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Ultimate Coder Ultrabook Challenge: Week 6 and it is a wrap!

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That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire,
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

Alas – our Ultrabook Challenge is coming to a close and too soon it seems the lights dim to reveal what is left…and what is lost.

When we got Intel’s invitation we frankly had to first get our heads around it. We’ve been steeped in mobile technology since 2008 and the idea of an Ultrabook first had to work its way past all of our expectations on handsets and tablets. But in a fairly short time – especially once the hardware arrived (!) – we saw that there was a LOT to work with here…


What we came up with is a game called Wind Up Football or WUF – a multiplayer, multi-touch, pick-up-and-play robot melee. In the scope doc under ‘what makes this game fun?’ I wrote “S&!^ goes flying.” and that’s pretty much been the guiding principle.
Now while the challenge was specifically to build something that made use of the Ultrabook’s strengths we also took the challenge a step further by cleaving to other high-value targets Intel has set for us in the past, specifically ‘multi-platform’ deployment. In other words, while we optimized for Ultrabook we built WUF with a much wider distribution target in mind and we’ll launch the app on iPad, iPhone and Android devices all at roughly the same time. This kind of thing is made possible by the magic of Unity 3D and the sweet tools they provide.

Of course the hardware drives a lot of what’s possible in an app. Things like GPUs, processor power and built in sensors all effect what we can do so WUF will change depending on the platform its being deployed on. For this case, the Ultrabook has the most horsepower of all the target platforms so it gets a slew of extra eye-candy and special effects that simply won’t fly on weaker machines. Explosions, environmental cues, dynamic lighting, dancing Bok Choy Boys…it’s all possible because the Ultrabook gives us headroom that the iPad frankly never has.

In the end, we’re pretty proud of what we produced in a rather tight development cycle. Not only were we able to come up with a playable and marketable game but it is something that has a lot of room to grow and we expect we’ll see WUF evolve into a bigger, better and funnier game as we get feedback from players and time to reflect.

Now there is an obligatory part of this wrap-up post where I’m supposed to convince the judges why we should win so I’ll take a stab at this.

I’m always aware that the other folks in this competition are better programmers than our team – it’s a demonstrable fact and I’m always wowed by the things these people can do with a keyboard. But in the end, despite the ‘ultimate coder‘ name of this competition, it really isn’t about code…it’s about user experience. If the iPhone explosion proved one thing it’s that we all want the experience of an app to be smooth and slick and lovely. The sterile utilitarianism of Windows productivity software has given way to the charming but often pointless elegance of iEverything. And in the realm of art, UX and fun – I think we can hold our own. Soma Games has a history of celebrated visuals, above-par sound and unique gameplay. Wind Up Football has already been picked up by GREE as part of their iOS launch and we’re off to a great start with showing the world a fun game that risks a world where multi-touch is not a possibility – but a requirement. Windup Football is a great example of how the Ultrabook is a string entry to an increasingly mobile ecosystem and yet stands head and shoulders above its nearest competitors.

Long Live the Ultrabook!
Long Live Wind Up Football!

Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 8:17 am.

4 comments

Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge Week 5 : Post IDF Thoughts

We spent most of last week hanging out with the Intel tribe at IDF in San Francisco. Part of that was connected to the Ultimate Coder contest where we are hoping to win the top prize for developing Wind Up Football (WUF) on the next generation Ultrabook. At IDF we enjoyed connecting with the other contestants and judges. And yes Lee brought candy form England (why did we not think of WUF candy?).  We were also at IDF as Intel Black Belts. IDF is Intel’s main event and it is always an honor to be included. I (John) asked our CTO Chris Skaggs to write this update mainly because along with Gavin he has been resistant to add multiple Ultrabook features to WUF. IDF seems to have changed his mind. Here is how that happened. Take note of where we will be changing a few things befoe we ship the build to the judges:

From Chris:

At a dinner shindig we had a chance to hear from Greg Welch, the cat who coined the term ‘Ultrabook’ and also defined the specification. Listening to him gave me some additional insight into just what the Ultrabook is meant to be and it’s got me rethinking some of the assumptions I had realized we were working with during this project.

