My 2019 Wrap-up and 2020 Game Dev Plans

Time for another end of year article on what I accomplished in gamedev this year, and what I want to do next year as I end my 8th year and begin my 9th year developing games.

My 2019 Accomplishments

The following is a list of my accomplishments for the year.

Achievement: I participated in 1 Ludum Dare event

I participated in Ludum Dare 44, which resulted in Wizard of Worth. You can read about the game in my Post-Mortem article. I decided to take a break from LD45, as I just wasn’t “feeling it”.

Achievement: I rewrote Tappy Holidays using Unity

The Corona version of Tappy Holidays was somewhat flat and boring. I wanted to experiment with the beta of Unity 2019.3 to see what the Universal Render Pipeline and 2D Lighting Effects can do, so I decided to rewrite a small game and compare the results. Tappy Holidays with Unity was recently released on Google Play. You can read all about it here.

Achievement: I rewrote Tappy Easter in Corona

Strange. Tappy Holidays went from Corona to Unity, and Tappy Easter went from Unity to Corona.

the Unity version of Tappy Easter was so frustrating to support. Google Play Game Services and Admob just did not play nice under Unity, so I decided to scrap it, and create a Corona version. The process was successful, although I am having doubts around continuing to use 2 game engines (more on that later).

Achievement: I Updated my Object Pooling library

My free Object Pooling library for Unity has been on GitHub for a couple of years now. I use it in all my projects. I recently added a Custom Inspector to easily add and remove object pools within the editor. I also am thinking of adding a few features in the next couple of months as well. Of course, since this plug-in is open source, you can grab a copy for your use, and help add enhancements!

Achievement: I developed an awesome, yet unreleased, CoronaSDK Plug In

I wanted to enhance the text features of Corona, so I developed a plug in called GBC Text. GBC Text allows you to create a sprite sheet of letters to create and display text strings. I have a small demo video that shows a sample of what GBC Text can do.

This was one of my most challenging projects ever, and it came out very well. I started using GBC Text in my projects, and I felt that it would make a great Plug-In for others to use.

Unfortunately, I under-estimated the demand for this type of plug-in, although at the time there was a lot of talk about better text libraries for Corona. The demand was very low, so I decided not release it on the Marketplace. If demand increases, I may change my mind.

I spent a lot of time on this library, and I feel it is one of my best projects of 2019.

My Plans for 2020

I have a lot of game development plans for 2020… I hope to get some of these completed. Some of them are massive.

Goal: Update (Rewrite) all of my mobile games

I have 8 games on the iOS and Google app stores… some going back to 2012. I’ve supported them over the years with updates and features, but after looking at them more closely, I think they are starting to show their age, so rewrites are in order. It’s a good opportunity to build in enhanced features from the start.

I think I am going to standardize on Unity for all my rewrites. Other than maintenance of my existing games, I think I am going to finally move away from Corona. I’ve been putting this decision off for a few years… I love working with Corona, but there have been changes with the company and the product that I just don’t like. If there is any interest, I can write a separate post on my decision.

Goal: Finish Johnny’s Flip Book Adventure

I was well into development of Johnny’s Flip Book Adventure, when I (of course) decided to restart it. At this point, I have a working game with 2 modes. The first is a rewrite of my Ludum 42 entry, and the second is a version of Space Mission Survival.

The start again, stop again saga of Space Mission Survival? I just don’t know. I think I started that game back in 2016. Each time I restarted it (7 times now!), I get very far, but I never put the finishing touches on it. I have doubts about the success of this game… a game with the same game play, but just using different graphics may be not something that people will want to pay for. I personally love playing the mobile version of this game, and maybe if given some time, I can restart it for the 8th time, but in the meantime, I decided to combine Space Mission Survival and Johnny’s Flip Book Adventure.

Right now, Johnny’s Adventure has the 2 modes that are completely separate. Playing the game, I don’t think the Ludum Dare mode stands on its own. I have decided to combine the LD42 and SMS modes into a single game. The game will be Space Mission Survival with tearing away pieces of the play field. Let’s see how this goes.

Conclusion

It’s been a productive year, and my goals for 2020 are aggressive, but I look forward to giving it a go. Lack of community support is discouraging at times (completely my fault since I do not spend massive amounts of time on social media services… something I should improve on), but I will carry on and hopefully have a better 2020 and create something you want to play.

Happy New Year!

GBC Object Pool (Unity) Update

Just a little note to tell everyone that I made an update to my free, open-sourced Unity asset, GBC Object Pool.

GBC Object Pool is an easy to use and light-weight object pooler for Unity. This update allows easier set up through the Inspector. Just create some pools, drag in a prefab add a name and amount of items to pool, and you are all set.

