How To Use Unity 3D, SIO2 and ShiVa 3D?

sandpaperleadSoftware and s/w Development

Oct 31, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Interesting feature

What Should You Know About Component Based Programming And Flex SDK?
Issue 01/2012 (1) January
What’s Going On The Game Development Market?
How To Use Unity 3D, SIO2

and ShiVa 3D?
Vol. 1 No. 1 Monthly
How To Develop Applications For iOS Using PhoneGap?
Editor’s Note

Managing Editor:
Judyta Leputa
Kimberly Voll, Shola
Sadiku, James Alabi, Duncan Keir
Kimberly Voll, Francesco Consiglio,
Marco Carranza, Pawel Brzek,

Rusak, John C. Bland II, Blake Shearer
Art Director:
Anna Wojtarowicz
Anna Wojtarowicz

Jakub Tschierse
Technical Manager:
Andrzej Kuca
Managing Director:
Ewa Dudzic
Marketing Director:
Grzegorz Tabaka
Software Media Sp. z o.o. SK
02-682 Warszawa, ul. Bokserska 1
Whilst every effort has been made to ensure the
high quality of the magazine, the editors make no
warranty, express or implied, concerning the results
of content usage. All trade marks presented in the
magazine were used only for informative purposes.
All rights to trade marks presented in the magazine
are reserved by the companies which own them.
The techniques described in our articles may
only be used in private, local networks. The
editors hold no responsibility for misuse of the
presented techniques or consequent data loss.
Happy New Year!
The January issue of Codersky Magazine fea
tures great articles about current trends in Mobile
Development. Let’s see, what 2012 will bring for us!
In the first article
Anton Trubianov and Maxim
talk about 3D engines for iOS
Development. It’s a great opportunity for you to
find out, what are the advantages and disadvan
tages of using Unity 3D, SIO2 and ShiVa3D. The
article includes some good pieces of advice and
technical descriptions from the developers’ point
of view, which may be very useful for your own 3D
Development projects.
The second article, authored by Stefan
Horochovec focuses on Developing for iOS using
PhoneGap. Thanks to this tutorial, you can easily
start using PhoneGap for mobile development.
If you are a fan of Flex, you can check the article
written by Gábor Csomák. The author shows us that
Flex project can target Flash Player and Adobe AIR
as well, therefore you can run a project on Android,
iOS, BBX, Windows, Mac and Linux.
Matt Sheehan’s article concentrates on location
focused mobile apps. The topics are really refresh
ing! Find out more about location based services
(LBS) and geographic information systems (GIS).
If you are interested in Game Development, you
will also find some very interesting articles. The arti
cle, authored by Aleksander Lyskovsky, will surprise
you with the variety of solutions created for games.
The mysterious Embrace the Abstraction by Richard
Terrell talks about gaining perspective on game
design choices by examining the source of creativ
ity and the process of communicating through

a medium.
All articles are very interesting and they need to
be marked as Need to be Read!
Enjoy reading!
Judyta Leputa
& Codersky Team
Table Of Content
Using of 3D Engines in iOS

By Anton Trubianov
and Maxim Kershengolts

Which 3D engine to select? In this over
view we will try to give a brief description of several 3D
engines that we have examined while solving such a
question. The task was to implement an application
which loads a 3D model with skeletal animation and
allows us to switch among several animations during
different events such as: user interaction, geolocation
updates, camera and accelerometer events, etc.
Developing for iOS using

By Stefan Horochovec
The PhoneGap provides a lot of resources
in it’s API, with it you will have access to: Accelerometer,
Camera, Capture, Compass Connection, Contacts,
Device Events, File, Geolocation, Media, Notification,
Storage. All this using just HTML + JavaScript for de
velopment. If you are already familiar with the web
environment, you can easily start using PhoneGap for

mobile development.
Why should you use Flex?

By Gábor Csomák

Flex is a powerful application framework
based on Adobe ActionScript. A Flex project can be
exported as Adobe Flash (.swf) object, for a website,
or as an Adobe Integrated Runtime (.air) program, to
run as application on OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android.
Would you like to develop multi-platform RIA and

enterprise apps like never before?
Mobile location focused

By Matt Sheehan
This article discusses location focused
mobile apps and applications which take advantage of
the built in GPS on most mobile devices. In particular
we will consider location based services (LBS) and geo
graphic information systems (GIS). With GPS now so
common on mobile devices, so called geo-location can
be used to provide a slew of new services.
Games as products and

By Aleksander Lyskovsky

We can speak upon the new casual ga
mes, leaving the hardcore realm for the corresponding
specialists to discuss. Casual 2.0 incorporated the best
of online and offline approaches. The casual 2.0 busi
ness lines include Smartphone, pad, social network,
console, MMO, traditional PC casual downloadable and
future PC casual games. Most of the casual market is
growing now thanks in part to the mobile segment that
should reach 10 b
illion in 2013, according to analytics.
Embrace the Abstraction

By Richard Terrell

Though some games simulate real life
objects and interactions with great detail, most video
games fall somewhere in the middle of the extremes of
the purely abstract and simulation. This middle ground
is an abstraction, a key concept in the foundation of
game design. Abstraction. Stylization. Simplification.
These are terms that describe the act of creating a
representation with some, but not all, aspects of the

existing subject.
Review of

Games as products and services
by Aleksander Lyskovsky

First, and most importantly, this is a really

interesting article!
“Surely enough, this requires a serious rethinking of the
whole game process, not just to port it to a new en
gine.” This is such a huge point, I would even add a bit
to it. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with a lot
of the problems of porting; not recognizing the need
for a comprehensive look at the platform for which
you are now developing and how that relates to the
dynamics (and mechanics, even), as well as the user
experience and expected user experience, etc.
Kimberly Voll
Review of 3D Engines in iOS
Anton Trubianov and
Maxim Kershengolts
The article is pretty interesting. The
structure is classical for this kind of
presentations, no arguments about it.
It is a niche article, which is really
appreciated and the pros and cons
after each paragraphs are great
and will attract a lot of readers.
Francesco Consiglio
3D Engines for iOS Overview
Which 3D engine to select? This is the first question
that appears in front of a developer when it comes to
the development of a 3D graphics application or game
for iOS/Android. In this overview we will try to give
a brief description of several 3D engines that we’ve

examined while solving such a question.
The task was to implement an application which
loads a 3D model with skeletal animation and allows
us to switch
several animations during different
events such as: user interaction, geolocation updates,
camera and accelerometer events, and so on. The main
criterions for selection were: multi-platform support
(i.e. an ability to redistribute the developed code and/
or scene
iOS and Android platforms), and full
support of all OpenGL ES 2.0 features.
Unity 3
is more like a 3D game development tool than
a simple 3D engine. In fact you
even use it like
most other 3D engines, including it in your Xcode proj
ect. Unity provides its own development environment
which handles all stages of development, from creat
ing 3D models and scenes, to building an application
binary (Figure 1).
Such an approach makes Unity a great tool for de
veloping ordinary 3D games. But when you need some
extended features in your 3D application, you may lack
an ability to write your code in Objective C. For exam
ple, if you need to scan QR-codes into your application,

is a great open-source library for that, but you
can’t just include it in your Unity project. Unity allows
us to build a plugin with Xcode and then to use it
within our application. To note, you have to purchase
Using of 3D Engines in iOS

Figure 1:
Using of 3d Engines in iOS Development
Unity first in order to be able to use plugins within it.

Thus, if you are only gauging to see if Unity fits your
goals, there’s no way for you to try building your own
plugin for testing.

Really cool game development environment
which makes building 3D games an easy and vi
sual experience

Full support of all the latest graphics technologies.

Great base for learning: documentation, tutori
als, examples, community, etc.

A developer is limited, able to only use the Unity
game editor, and unable to use Xcode and write
his own Objective C code.
is positioned as an in-expensive, but fully func
tional 3D engine. It encourages developers to use
as a 3D modelling tool and provides all neces
sary tools for exporting scenes from Blender to SIO2.
However you can convert scenes to SIO2 from any 3D
editor you like via the use of converting scripts.
On the engine’s web-resource,
, you can find examples for almost any task that
may be implemented with SIO2.
A weak point of SIO2 is that it’s still pretty raw as for a
commercial product. Some features like loading a MD5
format and playing skeletal animations will sometimes
not work, freezing a device or crashing it with BAD_
ACCESS without throwing any exceptions suitable for
efficient debugging.
Additionally, Android support is quite new to SIO2,
and as so it’s also fairly raw, sometimes refusing to run
on various devices without explanation.

May be easily included within a Xcode project.

Full license includes source codes.

Good examples for almost any task on SIO2

Engine is still in a fairly raw state, especially con
sidering Android support.

Poor support service; unable to help solve seri
ous problems with engine usage effectively.
is a 3D engine with a modelling environ
ment, but unlike Unity it is able to export projects to
Xcode and other development tools (depends on plat
form). It is very useful because with it you can first de
velop your game scene and logics in ShiVa3D editor,
and then continue project development in Xcode using
native iOS frameworks. The only negative aspect is that
ShiVa3D editor tool only exists for the Windows OS.
ShiVa3D is also very useful in that you only have to
pay for a license when you want to publish your appli
cation onto the AppStore. Before this step you are able
to test all of the engine’s features for free.
A great feature of this engine is its Authoring Tool.
This function solidifies ShiVa3D as the most fully
cross-platform compatible engine in the world. The
Authoring Tool compiles a project generated by ShiVa
into an executable application for the following device
platforms: Windows, Linux, Mac, IPhone, IPad, Android,
Palm and Wii.
ShiVa uses the Lua script language for programing.
Lua is very simple, taking only a few minutes to get a
grasp of if you have C++ or Java experience. After build
ing a project for some specified platform, all scripts
are converted into C++, ensuring solid performance.
You will find a lot of very useful information about this
script at:
. The site includes a
large developer forum, and is the perfect place to have
specific questions and/ or concerns answered.
Additionally, ShiVa has a great API. It is well docu
mented, giving examples for each function and the
like. The API includes support of many types of hard
ware as well, including: accelerometers, microphones,
joysticks, touch detection for touch displays, and etc
(Figure 2).

Useful game development environment with
the possibility of exporting projects to Xcode
and continue developing in Objective C.

Fully supports all the latest graphics technologies.

License required only for publishing, otherwise
usage is free.

