iShoot 2.0 New Features

March 18th, 2009

I’ll be posting more thorough descriptions and video tomorrow, but for right now here is the official changelog for iShoot 2.0:

Online support: Up to four iPhones / iPod Touches on the same WiFi network can now play iShoot together.

Music: iShoot now features professionally-composed background music.

Rule Editor: Edit the game’s rules, such as how much health the tanks have, how much money you receive per round, and which landscapes are enabled.

Weapon Editor: Part of the Rule Editor, the Weapon Editor allows you to create, edit, and delete weapons. You can simply remove weapons you don’t like, tweak the damage and price of existing weapons, and create brand new weapons from scratch. How about a cluster bomb of Tactical Nukes, or a rapid-fire U238 Penetrator machine gun?

iShoot Remixed: A brand new ruleset with many new weapons, designed to show off the power of the Rule Editor and give you a sense of what is possible now.

“Random” Weapons: A new basic type of weapon for use in the Weapon Editor, “Random” selects one of a number of different weapons when fired. Random weapons are featured heavily in the iShoot Remixed ruleset, giving rise to weapons such as the Jackpot, which might just be a dud… or it might pack the same punch as a World Annihilator. A tamer application of Random is the Disco Bomb, which creates many different colored explosions. Mayhem has never before been so pretty!

Skylance: The basic weapon type used to create the “Great Wall” you all know and loathe :-). Turn off the “Create Dirt” option, and you get a vertical bar of energy which slices through the landscape and leaves tanks at the bottom of a giant hole.

And, of course, lots and lots of minor changes and fixes.

The Real Story

March 1st, 2009

I was recently featured on the front page of my local paper. While I’m thrilled to get the recognition, I’m afraid I’m not as happy about how they chose to frame the article.

Nothing in there is factually incorrect, and I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt as to his intent, but certainly I’m finding that people are getting the wrong impression from it. The article makes it sound as if we were on the verge of foreclosure and in debt up to our eyeballs. The real story, as they often are, is considerably more nuanced.

I was a pre-IPO dot-com employee. We had a some very good years and earned enough money to buy a very nice home. Now, I’m not an idiot, I am well aware that stock option income is uncertain, and of course I was not going to rely on it. We budgeted for a 66% reduction in income. Think about the shape you’d be in if 66% of your income disappeared tomorrow; we would have been absolutely fine.

But as the stock market crash progressed, we eventually lost 75% of our income. We were still able to pay the bills, but had little left over for emergencies. Unfortunately, the past two years have been full of emergencies, including my son’s premature birth via emergency C-section, my wife’s emergency appendectomy, and seven or eight trips to the emergency room for various reasons between my two children. One of my wife’s relatives also ran into problems and had no one else to turn to, so she moved in with us for nearly a year and depended on us for care and financial support. It was a lot to deal with all at once.

So it is true that my wife and I were discussing how much longer we could continue to afford our mortgage payments at the rate things were going, and had reached the conclusion that we were going to have to sell our home unless I could manufacture a miracle. I certainly wasn’t excited about selling our house, especially in this market, but we would still have been fine. In this economy, almost everyone is having to tighten their belts, and if the worst that had happened to us was having to sell our luxury home and move into a more modest dwelling, I would have had little reason to complain.

So yes, my family was facing a lot of challenges and we were looking at downgrading our home in order to make ends meet. But people seem to be getting the impression that we were destitute, or in foreclosure, or something along those lines, and that simply is not the case. We were simply making sure that we were living within our means.

Sneak Peek at iShoot 2.0

February 11th, 2009

I’m furiously working on iShoot 2.0 and figured you might want a peek at what’s in store. The first huge change is unfortunately hard to take a screenshot of, but you should notice a change on the title screen:

I’ve mostly been working on the networking code so far, rather than the user interface for it, so I’m not going to show off the placeholder interface I have now. But basically the way it will work is one person chooses Host, up to three other people choose Connect and select the host, and then you lob expensive weapons at each other. You’ll love it. For this version you’ll all have to be on the same WiFi network, but I’m planning on allowing you to fight anyone in the world before long.

The next big change is heralded by a new, unassuming button on the New Game screen:

Edit Rules? Whatever can that be? Click on it and you’ll see this:

These should be pretty self-explanatory. Economy, for instance, allows you to change the amount of money you get at the beginning of each round and for killing enemy tanks and such. Basic Rules currently (keep in mind this is an alpha…) looks like this:

Landscapes allows you to disable landscapes you don’t like, and (when I’m done with it…) to control the frequency of the randomly-generated landscapes:

The most exciting part of the Rule Editor is by far the Weapon Editor, which will allow you to add, delete, and edit weapons. The weapons in iShoot are built up of simple parts with tunable settings; it shouldn’t surprise you that the Tactical Nuke, Nuke, and Planet Buster are all the same weapon with different blast radius and damage settings. But what may surprise you more is that the Claymore and Meltdown are the same weapon as well — they are both “ground bursts”, weapons which explode into a cloud of submunitions at the point of impact.

The main difference is that the Meltdown has a “burst power” of zero, meaning that its submunitions do not spread from the point of impact at all. This means that when the Meltdown strikes a target, it “explodes” and spawns twelve other rockets… which look exactly like a Meltdown and continue following the same trajectory. As each rocket strikes, it explodes and cuts a hole in the dirt allowing the remaining rockets to continue traveling. But since the rockets are all at the exact same position, it looks like there is a single rocket slicing its way through the ground.