Greg talked about the launch of the Centrino Chip in 2003 and how it was this big watershed event. Arguably it was the first time that a computer was realistically and truly “mobile” in that it was fully functional without any wires. WiFi, low power chips, and sufficient battery life made a big splash. But then he tells of standing in Best Buy in 2011 and looking at all the laptops…and nothing had changed.

In 8 full years of light speed hardware development nothing meaningful had changed – and he was sad.

His point was that while OEMs had made the laptops faster, cheeper and more powerful they were really the exact same experience and arguably it was that complacency that left a door open for Apple’s “post PC world” idea to be at all plausible. I don’t think Welch agrees with that phrase but he recognizes the stagnant state of PC hardware made such an audacious statement credible. Then he went on to define the Ultrabook specification.

As he went on to describe his goals it made me think of things in a different way and while, to be candid, I still think the iPad represents a more significant jump, the Ultrabook starts to look like more than a better laptop with the ideas of “contextual awareness” and “adaptive response.” I’ll take some time to dig into those thoughts more later ,but for the moment let me focus on how I’d like these ideas to change Wind Up Football.

First, I want WUF to be more aware of what’s going on around the user and adapt to their situation. A simple example of this would be to use the Ultrabook’s light sensor, clock and GPS to track things like ambient light, and what weather.com reports as the local weather -then alter the game’s environment to match. It’s dark outside? Crank up the field lights and add the fireflies. Daytime? Turn the stadium light off and add sharp daytime shadows. Rain? Snow? Heat Wave? Any or all of those things could be reflected in the game’s environemnt.

Contextual computing became a buzz word during the week (I blame Robert Scoble) and while the concept isn’t new, the realistic ability to deliver on this concept IS new…and the Ultrabook is a big step toward making that vision reachable. I’m proud to be part of that effort.

 

John here again: So with that we head back into a week of crunch to get as many of these changes made as well as final polish before shipping the game off to the judges.

Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 10:34 pm.

1 comment

Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge Week 4 all about touch

Here we are in week 4 of the Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge (see our week 4 video at the bottom of this post). As I write down the things I wanted to share for our development so far in the contest I have decided to go back to the beginning and remind our team here in the shop of the criteria Intel lined out for us for an award winning app on the Ultrabook to win. Some of the judges have poked at the developers to add things like a battery optimization and other features that just don’t fit into Wind Up Football (WUR). Here again is the criteria for the contest:

“An app will be considered a good Ultrabook app if it
–       Fits the use case for using an Ultrabook – a work, create, play & consume device that has the mobile convenience of mobile and the power of a workstation

–       Takes advantage of one or more of the following technology vectors for Ultrabook

o  CPU Performance |Graphics | Security |Touch & Sensor technology |AppUp APIs (In-App Purchase etc)”

So with these back in mind, we are well on our way to making a game that shines on the new Ultrabook.

This week we are looking at interface. We really liked Steve “Chippy” Paines’s Ultrabook video where he dives into how developers can optimize the navigation methods and interface on a touch device like the new Ultrabook. One thing that stood out to us was the use of thumb navigation on the sides of the screen. ( a side note: I have found it frustrating when I have to use buttons or such on the bottom of the Ultrabook screen. It really gets bad when you are stuck with an upright screen on while on a commercial economy flight. This is just another reason to make specific changes to navigation strategy and arrangement on the touch Ultrabook.)

So after seeing those comments we are investigating switching our controls in the main menu of WUR to be optimized for side screen/thumb navigation.

While discussing how to take advantage of new ways of interacting with the game, Gavin came up with a cool way of displaying helpful information anytime during the game. The plan basically replaces the hover tool all of us are familiar with as mouse users. We are planning to implement a simple question mark that when touched and held down will pause the game and darken the entire screen except for the item it is over. For example, during game play you will hold down the question mark icon and drag it to a robot. While it is over the robot all other parts of the game will remain darkened except that robot. A callout area will appear showing details about the robot as well as other tutorial text and instructions.

We plan to deploy with at least the reorganized navigation but the question mark tool will probably come out in the first update after we launch.

Oh an before I sign off, we are now working on Unity3D 4.0 (beta) which is Windows 8 ready. The game deployed to Windows 8 using 3.0 but we now have direct contact with Unity as well as the full features that will help us get the most out of publishing on Windows 8 and Metro. We will continue to post how that process is going.

