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iPhone: The Making of IDracula

03-05-2009, 11:31 AM
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The Making of IDracula

(or "How to appease the seething rage of fans waiting for that long overdue update".)


When you’re not busy slashing or gunning your way through hordes of Zombies, the next best thing would be to include an even wider variety of mythical beasts in the likes of werewolves, witches and the nocturnal creme de la crème of baddies- Vampires or better put Dracula himself.

Continuing my tech review converage of intense but satisfying iphone/iPod touch games, I turned my focus to Moregames Entertainment on just how they’ve assembled iDracula, currently as of writing the reigning king of paid apps on the Appstore.

Why re-invent the wheel? Keep it simple

Finding adequate resources for a development team of any size can often be a momenumental task, even more-so in small teams of five and under, re-inventing the wheel in terms of base assets, frameworks e.t.c, can be time-consuming at best and can really hurt your chances of releasing a title in a timely manner or even at all. However the latter wasn’t the case for the team at MoreGames Entertainment. Working fast with no holidays and with 12-14 hr workdays, they’ve managed to use their resources adequately to release iDracula within a two month time span.

The idea behind iDracula was to release a functional and fun experience in a fast timely manner at a very reasonable pricepoint. With this thought process in mind programmer Pavel Kupriyanov utilized an existing framework built around a previously released title Orions: Legend of Wizards. By using this as a jump off point Pavel leveraged on the solved issues of the past and in his words, Apple’s alien Xcode tools as well.

“We spend 2 weeks to make a working prototype, and about 3 weeks more to add features and polish. About a week of which was optimizing graphics to reduce memory footprint. We’ve also been working on update since the release, so it would be a little over 2 months in total.”
When starting out, the aforementioned should always be at the forefront in the minds of ‘bedroom coders’, using existing tools isn’t wrong by any means, in fact on the contrary it’s very smart.

One of the reasons why iDracula becomes extremely engaging is the use of the controls. Simply put, they couldn’t be any simplier in design, which allows casual and core gamers alike to easily pick up the game and begin playing. Essentially the game simulates on screen touch controls that with your left thumb you can move the character around with a virtual ‘thumb stick’ whereas with your right thumb you control the aim and shooting of the hero’s gun; Pavel was even thoughtful enough to include an option to switch placement of the aforementioned touch controls for our lefty friends out there. It works great as is, but the only caveat I came across with said controls (which is the case with most iPhone games that play in this manner) is with the limited real estate on screen, I found that my left thumb was a little to large and got in the way when the hero was on the lower area of the screen, but alternatively switching to my index finger fixed that problem.

“I had this idea in my mind from the very start. I didn’t even consider other options, I had a clear vision this would work best. Andrey had an idea of adding accelerometer control, but once I implemented my “wheels”; it wasn’t needed anymore, because the scheme worked like a charm.”
The controls held up especially well when the enemies grew in numbers and began to swarm the hero character. However having said that, I feel it will be a long time coming until iPhone implemented controls replaces the tactile feel of raised buttons.

Taking on Dracula with more that a wooden stake

Not utilizing any particular engine, Pavel built from the foundation of an earlier ‘Crashlanding’ example. He began once he got a handle on the architecture of Xcode, and additionally leveraging on ported code from pre-existing Windows Mobile projects. From there artist Andrey Kovalchuk took the reigns and used 3dsMax for character creation and animation, and Photoshop 7 for textures and additional onscreen elements- why not the latest Photoshop you ask? Apparently Photoshop 7 was the most stable interation for Andrey.

Hardware wise the team used a bottom of the line macbook, a Wacom Intuos A4, and an Intel® Core™2 Quad Q9400 2660MHz with of course an iPhone for debugging and playtesting.

Technically sound?

With most iPhone developers, eventually they will run into some roadblocks if their aspirations are a little too ambitious. And with everything we do as developers whether it be for home consoles or portable gaming devices, memory allocations will always haunt us, especially as gamer expectations continue to rise with the tide of technology. This was no exception with the Moregames team;

” Memory was the biggest nightmare. You never know how much RAM the user has, but we set 35 mb as the limit. Initially it was about 60, and it worked fine on my iphone, but I know that if I use more than 35mb, some users will experience crashes due to low memory. So you have 35 Mb, 8 of which are used by the framework.”

Stemming for Pavel’s previous experience with coding for Window Mobile platforms, he came across memory limitations as well, but not to this extent. To encompass problematic issues that can occur with memory allocation, the team put this to a test between Orions: Legend of Wizards which was originally coded for a 16mb Windows Mobile platform and then ported to the iPhone. Unfortunately initial tests were not as successful as hoped; the original dry run consumed 80 mb of ram essentially killing all resources on the iPhone due to low memory.

” Another big problem is that you don’t have a tool to analize memory corruptions. There’s a mediocre Instruments with Leak detector, but it doesn’t even tell the line where leak happened. I can write behind or beyond the array, and noone will ever notice, and then some of the users experience crashes or glitches. “
Preserving the ‘Keep it simple’ mantra Pavel approached enemy A.I. in a very straight forward manner. Basically the A.I. behaved in one of two ways… the enemy takes the shortest path towards the player character and attacks until either of them dies. Even if Pavel stated that this wasn’t his proudest achievement, it does accomplish the job. And because there’s so much happening on the screen at any given time, I’m sure many gamers will forgive or even overlook this fact while playing.

