Gravitations – My App Story

Over three years ago at JLOOP, we had a company-wide initiative to come up with great app ideas. One of Daniel’s ideas was about exploring space, and using the gravitational pull of planets to guide the player. I was smitten by the concept, and morphed it into a pitch to create a puzzle game like Cut the Rope, but with planets and astronauts as the primary components. The idea was chosen as one of our top 3, but we did not have the resources at that time to produce it.

Not long after, I really wanted to get the idea off the ground after I discovered a solution to one of the big challenges with space and gravity games: dealing with momentum and the thrust of your ship to go the direction you want to go, all while having planets pulling you towards them. The solution was for the player to draw a line for where she wanted her ship to go, and the ship would be responsible for figuring out how to control the thrust to make it happen. I spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to do line drawing for this type of puzzle game on iOS.

I ended up with something a bit different than Flight Control (a curve based off the path of your touch), and instead found some code that would take points and make best-fit Bézier curves between those points. This is really the point when Gravitations was born. The game concept was simple: make a curve to fly your ship from a start station, around planets, and to the end station, while picking up all of the stranded astronauts along the way.

Around this time, my son Ryan was born, and I had a month off from work to watch him. So, like a good father, I spent most of that time working on Gravitations. Don’t worry! Little Ryan slept quietly 24/7 like all newborns do. I had no idea when the game would be complete. I just wanted to keep making it better. There was no road map, just implementing any idea that came up and seeing it if it works. This process worked very well for Gravitations. Very early on, the game changed from having static levels with set solutions, to being about empowering the players to create levels themselves, and having a certain unknown element to each level in regards to the best way to solve each.

Around the start of 2013, I had a game that felt like it was ready for the rest of the world to experience, except it was nameless, and 100% comprised of art taken from quick Google image searches. So I brought all the code to Jay and Greg and told them that JLOOP should take over the game and have it be a JLOOP creation so we can give it the quality art it needed to be taken seriously in the App Store. Six months later, Gravitations had a name and real art, and was ready to take over the world. But before we get to that, I should mention what drove me to put hundreds of hours into a game.

What were my reasons? A mixture of curiosity and pride. There might be a word for that, but I don’t know it. I wanted to see what people would do if I handed them a set of tools and rules and let them make whatever they want. I wanted people to have fun using something that I made. I wanted this digital representation of a year of my life to be seen. So what better way than to have it be free for everyone?

I was pretty set on it being free for the reasons above. The more people playing the game, the more things I would never think of would be made, and the more levels there would be for everyone to play. But as a business, JLOOP would also want to see what the game could do for the company, and luckily Jay had recently attended a talk by the CEO of Kiip, who just happened to be having an indie game contest going on which offered $10,000 for each winner. We liked the idea of Kiip, which offered your players rewards instead of ads. We implemented Kiip with our launch version of the app and got it live at the end of June 2013. Gravitations ended up being one of the 10 Kiip winners and received $10,000. It felt pretty amazing to be almost instantly recognized for all the time and energy I had spent on Gravitations. I don’t think Gravitations will ever earn more money than that in its lifetime, but it doesn’t have to.

There have been over 2,000 missions made since Gravitations launched last year, and I can tell you that my expectations of the crazy things people would do with the game were blown away by what people actually did.

Some interesting developments happened when i decided to add the ability for players to write their own mission descriptions. I was thinking that people would simply give tips on how to solve the mission or something with the description. Instead, people started writing elaborate stories for their missions, even going as far as making a series of missions that continued the saga. Here is an excerpt from Perscirious’ 9 part epic mission series, The Fall of the Galaxy.

“Ep. 3: Terra is under siege! Save the Civilians, and The Prime Master that are in space. Do not let the destroyers take you, them are too many, you can’t take them all at once. I’m afraid our Terra, or Ancient Earth, is lost to the Dominion of the Destroyers. We must go to the Corinas Colony. It is the only safe place left.”

Here is a short list of some of the unexpected things that players have done:

  • Stacked planets and moons so that a simple looking mission explodes with moons everywhere the first time a player tries to solve it.
  • Created Cadet-themed missions to teach new users all of the special maneuvers you can do.
  • Spelled out words using planets, and many other art-based missions.
  • Created an 18-part (and counting) mission series of beautifully crafted missions that all have the overall appearance of three rings
  • Recreated our own solar system
  • Created missions that are actually race courses where the solution is obvious, but challenges the player to get the fastest time.
  • Made missions extra tricky by hiding critical objects behind other objects.
  • Made amazing designs using mainly the mines and the circles that they make
  • Consistently exploit every new mechanic in some fun way.
  • Spent 100s of hours making missions.

So what’s next in the story of Gravitations? Who knows? A year ago, I never would have thought that Gravitations would have EMPs, Laser Walls, UFOs, Wormholes, Turrets, or TIME TRAVEL, but now it does. The community has been keeping me inspired, and continues providing ideas for new features to add. All I know is that I still find it worthwhile to put any amount of time to create something new for Gravitations, even it means just a single person would take that new thing and surprise me with it. Now it’s just about finding the time.

