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The Path to Indie Development – Part 3(?)

July 19th, 2015

What a whirlwind of activity this year has been! Hard to believe it’s been just about six months since the Part 2 post in this series…

Some great things have happened recently. The mission to streamline my budget and reduce debt has reached an important milestone this July, and an unexpected RPGReload article showed up on TouchArcade about Rogue Touch!

A quick review and a Chronosoft state of the union talk:

Try to put a frog into boiling water and he’ll immediately jump up out; but if you place him in cool water and slowly raise the temperature he will sit there until he dies…

That frog was me, and the water temperature represents my monthly expenses that slowly went up every year of adulthood (lifestyle creep, business, and my prior marriage were contributing factors) without me really noticing or trying to do anything about it.

Believe it or not, up until recently I needed to pull in well over $10K per month just to tread water (very hot water for this poor frog)! That’s not including attempts at saving for retirement or a rainy-day fund, but simply to cover all the monthly bills. It would have been financial suicide to go full indie-game-dev under those circumstances.

My twitter followers probably caught wind of this already- I managed to secure a buyer for my house in June, and completed the sale a little over a week ago. A huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders… No longer am I trapped in a dungeon of debt and despair (perhaps only the Dungeon of Doom)! Officially debt-free and now holding some extra savings/investments, it means July 8th 2015 will be known as my own personal “Independence Day” :D

What does this mean for the future of ChronoSoft? I’m not 100% “Financially Independent” yet but I do have enough savings to smooth any bumps in the road. In the meantime I still plan to do some industrial automation consulting to cover my now modest lifestyle. The difference today is I am in a position to say “no” to some projects, giving myself the freedom to dive into Game Development properly for the first time since 2009!

Next post will be finally be new discussion of my upcoming games… and some reflection on the great people I’ve had the honor to interact with during my design phase, as well as you all in the community here and at TouchArcade.

Thank you all for reading, playing, and waiting patiently for more!

The Path to Indie Development – Part 2(?)

January 23rd, 2015

Continuing some of my financial and life balance efforts hinted at in Part 1… In a nutshell, it is likely you will never become a successful indie developer without first gaining control of your budget, savings, and personal “consumption” tendencies.

With this in mind, during November and December of 2014 I loaded up a backpack and spent some time in Asia. Not for vacation purposes from the cold arctic tundra of my Northeastern US lair, but rather as a continued trial of ideas for my upcoming indie life. In my spare time I have been learning that traveling the world does not have to be expensive at all, in fact it can be even cheaper than living in a normal home back in the USA!

This odd revelation has been fostered by the internet and a variety of computer technology available in the 21st Century, giving rise to “Digital Nomads” – people choosing to live and work somewhere far away from their more expensive home-country. The lifestyle works for those who do not need to report to an office, can do everything with a laptop, and don’t need the usual trappings of western comfort (unfortunately including high speed internet!). If you absolutely must have your fancy craft-brews, wines, cheeses, steaks, 5 star hotels, 25Mbps+ internet, and a big house full of “stuff” then this is not for you.

Digital Nomad game developers are rare as far as I know at the moment, but the idea is not without precedent. @Cytoemos on Twitter pointed out that Sarah Northway and her husband Colin have lived this life since 2010 while working on their post-apocalyptic game series “Rebuild”. Having traveled through many countries in the last five years, they are in South Africa as of late 2014. If they can see the world, live cheaply, enjoy life, and have a moderate level of success, maybe I can too! If anyone reading this knows of other successes like Sarah (or any possible failures) please let me know in the comments or via @ChronoSoft on Twitter.

Why target Asia for my Nomadic test-run? I have always had an interest in cultures and people from all over Asia (that influence should be obvious in the samples of Spirit Hunter Mineko I’ve shown so far). The economies and climate of the SEA region are also favorable to aspiring Nomads like myself who would like to escape low temperatures and high costs. Fortunately my interests allowed me to blend in seamlessly. OK, maybe not seamlessly… I certainly drew a lot of stares! But I was quite comfortable.