Editor tool available only for Windows OS.
Moving forward, we would like to tell you about
platforms where you can develop applications with
the assistance of ShiVa 3D. The engine can success
fully launch products onto Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS,
Android, Palm OS, and Web OS, despite the fact that
ShiVa itself exists solely in a Windows OS version.
The aforementioned Authoring Tool is a software
product that accompanies ShiVa 3D for further applica
tion development and subsequent launch onto a spe
cific platform. It exists in two variants; one for Windows
and one for Mac. Creating applications on any platform
with this engine is a three step process (Figure 3):
Download initial files exported from ShiVa,
Enter information regarding the app name, pro
vision file, and bundle depending on platform.
Define folders where the application would be
saved and specify certain graphics settings, for
instance the use of OpenGL.
All these actions take roughly 3 minutes.
We’d like to say a few words about importing re
sources to ShiVa. First of all ShiVa can import 3D
models in DAE format. In order to do that, you’ll need
to download the Collada DAE plug-in -- it installs
onto and works with the most popular 3D graph
ics packages, including 3ds Max and Maya. QrCode
contains the link to a website where a more detailed
description of the Collada DAE format is provided.

To note, while
working in this format we were con
fronted with certain
difficulties while importing our
model into ShiVa 3D.

When saving 3D model tex
tures, they remained in the same folders where they
were initially located and subsequently opened by
the program for modeling. Since a file in DAE format
represents a XML file, paths to textures are in the
same way. This means that if its transferred to anoth
er computer, the user will encounter path conflicts.
As a result, only models without textures are able to
be imported. After some time with the engine we’ve
found 2 possible solutions to this problem. The first
solution is to correct manually texture paths within
the DAE file itself. The second solution is to convert
textures to a TGA format and import them into ShiVa
separately from the model. It’s important to also
note that the size of textures should be aliquot to an

n-power of two. This same requirement applies when
creating iOS applications as well, and relates heavily
to overall operational optimization and application
speed. Regarding sounds: ShiVa accepts different
sound resources in MP3 and WAV formats.
Figure 2:
ShiVa Editor
Using of 3d Engines in iOS Development
Discussing the graphic interface which ShiVa allows
you to create: On the ShiVa website -- in the section
for developers -- we will find graphic files where all na
tive elements of Android and iOS apps are displayed.
Elements such as: Scroll-bars, Buttons, and etc. This en
ables you to fully reconstruct the GUI of necessary plat
forms. We carried out experiments creating buttons
using ShiVa, as well as the usual iPhone buttons that
are located over a 3D scene. Our results showed 1-0 in
ShiVa’s benefit. Our FPS counter showed a difference
of 5 fps with ShiVa implementation. Support for differ
ent fonts also exists; in certain cases this feature greatly
simplifies tasks at hand.
The ability to add animated textures is another a
very useful feature. It allows us to create beautiful ef
fects when developing menus and the like. Another se
rious advantage of ShiVa is the fact that it enables you
to add different resources such as music and textures
during run-time, into fully realized projects for certain
platforms with the help of several script lines.
Stepping back, we ought to outline some more gen
eral opportunities ShiVa 3D provides. As noted, tits
script language is Lua, which is a script with C-type and
is not unusual, and makes your work much easier and
more fluid overall. You won’t have to puzzle over learn
ing its syntax as long as you are on of the 99% of devel
opers experienced in Java or C+. Lua is a very simple,
laconic, and intuitively understandable language.

A brief guide is provided on ShiVa’s website in the
API section.
While creating the project for any platform, all scripts
you’ve developed will be converted into C++ code. This
secures their immediate performance and legibility.
Special wrappers with the wide set of functions that allow
you to call your script event agents are provided as well.
There are many wrappers, but in our experience the C
function could be utilized to call any scripts we required.
Importantly, both OpenGL - 1.0 and OpenGL 2.0
- are used in ShiVa 3D. While ShiVa itself doesn’t pro
vide an opportunity to program shaders or program
on OpenGL, it controls their usage in in projects for
maximum optimization and in no way influences final
ShiVa’s API provides numerous advantages as well,
encapsulated via the following features

Microphone support.

Multitouch Support.

Support for working with accelerometers.

Functions to work with XML.
This is by no means a small bonus. It frees you from
needing to program on the iPhone as you are able to
build your application right in ShiVa, solve issues, and
Figure 3:
ShiVa 3D Authoring Tool1.
resolve the problem of developing different interfaces
via scripts that work with the above mentioned hard
ware, namely multi-touch screens and accelerometers.
You can review a step-by-step example of how a
fully featured game was built using ShiVa 3D by visiting
. The game itself is a casual 3D shooter
created more-so as a tool to raise awareness for the
ShiVa 3D engine than anything else. This game, titled
The Hunt, is also helpful to prospective developers
interested in using ShiVa 3D, as they can utilize com
pleted portions of code used to make this game in their
own projects.
Overall, ShiVa API includes several categories of
lessons, such as lessons from developers and users.

A number of instructional videos on YouTube are avail
able as well, and despite the fact that they last only 60
seconds each, contain plenty of useful information.

e, the basic version of ShiVa costs roughly 160
Euro, with a Pro version which costs 1500 Euro.

That said, a free version which inprints a travelling line
in the bottom part of your application explaining that
the app was developed by means of ShiVa Free is avail
able as an economic alternative as well. Buying a full
license allows you to develop apps on the plenty of ma
chines, ultimately producing the app in full.
ShiVa appeared relatively recently but has already
gained a considerable client base, including multiple
notable ones. Currently, there have been over nine
thousand applications developed via the use of ShiVa.
Listing 1:
Sample of ocean dynamics
local hScene = application.
getCurrentUserScene ( )
local hObject = this.getObject ( )
local x, y, z = object.getTranslation
( hObject, object.kGlobalSpace )
-- Update the translation of the buoy,
according to the height of the ocean
at the buoy position
object.setTranslation( hObject, x,
scene.getOceanHeight ( hScene, x, z ),
z, object.kGlobalSpace )
-- Update the rotation of the buoy,
according to the normal of the ocean
at the buoy position
local nx, ny, nz = scene.
getOceanNormal ( hScene, x, z )
local rx = math.asin ( nx )
local rz = math.asin ( nz )
object.setRotation ( hObject, rx, 0,
-rz, object.kGlobalSpace )
Listing 2:
Sample of camera swap
-- [...]
if ( nNum == 1 )
tag = "Flash1"
time = 0.8
-- [...]
local cam = application.
getCurrentUserSceneTaggedObject ( tag
( cam )
this.postEvent ( time, "onSetFlash",
nNum + 1 )
Anton Trubianov
, iPhone developer, 2 years,
C/C++, Objective C, Shiva3D
Maxim Kershengolts
, Team Lead, 6 years,

C/C++, Objective C (both employed at
oday there are several platforms in the mobile
world and each one with a specific language, so
that there is a high cost to port the same appli
cation for all platforms, the high cost of development
projects ended up creating a barrier too great for small
businesses to take advantage of this environment that
grows exponentially each day.
However it is entirely possible you create an applica
tion using HTML as a programming language and run
it natively within the environment iOS. This condition is
valid for both, iPhone and iPad. To make this possible,
we use a framework called PhoneGap.
The PhoneGap provides a lot of resources in its API,
with it you will have access to: Accelerometer, Camera,
Capture, Compass Connection, Contacts, Device
Events, File, Geolocation, Media, Notification, Storage.
All this using just HTML + JavaScript for development.
If you are already familiar with the web environment,
you easily start using PhoneGap for mobile development.
Developing for iOS
using PhoneGap
Hello everybody! This is my first article in Codersky
Magazine, and I want to use this article to talk with you
about developing applications for iOS using the HTML
Figure 1
Developing for iOS using PhoneGap
Figure 2
Figure 3
For this tutorial, you will needs to do two down
loads. The first is XCode, available for download
from the Apple Store (
xcode/) and PhoneGap, available at the PhoneGap
website (
This tutorial assumes that you already have XCode
installed on your Mac, and that has the iOS SDK.
Once you download of PhoneGap through its
website, you must unzip the file and copy the direc
tory iOS to your Mac. This directory contains a file
called PhoneGap-1.2.0.pkg. This file is an extension
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Developing for iOS using PhoneGap
to XCode, which will facilitate the creation of proj
ects that will be distributed with PhoneGap.
After running the PhoneGap-1.2.0.pkg, you can
start your XCode and start creating a project for iOS
format PhoneGap-based Application, as the image
After this step, you must define some options for
your project, as the name of your application and an
identifier. For the identifier, it is suggested that you
enter the domain of your company, in my case, I will
use the domain (in reverse) in my blog in Portuguese:, and another identifier, in this
case, .phoneGap, as the image below:
After this stage, XCode will open your project,
enabling it to coding. Note that you do not need
any coding in Objective-C, and also do not need to
change anything in the settings generated by XCode
for our project.

Now, you must first run our project. For this, you
must select a platform that will build the project,
in my case, I’m opting for iPhone Simulator 5.0, and
run the project (click on “Run”). This operation will
be completed successfully, the build project do not
have errors, the emulator is started and the applica
tion will be installed, but when it is opened in the
simulator, an error will be displayed saying that the
file index. html was not found in the www folder.
This error occurs that is deliberate. What happens
is that when you create a project of type PhoneGap,
it does not automatically add this folder with this
content on your project. You must do this manually,
what happens is that the content is generated only
when you try to run your first project within the em
ulator. That is, you end up being “forced” to gener
ate this error so that the content is generated by the
plugin’s PhoneGap.
After that, you can stop the emulator project
through the “Stop” button. After stopping the
project, you should go to the folder where your

Figure 7

project was created, in my case, it was created on
my Desktop. You will find a new folder was created,
called “www”.
This folder “www” should be added to your proj
ect. To do so, drag it into your project in XCode.
When you drop the folder “www” in the root folder
of your project, a confirmation screen will appear.
Select the “Create folder references for any added
folders” and click Finish.
Inside the folder “www”, we will find two files.
The first, the file index.html, has a small example
of an Alert. Basically the file is to import the file

