Ramping up for iPad: Smiles HD

Alright! The iPad is coming soon, as is a brand new version of Smiles.

As we speak I’m putting the finishing touches on Smiles HD, the all new higher resolution and slightly redesigned iPhone game coming soon to the iPad.

Now, in the eyes of Apple I’m nobody special. So like many of you, I’ll be heading down to my local Apple store on launch day to pick me up an iPad… with one slight difference.

I’m in Canada.

Why that matters is that only the US is getting them on April 3rd. So in order for Smiles HD to be in the App Store for (nearly) iPad launch, we’re going on a road trip!

Agenda for April 3rd, 2010: 1. Go to the US; 2. Pick up an iPad; 3. Denny's

Using Google’s excellent cartography skills, it looks like my trip to the nearest Apple store in the US will take roughly 2 hours. Not bad, but by “road trip” standards that’s rather light weight. And thanks to Apple’s reservation feature, this trip wont even require camping!

Not my photo, but some friends and I did camp out several hours for the Wii. Again, we're in Canada. It was cold.

So as far as road trips go, this one wont impress any real outdoors-men. But hey, I’m totally going out of my way for it. As I see it, I need one. Not as an Apple fan boy (though I do love gadgets), but for business.

On making a living

Admittedly, my luck lately has been really awesome, but free trips and cars don’t pay the bills. Heh, “Oh no! Poor you! If you need money, go sell your free car!”! Heh, I’d rather not, but I’m also not exactly in financial danger right now. The car is an asset available to me if something does happen. But right now, I’m very optimistic.

I’m an independent game developer, and I work full time on my own games. Being able to say that is really awesome, and it’s something I’m extremely proud of. Self employed, my own boss, earning an income by my rules. You could say I’m “living the dream”. It certainly is mine.

If you follow any other game developers, you’ll note that the majority of them tend to fall in to one of two groups. Creating a big game in a year+, or creating multiple small games in a year. Prior to Smiles, I definitely fell in to the 1st group (2 year project that’s currently shelved). But I don’t exactly fit in to either definition right now. Smiles was a 4 month game, and a year and a half later my news is still Smiles HD this and Smiles that.

What’s the deal?

Smiles is a bizarre success story. As far as describing its success level, I’d call it the perfect middle. Financially it’s done well enough that yes, it’s clear that I can make a living from my own games. My costs are low, and I don’t have a team or family to support, so I can justify any deficiency in profit as being “the first game”. It also has critical acclaim. 5’s, 4’s, 4.5’s, high regard on every notable game site that’s reviewed it. It was a finalist in the IGF Mobile for “Best Mobile Game” in 2009. And this year it rocked Intel’s Atom Developer Challenge scoring 2nd in the early bird contest, and the “Elegance in Design” award. It even nabbed a Bronze in Samsung’s contest too. From all that, yes, I’d say Smiles is a success.

Am I a success? Absolutely.

Is my business a success though? Mmmmm… I’d probably shrug and say “meh” to that.

If you look to the first 3 year since leaving the day job, I earned nothing. Drained the savings a bunch, even threw down a decent chunk of change on outsourcing art. That’s fine though. As far as I was concerned, the money was meant for that. But though my costs are low, that money is still gone.

Smiles is an upward trend. As far as I’m concerned, it’s on the cusp of success in a big way. I really think it just needs to get in front of its audience, and the rest will all fall in to place. Perhaps if I was a month earlier on iPhone, it would have already. But hey, that wouldn’t have been as interesting of a story. 🙂

I am betting on iPad.

I have zero assurance that Apple will do anything for me, but I am ready to make launch. They could very well just ignore me again, but I’ll be there from the beginning this time. I’m hopeful, but we’ll see how this goes.

Actually, I’m betting on a lot of things. Netbooks, I think there’s big potential there in the long term. Other mobile devices, absolutely. A certain portable gaming console I’ve been vaguely hinting at, definitely! As I see it, Smiles will either become a bigger success as a macro product (the sum of all it’s ports), or it will breakout somewhere (which hopefully ripples throughout the entire platform portfolio). As I’ve said, I’m very optimistic, and I’m ready.

I hope the Apple community isn’t offended by my dramatic lack of exclusivity. I do hope it acts to reinforce me and my companies significance, but really, I gotta eat.

I think my direction makes an interesting story. When I get to the end of this platforms blitz, I’ll have a plethora of new targets for my follow up projects (one game I’m expecting to start in the next few months). I sure hope this works out. I’d love to be able to give a talk at GDC some year and be able to say “yes, it worked”. My story is starting to get really good right now, here’s hoping for a happy ending.

Coming up next for Smiles HD

Alright, now that I have that rant out of my system, lets talk details. I have a short term plan for the next few weeks I’m hoping to stick to. It looks something like this.

#1. Next Week: Release a preview/development log video.

As I’ve said, I’m finishing up the game now. I’m hoping to be done my TODO list well before the 3rd, and when I am, I think it’ll be a nice to do a behind the scenes demonstration of the game. A fun look at some of my iPad-less compromises. Essentially, to make my own small contribution to the iPad hype.

#2. Before the 3rd: Make press pack.

Pretty straight forward. I can take and make screenshots now, as well as draft up my sales pitch for the store, write a press release, etc. I suppose I can even release this early… I might just do that.

#3. April 3rd: Pick up iPad.

See above.

#4. ASAP: Submit to Apple.

I imagine Apple will officially allow submissions day 1, so sure, an option would be to just send it once we get the public SDK. Though I’ve played the game a lot, I wouldn’t feel right sending it without a good day of serious device testing. I’m not anticipating any real problems, though there’s always the possibility of being late overall, but even that currently seems unlikely. Best case, sent on Monday.

#5. After that: Make (quick) Trailer

Smiles was originally approved REALLY FAST, in about 2 days. Even more crazy, Smiles Zen took half a day to approve. So what I’ve learned from that is I need to be ready just in case. If I have some spare days, I may do some preparations. Use a proxy device to figure out where/how to hold it, briefly storyboard the trailer, or so on. Just so I’m able to have something for the press once it’s ready. I feel bad that I’m not going to have time to give the press an early look at things, but nobody has iPad’s yet. We’ll all be playing this product launch by ear.

#6. After that: Websites

It’s a real shame, but I probably wont have a chance to redesign the Sykhronics and Smiles websites before launch. I’m hoping I do, but knowing me, that’ll come later. The smiles-game.com website is in dire need of updates, since it’s available for more than just the iPhone, and coming soon to several more devices. Same with the Sykhronics website, it’s still tagged as 2009, and makes no reference to my IGF and Intel success. I’m not even sure I’d have time to delegate the work either (assuming I had someone to delegate it to). It’ll just happen when it happens.

Besides finishing the game itself, I want to be doing everything I can for the press right now. My inbox and blog comments are open. If you have a question, feel free to contact me one of those ways. If I don’t respond to you directly, I’ll try to make some FAQ like posts on my blog here.

E-mail: mike [at] sykhronics [dot] com.

And speaking of serving the press, here’s a new screenshot for you. Click for highres PNG.

'Match Challenge' Drop mode played wide with the 'Blocks' tileset

Want more shots and details? Check out this post.

Lets do this

So wow, Smiles HD is coming. You can follow my twitter for more “as it happens” updates:


Smiles also has a dedicated twitter for the big news items (i.e. it’s out, updates).


That’s all I’ve got for now. Stay tuned!