Community Spotlight: Neon Run21

Card games are among the best-selling apps on mobile devices. Solitaire, Poker, and Blackjack are some of the easiest games to pick up and play on-the-go, as evident by gamers and non-gamers alike normally carrying around at least one iteration of a card game on their phone. Kevin King (Shacker NeonGames_Kevin) decided to capitalize on this idea and create a twist on the traditional blackjack formula. "I had worked in the console gaming industry for about a decade as a programmer and was disappointed that all of the games I had made could not be played by non-gamers," said King. "The interfaces were cryptic and the gameplay was twitch based that required years of experience with a controller to even be playable. I wanted to develop a title anyone, not just gamers, could pick up in a minute -- something that would be accessible for people with motor skill impairments without removing the depth, strategy, and challenge of the game." focalbox King's game is Neon Run21, an iOS game that combines elements of solitaire and multi-hand blackjack to create a whole new experience. King focuses less on the simulation element and more on dynamic personalities and environments -- primarily, neon visuals. "Instead of going the standard casino game route by having fake currencies and simulated gambling, we spent a lot of time putting personality behind our dealers and environments," King explained. "We tried to concoct a fun and dynamic universe in 'Neon, Nevada' where you try to beat dealers at finely tuned levels rather than amass a larger bankroll playing the same game over and over." In creating his world, King talks about learning from a number of other game developers. "I've always appreciated the work that non-American developers have done in creating fictional areas such as [the Scottish] DMA Designs' Liberty City, Heavy Rain's Philadelphia, and Remedy's depictions of New York and Washington State. There always seems to be an aspect of American culture better recognized in those games than in games developed here in the States." Neon Run21 has undergone a number of improvements and patchwork since its original release. The Version 1.1 update, which is coming in September, will switch the emphasis of the game's scoring system towards collecting stars, while also offering improved visuals and multiple level select screens of hand drawn art to display player progression. Version 1.2 will add content, including a marathon mode with Game Center achievements and leaderboards. King is most excited, however, for the 1.3 update. "When I started developing this game, the iPhone was just announced so our bone count, memory limits, and polygon budget was set much lower than what the current iOS devices can process," he explained. "In addition we used a lot of the original openGL interfaces to the device that put harsh limitations on what could be offloaded to the GPU. Now that the platform has matured and every iOS device supported in the App Store has significant processing power, we'll finally be able to allow our artist to raise the quality of our 3D dealers to resemble something closer to console quality, rather than an N64 look that they've been associated with. We're also remastering the audio, as I did the final pass on Foley, which I have no training in. Our raw assets are great, and the guy who created them is going to be tuning them in-game with our tools so that combined with our orchestrated music we should have one of the best sounding games in the mobile market."

Three updates are already planned.

A large part of the improvements made to Neon Run21 are because of feedback from Shackers. King has personally replied to every Shackmessage, making sure to thank SeanJuan04 in particular. Many of the messages have been constructive response to negative feedback, which has allowed King to make marked improvements. "The largest complaint we've received was about the low graphical quality of the dealers compared to the table," King said. "The table was enhanced later in development while I kept an old rendering pipeline meant for older devices for our characters. While it was a large investment to get the original pipeline up, it's aged significantly since its inception when there were practically zero 3D games on the iOS especially in the cards category. The new system will take our characters from a N64 like quality closer to somewhere in-between PS2 and PS3 or in-between Xbox and Xbox 360. I'm really excited in the coming weeks to see firsthand what these changes will bring to the game as well as our player's reaction when the game updates in the App Store." King has been hard at work on Neon Run21 for months, so he's seen the obstacles and pitfalls that face would-be developers. He has some advice to offer anyone looking to get into iOS development. "Start simple," he said. "The game needs to be playable from early on and don't grow your team beyond the minimum of what's necessary. Use offsite source control, and collaborate in-person as much as possible. Success will not come overnight so enjoy the journey of development. I've released over a dozen games in my career and the payoff of release never matches key moments during development that I bonded with my team. Most projects that I've seen fail are because they were trying to make a game beyond their abilities, or because the team suffered from not having a clear direction in engineering. Having defined job roles and a fully solidified design and technical design from the start keeps everyone on the same vision, as opposed to a project leader who everyone has to guess what they want from the team week to week. Neon Games created a Production Bible similar to how television shows work from its beginning, and it's kept us on the path to launch rather than spinning in circles and missing release windows." Look for free content patches to hit Neon Run21 in the coming weeks. Also, keep an eye out for a new title tentatively set to release November called Neon 21Squared, which King describes as a combination between Sudoku and Blackjack.