PhoneGap-1.2.0.js and prints an Alert in a Listener
added on the event “deviceready”. The EventListener
method was added in onload () of <body> as image
After these steps, just run your project again and
have the following response from the emulator:
In the next opportunity, I want to address a lit
tle more PhoneGap demonstrating some of their

specific APIs.
Until next time!
Stefan Horochovec

Stefan Horochovec

is a Software Engineer,
founder of MediaGlobe
a company specializing in the development
of RIAs and Mobile solutions.
Figure 8
What is Flex?
Flex is a powerful application framework based on
Adobe ActionScript. It had changed a lot in the past
few years, so as the Adobe Flash Platform. Adobe had
recently donated Flex to the Apache Foundation, so the
roadmap is not in Adobe’s hands any more, but Flash
Builder will still be part of Adobe’s Creative Suite. In the
next few pages, I will reveal the future of Flash, intro
duce you to component based programming and the
awesome Flex SDK. A Flex project can be exported as
Adobe Flash (.swf) object, for a website, or as an Adobe
Integrated Runtime (.air) program, to run as application
on OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android.
But Flash is the devil’s tool, isn’t it?
Not a bit. The public media often criticize the Adobe
Flash Platform, some of them already talking about a
funeral, and how HTML5 is winning the war. Obsequies
are always sad, especially one who is to be buried is
alive. Why am I saying this? Flash had never aimed to
replace HTML, but to make the web better, inspire, and
help prototyping. Flash is the innovation. A few years
ago, if you saw an animated menu on a website, you
knew it must be Flash. Then it became a standard with
JavaScript and HTML. Flash was used to develop many
cool products, like video players, and so on, which are
implemented now in HTML5. But that is no problem
for the Flash community, because there are many areas
where Flash still excels HTML5, like massive 3D support.
The key is to know when to use Flash and when to use
HTML. Unfortunately people are thrilled with the can
vas tag of HTML5 more than what should really mat
ter. For example the local storage tag. Imagine, if Gmail
would only download the application when it updates,
and would only download the new letters. It would be
faster, and available offline.
I’m sure, you think something like this: “yes, you’ve
got a point, but Flash is slow”. That’s because the classic
Flash is a designer tool. And designers sadly think that
you want to see the banner they’re working on shiny,
with lots of bitmap filters. If you ever used Photoshop,
you know that applying a Filter takes a few seconds.
These ‚clever’ designers apply multiple filters to a ban
ner, so Flash Player has a hard time calculating all the
filters in runtime, for every frame, meaning 24 times a
second. It sure uses a lot of CPU. If somebody would
put an endless loop in a .Net program, I didn’t blame
Microsoft, for the slowness of .Net, but the program
mer for being stupid.
Did you know, that when Prezi started to make the
iOS version, they tried it with HTML5, but it was so
slow, that in the end they rather made it with openGL?
Now think of the good stuff made with Flash: prezi.
com, YouTube, logmein, join, me, tweetdeck, Google
Analytics, Photoshop Touch, Picknick, games, show
cases, websites, and so on.
The future of Flash
Well, I don’t want to be an oracle, but in my opinion
Flash is here to stay for years. Currently Flash is avail
able on 99% of internet enabled desktop computers,
and on all of the medium and high category Android
devices, and with AIR you can package for iOS as well.
Yes, Flash on iOS is not a myth, the best known exam
ple is the AppStore #1 paid in December: Machinarium.
HTML5’s feature list is now closed, but Flash is im
proving with every new version. With Flash Player 11’s
3D API, you can run Unreal Engine in the browser, or
even on iOS with Adobe AIR. This will cause a new gold
en age for Flash games.
If you write a Flash program, you can code once, and
deploy it to Android, iOS, Mac, Win, Linux, and with
a bit of modification, you can target the classic Flash
Player in any browser. The app I wrote
is complied from one program project to all platforms.
Flash will still be the default video player on the
web, because the browsers couldn’t agree on a codec,
Why Should You Try Flex?
Develop multi-platform RIA and enterprise apps like never before!
Desktop, mobile and web development fast and easy with component
based model!
Why Should You Try Flex?
so now half of them support WebM, and the others
H.264, and for example Safari on Windows supports
none. Flash supports both. Serving Flash videos are
also easier on the servers. The other reason for it, is that
you can’t full-screen the HTML5 videos, only if you full-
screen the browser as well.
The other proof of Flash will be alive, is that it can
be exported to HTML5. Both Adobe and Google devel
oped a tool, to convert swf files to HTML5. With Adobe’s
Wallaby, you can convert animations to HTML5 canvas
+ JavaScript animations, and the instance names will
remain the same, making it easy to code afterwards.
With Google’s Swiffy you can convert ActionScript 2 as
well to HTML5+JavaScript.
Flex Rocks!
Flex is an SDK, similar to .Net, and Qt. It is the Flash
in the coder’s hands. A Flex project can target Flash
Player and Adobe AIR as well, therefore you can run a
project on Android, iOS, BBX, Windows, Mac and Linux.
Sadly Bada and Windows Phone stands out, but it’s still
a massive target area, and saves a lot of rewriting code.
Flex stands of the open source framework, what
stands of components, ActionScript 3 libraries, and
MXML coding language. The MXML is a declarative us
er-interface definition language, what is used to define
components’ views. The business logic of a component
can be defined in ActionScript, within the <fx:Script>
tag, of course within CDATA section, to ensure the XML’s
validity. Flex also stands of the SDK, what includes the
compiler, and the debugger, what is also open-source
since it’s become an Apache program. A framework is
powerful with a good environment, and that is what
Flash Builder is for. Flash Builder still remains commer
cial, and in hands of Adobe. Flash Builder helps coding,
monitors network, has emulators, and on-device, inter
active debuggers. The Builder is an Eclipse-based pro
gram, and also has a visual design interface, data access
wizards (which are really impressive), and memory and
performance profiles (only in premium version).
Flex is a coder-friendly developer environment. You
don’t even need to close lines with semicolons (;) in
most cases, you can have in-line functions and defini
tions, local variables and all the goodies are allowed.
Since Flash Builder is an Eclipse based environment, you
can of course use the code-completion to get you code
faster, and many plug-ins, such as Perforce, to get you
the most productive environment you’ve ever worked
with. Both Flash Builder and Flex is updated and devel
oped continuously, making the framework always up-
to-date keeping the pace with the technology.
The debugging is very easy with Flex and Flash
Builder. With the trace() method you can easily write
debug strings to the console, and if you need serious
debugging, the Eclipse-based debugger allows step-
by-step debugging as expected, and the variable
browser is perfect for finding what you need. If an array
has thousands of items in it, it will group them for you
for easier access. Furthermore, the next version of Flash
Builder will support reverse debugging. This means
two things: if you click a variable in debug mode, you
can see its history, the changes it went through, and
the code lines what caused them. The other feature will
allow not only to step forward a line, but to step back
wards, even before the breakpoint! This is a huge thing,
it will save lots of engineering hours, so working with
Flex will pay off in time and money.
All in all, it’s a modern, high-level framework, most
suitable for RIA (rich internet application) develop
ment, and also the quickest solution for business ap
plication development.
Component based programming
Nowadays you mostly use MVC programming ar
chitecture, and you can use Flex with MVC as well, but
Flex’s power comes out, when you start programming
in Component/Module based architecture. What does
that mean? Basically, the Model and the View are put
together in a component. A component has attributes,
functions, and visuals as well. A component can be a
whole program, a window, or even a button or a text
box. Components stand of more, smaller components.
By default, every component in Flex has a data attri
bute (it can be any type of object), and by convention,
it should describe everything in the model, therefore
in the view. For example, if I’m designing a video player
module, the data object will be the video’s URL, or the
video file itself. The view will be some buttons, and the
video; the model will be the state of the video. There
can be also public functions, like play() and pause(), etc.
This approach saves time, and it is easier to develop.
Furthermore, you can reuse components in other prod
ucts far more likely, because a component is depen
dent on only one variable (which can be an instance of
a very big class as well).
Flash Builder gives you the opportunity to edit
the component in a view-based editor as well as the
code itself.
What makes Flex very useful is the data binding, and
item renderers. With Databinding you can connect a
variable to a component, for example you can bind the
message variable to a text-input. If the message chang
es, the text-input will also change, and will show the
new message from them. What is even more fantastic,
is the two-way databinding. If you bind the same exam
ple than before, but in two-way, the variable will follow
the changes made in the text-input as well. Another
example, if you bind an array of variable’s, which has
data and text attributes, for a list, you can use the text
attributes to display in the list, and use the data, when
an event occurred.
Item renders are also exciting stuff. If you use a list
or a DataGrid (table) you can specify the rendering
of the rows and cells. This means, you can fill a table,
and render the needed cells as components, even with
ActionScript in them. For example, if you create a list
of tweets, for a Twitter application, you pass the item’s
data as the whole tweet node of the API (with not only
the text, but the link of pictures, profile name, etc.) In it,
you can make the item renderer to display the avatar
from the image’s url, and the tweet itself in text, and
add custom events to the tweets.
24 FPS out of the box. It may only be my opinion,
but I think the 24 frames per second programming will
become a standard in years. If your application has a
tween, or a video in it, or the data is changing constant
ly, it should be shown at 24 frames per second, because
the less seems rend, but the more will not make a dif
ference in user experience, but take more processing
time. Flex is 24 fps and has double buffering by de
fault. Thanks to the Flash grounds, it handles the frame
changes very efficiently. Only redraws when needed,
and only, where needed. If you make lots of changes
between two frames, the next frame will only show the
latest one, saving lots of processing time. If you look at
other applications, they are likely to tween with all of
the cpu’s and gpu’s power, leading to 60 fps’s, what are
unnecessary in most cases. You may think, that if noth
ing changes, displaying 24 fps is the processing over
head, but for one, you can control that within code, and
for the other - as I said – it is optimized, and well made
enough not to make noticeable overhead (Listing 1).
This is the chat window from my
application. I’ve underlined what I had to fill in while
writing the component. The others was generated by
the view-based editor.
The component describes a text-input, and a but
ton, and a function called with the text-input’s value,
when the keyboard’s enter or the button is hit. The id of
a component is the variable’s (instance’s) name.
Mobile programming simplified
If you create a mobile application with Flex, you only
have to write the code once, and deploy it on the ma
jor platforms. You can simulate devices on the desktop,
as well as try the app on a connected device. You can
develop iOS apps under Windows (unfortunately to de
bug on device, you need a Mac). Sadly not all Android
devices are capable of AIR, but the medium and high-
end phones will have no problem running your app.
The others will struggle with running the phone app it
self. (Not kidding, I have a low end Android device, and
sometimes have to wait minutes before I can call any
body.) All in all, this means that you don’t have to write
the same code in Objective-C and Java, only in Flex. If
Flex somehow doesn’t satisfy your needs, you can cre
ate and call native extensions as well, so you only have
to write these platform specifically.
Also, you can reuse the majority of the mobile pro
gram’s code for a desktop application as well, you will
only need to rewrite the view specific components.
If you create a Flex mobile component, the SDK’s de
fault components will translate into the mobile, touch
optimized version, so a list will scroll on swipe, and a
TextInput will bring up the keyboard, and so on. It re
ally works like it should.
A Flex mobile project helps you with the develop
ment as well. You can choose to create a tabbed, or a
view-based application besides the classic project. The
tab-based adds a tab bar – like on iOS- to the bottom
of the program, and the view-based project adds you a
view navigator stack. It is a very cool feature, if you en
ter a new view, you push() it in the viewstack, to be dis
played, and if you want to return to the previous screen,
you just pop() the screen you don’t need anymore. The
Android’s native menu is not part of the SDK, but you
can use lots one of the templates on the Internet.
Listing 1:
Example of a flex component
<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8”?>

