24 November 2014

Sky Force 2014 Reimagined for Android TV

By Jamil Moledina, Games Strategic Partnerships Lead, Google Play

In the coming months, we’ll be seeing more media players, like the recently released Nexus Player, and TVs from partners with Android TV built-in hit the market. While there’s plenty of information available about the technical aspects of adapting your app or game to Android TV, it’s also useful to consider design changes to optimize for the living room. That way you can provide lasting engagement for existing fans as well as new players discovering your game in this new setting. Here are three things one developer did, and how you can do them too.

Infinite Dreams is an indie studio out of Poland, co-founded by hardcore game fans Tomasz Kostrzewski and Marek Wyszyński. With Sky Force 2014 TV, they brought their hit arcade style game to Android TV in a particularly clever way. The mobile-based version of Sky Force 2014 reimaged the 2004 classic by introducing stunning 3D visuals, and a free-to-download business model using in-app purchasing and competitive tournaments to increase engagement. In bringing Sky Force 2014 to TV, they found ways to factor in the play style, play sessions, and real-world social context of the living room, while paying homage to the title’s classic arcade heritage. As Wyszyński puts it, “We decided not to take any shortcuts, we wanted to make the game feel like it was designed to be played on TV.”

Orientation

For starters, Sky Force 2014 is played vertically on a smartphone or tablet, also known as portrait mode. In the game, you’re piloting a powerful fighter plane flying up the screen over a scrolling landscape, targeting waves of steampunk enemies coming down at you. You can see far enough up the screen, enabling you to plan your attacks and dodge enemies in advance.
Vertical play on the mobile version
When bringing the game to TV, the quickest approach would have been to preserve that vertical orientation of the gameplay, by pillarboxing the field of play.

With Sky Force 2014, Infinite Dreams considered their options, and decided to scale the gameplay horizontally, in landscape mode, and recompose the view and combat elements. You’re still aiming up the screen, but the world below and the enemies coming at you are filling out a much wider field of view. They also completely reworked the UI to be comfortably operated with a gamepad or simple remote. From Wyszyński’s point of view, “We really didn't want to just add support for remote and gamepad on top of what we had because we felt it would not work very well.” This approach gives the play experience a much more immersive field of view, putting you right there in the middle of the action. More information on designing for landscape orientation can be found here.

Multiplayer

Like all mobile game developers building for the TV, Infinite Dreams had to figure out how to adapt touch input onto a controller. Sky Force 2014 TV accepts both remote control and gamepad controller input. Both are well-tuned, and fighter handling is natural and responsive, but Infinite Dreams didn’t stop there. They took the opportunity to add cooperative multiplayer functionality to take advantage of the wider field of view from a TV. In this way, they not only scaled the visuals of the game to the living room, but also factored in that it’s a living room where people play together. Given the extended lateral patterns of advancing enemies, multiplayer strategies emerge, like “divide and conquer,” or “I got your back” for players of different skill levels. More information about adding controller support to your Android game can be found here, handling controller actions here, and mapping each player’s paired controllers here.
Players battle side by side in the Android TV version

Business Model

Infinite Dreams is also experimenting with monetization and extending play session length. The TV version replaces several $1.99 in-app purchases and timers with a try-before-you-buy model which charges $4.99 after playing the first 2 levels for free. We’ve seen this single purchase model prove successful with other arcade action games like Mediocre’s Smash Hit for smartphones and tablets, in which the purchase unlocks checkpoint saves. We’re also seeing strong arcade action games like Vector Unit’s Beach Buggy Racing and Ubisoft’s Hungry Shark Evolution retain their existing in-app purchase models for Android TV. More information on setting up your games for these varied business models can be found here. We’ll be tracking and sharing these variations in business models on Android TV, including variations in premium, as the Android TV platform grows.

Reflecting on the work involved in making these changes, Wyszyński says, “From a technical point of view the process was not really so difficult – it took us about a month of work to incorporate all of the features and we are very happy with the results.” Take a moment to check out Sky Force 2014 TV on a Nexus Player and the other games in the Android TV collection on Google Play, most of which made no design changes and still play well on a TV. Consider your own starting point, take a look at the Android TV section on our developer blog, and build the version of your game that would be most satisfying to players on the couch.

20 November 2014

musiXmatch drives user engagement through innovation

Posted by Leticia Lago, Google Play team

musiXmatch is an app that offers Android users the unique and powerful feature FloatingLyrics. FloatingLyrics pops up a floating window showing synched lyrics as users listen to tracks on their favorite player and music services. It’s achieved through a seamless integration with intents on the platform, something that’s technically possible only on Android.