Staying in a studio apartment overlooking the ocean during this trip, I was able to carefully evaluate my monthly expenses and quality of life, all while plugging away at work on my laptop. Shockingly it appears that I should be able to live comfortably on less than 20% of the amount required to maintain my current life in the USA! Bonus points awarded for being much warmer, happier, and healthier (due to being able to walk to nearly everything I need). Overall it was a great success, I would have loved to stay there all winter :)

Where does this leave me? Cutting of expenses, eliminating debts, saving and investing will continue here in early 2015. My home will be finally going up for sale this spring. All these lines are converging on a point tantalizingly close, but just out of reach over the horizon…

I am on the right on track. Just need to stay on the train a bit longer!

The Path to Indie Development – Part 1(?)

October 18th, 2014

Today is something unusual for the blog: I’m going to share a bit of the business side of game development, including some never before released sales numbers!

As you probably know, Rogue Touch was released in early 2009 when there were only 30k apps available for download. It’s still a solid and fun game, but certainly nothing press-worthy in the million-plus sea of apps in 2014. After all this time it reached a big milestone in early October: surpassing 25,000 copies sold. This would be cause for great celebration… if it hadn’t taken 5 years, 7 months, and 14 days after its original release in the App Store!

Over half of all those purchases occurred in the first year of Rogue’s life, especially during the sale I conducted while featured by Apple. RT followed the traditional early spike, rapid decline, and “long tail” that has become common to see in app sales discussions. It has never gone “free”, and has spent vast majority of the time at $2.99. A small trickling average of 2 or 3 purchases continue daily, with an occasional larger spike in sales, and the odd “zero-day” as well.

Despite being an App Store Antique, there are a fair number of you out there still playing Rogue Touch and updating faithfully each year. The last major revision (V1.70) in September 2013 saw well over 50% of the entire sales-base download the update during its first week of availability! Not too shabby considering how many of you bought RT over 5 years ago ;)

I’m grateful for the moderate success my ugly-duckling version of Rogue has seen, considering the hugely competitive environment in the App Store. However, you may have noticed the problem I face going forward: an average of 2.5 copies sold per day gives $5 per day (after Apple’s 30% cut), or about $150 per month. Without another source of income this is certainly not enough to live on while trying to become a full time indie developer!

This bleak reality is the one that 99% of mobile game developers face today.

So here we are. The two primary options available when faced with challenges like this:
      1) Work harder to earn more money
      2) Reduce expenses/overhead, spend less

Rather than choose one option, I am pursuing both (and more): Saving every dollar possible from my consulting business while I aggressively cut down debt & expenses, and adding some secret sauce- selling off most of my possessions and preparing to live a nomadic lifestyle!

The idea is to reach a critical mass of investments and savings, then quit automation consulting and move into game development full time… a combination of early-retirement & career-change. In theory this will cover my lowered monthly expenses while I devote my time to increasing app-related income. I devised this plan after reading various “Financial Independence” blogs. If you’re interested in that topic try starting with Mr Money Mustache. He has some great articles that will get you thinking about your own money, work / life balance, and happiness.

In the interim this means lots of hard work and sacrifices for me, and a slow pace of development due to a heavy focus on higher-income consulting. Things will pick up speed soon though, especially due to efforts that some really great artists have been making to stockpile sprites, tiles, and other necessary graphics for me. You guys are awesome! :D

The good news is this approach will give me something that many full-time indie developers don’t have: a safety net. Efforts made today should allow me to work on all sorts of new ideas and games in the future without the fear of ending up homeless/destitute (due to low sales) within the first few years of my indie-adventure.

Of course I still need to worry about making *great* games, and increasing that tiny $150 per month game-related income! But that is a story for another day…

Forum &*$!

September 18th, 2014

Hello everyone- a small update for you: If you’ve been around getting frustrated by the issues with the ChronoSoft forum this year, know that I feel your pain. My web host unfortunately broke a lot of things when they forced new versions of PHP and mySQL on me.

Forum logins were fixed recently, but posting was still broken. I put on my Web Developer hat today (one of about 50 hats you need to own and wear proudly as an indie developer) and dove in headfirst to figure this out. You will be happy to know that I have managed to fix all the remaining issues that I can see so far!

