In Beta and testing away…

These things always take longer than expected, but we’re down to the last stretch here at Hyperbotic Labs, where fine CrowdGame(tm) games are laborious hewn and polished from solid blocks of freshly-mined code and at least 50% post-consumer recycled modules. We’re liking what we’re seeing, but the real test will be when it’s finally in the App Store and you get to see it and let us know what you think…

To that end, over the past months, we’ve been ramping down the process of adding new features and ramping up the process of testing every scenario and feature. Inside a modern trivia app such as CrowdGame Trivially, there are a surprising number of moving parts, some machined down to tolerances of less than a micron and whirling around at hair-raising speeds, all with the goal of providing a seamless, responsive, and enjoyable trivia experience for as many as 11 simultaneous players. All of the major pieces – trivia databases and updates, in-app purchase, native and HTML/CSS graphics, the care and feeding of avatars, HTTP networking between players, and associated cloud-based infrastructure – need to work together at speed and also gracefully handle situations such as when the user suspends the app, when the network connection fails, or an in-app purchase hiccups for some reason.

One of the especially tricky aspects of the testing regime involves “stress testing” the app when a full complement of players are joined. First, a little background…

For the previous version of Trivially (v1), we field-tested it at up to 12 players, and de-rated it down to 6 players for the production version, for reliability. For this new version of Trivially (V2), the player network has been completely redesigned around HTTP and WebSockets, for an awesome and interactive HTML/CSS/CoffeeScript (Javascript)-based remote experience. In other words, where V1 players had to install a dedicated app (“Trivially Remote”) on their iOS devices in order to participate. V2 players have it easy: they just navigate to a web page and start playing.

This web-based approach for players significantly reduces the “friction” associated with the game: it’s a lot easier to explain to the average person who just wants to play: “just hit this particular web page and you’re in”.

And the new design is much, much more robust, reliable, and responsive, so much so that we feel comfortable shipping the production version with an 11 player limit, up from the 6 player limit of the previous version. Based on our tests with a 1st generation (i.e, slower) iPad using experienced test pilots under strict supervision, we think we could go quite a bit higher (please don’t try this at home, for Pete’s sake!), but a worldwide avatar shortage has forced our hand to ship with a more pragmatic 11 player limit.

So how do you stress-test the app with 11 players? It’s pretty straightforward: you line up 11 devices, join them to a Trivially game running on an iPad, and hit “Start Game”. Ideally, you’d have a couple of helpers around to hit the buttons on the remotes before the bell rings (if you have any children at your disposal: they are especially good at this, as they tend to do things you don’t expect, which improves the test “surface area” – a good thing). During the test, we monitor the health of the app via the iPad’s iOS “console”, accessible via the Apple XCode developer tool while looking for missed answers and any other indicators of sluggish or lagging communications. We also test these mini-scenarios:

  • Hit pause on the iPad, or on a remote, while a question or answer is displayed on the iPad… do all of the remotes respond instantly?
  • Suspend or terminate the app on the iPad… how do the remotes respond, and how quickly?
  • Close the browser window on one of the remotes… does the avatar disappear immediately from the avatar “stage” on the iPad? Re-open it immediately… does the avatar recover its “session” as expected?
  • Close the browser windows on all of the remote players at the same time… in how responsive a manner are the avatars removed from the Trivially “stage” on the iPad?

For some of these tests, we’ll line up as many physical devices as we can, of as many different vintages as possible, to account for variations in processor speed and other hardware capabilities. It’s fun to watch all of those little screens changing in unison as questions are posed and answered on the Trivially screen on the iPad.

For the full-on stress test, we will often run a special form of the test using several browser instances on a Mac laptop to masquerade as multiple players; these kinds of players often interact “faster” than iOS-based ones, which ups the stress ante a bit (again, a good thing).

