Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fewer Palm Games More Pocket PC

Maya Rozenshein of Palm Addicts makes several excellent observations in her post in regards to fewer Palm games being developed versus the number of Pocket PC games. To add to her post I thought I would give a brief developers point of view. My team creates both Palm and Pocket PC applications, although the majority of our games are on the Palm. Lets compare Palm and Pocket PC development.


  • Palms started out with 4-bit, then added 8-bit, and finally 16-bit support. And is available in 160x160, 320x320, or 320x480 resolutions. Along the way color was added, crudely first then better in OS 5.x. For games to look great you need to customize the art for color and non-color devices. To further improve the art you should also redo it for 160x160, and 320x320. The Palm wants the art in a unique format. The tools for converting the art to work on the Palm are still very crude and cannot be larger than 64K. Yes, 64K! Most of the top game developers have had to develop their own game engine to run onto of the Palm OS to break away from these limits. Creating your own engine means maintenance for each new device releases and each iterations of the OS. Although, Palm works really hard to keep things backward compatible.
  • Pocket PCs on the other hand have predominately been 16-bit, do not have a 64K limit, and easily support PNG, BMP, JPEG, etc formats. Plus Microsoft posts code to help developers use art in their games.


  • Palms had limited sound support and to this day does not natively support WAVE or MP3 files. By natively, I mean that game developers have to convert the files to a special format for them to play. And sounds are also limited to 64K.
  • Pocket PCs easily run WAVE and MP3 files. Which means no extra steps for my team.

Message Boxes

  • Palm font support is very limited. To improve readability game developers often have to create their own fonts.
  • Pocket PCs are OK on fonts, offering a few more sizes.


  • Palms are straight forward to program for. Engineers coming from a Mac background usually have an easier time. However, developer tools are limited.
  • Pocket PC has Microsoft behind it, and they update and offer new tools frequently including newer compilers. I will say, until Windows Mobile 2003 came out, it was much harder to develop for the Pocket PC. Many of these tools though are very expensive. Microsoft Pocket PC development environment is similar enough to PC development makinf the transition for PC engineers easy.


  • Palms really excel here. We've found most of the issues are differences between 4.x and 5.x. Button / Key mapping are inconsistent across some devices.
  • Pocket PCs started out well enough but with new resolutions being announced regularly it will be an added expense to keep up

In my opinion, it is getting easier and easier for Window Mobile developers to create games, while the Palm game developers have several hoops to jump through. So why develop for the Palm? Easy to answer, the screens are beautiful, the devices are fantastic, and the community is loyal and enthusiastic. I am optimistic that Palm and Access will update the tools and improve support for the engineers. But it is easy to notice that there are fewer and fewer Palm games being released compared to 1 - 2 years ago. Also, my team and I enjoy developing for the Pocket PC. The newer devices with 640 x 480 resolution are stunning but expensive.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Best of 2005 Lists

I love end-of-year 'best of' lists. There is something fun about seeing the top products in an easy to read list with explanations on why they are the best. I use these lists to buy end of year products or to find holiday gifts for friends and family. Since most software can be tried before purchases I will often try the recommended software to see if it is better than what I currently have. Last year I switched from Norton Anitvirus to PC-cillin based upon an end of year list. This morning, one of my favorite sites, and one of my favorite writers Matt Miller, presented his list. I especially like his list because although he is a techy, he shares his computer with his wife and kids, which means the software he purchases and recommends has to be really great and practical. Also, his list is not limited to software, he includes headsets, chargers, furniture, travel bags and more. And if he recommends it, you know he is using it. You can find his list here. I've added to my list of links so you can always find it by visiting my blog.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Old or New Games

I was recently asked if I prefer to redo old games or create only new one. When designing a new game I look at old PC games, board games, arcade games, sports, etc. for inspiration. I've released Farkle and Triples, both based on older games but reinterpreted for the Palm and Pocket PC. I gave them a new twist by adding additional strategies. My two original games, Word Watch and WordPop! were both inspired by older games that I think did not go far enough or offered limited replayability. WordPop! was actually thought of after I was playing a math game. I liked some of the strategies and believed they could translate to a word game. I am interested in creating games that have several strategies whether they are original or based upon an older game. I still feel challenged and motivated by both scenarios.

