Gaming Your Way

May contain nuts.

An interview with Jean-Philippe

We recently discovered far and away the best debug / profile tool for Flash devs, "TheMiner". It's just a pity we found it so late into Outposts development, but it still helped us remove various mouse listeners that I'd missed ( I'm really badly anal about killing those, and I was shocked how many I'd actually missed ). It's now an essential part of our toolkit, and I was lucky enough to ask the author, Jean-Philippe Auclair, some questions about it.
 

Hi Jean-Philippe, can you give us a quick run down on your history with Flash.

I started coding as3 about 4 years ago. Before that I was a C++ Software Engineer on a Nintendo DS 2D/3D game engine.
When I think about this, it seams like it all started last week. 
During the last 4 years, Flash changed so much that it's really hard to follow the pace, even for a guy who follow a LOT of RSS feed and twitter.

So I started Flash 4 years ago as an AI developper, leading a game project at Frima Studio in partnership with a local university.
Then I became Lead Software Architect on Frima studio MMO game engine, doing supervision of npth frontend and backend architecture.
During this time I also started a technical blog about Flash for hardcore developer. 
By always trying to push the bundaries of flash, I found out a lot of trick to optimize flash content and get the most out of it.
Because of this, I have been selected to participate to molehill pre-release program very early.
At this point, frima studio decided to invest a lot in this new promizing technologie and I have been working on Molehill for almost 18 months now.
We were choosen and featured by Adobe at Max 2010 with ZombieTycoon in flash Molehill, and MAX 2011 with Neema Project. 
Using this new knowlegde, I gived multiple session for frima about Flash3D at Flash Gamming summit 2010, MAX 11, GDC Online 2011 and Dig 2011.


I think every game dev plans to do something like this, but no one ever gets round to it. How did you find the motivation to actually pursue it ?

Well.. It all started with a blog article I made: http://jpauclair.net/mm-cfg-secrets/
In this post, I'm talking about a lot of undocumented features of flash using the mm.cfg file.
One of the feature is "PreloadSWF". A nice way to launch a flash application before the main SWF is being executed.
So I started exploring this, and after a few articles, it became clear that "something" could be done with this.
I opened a google code repository, and it became FlashPreloadProfiler. A tool that can be use to track some data exposed by flash.
After a months of part-time developement, there was already tons of cool features, and special algorithm to get the most of the exposed protocols, and even more! 

Being able to dig deep inside flash, and make it easy for people to use it with this software and my blog was what kept me going.

Recently, I decided to start making something more serious out of this, without changing the way I feel about it. 
This is when FlashPreloadProfiler died, and TheMiner was born. A complete solution with a lot of features added, with proper website, bugbase, forums, etc.


There are lots of cool things in there, was there anything which you thought "This will never work" and then surprised yourself ?
 
Many of the features are not "out of the box". I had to spend a LOT of time to finaly come up with solutions.
Getting the Stack of some listeners. Merging the instanciation of object with function call traces. Having urls of some loaders. etc. 

Any major technical hurdles you found, and how did you get around them ?

It's hard for me to say "it can't work"... there is always a way.. 
While doing this profiler, some of the things I tried never got an answer.

So even today, it's really hard to say if I should continue to look for something, or I should find something else to look at!
 

What future plans have you got for TheMiner ( That you can tell us about ) ?

Big plans!

I keep a list of what will be added next, what features should be re-worked, etc.
The problem is, each time I check one of the Item of that list, 2 or 3 items have been added to it, so the list is expanding!

We also have a bugbase to support people working with it. 

And finaly, TheMiner will soon have a new brother. But I won't say to much about this for now!
 

What's the response been to it so far ?

It just started, but it goes better that I was expecting it.

I was thinking "something like this take time to get known". But because FlashPreloadProfiler was there for some time now, and hardcore developer generally hang around my blog, the wave was big enought to get known pretty fast.
The free non-commercial version has already been downloaded multiple hundred times.
And since there was already thousands of developpers using FlashPreloadProfiler, the Pro version of TheMiner became a necessity for a lot of people using it for commercial project. So it's going pretty well also.