As part of the Beta test, we’ve been distributing test builds to friends, to get their feedback on the game and to help shake out rough edges and bugs. We send our many thanks for those folks; through their help the game has significantly improved in big and small ways. I thought it would be appropriate to end this post by sharing a photo taken by our friend Mike Swanson, who has been really helpful with his advice, feedback, and bug-detecting skills. Mike is a pretty competent iOS guy in his own right, which means that he of course maintains a stable of iOS devices at his disposal, which he thoughtfully aimed at Trivially for a little stress testing of his own. If you look carefully at his photo, I think you’ll count 8 devices. (Thanks, Mike! – love the photo!)

With any luck, this new version of CrowdGame Trivially will be available in the Apple App Store very soon, and you’ll get to give it a spin… and let us know what you think!



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Please pardon the retrofit…

… we are rejiggering 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.

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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

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CrowdGame Trivially Console: now *FREE*

In anticipation of CrowdGame Trivially V2 – coming any week now…! – we’ve lowered the price of the current version, which has been available in the App Store since the end of June… to FREE. This price change will be effective on Monday, 17 October.

So, go find an iPad and install CrowdGrame Trivially Console on it (link) – FREE! – and then find 5 friends and install Trivially Remote (link) – which has always been FREE – on each of your and their’s iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad devices, and have a CrowdGame-inspired trivia party. The result? Good, clean, FREE fun!

Give it a try and let us know what you think. We’re always interested in your feedback, especially as V2 nears completion. In the coming weeks, we’ll start talking more about what’s in V2 and why we’re so excited about it…!

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Steve Jobs 1955-2011

Thanks for inspiring the entire planet

Thanks for inspiring the entire planet

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Doing our part: CrowdGame Trivially is FREE for the next week

It’s nearly the end of the summer here in Seattle, and presumably everywhere else in the Northern Hemisphere*. That means stress for kids and parents alike as the realization sets in that school is just around the corner, or because kids and parents alike have run out of ideas for keeping out of each other’s hair.

We think that this is where CrowdGame Trivially can come to the rescue… what could be more fun than 2 or 6 kids giggling their way through a couple dozen Science or History questions? And you’ll practically be able to see their heads getting bigger as they learn stuff that they should have already learned in school but didn’t, or have forgotten since June.

To help everyone get through this tedious end-of-summer situation, we’ve reduced the price of CrowdGame Trivially to FREE/NADA/ZILCH for the next week. We think that by reducing the per-question price to an infinitely small amount (since you can’t divide by zero, unless you practice more than we’re willing to), we hope to not only do our part to get kids’ brains working again by September, but also to help kickstart the moribund economy we find ourselves in. How can infinitely-low priced trivia help with the economy, you might ask? Well, we’ve noticed that when adults play this game, they like to drink beer. What happens next is simple math that ends up with big positive numbers for the economy.

Give it a try, pass the word along. And, as alluded to above, CrowdGame Trivially isn’t just for kids. Every adult I know could use some trivia right about now.

*PS: For those of you in the Southern Hemisphere… we haven’t forgotten you. We’ll mark the end of your summer just as faithfully. In the meantime, feel free to try our Trivially now anyway.

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As the first version of Trivially began to take shape, one thing quickly became apparent: kids love to play with it. Even if they didn’t have a clue as to what a “Blue Orpington” is/was, or perhaps aren’t even reading yet. With younger kids, part of the appeal may be in the fact that they get to play with the bigger kids (and adults), even if their only strategy is to keep choosing “C” on the Trivially Remote, because it’s their favorite letter. With older kids, the fun might be come from the fact that it’s just another way to score some screen time, or perhaps to show off a bit with their friends.

Whatever the reason, it was interesting to watch and a great source of feedback. But it was also surprising, in terms of what I learned (although, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that there was plenty to learn about how (differently) 7 or 13 year olds see the world). It usually only took about 30 seconds before the kid players/testers started coming up with ideas… “Can I choose my own avatar?”, “You need to work a multi-level maze into this thing”, or “How about a remote-control music app?”.

