Sunday, December 12, 2010

Android NDK and Storage Size

I decided to update our Android build of Big Mountain Snowboarding today because we have made a lot of progress in the game and engine while porting to OSX for the upcoming mac app store.

Eventually the build was ready, and uploaded! Somehow updating a patch put us back on the "Just In" tab on the app store for some nice visibility. Reception has been pretty ugly. One guy sent us a support email that just says "U suck". Thanks, not helpful.

Then we got a 1 star review with actual good info in it:
by Joe (December 12, 2010)
Really? More than 20MB used in phone storage even
after moving it to SD? BUH-BYE!

This confused me for a bit. Our APK file is only 13 megs, and it supports moving to the SD card! After some digging I found out that the .so files generated by the NDK are copied out of the APK file on the SD card into main storage. It's also 20 megs!

After some more digging I found out that we were exporting all of our symbols, all 33,000 of them. Time for fvisibility=hidden.

In the makefile:
LOCAL_CFLAGS += -fvisibility=hidden

In our JNI files for any functions we need to call from java:
extern "C"
env, jobject thiz)
I was happy, surely this was going to solve all problems! After a full rebuild taking 30 minutes our .so file was down to a disappointing 19 megs. More digging in the google groups led to a little command line tool shipped with the NDK.
arm-eabi-strip --strip-debug --strip-unneeded

This brought us down to 1 meg! Woot! arm-eabi-strip is located in android-ndk-r5/toolchains/arm-eabi-4.4.0/prebuilt/windows/bin.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Porting from iPhone to OSX

If you've followed us at all you know by now that I like porting to new platforms, at least new platforms that support C++. Every port seems to make the base engine a bit better, and it brings in a few extra bucks to support continued development. With the news of the Mac app store coming soon I had to jump on porting the Golden Hammer engine and Big Mountain Snowboarding to OSX.

Our engine started on Windows, moved to OSX (carbon), then to iPhone/iPad, then to Android. The OSX port was never really finished because the iPhone took off. Carbon is outdated technology (see below), so for the port back to OSX I started over using Cocoa.

The port isn't fully ready for release, but within a week I was able to get the game pretty much working. This was definitely the easiest port so far.

Carbon vs Cocoa (use Cocoa)

OSX supports two different platform layers, Carbon and Cocoa. Carbon is in C, only runs on 32 bit, and does not seem to be fully supported anymore. The Carbon implementation in my engine gets a ton of deprecated code warnings, and there's a Mac App Store requirement that apps not use deprecated technology. I have not seen an official and specific announcement from Apple on Carbon, but to be safe it's better to go with Cocoa.

Also, Cocoa is almost a direct equivalent of Cocoa Touch, the API used for iPhone development. There are a few little differences that I'll note in the next section, but for the most part you can make copies of your iPhone platform layer with different includes, fix the compiler errors, and be ready to go.

Cocoa vs Cocoa Touch

As I said, Cocoa is almost exactly like Cocoa Touch. For most of my classes I was able to just make a copy of the iPhone version, add some different frameworks, rename a couple classes and be good.

The frameworks I'm currently using are:

  • Cocoa.framework
  • OpenGL.framework
  • ApplicationServices.framework
  • OpenAL.framework
  • AudioToolbox.framework
  • AppKit.framework
  • CoreData.framework
  • Foundation.framework

Most UIKit classes have an AppKit equivalent. Instead of UIView, there's NSView. Instead of CGPoint, there's NSPoint. The first line of defense on a compile error is to stick an NS in front of the class name and see if that works.

32 bit vs 64 bit

This probably won't matter to most developers, but Cocoa will compile for 64 bit systems. We're doing some behind the scenes magic with pointers and such, so I had to go through the codebase and replace a bunch of long data types with int32_t and u_int32_t, and remove some of the more questionable pointer code.

OpenGL vs OpenGL ES

For a first pass implementation, you can think of OpenGL as a near direct equivalent to OpenGL ES1. This is a horrible simplification, and I fear a lot of OpenGL users coming at me with pitchforks for saying it. A better way to think of it is ES1 is almost a direct subset of the full OpenGL, and you can get ES1 code running on OpenGL pretty easily. I have not yet ported our ES2 shader code, so I can't comment much on that aspect.