The community also responded very well by doing translation in multiple languages.
Right now, TheMiner is available in English, Spanish, French, Dutch, Russian, Hindi, Chinese (traditional and simplified) and Turc

FlashPreloadProfiler has been a great adventure over the last two years.

TheMiner is just the beginning of something even greater.

I'd really like to thanks everybody that followed me during this time, and those who helped make what it became. Thank you.

www.sociodox.com/theminer

@jpauclair

I am now an official Miner

And I'd really like to thank Jean-Philippe for his time, and I honestly can't recommend theMiner enough, it's one of the few tools we can recommend without a moments hesitation. The free version isn't crippled in anyway, you've literally got nothing to lose by trying it.

Squize.

An afternoon chat with Ryan

Our friend Ryan of Freelance Flash Games News released a book last year, "Getting your Flash game sponsored". You can guess what it's about, it's not an overly cryptic title.
We were lucky to conduct an interview with Ryan about it and thought it may be an idea to share what was said.

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Q
: There's a saying that we all have a book in us, why did you decide to write this one ?
The idea for the book came back in December of 2009. I had taken some time off from writing for my site to focus on personal things, but something drew me back to the flash games scene. Maybe it was the cold, maybe I just missed it.
As I began to re-enter into the flash games community, it soon came to my attention through FGL that many developers were having trouble getting their games sponsored. A lot of these developers had quality games too.
I noticed there was information out there to help these developers, but no one had every compiled it together into one, easy-to-understand guide. I had already written a series of articles on helping developers get their games sponsored for my site, so decided I should expand those into a book to help these developers.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into.


Q
: I'm guessing it took more than a weekend to knock out ? How long did it actually take ?

About 9 months: a few months of researching, then a whole lot of writing, with some more researching throughout.


Q
: What's the goal of the book ?

My main goal is to help developers. If I’ve helped a couple newbies get their first sponsorships, and a couple experienced developers make more money, then I’ll consider it a success.
On a more personal note, it’d be nice to sell a couple hundred copies :D


Q
: Here's a nasty question, after a 9 month gestation, would you want to do it again ?

Definitely.
You learn so much by writing a book. I discovered more about the sponsorship process as I delved into the research of the book, but it’s more than that. There are so many things that go into the creation of a book. You’ve got to set up a plan, come up with an outline, research those sections, talk to important people in the industry, write the sections, format it all and then prepare for the release. But out of all that work, comes this creation that you’ve made, and all the people you’ve gotten to know through it.
If anyone reading this ever gets the chance, give writing a book a try. You might be surprised at what you can do.


Q: Bit of a cheeky one, how has the response been so far ?

The response has been pretty good. The book peaked with a lot of attention in the first week from blogs and social media sites, but there are a couple big promotion ideas I’ve got lined up for the future.
Since releasing, I’ve heard a lot from newer developers about how useful the book was in helping them go through the sponsorship process. Experienced developers haven’t had as much to say, but the book is more geared towards beginners and intermediates so that’s to be expected.


Q
: if you had to chance to go back, what would you change ?

I wish I had used a different release page starting out. I had been following a course on how to showcase the best aspects of your book to your readers, and didn’t realize how sleazy it looked until I released the book.
I feel like this put a number of developers on the fence about buying the book, developers that might have really benefited from it. I switched over to a classier sales page that I felt more comfortable with, but unfortunately the damage had already been done.


Q: Last one, what’s in store for you and Freelance Flash Games in the future?

Personally, I’ve got a couple big plans ahead of me. College is the main one. I’m definitely looking forward to that. But there’s also a few business related ideas running around in the back of my head too; we’ll see if they end up materializing or not.
Regarding Freelance Flash Games, I’m looking to keep publishing helpful articles for developers. The book has really increased the visibility of my site, and I’m hoping I can use that to help more developers. I don’t want to reveal too much in case something falls through, but cooperation with some industry notables isn’t out of the question.

I'd like to thank Ryan for such a great interview, and now it's time for the really important bit. "Getting your Flash game sponsored" is available to buy at this link. If you're new to the whole world of sponsorship, either as a new and up coming developer or a jaded agency dev who needs that sweet sweet taste of indie, I can really recommend it. It'll give you a huge head start, and that can never be a bad thing.