How are inspired? Would you rather play old games or try new ones? Drop me line as I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Traveling with a PDA Part 2

I find using the built-in camera on the Zire 72 one of the most convenient features when I am traveling. I always have my Palm with me which means I will always have a camera handy. The snap shots are 1.2 mega-pixels which works great for me. The quality is perfect for a quick capture of people, places, and events that I want to remember. Plus the Palm has the added feature of letting me add notes to the picture for future reference. Since my Palm is already setup to synchronize with my computer no additional steps are needed to copy the pictures from my Palm to my computer. After synchronizing, I review the pictures, organizing the ones I want deleting the ones I don't like.

Here are three samples of pictures I took. The first is of a great vegetarian friendly restaurant near Bath, Maine. Their yam salad was worth the detour. The next is of a Civil War memorial. Many of the towns I have visited have these which lists the name of fallen soldiers from that town and surrounding areas. After seeing several memorials you really take to heart how widely the Civil War effected these areas and the country. W
ith the population significantly less over 100 years ago I can't help but to think how many people must have known these men before they died. The last picture is of Camden taken from Mount Beddie. The fall colors are beautiful and the coast line is stunning.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Traveling with a PDA Part 1

What's it like traveling with a PDA? How can it add to your experience? Over the next few days while I am traveling in Maine, USA I will be posting my experiences and observations. I am using a Palm Zire 72. My original idea was to connect to my blog using my bluetooth Ericsson phone but I had some problems with setting up GPS with AT&T. I am switching to Cingular in a few months as they claim this will resolve my problems. I am optimistic that it will. In the mean time I am posting using my laptop using my travel cable that I purchased for the trip.

If you have not used a travel cable before I highly recommend trying one out. Not only does it connect my Zire to my computer but it also uses the USB port to charge it, making one less charger to pack. It has worked flawlessly. You can buy some pretty nice retractable versions from companies like Proporta.

Friday, September 30, 2005

History of Dice and Farkle

Daryl Seager wrote an engaging booklet on the history of Dice and Farkle. It's a fascinating read that takes the reader around the world and through time. It starts with the Romans and their knuckle bones and takes the reader to Greece, Persia, Korea, and China where "21 individual domino pieces represent the possible throws with 2 dice". I love the list she provides of other names Farkle is known as. Farkle is odd enough, but "Pass the Pig" is even better. Download this fascinating and well worth the time booklet. In addition to the history, it thoroughly covers all the rules plus several variations. Download here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

What new version?!

As a software designer at Smart Box Design I use a lot of software. Some of it is very inexpensive and others more that I want to admit paying, but if it does the job, then it was worth every penny. The internet and mobile connectivity has made purchasing software quick and easy and receiving updates even easier.

There are several mechanisms to learn about updates of which I use them all.

  • News Sites
  • Subscriptions Services
  • Newsletters
  • RSS Feeds

News Sites
We all have our favorite news sites to read about the mobile industry. A few of my favorites are Palm Addicts, PDArcade, and WindowsMobile24/7. Palm Addict does an incredible job posting update notices they find during their daily trolling of other web sites or posting updates sent by developers. What is great about Palm Addicts is they usually have a comment or two about the update or where to get more information. PDArcade specializing in games, and Windows24/7 posts without all the Microsoft marketing hype.

Subscription Services
A great site to subscribe for updates is versiontracker.
In addition to covering Palm updates, they also send out update notices on Windows and Macintosh software. Subscribing is easy, give them you email, tell how often you want update notices and voila, you're done. Every major developer I know uses versiontracker to post update notices including my company.

