Magmic Games on Developing Rubik’s Cube for iPhone and BlackBerry

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jeff bacon and joshua ostrowalker
Image from Financial Post

Magmic recently launched Rubik’s Cube for BlackBerry and we sat down with the company’s Director of Product Management, Jeff Bacon, to talk about the experience. It’s always interesting to hear from companies and developers with experience developing for multiple platforms and hearing about the relative advantages and disadvantages each smartphone brings. Hit the jump for the full interview and get a sense of what it’s like building a popular game for iPhone and BlackBerry.

BlackBerryCool: What’s involved in securing the license to make a game like Rubik’s Cube?

Jeff Bacon: The process for securing a license for a game can be very different depending on the license holder. Sometimes negotiations takes only a few months and other times it can take a couple of years between starting to talk about licensing a property and actually completing the deal. The key is to understand what the license holder wants to achieve out of a mobile game that leverages their license. Magmic has done many licensed deals and we are pretty experienced in talking through the different options for games with license holders and creating a product that will be successful and satisfy the needs of the brand. Magmic and Seven Towns (the license holder for the “Rubik’s Cube” brand) have been working since 2008 to bring the Rubik’s Cube to mobile devices and we have a great relationship with them as we are all interested in making a fantastic game that plays very well and stays true to the root of the Rubik’s Cube history.

BBC: How do you choose what smartphone to develop for first and last?

JB: The choice of which platforms to start with is done on a case-by-case basis. Sometimes there are marketing agendas that influence the choice and sometimes there are technical reasons why one platform is the best first choice to launch on. Since each platform has strengths and weaknesses, all facets of the platform and game features must be analyzed to determine the best course of action. In the case of Rubik’s Cube, the power and built-in 3D capabilities across all models of the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad reduced the development time on that platform making is a great choice for the premiere of the Rubik’s Cube brand on mobile. Our second platform to launch Rubik’s Cube is, of course, BlackBerry. We have such a strong presence in the BlackBerry market that it was a natural choice to put it at the top of the list after iPhone. The two platforms actually had separate, parallel development efforts which is why there’s only been a few months between the iPhone and BlackBerry releases even though BlackBerry development work has been ongoing for much of 2010.

BBC: How would you compare iPhone vs. BlackBerry development?

JB: Neither platform is difficult to develop for … at least not after all the games we have successfully created on each! However the tools provided by Apple and RIM are different and the base development language is different so it does take a more multi-talented developer to work on both platforms – or a core group of experienced developers (like we have here at Magmic) who have a history of development success on a specific platform. The simulators that RIM provides for a great job of replicating the real-life experience your game has on a physical device even with all the differentiation on the portfolio of Blackberry devices in market. It’s more challenging to support multiple screen resolutions and core features sets on BlackBerry than it is to support the limited number of device profiles on iPhone, but even that advantage for iPhone is disappearing with the launch of the iPad and iPhone 4.

BBC: What advantages does one platform provide over the other?

JB: The focus, for the most part, on the iPhone side of Rubik’s Cube development was on how we can leverage the power of the iPhone throughout the various aspects of the game to improve the user experience and make a great product. The lack of 3D support on the majority of Blackberry devices required us to design and implement an entire 3D engine to render the Rubik’s Cube on all BlackBerry devices (we do take advantage of OpenGL support for those BlackBerrys that include it). So the advantage the iPhone holds in raw performance allows us to focus on some of the ancillary game functionality rather than spending the bulk of the development effort just getting the game engine up and running. However, the lack of touch input on most BlackBerry devices is actually a benefit when dealing with smaller screens (which I classify all mobile phones as having – even iPhones) because your screen layout does not have to accommodate buttons and input sized for fingers. The keyboard and trackpad allows us to use the screen real estate for gaming and not for huge finger-friendly buttons which from a design perspective, is a little more versatile.

BBC: What has BlackBerry/RIM done well for developers?

JB: One of the most challenging aspects of developing for mobile devices is the differences between running an application on a simulator, and running it on an actual device. Apple loved the Rubik’s Cube game on iPhone and wanted to feature it on the iPhone 4 launch but asked us to implement Gyroscope controls in the game… blind. We had no access to an iPhone 4 to try it out on so basically had to guess how it would work and hope that it would meet our customers’ expectations. That’s never been a problem for us with RIM. Being a long time member of the BlackBerry Alliance Program, we have never had a problem getting access to test devices in time to make sure that the last few on-device issues in our games could be addressed in time for the device launch. That makes developing for BlackBerry a much more comforting experience knowing that unexpected problems resulting from device-specific issues are discovered after we’ve released our products are rare.

BBC: What can RIM improve on?

JB: The biggest thing RIM can do to help developers is to be more consistent with the feature sets of devices. Developers don’t want to have to create multiple versions of their games for subsets of the BlackBerry devices on market so the less differentiation on screen sizes, keyboard layouts, and hard ware features the better. The biggest two examples of that are the screen size on the BlackBerry BOLD 9000 being 20 pixels different in height than the follow-up models, and the lack of OpenGL support on the BlackBerry Torch 9800. I’m completely supportive of RIM innovating on their BlackBerry devices and I’m happy to see OpenGL becoming a priority for them but new features like that need to be rolled out on all new devices so that developers can be comfortable working with the new technologies RIM develops right away.

BBC: Do you have any tips/advice for developers looking to port an iPhone game to BlackBerry?

JB: Porting from iPhone to BlackBerry will not be trivial. We developed two separate products for the different platforms and for most games, that level of effort may be required. Many iPhone games rely on features that are just not available on most BlackBerry devices (accelerometer, OpenGL, etc.) and architecting a game for device differentiation and multiple layouts is something that’s more easily done from the beginning than by starting with iPhone code. If I were porting an iPhone game to BlackBerry, I would start by storyboarding all the scenes in the game on iPhone and then figuring out how they can be transformed to layout on the different BlackBerry screen resolutions. Next, look at how the input on the iPhone game could be changes to work on non-touch devices. It’s a lot of work and something that becomes easier with practice (trust me, after all the games we’ve done, the 10th one is WAY easier than the first few).

  • http://appworld.blackberry.com/webstore/vendor/1111 Eric at Ebscer

    I second the pain that the Bold 900 can be to develop on. There is a tendency to want to force everything to be a little shorter for the sake of those 20 pixels…