As a result musiXmatch has seen “a dramatic increase in terms of engagement’, says founder Max Ciociola, “which has been two times more active users and even two times more the average time they spend in the app.”

The ability to deliver lyrics to a range of different devices — such as Chromecast, Android TV, and Android Wear — is creating opportunities for musiXmatch. It’s helping them turn their app into a smart companion for their users and getting them closer to their goal of reaching 100 million people.

In the following video, Max and Android engineer Sebastiano Gottardo talk about the unique capabilities that Android offers to musiXmatch:

To learn about achieving great user engagement and retention and reaching more users through different form factors, be sure to check out these resources:

  • Convert installs to active users — Watch this video to hear from Matteo Vallone, Partner Development Manager for Google Play, about the best practices in engaging and retaining app users using intents, identity, context, and rich notifications as well as delivering a cross-platform user experience.
  • Expanding to new form factors: Tablet, Wear & TV — Watch this panel discussion with Google experts talking about cross-platform opportunities and answering developer questions.

19 November 2014

Chinese Developers Can Now Offer Paid Applications to Google Play Users in More Than 130 countries

By Ellie Powers, product manager for Google Play

Google Play is the largest digital store for Android users to discover and purchase their favorite mobile app and games, and the ecosystem is continuing to grow globally. Over the past year, we’ve expanded the list of countries where app developers can sign up to be merchants on Google Play, totaling 60 countries, including Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, Pakistan, Puerto Rico, Qatar and Venezuela most recently.

As part of that continued effort, we’re excited to announce merchant support in China, enabling local developers to export and sell their apps to Google Play users in more than 130 countries. Chinese developers can now offer both free and paid applications through various monetization models, including in-app purchasing and subscriptions. For revenue generated on Google Play, developers will receive payment to their Chinese bank accounts via USD wire transfers.

If you develop Android apps in China and want to start distributing your apps to a global audience through Google Play, visit play.google.com/apps/publish and register as a developer. If you want to sell apps and in-app products, you'll need to also sign up for a Google Wallet merchant account, which is available on the “Revenue” page in the Google Play Developer Console. After you’ve uploaded your apps, you can set prices in the Developer Console and later receive reports on your revenue. You’ll receive your developer payouts via wire transfer. For more details, please visit our developer help center.

We look forward to continuing to roll out Google Play support to developers in many more countries around the world.

中国开发者可以向全球130个国家的Google Play用户提供付费应用啦

发表者:Ellie Powers, Google Play产品经理

Google Play是一个可让Android用户发现和购买他们喜爱的移动应用程序和游戏的全球最大的应用商店,这个生态系统在全球迅速成长。过去一年中,我们已经扩展到60个国家,让应用程序开发人员可以注册成为 Google Play的商家,其中新近支持的国家包括黎巴嫩、约旦、阿曼、巴基斯坦、波多黎各、卡塔尔和委内瑞拉。

作为持续改进 Google Play努力的一部分,我们很高兴地宣布在中国增加了对商家的支持,让中国的开发者能售卖应用程序到130个国家的 Google Play 用户。中国的开发者现在可以提供通过各种盈利模式的免费和付费应用,包括应用内购买和订阅。在 Google Play 产生的营收将通过美元电汇的方式支付给开发者的中国的银行账户。

如果你在中国开发Android应用程序,并希望通过 Google Play 把应用程序推广到全球,请登录play.google.com/apps/publish 并建立你的 Google Play 开发者账户。如果你想售卖付费的应用程序和应用程序内的产品,则需要再注册一个Google 电子钱包商家帐户,通过Google Play开发者控制台里的”营收”页面进行设置。上传应用程序后,你可以通过开发者控制台设定价格,之后就可以收到营收报告,你将会通过电汇的方式获得收入。

我们将继续增加更多 Google Play 商家支持的国家,敬请关注。

更多详情,请访问我们的开发者帮助中心

Coding Android TV games is easy as pie

Posted by Alex Ames, Fun Propulsion Labs at Google*

We’re pleased to announce Pie Noon, a simple game created to demonstrate multi-player support on the Nexus Player, an Android TV device. Pie Noon is an open source, cross-platform game written in C++ which supports:

  • Up to 4 players using Bluetooth controllers.
  • Touch controls.
  • Google Play Games Services sign-in and leaderboards.
  • Other Android devices (you can play on your phone or tablet in single-player mode, or against human adversaries using Bluetooth controllers).

Pie Noon serves as a demonstration of how to use the SDL library in Android games as well as Google technologies like Flatbuffers, Mathfu, fplutil, and WebP.