*** Important Note ***
If you have trouble with logging into your forum account, please request a password reset and follow the instructions you get via e-mail to reset your account. I believe the updates have increased security but broken the old password system.

If you haven’t been around for a while, please pop into the forums and post a hello or reply to my “Logins and Posting” announcement there. Feel free to try to PM me in the forum as well, we need to shake out everything.

Hopefully I’ve fixed things just in the nick of time… with iOS 8 released yesterday and new iPhones arriving tomorrow, it would be good to have a place to discuss any issues of note!

Any troubles remaining that you run into? If you can’t post in the forum or PM me, please reply here and I will do my best to fix it :)

iPhone 6 and 6 Plus gaming

September 14th, 2014

What’s this? Two posts, in the same year? Madness!

As mentioned in my New Beginnings post- I’m gearing up for game development to become more and more central to my life, so this blog and my twitter account ( @ChronoSoft if you’re not already following me ) should be much more active than before.

Everyone’s heard about the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus by now. Many are excited for the possibilities of larger screen gaming, but some developers have concerns about games looking less than optimal on the new phones.

I fall somewhere in the middle of these two camps. Why? I like my pixels crisp, with lines so sharp you can cut yourself on them! That may be a problem with the new iPhones coming out next week, especially for games that do not get updated.

The screens on these new phones are fantastic of course, higher resolution than any previous iPhone generation. I have no doubt they will be beautiful. The issues I have stem from the “desktop class scaling” that Apple referred to during their presentations. I’ll try to explain the problem without using too much technical detail:

Both the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus will upscale existing apps to fit the new screen space available to them rather than show black bars as older iPhone apps would do on the 5, 5s, and 5c. Your older apps and games will believe that they are running at 1136×640, but the content is being stretched to fit either 1334×750 (on the 6) or 1920×1080 (on the 6 Plus). This means every game in the store will need updating in order to avoid this undesirable effect.

The iPhone 6 Plus actually has a second issue. In a nutshell the screen is rendered at 2208×1242 and then down-sampled to fit 1920×1080 (note that this is exactly how the Retina MacBook Pros operate). This will have the effect of subtly softening and blurring things, even when running native iPhone 6 Plus apps! I’m not yet sure if this will affect OpenGL or “Metal” drawing APIs. If it does, pixel art fans will notice the difference, and many will be unhappy.

Now, all may not be lost… I’ve not yet dug into the latest XCode and iOS SDK to see if we can target pixel-perfect 1920×1080 resolution with OpenGL drawing on the iPhone 6 Plus. It seems this should be possible, especially because 3D games usually need the extra rendering performance that could come from drawing at “only” 1920×1080!

I was tempted to buy an iPhone 6 Plus to dig into the problem first-hand. However, after testing their relative sizes with cheap cases I got from Amazon, I decided to go with the 4.7″ iPhone 6 as it was more reasonably sized for my hands and pockets.

My iPhone 6 should arrive on “launch day” this coming Friday, hopefully I can tweak Rogue Touch one more time to fit the new form-factor… and then it’s back to work on Spirit Hunter Mineko and Rogue Touch 2! :D

New iOS, new devices, new beginnings for ChronoSoft

September 9th, 2014

Wow, I am shocked that it has been a whole year(!!!) since my last blog post, but here we are.

Today Apple unveiled some pretty cool stuff… meanwhile, I have not… This is certainly not the way I had planned these last few years to progress.

Let’s back up a bit.

Rogue Touch was developed back in 2008 and released in early 2009, as love-letter to the time I spent playing Rogue in the 1980s on the Atari ST. I knew nothing of Objective-C back then… not a darn thing about OpenGL either (all on-screen drawing was done with clever use of CALayers)… never completed and released a full game before that point in my life, despite wanting to be a game developer since the 1970s!

Later that year when I first came up with the concept for Spirit Hunter Mineko, the iPhone 3GS was the top of the line device from Apple. No high speed, multi core CPUs, no varied resolutions or form-factors, no retina displays! The tech was primitive, the dev tools were weaker. 5+ years ago seems like the dark ages.