The includes you want are:

  • #include "OpenGL/gl.h"
  • #include "OpenGL/glu.h"

Make a copy of your ES1 implementation, change the includes, and hit compile. You will get a ton of compile errors. Most of them are easy to fix. For any function or variable that has "OES" at the end of it, simply delete the OES part. For any function named something like "glFrustumf", delete the "f". This will take care of 99% of the compile errors.

I'm not quite 100% sure, but I don't think PVR4 support is available. If I'm wrong on this let me know! It would save me some work. Right now I just have uncompressed textures, but DXT support seems to be available for use.

OSX Input

Modern macs support multitouch through the touchpad. The gotcha is that the mouse needs to be over the window in order for the app to receive any touch events. I'm planning on supporting keyboard inputs for those without a touchpad, and making the game fullscreen so we can always get the touch events.

You'll want the following functions in your NSView:

- (void)mouseMoved:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)mouseDragged:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)mouseEntered:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)mouseExited:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)mouseDown:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)mouseUp:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)keyDown:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)keyUp:(NSEvent *)theEvent

- (void)touchesBeganWithEvent:(NSEvent *)event

- (void)touchesMovedWithEvent:(NSEvent *)event

- (void)touchesEndedWithEvent:(NSEvent *)event

- (BOOL)acceptsFirstResponder { return YES; }

You'll also want to call these somewhere:

[window setAcceptsMouseMovedEvents:YES];

[view setAcceptsTouchEvents:YES];

Additional platform considerations

The straight port of snowboarding runs at 2ms/frame on my 13" macbook, or 500fps. This is without making any use of multithreading or doing any real hardcore optimizations anywhere. I think any halfway decent straight port of an iPhone app should run at crazy speeds on a low end Mac.

So is a straight port good enough? I have no idea and neither will anyone else really until the Mac App Store has been out a while. Is it competing with Steam and games like Half Life 2, or will the audience want smaller simple games? Can't tell yet! I'm exporting higher res maps and doing something in the middle.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Converting from OpenGL ES1 to ES2 on the iPhone

I recently got through upgrading our engine to support ES2 and GLSL shaders. It took about a week to get the game just looking the same as it did before, but rendering with shaders instead. I'm sharing some info that might be worthwhile to anyone else trying to update their iPhone renderers. This is not a how-to on using GLSL to achieve different effects, you can find plenty of that elsewhere.

ES2 is not an incremental improvement to ES1, it is a total paradigm shift in how pixels get rendered. You can't just take an ES1 renderer and add a couple shaders here and there like you can in DirectX. In ES2, you write vertex and pixel/fragment shaders in GLSL, and then pass values to the shaders at runtime.

The vertex shader reads in any values from VBOs or vertex arrays, and outputs any values that are useful for the pixel shader. Any values created in the vertex shader are interpolated along the triangle edges and raster lines before being passed to the pixel shader. The pixel/fragment shader has only one job, to output a color value.

I've found this site to be a nice reference for GLSL functions, starting at section 8.1:

3GS/iPhone4/iPad or bust:

ES2 is not supported on the 3G, first gen iPhone, or first gen iPod. It's possible to support both ES1 and ES2 in the same codebase, but you will need two entirely different render paths. There's no mixing and matching allowed, so within a run you are either entirely ES1 or entirely ES2.

EAGLContext* eaglContext = 0;

eaglContext = [[EAGLContext alloc] initWithAPI:kEAGLRenderingAPIOpenGLES2];

if (eaglContext && [EAGLContext setCurrentContext:eaglContext])


// initialize a renderer that uses ES2 imports




eaglContext = [[EAGLContext alloc] initWithAPI:kEAGLRenderingAPIOpenGLES1];

if (!eaglContext || ![EAGLContext setCurrentContext:eaglContext]) {

// total failure!


// initialize a renderer that uses ES1 imports


Loading and assigning shaders:

The shader compiler deals in character buffers. You will need to either create a GLSL stream in code, or more sanely load up a file containing a shader and pass the contents to the compiler.

int loadShader(GLenum type, const char* glslSourceBuf)


int ret = glCreateShader(type);

if (ret == 0) return ret;

glShaderSource(ret, 1, (const GLchar**)&glslSourceBuf, NULL);


int success;

glGetShaderiv(ret, GL_COMPILE_STATUS, &success);

if (success == 0)


char errorMsg[2048];

glGetShaderInfoLog(ret, sizeof(errorMsg), NULL,


outputDebugString("%s error: %s\n", fileName, errorMsg);


ret = 0;


return ret;


int loadShaderProgram(const char* vertSource, const char* pixelSource)


