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  • Excerpt: iPhone Games Projects

    [11.24.09]
    - Joachim Bondo
  •  [One area developers need to spend time with is the user interface -- but UI design in many games could stand much improvement. Here, in an excerpt from Apress' iPhone Games Projects, developer Joachim Bondo discusses the development of his iPhone chess game Deep Green, which is the sequel to a game he developed in the '90s for the much less powerful Apple Newton PDA, and the thinking behind his interface decisions.

    Alongside this excerpt, Apress is offering a 50 percent off coupon to members of the GameCareerGuide and Gamasutra communities. Visit https://www.apress.com/. Once you've chosen your titles, click on the 'Buy eBook' button, enter the promotional code GAMASUTRAPP, click to apply the coupon and proceed to the checkout.]

    Chapter 1: Simplify the User Interface for Complex Games

    In order to being able to develop a simplistic application, you need to find out what's important in your application. And to do this, you need to have a product statement. The product statement describes in one sentence what your product is. In Deep Green's case, the product statement is as follows:

    A simplistic chess application for the casual player

    The product statement is my guiding principle during the entire process from idea through design and development to release and maintenance. It's the beacon I'm relentlessly steering toward for every decision I make through the entire process. If I'm uncertain whether to include a feature or where to place it in the application, I go back to this statement and see whether and where the feature fits in.

    If I lose track of the product statement, I lose control of the entire process, and Deep Green with it, and it's up to forces beyond my control what happens to my application. With this in mind, I'll take you through some of the main areas of Deep Green and explain my motivations for doing what I did, which ultimately led to the application I'm so proud of.  

     Distilling the Essence

    The keywords of the product statement are chess, casual, and simplistic. This leads to defining the primary and secondary, and possibly tertiary, functionality.

    The primary functionality should be supported by the most prominent user interface elements and be available to the user at all times, where the secondary functionality should be one gesture away. The tertiary functionality should probably not even make it to an iPhone application, but if so desired, it should be hidden away from the rest, and more important part, of the user interface. In Deep Green, I defined the primary functionality as follows:

    • Displaying board and pieces
    • Moving pieces
    • Making a new game
    • Taking back moves
    • Showing the last move
    • Getting a hint from the engine
    • Seeing whose turn it is

    This functionality is what chess boils down to when you play it casually. I wanted to create the sense of playing over the board with a friend, where Deep Green is the friend.

    I defined the secondary functionality as follows:

    • Setting up a position
    • Playing back the game one move at a time
    • Seeing captured pieces
    • Swapping sides

    In Deep Green all of this is one gesture away with a tap, a swipe or flick, or a multifinger gesture. If you're successful in defining these areas and you keep them in mind when designing and developing your application, chances for a truly simplistic application are much higher than if you uncritically squeeze all functionality into the UI at once.

    Pushing the Pixels

    First, I have to dwell a bit on the graphics because that's what immediately meets the eye when launching Deep Green. Unfortunately, I'm not capable of producing graphics that satisfy my own preposterously high standards for looks and quality. Fortunately, others are, and I was lucky enough to get the chance to work with Japan's Mikio Inose on Deep Green's graphics. In him I met a person who would follow me to the very last pixel -- and often even further.

    Deep Green, as what I would call an application of high quality, will always be priced at the higher end. In order to give users value for money, this had to be reflected at every level of the application -- from the quality of the underlying code all the way up to the "materials" used to depict the objects in the user interface, such as pieces and board.

    In Deep Green, the pieces are supposed to be ebony and ivory, and the board is noble wood. If you look closely at the icon, you'll see the grains of the ebony. You can even see it in the smaller pieces on the board. The ivory pieces even feature the perhaps not-so-well-known Schreger lines that are used by connoisseurs to distinguish real ivory from fake (see Figure 1-6).


    Figure 1-6. Deep Green's ebony and ivory pieces on noble wood

    The board is worn and has dents from years of use. Yes, even just playing casually can cause its wear and tear. The board can be flipped on its back, just like a real board, and on the backside you'll see the engine and other elements depending on the context.

    Notice the engravings on the main gear. It says "Cocoa Stuff, DENMARK." Above the visible gears there's an engraving in the wood saying "Manufactured by Cocoa Stuff." I'll go into even more detail with the engine in the "Making the User Smile" section.

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