  • Flatbuffers provides efficient serialization of the data loaded at run time for quick loading times. (Examples: schema files and loading compiled Flatbuffers)
  • Mathfu drives the rendering code, particle effects, scene layout, and more, allowing for efficient mathematical operations optimized with SIMD. (Example: particle system)
  • fplutil streamlines the build process for Android, making iteration faster and easier. Our Android build script makes use of it to easily compile and run on on Android devices.
  • WebP compresses image assets more efficiently than jpg or png file formats, allowing for smaller APK sizes.

You can download the game in the Play Store and the latest open source release from our GitHub page. We invite you to learn from the code to see how you can implement these libraries and utilities in your own Android games. Take advantage of our discussion list if you have any questions, and don’t forget to throw a few pies while you’re at it!

* Fun Propulsion Labs is a team within Google that's dedicated to advancing gaming on Android and other platforms.

18 November 2014

Begin developing with Android Auto

Posted by Daniel Holle, Product Manager

At Google I/O back in June, we provided a preview of Android Auto. Today, we’re excited to announce the availability of our first APIs for building Auto-enabled apps for audio and messaging. Android apps can now be extended to the car in a way that is optimized for the driving experience.

For users, this means they simply connect their Android handheld to a compatible vehicle and begin utilizing a car-optimized Android experience that works with the car’s head unit display, steering wheel buttons, and more. For developers, the APIs and UX guidelines make it easy to provide a simple way for users to get the information they need while on the road. As an added bonus, the Android Auto APIs let developers easily extend their existing apps targeting Android 5.0 (API level 21) or higher to work in the car without having to worry about vehicle-specific hardware differences. This gives developers wide reach across manufacturers, model and regions, by just developing with one set of APIs and UX standards.

There are two use cases that Android Auto supports today:

  • Audio apps that expose content for users to browse and allow audio playback from the car, such as music, podcasts, news, etc.
  • Messaging apps that receive incoming notifications, read messages aloud, and send replies via voice from the car.

To help you get started with Android Auto, check out our Getting Started guide. It’s important to note that while the APIs are available today, apps extended with Android Auto cannot be published quite yet. More app categories will be supported in the future, providing more opportunities for developers and drivers of Android Auto. We encourage you to join the Android Auto Developers Google+ community to stay up-to-date on the latest news and timelines.

We’ve already started working with partners to develop experiences for Android Auto: iHeartRadio, Joyride, Kik, MLB.com, NPR, Pandora, PocketCasts, Songza, SoundCloud, Spotify, Stitcher, TextMe, textPlus, TuneIn, Umano, and WhatsApp. If you happen to be in the Los Angeles area, stop by the LA Auto Show through November 30 and visit us in the Hyundai booth to take Android Auto and an app or two for a test drive.

Keeping Your Saved Games in the Cloud

Posted by Todd Kerpelman, Developer Advocate

Saved Games Are the Future!

I think most of us have at least one or two games we play obsessively. Me? I'm a Sky Force 2014 guy. But maybe you're into matching colorful objects, battling monsters, or helping avians with their rage management issues. Either way, there's probably some game where you've spent hours upon hours upgrading your squad, reaching higher and higher levels, or unlocking every piece of bonus content in the game.

Now imagine losing all of that progress when you decide to get a new phone. Or reinstall your game. Yikes!

That's why, when Google Play Games launched, one of the very first features we included was the ability for users to save their game to the cloud using a service called the AppState API. For developers who didn't need an entire server-based infrastructure to run their game, but didn't want to lose players when they upgraded their devices, this feature was a real life-saver.

But many developers wanted even more. With AppState, you were limited to 4 slots of 256k of data each, and for some games, this just wasn't enough. So this past year at Google I/O, we launched an entirely new Saved Games feature, powered by Google Drive. This gave you huge amounts of space (up to 3MB per saved game with unlimited save slots), the ability to save a screenshot and metadata with your saved games, and some nice features like showing your player's saved games directly in the Google Play app.

...But AppState is Yesterday's News

Since the introduction of Saved Games, we've seen enough titles happily using the service and heard enough positive feedback from developers that we're convinced that Saved Games is the better offering and the way to go in the future. With that in mind, we've decided to start deprecating the old cloud save system using AppState and are encouraging everybody who's still using it to switch over to the new Saved Games feature (referred to in our libraries as "Snapshots").

What does this mean for you as a game developer?

If you haven't yet added Saved Games to your game, now would be the perfect time! The holidays are coming up and your players are going to start getting new devices over the next couple of months. Wouldn't it be great if they could take your game's progress with them? Unless, I guess, "not retaining users" is part of your business plan.