<s:Panel xmlns:fx=”


width=”300” height=”95”
backgroundColor=”0x464646” title=”chat
sending panel”>



import mx.core.FlexGlobals


import mx.managers.PopUpManager

protected function chatSend_clickHan
dler(event:MouseEvent):void {





<s:TextInput id=”
” left=”10”
right=”77” top=”10” bottom=”10”/>

<s:Button id=”
” right=”10” top=”10”
bottom=”10” width=”59” label=”send”


Why Should You Try Flex?
By default, the applications will look like a Flex ap
plication, and none like a native app on the phone. You
can make your application like native with native calls,
and also with, a 3rd party library provid
ing native control patterns to Flex.
Flex is open-source
Flex has been open-source since version 3, and this
open-source does not only mean that you can see the
code. It means, that anyone can contribute. In fact,
Adobe had proposed Flex to the Apache foundation
in December, and Apache accepted it to its incubator
program. The roadmap won’t depend on the profit of
a company, but only on the needs of the developers.
Although Flex is now Apache Flex, it still depends on
Adobe Flash Player and AIR, and Adobe will still be con
tributing and working on Flex, and Adobe Flash Builder
will still be the best tool to develop Flex.
Real life examples
The first example is a simple the chat window from
my application. I’ve underlined what I
had to fill in while writing the component. The others
was generated by the view-based editor.
The component describes a text-input, and a but
ton, and a function called with the text-input’s value,
when the keyboard’s enter or the button is hit. The id
of a component is the variable’s (instance’s) name. The
output will look like Figure 1
The second example will be a bit more complicated.
It will allow you to search YouTube, and display the re
sults thumbs and ratings as well. If you will click on a re
sult, it will open it in your browser. Of course you could
display it in the application as well, but it is a good
example for now. The output of the example will be
something like Image 2. Please keep in mind, that this
article is not a tutorial, but I wanted to show you a big
ger example. Don’t be afraid of the length of the code,
because more than half of it is generated automatically,
and other part is edited in the view-based editor, and
the Eclipse based environment also helps a lot, so all
together the code you actually write is really short.
In Listing 2, you can see the main class. The result
Videos variable is applied with the [Bindable] tag, be
cause we will bind it to a chart. The onResult function
catches YouTube’s JSON based search API (that’s why it
is a bit messy), and create a variable for all the results, to
store it in the resultVideos collection. You can see the
VideoDescriptor class in Listing 3. If the API connection
failed, the onFault function gets called, what displays
an error popup to notify users. The button1_clickhan
dler gets called when we click on the button. It starts
the search based on what is written in the textfield.
The dataGrid datagrid1_selectionChangeHandler gets
called when we click on a row.
After the script tag, you see a declarations tag. It is
used for declaring services, like the HTTPService in this
example. The query of the service will be the text of
the text-input, and we sign up for the result and fault
events here. This is the call for the YouTube API.
After the end of the declarations, I’ve placed the vi
sual components, like the text-input, the search but
ton, and the chart, where the results will be displayed.
In the data grid, (what is the chart), we have to define
the dataProvider (the resultVideos collection), and the
columns. Each column will display the attribute of the
data described with the dataField tag, and by default it
will show it as a Label, but I’ve changed that with item-
renderer classes, described in Listings 4-6. So instead of
displaying the thumbnail’s url as string, the thumbRen
derer (Listing 4) will show an image instead. (Figure 2)
Figure 1:
The ouptut of Listing 1
Figure 2:
The ouptut of Listing 2
Listing 2:
Youtube searcher
<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8”?>
















resultVideos:ArrayCollection =



feed:JSONDecoder =


vids:Array =

i:uint=0;i<vids[0].length;i++ ) {






„Fault: „
+ event.fault.faultString,






navigateToURL(new URLRequest(dataGrid.selectedItem.url));




” url=”

” result=”onResult(event)”







” selectionChange=”datagrid1_selectionChangeHandler(event)”
” right=”
” top=”
” bottom=”
” requestedRowCount=”





” dataField=”



” headerText=”



” headerText=”



” headerText=”


Why Should You Try Flex?



enter=”button1_clickHandler(event)” id=”
” left=”
” right=”



click=”button1_clickHandler(event)” right=”
” top=”
” label=”

Listing 3:
The VideoDescriptor class: helper class to store search results as objects.



















VideoDescriptor() {
Listing 4:
ThumbRenderer class: renders images from the input url.
<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8”?>









img.source = data[column.dataField]


” height=”
” width=”

Listing 5:
ratingRenderer class: renders filled stars according to the rating.
<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8”?>











rating = data[column.dataField]

(rating<4.5 && rating>4) img5.source=


(rating>3.5) img4.source=



(rating>2.5) img3.source=


(rating>1.5) img2.source=







” source=”


” source=”


” source=”


” source=”


” source=”


Listing 6:
The lengthRenderer class renders the number to time formatted string.
<?xml version=”1.0” encoding=”utf-8”?>











a:int=mp/60, b:int=mp-int(mp/60)*60


(b<10) bele=

lblData.text = a+


” top=”
” left=”

Gábor Csomák
22 years old, Student at Budapest University of
Technology and Economics. Initial Committer
for Apache Flex. Works for LogMeIn, on the join.
Me project. He is also the developer of shared
-, a multiplatform instant draw-mes
saging client. In his free-time he plays rugby,
and listens to ska music.
Where to go from here?
If I have successfully got your interest in Flex, you
should start with downloading Flash Builder 60 day trial
from If you are a student, or unemployed,
to get a free key, go to! While
it downloads, check out Lee Brimelow’s Introduction
to Flex series at
, and check
out the free ebook Getting Started with Flex 3 (
). After that,
go ahead, and connect an Android or iOS device, to see
mobile development in action. If you don’t believe Air
is running on iOS, try
! The
most interesting things are item-renderers and data-
binding, what you should definitely learn from Flex.
Don’t be afraid to google, if you need help, and you’ll
soon understand why Flex is awesome!
his article will discuss location focused mobile
apps, or applications which take advantage of
the built in GPS on most mobile devices. In par
ticular we will consider location based services (LBS)
and geographic information systems (GIS).
The Mobile Market in 2011
The year started with the dominance of the Apple
iOS mobile platform. This maintained the demand
for Objective-C developers; the native language of
iOS. The steady growth in popularity of devices run
ning the Android platform over the year, saw more
demand for Java mobile apps. Apple continued to
throw their weight around, maintaining their stance
on preventing third party plug-ins to be included
in any iOS browser. Effectively stymieing Adobe’s
Flash Player and Microsoft’s Silverlight. The growth
of mobile cross browser solutions has been one of
the biggest changes this year. For installed applica
tions, Adobe put their weight behind Flex Mobile.
On the Web HTML5/Javascript seems the emerging
favored choice. Indeed at their end of the year MAX
show, Adobe hinted at refocusing the company (one
can speculate in part due to the Apple plug-in deci
sion). They even went as far as to buy PhoneGap, a
technology to convert a web HTML5 mobile app to
one which is installable. Then to maintain the open
source status of the product, under the Apache

license. We are a long way from seeing the end of
PC’s, but should that day come so ends the Flash
Player. Some of the Adobes end of the year decisions
makes one wonder whether they have seen the

writing on the wall.
Mobile Application Developer
Challenges in 2011
There were plenty of challenges for mobile devel
opers in 2011, these included:
Project issues – changes in spec/scope
creep, incomplete specs, and app
Distribution & update issues – the chal
lenges of multiple markets (Apple, Android,
Blackberry), submission policy too long
(particularly Apple’s), painful certificate
process (again particularly applicable to
Apple), expensive and long distribution.
Other issues – security, back-end integra
tion, mobile web is a different beast to PC
web must design accordingly (UI/work
Debate continued over the benefits of native in
stalled apps, such as Objective-C, over the newer
hybrid cross platform apps. Adobe recently released
Native Extensions, to help hybrid Flex Mobile apps
bridge this gap. But overall we ended 2011 with na
tive installed apps dominating the apps stores.
Those developers involved in B-to-C mobile de
velopment were busy in 2011. Social networking
and check-in type apps were very popular. On the
B-to-B side, spending was less. As in the early days of
the Internet, business adoption has been slow. This
should change in 2012.
Mobile Location Focused
Life is never boring as a mobile application developer. Looking back at 2011,
there were both opportunities and challenges. The maturing of HTML5,
release of cross platform development solutions such as Adobe Flex Mobile,
and opening of the Android market have dramatically improved the life

of mobile developers.
Mobile Location Focused Applications

Geo-location and Mobile Apps
With GPS now so common on mobile devices, so
called geo-location (the identification of the real-
world geographic location of an object) can be used
to provide a slew of new services. Mobile users can
now ask what or who is near them. They can update,
edit and collect data at a specific location. These new
mobile applications can provide answers beyond
what is currently available on a PC. Key areas include:

Visualization – Users can now use mobile map
viewers to see their surrounding area. Imagine a
civil engineer on site, wondering where the un
derground pipes run. He can now overlay a pipe
layer over a base map and see exactly what is
under his feet. One wonders about the future of
companies like Tom Tom when users can now use
apps on any mobile device to plan travel, and get
updated info on traffic and routing.

Query and Search – One can conduct simple or
complex spatial queries and searches relating to
the current location. In the field, forest managers
can search for trees by species, and relate these
results to soil type and slope.

Data Collection – Many workers need to record
information at a particular location. Today much
of this is done with pen and paper. This will soon
change; resulting in greater accuracy, saved time
and richer data. Surveyors in the field can now
use a mobile app to gather data at a location, in
cluding text, images, voice even video.

Updating and Editing – Often data sources need
updating. Again using geo-location, mobile apps
will become indispensable tools. Agricultural
workers in California, for example, can now up
date a central server, maybe a GIS, using their
mobile with new crop type, acreage planted, and
pest control in real time.

Offline & Online – There remain many areas where
Wi-Fi coverage is limited. Mobiles can now store
much data locally.

Management and Coordination – Knowing work
ers locations, optimizing their travel, viewing data
gathered in real time, coordinating their activity
in the field will lead to big savings and increased
efficiency in many industries.
To illustrate how mobile apps can take advantage
of geo-location, we will look at its potential use in
the field of politics, and within the facility manage
ment industry.

