Category Archives: Multimedia Industry Perspectives

Clean Slate Apps: Business Plan

This semester, Gerry, William and I put together a business plan for a small app company.

With the growth of the educational sector in mobile applications, we saw a niche for educational apps to help children learn about hygiene. After doing some research, we found that a huge percentage of people don’t know how to wash their hands properly, and only one in ten brush their teeth well enough to prevent tooth decay. With these figures in mind, parents might be worried they don’t have the knowledge to teach their children the right way to brush their teeth, in particular.

This formed the basis for Clean Slate Apps’ first product. It is an app for the Android operating system that provides a friendly, engaging interface for children to learn how to brush their teeth. The app provides a timer so they know how long to brush for, and several animations to demonstrate correct technique. To get this information we plan to consult dentists and paediatricians.

I came up with the original idea for this product, so I had the clearest idea of what we were aiming for.  I wrote a lot of the concept documentation and broad plans. Gerry made mock-ups of the toothcare app’s UI and a logo for the company, and Will put together a detailed financial projection for the first three years of the business. Because we live in the same house, we were able to meet up whenever it was convenient to talk and brainstorm for the project. This was useful when working on a group project like this one, where everyone needs to provide input. For file-sharing, we had a shared Dropbox folder. Dropbox provides a desktop application which syncs all files to your hard drive locally, which was very useful – we could make a change to a file on our individual machines and have it update on the others within seconds. When we had all the content we needed, I put together the slides and the executive summary using the document preparation software, LaTeX. The presentation went well and we came out of it with several ideas for improving the business plan.

You can view our presentation on the business plan here. The executive summary is here.

Nexus Innovation Centre


Over the last month or so, I have been working with the Nexus Innovation Centre at the University of Limerick. Gerry, Shane, Ian and I first met with them on the tenth of October. The idea was to gain experience by helping them add value to their online and offline presence.

The Nexus Innovation Centre aim to help budding enterpreneurs with ambition realise their ideas and connect with a supportive network of like minds. To this end, they have office space which they rent out to companies under their umbrella, as well as a number of free consultation services for companies not yet ready to commit to office space.

There are more than ten companies resident in the building, and several external members. All of these companies have websites, most of which were linked on a Nexus page, yet none of them had an explicit link back to the Nexus website. When trying to establish an online presence, it is important to know the audience, and we knew that the audience Nexus is trying to reach includes enterpreneurs and people who wish to become enterpreneurs. We knew that such people would visit the websites of other enterpreneurs. A simple link didn’t seem like enough, however – so we created a JavaScript button with a Nexus logo that would inform people even if they didn’t click it.

During the summer, the Nexus was putting together an initiative called ‘studio to street’. Enterpreneurs-to-be could collaborate in a targeted environment to develop an idea and then bring it to potential customers. This initiative had a good name but no logo, so we created one that kept focus on the name, while giving a visual association with the building that houses the Nexus.

We also worked on making the entry to the Nexus website a bit smoother. When we looked at their website initially, it was a bit difficult to see answers to the questions ‘what do we do?’ and ‘what can we do for you?’. Our solution was a landing page, which would show up instead of the current home page. Visitors could get an idea of the Nexus without having to navigate through menus to find the ‘about us’ page. Reasoning that visitors fall into one of two groups – students and enterpreneurs – we decided to answer these questions with those groups in mind. We created a page which asked if the visitor was a student or an enterpreneur, and directed each towards another page which explained the benefits the Nexus could hold for them. One more click took them to the current homepage, where they could explore as before, while being a little more informed. Below is a draft of the landing page, which is awaiting some text content.

We developed some poster templates for the Nexus to use in promotion of themselves and their events. We used their highly recognisable logo and photos of the building to personalise these posters.

Finally, we put together some ideas for further promotion of the Nexus in the coming months, including a competition for the best business idea.

I think we learned a lot about working with a client here:

  • Never assume anything about a client.
  • Always respond to client input as promptly as possible.
  • Don’t wait too long to get client input – better yet, have input at every stage of a project.

It was also good to see how useful open-source tools such as Inkscape (used for graphics) and Bluefish (used for HTML/CSS) can be in a professional context.

JustEvasion

JustEvasion is a game that I developed in 2011. I wanted to make a simple game to keep my programming hand in over the long summer months. I developed it in C++, using OpenGL and the freeglut library. I was relatively unfamiliar with C++ at the time, but I had some sample freeglut code to learn from. The low-level nature of the libraries made some features quite difficult to implement, but it was a very good learning experience for me.

JustEvasion is a game in which the player moves a star shape around the screen. The star is chased constantly by circles, which use an extremely basic chasing mechanism. As such, the circles often line up or overlap as they attempt to reach the player. Players score points by effecting these overlaps. When two circles overlap perfectly (so that only one can be seen), one of them will disappear and the score will increase. If there is more than one overlap happening at once, the player gets a combo bonus.