I plan on some more updates in the new year, and since this is open-source, I encourage you to contribute!

Tappy Holidays: The Rewrite

I decided to play a bit with the Unity 2019.3 beta… I was interested in seeing what the 2D lighting effects and the new Universal Render Pipeline can do, and what better way than to create a small game? Even better… what better way than to take an already existing game and upgrade it?

I took my existing game, Tappy Holidays, and rewrote it using the beta version of Unity 2019.3 and it was a pleasant experience (although there were some issues, that’s beta for you!). As of this writing, Tappy Holidays is available for Android, and should be available on iOS soon.

The left screenshot is the Corona version, the right is the Unity version. Look at the improvements on the Unity side: 2D lighting effects the nearby sprites, superior text with drop shadows, and particle effects on the title screen. Impressive.

Tappy Holidays screen shot

I wanted to get this game out around Thanksgiving, but due to some beta issues with Unity, it took a little longer. Once a release candidate of Unity was available, it was easy to package and release.

I hope you give Tappy Holidays a try. Let me know your thoughts and if you run into any issues. The game has always been free, but as an added bonus, this version contains no ads!

Tappy Holidays!

My Unreleased CoronaSDK Plugin

I have 8 games created with CoronaSDK, some going back to 2012. I do revisit them from time to time to add features, fix bugs, and update libraries that I used. For the latter, I have used and purchased several libraries, and I have created a few as well. If I feel that there is a market for them, I release them as Plugins on the Corona Marketplace.

Over the years, I have developed and integrated GBC Data Cabinet, GBC Language Cabinet, and GBC Object Pool into my own projects.

  • GBC Data Cabinet manages your data. You can create storage “cabinets” to read, write, and save data for later use. This eliminates the need for global variables, and makes management of data between scenes much easier. And… it’s FREE.
  • GBC Language Cabinet manages translation within your game or app. You create the text for each language you want to support, and GBC Language Cabinet will handle grabbing the correct text, including the inclusion of any variable data. And… it’s also FREE.
  • GBC Object Pool manages your game objects so they can be reused. Instead of creating and destroying objects repeatedly (bullets or enemies, for example), GBC Object Pool creates game objects and manages them throughout the lifetime of your game. Performance using object pooling via this Plugin is noticeable. It’s not free, but it is a reasonable (I think) $5.00 USD.

I have one (well, actually two; more on that later) plugin that I have not released, GBC Text, which is a bitmapped-text manager.

GBC Text – The Highs

GBC Text started out as a replacement for a once-popular, but no longer sold/support text library that I purchased back in the 2012 time frame. I wanted similar features, since Corona’s text library is very basic, so I decided to write a library. The results are demonstrated in this Proof-Of-Concept video.

As of now, the library can do the following:

  • Allows you to load and use multiple bit-mapped fonts.
  • Displays the fonts in various sizes.
  • Left/right/center alignment.
  • Sets anchors.
  • Flows text.
  • Can change text dynamically, without the need to destroy/recreate.
  • Allows you to animate text as a whole or as individual letters.

I put a lot of time into engineering and developing this library, especially the last 2 features in the list above, and I feel the results are great. I have begun integrating this into all my current games, and will add additional features as needed.

GBC Text – The Lows

After reading thread after thread on the limitations of Corona’s text system, I felt that a plugin like this, at a reasonable price, would be greatly welcome. I posted a message on the Corona Forums showing the proof-of-concept and asked for feedback. I was surprised that there were close to 200 views, but only 2 replies. A bit discouraging, no doubt.

Reason for Not Releasing

This is eerily similar to my experience releasing GBC Object Pool… there was a lot of talk about performance in creating/destroying objects repeatably, and I wanted to develop a method to manage objects easily within Corona. I spent a great deal of time on the library to enhance performance, remove bugs, document, and prepare for Marketplace. The development and engineering, as well as ongoing support, requires time, effort, and money, so I decided to release it for five bucks. Sales in the two years since release are dismal (maybe this plugin is a solution to a problem that does not exist), and I do not want to go through this again with another plugin.

I had high hopes for GBC Text, but based on the lack of responses in the forums, and on Twitter, I am no longer sure if people would pay for an enhanced text library, so for now, this library will remain an internal library for my own use.

“Free” you say? “Open Source” you say? Maybe at some point, but not now.

Oh, My Second Unreleased Plugin?

I also developed another library I have been using for years. It is sort of a game center library to manage the iOS Game Center, Google Play, and Amazon GameCircle (when it was active) plugins. I also spent a lot of time on this library, since Apple and Google enhance their SDKs quite a bit, and each platform has their quirks on how they handle leaderboards and trophies. I also want to add PC and Mac support at some point. I am not sure about releasing this plugin either, since this library requires a lot of maintenance when Game Center and/or Google Play changes something on their end.