**Disclaimer: If you are wondering why the app isn’t free, that is because we currently have it paid to set it free every other weekend so that the apps gone free sites pick it up. More people check out gravitations that way than when it was just free all the time.
If you want to check out Gravitations just hit us up for an app code.

Mosaic

Documentary Kickstarter wants to tell story of the app revolution – Cult of Mac

Whether you believe Apple’s claim that it “invented” apps or not, there’s no doubt that the concept of downloadable mobile apps have had an enormous impact on our lives since the App Store first opened its digital doors back in 2008.

Now a new documentary Kickstarter project aims to tell that story, with the aid of the developers who helped the revolution to take place. Called App: The Human Story, the documentary has currently raised $37,769 of its stated $100,000 goal, with 28 days still to go.

 | Cult of Mac

 

Friday Fuel – iOS Games part 2

A few days ago, we talked about some new iOS games that caught our attention. We continue today with another set of games:

Greg’s pick: Monument Valley

In Monument Valley, you become a student of the mind-bending visual stylings of MC Escher.  You get to manipulate your environment in ways that are physically impossible, but work via the magic of forced perspective. The world is beautifully realized and unique. Our only complaint is that it’s rather short with only 10 levels, so we’re hoping the developer will give us more in a future update. No in-app purchases or ads here. The app costs $3.99 at the time of this writing.

JLOOP Verdict: far out!

Kali’s pick: TwoDots

Building on the success of the popular puzzle game Dots, TwoDots adds new mechanics and increasingly-prevalent Candy Crush-style level progression to keep players hooked. If you enjoyed the original, you’re sure to enjoy this updated version. The colorful art style and pleasing animations make for a pleasant experience. Monetization happens through in-app purchases of lives and power-ups.

JLOOP Verdict: Yeti-tastic

John’s pick: Osmo

Osmo isn’t a game on its own, but more of a platform for children’s games that uses the iPad’s camera to detect physical puzzle pieces, drawings, and more to create games that are part app, part real life. Check out their video to get a better idea of what this incredible experience is like. Osmo hasn’t been released yet, but you can pre-order it today. It sounds a bit expensive, even at the discounted price of $49 + shipping, but remember that it includes several physical game sets along with the proprietary iPad stand and mirror attachment. This is truly a new and unique way for children to learn and play.

JLOOP Verdict: Osome!

Daniel’s pick: Baulder’s Gate 1 & 2: Enhanced Editions

Baulder’s Gate is a classic series of Dungeons & Dragons RPGs that first appears on PC in the late ’90s. They’ve now been re-vamped for the iPad, featuring higher-resolution graphics and a revised interface optimized for the touch screen. If you’re a fan of hardcore role-playing games, Baulder’s Gate is a must-play. Each game features dozens of hours of content, so be prepared to get invested. Baulder’s Gate uses the pay-up-front model; the first game costs $9.99 and the second (generally regarded as superior to the original) costs $14.99. Both seem like good deals considering that these are games that cost around $50 when they were originally released.

JLOOP Verdict: Heya!

My pick: Make It Rain: The Love of Money

Make it Rain isn’t so much a game as it is an unbelievable waste of time, but I fell for it anyway. The core gameplay is as simplistic as it gets: perform a single swiping gesture over and over until your fingers fall off. Once you’ve swiped enough, you can then spend some of your money on upgrades that let you…wait for it…swipe even more! Intellectually, you’d think that this is entirely pointless (and you’d be correct), but there is something strangely satisfying about it, and it drew me in for far longer than I’m willing to admin.  Revenue for the developer is generated by in-app purchases that give the player upgrades that would normally take awhile to earn organically.

Thanks for joining us on our journey through some of the latest iOS games. If you have any other games that you think are awesome or clever, please share them with us in the comment section!

App: The Human Story Kickstarter has launched

There’s an amazing project that just launched on Kickstarter that we are very proud to be associated with.

Our very own Jake Schumacher, friend and collaborator on numerous projects, has been working on this project for about a year.  We’ve been supporting his efforts along the way and we’re very proud to see it get off the ground.

In the first 24 hours, the project has reached over 30% of its goal.  Please take a look at the project video below and consider giving this project your support.

There have been some great things written about the project from some pretty interesting folks.  Here are a few snippets:

By funding this project, you’re also giving your future self a rare gift. I was a young developer when the Mac was announced in 1984, and let me assure you that many of the details of that time have been lost over the course of thirty years. You’re going to look back at this time in your career fondly and wish you remembered more about it.

- Craig Hockenberry
http://furbo.org/2014/07/01/a-documentary/

“If you have any interest in apps as an art form and a new mass market medium of pop culture, you should back this film. I think it’s going to be great.”

- John Gruber
http://daringfireball.net/linked/2014/07/01/app-the-human-story

“I believe this is a project that matters because the stories of people behind apps go largely unnoticed.”

- Federico Viticci
http://www.macstories.net/news/app-the-human-story-documentary-wants-to-capture-the-story-of-apps-and-app-creators/

Please join us in supporting this project.

