GameTimer mentioned on “The Spiel” podcast

March 7, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: GameTimer 

GameTimer got a nice mention on Episode 171 of “The Spiel” podcast, a show about games and the people who love them. (If you want to listen, here is a direct link to Episode 171, and the discussion of GameTimer starts at about 2h20m.) The hosts Stephen and Dave think it’s a good idea to help speed up the “analysis paralysis” player. Thanks for the review!

GameTimer – Getting closer to a “Beta Release”

January 24, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: GameTimer, iOS 

As I’m not working on a project in January, I was able to spend some more time on GameTimer. To recap, GameTimer is a multi-person timer allowing you to measure how much time each player spends during a board game.

Progress

I’ve spent a lot of time designing the interface. A good part of it was to make it “look good” (and the associated exploration of Core Graphics), but also to make the interface easy to use and suited to the task of measuring time during a game without undue distraction. For example, the first workable version used portrait orientation, and there wasn’t a good way to make the buttons large enough – so I switched to landscape only.

Here’s a look at the current state of affairs:

GameTimer 13 01 24

Each player has his button (similar to people sitting around a table to play a game), displaying his name and the time he has used so far. The screenshot shows that there is some way of coloring the buttons with the color each players uses in the game. (The screenshot shows no color, wood, white and black, but I’ve also coded red, orange, green and blue and can easily add more colors if needed.)

The game can be started by tapping the ‘Start’ button:

GameTimer 13 01 24 active

A few things happen:

  • Player1’s button gets a green glow to indicate that it’s his turn. Also, his time display starts to advance.
  • There is a subtler glow for Player2’s button to indicate that he is the next player. (In the first screenshot this “next player glow” was shown for Player1 to indicate that the game would start with him.)
  • The ‘Start’ button turns into a ‘Stop’ button to suspend timing. (Then the active player becomes the next player and when tapping Start again, the game continues with him.)

There are two ways to advance to the next player: You can tap Player1 or the ‘Next’ button. Both actions make Player2 the active player and Player3 the next player. After Player2 finishes her move, you can either tap Player2 or the ‘Next’ button – the ‘Next’ button works for every player. (I’m also thinking about handling random order, but haven’t found the right interaction for it.)

Limitations

Of course there are quite a few obvious limitations (and some not so obvious):

  • No way to reset the clocks (This is next on my list – the workaround “kill the app” is not exactly user friendly ;-). )
  • No countdown schemes (For now, the app just measure how much time is used, but I want to use different count down schemes. Also need way to indicate time is up.)
  • iPhone only (I want to develop a universal app. Actually, the iPad may be better suited to the use case: The iPad may be placed on the table along the game board, and each player has to press his own button when his move is done)
  • Can’t set the players’  names (The buttons should display the name of the associated player. I also need a way to choose a color for the player. There will have to be another view for this.)
  • Fixed number of players (Currently, there are four players, but the final product should work for two to four players, maybe up to six players on the iPad.)
There is a number of smaller issues that I also have to address (e.g. iPhone5 support, help screens, avoid lock-screen) before being able to release.

Plans

Nonetheless, I’d like to get some user feedback as soon as possible. If you are interested, you can play around with the current state of the app (just send me an email and I’ll make it available to you.) The route that I’ll probably take is to release a minimal version of the GameTimer through the AppStore as soon as possible. While the app is not completely polished, I could make it available for free, get the apps into the hands of potential users (more than in a “private” beta test), get some feedback and may also be able to generate a few positive reviews. Have you tried out this strategy or had success with other approaches? Please let me know in the comments!

Next iPhone app: GameTimer

January 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: GameTimer, iOS 

Recently, I’ve started to work on my next iPhone app. The working title is “GameTimer”. It’s purpose is to keep track of how much time each player in a multi-person board game uses for his/her moves.

Game Timer: Usage Scenario

GameTimer is very much a “scratch-you-own-itch” app: My wife and I love to play board games with friends, especially strategy games that require some thought and do not purely rely on luck. (Some classics in this category are “The Settlers of Catan”, “PowerGrid”, “Carcassone”, or “Ticket to Ride”. In Germany, we also have a series called “Game of the Year” that makes it easy to identify new, exciting games.) One constant issue is that someone takes much more time than the others to make his move. (I’m saying “his” on purpose, as it’s mainly the men that get accused of this behavior.) 

Inspiration: Chess Clocks

When I was younger, I played a lot of chess. In competitive games, you always play with a chess clock such as this:

  ChessClock

The following description is take from the wikipedia article on game clocks:

game clock consists of two adjacent clocks and buttons to stop one clock while starting the other, such that the two component clocks never run simultaneously. Game clocks are used in two-player games where the players move in turn. The purpose is to keep track of the total time each player takes for his or her own moves, and ensure that neither player overly delays the game.

Chess clocks also have a mechanical way of indicating when “time is up” (called a “flag”) which is raised by the minute hand and then falls to indicate the exact moment the player’s time has expired. Chess has also come up with different timing schemes, such as “blitz chess” (every player has 5 minutes for the full game) or tournament versions (40 moves in two hours, then 20 moves in one hour) and interesting time control variations.

Extending the idea

It would be relatively simple to code the app-equivalent of a chess clock (and in fact there are some apps of that kind in the app store), but the main disadvantage of a chess clock is that it can only be used for exactly two players, so it can’t be used for the usual strategy games, typically with four players.

So the idea of the GameTimer app is to provide a way of controlling the time in games with two and more players in the form of an iOS app. I’m in the very early stages of designing and implementing the game, but here is a first draft of what the user interface may look like:

GameTimerDraft

Each player is represented by a button with his name, also showing how much time she has used already (or how much time she has left). Some adornments may show whose turn it is and who is next. By tapping the button, a player (or a designated “timekeeper”) can indicate that his move is finished and it’s the next players turn. I will play around a bit with the interface, maybe I’ll also provide a large “Next” button to switch to the next player. Together with my friends I also want to determine if using a single timekeeper works well, or if each player should finish his move on his own. (With a physical chess clock, each player “presses the clock” after making his move on the board.) Obviously there also has to be a way to set up player names, the time control to be used etc. 

So there are quite a few open questions to be answered before I can release a finished app, and I’m very much looking forward to work through them in the next weeks. If you want to keep informed about my progress, please have a look at the marketing page for GameTimer and subscribe to my mailing list. Of course, I also welcome any feedback on my idea!