I am a big fan of newsletters, as long as they do not come more than once a month. I love hearing about new features, tips, and maybe a way to save on my next purchase. My web site has a newsletter and I enjoy writing it. New subscribers receive a coupon off their next purchase, I get to point out some really cool features in our games and I announce all new upgrades. Our newsletter uses a third party system that guarantees we are adhering to all spam laws. If you have not already signed up for your favorite company's newsletter I highly recommend that you do. You can always unsubscribe if you find yourself not reading it.

RSS Feeds
Many sites now include an RSS feed. My site includes one, Palm Addicts I mentioned above has one, Time magazine has one, etc. The nice part of about RSS feeds is you can customize what you see. You can set your reader to just see the headline, or headlines and the synopses, or the entire article. I typically just read the headline and if I want more information, I click the headline to read the full article. Setting up a reader can still feel a bit clunky, but once you have it done for one site it is easy to add more. I use Yahoo news when online. I paste in the URL to the RSS feed and Yahoo takes care of all the rest. This is all done in the MyYahoo section. There are also many fine RSS readers for the Palm and Pocket PC.

A nice trend is having the software check for updates when connected to the web then informing the owner. This is not practical on my phone or my PDA as I don't like my connection fees being used in this way, but as connectivity prices fall and more devices have Wi-Fi I can see this method becoming very popular.

All in all, I love getting updates. The new features are fun to try, it reminds me to see if my favorite developer has anything new, and when the upgrade is free, I really fell like my initial investment is paying off. If you have any sites you use to keep your software up to date, please let me know.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

PDAs and Emergencies

Los Angeles experienced a rather large black out yesterday.

The power outage got me thinking about how
helpful a PDA would be during a blackout.

If you were in Los Angeles during the blackout with your PDA you would have access to a host of data.

  • Phone numbers to call and let everyone know about the black out or numbers for your spouse’s work to make sure all is well.
  • You could still work on documents while your computer is down.
  • You could listen to music while waiting for the bus that will be very late, especially with traffic signals not working.
  • You could become a photojournalist and take pictures with your Treo 600 or 650 and email them to the news agencies or your blog.
  • You could catch up on that book you downloaded last week or listen to Palm Addicts latest Podcast.
  • You could review emergency procedures you downloaded to your PDA.
  • You could review the list of emergency supplies you inventoried and added to your PDA.
  • You could keep a journal on how to be better prepared for the next time this happens.
  • You could play games to relax.
All in all, the power might be down, but with your PDA you are still up and running (at least until the battery dies).

Monday, August 22, 2005

PDAs Changed my Life

I started to think about the Palm and how much it has changed my life. For 13 years I created educational software, six years at The Learning Company then seven years at Edmark which was purchased by an Irish company named Riverdeep. Working for Riverdeep was a challenge because of all the time zones involved and the amount of coordination required between offices, especially meetings. It became clear that all the senior staff was having difficulty keeping up with constant meeting changes from the Dublin, Ireland and Boston, Mass. offices. I would awake in the morning to find a dozen meeting invites in Outlook. Half of them would be rescheduling or change of location or a new dial in number. It was considerable work just opening the invite reading it agreeing to it, writing down the meeting location and topic, then opening the next invite, etc. There had to be a better way and there was.

I came across a half dozen Palm Vs in the IT department, turned in by the sales staff. I borrowed one and started to experiment with it. I research its ability to synchronize with Outlook when an idea hit me. I hooked the Palm up to my PC and the next morning I quickly opened each meeting invite and agreed to the change. When finished I synchronized the Palm, and behold, all the meetings I needed to attend were on the Palm. This was huge. I just saved at least 15 to 20 minutes of reading and rescheduling. I got into the habit of returning to my desk between meetings and syncing my Palm, then going where the Palm told me to go. It was only a matter of days before I learned how to adjust the notes settings so now the meeting agenda was showing up on the Palm too. Then later I figured out how to add the contact list. I would now show up in meetings with the agenda. If someone wasn't there and we needed to call them, I had their number. I was hooked on the Palm. Several weeks later I presented to management on the Palm and the other five Palm V's were quickly appropriated.