Mobile Location Focused Apps in Politics
Politics revolves around organization. The in
creasing popularity of mobiles; iPhones, IP Ads and
Android devices will revolutionize political organi
zation and campaigning. It is now possible to pro
vide field workers with mobile applications which
will allow better organization and coordination of
campaigns. Further, these applications will let users
dynamically collect and upload data from the field.
Campaigns and unit committees will be able to ac
cess this centralized data in real time. Improving
both the speed and the accuracy of the decision
making process. Data collection and access is one
thing, visualizing this data is quite another. The abil
ity to search, query and tabulate this data is huge.
But maps provide a very intuitive way to view this
type of data.
Mobile Political Campaigning & Voter
Data Management
Much in the world of political campaigning is cen
tered on canvassing, phone banks and walk lists.
Walk lists are for campaign field workers, essentially
their voter contact list. Mobile applications running
on smartphones can provide canvassers their walk
list. Maybe on maps as optimized, or most efficient,
routes. In addition, canvassers can interview voters
and capture responses dynamically on their smart
phones; tie the data to that location and upload it to
a central database.
Historically, spreadsheets have been the mainstay
of political campaign organizing. Those days will
soon be gone. New software applications will be
come available for use on traditional PC’s and mo
bile devices which will tap into the central campaign
data source and allow questions to be answered or
viewed quickly; the concentrations of likely voters or
supporters for more efficient targeting, identifying
locations for events, planning and moving collat
eral, generating and viewing walk-lists, and plotting
sign locations. Interactive maps will prove important
in visualizing much of this data. Field Directors will
be able to almost instantly see the progress of sign
placement operations, volunteer recruitment, and
literature distribution. They will also be able to see
the location of field workers while they are interact
ing with voters and view responses in real time.
Mobile GIS Maps & Politics
Mobile devices, as we have said, will be increas
ingly more important to political campaigns.
Viewing maps, boundaries, and voter locations on a
smartphone or mobile tablet will be crucial to field
workers. As will recording data while in the field. We
have already mentioned a few, but we can imagine a
range of different questions we want answered and
displayed on a map:

Show me an optimized route of my walk list

Display registered voter data on a map by defin
able region

Search and display by a set of criteria - Show all
2008 Primary Voters

Search, filter and display - Show 2008 Primary
Voters who voted in the last 3 elections or show
only hard Democratic voters

Spatial query - Selecting a group of voters, by
drawing a square on the map, will provide a voter
summary. Maybe the number of voters selected,
average distance between voters, total number
of Republicans or Conservatives in this group,
and number of perfect voters
There are many options and tools which can be
used for maps in politics. Geographic Information
Systems (GIS) offer tools which will help manage,
organize, search, query and display campaign data.
MapQuest offers both PC focused and mobile opti
mized tools ideal for political campaigns.
The Use of GIS in Politics
We have discussed the querying and display of
campaign data. Often, at least in a GIS, this would
involve either shapefiles or GIS endpoints. These
are both spatial data sources which contain features
(voters and their point location), and attributes (a
voter party allegiance for example). Rendering or
displaying a shapefile or GIS endpoint adds a layer to
the map. Thus we can add points to the map which
represent voters. Click on a point and the attributes
of that voter are displayed. Querying is also possible
against these spatial data sources; show me all hard
Republican voters in a certain postcode.
This discussion can be extended to data editing
and updating. Thus it is quite possible to update our
spatial data sources using a mobile device. Maybe
a voter has switched allegiances and is no longer
Figure 1:
A cross platform mobile ArcGIS viewer
Mobile Location Focused Applications
a democrat; update that voters attributes on your
smartphone which updates the central data store.
Maybe a new area of homes has been built and vot
ers here need to add to the data store. Again this
can all be done by field workers using their mobile
ESRI is the largest provider of GIS software in the
world. Their flagship ArcGIS product offers a com
plete GIS solution, both for desktop and networked
GIS. Mobile ArcGIS has become increasingly impor
tant. Figure 1 shows GeoMobile for ArcGIS, a sam
ple map viewer available for free in the app stores,
which demonstrates some of the mobile functional
ity of ArcGIS.
Open source mobile GIS options are also avail
able. Openlayers, OpenScales and GeoServer are
excellent examples. Finally offline mobile use may
be required, in areas where Wi-Fi is not available. We
can now store basemap tiles, routes and field data
on the devices itself (Figure 2).
Existing Political Software Systems and
the New Mobile Paradigm
Existing, let’s call them legacy, political software
systems are slow and clunky. Mapping capabilities
are limited. As already mentioned, decisions are
still often made with the help of spreadsheets. Field
workers rely on printed sheets, phones and note
pads for organization and data gathering. In short,
current software applications used for political cam
paigns are inadequate.
Current systems can be dramatically improved.
Centralising data and extending, maybe rewriting,
existing software applications to allow easier man
agement, querying and visualisation of this data will
be crucial. Mobile applications in politics will provide
both access to the data while in the field (no more
pens, papers and printed maps), and the ability to
edit and add new data. Mobiles provide up to date
information dynamically. Maybe, querying by voter
attributes using a fixed distance from your current
location. Canvassing could then be planned around
these dynamic queries.
Mobile Politics Application

So how would you build such a system? There are
a number of proprietary and open source content
management and constituent relationship man
agement solutions. Joomla and CivicCRM are two
excellent open source options. These can serve as
the central system. PC based work can utilise the
modules available in these types of frameworks. The
key mobile and mapping portions of this picture will
need custom development. These would be inte
grated into the central system. So whether it be le
veraging the power of MapQuest or a full GIS, these
could be integrated into the PC based system, and
custom built for mobile.
Mobile Location Focused Apps for
Mobile Workers
Another example of a location focused mobile
app is the check-in. This has become very popular
in marketing and advertising. To date this has been
a consumer focused phenomena. But enterprises
are now looking at the potential use of the check-in.
Facility management companies, surveyors, multi-
level marketing, insurance claims, pipeline compa
nies, water utilities; all have field workers who would
benefit from this type of mobile application. Not
only checking in to work sites, but keeping a record
of the work done; notes, pictures, video, even voice
records. Figure 3 shows the home screen of a mobile
application built using the new MapQuest Flash mo
bile API targeting the facilities management sector.
Figure 2:
Accessing basemaps and shapefiles on
an offline smartphone
Figure 3:
Enterprise Mobile Check-In Application
Home Screen
Not only does the application include check-in
and data collection, but routing, local search and a
geo-coder. Functionality of the application is tied to
either a point of interest or GPS location. The appli
cation allows a field worker to start the day by view
ing an optimized route of the day’s calls. On arrival at
each call, the user can use the check-in/out screen to
register job location and provide data relating to the
call, see Figure 4.
Related Information
Check-In Application Demo
Free GeoMobile for ArcGIS app
Mobile Data Collection
Figure 4:
Check-In/Out Screen
Figure 5:
Directions and Local Search
The local search and geocoder provide additional
tools for discovering who or what is nearby and ad
dress search capabilities respectively (Figure 5).
Using the tools provided by MapQuest, these
types of applications have many potential mobile
worker applications.
There are exciting times ahead for mobile devel
opers. We may be on the verge of a revolution as
impactful as the Internet. Mobiles have the potential
to change both the way we work and the way we
live. Geo-location will be at the core of many of the
new mobile apps released. Consumer focused apps
including those for social networking, check-in, and
coupons continue to be very popular. Enterprises are
now looking at mobile adoption. Companies and in
dividuals providing mobile software solutions have
a bright future.
Viva la revolution!
Matt Sheehan
Matt Sheehan is a Principal and Senior
Developer at WebMapSolutions. The compa
ny is focused on mobile application develop
ment, with a particular emphasis on location
based services (LBS), mobile Geographic
Information Systems (GIS) and maps.
Feel free to contact Matt:
The history of games
The first electronic games appeared in the middle of
the 1960s. The major games for the consoles of this time
period were simple arcades with short game sessions.
In 1966, Sega created one of the first electronic games
entitled Periscope. A few years later, the first modern-
day game consoles emerged. In 1983, the first game
console for home use, Nintendo Family Computer, or
Nintendo Entertainment System, was released. The low
performance of consoles, coupled with low cartridge
capacities determined the genres of possible games.
Simple, short arcades, similar to those used in earlier
periods were the only options for games due to the
lack of available technology. Updates were not sup
ported on either the games or the consoles. After an
electronic game or cartridge was released, it was nearly
impossible to introduce any changes. In the event of
a serious flaw or error, the withdrawal of the series as
a whole was necessary, and would have serious reper
cussions for the studio releasing the title.
The potential to change a computer game after
it was published appeared in the 1970s. It is worth
mentioning that the first games were mainly distribut
ed by programmers and the game’s authors themselves
via computer magazines, such as Creative Computing,
in the form of the original code. Later on, map editors
and modifiers appeared that were sometimes deliv
ered along with the boxed version. This contributed
to the longer lifespan of the game. In the 1990s, when
PCs began to appear in almost every household, CDs
ruled the industry. Since bugs and imperfect gameplay
caused the sales to decrease and withdrawing an en
tire series was a difficult prospect, developers began
creating patches and updates for players to download
from the official game sites. Unfortunately, not every
thing can be patched, so the publishers placed their
best on producing the perfect game. This meant that
they sought to minimize bugs from the very beginning.
They also sought to refine the game further, includ
ing its storyline, gameplay and overall concept. Even
though many publishers are not prepared to wait for
the desired perfection of a game (meaning when all
bugs have been fixed, etc.), the time spent on polishing
a game was and still is growing.
In 2001, casual games and the first examples of digi
tal distribution appeared. While the term “casual” was
Games as Products and Services

by Aleksander Lyskovsky
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Alawar Entertainment
Figure 1:
Battle citygame screen shot
Figure 2:
Duke Nukem Forever game
Games as Products and Services

not yet familiar to those in the game development sec
tor, the term “PC shareware” was. That was when the
digital distribution appeared on the developer sites,
which were used to sell these games. Even though it
may just have been a catalog of games and software,
the developer still controlled the hosting. He could
thus easily change the distribution as needed. The
“barrier” between users and developers became thin
as game creators and the end users started to commu
nicate (Figure 2).
Portals then appeared, which united products from
various developers: BigFish, RealArcade and others. The
user-developer communication began to breakdown
helping to solidify this time frame as the “box” era. The
portals were interested in the quantity of games rather
than in expanding a game’s sales cycle. The business
model for portals could be summed up as the follow
ing: the user buys the game, plays it, forgets about
it and buys the next one. According to our stats, the
average casual games player buys 3 to 5 new games
per month, so new games must keep flowing, and all
marketing activity must aim to increase the number of
purchases and not to expand the time of his interest in
a particular product.
At the same time casual games were gaining trac
tion, the Java Micro Edition platform, J2ME, appeared,
allowing the first fully featured games to appear on
mobile phones.
In 2002, the first phones supporting J2ME appeared.
For example, in Europe the Nokia 3410 and Siemens
M50 were released. In these early models, the J2ME
games were downloaded from portals via WAP; such
slow connection obviously did not allow for the down
loading patches or updates, diminishing the ability for
publishers to keep extending the users engagement.
Another reality developed alongside all of this: the
online reality. At first, its share was pretty small, but the
very technologies at its base could enchant users. A
sense of place within the global network, the invisible
presence of the game’s author who could add some
new and fascinating features to the game at anytime
lured the gamers en masse (Figure 3).
After all, the first online game experiments (text
adventures that started at the end of 70s), PC games
Figure 3:
Farm Frenzy game screen shot
Figure 4:
Quake 2 game screen shot
Games as Products and Services

