2012 in review

I wrote up a post like this last year, so I figured I would give 2012 a review…

Lets hope that 2013 is just as exciting…

Runaway Trains expands to 170 levels

Runaway Trains has recently been updated to version 2.3 across all platforms. The new version of the game adds 10 new levels, and also adds the use of active frames on BlackBerry 10.

Level163

About Runaway Trains

Runaway Trains is a colorful strategy game for all ages where you must route the trains to the proper station. Each level progresses in difficulty and presents an unique puzzle which you must solve by finding a way to guide the coloured trains causing a collision or running out of track.

This is done by touching the intersections to toggle the open path of the tracks. If at any time the trains crash or end up at the wrong station, you will have lost and have to try again.

Links & Information

Android app on Google Play

Liar’s Dice released for BlackBerry 10

IMG_00000054Liar’s Dice has been released in AppWorld for BlackBerry 10. Like the recent update to 10,000 Farkle, the game has been completely rewritten, but anyone who has purchased Liar’s Dice on their current BlackBerrys will be able to download the new BlackBerry 10 version of the game for free through AppWorld.

About Liar’s Dice

This is a classic dice game of strategy and deception in which seeing only your own dice you must bet on the combined dice in play without getting caught in a lie.

IMG_00000050The object of the game is to catch your opponent (the computer) betting too high. Bets are placed on both your own dice which you can see, and your opponent’s dice which are hidden from you. You begin each round by making a bet. The computer then has an opportunity to either call your bet a lie, or to bet higher then you. Then it is once again your turn to call your opponent’s bet or to bet even higher. This continues until eventually a bet is called. Then if the bet is too high the caller wins, or if the bet is not a lie, the bettor wins the round.

The game has two main game modes. The “High Score” mode is the default mode, points are awarded for each round, and the first to gain a given number of points wins. The number of points required to win a game can be configured on the options page in order to allow for shorter or longer games.

The other option is for an “Elimination” mode in which the loser of each round loses one dice for the following rounds, and the last player with any dice left is the winner. This game is more dynamic as there are a different number of dice in play each round. Additionally games in this mode typically play faster than high score games.

Links & Information

Simple Dice now on BlackBerry 10

IMG_00000048With the release of version 2.0 Simple Dice is now available for BlackBerry 10 devices. This free app is exactly what it sounds like, just a virtual die that you can roll to get a random number between one and six.

The app can also be downloaded from BlackBerry AppWorld for older touchscreen BlackBerry phones. These versions have also been updated, now giving the option of removing the ads from the application through the use of a $1 in-app purchase.

Links & Information

Black Out released for Android

device-2012-12-18-142328Black Out has been updated to version 1.4 adding support for Android and BlackBerry 10. This strategy game is played by flipping the tiles one at a time until all of the tiles are ‘blacked out’. This is trickier than it sounds because whenever you tap to flip a tile, it also flips all of the tiles surrounding it. In order to accommodate different difficulties, the game supports board sizes from 3×3 all the way up to a 10×10 grid. Versions of the game on the already supported BlackBerry PlayBook, and Barnes and Noble Nook platforms were also updated.

Links & Information

Release of Farkle for BlackBerry 10

Day110,000 Farkle has been released in AppWorld for BlackBerry 10 phones. While the app has been completely rewritten, anyone who purchases Farkle on their current BlackBerrys will be able to download the BlackBerry 10 version through AppWorld for free. The game contains statistics, achievements, and local leader boards, as well as four different game modes.

How to Play

Farkle gives you six dice to roll and awards points for a straight, three pairs or three or more of the same number. Fewer points ares also awarded for each individual 1 and 5. Any dice that do not score can be re-rolled for additional points. If all 6 dice can be scored, then all of the dice can be re-rolled on the same turn.

The skill in this game comes from knowing how far to push your luck, and which scoring combinations to take, and when to re-roll.

LandscapeThe default game mode gives you 10 turns to score as many points as you can. The 10,000 point mode gives you unlimited turns to reach 10,000 points. The two competitive game modes both use the traditional format of racing to 10,000 points.

Links & Information

Xploding Boxes for BB10 updated

Xploding Boxes has been updated on the BlackBerry 10 Dev Alpha in order to fix a few of the issues that occurred due to using an early version of the beta sdk.

IMG_00000126

This update also allows the app to show off its use of active frames. To the best of my knowledge it is the first app in the store, to be written in ActionScript and to use active frames. Another one of my BlackBerry 10 games (Runaway Trains) will also be getting this feature by the end of the month.

Links & Information

The BlackBerry 10 homescreen is terrible

The executives from RIM have talked about how they want to minimize the use of the homescreen, and try and get away the in-and-out pattern of launching apps. To this end the process of invoking another app’s card is brilliantly implemented, and when it makes sense will provide users with a seamless experience. But at times users are going to want to use the homescreen, and when they do they are going to be very disappointed.

IMG_00000162CropThe homescreen experience on BlackBerry 10 is absolutely terrible. There is practically no way to organize your installed apps. Even though I am only using my DevAlpha for developing and testing apps, I already have more apps than I can manage on the device. If this was the situation on my day to day phone, it would be the kind of annoyance that would lead to me downloading less apps, because I would not want to deal with managing them all. (And as an app developer, I clearly want people to download more and more applications).