Next week Chris Skaggs and I will be at IDF where we will be showing off WUF as well as a few other games. If you are at the conference, make sure you get in contact with us. We would love to connect.

Posted 2 years, 2 months ago at 11:33 am.

3 comments

Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge Week 3

Here we are in week 3 of the Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge and things are heating up. (To catch up you can see the other updates for week 1 and week 2.) Game development is challenging on its own. This time we are throwing in brand new technology into the mix. It has given us some big decisions to make, not only in how we develop but also how we publish.

In this episode, Gavin and I unpack some more technical details in the Ultrabook development process as well as how we plan to publish Wind Up Football (WUF). And as a spoiler we plan to publish on Metro for Windows 8 using soon to be available tools in Unity 3D 4.0. Oh and since monetization is key to our business model for WUR, we will be using our partnership with GREE and some exclusive tools they are offering us to monetize using an html api. We will talk more about that in coming posts.

While we were at it we recorded a discussion about technology changes, what really interests the consumer and how we can best use a device like the new touch Ultrabook for a game like WUR.
As usual we have some pretty strong opinions. Check it out and join the discussion.

Posted 2 years, 3 months ago at 11:40 am.

4 comments

Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge Post #2 Wind Up Football

Last week we posted our first update for the Ultimate Coder Ultrabook Challenge, outlining our plans to parallel develop a game called Wind Up Football.

In our race to win the challenge we have been working hard to find ways to make the game dazzle on the new hardware Intel has supplied the participants in the contest. First I wanted to share a general Ultrabook experience. For nearly 5 months we have been using a first generation Ultrabook, the Asus Zenbook UX31E, to blog, play games on and even do a little Unity 3D work. Right before the contest started I (John) traveled throughout Asia and took the opportunity to leave my MacBook Pro behind and try out the Zenbook as my only tool for all communications as well as video editing. While I was looking forward to the lightweight and long-life battery, I was a bit skeptical as to it’s video editing capabilities. I had a good system going on the MacBook. Why would I mess it up? The truth though after the trip is that the Ultrabook did better than I could have imagined. Traveling with it reminded me of the first months I had my iPad. In every airport terminal all eyes were on the it’s sleek profile. I was with a group and we easily passed it around for people to check Facebook statuses and send emails. Many in the group had brought laptops but they all ran out of battery before they could watch a film or get the chance to work. They also loved how light and quick it fired up since we were often only around wifi for brief periods of time. And in regards to the video work, it satisfied every need from rendering time to editing the timeline.

Ok, Back to the contest. We are excited to announce we have our first build on the new Ultrabook! It plays really well and the touch interaction is excellent. Find out more on the video update below. We plan to have a surprise next week so make sure to check back.

Posted 2 years, 3 months ago at 12:02 pm.

7 comments

Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge Post #1 Wind Up Football

Soma Games along with five other developers have been chosen to participate in the Ultimate Coder: Ultrabook Challenge being held by Intel. For the contest, we are building Wind Up Football for the new Ultrabook with Ivy Bridge technology, touch screen, and accelerometer.

We have been enjoying the first generation Ultrabook coolness through an Asus Zenbook since MArch this year. In fact I just returned from a 3 week trip throughout Asia where I purposefully replaced my 15″ Macbook Pro with the Zenbook. I was no worse for wear at all. The Zenbook’s feather lightness, super long battery life and instant on capabilities made it the perfect media travel companion.

Now back to Wind Up Football (WUF). We decided to use WUF for the contest because it just made sense. We took the original gameplay of our successful game Wind Up Robots and designed a smashem, bashem, tackle casual game where the robots kill some time in Zach’s back yard in-between defending his dreams against the onslaught of monsters. Even warriors need a break, right?

So as we develop a touch sensor, graphics and gameplay intensive game for the iPad, we will also be pushing the new Ultrabook and Windows 8 to the limits.

Here is Gavin, our programming lead and I unboxing the unit and talking about our plans. Be sure to vote for us on the Challenge website and follow along here every Monday.

Se you next week,
John

Posted 2 years, 3 months ago at 12:36 pm.

5 comments