Monthly Archives: December 2011

Please pardon the retrofit…

… we are rejiggering crowdgame.com. The site is a hosted WordPress site, and we’re changing the theme, in anticipation of the next version of CrowdGame Trivially. Believe it or not, the old theme didn’t support mobile browsers. Yup. So we’re switching to something new, and will be evaluating it especially against that criteria: how good does it look on a phone, or iPad?.

Having a mobile-optimized site will be especially important for the new version, as hinted in this post. More on that later!

In the meantime, our apologies as the site changes around in real-time; hopefully it will start trending positive in the doesn’t-suck-on-a-phone metric.

The next version – CrowdGame Trivially – is nearing Beta…

We’ve learned a lot from your feedback and experiences with CrowdGame Trivially Console and Remote… thanks for your support and engagement.

Since these first versions of these apps became available in the Apple App Store in June, our crack dev team (me 🙂 have been heads-down coding, more or less re-writing the game and infrastructure, with the initial goals of making a couple of improvements to the networking, support the ability for “direct play” – where you can play in single-user mode directly on the iPad, a feature which really should have been part of V1 – and add the ability to sell trivia content packs from within the app.

As these things tend to go, “one thing lead to another”, and this is what we have:

New approach to connecting players with the Trivially app running on the iPad

Players now fire up their mobile browsers (currently, iOS only) and connect via http to a web server that’s integrated as part of the Trivially app on the iPad. There is no need for a second Trivially Remote app any longer. This should significantly reduce the initial confusion and “friction” that we saw as users realized that two apps were needed to play the V1 version of the game.

Now, only a single app – now called CrowdGame Trivially – is needed, on the iPad, and anyone with an iOS device on the same WiFi network can simply open a web page and join the game. This approach is radically simpler from a development perspective (no need to simultaneously maintain and submit two apps to the App Store), and the resulting end-user experience is excellent (says me): the web page used by players is built with HTML5 and CSS3 technologies… the fact that it’s a web page won’t matter to players as they see how responsive and complete the user experience is.

A key technology used here is “Web Sockets”, which allows long-lasting, low-latency, two-way communication directly beween the javascript on the remote player’s page and the Trivially app running on the iPad. And this approach should also, in time, allow for support for non-iOS devices as well, offering the same, rich experience for any player with a smart phone on the same wifi network as the Trivially app.

If you’ve followed me this far on this, you may have realized that this new version does not support Bluetooth-based play, as V1 did; if players want to join in, each player needs an iOS device that’s connected to the local WiFi network. This rules out a scenario that we though important for V1: the “family in the cabin in the mountains” scenario, where there may not be a WiFi infrastructure, but with the Bluetooth support in V1, you could still play. However, we found the Bluetooth infrastructure – either Apple’s hardware or software, or Appcelerator’s encapsulation of it, or our use of it, to be extremely buggy, unreliable, and slow. I spent a lot of developer and tester cycles trying to work around issues that would only materialize on the device (i.e., not in the simulator), and which seemed to have no workarounds… especially the fact that WiFi and Bluetooth don’t seem to like each other (we’ve seen a lot of networked games that advice players to turn off Bluetooth if Wifi is on, and vice-versa, advice which we strongly urged Trivially V1 players). In the end, given our limited developer cycles (me!) and the urge to simplify the way remote players participated in the experience, we decided to give HTTP over WiFi a try. And so far, we love it.

To ensure maximum performance and responsiveness, the web server in the Trivially app runs in its own thread. While Trivially V1 was rated as supporting up to 6 players, I’ve tested this new version with many more than that number, and I expect that the production version will be rated at 11 remote players. The iPad is a powerful device, and the modern networking and OS capabilities make the most of it. It’s been fun exploring this part of the mobile device world, and it holds great promise for the CrowdGame pattern: multi-user, multi-display, real-time experiences.

Full in-app purchase capability of premium trivia content

We experimented with marketing and supply/demand with V1: when we temporarily dropped the price to $0, we saw a ton of traffic. We’re not the only ones to notice this dynamic. So V2, as mentioned in a previous post, will take a “freemium” approach.

The app itself will be free and will include a sizable number of trivia questions in 5 categories (sports, history, literature, science, geography). But within the app you’ll see that additional content topic packs will be listed (mostly for $.99); if you click on one, the iTunes content purchase process will kick in, asking you to confirm that you want to buy the topic pack and perhaps asking you to enter your iTunes password… after which, the topic pack will download and install in the background. All of this happens from within the app and takes just a few seconds; the new content then shows up as another topic for you to select from, just like the content that was included for free. In time, we’ll be working to create lots of interesting, diverse, and challenging topic packs for you to spend your money on! 🙂

Direct Play

It’s quite natural to want to play just by yourself with the Trivially app on the iPad… and it was quite frustrating to watch people try to do exactly that with V1, knowing how close that feature (“Direct pPay”) came to making it into V1.

(“Agile” developers will tell you that you need to make hard choices if you’re going to ship on time, and unfortunately, it’s clear that Direct Play really should have made it into V1. My intention was to add it was quickly as possible soon after V1, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, it’s there now: when you fire up the new version of Trivially on your iPad, you can immediately hit “Start Game” (after choosing some topics, of course) and directly answer each question. Meanwhile, remote players can always join in. If there’s a mix of remote players and a Direct Player, the Direct Player has “priority”, meaning: as soon as the Direct Player touches the screen (answers a question), that round is over (and the answer is revealed). Makes sense, yes? Since everyone can see you touching the screen…?

Complete new look and feel

This was a lot of fun (and a lot of work)… While V1 had a kinda austere look to it (which a lot of people liked, actually), I felt that if Trivially was to distinguish itself (there are, after all, a lot of trivia apps out there), it had to look “more different”. But different in which way, and *how* different, anyway?

Well, you’ll have to see for yourself (become a beta tester, or visit this site later). The basic game play hasn’t changed, nor has the meme of a “stage performance”, but with the generous help of a Seattle illustrator, we think we achieved our goal. More on this later. Hope you like it!

A related big (and last-minute) change in this area regards the Question/Answer page: the text of the question is displayed at the top, and four possible/plausible answers displayed below. In V1, the question/answer text was rendered in a Courier font, which has the advantage of being a monospace font. This was important because all questions/answers were preprocessed before loading into the app to ensure that when rendered on the screen, there wouldn’t be any ugly line-breaks and that the maximum optimal font size would be used. The downside to this approach is that Courier isn’t a particularly good looking or readable font, and there aren’t many other monospaced fonts out there, either. So, for this new version of Trivially, we’re using a web-based view for the question/answer page, which allows the use of modern HTML/CSS techniques for rendering text, which in turn opens up lots of possibilities when it comes to choice of font. The Trivially beta uses “Helvetica Neue, Condensed Bold” (thanks, Mike, for the suggestion!); we’ll see how that works and adjust accordingly. It’s much, much more readable and just all around nicer as well.

Along with these top-line features and changes come a countless number of other less notable but still important fixes, features, improvements, and optimizations. We’ll list a few of these as we wind through the beta and production release process.

– Steve