// load in the two individual shaders

int vertShader = loadShader(GL_VERTEX_SHADER, vertSource);

int pixelShader = loadShader(GL_FRAGMENT_SHADER, pixelSource);

// create a "program" which is a vertex/pixel shader pair.

int ret = glCreateProgram();

if (ret == 0) return ret;

glAttachShader(ret, vertShader);

glAttachShader(ret, pixelShader);

// assign vertex attributes to positions inside

// glVertexAttribPointer calls

glBindAttribLocation(ret, AP_POS, "position");

glBindAttribLocation(ret, AP_NORMAL, "normal");

glBindAttribLocation(ret, AP_DIFFUSE, "diffuse");

glBindAttribLocation(ret, AP_SPECULAR, "specular");

glBindAttribLocation(ret, AP_UV1, "uv1");


int linked;

glGetProgramiv(ret, GL_LINK_STATUS, &linked);

if (linked == 0)



outputDebugString("Failed to link shader program.");

return 0;


return ret;


void drawSomething(void)


// tell opengl which shaders to use for rendering


// set any values on the shader that you want to use.

// set up the vertex buffer using glVertexAttribPointer

// calls and the same positions used during the linking.

// then draw like usual.

glDrawElements(GL_TRIANGLES, numTris, GL_UNSIGNED_SHORT, 0);


No matrix stack:

All transformations are done in the shader, so anything using glMatrixMode is automatically out. glFrustumf and glOrthof are also gone, so you will need to write replacements. You can find examples of these two functions in the Android codebase at

For the transforms used by shaders, I have callbacks to grab values like ModelToView and ViewToProj from a structure that I calculate once per render pass.

In C++:

unsigned int transformShaderHandle = glGetUniformLocation(shaderId, "ModelToScreen");

glUniformMatrix4fv(transformShaderHandle, 1, GL_FALSE, (GLfloat*)mModelViewProj );

In the vertex shader:

uniform mat4 ModelToScreen;

attribute vec4 position;

void main()


gl_Position = ModelToScreen * position;


More textures!

You only get two texture channels to use under ES1. ES2 gives you 8. Setting up a texture in ES2 is similar to ES1, but you don't get the various glTexEnvi functions to define how multiple texture channels blend together. You do that part in GLSL instead.

In C++:

unsigned int textureShaderHandle = glGetUniformLocation(shaderId, "Texture0");

// tell the shader that Texture0 will be on texture channel 0

glUniform1i(textureShaderHandle, 0);

// then set up the texture like you would in ES1



glBindTexture(GL_TEXTURE_2D, mTextureId);

In the pixel shader:

uniform lowp sampler2D Texture0;

void main()


gl_FragColor = texture2D(Texture0, v_uv1);


No such thing as glEnableClientState(GL_NORMAL_ARRAY)

GL_NORMAL_ARRAY, GL_COLOR_ARRAY, etc have all gone away. Instead you use the unified glVertexAttribPointer interface to push vertex buffer info to the shaders. This is a pretty simple change.


glVertexAttribPointer(AP_NORMAL, 3, GL_FLOAT, false, vertDef.getVertSize(), (GLvoid*)(vertDef.getNormalOffset()*4));

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

100k animated triangles at 30fps on iPhone

I've been optimizing OverPowered all week, and have managed to more than double the amount of bad guys we can support, and removed a 10 meg memory spike on load that was sending us low memory warnings. Here is some info that I've picked up in the process.

The strategy: Find the bottlenecks, kill the bottlenecks.

The iPhone is actually two processors, the CPU and the GPU. If one of those is eating up all the time, then it's not worth optimizing the other. OverPowered is an action game, so it's important to keep the framerate at least 30fps. At the start of the week we were overwhelmingly GPU bottlenecked at around 20k animated triangles per frame. I managed to narrow down enough fixes that it's now more worthwhile to optimize the CPU than to try to keep shrinking the GPU cost.

I used 4 tools this week.