In 2002 Edmark was closed, all 250 plus employees let go. I was asked to stay for another four months, which I did. With that chapter over I started to think about the future; what to do with myself. When thinking about my future and what I was passionate about, the Palm rose to the top of the list. I started Smart Box Design in February of 2003 and I have been making PDA software ever since.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Bugs in Games

Why do games have bugs? Or for that matter, why does any software have bugs? I remember when I first started working in QA and I was in a training session the teacher said, building software is unique. You can build a brick wall, take out a brick and the wall will stand. With software you leave out a line of code, put a comma in a wrong spot, or misspell a word, and you get a bug. This is why we test.

Word Watch was released after the longest and largest testing effort to date. Despite its small appearance on a PDA it is very sophisticated and complicated code. Yet all the thorough testing that was done, a bug made its presence known. In Word Watch after you finish a game you can tap anywhere to go on. Or so we thought. In some situations if you tap on the graffiti area and you have reached a level that will put you on the High Score screen the game will freeze, on the High Score screen. But didn't we test for that? We sure did, several times. But not all Palms are equal. In fact the code we used was in all our games and has never presented a problem. But combined with a recent device and a newer Palm OS the game hangs.

It took some time to figure out the exact combination, but once found it was fixed and verified. The fix resulted in a new build of Word Watch which can be downloaded off our web site.

Have you ever run across a bug in a game? Post a comment about it.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

A New Word Game

Word Watch is a new game by Smart Box Design that was released today, July 28, 2005. But how did it come about? Jim and I almost a year ago were playing with Scrabble tiles trying to invent a new word game. Ted has expressed an interest in an anagram game and Jim and I thought we could make one that would be in line with Smart Box Design's philosophy. All our games have several elements of strategy and thinking skills.

Jim lined up some tiles and made a word. Then for fun he mixed up seven letter tiles and challenged me to make a word he was thinking of. I couldn't. But I did make a shorter word using five of the tiles. I slid the remaining two tiles toward me to move them out of the way. Jim then slid over some more tiles and challenged me again to make a word. I was successful this time. Then at the same time, we both noticed that the word just made could be extended by adding the two tiles I had previously pulled down. The light bulb went off. And the result was Word Watch.

Word Watch is the only anagram game that I know of, where you can still be successfully even if you don't always know the word. In Word Watch if you can't make the full length word your longest made word is evaluated and any remaining letters become penalty tiles. Then a new round starts with a new word. If you can solve that word you are rewarded with a bonus round. If you can make a new word with the penalty tiles and the letters of the word you just solved, then the used penalty tiles are removed. All this happens while the Word Watch timer is winding down.

Give Word Watch a try and let me know what you think of it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Casual Games Conference

The first annual Casual Games Conference was held in Seattle on 7/19 and 7/20. The purpose of the conference is for developers and publishers to share information, which would result in better games and distribution. Some of the topics covered were Creative Plagiarism, Contracts and Royalties, Appealing to the Casual Gamer, and Advergaming. As a developer for Palm and Window Mobile games I attended to learn more about the online and PC download market.

Two of the sessions riveted me, Advergaming and Contracts and Royalties. Advergaming is advertising in games. Advertisers imaginations are boundless when it comes to ways of pushing products. This ranges from overt ads in the games, such as an add for a fast food chain in the background of a virtual racing track to placing a product, like name brand candy, into the scene of a simulation game. One Advergamer talked about making an entire game with the product as the main character, think Nickelodeon. Contracts and Royalties was fun as it was like being at a Star Wars movie. The developers cheered when a publisher presented a favorable revenue sharing scheme and booed when they didn't. I was very impressed with all the different methods publishers have come up with distributing and selling. The most impressive was charging for game parts. Let's say you are in a game but you need a special wand to continue, not problem, buy one. I love going to a conference and learning how other people think and clearly these publishers have some unique ideas.