Squize.

GamesChart Q&A

This is a whopper of a post. You may want to grab a drink before you sit down to read it. Ready ?

Barry kindly granted us an interview about GamesChart as I imagine a lot of you have a lot of questions about it, just like we did. That's more than enough intro, there's about 8 meg of text below.


Q: Twitter pitch. 140 chars or less, what exactly is GamesChart ?

How about 39..? ‘GamesChart is the chart for online games’.


Q: Slightly longer pitch, sell it to us.

There’s three sides to this coin really, in terms of benefits GamesChart helps Developers seed and monetize their games, GamesChart helps Publishers drive cost effective targeted traffic to their sites and GamesChart helps Gamers to access some of the best online games the internet has to offer. The technology platform is built around an API that tracks your game wherever it goes and gives you the option to display charts within your game. Although GamesChart works on any game portal, going to www.GamesChart.com and clicking on the small GamesChart icon in the corner of any of the games is the easiest way to see how it works.


Q: I don't know if you've heard, but us developers are all about the cash. Art is dead, money is king. Why should we be dropping the API into our games ?

Different things will motivate different people, but there are a number of very good reasons why you’d probably want to. If you are the competitive type, then you’re probably going to want to see how your game ranks against all the other games that get released. If you’re the kind of person that would prefer not to spend hours emailing portals, then it’s worth noting that there’s a publisher revenue share and that portals actually need to upload your game before they can bid on any traffic going to that game… that one thing alone will give your games a huge viral boost. Last of all, the money… which I guess leads me on to your next question.


Q: Let's be blunt, how much per click ? Are we going to be able to order that solid gold Helicopter which we've got our eye on ?

Probably not. We’ve all been there, we all know that everyone believes their next game is going to earn them a million dollars, be picked up by a console publisher and then get made into a blockbuster movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. However, we are confident that Flash Game Developers will not just be able to increase the popularity of their game by including it the games chart, but also generate healthy revenues. Bid-based Pay Per Click is an extremely effective and fully accountable method for Publishers to drive traffic to their sites. Each ‘click’ will be worth a different amount to each publisher depending on where geographically that click comes from, the type of game it originated from and other campaign settings.

We’ve been noticing recently that people have been bidding an average of $0.60 per click for ‘flash game’ related keywords on certain popular advertising-word based pay per click system. Now of course, we’d be over the moon if that was the case with GamesChart and if it were, then a developer would stand to earn up to 50% of that. If you were an excitable chap, and you think all your games players are based from the US or Europe, confident that your CTR will be at least 10% and you’re generating 5 million plays a month… then you’d probably want to get out your calculator and start making plans for that solid gold helicopter.


Q: China, 20 billion people living there, but no advertising revenue. How will geography affect the revenue ? Is it a case of if the games big in Russia then well done, but we're not going to benefit from it ?

What can you do, it’s a fact of life. Your free to play flash games will end up being played by people in Russia and China - our advice is just to roll with it.. with GamesChart every play counts and even if you do get an extra 2 million plays a month in those territories, your game will quickly move up the charts and expose you to new audiences in territories that people do want to bid on.


Q: On the subject of the API, easy to use ? Doesn't break things like bitmap.draw() which other systems do ? Nice easy testing ground to check it's all good before pushing the game out into the wild ?

The GamesChart API is very easy to implement.  Developers have the option to add the API by dragging the GamesChart component to the stage. This requires no code adding to the game at all. The game can then be tested locally before being uploaded to the GamesChart website.


Q: Ok, you've sold us. I'm going to drop the API in. What about other API's though ? Are we cool with cpmStar, mochi version control, GamerSafe etc. ?

Sure, no problem. The exposure your game will receive from GamesChart will actually result in more revenue from other third party services you use in your game, so if you can find a way to get all of these API’s into your game AND GamesChart.. that’s awesome! Just to clear this up, we don’t consider ourselves to be in competition with anyone. In fact, in order to save you time, we actually give developers the option to upload their Mochi Games Pack to the GamesChart console. We’re also in discussions to include other third party API’s in our developer pack too, including the great new multiplayer API from Player.io


Q: Does adding the API affect the game in any way ? Is it a big bloaty monster ? Will anyone have to change the way they've set their game up to get it in there and working ?