Friday Fuel – iOS Games part 1

We used the last two weeks to discuss the latest crop of popular iOS games in the App Store. We talked about why we loved (or hated) them, why we thought they became successful, and the different monetization strategies they employed. Here are the iOS games that caught our attention:

Todd’s pick: Folt

Folt is a puzzle game with a simple, clean graphical style created by a single developer who happens to also work for Square Enix, makers of Final Fantasy and other popular games. It employs Candy Crush-style level progression to maximize addictiveness. Folt monetizes through in-app purchases of power-ups, extra lives, and play modes.

JLOOP Verdict: Awesome

Mike’s pick: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

Hearthstone is the first iOS game from Blizzard, the developer behind mega-hit series such as Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo. It combines game mechanics similar to classic collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering with the rich characters, locales, and music of the popular Warcraft universe. This game is a bit more hardcore than most, but is exceptionally fun and rewarding for players who dig cerebral gameplay, and are willing to invest themselves (either in time, money, or both) to build a massive collection of cards and decks. Hearthstone makes money through in-app purchases of cards and gameplay modes, but still allows users to “grind” through the game to obtain these items for free.

JLOOP Verdict: Lok’tar! (that’s Orcish for “victory”)

Lauren’s pick: The Line

The Line is simple, frustrating, and addictive in ways similar to Flappy Bird. Immediate and repeated failure is par for the course, as is a consistent feeling of powerlessness. Sessions are decidedly short, so it’s easy to pick up and play few times while waiting for your barista to create a delicious beverage for you. The developer monetizes this game by showing banner ads at the bottom of the game screen, and displaying interstitials every few rounds.

JLOOP Verdict: for masochists only

Jason’s pick: Year Walk

In a word, Year Walk is creepy. You’re thrown into a beautifully unsettling world without any idea of where to go or what to do. The game only offers the subtlest of hints to help the player progress through the environment to solve puzzles to reach a goal that isn’t entirely apparent, but that’s part of the fun. Year Walk harkens back to some of the class PC adventure games like Myst, where discovery is both the challenge and reward. Year Walk foregoes in-app purchases and ads, and simply charges up front for the game ($3.99 at the time of this writing).

JLOOP Verdict: Wicked

Thanks for joining us on our journey through some of the latest iOS games. If you have any other games that you think are awesome or clever, please share them with us in the comment section.

Tune in later this week for part 2 of our iOS games discussion!

Friday Fuel – Campaigns

The latest round of Friday Fuel discussion focused on campaigns – Twitter, Facebook, email or ad campaigns that stood out to us. Most of the entries were ad campaigns, both old and new, along with a few web-based projects and some viral marketing to boot.

Both Lauren and I chose advertising campaigns created for two large beer brands:
Bud Light: Real Men of Genius
Dos Equis: The Most Interesting Man in the World

One point of discussion was the fact that neither of these campaigns actually discussed the product beyond associating it with an interesting character or humorous experience. Is this a way for more established brands to re-invent themselves without actually changing the product? It’s also nice to see a brand not take itself too seriously and poke fun at the way that same company may have presented itself in the past.

Partnerships, Family, & Doing Work that Matters

The maturation of the TED franchise has certainly evolved over the years, but at its best, TED showcases inspirational individuals filling unmet needs in our world. We sat down with the family and watched this interview last night, and was astounded at the work and approach of Bill and Melinda Gates. They have laser focus on 2 goals:  raising their children in a health manner given the challenges of being the world’s wealthiest family and 2) create an organization that will allow their fortune  to improve our world for generations to come.

This interview is a wonderful snapshot of how they are approaching these challenges, and the deliberate choices they have made. 25 minutes well spent.

Friday Fuel – Photography & Video

Last week we wrapped up our Photography and Video discussions for Friday Fuel.  The JLOOPers really brought some beautiful websites and apps to the table to share.  Of course, you put our team in charge of bringing good photography and video in, there is always an emphasis on how the site or app will function and respond within that beauty.

Jason showed us http://gladeye.com which was a beautiful example of user interaction on top of beautiful graphics and photography.  Each page depicts a full scale photo with the type over the top, the scrolling feels fluid without harsh transitions and the whole site is responsive.

I also liked Greg’s pick:  https://squareup.com.  I thought it was interesting that instead of static pictures to use within the scrolling of content, they chose to use 15-second looping videos as visual communication to demonstrate the product.  This takes user experience to an interactive level – and I think SquareUp nailed it.  The site itself is simple with a lot of white space , but feels clean rather than empty and the videos complement its minimalist approach.

Lastly, I wanted to briefly discuss activetheory.net, which was introduced to us by Todd.  Right away, the user is engaged with the javascript particle system on the home screen.  But, what I really like is once you drill down into the website you come to menus that are slightly askew, which I think is the real creative differentiator.  It got all of us talking about how such a small angle to something we think should be straight, can make such a profound effect.

These three were my favorites, but the others also showcased amazing photography or video.  Again, bravo to our team for bringing some powerful sites to share for Friday Fuel!