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Graduate Creates Popular iPhone Game

Boost 3D, a new iPhone game by DigiPen alumnus Jonathan Lanis, has been earning some well-deserved praise lately.

Apple identified it as a “Hot New Game” for the iPhone and named it one of the best apps of 2009, while touchArcade, a popular website “keeping you in touch with the latest in iPhone gaming,” featured it as one of the best games for October.

Like many other tunnel-racer games, the player races down a three-dimensional tunnel, dodging obstacles while racking up points. However, many have noted that Lanis’s game stands above similar iPhone games due to its visually stunning graphics and unique gameplay feel.

DigiPen recently caught up with Lanis, who answered some questions about the game and its development. A 2009 graduate of DigiPen’s RTIS degree program, Lanis is trying to take advantage of the vast opportunities in the ever-expanding mobile marketplace.

“Developing for the iPhone was so compelling to me that I just had to give it a shot,” he explains. We recently corresponded with Lanis to discuss his experience in making this game.

Describe your development process for this game.

"It was one of those “Aha!” moments that really ended up making the game unique."

JL: Well, I sat down and started coding. My first goal was to get familiar with OpenGL ES. So I booted up Visual Studio, started with a blank project, and began to do things step-by-step. I originally had a vague idea of some sort of flying game, but I never bothered to write anything down. The closest I ever got to a GDD [game design document] were a few random thoughts. The whole thing was just an experiment/learning process more than anything else. When I first implemented the obstacles and tested the game on the device, I realized that it was way too difficult. I kept crashing because I didn’t have enough time to react. Then the idea of lighting up the path for each obstacle suddenly occurred to me. It was one of those “Aha!” moments that really ended up making the game unique.

Why did you choose to develop this game for the iPhone platform?

JL: Because it’s exciting. Headlines like “Developer Goldmine” having been popping up everywhere. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that every other person you see on the street has one. It’s a cultural phenomenon. When you see a company like Electronic Arts competing with a game that a teenager could have developed over a few weekends — that’s incredible. To me, that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago. The iPhone has completely transformed the indie marketplace in a way that nobody could have anticipated.

What advice do you have for others who might be considering developing an iPhone game?

"My advice is to start working on a prototype using the tools you’re most comfortable with."

JL: On the technical side, developing for the iPhone is very straightforward, even for your typical RTIS sophomore. I would say that 95 percent of the code base for Boost was written in C++ and OpenGL ES, with the remaining 5 percent being Obj-C (mostly for tasks like audio output and registering touch events).

The reason I say this is to point out that you don’t need to buy a new programming book. You can use what you’re already familiar with and fill in the missing pieces using the SDK documentation. The hardest initial hurdle for most people to get over is the fact that you need to develop on a Mac (strictly speaking, OSX running on an Intel processor). But if you’re eager to get started, you don’t need to shell out $600 right away. My advice is to start working on a prototype using the tools you’re most comfortable with. In fact, most of the development for Boost was done inside Visual Studio.

What do you think your next (or current) game project might be?

JL: I have another idea that may see the light of day, if I’m lucky, but right now my focus remains with Boost. There’s still much more potential left in that game that I can’t pass up. For example, I’m preparing to port it over to the Android platform. All I’ll say is, that if I do make another game, it will probably involve online multiplayer features.

More about Boost 3D:

Lanis’ developer blog (latest news about Boost 3D)
JonanthanLanis.com (see what Lanis worked on as a DigiPen student)
Gameplay trailer
iTunes App Store

Reviews: 

touchArcade
iTunesGames
YouTube video reviews