You can modify the API to fit into any game and the developer is given complete control over how and where it is displayed so that they don’t have to compromise their game to accommodate it. It’s a tiny file that won’t hurt performance in the slightest, why not have a look - http://wiki.gameschart.com/index.php/GamesChart_Developer_Pack
It’s completely optional to display the GamesChart API in your game. Even if you do decide to disable the charts within the game, your game is still eligible to appear in the charts. Developers have the ability to remotely enable/disable a little 40px icon that appears in their game. It’s very low key and most developers decide to place it in the corner of their stage.


Q: Adobe are doing a similar-ish thing, a kind of YouTube-esque system showing games you could like ( The name of the project escapes me, and it doesn't seem to have had much of a push yet ). I'm guessing two systems can't be sitting in the same game easily, why GamesChart over the official first party offering ?

I haven’t heard much from Adobe these days apart from the iPhone & iPad discussions, but if you are referring to Youtube’s recent patent application in relation to a "Web-Based System for Generation of Interactive Games Based on Digital Videos", it’s hard to say how much we will have in common. I guess we’ll have to wait and see, it does ‘sound’ interesting though.


Q: The crux of GamesChart is to push traffic to sites, how are you differing from more well established methods of throwing traffic to sites willing to pay for it ?

GamesChart is a distilled version of more established methods.  Why make a player sit through a 20 second advert when all they want to do is play a game?  We offer an efficient method of delivering traffic that is shaped and informed by the way flash game players use the Internet.  The result is a low cost, high value click-delivering juggernaut.


Q: Sponsorship in itself is a great way to bring home the traffic. Say this goes huge, could it have an impact on sponsor prices ? I mean why pay for the whole game when you can just pay for it's clicks.

Interesting question.. Sponsorship is often a one-time shot, whereas GamesChart may actually prove, over time, to be a more sustainable means of generating revenue for Flash Game Developers. We know how important sponsorship is to developers, so GamesChart is designed to be complementary. You can place it anywhere in your game and it’s flexible enough to meet the requirements of most sponsors.
Flash Game License is a brilliant service for developers precisely because it provides a fair and open market to buy and sell sponsorship deals.  The GamesChart publisher bidding system is also open and transparent, which means healthy publisher competition and the highest possible CPC earnings for developers.


Q: Look at my game, it's sex, it really is. Oh, it's slipped out of the charts. That's it then ? Will games which fall out of the charts just tumble into a void of never making any money again ? If it's say a 20 minute job to add the API, test it and upload it, and my game is in the charts for only a day, or never even makes it in there, isn't that a waste of 20 mins ? You guys will still be getting exposure due to the viral nature of games, but me as the dev have basically just helped you out.

I think it’s important to clarify that revenue is only generated from outbound clicks from a developer’s game, so there is actually no requirement to ever appear in any of the charts in order to keep earning money. However getting your game into the Top 10 will result in a massive boost in game impressions which will also have a direct impact on any revenues you earn through GamesChart and  from other third party APIs.
At the moment, you’re only able to see ‘The Official GamesChart’, we’ll also be adding multiple game category charts over time. Now you may have noticed on the game upload facility that there are a number of category options available. These will help define new charts that will appear in the API; charts like the ‘Puzzle Games Chart’, ‘Action Games Chart, ‘Racing Games Chart’ etc… keep an eye out for the ‘What’s Hot Chart’ and ‘Top Rated Chart’. The introduction of these new charts will enable everyone to have a shot at gaining fame and notoriety.


Q: On a similar theme, won't the charts just be dominated by the big hitters ? Won't a Fancy Pants 5 or a Bloons 12 just be permanent fixtures on top of the charts ? Great for those guys, but for everyone else ?

Well the Official Games Chart is based on the total previous weeks game plays for each game. It’s just one of the many charts that through targeting will be presented to the gamer, but it is an accurate reflection of how popular that game is at the time. Games will naturally fade in and fade out of the charts in the same way music does with the music charts… If over time this chart is less dynamic than the other charts, then we might choose to focus gamer’s attention on the ‘What’s Hot Chart’ or some of the other category charts instead.



