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David Oakley
Chief Technology Officer

iPhone dominates this year's GDC Mobile Summit

16:17 2nd April 2009

David, Kat and Kieren at GDC 2009It was pretty much business as usual at the mobile track of the Game Developers Conference back in February 2008. The big targets were mass-market phones using Java and BREW, with just a mention or two of the smartphone platforms of Windows Mobile and BlackBerry. There was talk of Apple's then 9 month old iPhone, but the SDK for developing applications hadn't yet been announced so options for games were very limited. Michel Guillemot of Gameloft commented in his opening keynote that "every iPhone user is one less mobile gamer."

A month later Apple announced their iPhone SDK, demonstrating what it could do with demonstrations from EA Mobile and SEGA. In July 2008, the iPhone App Store opened with well over a hundred games of all types. It was an impressive start, but the market for iPhone games has exploded since then with thousands of options to download to the device.

So it was no surprise that GDC Mobile 2009 was quite different to previous ones. The opening keynote was "Why the iPhone just changed everything" by ng:moco:'s Neil Young. He portrayed everything that came before the iPhone as lame, and set out his reasoning that this device was better than anything before because of better graphics, better networking, better tools for making games and a better system for getting games into the hands of customers. He may have over-egged it a bit, but no-one at GDC denied that the iPhone is significant, even those representing other manufacturers.

GDC 2009On the second day, EA Mobile's Travis Boatman talked more generally about the smartphone expansion, including other newcomers to the scene such as Google's Android operating system. He certainly reflected the opinion that for many game developers there are now more platforms to develop on than ever. In the end though, the closing video showed EA's upcoming iPhone games. They're the ones that matter.

Later that day the IGF (Independent Games Festival) Mobile awards were again dominated by iPhone developers and games: out of 7 categories, 6 were awarded to the platform. That's cheating slightly as one category was for "Best iPhone Game"... but the fact that there was a platform-specific award category says something about how important the industry views iPhone.

For us at Astraware, this is all very heartening stuff. iPhone has turned the smartphone market, our market, from niche to mainstream in a year. It's a good time to be in the business!


Kieren Smith
Producer

I Got Married!

17:03 18th February 2009

It's a few weeks ago now, but I'm very pleased to share with you that I got married early in the New Year!

Kieren and Julia cut the cakeFor those curious, the "knife" being licked by Julia was one of our wedding presents, a handforged foot long dirk used to cut the cake!

The wedding ceremony took place in the old Birkenhead Town Hall, now called the "Wirral Museum" (originally opened in 1887 as the town hall, and now hosting a small museum for the history of the local area). The marriage service took place in the beautiful and impressive council chambers on the top floor of the building, beneath the stained glass windows in the roof!

To the surprise of everyone (including me), Julia opened the ceremony with her beautiful voice, singing an old Irish love song (My Lagan Love). The service all went well and I only had to be asked to put my axe down once, which amused most present!

After the ceremony we decamped to Hoylake Sailing Club, also founded in 1887 and situated on the promenade, so we had a beautiful view of the sunset across the beach and across to North Wales, while enjoying a veritable banquet of food!


Howard Tomlinson
Chief Executive Officer

Favourite iPhone Apps from the Astraware Team!

14:08 5th November 2008

We've recently started to create games for the iPhone and iPod touch and many of you have given us great feedback and told us what you like. As a few of us in the Astraware team have also chosen iPhones and are enjoying the App Store too, we thought we'd share some of our favorites with you.

DVD DashboardSunita: DVD Dashboard - a fab simple app. I have a huge catalogue of DVDs and it is great to have them at hand and it is easily updated. I can also email the list to anybody that wishes to borrow my DVDs, no more scrappy notebooks full of my scribbled DVD titles!

ShazamKieren: Shazam - My biggest curse when listening to music on the radio is being unable to identify it. All too often the presenter will tell you what it is (which you ignore), and halfway through the track you think "This is rather good, what is it?"...and you don't hear it again, or miss the name again next time because you don't know what to listen out for. Shazam solves that problem, identifying the track for you, and storing it in a list to later perusal. It's quick (about 20 seconds all told), and has been accurate every time so far. Its only weakness is that it is best suited to identifying original tracks - it won't always manage to work its magic on a hummed tune.