  • An onscreen FPS counter with number of triangles drawn. This is the only really definitive way to know how fast your game is running, but it's extremely low resolution. The iPhone is vsync locked, so if you are at 30fps it will take a huge change to make it display anything else.
  • An in-game timer. I wrap timer calls around various functions to measure their real cost. This is a very useful way to get a high level view of where your frame time is going with a high degree of confidence. It can be run in release without much profiling overhead to skew the results. I have it spitting out the frame breakdown every time I exit a level.
  • Instruments: CPU sampler. This is a fairly lightweight sampling profiler. As long as you sanity check the results with the in-game timer it can be used to get a higher resolution view of bottlenecks.
  • Instruments: Allocations. This tool is absolutely awesome for telling you where your memory is being spent. All platforms should have a tool like this.
  • I did not use Shark. This can give you a better view than the CPU sampler, but it's much heavier weight. It takes longer to get results and try out changes. It's good if you have a specific set of functions that you really want to optimize at a low level.

Pixel fill rate:

The amount of pixels drawn seems to be the biggest deal on this platform. I read somewhere that you can draw the full screen about 5 times at 30 fps on the 3GS if nothing else is going on, and my own tests are about the same. If you draw a background image, then the ground, then a gui and a bunch of little objects you can easily be drawing the screen three times already if you set it up wrong.

The iphone supports a fast hidden surface removal with the deferred tile renderer. Opaque objects drawn on top of each other largely avoid the overdraw issue by doing an early cull of objects that will be fully drawn behind other objects within a tile. So…make your gui out of opaque rectangular textures? This isn't really an option.

Just be aware of the limitations on fill rate and design appropriately is all the advice I can give on this one. If your game design requires 10 fullscreen blended textures to be drawn on top of each other every frame, it's not going to work no matter how much work you do. Try to avoid drawing large blended textures if possible, and a large alpha-tested object is one of the worst things you can do for rendering performance.

I was trying to do an effect that draws the entire world to an offscreen buffer, then overlays that on the screen for pixel shader effects. I ended up having to abandon this approach after getting it working due to the pixel fill rate getting in the way.

Vertex upload speed:

When you use vertex arrays, the entire vertex buffer is uploaded to the GPU every frame. This causes the whole pipeline to stall out while the GPU waits for the memory transfer. VBOs can be used to eliminate this lag for static data, things that you rarely change. All things being equal the difference between vertex arrays (20k verts) and VBOs (100k verts!) is huge. The max number of verts you can push is probably much higher, but I have a game running and lots of pixel overdraw.

Our scene is now entirely static buffers. We use a vertex shader to do all of the animation on the GPU by passing static buffers that represent the frames to interpolate between, and a float argument to represent position in between the frames. This change alone let me double the amount of onscreen badguys.

It's also the reason why we won't be able to support the original iphone and 3g for OverPowered. The difference in power is too much to be able to max out the newer phones while still trying to run on the older ones for a small company. When I pause the game I can fill the screen completely with quake 3 models without dropping below 30fps, so the bottleneck has been moved away from the rendering code and into the game/physics/render-setup code.

The vertex processor seems to be very powerful compared to the rest of the pipeline. I have not seen any slowdown from making the vertex shader more complicated so far, so I plan on abusing this as much as possible. Here is the relevant part of my shader code.

uniform mat4 ModelViewProj;

// the position of the low frame

attribute vec4 position;

// the position of the high frame from a different buffer

attribute vec4 diffuse;

// the pct of progress the animation has run between the two frames

uniform mediump float PctLow;

void main()


vec4 interpolatedPos = mix(position, diffuse, PctLow);

gl_Position = ModelViewProj * interpolatedPos;


Texture size is important:

I reduced a gui texture from 256x256 png to 64x64 and saw good results. This is a texture that's drawn a bunch of times every frame. All of our opaque textures are pvr4 compressed, and that was also a big win over uncompressed textures.

Memory spikes in ObjectiveC:

The 10 meg spike that I mentioned was in our platform layer due to bad use of the garbage collector. We generally garbage collect at the end of every frame. Usually we can get away with this because most of our allocations are in C++, and they go away as soon as we tell them to. Texture loading is an exception because it happens in platform code.

During the course of loading a level, we'd read in a texture buffer, create the OpenGL texture, and then release the texture buffer. This works ok if only one texture is loaded that frame, but not if we are loading a whole level at once. If you identify a place like this in ObjectiveC code, an easy fix is to put a NSAutoreleasePool around it.

