Strikethrough Interview with Fluffy Raccoon Development

This is an interview with Fluffy Raccoon (check out the development blog), about their game Strikethrough on IOS, and their future game developments.  Read this interview if you are interested in video game/mobile game development, and want to learn about how this developer went about learning how to code, and coming up with the game idea.  You can learn about challenging parts of creating and programming a game, as well as the easy parts, and follow Fluffy Raccoon through their adventure of creating Strikethrough!

Enjoy the interview, and check back for more game walkthroughs, reviews, and interviews.  (There is also a link to the game at the end if you want to read the review before checking out the game.)

Here is the interview: 

1) Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you started game development.

I grew up during the 8-bit era and loved playing those early games.  I also had a deep fascination with computers and finally scraped up enough money to buy my first computer, a Commodore VIC-20.  The VIC-20 was a primitive computer even for the time period, but it was an excellent learning tool and on it I learned how to program and I learned the fundamentals about how computers work.  From there, I upgraded my computer, took courses, learned new platforms, got a degree in Computer Science, and pursued a career in software development.  

Many of my early programs were games and I’ve always wanted to get back to it. Strikethrough is my first stab at creating a fully fleshed out game and releasing it.        

2) Where did you get the idea for Strikethrough?

When I met my wife, she taught me a fun pen and paper game where two players take turns drawing lines through dots on a triangle made up of ten dots.  The object of the game is to force a player to cross out the last remaining dot.  We played this game for years while waiting at restaurants and in various lines.

In 2015, I was talking with my daughter and she encouraged me to write a game for iOS.  While I have more ambitious plans, I wanted to start relatively small with something that was unique and fun to play.  After searching the Apple App Store and not finding anything similar, I decided to bring Strikethrough to life.

3) Can you walk me through the process from the first idea for Strikethrough until where it is now?

Sure.  For me, I wasn’t set up to do iOS development so I bought a MacBook and started learning all I could about iOS and OS X development, Swift, Git, and a lot of other things.  

Once I was situated, I decided to do a simple prototype based on Tic-Tac-Toe.  The prototype laid out the concepts of players, turns, game boards, bots and other items that Strikethrough would also need.  I started with a command line only version of Tic-Tac-Toe.  This went relatively fast.  I then added the AI.  Once it was good enough to always force a tie or win, I added a simple UI and soundtrack to it.  This approach provided a nice reference implementation I later used for Strikethrough.

I then started Strikethrough.  Similar to the prototype, I started with a command line only version.  Modeling the game board for Strikethrough was quite a bit more complex than with Tic-Tac-Toe.  The game supports multiple boards and it took me a bit to get the coordinate system right and the AI working well.  While the AI approach is fundamentally the same as what I did with Tic-Tac-Toe, there are a lot more combinations of possible moves and performance became a bigger concern.

While the command line version work was underway, I pondered different themes for the game and prototyped various ideas.  I finally decided on the star/city theme you see today.  With the theme picked and the basic “headless” game in place, I started working the actual UI.

For Strikethrough, I decided to do the main UI using Apple’s SpriteKit framework.  This was different than what I had done on the Tic-Tac-Toe prototype so I did a quick prototype of just the UI running without the smarts behind it.  I used this prototype to develop the various UI assets and get the theme just right before truly implementing it.

With so much prototyped, the first working version of Strikethrough was up and going within a couple of months.  Because I used SpriteKit, it also ran on OS X in addition to iOS.  This just left the menus, settings, help, credits, and the ability to play different boards.  It took a while to get all of this in place.  I really wanted the game to have a polished profession feel and a lot of work went into the menus and transitions.  Everything has a custom transition and the menu transparency effect had to be manually coded.  All this other work probably took around 40% of the development time.  It also wasn’t done in SpriteKit like the core game UI which means it doesn’t run on OS X.  This is the biggest reason the OS X version hasn’t been released.

The last thing I worked on was the sound.  For the sound effects, I created some myself using Audacity and found free effects for the rest.  Getting the right sound track was really important and I spent time during the last half of Strikethrough’s development trying to find something that fit the game theme and was free to use.  I finally came across Eric Matyas’s excellent donation driven site, soundimage.org.  All the music in Strikethrough was done by Eric.      

4) What has been the most challenging part about creating this game?

The most challenging part of creating the game was actually finishing it after the core game play was done.  As mentioned before, it took a long time to get the menus, help, credits, and transitions right.  It took a lot of patience and determination to complete it all especially since the game itself was essentially complete.  However, the extra work was worth it and I am pleased with how it all turned out.    

5) What has been the easiest part?

The easiest part was getting the command line version of the game designed, coded, and up and running.  Even with a pretty good AI, progress went quickly.  All in all, it was probably only 10% of the overall effort to get to that stage.   

6) What are your plans for this game and game development in the future?

For Strikethrough, it really depends on how much of an audience it finds.  The primary purpose of the game was to get me going from an indie dev perspective while bringing a professional caliber version of the original pen and paper game to iOS.  If there is enough interest, I would like to add leader board support, achievements, and finish the Mac version.

Beyond Strikethrough, I’ve started work on my second game.  The working title of the game is SubWar. It is inspired by the 4X genre and is a turn based strategy game where players take turns launching fleets of submarines to conquer islands on a remote earth colony made up of just water and islands.  What is exciting about the game play is that fleet movement times are dependent on the distance being traveled and are completely hidden from the other players.  The other players just see the stationed fleet count drop at one location without knowing where or when the deployed subs will reappear.  The game will support asynchronous turn based moves and is being designed to run on iOS, Mac OS, and tvOS.  SubWar will take me a while to finish and probably won’t be released until 2017. 

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