I had JustEvasion working to this specification within a relatively short time, and I wasn’t sure what to do with it next. Some time later I was investigating Adam Saltsman‘s Canabalt, a very entertaining one-button Flash game.I discovered that the library he used to make the game, Flixel, is open-source. It is possible to develop a full game using only Flixel and FlashDevelop.

I was very excited about Flixel, so as a first project I decided to remake JustEvasion as a Flash game. Although I had made JustEvasion open-source on Google Code, almost nobody I knew had been able to play it because of its dependence on system configuration. A Flash game could remedy this, and allow everyone to at least try my game.

I started by reimplementing all the features that JustEvasion had, then started to add new ones, like a high score cookie that is stored on the computer for the next time you play, and different behaviours in the enemies. The development in ActionScript3 was slow at first, because I had limited Flash experience before, but once I grasped the differences I made progress quickly.

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JustEvasion was a landmark project for me. Being able to publish a game in a medium everyone could understand and play made for a great feedback loop. Catching bugs was a lot easier with ten or fifteen people trying each build. It also boosted my confidence in my own abilities.

Role Model and Ideal Jobs

The interesting thing about the still-young game medium* is that there are so many different developers out there, creating such a wide range of content that anyone should be able to find something they like. There are many people I admire out there making games, and in this post I’m going to talk about a few of them.

Kenta Cho – ABA Games
ABA Games consists of just one man: Kenta Cho. He is employed full-time by Toshiba, so he only makes games in his spare time. He began making games as a hobby in the 1980s when he was a child, and continues to do so today. The first shoot-’em-up game he produced, Noiz2sa, received a lot of interest and praise, so he decided to specialise in that genre. His games are extremely abstract, often taking an existing shoot-’em-up mechanic and twisting it slightly, or paying tribute to revered games of the genre (in his game rRootage, he includes a mode recreating the mechanic of Ikaruga).

Screenshot from one of ABA Games' other titles, 'Torus Trooper'

Torus Trooper, also by Kenta Cho, is one of my favourite games.

Kenta Cho is a role model because he is able to construct such complete experiences – his games – completely on his own. He likes the classics, but isn’t afraid to tweak them in order to make a better game. Not only that, but he releases his games and their source code for free. In this interview, he talks about his reasons for not charging money for his games:

I create the games I want to play. And if some people want to enjoy and play my games, I give my game and code to these people.

When I make games myself, I usually lean towards the abstract. Simple shapes, equally simple concepts, but with as much polish as I can manage. An example is JustEvasion, a simple shape-dodging game that ballooned in scope somewhat.

At first, this was because I don’t consider myself a very good artist or designer, but as I did more games I realised I also like that style. When I first played Kenta Cho’s games, I saw that it is very possible to stick to the abstract and still create a solid game that offers something unique. I used to think that eventually my games would have to have complex sprite-based art in order to be seen as good, but that is not necessarily the case.

My Ideal Job
I’m still not entirely sure what my dream job is. Half the time I think I should work in a dedicated games company as a developer and make a proper career for myself in the industry. Even small companies have had success with this in Ireland, and the #IrishGameDev hashtag on Twitter reveals quite a few people who would like to be the next success story.
The other half of the time, I think that my day job won’t matter – my dream job will happen in my spare time, when I make only and exactly the games I want to make. This is why Kenta Cho’s story resonates with me so much.
What’s good about having two dream jobs is that I have more possible routes to them. Realistically, I’ll have to prioritise money in any post-graduate job search. That rules out the first dream job, but no matter where I work, I can still be a game developer in my spare time and be satisfied. Technically, I’m already living that dream. I develop games like JustEvasion in my time off from university, and sometimes during the semester as well.
To be a game developer, I must have a good knowledge of how games typically work – from the general application structure of input layer/visual layer interacting with an underlying logic layer, to specific things like how to avoid items clogging up memory once they’re no longer being drawn onscreen. I have had some experience with many of these common parts of a working game. Of course, I must also know at least one programming language used in game development, and be ready to learn more. I already know several such languages at varying degrees of complexity, and I am always eager to expand my knowledge.
Working alone is supposed to be very difficult. I am good at self-motivating, so working alone would not bother me, as long as there were something to work toward. Programming and design skills are essential. I have taken multiple game ideas from doodles to full prototypes, so I know I have decent skills in those areas. Design is something I would like to work on more and improve, but programming comes quite naturally to me, so I am confident I could succeed at this.

Ultimately, I think that as long as I’m making and playing games, I’ll be happy with my lot in life. I look forward to testing this theory further.


*I refrain from using the phrase ‘games industry’ here because I’m not sure all developers would consider themselves part of it. ‘Medium’ includes games made for fun, games made as art for free, games made for the love of it, as well as all the commercial games you can buy.

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