NSAutoreleasePool *pool = [[NSAutoreleasePool alloc] init];

// do stuff

[pool release];

OpenGL State Changes:

These don't seem to be causing me any troubles right now. Our renderer has always been pretty good at batching materials, so it's not an issue I had to touch on this week.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Supporting iPhone and Android in the same codebase

I've noticed that a lot of people are surprised we have a cross platform engine for iPhone and Android. It also runs on Windows and Mac. Within a short period we could have any of our iPhone games running on any of those other platforms. I thought it would be worthwhile to go into some details about how we did it.

Engine and Platform Philosophy:

The Golden Hammer engine was written from the get-go to be cross platform. Keeping other platforms in mind early on will save a lot of effort when it's time to port. This really boils down to three things:
  • C++ is used for the bulk of the code.
  • Interface classes are used to wrap major systems.
  • No direct calls to the operating system are allowed outside of a platform wrapper.

C++ is supported on PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, XBox, Wii, PS3 and the list goes on and on. The operating system calls on iPhone are in Objective C, but the rest of your code can be in C++. Likewise with Java on Android through use of the NDK.

Major systems like rendering are wrapped in a high level interface. We support DirectX, OpenGL, and OpenGL ES renderers. Keeping the interface high level keeps the nasty high frequency virtual calls at bay when setting render states. For iPhone and Android you can get away with just an OpenGL ES renderer, but not being locked out of platforms like the Wii later on is nice to have. Sound is a place where you will need an interface in order to successfully port from iPhone to Android.

Platform function calls are all abstracted behind interfaces. On the iPhone this means that Objective C calls are not allowed anywhere in the game code outside a minimal set of classes to represent the platform. On Android this means that the game is not allowed to make any JNI calls except from within the platform layer.

Our engine is about 60,000 lines of platform-independent C++ code, with the platform interface layer running about 2,000 lines. In theory we don't need to modify any of those 60k lines in order to add support for a new platform.

Linking C++ and Operating System calls:

Calling Objective C code from C++ is super easy though the use of .mm files, which let you compile both Objective C and C++ within the same class. Provide a C++ interface for the game to use, and then subclass it with a .mm file to make the platform calls.

Communicating between C++ and Java is a bit more work with JNI as your only choice. You create a Java function on one side, and a C function on the other to act as the glue code. Then subclass your C++ interface to call your new wrapper functions. I recommend doing some web searches on JNI for details.

Handling Input:

There are many ways to set up your interface to the platform input. I don't strongly advocate one over another, but I can explain how we do it. The platform code never directly causes the game to do anything. We maintain an input state class with all the current key positions, accelerometer values, etc. When an accelerometer call comes in we update the input state. On the next frame the game looks at the updated input and makes decisions. On iphone this has the added bonus of never doing much work in response to an input event, which prevents the operating system buffer from overflowing and losing events.

The iPhone/Android Platform Layer:
  • Texture loading: On iPhone we use custom code for PVR loading, and UIImage for uncompressed textures. On Android we use BitMap.
  • Sound: On iPhone we use a platform independent OpenAL library with platform code for loading the files for effects, and AVAudioPlayer for music. On Android we tell Java code to start playing a sound.
  • File Access: This is a simple .mm interface on iPhone, but on Android we need to ask Java for a file handle that we can then read in C++.
  • Handling OS input events.
  • Creation of the OpenGL context.
  • Time calculation.
  • Threads.
  • Debug output.

Android does not have breakpoints for native code. This means you are stuck with printf debugging while doing the port.

Setting up the Android NDK environment is time consuming. Essentially you need to download and set up the NDK, create makefiles, and build your C++ through the command line. You then link into the native library in your eclipse project.

Hardware fragmentation on Android is a real problem, even when ignoring the performance differences between a Galaxy and a Hero. All iPhones support OpenGL 1.1, but some Android phones are still on 1.0. The Hero can't generate mipmaps on the GPU for example. Be prepared to have to test on a wide variety of phones.

File size matters on Android phones before 2.2. The phones have a limited amount of space available for apps, because they can't be installed on the much larger SD card. If your app is too large, owners of older phones will uninstall quickly.

There's is no standard compressed texture format on Android. If you choose to include PVR files, you will also need to include an uncompressed fallback texture. This can be a problem when considering the file size.

Sounds on Android are slow, especially for starting and stopping. Maybe I'm missing something in my implementation, but I had to remove several sound effects during the port for performance reasons.

The NDK does not come with STL included. You will need to use something like STLPort.

The iPhone and Android audiences are not the same! Be prepared to have a new marketing challenge once your port is complete.