When it came to polycounts for characters, I was quite surprised to learn that they ranged from 6000 polys for the werewolves to a respected 8500 polys for the main character. Whereas weapons ranged from 500 polys to a whopping 30,000 polycount for the minigun alone! Given the amount of action of the screen as previously mentioned, it put to rest any skepticism I had towards iPhone capabilities.
Textures sizes were rather tame as Andrey used mainly 256*256 sheets, and a 2D layered backdrop for the environment; the lanterns being the only 3D object in the environment.


The dynamic duo

Published by Chillingo, one of the leading publishers of iPhone games and apps, developer Moregames Entertainment has once again proved that a large scale team isn’t always necessary in today’s gaming market; consisting of only two members, programmer Pavel Kupriyanov who managed all of the coding duties and most of the game design and logic whereas Andrey Kovalchuk created all art assets as well as the animations for each moving element on screen.

Priced at a very moderate $0.99, it would appear that the iPhone developers cater to the casual audience, but Pavel was quick to question the term ‘causal’, and apparently iPhone developers have set a new standard in terms of pricepoint and what fun could be had at said price;

” Is it casual? To me, Appstore looks pretty core.”
Hidden beneath its simplicity, one of the coolest features I came across while playing the game was the Perk system, it was very reminisicent of those you would find in Fallout 3, where additional abilities are chosen by the player to give strategic boosts to your gameplay, for example ‘Fieldrunner’ is a perk that allows you to walk faster around the environment. Perks definitely give the game a unique flavour and depth that would keep gamers coming back for more.

With that said, no game is ever fully complete, and even though Pavel and Andrey had a clear vision that iDracula won’t become a Diablo clone Pavel did have some additional ideas that will come to bear within the following weeks.
For fans of the game, a promised update from the developers will have some exciting new features and game modes such as more unique levels, weapons, monsters and perks. In addtion you can also expect an implementation of a leaderboard style tracking system that would spur the much needed competitive nature in all of us.

” Since this game became so popular, we are pretty sure we will continue with more iDraculas. We have plans for a sequel, with more RPG-ish gameplay, levels, progression, and some kind of a story. Lots of people ask for coop gameplay over wifi, so we’ll probably make one. Not sure yet if the sequel would be like Diablo, or more like a SmashTV, probably something in between. “
I would like to thank the MoreGames team Pavel Kupriyanov & Andrey Kovalchuk along with Chillingo for taking the time out to conduct this tech review. Best of luck in future endeavors.

Last edited by arta; 03-05-2009 at 11:34 AM.
03-05-2009, 11:33 AM
Joined: Dec 2008
Posts: 1,278
mm very interesting..the spirtes are 3D..never knew that =p

03-05-2009, 11:36 AM
Joined: Jan 2009
Location: Door County
Posts: 309
very interesting

Games Playing: Kids & Zombies, Infinity Gene, Q*bert, Resident Evil, Peggle, PacMan Remix
Listening to: Devin The Dude/ Waitin' to Inhale
03-05-2009, 11:44 AM
Joined: Jan 2009
Location: Charleston, SC
Posts: 59
Thank you very much for the details - awesome to know what goes into a fun app!

I hope more Devs will do this sort of thing.
03-05-2009, 12:06 PM
Joined: Feb 2009
Posts: 73
I'm confused as well. It shows 3D models and their wireframes in that article, but the finished game appears to use 2D sprites. Are my eyes just bad? It seems like they originally intended it to be all 3D, but compromised due to memory limitations. Maybe?
03-05-2009, 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Fome View Post
I'm confused as well. It shows 3D models and their wireframes in that article, but the finished game appears to use 2D sprites. Are my eyes just bad? It seems like they originally intended it to be all 3D, but compromised due to memory limitations. Maybe?
Or maybe 3D wirework models for 2D spritework. Supposedly saves time drawing animation sequences of the same object.

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03-05-2009, 12:34 PM
Joined: Dec 2008
Location: SG
Posts: 3,549
Wow... No wonder the graphics look so great. I'm amazed at how everything can run so smoothly with no crashes.
03-05-2009, 12:35 PM
Joined: Dec 2008
Location: Seattle, Wa
Posts: 278
There lots of games that require 3D modeling that only appear 2d at a glance. When the models rotate in any direction or have moving parts, you can pretty much affirm that model rendering was involved. Our game is a prime example.

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03-05-2009, 12:58 PM
Joined: Feb 2009
Location: Tokyo Japan
Posts: 96
Originally Posted by Fome View Post
I'm confused as well. It shows 3D models and their wireframes in that article, but the finished game appears to use 2D sprites. Are my eyes just bad? It seems like they originally intended it to be all 3D, but compromised due to memory limitations. Maybe?
It is a 2D game, they used the 3D model to pre-render the sprites only. The polycount stated in that article has no relationship with the iphone 3D capabilities and is confusing i agree.

If i may, i would like to say that 35 mb of memory is more than what is offering a SONY PSP with 32 MB "only" (well + 4mb for the video), i mean PSP generation 1, not the second generation, still, that's a lot for a phone


Last edited by carlo; 03-05-2009 at 01:19 PM.
03-05-2009, 02:03 PM
Originally Posted by Zandog View Post
There lots of games that require 3D modeling that only appear 2d at a glance. When the models rotate in any direction or have moving parts, you can pretty much affirm that model rendering was involved. Our game is a prime example.
Quoted for agreement. 3D content is created in a program such as 3dsMax and exported to an engine for 'rendering'. For animation a 'baking' process is required so that the coder can 'call' compiled animations at any given time. Because the camera is locked in an Isometric view it is very much a '2D' game at first glance. I have an interesting little tidbit from Pavel that I'll post once I have access to the raw interview tonight.

Here's the youtube vid http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSNtaQZcxj0

Last edited by lildragon; 03-05-2009 at 02:44 PM.