Koi PondAlison: Koi Pond - a lovely restful Koi carp pond in the palm of your hand. You can feed the fish by shaking the iPhone like a pack of fish food, swish the water about or just watch the fish swimming, all the while accompanied by some lovely sound effects like birds chirping and frogs croaking. There's not a lot of point to it - it's just very relaxing.

Kirsten: Moop - It's a very silly noise maker, but it is useful for when you can't quite find the words to express your feelings. It also keeps the kids amused!

ShowtimesAs for me: I like Showtimes because it gives the cinema listings for the closest cinemas to us, in a really easy to use format, and even links seamlessly through to the trailers. Makes it nice and quick to decide what we're going to go and watch!

I also like Guitar Toolkit because the tuner is really good, and it has a nice easy chord reference. No need to carry round a separate electronic tuner now!


Alison Barclay
Chief Communications Officer

Playing Your Own Music with Our Games on iPhone™ and iPod® touch

13:21 11th August 2008

I'm the proud owner of a shiny new iPhone and I like to use it to listen to music in the background when I'm browsing the web, reading an ebook or whatever.

As we were developing games for iPhone™ and iPod® touch, we realised that people might want to play their own music as they played our games too. There are slightly different methods for iPod touch and for iPhone, but first of all go into the sound settings of the game you want to play and turn off the game sounds and music. In GTS World Racing, for instance, you need to select the 'Disable Audio' setting within 'Options'.

Select Disable Audio to turn off the music and play your own

Once you've done that, exit the game and go to 'Music' on your iPod touch or 'iPod' on your iPhone. Choose what you want to play and start the music or podcast. Exit using the Home button and return to the game, and hey presto, your own soundtrack! There are a couple of other ways to do this - for instance you can double press the Home button on an iPod touch to bring up the music controls within the game, but this doesn't work for the iPhone. If you're using the iPhone headset provided with it, you can press the headphone button to start the music, but the best thing is to turn off the in-game music and sounds first.

As GTS World Racing involves cars you'll want to design your own driving soundtrack - I'd recommend 'Song 2' by Blur or 'My Favorite Game' by The Cardigans - but if you have your own favorite driving tracks, why not share them in the Comments?


Katherine Gordon
Web and Game Development

Bubble Babble Cake

18:58 17th June 2008

It's been quite a while since you've heard from me, particularly with a cake recipe. This isn't to say I haven't been baking cookies & cakes, just that they've not been particularly interesting recipes ;) Last week was a bit of a celebration for me though, so I dug out my favourite carrot cake recipe (much to Larry's annoyance because it includes banana!) So for the release of Bubble Babble, my second solo project in my 2 years working for Astraware, I baked this lovely, moist, nutty carrot cake :)

Bubble Babble CakeCake
175g light muscovado sugar
3 eggs
175ml sunflower oil
225g coarsely grated carrots
3 ripe bananas, mashed
100g chopped walnuts
280g plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder

Preheat your oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a 9inch cake tin.

Throw all the ingredients into a big bowl and beat the mixture until smooth (well, as smooth as it can be with bits of carrot and walnut! ;))

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 1 hour or until well risen, golden brown, and a skewer or sharp knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave in the tin for 10 minutes and then turn out, remove the lining paper, and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Frosting
200g cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
115g icing sugar

To make the frosting beat all the ingredients together until smooth :)

Shaun Painting the Bubble Babble CakeAt this point, I stole an artist to help decorate my cake. With lots of food colouring, some marzipan, and a pair of chopsticks we created the lovely watery scene. Never before have I seen anyone "paint" with cream cheese icing using a chop stick! Although it did work surprisingly well :)

If you don't have an artist to hand, then just cover the cake with the icing, and perhaps dot a few pieces of walnut on the top, before slicing into generous pieces and trying to fend off the swarm of hungry people! :) Or perhaps everyone in my office is just underfed? ;)

Bubble Babble was a really fun project to work on. It all started with an idea from Steve for the basic gameplay and slowly evolved through prototypes and long design meetings into the game that's now available to buy :) I really love word games so it was great to work on a game which I keep finding myself playing, even now I'm not on a bug hunt! :) If you enjoy word games then I highly recommend you give it a try, although I might be a little biased ;)