started to include a multiplayer mode via the local serv
er (as in a computer club) or via dial-up. Even though
the CD game still could not be completely updated, the
game process now included one more important ele
ment: another player who could make the game more
fun (Figure 4).
The appearance of the first browser MMOs became
a major milestone in online development. In this varia
tion, 99% of the game was on the developer’s side and
only 1% (the browser itself) – on the user’s side. The old
est browser MMO was Earth: 2025, developed in 1996,
but a subsequent and extremely popular such MMO
was the Utopia strategy game that appeared in 1999.
What enticed that many people to play a game with
such an extreme minimum of gameplay? All they were
equipped with was statistics and by pushing one key
a calculation would begin that then produced a short
message of “You won/lost”! The reason was and is still
the same: people like to feel the camaraderie and see
the unexpected changes in the game process, mak
ing the old familiar gameplay attractive once again. A
striking example of this type of genre is Mafia Wars. The
initial offering of the game contained no traditional
multiplayer component; it was implemented by virality.
The social networks format determined the genres and
ways of game consumption: 5 minutes a day (Figure 5).
The first fully featured client ММО was Ultima Online,
the alpha version of which was published on April 2,
1996. Since the game’s birth, 2 sequels, 10 add-ons and
4 clients have been published. An add-on is not just
a patch that changes part of the game. Such add-ons
provide new locations, characters, game and battle op
tions, etc. The first add-on appeared a year after the fi
nal version release, in 1998. This constant enrichment
of the game world and gameplay has allowed the de
velopers to retain the users’ interest in their game for
14 years already.
The cardinal change in online gaming was intro
duced by digital distribution. It became available for
large games too, as the average Internet connection
speed increased. The largest and most successful plat
form was Steam, developed by Valve, which accepted
other publishers’ products for distribution in 2005.
Once there, the user can download purchased games
from Steam servers using any computer supporting
their client. The fans of multiplayer hits could play
them on Steam supported servers that performed bet
ter than many amateur and even professional counter
parts did.
Casual 2.0
Nowadays Internet is such an immanent part of our
life that it is no longer correct to divide games into on
line and offline. We should discuss hardcore and casual
gamers, though some projects erase this boundary.
[Since Alawar’s expertise lies in casual games] we can
speak upon the new casual games, leaving the hard
core realm for the corresponding specialists to discuss.
Casual 2.0 is not the casual that was meant earlier,
speaking of the casual era and the portals. Casual 2.0
incorporated the best of online and offline approaches.
First, the traditional PC casual downloadable pro
vided short game sessions, simple tutorials and under
standable gameplay, just like in good old arcade elec
tronic games and consoles. Offline also contributed the
notion of achievements, offering up various trophies,
stars, coins and other ways to motivate the gamer.
Online provided casual 2.0 with fully featured digital
distribution implying product development and sup
port along with the way of delivery. The presence of an
online connection also lead to the “socialization” of the
games. It is casual 2.0 (especially the mobile niche) that
revived the regular updates model, providing the “long
selling tail” for each game (Figure 6).
Figure 5:
Mafia Wars screen shot
Figure 6:
Treasures of Montezuma game screen shot
The casual 2.0 business lines include smartphone,
tablet, social network, console, MMO, as well as tra
ditional PC casual downloadable content and future
PC casual games. Most of the casual market is grow
ing now thanks in part to the mobile segment that
should reach 10 billion in 2013, according to analytics.
The social network segment has also increased the ca
sual 2.0 market volume by approximately 3 billion, but
has slowed down recently. As for the classic PC casual
downloadable market, alas, the growth slowed down.
Thus, nowadays continuing with PC casual down
loadable without porting the game to at least mobile
platforms seems to me, at the very least, strange. Yet
market changes should also force the developers to
change their approach to developing and supporting
products (Figure 7).
So who are our PC casual developers?
40% of them live and work in the big cities of Russia,
Ukraine and Belarus, but most likely not in Moscow.
Teams of 5-15 people cooperate with a publisher or
they use the advance payment from a distributor.
There is no strict division of roles, which means that the
whole team specializes in PC development and will not
hire specialists from the mobile or social niches in order
to port their products to other platforms. That is why,
for them, until now, entering new markets meant leav
ing the comfort zone and plunging into the unknown.
As a result, such a PC casual team would produce 2
HOPAs or 2 time managers per year. These two prod
ucts are developed using the familiar slot system: the
team finishes one project and immediately turns to the
next one.
At the moment, most PC casual teams have trouble
growing. They still make good products, sell them for
a good price, but they have noticed that the games
no longer attract the interest they used to, meaning a
decrease in income. This is predictable as the market
has changed, and not all teams have managed to adapt
to the new reality and the new gamer needs. It is high
time to pay attention to the after-sales.
Work with a number of platforms.

Port your success
ful PC titles to Mac, iOS, Android, social networks, MMO.
Surely enough, this requires a serious rethinking of the
whole game process, not just to port it to a new en
gine. This is why a team should invite new people that
are experienced in other realms. Let us examine the
experience of the most successful teams in the market
today: ZeptoLab, for example, incorporates ex-mobile
development experts; so too does Rovia; Game Insight
is made up of ex-MMO developers. In Alawar, we strive
to gather people who worked in J2ME development,
Figure 7:
Shake Spears game screen shot
Games as Products and Services

created social networks and MMOs. They continue to
do this now. We have united our efforts in order to cre
ate successful products that can be released to all plat
forms at once. Ideally, in the future, our user will not
choose a game for a specific device, but rather he will
pick a title that interests him, assured that the version
for his device has already been released.
Change the approach to development. The draw
back of the slot system is that once the developer is
done with his tasks for one project, he must switch to
another project very quickly. I am convinced that the
project should have a team specifically dealing with
updates. The goal is to expand each project’s lifespan,
not chase after quantity.

Moreover, in case of a suc
cessful project, perhaps the whole team should con
centrate on supporting it even by means of putting the
release of new games on hold.
QA, QA and QA. Both hardcore and casual develop
ers polish their products to perfection now. Those who
published games, say, for consoles, are aware of the im
portance of even the smallest of details relating to the
game’s quality. Therefore, the fossil developers should
better divide their projects into stages and monitor the
quality of each level in order not to have to deal with
a bunch of bugs the day prior to release. That’s right,
proper QA requires documentation and one must not
be lazy in doing so. Take heed of the deadlines, meet
them and discipline yourselves. Remember: bug-
caused updates are of utmost importance to the de
veloper and publisher. Users notice even the most mi
nor of bugs. This will then lower the game’s ratings in
stores and causes negative feedback. The game’s qual
ity and timely correction of bugs should be offered as
complimentary service to the gamer who downloaded
your product.
Do have a clean scheme of updates
before the release?
Of course, updating is not just about the bugs. It is
also about adding new features to retain your audi
ence, such as new outfits for the characters, additional
locations, themed “gifts” for the holidays – anything
you can think of. Release is not the end of develop
ment; it is only half of the battle (and speaking of free
mium, it’s only 20%)! The game should be updated in
order to retain the gamer. Increase monetization by
including new traffic retention tools and arranging the
sales promotions.
Advise? Analyze your feedback.

Read comments,
count stars, draw download diagrams. Do not wait for
an email with acknowledgments or curses: register
with Twitter and Facebook, let your players communi
cate and leave feedback.
Suppose we have ideal developer teams. They cre
ate great games for many platforms, release updates
with new content regularly. How do they sell their won
derful games? How are PC casual portals doing?
As always, the games are flowing. A hit game’s pop
ularity peak typically spans from 4 to 5 weeks, but this
is only true for the hits. The lifespan of the rest of the
games is even shorter. This is why distributor portals
continue to pursue lots of games at once. Such portals
do not support micro transactions and this is why only
premium versions of games are published there. All the
developers and publishers can do in these portals is to
allow the players to play a trial version of the game.
Updating is also a sad business since approval takes
too long. The great thing is that distributors perform
the testing and QA from their side. This takes 1 to 6
weeks of their precious time, but at least players may
rest assured that the quality of their downloaded
games has not suffered.
Leading distributors, such as Big Fish Games, Real
Arcade, Alawar and others have become interested in
MMOs and mobile games. They are experimenting with
various genres to find new audiences. Unfortunately,
this process is slow because it means leaving their com
fort zone.
An ideal portal should be multiplatform and sup
port the saving of the history of cross-platform portal
dialogs. Ideally, a portal should save the game’s prog
ress regardless of the initial device used to play.. What
a player has achieved in a game on his Mac, should be
able to be accessed and continued on his iPad, all from
the same exact spot he left off..
Of course, all portals should support the freemium
distribution model. This game-selling model has al
ready proved popular in mobile games, so it should
be implemented into PC casual downloadable! We can
experiment with our good old premium, too. For ex
ample, we can provide a free trial for 10 minutes every
day, so that a user who is not yet ready to pay can get
attached to the character and gameplay, eventually
reaching the conclusion to purchase the game. People
like free stuff. This allows us additional opportunities
in terms of initial contact. Later on people will buy
something in addition to the games they have already
tried and got to know. Alawar’s experience proves that
people not only want as much free content as possible,
but in certain cases are also ready to pay for special and
premium content. Fans are prepared to pay a lot for
such things as, i.e., a more expensive Collector’s Edition
of the title.
Players like communicating with each other, so por
tals should consider introducing various social services.
Let us recall the Steam’s experience of creating its own
gaming community; a  large social network that peo
ple sometimes visit even more frequently than their
Facebook accounts. The players want to share their
achievements and opinions with their friends. The
MMO experience taught us that the most addictive
games are those that turn the gaming process into a
form of communication with new, virtual friends.
Case study
In November, Alawar launched the Russian version
of new portal, We are trying to implement
all the aforementioned. We have only implemented a
small portion of our ideas thus far, but with time, we will
add more nice features to the site, thus increasing its
functionality. You will be able to find games for several
platforms all in one place: for Windows, Mac, Android
and iPhone/iPad. The Alawar portal will support a wide
variety of business models. We do our best to provide
our visitors with a choice between game versions to
play: premium or freemium. Each registered user will
have their own “member’s area” that can be accessed
through their social network accounts. In the future,
this “members’ area” will become a page of the game’s
social network. Players may already use this section to
leave feedback and to see what was downloaded by
others at what time.
The new version of the portal is running in test mode
and available in Russian only for the time being, but in
the near future it will be translated into 30+ languages,
just like the previous version (Figure 8).
New game
We have ideal, sophisticated developer teams and
modern portals. What should the game be like then?
The game should certainly be one of high quality.
Specialized developers and QA specialists participate
in its creation. This is why the development of a game
can take anywhere from 9 to 14 months (not more than
that because the market is constantly changing) and
the budget is approximately USD 500,000. A game will
contain blitz game sessions and there should be sev
eral versions including freemium and premium (de
pending on the platform and distribution channel) and
a Collector’s Edition for bestsellers.
Figure 8: new website
Alawar has already started developing these new
types of games including Farm Frenzy – 4 (to be re
leased by the end of 2012), The Treasure of Montezuma
– 4 and two not yet announced super hits.
I also believe that after all of our projects and goals
become a reality, our players will be happy. Our future
successes lie in pleasing our customers. We must listen
to them and treat them with care so that they will fre
quently return to their accounts on the game distribu
tion portal, as they do with their Facebook pages, to
happily purchase their new favorite, high-quality game.
Aleksander Lyskovsky

