Half-Bit Software

Periodic Update: 12-21-2014


When last I did something pseudo-productive, I blathered about being stuck. Oh, woe is me, I don’t know what I wanna do. Whine, bitch, piss, moan.

Nuts to that.

A few weeks ago I pushed out a much-needed, pretty-rad update to Wall-o-Matic and kinda changed the name. Feedback from a trusted source basically said “you idiot, it’s not ‘wall of matic’, it’s ‘wallomatic’”. She was right about pretty much both parts. It added a boatload of new styles, though sadly I don’t remember how many. Oops.

It also made a couple of changes that I’m really proud of. The first was simple and straightforward - do the wallpaper rendering on a background thread, check to see if you’ve done any new requests, then return if you’re still at that point in line. It keeps the UI nice and snappy regardless of how much monkeying you’ve done with the sliders.

The other thing I did - probably a better change - was to add an easier to use gallery mode for picking which kind of wallpaper you want to make. The first one relied on a user being curious about all the options, and being aware of when they looped. It was a dumb, programmer solution. This one shows you big honkin’ pictures of what they’ll look like on a big, responsive scrolling list. It’s what I should’ve done the first time around, but there weren’t really enough of the things to warrant the effort. Adding more generators only made the problem worse over time, so I’m kind of a victim of my own enthusiasm, I guess.

As far as games are concerned, I’ve been working more on the shmup, now called Bullet Heck. It started because I wanted to be @madgarden when I grew up, but now it’s kinda something different? It’s also pretty embarrassing/mortifying that I started it in July 2013. I’m going to blame my cluelessness about action games, SpriteKit and a whole other host of problems for taking so long. It just wasn’t any fun to work on, and I really didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I’m a bit less clueless now, so I’m hopeful to get it done, uh, eventually? It’ll be done someday. There’s really not that much to do, but I’m anxious that it’s not really all that much fun to play. People seem to like it, though, so I’ve got that going for me.

Halt and Oh Dear I Am on Fire

I’m stuck.

Not physically, at least. I haven’t managed to gain quite that much weight yet. There’s a great pie chart that I reference occasionally and throw at people who want to make stuff. Make things you want to make, that you’re good at making, and that ought to be made, and you’ll do fine.

Except - and this is the part where I get stuck - I think I want to make stuff different than what I might be good at. I’ve had this weird, nagging feeling that I want to make something, well, nonviolent, but also non-abstract. Panic Attack was the former, but not the latter, sadly. I don’t think I want to make a game where you put a sword through someone’s dome, but I’m a little scared that, uh, violent games are what I should stick with.

Hence the stuck. I’ve got plenty of ideas and hooks and things for, well, the kind of thing that plenty of other people are making, only theirs are all better than mine. So do I focus on something I’ll suck at for a long while, or ignore the dumb voices telling me to do something new?

It’s a conundrum, that’s for sure.


On Friday, I shipped another app. Bully for me!

This post heralds the silliness. It’s a wallpaper app! It makes wallpapers!

No, seriously. That’s all it does. I already talked a bit about why I was doing it, and what it was good for, so now seems like the right time to look at the present and future for this thing. To start, this is my first foray into free apps. The other three were paid up front, and, well, so far (after three days) the download numbers aren’t all that disappointing. I’m getting ~50 a day, which is pretty neat for me!

Sales aren’t quite as strong, but, well, it’s early days yet. This wasn’t an app I expected much from, truthfully. It was just something I wanted to use for myself, and the reactions from fairly critical people were all pretty positive. I’m tempted to make it work on iOS 7 as well, given how little 8-only stuff I’m using, too, for anyone nervous about jumping to the latest and…latest.

The other thing I’m aiming for is the occasional rolling release. I actually like writing the little snippets that draw the silly wallpapers. It’s kind of soothing in the same way a quine is, as just a kind of “mess-around, see what you can make a computer do” exercise. My process, more or less, is to poke through minimalist/vector wallpaper message boards and pick up what I like, to see if I can recreate it in pure code. Adding new styles is pretty brain-dead simple at this point.

Long story short: I’m gonna keep making new wallpapers, hopefully a few every month, until I get bored.

Silly Design

Along the same lines as my pen post, I’ve wanted to write about this for ages. Ever see stuff in your day to day life that makes you pause and wonder what someone was thinking? Or why something was done a certain way? If you haven’t, you’re a Zen master, because there’s weird, questionable crap all around. Take, for example, this remote. It controls a ceiling fan, and the buttons look like this:

Ignore the snazzy green Elevation dock.Ignore the snazzy green Elevation dock.

Points in its favor: the buttons are big. There’s a light at the top that blinks when it receives input, so you know that it got the message.

Points against: why - and this is my big quibble with the damned thing - why are the buttons in a circular ring? Without looking, which one’ll turn off the fan completely? Which one’ll set it to medium? I’ve lived with this fan for four years, and I still can’t tell you. I have to read the buttons to figure out which one to press. Every. Single. Time.

Why aren’t they in a big stack, with “fast” at the top and “off” at the bottom? There’s even a light button - have the fan speed buttons get wider as it gets faster, and have the light at the top! Maybe even shape it like a stupid lightbulb!