Q: Mochi distribution is a thing of beauty, they spread a game like VD in the Navy. Are you guys going to be running a distribution model ? Have you looked at partnering with services like FlashGameDistribution who also provide a great service ?

Mochi distribution is pretty awesome and we’d also love to partner with Adam and his great service at FlashGamesDistributon. However I have a feeling that if your game features in any of the GamesChart top ten charts.. it will experience achieve such a distribution kick up the proverbial, you’ll probably fall over with shock.


Q: We've all got games gathering dust on our hardrives. Is it good to upload them to GamesChart to try and squeeze every last penny out of them ?

Wouldn’t you rather find out, than leave them there? If they’re good, then they will receive a new lease of life.. if they’re gathering dust on your hard drive for a reason ..then we make no promises ;)


Q: On a similar note, are you worried about the charts being flooded with crap whilst people take to it ?

Not at all. It’s early days, but if someone adds a decent game now, it will probably dominate the top of the charts for a couple of weeks yet. People are naturally hesitant and have been using some of their earlier games to check us out. Don’t worry, it’ll soon drop out of the charts.


Q: What are you doing in terms of sponsors good will ? Have you being speaking to those guys, and what is their take on it ? I'm thinking in terms of their support when it comes to adding the API, are they going to see it as potential threat ? A lot of sponsors aren't loving microtransactions, are many loving GamesChart ?

A lot of these Sponsors used to be Flash Developers themselves and the feedback we have been receiving so far has been more questions than comments. Those Sponsors who would like the games they have sponsored to feature in the charts, but would prefer that the games didn’t display the API, can always ask the developer to disable it. The GamesChart technology has been designed to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of most Sponsors.


Q: What track record have you guys got before starting the GamesChart project ? I'm guessing it's not just you in a room with a well thumbed php manual.

Not exactly no. The team we have assembled here for GamesChart are experienced developers who have been involved in web development, online gaming, viral media and social internet applications for many years. It’s a platform that has been built for Flash Game Developers by Flash Game Developers… Some of us designed and built the original GameJacket technology and have an acute appreciation of the complex issues facing massively viral applications and flash games.


Q: I've got to touch on it, and it may be a little delicate still, but GameJacket. You were the public face for it for so long, I don't think too many people were aware you left a good 6 months or so before the end. Are you concerned you are going to be known as "The GameJacket guy" when quite a lot of developers got stung ? 
Basically people don't want to be in a similar situation a year down the line, what lessons have you taken with you to GamesChart, is the company structured differently with a different mission, different goals ?

I will always be happy to be remembered as the Founder of GameJacket, it took up a lot of my energy and I was proud that the company achieved the phenomenal growth it did in such a short period of time. Working with Flash Game Developers, following the development of their games and helping them to monetize and distribute their games was personally very fulfilling.
Ultimately there were good reasons why I felt it was necessary to leave the company in December 2008. Although there's always going to be some fall out from GameJacket because of the way things were handled in the six months after I left, I hope people can understand that it wasn't easy for me to make that kind of decision and I was genuinely saddened to hear that so many developers lost out when the Company decided to close.
GamesChart is structured very differently in terms of the decision making process, which will result in a more ‘service’ driven approach towards developers, publishers and gamers. We have some fantastic additions planned over the next few months and we are looking forward to receiving feedback, comments and suggestions about how we can improve GamesChart.


Q: If badgers were given guns, do you think they'd rob Post Offices, or just carry on as normal ( ie walking slowly on roads when cars are coming ) ?

With great power comes great responsibility... I think if you took a test group of Badgers and handed them all guns, some badgers would obviously revel in the fact they could cause carnage amongst their furry friends. However, the backlash from more responsible woodland creatures would probably result in an uprising in badger politics with spokes-badgers calling for the widespread peace and the unity of badger kind. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article1132020.ece


We'd like to thank Barry for taking the time to answer these questions. If you have any yourself pop them into the comments and we'll fire them over and try and cover everything off.