What is worse, is that most of the limitations seem to be rather artificial. You can not have nested folders, you can’t have more than 16 apps on each page, you can not have more than 16 apps in a folder. So say you have four pages of apps, and just downloaded a new game, and wanted to place it in a folder on your first page of apps. (I think this is a rather reasonable scenario). You would navigate to the fourth page and grab the app, then move it to the third page. This would bump an app off of the third page and on to the fourth page. You would then drag your new game from the third page to the second page (bumping one of the second page apps to the third page), then you would drag your game to the first page (bumping the final first page app to the second page). You could then finally place the new game into the folder. If you then wanted to get back your icon that was bumped off of your first screen you would drag it over from the second screen, see that it was in the upper left corner (instead of the lower right corner where you had it a minute ago), dragging it to the lower right won’t work, so you would have to move it the second last icon, and then move the last icon over one place. (Repeat per page if you want to restore your previous pages to their starting look).

Nested Folders

I will admit that personally I am not too likely to want to place one folder inside another, but I see no reason why that shouldn’t be an option. Not everyone wants their apps in such a flat organizational layout. Some people would prefer to save their apps in a more strict hierarchy.

App limit per folder

Having a limit of 16 apps per folder makes them almost useless for organizational purposes. Of the four folders on my BlackBerry Bold, three of them have over 30 applications. (And despite its smaller screen, my Bold can display more than 16 icons at a time).

Folder navigation

I have to wonder if the gesture for exiting folders has had any usability testing at all. For power users, it is kindof neat, but if I were to hand a BlackBerry 10 phone to a complete stranger, I would guess that they would be unable to exit the folder. For those who don’t know how to exit folders on BB10, just know that swiping left, right, up, or down will not work, neither will tapping anywhere on the screen. If RIM doesn’t want to go with the corner x, that the PlayBook uses, I would suggest that the huge label on the bottom of the folder that looks like a button, should do something.

Orientation

Why does the homescreen not work in landscape orientation? Is there any reason for this at all? For all of its faults even OS 4.7.0.65 had no problem displaying the homescreen in landscape orientation. Remember how most of the pre-installed PlayBook apps only supported a single orientation, and we had to wait a year and a half for version 2.1 in order to mostly get that fixed? Lets not repeat that mistake.

Bezel swipe to unlock

The bezel swipe to unlock on the PlayBook is awesome. On the Dev Alpha, not so much. Unlike the ease of the PlayBook, BlackBerry 10 requires you to swipe twice, and furthermore the second swipe has to be in a predefined direction. It is the very nemesis of productivity, and I would much rather have access to my phone after a single swipe. Also the button on the top of the phone that look like the unlock button on the older BlackBerrys, instead does nothing useful.

Why limit the number of apps on each page

The 16 app per page limit is very annoying and was the root cause of most of the issues in my example in the beginning of this rant. The PlayBook already has a great system for handling this, just scroll down a bit on the page to see the rest that is there. I would be pretty happy to see that interface copied verbatim. The current implementation is very broken.

For my friends at RIM, the good news is that you still have 43 days to fix this. I don’t want to see BlackBerry 10 ship with an interface that is so frustratingly unusable.

Missing Christmas won’t matter to BlackBerry

Last summer when RIM announced that the release of BlackBerry 10 was going to be pushed back to early 2013, a lot was made of the fact that RIM was going to miss the Christmas season. Yet, I fail to see why this would be a big deal. Yes, the three month delay will hurt BlackBerry, but the fact that the three months happen to include Christmas is largely irrelevant. The set back is not more significant than any other three month period would have been.

The reason for this is that BlackBerrys have never been all that popular as Christmas gifts. Last year, I looked at the myth of the Christmas day sales spike and found that app downloads and sales on the days surrounding Christmas were no different than any other days that month.

Downloads of the free game Pixelated in December 2010 & 2011

Intuitively this makes sense as most people are unlikely to give a gift that also requires a two-year contract. In fact I think it is safe to assume that most of the mobile devices given as gifts this year will be wi-fi only devices, or pre-paid phones. BlackBerry 10 would not be making much of an impact on the pre-paid market either way, as the new devices would be priced a bit out of this market for the first few months anyhow.

Furthermore, RIM has never seen a spike in sales in the quarter that contains Christmas. The following chart shows the number of BlackBerry phones (excluding PlayBooks) that RIM has sold for the past five years in the quarter containing Christmas, the quarter before Christmas, and the quarter after Christmas. Of these five years, only in one of them did the Christmas quarter result in more devices shipped then both of the quarters surrounding it.

ChristmasDevices shipped in millions. Years correspond to RIM’s fiscal years which are stupid and off by 300+ days from reality

In short, while pushing back the release of BlackBerry 10 isn’t good news, the fact that BlackBerry 10 was pushed to the other side of Christmas is not that big of a deal.

Zygote results in real speed improvements

Last week RIM announced project Zygote where they are improving the start up times of cascades apps by pre-compiling shared libraries. I gave it a go with some of my existing cascades projects and found significant improvements to the launch times of my apps.

App Name Before After Improvement
Mileage Tracker 1.67 s 0.76 s 2.2X
Liar’s Dice 2.08 s 1.09 s 1.9X
10,000 Farkle 1.82 s 0.82 s 2.2X

On average these changes have eliminated 52.3% of the load times for these applications, making these changes well worth it. For details on how to implement this see instructions here and here.

91% of PlayBook users on the newest OS

In November, (the first full month after the release of OS 2.1) saw 90.8% of BlackBerry PlayBook users running newest available operating system. At the same time there is almost nobody left using an OS prior to version 2.0, with 99.6% of PlayBooks running OS 2.0 or newer.

This data was collected by AppWorld at the time of download, for the popular PlayBook strategy game Pixelated. Data shown on the chart is from the beginning of June 2011 through the end of November 2012.