Since then, Apple’s devices and developer tools have evolved, and mobile gaming has improved dramatically. There’s also been a sort of Roguelike Renaissance… many people are discovering the roguelike genre and realizing they enjoy games that have consequences!

You may be wondering what’s been happening with ChronoSoft during all this? Why the $@*% hasn’t that guy released any more games?! Well, life has a knack for making things difficult:

First issue- the need for money, a place to live, and food on the table- My very high living expenses have traditionally been covered by my industrial automation consulting business for the last 17 years. This income is also how I’ve been paying artists for their work (rather than crowdfunding). Business volume exploded for me beginning in 2010… normally considered a good problem to have! But not so great for Mineko. After working so many hours each week I couldn’t even think straight, never mind write code for games.

Second issue- life’s challenges- These started with my divorce in 2011 which left me with a financial hole to dig out of, after which I’ve attempted to piece my life together again. This stressful time was followed up with the untimely deaths of a couple of colleagues I’ve worked with for years, and a close friend with serious legal issues in need of help. All of these things affected my day-to-day life significantly.

Here I am several years later, with no new releases. That which has not killed me, has made me stronger? Perhaps! I can say my whole outlook on life has been changed… My ideas of what it takes to be happy… How much “stuff” or money I actually need in my life… I’ve lost 85lbs and am in better shape now in my 40s than I was in High School! (Ugh where did all the time go?!)

All of this life experience has been pointing me toward what was always right in front of me. I was never happier than when I was learning new stuff and making my first game, Rogue Touch. Back in 2008/09 it was only a diversion from my “real work”. But now that my life and the financial dust are settling, I am at a point where it just might be possible to make a modest living at this!

With that in mind, this year I’ve been taking steps to reduce my monthly expenses so that I do not set myself up to fail. An indie game developer with a high cost of living will not be in business for long! Still more to do in this area, but my situation improves every month. Once my desired threshold is reached, I’ll be able to “force-quit” my automation consulting business.

Over the last several years I have also increased my knowledge in many areas of game design, procedural generation, AI, and graphics… which means I’ll be able to produce more beautiful and exciting results than I was ever capable of before. I feel that I am finally equipped with the skills to make very good, or maybe even great games!

I’ve been kicked repeatedly while down, but I’m up again and more agile than ever. Also learned to eat life’s sucker-punches for breakfast!

When I take these steps into the next phase of my life I’m 100% committed, I sincerely hope you will come along on the journey with me to see what happens! :D

iOS 7 – Rogue’s End?

September 9th, 2013

Well, not exactly… But Rogue Touch has had a pretty long and healthy life in the App Store. These days its aged appearance is not doing it any favors, and good grief man, my old code is horrible to look at!

iOS 7 and a new round of hardware (likely new iPhones and iPods) will be unveiled tomorrow at Apple Headquarters in Cupertino. Rogue Touch has run on every generation of hardware and every version of iOS since 2.0… But patching it up to support newer OS and hardware correctly is frustrating. Since I was a novice to iOS and Objective C back when I created RT, I did a lot of unspeakable things in the code that are facepalm-worthy today.

People who follow me on twitter may be aware, there’s a small gotcha coming when Apple releases the latest version of iOS. When you update to iOS7, the “Greetings, Rogue” popup no longer allows you to enter a name, so you are temporarily stuck with whatever name you last made a run with in iOS6 as your default, or with “Rodney” on a fresh install! I am in the process of fixing this, and attempting to maintain compatibility back to iOS4.3 (or roughly in that era).

This will near-definitely be the last update to Rogue Touch as you know it. However, the next generation of Rogue is well into production and will be unveiled on a very special date! Additionally, there is an incredible amount of neat stuff to talk about with Spirit Hunter Mineko, and my future development plans.

With any luck I will have the iOS7 compatibility fix done along with a couple other nice tweaks added in and submitted to Apple later this week, and still manage to beat the worldwide release of iOS7 if they hold back another week or two ;)


May 27th, 2013

Been a long time since I’ve written here… I know everyone’s interested to know just what the heck is happening with Rogue Touch 2.0 and Spirit Hunter Mineko! Those projects are still very much alive, but not directly my topic today. My current activity with those projects actually allowed me to stumble across one more excellent indie Kickstarter project that I think deserves some attention here: TinyKeep

Recently I was searching for a few more dungeon generation techniques and some AI articles to get ideas for enhancing Mineko, and stumbled across Phi Dinh’s work in these areas… he has written articles and created a few videos on these topics while working on his vision for TinyKeep (really worth checking out if you’re technically minded!).