Ludum Dare 44: Post Mortem

Another Ludum Dare completed (my ninth!). This one was my toughest one yet for me. Lots of highs, lows, frustration, failures, and success. All of this, and more, will be discussed as I detail the development of my entry, The Wizard of Worth.

Day 1

I had a hard time with this theme. In the days before theme selection, I looked at the possible candidates and wrote down some ideas for each one… except this one. Of course, “Your Life Is Currency” was selected and I spent almost 3 hours thinking of an idea.

Once I got a working idea (my son helped with some suggestions), I decided to create some graphics first, which is something I normally do not do. I knew I had to create graphics at some point, and I wanted to give Aseprite a shot to see if I can handle it.

At this point, its about 2:00am, five hours into the Compo, so I decided to call it a night. At the end of Day 1, I had some graphics created, and a basic game where the enemies chase down the player.

Day 2

I got about 5 hours of sleep, got up, and went back to work. I added some particles, a coin retrieval system, and a player shooting system. After a few rounds of playing this game, I came to the conclusion that its terrible! So discouraging.

I had about 10 hours of solid development time and the game was horrible. I took a couple of breaks during the day and came back to tweak and add/change features, and every time I played my game, I hated it more. No matter what I tried, it was just not fun, and I was so discouraged that I decided to take an extended break.

Day 3

I said I was taking an extended break… how about a 24 hour break? That’s what I did. During that time, I thought about whether I should continue, give up completely, or start with a new idea. After speaking with my wife and son, I got some pretty decent ideas on how to improve the game, and that started the drive to finish and submit this game.

I wanted to add a lot of things… more minions to chase you, different types of minions, multiple weapon types, and more. The problem is that it is now very late on Sunday, and I only have a few hours left.

I improved the player shooting (shooting towards the mouse pointer), added a back-story, sound effects, some additional graphics, and the title and game over screens, and submitted later than usual, but before the deadline. These changes really improved the game, and its much more fun to play.

What Went Well

  • Despite the ups and downs during the event, I did submit an entry.
  • Even though I had very limited experience with Aseprite, I managed to create some graphics (and some crude animation) using that tool.

What Could Have Gone Better

  • The 24 hour period where I “gave up” really put a dent in the time left when I decided to re-enter the compo. I wanted to add different minions and demons, each with a unique strength and weakness, but I ran out of time.

Conclusion

Looking through several of my other LD Post-Mortem posts, it looks like I fall into the same pattern where Day 2 is a bit discouraging, but I always manage to find a way to improve and finish.

This Ludum Dare was no different, but the lows were unprecedented for me; to a point where I walked away knowing I would not come back. If it were not for some encouragement from family, I would of packed it in and regretted the lack of submitting a game for the first time. I am glad I went back and continued.

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My CoronaSDK Text Manager Proof of Concept

I have been developing a text manager library for use with CoronaSDK. Below is a Proof of Concept video that shows what it can currently do. I am planning on using this library in all my existing (and new) projects.

I am considering releasing it as a plugin in the Corona Marketplace, but I am not sure at this time. I guess it depends on whether there is a demand for this.

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From Unity To Corona

In 2018 I released a mobile app named Tappy Easter. In 2019 I released an update. Well, not really an update, more of a complete rewrite. Version 1.0 of Tappy Easter was written in C# using Unity. Version 2.0 is written in Lua using CoronaSDK.

This article will document my experience writing the same app using two different languages in two different game engines, and will cover the great and not-so-great of each.

Background

I have been using CoronaSDK since 2012 and have written several apps currently on the iOS and Android play stores. Some time in 2016 I picked up Unity since I wanted to try my hand at a 3D game. I spent a lot of time learning Unity, developing games for game jams, but I wanted to release something to the app store. Even though it was a 2D game, I decided to create Tappy Easter using Unity as a good test case.

Design

The game’s layout is fairly simple: a title screen, a level select screen, and the game screen, and some additional pop-ups and menus to move between the game scenes.

The game scene consists of a series of Easter baskets that are tapped to move a colored egg. The controls are quite standard and very simple from a development perspective.

The level select screen is a bit more complex… it consists of 20 level buttons on two panels. The user can scroll between two panels and can only select levels that have been unlocked. In this scene, the 20 level buttons are built using either a locked or unlocked graphic and if the level is unlocked and previously played, the number of stars that were awarded are also displayed.