Some pretty inspiring ideas! I’d like to think that it had something to do with the interactive/multi-user/multi-display aspect of CrowdGame :), but something tells me that it has more to do with the level of connection that most kids have today with games, and what happens when someone just asks them what they think…

This line of thinking led to the first-ever CrowdGame “Kidsourcing Event #1”, held this weekend at Hyperbotic Labs World Headquarters: What would happen if you get a bunch of 13 year olds in a (soundproof?) room, with some free pop and a bag of pretzels, and asked them to freewheel a bit on your game, or asked them to come up with some trivia questions, or asked them what new games they’d like to see?

Again, it was pretty inspiring, and a lot of fun. Some of the ideas where similar to what we’ve bounced around before, but with important (read: more funner) differences, while others were pretty off-the-wall… and therefore really cool to hear about. Some of the ideas were “big” – potentially representing entirely new products – and some were a little smaller… for instance, I hope to roll in some of the excellent trivia questions we mashed up into a Trivially over-the-air update soon.

Thanks, Bryan, Tristan, and Carl, for participating!

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Updated trivia available for CrowdGame Trivially!

Today we made available updated and new trivia questions, for all Trivially fans!

This is a free update… as we create more questions, or improve existing ones, we’ll make them available to all Trivially fans.

To take advantage of this update, first make sure that your iPad – where you installed Trivially Console – is online (connected to the Web via wifi or 3G).

The Console will, after a short while, detect the update – either while on the start page, or when the app is first opened, or after a game is completed.

On the Start Page, watch the “message marquee” at the bottom (just above where the critters appear), which displays messages like “Waiting for Trivially Remotes”:

or “Touch here to rate Trivially at the App Store… thanks!” 🙂

Once your Trivially Console detects that the update is available, this message will appear: “A Trivia Update is available! Touch here to install”:

When you see it, touch the message on the screen. The message will change to: “Starting trivia update. This will only take a moment”.

During this time, you won’t be able to start a new game (but don’t worry, it should only take 10 seconds or so), as Trivially Console downloads the new and updated trivia and installs it.

When that’s done, you’ll see this:

And that’s it! Trivially Console has updated its trivia database, for an even more awesome trivia experience!

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CrowdGame Trivially is now available in the Apple App Store!

So, if you have an iPad and at least one other i-device… an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad… give it a try!

Click here to browse to the Trivially Console in the App Store, and install it on your iPad.

Then click here to browse to the Trivially Remote, and install it on your other device. Get your friends to install the Remote on their devices also. Then you can have a Trivially party.

We’re very excited that these apps are now publicly available. We hope you have fun with them. Please send us your feedback and thoughts – we’ve love to hear from you. Or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Note that we offer a toll-free number in addition to an email contact form.

A note about using the Remote: please ensure that each device on which you’ve installed Trivially Remote has either WiFi or Bluetooth enabled, but not both. There’s a known issue with iOS that may hamper your fun if both WiFi and Bluetooth are enabled… just one or the other, please! The iPad on which Trivially Console is running can have both on, as needed.



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How to redeem promo codes in the Apple App Store

If you’ve received a promo code to CrowdGame Trivially, you might want to know how to use it!?

It’s actually easy… once you’ve done it.

If you’re viewing this on the computer on which you have iTunes installed, click this link. Your browser may prompt you to ensure that you actually do want to launch iTunes – click “launch” or “yes” if so.

Or follow these instructions:
1: Open iTunes on your computer
2: Navigate to the iTunes Store, by clicking on “iTunes Store” on the left-hand menu bar
3: Look for “Redeem” under “Quick Links”, on the right side, near the top.
4: Enter/paste your promo code and click “Redeem”.
5: You may be prompted to enter your iTunes password. The rest should be familiar to you…

Thanks for playing Trivially! We’d love to hear your feedback!!

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