Developer Interview Series: Marc Polican and Gabby Dizon

Meet more of us who work here at Boomzap — two of the people involved in porting our games for the iPad and iPhone. Marc Polican and Gabby Dizon work their hardest to ensure that all our games have awesome versions on iOS devices. So if you like any changes from the PC / Mac to the iPad, they’re to thank!

In this interview, they share all the lessons they learned in porting our first iOS game, Awakening: The Dreamless Castle.

Read on, it’s a really good read! (especially for budding game developers and fans of the game)

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What do you do for Boomzap?

Marc: I port our PC/Mac games to iPad and iPhone.

Gabby: I’m a producer and business development manager for Boomzap. I also head up a small team within Boomzap called BoomTap that’s responsible for taking our PC games to the iPhone and iPad.

Did you have any iOS development experience prior to Boomzap?

Marc: Yep, I personally did 1 project on the iPad and oversaw several iPad projects at my previous job.

Gabby: Awakening: The Dreamless Castle was my first ever iOS game!

What made Boomzap decide to get into iOS development?

Marc: I guess its the huge potential that these iDevices have–nice hardware specs, great app store and less barriers for entry to make a game on it compared to other game consoles. But Gabby would know better. *looks at Gabby*

Gabby: It looks like mobile devices are increasingly the future of gaming, and casual gamers will be carrying their games with them in the future more than keeping them on a PC. We made the push into iOS so that we can bring our games to wherever our players are, and make sure we’re reaching as many users with our titles as possible.

Why did you decide to handle the port in-house rather than hire an external contractor?

Gabby: Our company is extremely tech-driven, and our Technical Director, Allan, has made an engine that is very portable to other devices. Since we think iOS is going to be a very important part of Boomzap’s portfolio, that’s technology that we wanted to keep in-house rather than source out to a contractor.

Was the process harder or easier than you expected? What were some challenges and difficulties that you faced?

Marc: Porting Awakening: The Dreamless Castle was harder than anyone expected, I think. ( I joined when the project was already in QA ). It’s due to different considerations when you move from a huge monitor to a mobile device. It’s hard to fit a hidden object game to a small device like an iPhone. A PC can handle Awakening without any problems, the iPhone and the iPad on the other hand, are less powerful than a PC so we have to optimize the game to the device as much as possible.

Gabby: It was a lot harder than expected! I just gave a talk at Casual Connect Europe on this very topic. Bringing your game from PC to iOS is no trivial port, you have to redesign your game so that it’s a natural fit for iOS. This involves basic things like the game engine, file size, and graphics to user-experience things like touch controls and tutorials. We learned a lot by making mistakes in our first game that we’re carrying into the development of our next slate of iOS games.

How different are the iPad and iPhone versions from the original Awakening: The Dreamless Castle on the PC / Mac?

Gabby: Story-wise, it’s exactly the same; however there were a lot of things tweaked that made the game feel like a natural iOS game. For example, we worked really hard to incorporate touch controls into the game; things like pinch to zoom so that you can zoom in on small items in the room which weren’t needed in the PC game. Achievements are also available in the iOS version; the iPhone and iPad are social platforms at heart so we took advantage of Apple’s Game Center for the achievements.

Marc: We also allowed the user to play music from his/her playlist on the iPad/iPhone.

Looking back on lessons learned during the project, what would you have done differently?

Gabby: We developed simultaneously for the iPhone and iPad and this led to a lot of mistakes on our end that could’ve been avoided altogether. A mistake in one meant a mistake in the other. What we’re doing now is to lead the development on iPad first, then concentrate on iPhone after. This concentrates our development effort on exactly one platform only which ensures that we spend the time needed to polish one version of the game before jumping onto another.

Marc: Also (this is for the coders), improving the time to compile and test the project on the device will help a lot. For example, on Awakening, from the time you hit build to the time you see the game running on the device, it takes a minute or two. Shortening that time would make the coders more productive.

Aside from porting your PC/Mac titles, are you also looking at developing original games for the iOS platform?

Gabby: It’s definitely something we’re interested in, and we’re discussing internally. That being said, we also have a substantial back library that we’d also like to update and take to the iOS platform as well. Sadly, we only have so many developers, and so much time!

Are the iPhone and iPad versions exactly the same? Rather than being universal, I saw that you chose to go for separate HD and iPhone apps. What was the reason for this — is it just resolution, or are there other differences (like the UI layout or placement of buttons?)

Marc: iPhone and iPad versions are different. The UI has to be changed for the smaller screen space. Some minigames also have to be enlarged because the hit areas will be very small (i.e. harp minigame). Basically, we wanted to make sure it was the best game it could be on the two separate platforms, and that meant making some adjustments between them, and release them as separate aps.
About redesigning Awakening for the iOS – I noticed that the navigation system is different, I think there’s a compass now, which wasn’t in the PC version. Were you the one in charge of the UI redesign?

Marc: Yes the compass is new for iPad and iPhone. On the PC/Mac, the cursor changes if it’s over a transition area to another room. But for iOS we don’t have cursors, and tapping on a random area in the screen would sometimes take the player to another room which is not very user friendly. That’s why the compass / navigation controls were added.

What is ONE piece of advice you would give other developers looking to translate their games to the iOS platform?

Marc: Well, the most important lesson I learned while doing Awakening was to improve the build pipeline as much as possible – automate everything that can be automated. Monkey-touching stuff can lead to problems that just take up developer time.

[editors note: “Monkey Touching” is a phrase we use at Boomzap to describe any time a primate (human) touches the production pipeline. As a general rule, we try to eliminate any automate-able step in the process where there is no creative input needed – like batch formatting files, etc. – because it’s just another place where the humans can make mistakes and slow down production.]

Gabby: Spend the time needed to polish your game so that it feels native to the iOS. A quick-and-dirty port without maximizing the things that make iOS unique (touch controls, pinch zoom, etc.) will only disappoint your players and keep them away from your game. We think the level of special polish we put on our iOS products is the key reason they are doing well in the marketplace. People appreciate that polish and attention to the platform.

What is the Boomzap iOS team working on next? Can we expect to see all of Boomzap’s titles in the App Store eventually?

Gabby: We can’t announce anything yet, but you can take a look at our most recent PC releases and deduce what’s on the pipeline from there

 

Gabby is one of the godfathers of gaming in the Philippines, and works very closely with all teams making games in Boomzap. He also currently took Dodge in as a trainee.

Marc leads the coders in the BoomTap team and is very busy working on different projects. Watch out for them!

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