Final Notes:

Several of the topics here could easily be expanded into their own posts. If you'd like to see more detail on anything please let me know.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Android Redux

We spent a few days making a free version of snowboarding for android, released it, and got a bunch of complaints that it doesn't work on certain phones. So I fixed the problems and released a newer version called B.M.Snowboard Free. Sales are up and so is ad income. I don't know if either will last very long.

Hardware fragmentation:

We now run on all major 2.0 android phones. The way this was accomplished was to go into AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint stores and install the free version on a bunch of phones for testing. I had to actually buy a Hero which I will be returning in order to get that one working.

There were 4 issues I found:
* Sound - some phones really hate starting/stopping sounds. I had to remove some sound effects to get the blazing fast Samsung Galaxy S phones to work.
* Mipmap generation - The Hero can't generate mipmaps with an openGL code. I had to manually create the mips.
* glGetFloatv - This function does not exist on the Hero. I had to redo some camera code.
* Holy crap some of those old phones are crappy. The Hero has even worse benchmarks than the iPhone 1.

Return rate:

I may have misquoted the numbers. I looked at total installs vs active installs. This tells me how many people still have it installed, but it doesn't tell me how many of those people ended up not paying for it. With better compatibility and a demo version we're getting about a 15% return rate.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big Mountain Snowboarding history and sales

This post is so horribly out of date and yet it keeps getting linked as some kind of cautionary tale.  It is no where near representative of the past few years.

Founding the company:

Around 1998 I started working on a Quake 3 mod called Bid For Power. In 2000 I joined Blue Fang games where I worked on Zoo Tycoon 1 and 2, the expansion packs, and World of Zoo. During this time I saved heavily, developed my skills, and kept working on new iterations of a hobby game engine.

Around summer of 2008 I decided to port the engine to iPhone, and then started working on a snowboarding game as a hobby. There wasn't anything like it on the app store at the time and I had a pretty well-developed terrain engine going, so it seemed like a good idea. Things got hectic at my job in the fall and I put the snowboarding game aside.

In the spring I decided to pick it up again and named the game Big Mountain Snowboarding. I joined forces with another Blue Fang programmer and begged for some free time from an artist friend of mine. In August Blue Fang let me and half the company go.

This seemed like the perfect time to make a real go at making my own games. I figured it would only take a month or two to finish off the first one.


It took until Dec 2009 to get something releasable (mistake #1). Between the time we started full-time on it and released, several other snowboarding games came out including Shawn White.

We released with no hype at all (mistake #2) and sent out a bunch of mails to iPhone sites with zero response from any of them. We also made a bad youtube video. The only exposure we got at all was a touch arcade post with a few friendly user responses and a lot of "lol another snowboarding game". We set the price to $1.99 and let it go.

Sales slowly climbed over the next couple weeks with a few positive user reviews, peaking at about $50/day briefly before dropping off. We had worked a lot on this game and it didn't look like it was going to support us, so I decided to take some time off (mistake #3).

We did have one thing going for us that sets us apart from the other snowboarding games. We're the only game out there that tried a somewhat realistic approach to the controls and graphics, while the other games are all focused on the tricks. This is a positive and a negative, but at least it gave us a little niche to fill.

Bad itunes reviews:

We had a very small number good reviews on itunes. After about a month of not updating we got hit with several 1 star reviews all at once. This is the one that killed it:

"...these devs seem to have forgotten this game, haven't offered update news or responded to comments or concerns posted for almost two weeks…Should be criminal DO NOT BUY."

This review is still present for version 1.0 on iTunes. It makes me chuckle now after patching the game for another 6 months. Within a day our sales dropped down to $10/day from about $30/day. We lowered the price to 99 cents (mistake #4?) which gave us a small rebound for about a week before dropping even lower.

Early patches:

After a couple months I decided the game had failed commercially, but there were a few things about the game itself that I wasn't happy about. I started patching it just to appease myself while trying to work on some new projects that we ended up dropping. A few of the bad reviews decided to change their text. One guy went from 1 star to 4 stars after I fixed a specific issue he mentioned.

Lite version and being featured:

In March we released a free demo version of the game. Sales were so low that I figured it couldn't hurt. The new version was getting about 3000 downloads per day, which caught Apple's attention. The full version was featured the next week under new and noteworthy, but over on the right where you have to scroll to see it.

