Tim from Play First discusses Using their Free Playground SDK to Develop Casual Games
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Interviewer: Hey, I’m here at Casual Connect and with me today is a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Tim: My name is Tim Mensch. I work for PlayFirst. I am the principal software engineer and lead architect of Playground SDK.
Interviewer: What is Playground?
Tim: Playground is an SDK that you can download for free at developer.playfirst.com, and it’s a casual game SDK that seems to be giving a lot of new fans adherence. You can use it for free in your games, and it works. It’s what Playground uses in almost all of our games.
Interviewer: So, PlayFirst just released it for free as just a way to give back to the community?
Tim: That is the idea, as a way to give back to the casual gaming community and because PlayFirst is a publisher first in front of everything else, and it works really well for us to get submissions on PlayFirst. If we weren’t giving it away for free, nobody else could ever write a game and then submit it to us and ask us to publish it. It works really well for us to get submissions on it, and we really want games on Playground so that we have a single platform internally to maintain games.
Interviewer: Can you talk about some of the games that were made on Playground?
Tim: Like I said, most of PlayFirst library, Diner Dash 2, 3 4, Wedding Dash 1, 2, 3, Dream Chronicles 1, 2, 3, Night Shift, Chocolatier 1, 2-is there a 3, I don’t even remember.
Interviewer: That’s huge.
Tim: Every major PlayFirst game, all the dash series.
Interviewer: Now, Pop Cap also released an SDK or some kind of kit a while back. How is this different?
Tim: Well, Pop Cap in its favor it’s completely open source. Playground is free but not completely open source. On the other hand, somebody just told me that Pop Cap stopped supporting their SDK entirely and took down the forums a year ago, and that was a surprise to me. I don’t use it. I haven’t verified this. Also, Pop Cap was extremely unresponsive. There was a very large forum population where people would answer each other’s questions, but Pop Cap almost never would go on to their forums and say this is the definitive answer. If you look at the forums, I posted more than everyone else on the forums.
Interviewer: Can you talk about the developer forums and how they are used and if there is a wider community around developing around this platform?
Tim: There seems to be a vibrant community around developing. The forums are not the busiest forums I’ve ever heard of. There are only three or four, maybe, six or ten posts in a day at the most.
Interviewer: That’s pretty good.
Tim: It’s decent, but I think part of that’s because there are hundreds of pages of documentation about Playground. There’s literally a book. You can go onto Amazon.com and buy the book on Playground. It’s a reference book. I have to admit that the documentation is auto generated from comments that I wrote in the source code by Doxygen, but it also spits out a LaTeX format so I’ve got an honest-to-goodness book that you can buy and look at. The documentation is also available free as part of the SDK. You can just look at the PDF file.
Interviewer: If a develop wants to get started then, what are the challenges and how can they get started? And how long will it take to make a game, do you think in SDK?
Tim: It’s going to depend a lot on the developer. My experience with talking to people, I’ve had a few people come on and tell me that it actually have a relatively steep learning curve. Those people are universally beginning game programmers. If you’re coming at gaming and you have no experience gaming, I don’t know that Playground is the perfect SDK to start out to learn how to program in games.
This is my fourth or fifth SDK that I’ve written. There’s been a lot of refinement in how the design works, and there are some complexities that if you are an experienced game programmer they usually end up being pretty obvious. The ramp for an experienced programmer usually is hours. It’s really straightforward in that respect.
Interviewer: What platforms will the games work?
Tim: The games will work on PC and Mac computers out of the box. Internally, at PlayFirst we have an iPhone port, so we are able to rebuild our games straight on the iPhone. It is still up in the air as to if or when we will release that to the public. At the moment it’s only being used to port our internal games.
Interviewer: And so, an indie game developer that wants to get started, what suggestions do you have in terms of how they can make the most of this opportunity and use this platform?
Tim: Well, you go to developer.playfirst.com. You click through the EULA. Read it to make sure you understand it. It’s pretty straightforward and download the SDK. It’s got lots of documentation there, actually a whole set of tools as well. There is a basic resource editor for laying out dialogues. There’s an animation editor. There’s a particle system editor as particle system is part of Playground. All of these are in the same download package you get. Most of the tools only work on PC, but you can also develop on a Mac.
Interviewer: Have you done any games using this or anything like that? Have you done any game development?
Tim: I have been doing game development for over 20 years. My first contract was with Lucas Arts back when they were Lucas Home Games. I did a bunch of games for Hasbro sort of early casual games: Yatze, Bogle, Sorry, Jumble. Sorry, my mind blanked.
Interviewer: That’s alright. Where do you see casual games going since you’ve been doing this for a while? Where do you see the type of game play-do you feel like the hidden object game play is going to keep going? Do you see any other new potential mechanics that could be huge? You do have some perspective.
Tim: I think that that’s a little bit outside my area of expertise. I have hunches; I don’t know. I don’t play the Diner Dash mechanic games much myself anymore, but I tend to burn out on mechanics. Obviously, other people don’t because they are still some of our best selling games. It amazes me, and so, therefore, my opinion on what other games should do well is probably not worthwhile.
Interviewer: OK. When you first said you actually had done programs and stuff to support indie developers and to support small studios doing stuff, can you talk more about that, some of the potential programs or places that indie game developers can find out more about what PlayFirst has to offer as a publisher?
Tim: Well, on playfirst.com and developer.playfirst.com there are a number of different descriptions of how indie developers can work with PlayFirst as a publisher or how they can distribute through PlayFirst as a distributor. We distribute to 30 different portals and we get your games everywhere measured. As a publisher, we also send games to Europe.
One of strengths of Playground is its ability to be really simple translations to other languages where Xylom, our partner, does the translations, the European translations, because we are by far the easiest set of games to translate.
Sorry. What was the other question?
Interviewer: Just, basically, where indie developers can find out more about it? Just pretty much developer.playfirst.com.
Tim: Yeah. That’s it. There’s forums there. Ask questions. I will likely answer them if no one else does. That’s the general rule.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.