Create a killer app for iOS

Ziv Kitaro
28 February, 2011
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People imagine that it’s pretty easy to create a bestselling app like Angry Birds. On the surface, Angry Birds looks childish. Describing it is embarrassing. You get a few colourful birds that you slingshot at buildings occupied by pigs, with the aim of killing all the pigs.

When trying to understand its success, people think of viral marketing and graphics as the lead reasons – after all, anyone can come up with a game like that, right? Wrong. A good game has more to it than nice graphics and sound. To become truly viral your product actually has to be good. Games are products, and they have to go through a pipeline that begins with the concept and ends with the real deal.

Follow the steps below and you might not have the next bestseller, but you will have a good game.

1. Don’t try to create a killer game The stress alone will kill your creativity and prevent you from following paths that will eventually lead to a really successful game. The aim is simple – to create a good experience for the player. This experience consists of several elements: playability, usability, story, graphics, and sound.

2. Find a concept It can come from thinking about a specific audience. It can be a one-liner that pops into your head. Concepts can sound boring (directing airplanes to land), but once developed they can be amazing (like Flight Control). Copying is OK, but the idea must be strong and don’t build the same game as someone else.

3. Do your research Game design is an art, but artists need to eat. It’s great to create your special, intricate, never-before-seen, over-the-top game, but make sure you’ve got the numbers to support that. Check the App Store, read reviews and understand what types of games people pay for.

4. Keep on brainstorming Contrary to popular belief, a brainstorming session is an ongoing activity. Don’t schedule a limited time slot for this activity, you need to accept that it’s part of the process. For example, brainstorm on ideas that make the concept into a game, then brainstorm on game rules.

5. Know the game principles A clear vision of the genre will help you stay on course. Is it a puzzle game? Then why are you planning levels for a first-person shooter? Is it a casual, easy-to-learn game? Why are you adding so many controls? Look at Sneezies, Doodle Jump, Flight Control: simple, casual and specific games.

6. Be flexible There will come a time when the game takes on a life of its own. If the game would be better as a riddle-based quest, don’t force it to be a tower defence. There are many stages that will change everything from playability to story, from rules to game mechanics. If these changes serve the game, make them.

7. Match the control to the iOS Touch interface is different to physical controllers. Obviously, you might say, yet many developers add virtual push buttons to their games. Don’t do that. Make the control an organic part of the game – use the gyroscope, and compass – like Infinity Blade, which uses gestures for attacks.

8. Use humour Humour has a great effect on the popularity of a game. PopCap could have created a simple Zombie-based tower defence. Adding plants as a defence weapon makes the game lighthearted, and opens it up to millions. The humour in Plants vs. Zombies influences the graphics, sound, bonus stages and mechanics.

9. Know the game mechanics This is what makes players return to the game again and again. Look at Need for Speed Undercover. It was the first racing game in which all a player had to do was to tilt the iPhone to steer the car. There was no need to accelerate, the car moved as fast as it could and this makes sense.

10. Start testing ASAP Never wait for the programmers to finish before testing. Ideally, you should have played the game several times before any code is written. How? Cut out cardboard images, use a wireframe application on your Mac, create the game out of playdough. You will have a better understanding of it.

11. Know the story The story of the game doesn’t have to be a character-driven narrative with twists and turns and an ending that brings tears to players’ eyes. It can be far simpler – birds dispatching pigs for stealing their eggs, for example. A story creates interest for the players and kicks a game up a notch or two.

12. Build the world Once you know the story, you know what the world looks like. The Lord of the Rings: Middle-Earth Defense is a great example, as it’s still no more than a tower defence game. The LotR world gives us rich architecture, characters, and units that change the generic tower defence game into something magical.

13. See how GUI affects principles After creating the game, play it a few times and see that it works on the iPhone and iPad, before going into the GUI stage. This is where you actually move all the elements around until you’re sure that the game-flow works. Certain elements will have to change, and even rules and mechanics.

14. Reach for the skies Last comes level design – the heart of the game. The name is misleading as level design exists even in online multiplayer games, where players don’t really move from one level to the next. Each level must be balanced so that players aren’t overwhelmed. Angry Birds is a prime example of good level design.

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