Sales shot up to $80/day for that week. We left the price at 99 cents (mistake #5). As soon as the feature ended we were back where we started, in the $10/day range.


Because we have an engine that we plan on making several games on, it makes sense to add support for any new tech that comes around. I made the minimum changes to be out on launch day and then picked up an iPad close to launch.

We decided to make a universal binary (most definitely mistake #6). This kept us out of consideration for being featured, made our iPhone version much larger, and has caused us a lot of problems in the charting of both iPad and iPhone. We have absolutely zero visibility on the device itself. I won't be doing this again, the iPhone and the iPad are separate markets.

Even so, iPad support gave us more visibility in iTunes, distinguished us from the other snowboarding games, and let us raise the price up to 1.99. Soon after the iPad launch we were making $20/day again.

Our game, which ran beautifully on the 3gs, ran at about 10fps on the much beefier iPad. I tracked down the issue to the fog settings and submitted a patch. I then spent a couple very boring weeks re-exporting all of our maps with higher texture settings, and tweaked the graphics to really push the hardware. After three patches and about 3 weeks of full-time work, here is the response from iTunes:

"Not for iPad (1 star): They just took an iPod game and made it bigger obviously no work involved at all, I don't see how this was even approved. I would not buy this unless you want a terrible game."

Fortunately this was countered by a friendly user who wrote:

"The accelerometer controls are much more user-friendly than other iPad apps, which really add to overall gameplay. Get. This. App."

Overall adding iPad support seems to have been a very good idea. About 1 in 4 of our free version downloads are from the iPad. It's hard to pin anything related to app store sales down to one thing, but a combination of lots of patches, having a game that most people think is decent, and iPad support have given us a couple months of more than $30/day in iOS sales after dropping to almost nothing.

iPhone 4:

We added support for the higher resolution display. So far it doesn't seem to have helped us at all but I imagine games that don't update will start to look older and older, and users will probably start reacting badly to them. It only took a couple days to update, after about a week of making the game compile with the new sdk.


Our free version is still getting about 1000 downloads a day. We decided to ad iAd support which took about a week of work. iAds are now making us about $4/day but it's free money. Here's the catch:

Requests: 44,918. Impressions: 946.

iAds are only available in the USA. For whatever reason a lot of our users are in Japan. We just had an update approved with AdMob included with our free iPhone app. This also took about a week to get working. It seems to be worth another $4/day so far. After 150,000 downloads of our lite version I think we left a lot of money on the table by not having ads much earlier (mistake #7).


We were fortunate enough to pick up some free Droids at GDC this year. We spent about a month of part time work porting Big Mountain Snowboarding over to Android. We were ready to release, but how do we get the word out? I still don't know. There's no central place like TouchArcade for Android.

The Android port was painful. I don't think we could have done it without going to several talks by Google about how to port iPhone games while at GDC. The hardware fragmentation is very hard to deal with, and the debugging tools for the NDK are simply horrid. We still have problems running on some devices, but there's no way I can afford to pay for enough phones to have a decent testing suite. I just put in the description that it was designed for Droid and might not work on all phones.

We released at 2.99 to start (mistake #8). We were soon lost in the shuffle by dozens of apps which show Japanese girls in bikinis. Really. I'm not making that up. I think a better choice on Android is to start the price low with the hopes of making it into the charts before visibility disappears. This probably applies to iPhone too, but it's hard to say.

We've actually had a slow climb out of obscurity on Android due to being the only game on the search results for "snowboarding". We have 15 positive reviews over there, and sales are bad but they are no longer totally ignorable. The android version is currently bringing in about $4-6/day with 500 copies sold and 250 of those returned.

We have a free version ready to go for Android with adMob included. Hopefully the ads will perform as well as they do on iPhone and maybe jumpstart our paid version.

Future plans:

We're working on a new project called OverPowered that I'm very excited about. Unlike Big Mountain Snowboarding it's a unique idea, and we won't have to compete with a dozen other similar games. We'll be doing an announcement and try to get the word out in a few weeks, and are aiming for a September release if possible.

The new game will have separate iPad and iPhone versions. We'll try harder to get word out earlier. Hopefully some of the press will take us more seriously as it's the second game, but we can't count on that. We will patch it heavily during the time immediately after release and respond to any user comments that we can. There will be an Android version but I still don't know how to correctly handle that market. If there's a free version it will have ads in it, and the game won't be sold for 99 cents, at least not after the initial couple weeks.