is a
Chairman of the Board of Directors, Alawar
Founded in 1999, Alawar Entertainment spe
cializes in the development, publication and
distribution of casual games, reaching players
in over 60 countries. The company is the lead
ing distributor of casual titles in Eastern Europe
and has published more than 200 casual PC
games globally, including leading download
able brands like Farm Frenzy, Stray Souls and
The Treasures of Montezuma. Alawar games
are now available for the Mac, iPhone, iPad,
Android, PlayStation 3, Nintendo DS, bada,
BlackBerry and other platforms. The company
also releases entertainment products for social
networks and MMO audiences. For more infor
mation, visit
onsider the purpose of the creative arts; to mani
fest or express one’s creativity. Every book, film,
play, painting, commercial, joke, and video game
is the direct result of at least one creator. At the core of all
of these mediums of expression is the idea of creation.
We know that the individual parts of a creative work do
not need to be unique inventions in themselves. Rather
it’s the bigger picture that we examine for its creativ
ity. By taking bits and pieces from the world, creators
filter their experiences and memories down to unique
representations. And when we play video games, we’re
not actually controlling real characters and objects, but
merely the creator’s virtual representations. Though
some games simulate real life objects and interactions
with great detail, most video games fall somewhere in
the middle of the extremes of the purely abstract and
simulation. This middle ground is an abstraction, a key
concept in the foundation of game design.
Abstraction. Stylization. Simplification. These are
terms that describe the act of creating a representation
with some, but not all, aspects of the existing subject.
Abstraction is an important part of the creative arts.
How abstraction fits into game design can best be

explained in a three part direction: creator, medium,
and audience.
The Creator
Why do you make video games? You could be in it
for the money or the fame. Working in the game indus
try may just be a job for you. But even if you feel this
way, you should understand the motivation behind
the game designers you work with. Personally, I make
games because there are certain ideas and experiences
I want to convey that are only possible in an interactive
medium. As a writer, artist, and musician I have options.
So I don’t feel pressured to create experiences in a video
game that are incompatible with the medium. To un
derstand what kinds of experiences are compatible for
video games you have to understand that video games
are learning systems. Using the same learning meth
ods we’ve used since childhood, gamers can explore
ideas in video games by interacting and observing the
causes and effects of actions within the system. We can
be thrown into a completely foreign environment and,
one trial at a time, come to some kind of profound un
derstanding. Video games test and engage us in more
ways than any non-interactive medium can. For these
reasons, video games have a unique way of commu
nicating ideas and conveying experiences, which are
intangibles worth playing and making video games for.
It’s easy to think of gaming as an activity very far re
moved from reality. Gamers naturally draw a clear line
between real life and the virtual, fantasy, and abstract
game worlds of video games. When I shoot a red ex
ploding barrel (can they be any other color?) I’m not
releasing hazardous chemicals into the air. When I steal
from a local shop, I’m not disrupting an actual econo
my. And when I clear a line in Tetris, I’m not defying the
conversation of energy (Figure 1).
On the other hand, though the game worlds are
virtual, human players and creators bring a very per
sonal and a very real element into the mix. Art, in this
case video games, reflects the creator who reflects the
world. The creators use their thoughts and feelings to
create interactive experiences, and the player interacts
Embrace The Abstraction
Gaining perspective on game design choices by examining the source
of creativity and the process of communicating through a medium.
Figure 1:
Stealing in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s
Embrace The Abstraction
with the creator’s ideas. Thinking about game creation
this way, it’s clear that along with the creator’s thoughts
and opinions comes the creator’s biases. And it is be
cause of these biases and personal views that we must
embrace the abstraction within creative works like vid
eo games.
Embracing the abstraction is not about blindly
agreeing with others. It’s not about making com
promises to what you like or what you value most in
a video game. It’s not necessarily about expanding
the range of genres and features that you appreciate.
Embracing the abstraction is a willingness to take that
critical first step of opening your mind to, at the very
least, consider points of view other than your own.

It’s about encountering something different in a creative
work, something unexpected perhaps, and considering
its purpose and the good that can come of it before dis
missing it.
We have to realize that everyone sees things
differently and value things differently. Embrace the
abstraction by seeing first, understanding second, and
only judging if you have enough energy left.
“Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to paint
ing, and… stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the
work has enabled you to walk about into a hitherto un
known world. If the answer is yes, what more do you
want?” Wassily Kandinsky, a master of abstract painting.
Creative arts have little to do with presenting accu
rate to life representations or merely reminding us of
things that already exist. Rather, creativity is better un
derstood as the remixing of known elements to pres
ent the unique perspective of the creator. Video games
are almost entirely fake, abstracted representations.
The player is real. Player actions and consequences are
real. The math that powers the system is real. But every
thing else is an abstraction. It’s all an artifice designed
to present a consistent system of familiar elements.

So it makes sense for us to focus on how gamers relate
to game elements rather than dwell on how realistic
they are. Once you understand this fundamental level
of abstraction in video games, you’ll understand what
it truly means to design. To design is to create a specific
kind of bridge for a specific audience. Good design in
volves knowing what you have (the medium), what your
options are (the decisions and elements you pick), and
how these things will affect the end user. Now we have
to consider the medium that contains our abstractions.
The Medium
The hardest part about being creators or game de
signers is getting an outside perspective on our own
perspective. As much as we refine our craft, our blind
spots remain out of sight. Some use theory to compen
sate. Others use feedback from their audience or their
co-creators and adjust accordingly. Ultimately creators
want to know if their ideas are coming across like they
think they are. We want to know if the medium is suc
cessfully transferring their ideas. The tricky part is there
is no one way or right way to to get the job done.
Embracing abstraction, the core of creativity, in video
games requires understanding that there are no stan
dards or universal feature sets that all game creators
work toward. There are no standards for video games
because there are no standards for people. In the same
way that one designer can prefer turn-based gameplay
over real-time gameplay, or shooting games over puz
zle games, one can have a preference for any style or
feature in a video game. Nothing is out of bounds here.
Nothing is behind the times, obsolete, or antiquated.
For example, the Japanese development studio
Treasure is known for creating shoot-em-ups that fea
ture slowdown. While many consider slowdown as an
unwanted relic of the hardware limitations of our past,
not everyone shares this opinion. If eliminating slow
down was a standard for video games, we would never
have games like Bangai-O Spirits on the Nintendo DS.
This game features a sort of smart-slowdown that is
contextual to the intensity of the gameplay. The more
missiles, enemies, and explosions on screen the slower
the game moves. Because the slowdown is always pro
portional to the chaos of the gameplay, players are able
to keep up with massive amounts of action rather than
having it all overwhelm their senses.
There may be no one way to create a video game,
but many developers feel pressure from another
source; technology. As a game designer you should
take care to separate the aims and demands of tech
nology from the personal expressivity and abstrac
tion that is the creative arts. Video games are a unique
medium. Never before has an art form been so closely
tied to a rapidly increasing wave of development and
innovation. Moore’s law states the number of transis
tors that can be placed affordably on a circuit doubles
every two years or so. This means that we don’t have
to wait long before there will be a newer, flashier, more
powerful system to run our games on. Since the retro
days of the NES, I’ve witnessed that colors have gotten
brighter. Graphics have gotten sharper. Control devices
have been upgraded with higher ranges of sensitivity.
And enemies have gotten more numerous and intelli
gent. Any hardware limitation we face today will likely
be a non issue in two years time.
The hardware limitations a game developer works
with may set the technical limitations on the types of
interactions, graphics, sound, and other features, but
it doesn’t necessarily limit the ideas and execution of
the final product. Just because Super Mario Bros was
made on the NES doesn’t make it inferior to every
Mario game released since. After studying it or years,
I can confidently say that the design and execution of
Super Mario Brothers is still well beyond the quality of
many modern games. Regardless of the hardware that
games are made on, at the end of the day great devel
opers refine and tune their games into a high quality
product. All creative arts are made under limitations of
one kind or another. Time, money, people, space, and
other resources are not unlimited. It is up to the creator
to understand the medium including its limitations
and the limitations of the current circumstances to put
together a product that expresses their ideas. This is an
easy concept to understand, but your reaction to the
following examples may reveal your true feelings.
Random battles (also known as random encounters).
In 2D and 3D role-playing games (RPGs) random battles
are a feature that randomly pulls the player into a bat
tle without warning. The Pokemon RPG series, one of
the most successful long running RPG series, features
random battles when players walk through tall grass,
caves, and other areas. Pokemon is one of the few ex
amples of a highly successful modern RPG with ran
dom battles. I must add that there are plenty of qual
ity downloadable and indie titles with random battles
like Serious Sam: The Random Encounter. Concerning
the design feature, many have expressed that there
is no reason for random battles in any modern video
game. Arguments against random battles claim that no
matter the platform there should be enough process
ing power to render enemies on the overworld so the
player can engage or avoid them at will.
Put simply, technology is not a governing factor of
design, merely a limiter of its technical upper bound
ary. For random battles, like any creative decision, there
are pros and cons. The pros of random battles are its
simplicity and sense of surprise. If you think about it
random battles are the abstraction of a confrontation
that’s suddenly thrust onto the player. Random battles
only focus on a few features of the enemy encounter;
the surprise and the battle (Figure 2).
In Pokemon, by whisking the player randomly off to
a special battle space, the game play is compartmen
talized, specialized, and focused all of which make the
game play easier to develop than a large, seamless
game play experience.
Notice how this abstraction invites a certain level of
imagination or filling in the blanks on the player end.
You don’t know exactly what happens in the transition
between the overworld and the battle scene. You’re
not sure why the background looks different or where
the characters are. You can’t say exactly where the en
emy came from or where it goes after you defeat it. But
you can imagine what happens, a type of engagement
possible because of the lack of specificity. This invita
tion for interpretation can also be viewed as a con.
Maybe you’re the kind of player who doesn’t want to
use your imagination to fill in the gaps. That’s fine. Just
know that filling in the gaps, coming up with theories,
and pondering about events is what humans do natu
rally to recognize patterns and bring order to their lives.
And because we do this in our everyday lives, we also
do it with the books, films, and video games we con
sume. So even if you don’t like random battles don’t as
sume that all players and developers are like you in this
regard. And certainly don’t think that random battles
are inferior in every way to enemies that are visible on
the overworld. To make this point clear, let’s consider
the opposite of random battles.
Figure 2:
A Random Battle in Pokemon HeartGold
Figure 4:
Enemy battle in Final Fantasy 13
Figure 3:
Enemy visible on the overworld in Final
Fantasy 13
Embrace The Abstraction
Visible overworld enemies are much harder to
implement into an RPG development-wise than ran
dom battles. With visible overworld enemies as a
designer you have to worry about enemy size, ani
mation, vision cones, AI, model collision, and other
factors. Without a doubt these additional features
complicate the development (Figure 3, Figure 4).
Of course, a developer doesn’t have to imple
ment all of these features into their visible overworld
enemy design. In general, the more features one
does add to their game to decrease the amount of
abstraction, the harder it is to execute a highly pol
ished product. If any component of visible overworld
enemy design is designed poorly, the entire feature
can lose its believability and its impact. If you’ve ever
seen an overworld enemy walk endlessly against
a wall completely unaware of what it’s doing, you
know that poor AI design can make an enemy smart
enough to be stupid.
If you are unfamiliar with the RPG tropes discussed
above then consider this example of text based dia
log versus voice acted dialog. It’s not hard to find a
gamer or critic who confidently believes that almost
every piece of dialog in a video game should be
voiced. To these gamers texts are a relic of the past
that we don’t have to live with anymore. Why read
when the game can read to us? The counter argu
ment is simple. Because reading is unique and inter
esting in its own way, and there are pros and cons to
every creative decision. There is no standard of fea
tures that all games are measured by.
Consider the following pros and cons of text versus
voiced dialog. Text takes up less storage space and pro
cessing power. Text can easily be edited. Text can be
easily entered by the player using virtual keyboards.
Text leaves the experience open for the player to assign
voices and their own sense of delivery to the dialog.
Text lets the player experience the dialog at their own
pace, which may include some rereading. Text doesn’t
clutter the soundscape of a game. Text can draw upon
a wealth of literary techniques that have been refined
for hundreds of years. Unfortunately, getting more
out of text dialog or writing in general requires good
writers and good reading comprehension of the play
ers, two things which may be very difficult to come by
(Figure 5, Figure 6).
Figure 5:
Dialog from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Figure 6:
Dialog from The Legend of Zelda:
Skyward Sword
Voiced speech allows the creator to deliver pow
erful performances to the player via voice acting.