The reason I’m explaining all of this is to give you a sense of the cool weapons you can create using iShoot’s weapon system. By combining the existing weapon classes (shells, cluster bombs, ground bursts, etc.) in new and different ways, you can come up with some very creative effects. When I decided to create the Shiva Bomb to bring the number of weapons up to an even 25, it took all of two minutes and zero lines of code. The Shiva Bomb is just a Ground Burst weapon whose submunitions are themselves Ground Bursts. With the new weapon editor in iShoot 2.0, you’ll be able to harness all of this power for yourself, creating awesome new weapons to terrorize your opponents.

And yes… you’ll be able to use your newly created weapons in WiFi play. The host selects the rules which are in effect, so choose your friends wisely.

The weapon editor is still very much a work in progress, but I’ll leave you with two things. First, a teaser screenshot:

And secondly, a few sample weapons that you will be able to create:

  1. The “Great Wall” weapon is a “skylance”, a weapon which creates a vertical beam of destruction on impact. It just has its damage set to zero and the “create dirt” option checked, so it instead creates a wall of dirt. You can now create damaging skylances, or better yet a cluster bomb which releases submunitions that explode into skylances when they strike the ground.
  2. It is possible to select from different types of shells randomly. For example, you could have a “World Reshaper” weapon which creates a huge blast of half Excavators and half Dirt Balls.
  3. Again using random submunitions, you could create a “Jackpot” weapon which has a 75% chance of doing no damage and a 25% chance of being incredibly powerful.
  4. I’m a fan of a little weapon I put together called the “Disco Bomb”, in which its submunitions explode into randomly-colored explosions. Just a little bit more visual flair :-).

So, there you have it. You wanted online, you got it. You wanted more weapons… well, you got more than you asked for there :-). Just be patient, iShoot 2.0 is coming, and it’s awesome.

I need more quotes!

January 27th, 2009

So I’ve had some complaints that the computer players in iShoot don’t have enough interesting things to say. Fair enough. However, I figure that you guys probably want me to continue cranking on online support rather than spend time trying to come up with funny stuff to say, so… help me out!

I need suggestions for new computer tanks as well as more phrases for the existing tanks to say. Tanks have three kinds of phrases: for when they shoot, for when they make a kill, and for when they die. If you send me an email with suggestions, please format it as follows:

Subject: Tank Quotes

Name: MyBot
Color / Style: Black / #1

Shot Quotes:
<one per line>

Kill Quotes:
<one per line>

Death Quotes:
<one per line>

At a bare minimum I need three of each kind of quote for new tanks, but there is no limit and feel free to include dozens. The quotes can include dynamic tokens like the name of the player that was just killed or the current weapon; I’m not going to include a list of such tokens simply because if your ideas are good enough I will gladly add more to make your suggestions possible. So feel free to suggest stuff like a “Take a look at my <current weapon>!”

Obviously by submitting me your ideas you are implicitly giving me permission to use them in future updates blah blah blah. Hope you guys have some good ideas!

That email address is once again ethan@ethannicholas.com.

Why I’m Leaving Sun

January 16th, 2009

I need to set the record straight on some things. Recently the news has hit the Web that I am quitting my job with Sun Microsystems after the success of iShoot, and I’ve had countless armchair quarterbacks telling me what a stupid decision it is to be leaving my day job. I know I should just ignore it and let them be foolish, but it’s getting a little grating having complete strangers telling me what to do (including calling me a “friggin’ MORON”), so I feel the need to respond:

“This is why you will never be rich.”

Now for the record I’m not rich either, but I certainly wasn’t going to get that way at Sun and at least now I have a chance. Conservatively, iShoot will break $250,000 tomorrow. A quarter of a million dollars in two weeks, on a game that took me six weeks to write in my spare time.

Even if iShoot never makes another penny, that’s enough money to last my family well over a year. Are you saying that if you had a quarter of a million dollars (minus taxes, of course) sitting in the bank… you wouldn’t feel comfortable taking a few months off and striking out on your own to see if you could follow it up with another hit?

I’m sorry, but if you want to be successful in life sometimes you need to take a risk. You’ve got to have balls. And calmly sitting at my day job, doing something I can no longer be excited about, while having neither the time or energy to pursue iPhone development at the level I’d like to, would just be a pathetic cop-out, unfair to both Sun and me.

I’ve had a very successful career. I was a pre-IPO GeoCities employee, spent six years with Yahoo!, and have made a name for myself at Sun. My very first Objective C program became a #1 hit. And while I freely accept that I might never have another hit, I have a tremendous amount of difficulty believing that I can’t make at least what I was making at Sun. iShoot won’t be at the top of the charts for long, but as long as it’s making even 2% of what it’s making now I’m still earning considerably more than my job at Sun pays.

And suppose the worst happens — iShoot drops from over $30,000 a day to $0 tomorrow, and none of my followup apps sell even a single copy. A year goes by without my being able to earn another cent. Well, I’d like to believe that the market for competent iPhone and Java developers isn’t so small that I couldn’t manage to find another job somewhere if that’s what it took to pay the bills.

If the idea of giving up the “security” of working at a company that is cutting 6,000 jobs and faces an uncertain financial future for the “risk” of working at a job where you can live in style on just 2% of your current income sounds overly risky to you… seriously, grow a pair. Nothing is risk-free, and this is far less risky than staying at Sun. (Not that Sun isn’t a great company. I love Sun. But let’s be realistic here.)

Obviously, tremendous thanks to everyone that has bought and (hopefully) enjoyed iShoot and offered me their congratulations. This is just directed at the people calling me an idiot for going into business for myself.