As it turns out, TinyKeep is a realtime dungeon crawler with some neat procedural dungeon generation, and lots of clever AI. Or at least it will be when it’s done! This is where roguelike and dungeon crawler fans need to come to the rescue… Phi has only a few days left for his TinyKeep Kickstarter and could really use some love and support from the community.

I’ve donated to his Kickstarter cause already, and hope that some of you can help by donating as well. Phi’s a great guy with some really smart ideas, I would love to see him succeed with TinyKeep.

(I promise that you’re going to see a lot more of me soon… Big plans and announcements are afoot!)

Sword of Fargoal 2 – Kickstarter, and more!

October 12th, 2012

So there’s a great game in the App Store called Sword of Fargoal (get it on iTunes now!) that I’ve played a lot of over the past few years… It was originally created by Jeff McCord way back in the early days of gaming, and brought to life again for iOS by Paul Pridham AKA Madgarden.

They have been trying to fund a greatly expanded sequel to this classic dungeon crawler on Kickstarter (please see their Kickstarter campaign here). Time is running out for them to reach their goal. I’ve made a large pledge myself, at the “HERO” level. But they still need thousands more from backers before 3PM Saturday PST to make the goal.

Jeff is hosting a “Kick-A-Thon” starting at 3PM today PST, and running for 24 hours until the close of the Kickstarter campaign. This will be broadcast on the web via Google Hangouts, with some great guest speakers including the likes of Brenda Brathwaite and Tom Hall! They will be talking about their upcoming game “SHAKER”, an old-school RPG also on Kickstarter.

Here’s some more fun news- I will be appearing via webcam on the “Kick-A-Thon” for an hour as well, starting 11AM Saturday PST (2PM EST)! We’ll be discussing retro-gaming, roguelikes, and a variety of fun topics including my upcoming games! :)

Finally, I’m a co-sponsor for this last kick / push to the goal…

1) People who pledge to the “ROGUE” level or higher tomorrow will receive an extra bonus, in addition to the great items that are being offered in the KS- A Rogue Touch Promo Code to use or share with a friend as you see fit! Limited to the first 30 people who pledge on Saturday.

2) If you can pledge at the “MONSTER SLAYER” level or higher tomorrow I’ll allow you into my private beta test group for Dungeon Tactics: Spirit Hunter Mineko! Beta testing for Mineko is still quite a ways off, but you’ll be “in the club” and also get access to help me test other games in the future. This is limited to the first 20 people who pledge at this level on Saturday.

I’ll grant these extra gifts to people who can raise their existing pledge to the necessary level on Saturday as well as new pledges that appear, so if you have donated already but want in on this action… you know what to do ;) Note that Jeff McCord will be the final judge of who is awarded these gifts if there is any confusion, since he is in charge of the KS campaign.

This may seem funny, talking passionately about a game I’m not directly involved with, but I hope some of you can help them reach the goal. We can all benefit from more fantastic dungeon crawlers, roguelikes, and “Fargoal-likes” in the the world :)

Rogue Touch v1.62 in the wild :)

October 10th, 2012

The latest update arrived overnight in the App Store, this one finally correcting all the issues with iOS 6 when playing Rogue Touch.

Definitely learned I need to check all aspects of gameplay very carefully whenever a new iOS update appears, probably on the final private beta… which means I need to pick up an iPod Touch this fall that I can screw up without destroying my iPhone while on the road :)

I’ll also be setting up my TestFlight account for official development testing soon. There’s some long-standing forum members and friends out there that are must haves on my beta-list… Of course I will be requesting new eyes as well!

My apologies to anyone who lost a great “in-progress” game due to the iOS 6 related bugs, I hope you’ll continue to play and be ready for the future Rogue Touch overhaul, as well as Spirit Hunter Mineko!

Thanks for all your support! :)

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