with Troll Inc, but now I feel comfortable in games and apps development, I will not complain. It also gave me a chance to look at some HTML scripting.

Where it has been difficult financially this year, I will never look back in regret about the experience I gained at Troll Inc, and I will encourage anybody who is thinking of applying for placement, or even a degree with a sandwich course, to give it a go as you only have something to gain. Working in a small indie team of people is really exciting, often with new projects to work on, and surrounded by talented people is a big encouragement to stay up to speed with everyone else where everyday there is a new challenge to face.

I now look forward to working for Troll Inc over the summer, working on another game title and more, then move into final year of university.

Here are the apps I have made at Troll Inc that are released:
Jellyflug: Antibody Assault (Available for iOS and Android)
Chicken Jumper (Available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone)
Medical Me (Available for iOS)

Frozen Fishy out.

Monday, 19 May 2014

New Release: Jellyflug Antibody Assault

Finally, the game is complete and can be downloaded today on iOS and Android. This game has been in development for a very long time, and was the first game to be released that I have worked on. Originally developed by a fellow student and co-worker at Troll Inc, Lewis Farrall. The game is an arcade style game, where you Collect all the germs to win the level and find how far you can reach without being caught by the enemies, but luckily there are powerups to help you. Powerups include; time freeze, magnet and invisibility, all of which can be upgraded through the in game shop, allowing you to spend your hard earned coins.

Eat all the germs! Dodge the enemies! You are the body's first line of defence!!

Play as an Antibody defending the body from outside bacteria in Jellyflug Antibody Assault!!
Collect all the germs to win the level and find how far you can reach but watch out as there enemies out to catch you too!!! Collect Powerups including Time Freeze, Magnets and Invisibility to help you reach as far as you can!!!

When I first joined Troll Inc on my placement, I was set to work on this game, it was definitely a straight in the deep end situation, that taught me so much in the months that followed in developing the game. I was straight into a project which was using a modular grid for AI control, something I had never used before, and hundreds of lines of code for me to start to understand.

When I first began on the project there were 5 of us in the office working on it, so support was always there for when I needed it, but as time went by, placement and employment schemes ended and as that happened, the number of people working on the project were reduced. This meant I had gone from trying to get used to the code and the system in place, to working in the core development of the game, even creating menu art and level art.

Development was to last a long time on this project, from first getting a build onto the iPad to the first round of playtesting. On the first round of playtesting we knew we had a game we were happy with, but the results from playtesting showed that some of the features were not very clear. This added an extra couple of months onto development, but in retrospect, those changes we made in those months, made the game so much stronger. 

We also needed to add in a few plugins to help with integration, starting with in app purchases, Facebook and Twitter, this further increased the time of development.

We also found we had a problem with performance on less powerful devices, so this was an urgent problem we needed to fix, as we compressed textures, reduced objects in the scene, tweaked physics and tried everything possible, we finally have the frame rate at a steady rate. Through all the testing and building to devices, I accumulated over 500 separate builds, which will be a relief to delete the ones which are no longer needed.

I am currently the high score holder for the app, holding a score of 596900 after playing for 41 minutes testing the game, trying to see if the frame rate was a problem, thankfully it wasn't, but that score will always remind me of the problems we had with performance over time playing the game.

But after a long development, I am happy with the end result and happy for it to finally be available to download. From the feedback we got the majority of players enjoyed playing it, and would always come back for more. They wanted to beat their friends and the more they played they understood the game better and had fun playing it.

It is near the end of my placement now, so it is a relief to see the game released and not passed on through another programmer or artist.

iOS Link
Frozen Fishy out.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

New Release: Medical Me

Welcome to Medical Me!

As with Chicken Jumper, Medical Me is an app designed by local school children as part of the Creative Schools App Challenge and developed by us at Troll Inc.

Medical Me was designed by Amy Mullan and Rachel McGivern of Thornhill College, and is intended to make sure that you never lose any medical documents and information again. The app will keep all your medical information in one place and under a secure password to make sure that no one else will be able to access your information.

Development of this app began shortly after getting Chicken Jumper ready, with a reduced size team, of only two developers, and new software there were to be struggles ahead. We were using the Xamarin development suite to create the app, and Xcode for the visual design.

It was important for us to find a balance between a professional and a fun to use app, with a lot of changes early on in the development on the setup, we eventually found the best way to navigate through the app was to use a split view controller to have a master view to control the navigation and have a detail view to handle all the content.

After the second week, we had a working app for iPad with all data entry saving and all emails and passwords working efficiently.  We started to look at extending compatibility and started to get the app working on iPhone. This was to include redesigning all the .xib files in Xcode to make the view actually contain data fields, we also needed to add in a scroll view to nearly every page, to allow all the data to be able to fit on the page, another step we had to learn. This added a week onto the project completion date, but was a necessary step to make sure that users are not only limited to using an iPad, especially considering the design was from local school girls who are more likely to have an iPhone than an iPad.

Now we have a fully complete and functional app that allows you to enter you contact details, register appointments onto the device, keep all your previous and ongoing conditions in easy access, keep your doctors information handy and even add photos to the app if you have photos of prescriptions or dosage instruction you can’t risk losing.

The app is available for download on iOS devices and can be downloaded now off of the app store, if you are constantly having to try and remember your medical details or you just keep forgetting appointments, this app could be perfect for you, to help you keep all that information in one place

Link for iOS Download

Frozen Fishy out.