If you're already using the new Saved Games / Snapshot system, put your feet up and relax. None of these changes affect you. Okay, now put your feet down, and get back to work. You probably have a seasonal update to work on, don't you?

If you're using the old AppState system, you should start migrating your player's data over to the new Saved Games service. Luckily, it's easy to include both systems in the same game, so you should be able to migrate your users' data with their ever knowing. The process would probably work a little something like this:

  • Enable the new Saved Game service for your game by
    • Adding the Drive.SCOPE_APPFOLDER scope to your list of scopes in your GoogleApiClient.
    • Turning on Saved Games for your game in the Google Play Developer Console.
  • Next, when your app tries to load the user's saved game
    • First see if any saved game exists using the new Saved Games service. If there is, go ahead and use it.
    • Otherwise, grab their saved game from the AppState service.
  • When you save the user's game back to the cloud, save it using the new Saved Games service.
  • And that should be it! The next time your user loads up your game, it will find their saved data in the new Saved Games service, and they'll be all set.
  • We've built a sample app that demonstrates how to perform these steps in your application, so we encourage you to check it out.

In a few months, we will be modifying the old AppState service to be read-only. You'll still be able to read your user's old cloud save games and transfer them to the new Saved Games service, but you'll no longer be able to save games using the old service. We are evaluating early Q2 of 2015 to make this change, which should give you enough time to push your "start using Saved Games" update to the world.

If you want to find out more about Saved Games and how they work, feel free to review our documentation, our sample applications, or our Game On! videos. And we look forward to many more hours of gaming, no matter how many times we switch devices.

17 November 2014

Google Play services 6.5

Posted by Ian Lake, Developer Advocate

To offer more seamless integration of Google products within your app, we’re excited to start the rollout of the latest version of Google Play services.

Google Play services 6.5 includes new features in Google Maps, Google Drive and Google Wallet as well as the recently launched Google Fit API. We are also providing developers with more granular control over which Google Play services APIs your app depends on to help you maintain a lean app.

Google Maps

We’re making it easier to get directions to places from your app! The Google Maps Android API now offers a map toolbar to let users open Google Maps and immediately get directions and turn by turn navigation to the selected marker. This map toolbar will show by default when you compile against Google Play services 6.5.

In addition, there is also a new ‘lite mode’ map option, ideal for situations where you want to provide a number of smaller maps, or a map that is so small that meaningful interaction is impractical, such as a thumbnail in a list. A lite mode map is a bitmap image of a map at a specified location and zoom level.

In lite mode, markers and shapes are drawn client-side on top of the static image, so you still have full control over them. Lite mode supports all of the map types, the My Location layer, and a subset of the functionality of a fully-interactive map. Users can tap on the map to launch Google Maps when they need more details.

The Google Maps Android API also exposes a new getMapAsync(OnMapReadyCallback) method to MapFragment and MapView which will notify you exactly when the map is ready. This serves as a replacement for the now deprecated getMap() method.

We’re also exposing the Google Maps for Android app intents available to your apps including displaying the map, searching, starting turn by turn navigation, and opening Street View so you can build upon the familiar and powerful maps already available on the device.

Drive

You can now add both public and application private custom file properties to a Drive file which can be used to build very efficient search queries and allow apps to save information which is guaranteed to persist across editing by other apps.

We’ve also made it even easier to make syncing your files to Drive both user and battery friendly with the ability to control when files are uploaded by network type or charging status and cancel pending uploads.

Google Wallet

In addition to the existing ‘Buy with Google’ button available to quickly purchase goods & services using Google Wallet, this release adds a ‘Donate with Google’ button for providing the same ease of use in collecting donations.

Google Fit

The Google Fit SDK was recently officially released as part of Google Play services and can be used to super-charge your fitness apps with a simple API for working with sensors, recording activity data, and reading the user’s aggregated fitness data.

In this release, we’ve made it easier for developers to add activity segments (predefined time periods of running, walking, cycling, etc) when inserting sessions, making it easy to support pauses or multiple activity type workouts. We’ll also be adding additional samples to help kick-start your Google Fit integration.

Granular Dependency Management

As we’ve continued to add more APIs across the wide range of Google services, it can be hard to maintain a lean app, particularly if you're only using a portion of the available APIs. Now with Google Play services 6.5, you’ll be able to depend only on a minimal common library and the exact APIs your app needs. This makes it very lightweight to get started with Google Play services.

SDK Coming Soon!

We’ll be rolling out Google Play services 6.5 over the next few days, and we’ll update this blog post, publish the documentation, and make the SDK available once the rollout completes.

To learn more about Google Play services and the APIs available to you through it, visit the Google Play Services section on the Android Developer site.