Unity Development

Development took approximately four months, and it went very well. The Unity interface makes it easy to lay out your game screens, and I like using C#. Unity UI development is awesome, and the text features of TextMesh Pro give the game extra polish.

In addition to some assets I previously purchased, I also decided to purchase a couple of assets to make development a bit easier for this game. The code I wrote for swiping and tapping screen items was not really working as well as I wanted, so I purchased an asset to handle the mobile gestures. I also purchased an asset to simplify other features found in mobile games such as game services, advertisements, and rating systems. Since these features are platform dependent, using an asset to mange this was a no-brainer.

Development was a breeze… no issues with coding or screen design. It was now time to test on my devices and upload to the app stores.

Time To Compile v1.0

It felt like I spent more time getting the app to compile than I did to develop it, and this was becoming more and more frustrating.

You would think that adding Google Play and Admob would be easy since they are both Google products, but this was an exercise I never want to go through again. These libraries seem to be incompatible with each other since each library includes older versions of files that the other library needs. This caused so many incompatibility issues. After several weeks of research into the issue, it seems trial and error is the only way to get this resolved. Finally, I could get the app to compile and run under Android, but I am not 100% sure how I did it or whether I can do it again.

Now on to the iOS version. I imported the Xcode project generated by Unity which resulted in several hundred “warning” messages and some errors. Reading through tons of support messages, it appears that 200+ warnings can be ignored, but I don’t feel ignoring that many warnings is a great solution. Admob errors were also fussy, and again, I am not sure how I overcame the errors, but I got to a point where it compiled and ads were being displayed.

After more days than I can remember, I now have a working Android and iOS build, so time to put them on the app store!

Working On The Update

A few weeks later, I wanted to tweak a few things and put out an update which seemed a bit more difficult than expected.

I updated all my plugins, including Admob and Google Play (I had to due to some required Google changes), and again there were errors caused by file incompatibilities. This time, no matter what I did, I could not get these 2 plugins to play nice together.

What I also found interesting with the iOS build is that the file size of the v1.0 build was 120mb! Looking at the Unity logs, a lot of unused files and asset demo folders were included during the build, and I could not understand why. Reading through some forum messagess (since my question on the forum went unanswered), it appears that iOS builds do not really exclude everything that is not needed.

At this point, I decided not to update the app, and let it ride in its current behemoth state. Early in 2019 I decided to revisit the update and had the same issues. The frustration level was off the charts, and I convinced myself it would be easier just to start again using Corona… which is exactly what I did.

Corona Time

My previous experience with Corona, and utilizing the sound and image assets created for the Unity version, allowed me to put an improved version of Tappy Easter on the iOS and Android app stores in under 1 month.

Corona is somewhat of an underrated 2D engine, but it is robust and established, and this made development quite easy. There is a lot of things that Corona does that require a bit of work in Unity:

  • I did not have to manage aspect ratios and screen sizes. Just place your images where you want them, and Corona will handle it appropriately, no matter what display.
  • Admob and Google Play actually work without hours of tweaking. Include the plug-ins and start coding.
  • XCode not required!!! Just choose File -> Build and Corona will compile an app to an IPA file without needing a Doctorate in Xcode, and will create an Android APK file without needing to install all the Android libraries.

In order to have really nice fonts in Corona, I had to create images of text. Since this app is English only (at this time), that’s not an issue, but I would have to create text image files for every language I want to support.

As a result, I am currently working on a Corona plugin that will manage fancy text and I am encouraged by my results so far. My free plugin (GBC Language Cabinet) simplifies the management of language support, so utilizing this library with a text library should provide a great solution to multi-language fancy text.

My Unity vs Corona Experience
 UnityCorona
Development Time4 months1 month
File SizeiOS - 120mb
Android - 33mb
iOS - 11mb
Android - 10mb
Additional AssetsFingers Touch Gestures
EasyMobile Pro
none
StrengthsVisual Editor
Text features
3D
"One Button" build
WeaknessesXCode frustrationNo visual editor... images must be coded to screen
Text features
Conclusion

I love working with both Unity and Corona, and it seems that each tool has its strengths and weaknesses. No one tool can do it all.

For 2D mobile development, Corona (to me) is the better choice… it’s a great way to release a game quickly and easily. Tappy Easter is one of those games where Corona was the perfect choice.

For desktop, 3D, or perhaps more complex mobile games, I would consider using Unity. There are some really complex games written with Corona, as well as some desktop games, so the Corona platform would still be a consideration when evaluating my game requirements.

I do wish Unity could build mobile apps more simply, like Corona does.
Building a desktop app with Unity is so simple, so it should be possible to improve building for mobile. Building the app seems more complicated than actually developing it, but maybe I’m just spoiled.

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