This remote is my design nemesis. It irks me. It’s irksome.

Minor update: The lovely people from Fracture agreed with me on Twitter! They also brought up a point that I meant to mention on here, that the buttons are laid out to mimic the appearance of a fan. Because they reminded me, they get complete credit. The remote is absolutely supposed to look like the spinning blades of a fan. It’s the only thing that’d make any sense - it’s neat from a skeuomorphic perspective, but pretty awful usability.

Writing Tools

I’ve been wanting to write this for awhile. I dunno what stopped me, honestly. So, confession time: I like pens. And not just any pens - fancy-pants, hoity-toidy fountain pens. For now, I’m just gonna talk pens, probably. Inks can come later.

I’m just gonna go from bottom to top. These are pretty much just the ones that live on my desk. I’ve got a handful of others, but these’re the ones I’d really recommend to anyone, depending on budget.

  • Pentel Twist-Erase, 0.5mm. Uh. It’s a mechanical pencil, for when…I want to erase, I guess?
  • Pilot Metropolitan, F nib. A recent addition, but one that I’m not all that happy with, so far. It puts down a bit more ink than I usually like, so my cramped writing ends up pretty muddy and gross. The Metro has a pretty great heft to it and a nice, clicky cap, and comes with a converter. Great starter pen. A recent purchase, along with…
  • Pilot Penmanship, EF nib. This one didn’t come with a converter, but makes up for it with a really great feel and a super, super thin line. Japanese pens tend to run narrower than usual, and this one’s certainly living up to that. Mine’s a clear demonstrator, but I might end up getting the black one at some point. It’s got these rad red flanges! Can’t beat that!
  • Lamy Safari, Charcoal, EF nib. My very first fountain pen! You’ve all got this guy to blame. It’s still one of my favorites - puts down a narrow line, but still thick enough for the more entertaining inks to show off some nice shading. I’ve got a blacker-than-black ink in it pretty much permanently at this point.
  • Lamy 2000, EF nib I recently discovered that this beauty has a unique red cousin - though, that one’s way, way, way out of my price bracket. Sheesh, that’s more than most cars. This puts down the smoothest line of any of my pens, and has a massive reservoir, too.
  • Montblanc, EF nib. This one never leaves my desk. Nuff said.

They’re all sitting on a Moleskine. I’ve tried other notebooks, but I like these the best, so far. I usually go squared rather than ruled or blank. Most of my project planning, brainstormed ideas and todos go into these. I usually label the spines with a silver sharpie so I can keep track of what’s living where. Recently I’ve gotten more daring about - gasp! - putting stickers on the fronts, or little pixel-esque stencils done with sharpie. You can just barely see the Pixatronic robo-dude peeking through in the picture.

Finally. That’s a load off my mind! Maybe someday I’ll do a fancy-pants picture of my other pens, and definitely a list of the inks I usually use.

Wallpaper Silliness

Pretty slick, huh?Pretty slick, huh?This is going to be kind of a silly story. Buckle up.

So, Summer 2013, I played around a little bit with this - just a little territory control game with levels built with cellular automata and a neat little colors system based off of slight shifts in saturation and brightness. This was originally from a silly little Ludum Dare entry, but that’s neither here nor there.

I used this little trick in a few other places. Panic Attack’s background has a little variation, as does Pixatronic, though sans lines drawn in. It’s great for adding a little noise and texture without breaking off from the relatively flat, clean look that iOS7 is inflicting on everyone.

So, as a kind of joke a few weeks ago, I thought, self, let’s make an actual wallpaper with our silly little algorithms. So I did that! And once I did, I realized, hey, these aren’t actually that bad. So I made a few more. It started as just squares, but quickly moved to triangles and diamonds and hexagons and…wowsers. After a few hours of hacking and twiddling, it was actually making some pretty neat, usable, dare I say it attractive things.

Oooh, the colors!Oooh, the colors!So I kept at it. Maybe 24 hours, wall-clock time later, I actually had something that a few people wanted to play around with which, well, is why I’m here! I think my wallpaper silliness (yes, that is the actual project name) is pretty much done, so I’m gonna put up some screenshots. This’ll be free with silly IAP, but no limits on saving or making wallpapers. I haven’t decided on the full list of sliders and modifiers yet, but I’m getting pretty close to calling it good.

I hope people like using it! I’m already using some of the stuff it’s spit out, so I figure that’s a pretty good sign already. And, hey, if people really seem to like it, I’d be tempted to do an OS X port. Shoot. Never done that before, have I?

How I Make App Icons

Art is a pain in the butt. I flinch whenever I have to do anything substantial any kind of image editor - Pixelmator, Photoshop, or whatever. It’s always been kind of a goal to minimize the number and size of assets in my app bundle. In general, smaller apps are good for everyone.

For The Dungeon, one of the few outright app rejections was because my app icon didn’t match my big-icon. This kind of surprised and annoyed me at the time, but now I feel like Apple was probably doing me a favor. For Panic Attack, I wanted to try something different with my icons, and render them in code rather than doing anything in an art program.