All the interesting inflections, tones, and accents of
an actor can be captured in a video game voice per
formance. The voiced speech also frees the player’s
eyes so they can focus on other parts of the screen.
Aside from higher production and technical costs,
voiced speech takes over the pacing and delivery
of lines. When playing, if a character talks too quick
ly for you to keep up, tough luck. If the delivery is
too slow, you may be stuck with it. With voice act
ing it’s tricky to skip ahead or slow down the verbal
information. It can be difficult to understand voice
performances because of accents or audio balance.

I have the hardest time understanding radio chatter
in shooters because the gunfire and the explosions
often crowd the soundscape. And like with visible
overworld enemies, there are more components
of voice performances that must all work together
to maintain its effectiveness. With a powerful, live
ly voice performance in a video game, if the story,
tone, graphical style, or the character animations
don’t match the voice performance, the result can
be somewhat dissonant.
It’s up to the game designers to figure out if a
feature is a good fit for the experience they want to
create. There are a lot of options out there. Knowing
what options are available and how they stress a
game’s design requires a deep understanding of dif
ferent fields, tends, and concepts. Learning what the
video game medium can sustain is essential for un
derstanding how video games work. And by “work”
I mean, how the gamer fits into the equation.
The Audience
Playing video games take a lot of player partici
pation because games are interactive. Interactivity
stresses many skills that the passive entertainment
cannot. Such skill includes knowledge and adapta
tion skills in addition to dexterity, reflex, and timing
skills for real-time gameplay. Building up one’s skills
is a rich and engaging process that game designers
should never underestimate. Every abstraction and
idea the creator wants to convey passes through
the medium before the player can experience it.

From here the player must observe, analyze, and
possibly memorize the concept. This takes much
time and effort.
To significantly aid the learning process of the
player most games are designed using familiar

objects and actions. I call these familiar representa
tions “forms.”
So when we see Mario in the NES game Super
Mario Brothers, we quickly understand that Mario is
a man, which means he’s a solid object capable of
Figure 7:
World 1-1 from Super Mario Bros
Figure 8:
Invert Y-axis controls on the bottom
screen of Star Fox 64 3DS
Embrace The Abstraction
moving and other actions. His jump may be super
human (hence the name), but it is still similar enough
to real life jumping. What goes up must come down.
Likewise, we can assume that Mario can’t move
through solid objects and gets hurt when he touch
es fire. Such is the power of using forms and other el
ements the player can recognize. Beware. While ab
stractions can simplify the gameplay experience for
the player, they can also arbitrarily work against the
player by making the familiar seem foreign (Figure 7).

By recognizing forms players can quickly create
frameworks of intuited rules and expectations to sup
port their learning process. In other words, we antici
pate how gameplay interactions work based on how
objects and actions look. Overall the goal of intuitive
game design is to line up with the intuition of your tar
get audience as much as possible. This is an extremely
important goal to keep in mind. As a designer, know
that if you abstract too much or alter the right combi
nations of features of the thing you’re representing, you
can make the learning experience very difficult for the
player. If you have ever played two games in the same
genre that have different control schemes, you know
how difficult it can be to adjust to small differences. For
in general, it’s difficult to learn something, and even
more difficult to unlearn what has been learned.
I think of intuitive design as a great boost to the
quality of a game, but not necessarily a drawback
when absent. Think about it this way. In the same
way that there isn’t a standard for video games,
there isn’t a standard of intuitive rules.
To illustrate, consider the long running inverted-
not-inverted debate. For first person shooters and
some shoot-em-ups like Star Fox 64, it’s possible to
play with with the y-axis aiming controls inverted
or not-inverted. For a long time people have tried
to explain why one is more intuitive than the other.

The non-inverted camp reason that the inverted
gamers come from a background of PC flight simu
lators where the y-axis is inverted just like in real air
crafts (Figure 8).
Therefore, non-inverted is the normal type of con
trol. The inverted camp explains that to invert is to
control the back of one’s virtual head. But the heart
of the matter is, any of these reasons can be true for
any person. Some gamers actually are used to flight
simulators, some gamers prefer non-inverted con
trols, and some gamers just adjust to the default set
tings which vary from game to game.
Zooming in on the issue, it’s clear that your pref
erence just depends on what you think you’re con
trolling. If you think you’re controlling the aiming
reticule on the screen, you probably prefer non-
inverted controls so that moving the D-pad, stick,

or mouse up moves the reticule up. If a player

visualizes controlling the rotation of an aircraft or the
pivoting action of a gun in an FPS, then they prob
ably prefer their controls inverted. There is no right
or wrong way to visualize interfacing with a virtual
system. Another reason why it’s not worth critiqu
ing a game’s design on a lack of intuitiveness in most
cases is even if you work hard making your game
play as intuitive as possible to real life, other games
and activities may train players to the contrary. In the
end, how quickly and comfortably a player is able

to learn and adapt to the particular complexities

of a video game is more of an issue of difficulty

design and conveyance, both of which are topics

for other articles.
When you understand game design including the
limitations of the medium, you can understand how
the concepts of the creators are transferred to the
player through interactive experiences. When you
consider that nearly everything you put in a video
game is a simplification or abstraction designed to
focus the experience around what matters most,
you’re free to design across the entire range of ab
straction. When you understand how far you can ab
stract, you have the power to create more effective
games that are easier to develop.
For my final example, consider the difference
in the end result between the following two ways
of modeling bullet ballistics in a shooting game.
Starting on the simulation end, you can spend large
amounts of time and development resources devel
oping bullets that are affected by the wind physics,
temperature, and gravity as they travel through the
air. Unless you’re designing a military combat simula
tor, such a complex design is probably unnecessary.
Most gamers do not understand ballistics to this fine
of a degree to appreciate such a design. So, it would
be good to consider a more abstract design. Hit scan
is a simplification of projectile weaponry that regis
ters a hit on targets in the cross hairs the instant the
trigger is pressed. There is no travel time calculated
for the bullet. So, you never have to lead your shots
ahead of targets with hit scan weapons. Such a de
sign is easier to program as well because it takes
into account less variables. Some weapons in Halo:
Combat Evolved and Halo Reach use hit scan design.
The sniper rifle in particular registers an instant hit
when fired no matter the distance between rifle and
target. Hit scan ballistic design makes sense to play
ers because it’s so simple. If the target is within aim
when the player pulls the trigger, the target is hit.
Because what you see is what you get, this abstrac
tion of bullet physics may feel more accurate and

realistic to players.
As designers and players we should embrace the
abstraction within video games. Being open to dif
ferent points of views, styles, and interpretations
of systems, objects, and interactive elements will
only allow us to enjoy more games and design bet
ter games. Embracing the different ways designers
can communicate ideas through these relatable
yet, in some ways, simplified representations is also
a way to gain clarity and perspective on one’s own
thoughts and ideas. Be proud of video games and
such abstractions.
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid)

Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) is an indie game de
veloper, video game consultant, tournament
organizer, competitor, writer, musician, artist,
and teacher. He has worked as a tester for
a video game QA company and a software
tester/designer for a law firm. Richard’s main
writing focus is his blog Critical-Gaming.
After four years of writing, the blog is now
over 1.5k pages. A gamer since the age of
three, Richard has put his years of passion
and experience behind his words. His English
degree along with strong academic interests
in every subject allows Richard to approach
the multi-faceted medium of video games
from a wide angle.
Figure 9:
Cover image by Richard Terrell
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