As a Palm and Windows Mobile developer I was acutely aware of the lack of representation. When I approached several companies, such as Microsoft, they did not have a mobile platform representative. I was disappointed. A tie-in with a PDA like a Treo 650 would be fantastic. A user could be playing a head to head game on their Treo 650 against a PC user. Or a player could start a game on their PC, like Bejeweled, stop 1/2 way through, sync to their PDA and continue the game on the bus. Mobile phones were discussed, usually in the context of how expensive and difficult it is to develop across so many models with specific and non-conforming requirements. Of course these problems are minimized on Palms and to a lesser degree on Window Mobile devices.

Overall I enjoyed the energy of the conference and meeting up with old friends but wished for additional coverage for PDAs. I think the publishers are missing an opportunity to show-off their games and the mobile nature of PDAs can be viewed as free advertisement.

Friday, July 15, 2005

I Love Mobile Word Games

I did not learn to read until I was six. This was not from a lack of effort on my part or determination from my teachers or family. I simply did not understand the concept until I was six. Many children learn to read at an earlier age some later. But the one advantage of learning to read at six is the experience is still crystal clear in my mind.

I remember sitting in the dinning room struggling through a book, when suddenly the word I was sounding out made perfect sense, and the next one, and the next one. Over the next 30 minutes the book came alive to me. Reading word by word was quickly replaced by reading an entire sentence. Sure, I was still struggling with words that were difficult to sound out like cough or laughter, but it finally clicked. At that moment, I fell in love with reading.

My love for reading turned to a love of word games. All word games. Crossword puzzles, word searches, spelling bees, and puns. Not everyone loves word games, some even hate them. One of my goals as president of Smart Box Design is to create word games that everyone can love. How am I doing this? By creating word games that players of any age or ability can be successful at. WordPop! is an example of this. You can succeed by either making small or large words, simple or complex, clever or plain. It does not matter. There are plenty of incentives to make harder words and the interface encourages experimentation and exploration. I get many emails from players commenting on words they have discovered by playing WordPop!

Word Watch continues this formula. Word Watch is unique in that players do not have to solve the jumble to keep playing. All other jumble or word scramble games end the second a user can not figure out the target word. Word Watch gives credit for making the best word even if it does not use all the letters. Again, no other jumble game allows this. Of course solving the jumble puzzle results in a higher reward. But players should be rewarded for making the best word they can and the more they play the better their word making ability becomes. The game is fun because as long as the player uses their imagination to create words they will continue to win. Word Watch has 18 levels each one encouraging the user to try harder and harder. It becomes very addictive very quickly.

I encourage you to try word games such as WordPop! and WordWatch. They are fun, relaxing, engaging and just might have you fall in love with word games too.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Future of Mobile Gaming

I am a contributing writer to PDAGround. Once a month Andrew sends out a topic to several developers. Below is this months questions and my responses.

Questions: Will Pocket PC or Palm OS games still be popular given all the latest comptetition. Also it is thought the future of mobile games belongs to Java . What do you think about this situation? Will graphics accelerator help to PDA change these ideas?

Response: I don't think people purchase PDA's to play games, they buy a PDA for the organization tools and the fact it can run games is a huge bonus. I don't see that niche going away. Additionally the Pocket PC is making giants steps in supporting graphics and sound plus the tools for developers keep improving. This is allowing developers to make a traditional desktop game and a mobile version simultaneously. In regards to Java, some developers love it others hate it. Java is positioning itself as the development environment to use as it is supported across such varied hardware, e.g., phones, PCs, and PDAs. However, experience has shown that Java apps need a lot of customization on each hardware type which puts it at a disadvantage. Flash and .net are both being pushed hard by their respective companies to compete with Java and I personally am a big fan of Flash. Flash phones are gaining momentum positioning it very well especially when you consider that over 90% of PCs already have Flash installed.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Blogging Starts Today

I've been running Smart Box Design for over two years now. Smart Box Design developes and publishes premier games for the mobile market, including Palms and Pocket PCs. I will be posting product reviews and my opinion of the industry.