Which brings me to today! I’ve been working on a pixel editor for far, far too long a little while, and finally got around to putting together an icon for it. I’m doing it all in code with pretty simple, straightforward Core Graphics calls. It might not be all that optimal, but it lets me specify sizes and point/pixel scaling at whim, which makes editing and regenerating all my icons at all required sizes remarkably painless.

Procedural Content

I’m not an artist. Really, really. Despite my not-very-good best efforts, I’m still not any good at drawing, or sketching, or pixel-art-ing. For The Dungeon, I pretty much used the Roguelike Tiles as best I could, and found pre-made GUI art elsewhere. I did some of the in-game UI border art in Photoshop, but it’s all pretty much not-me.

For Panic Attack, initially, I used a few things from Subtle Patterns, but eventually decided the backgrounds kind of clashed - so, I made my own. Not in Photoshop, though. Still not an artist, remember? Instead, I rendered graphics myself, procedurally. The non-pixel-art in-game styles are, actually, all rendered procedurally too. (For those keeping track, those styles are Default, Seven, and Seven Symbols). Up until Block Party and Block Symbols, Seven was actually my favorite style.

So! What in the hell are procedural graphics, anyways? Well, to me - and hopefully, to everyone else, too - procedural graphics are, duh, graphics (art, but not capital-A Art) you generate algorithmically. This means, someone who doesn’t really have the art skills, like me, can still have reasonable art and graphics without killing myself in Photoshop or Pixelmator or what have you.

And since I brought it up, Pixelmator is freaking sweet. I don’t know if I’d go back to Photoshop after using it, at least, for the pixel art kinds of things I do.

Procedural art is great if you have absolutely no art chops and enjoy lots of iteration.

Random Grab-Bag 1

It’s been awhile, and I’ve been anything but idle, so I figured it’d be a good idea to drop a quick note about the silly things I’ve been up to lately. For starters, I pushed iOS7 friendly versions of The Dungeon and Panic Attack up to the App Store. I also made the latter free for a week - get it quick, folks!

Panic Attack Theme!

For Panic Attack, I also wanted to modernize its look a bit, so I updated my theme a bit. This was actually something I really wanted to do before iOS7 came out, but it didn’t quite make the cut. I regret it a bit now, but I’m glad that it turned out well. It’s kind of hard for me not to use it. Check it out! I also spent a bit of time just doing a little bit of cleanup and polish on Panic Attack. Despite my best efforts and all common sense, I’m not quite done with the poor game yet.

Screenshot_360 by halfbitsoftware



I’ve also been working a bit on a little SHMUP idea, more or less inspired by Chillaxian, a mellow, groovy riff on Galaxian. Mine goes pretty much whole-hog in the opposite direction, hoping to be a fast, angry, almost psychotic take on the space shooter. It’s also my first foray into SpriteKit. (Hence the quiet - most of the things I’ve been working on have been under NDA!)

And More?

I’ve also kind of started playing around with another little SpriteKit project. Last night was a public Art/Code night thing for the local indie gamedev scene, and I started futzing with…well, just look. It’s a bit silly right now, but I’m hoping to make it cooler soon!

Tappy Swipey

One of the early feature requests for Panic Attack, even before it was called that, revolved around user input. People expected to slide, and were surprised and annoyed when their expectations weren’t met. I’m a people-pleaser, and I like trying to make things that people will enjoy using, so the next update will include a second, likely more-popular control scheme that closely mimics the one found in Planet Puzzle League, a Tetris Attack clone for the Nintendo DS.

It seems like a not-bad idea to describe why I built things the way I did. I came at this project with a couple of strong biases: first, the original Tetris Attack for the SNES, and a freeware game called Crack Attack for desktop PCs. Both had a kind of reticule thing - hitting a button would swap the two wrapped blocks. My thinking, for my iOS version, was to just nuke the reticule and have the blocks swap if you tapped between them. The context seemed obvious in my eyes, but - whoops! - hasn’t been to others.

Now, one of the little details about my current scheme revolves around timing. It’s an important thing, for all of the versions I’ve played and enjoyed. Things happen at a particular time, and take a bit of time for the animations to run through. I lock blocks for a quarter of a second, giving the animation time to complete. If you try to swap a locked block, you’ll get a wiggle that says, hey, Cool It. With this, the game seemed to play pretty well.

Enter the Swipe. I’ve got it working now, actually, and…goddamnit. It plays better than the tap. I don’t know if it’s more intuitive, but it’s definitely faster, because, at the moment, I’ve got a lot of the timing stuff sort of turned off. You can press your finger down on a block to grab it, then tug the thing over, and everything just slides and is completely happy. The quarter-second delay is broken. The game seems to feel better for it, but now I’m worried that it’ll completely break the feel of the game. It’ll certainly make tap-mode less appealing, since I don’t think you can do as many things as quickly.

So - either I can force a delay into swipe mode and cripple it like taps, leave it as is and have a lame tap mode, or try to disable the delay for tap mode. There’s one little animation glitch with the current swipe mode, but it doesn’t seem like a good enough reason not to turn something on for the sake of better gameplay.

Woof. Compromises.