Mobile game development: putting finishing touches on visuals and sound

For my latest mobile game project, I decided to spent more effort on the overall player experience, in particular the visuals and sound. After I worked out the basic gameplay rules and level design, before releasing the game I went back to put some of these finishing touches on.

For the experienced mobile game developer, these types of things are second nature, but for the hobby game developer who is still learning the ropes it can take some time to shift one’s thinking to be player-centric. These refinements also contribute to the game’s overall appearance and can result in more downloads if they are showcased in screenshots and app preview videos. Ultimately, one of the best types of marketing is a game that markets itself with appealing graphics.

In this post I’ll highlight some of the visual improvements I did, followed by some audio and sound ones.

Visual

  1. I used a star field animation rather than a plain background on the screen behind the game board. This took some tweaking to get right, and I ended up using different layers of stars to add depth, with colors and speeds set accordingly. For example, stars that are closer move faster and are brighter looking. The stars also fit well with the ‘meteor’ element which is introduced into the later levels.
  2. I added an animation at the beginning at each level where the tiles fall into place from the left and right sides of the screen.
  3. When a game ends, the tiles fall away off the screen.
  4. Touching and holding the screen causes the tiles in the same column and row to be highlighted up. This has to be done since the actual square being clicked on is usually not visible because the user’s finger covers it. The color of the highlighting is white for valid spaces, and red for invalid ones.
  5. I spent a great deal of time tweaking the animation for when tiles expand or ‘grow’ outwards. I ended up with using a random timing for when tiles appear, and this gives the game a certain chaotic feel I thought was fitting. Also, rather than a tile suddenly appearing, the color grows quickly from the center of the tile.
  6. I added a white square showing the last tile placed by each player, since it’s easy to forget.

Sound/Audio

  1. I added background music which had a retro feel to match with the visuals, and a high-energy feel to make the game more exciting.
  2. I added sounds corresponding to winning or loosing a game.
  3. I added a sound signifying that the user tried to place a tile at an illegal location.
  4. I added a sound for when the tiles fall into place at the beginning of each level.
  5. For each tile appearing as part of the expansion process, I play a chime-like sound that gradually increases pitch.

For the app preview video, I found another high-energy song which I really liked so I used that instead of the game’s actual music. I also shut off the sound effects since I thought they would be distracting. But the visuals are all intact, so if you are interested you can check out the app preview video here.

Beta Family: an interesting way to find QA Testers for your games

A few weeks ago when I was searching for QA testers for my latest iPhone game (to be released soon), I stumbled across the site Beta Family. This site is pretty unique in that you can use it to find testers for both iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Android games, with both free and paid options.

If you choose to not reward testers (free option), then you only get access to unrated testers who have not yet performed reviews on this site. To invite experienced testers to test your game, you need to offer then some monetary reward, which is at your discretion. Beta Family takes an additional 10% as a service charge on top of the total amount you pay out to testers. See more details about pricing here.

I was ready to try out this site with the free option, but saw the text “Notice: We do not support paid apps on App Store”, and originally thought that any apps I tested using this site I could not sell on the app store, and had to give away for free. I wasn’t planning to make my app paid, but I didn’t like the idea of being limited in case I wanted to change it in the future.

So I sent an email to customer service to confirm my understanding, and after a day or two of going back and forth several times I was told that this only meant I can’t expect testers to pay for an app on the app store just to test it.

However, by the time I got this issue resolved I already found two beta testers via this blog, and decided I didn’t need this site this time. One of the other reasons for that decision was that for the free option there was the possibility of waiting up to 24 hours for the tester to be “approved” for the game, which just another way to nudge developers to spend some money on testing.

Since I am still at the point where I am just experimenting with mobile game development, and don’t plan on quitting my day job anytime soon, I’m planning on releasing my game for free. Accordingly, I don’t want to fall down the slippery slope of starting to spend to advertise or test my game, since it could become an expensive hobby fast. The feeling I got from Beta Family is that the free testers wouldn’t necessarily give too great of a review.

Having said that, I still think it’s worth giving a try. For iOS there are four distribution options: app store, ad hoc/enterprise, iTunes Connect internal, and iTunes Connect external. The site also boasts over 20,000 testers around the world, though I am not sure if that number actually means much to me. Just getting 5-10 good testers for an inexpensive (or free) price would be enough.

If you do try this site out please leave your experiences in a comment.