On a side note, this post is our entry to this years Webby's in the "Most times one service was mentioned in one post" category. We're clearing a space for the award right now.

Squize.

Interview with a real live iPhone dev

Our mate Chris has been working away on his first Unity3D powered iPhone game for a little while, and now it's available for free on the iPhone store his mind turned to pimping, and our's to getting an interview so we could pad things out a little without just looking cheap.

snowball_title_screen.png

What I do love is the way Chris just ignores the shit in my questions and just answers the core point without rising to my bait, like I'm 12 and best just ignored.

"How did you find moving from Flash to Unity ? They seem to share a common core, but are different enough to make life interesting. How was it for you ( Darling ) ?"

In some ways it hardly felt different at all, as if they were from the same software family, Unity's version of Javascript is so close to Actionscript (for example when working on the Mac now, I even use Unity's code editor 'Unitron' for my actionscript coding) but when it came to structuring the game it really is very different.
Actually building game mechanics, levels, controls etc is really very intuitive in Unity, however there doesn't seem to be any one agreed way on storing things like player data, global game settings.
The way I ended up doing it all is with a 'gameObject' that doesn't get destroyed when moving between scenes (but this
in itself causes problems when testing then, as you don't have to test from the opening scene, and hence the gameObject hasn't been made yet.)
If someone knows a better way way please do tell me  :)
"iPhone dev via Unity, sex or a drunken wank ( Maybe with tears. Why did she leave, why ? )"

Considering what it does I really don't see how it could be any easier. It gets slightly complicated when you finally move the project over to Xcode, but then Xcode is complicated and that's nowt to do with Unity, is it wrong of me to think that maybe Apple have purposefully made this bit hard to keep the kids out?
It really is very complicated and parts of it would try the patience of a Saint, but as I said this isn't anything to do with Unity.
Maybe someone out there can let me know, is it always this convoluted when dev-ing for consoles? Are there just always weird things you have to do due to copy protection / code signing?

snowball_dev_shot.jpg


"Tell us about going through Apples hoops to get the game on the store, was it just like a great big hug, or more a spit in the eye ?"

It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be truth be told. From first submission to being live in the App Store took around 14 days. We had one
build sent back to us, as we weren't making it clear that the high score table was storing the user's data remotely and also we hadn't specifically requested the users permission to access the internet.
One amazing achievement is though that we have not received one crash report yet, which is testament to how awesome I really am (or that maybe I am working on a lovely high level piece of industry quality middleware with some brilliant engineers...hmm it's probably my awesomeness now that I think about it.)

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"It's early days yet, but how's the game doing ? Any sort of trend apparent or is it getting lost in the zillion new releases every day ?"

It's done well for what it is, which is a first game, proof of concept. It spent around one week in the top 30 free arcade games and is now in the top 60 or so. It's been installed around 12,000 times and we've had some lovely reviews off people (many of whom commented that is it better and easier to control the Super Monkey Ball on the iPhone).
One interesting point is that we may have got more installs had we charged. This is pure speculation on my behalf, but something I didn't realise is that many of the very popular review sites and magazines for iPhone simply won't cover free games, so even by charging only 59p or something we could conceivably got in pocketGamer, Edge, RetroGamer etc.  So I guess we will be testing my theory on this for
Snowball's Chance in Hell 2  :)

"If badgers had guns, do you think they'd rob post offices ?"

No they'd rob Mash Potato factories.

I hadn't even considered that, damn he's on intellectual fire.

Now you're wet for the game, here's the all important link http://bit.ly/kill5Snowball

Never one to miss the chance to spread the word Chris told me about Kill5's competition. Let's face it, it's not a competition, it's a bribe, but fuck it, who wouldn't want an iPod Touch ?
Read all about it here, http://www.kill5.com/competition/ but come on, I've kinda earned the iPod with this article, so really don't expect to win.
( What should happen if by some fluke I do win ? Everyone is going to think we're big cheaty cheats, I've screwed myself now haven't I ).

A big thanks to Chris for taking the time to do this interview. I'm sure if anyone has some follow up questions he'll be around to tackle them in the comments.

Squize.