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Pedro Vicente and Space Research Software

by Geoff Beckstrom · 06/18/2012 (2:57 pm) · 4 comments

Pedro Vicente is the owner of Space Research Software. He worked at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he used Torque to develop mathematical learning software and games for elementary schools.

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Pedro has successfully published two games to the iStore using Torque 2D, Word Build and Life. He recently sat down with GarageGames to talk about his experiences.

You have been making both fun and educational games with Torque 2D and Torque Game Builder for a few years now. How were you introduced to Torque?

The Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign had an opening for a software programmer that I applied for. The project was to develop math learning games using Torque Game Builder for the Mac. I had been programming for many years in several different languages, mostly C and C++ but this was my first experience with Torque script.

At first it was very challenging, because Torque is an interpreted language and the debug tools on the Mac are practically nonexistent. Luckily I found Torsion, an IDE and Torque debugger that runs in Windows that was very helpful.

I learned most of the Torque API “how to” in the GG community area, asking questions and searching the forums for answers; it is a great place to find answers, there is always someone willing to help. I modified a very old version of Tetris as a learning experience.

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The fun part about the job was to go to the Champaign elementary schools to deploy or debug the programs. Or consider user feedback; the users were elementary school children, and some feedback was interesting to deal with. For example, I did a motorcycle racing game, where the art was obtained from a pixel art site, and I could only find a girl riding a motorcycle; the game had 4 different bikes, so I did a bit of GIMP coloring to make them different (I am a programmer, not an artist, changing colors in GIMP is my art skills limit :)

So, when the game was deployed, since the image had a girl on the bike, some boys requested a boy on the bike, since they did not want "to have a girl as my bike”

What has been your experience building software and games with Torque?

From the programming side, since the Torque engine is written in C++, I was able to do all the game logic in C++ using my favorite development environment, Microsoft Visual Studio. The core of the Torque game engine is just an amazing piece of well-made software.

You have two iPhone apps released via Torque 2D (Word Builder and Life) what goals did you have with these games and what has been the reaction to your games?

My initial goal for “Word Build” was that it would become the next Tetris, of course!

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The idea of “Word Build” came because I play “bananagrams” regularly with a group of friends (the real game, not the computer game). So, maybe because English is not my native language (I was born in Portugal), I always loose. Other reason is that most of my friends from that group have degrees in Library Sciences, so I am clearly at a disadvantage here.

So, I had the idea of doing a game to learn how to build English words; the game uses the same “official” dictionary as Scrabble.

I did a Facebook advertising campaign that has been going viral; about 9000 "likes" in 2 months.

How did you test Word Build as you were programming and designing it?

I had to replace my 5 year old phone with a shiny new iPhone that I do not regret at all; it is an amazing piece of hardware. I also bought an iPad to test it that now belongs to my 8 year old son; he and my 5 year old daughter were my 2 first beta testers of "Word Build".

How did your kids feel about being your beta testers and how has the game been received so far?

They were not that thrilled about it :)

"Word Build" was released in September 2011, and a Mac version followed in January 2012.

What advice would you give to current Torque 2D users who have that goal of getting something published to the iOS store?

First, invent a game that has the potential of some success. A brilliant idea like Tetris or “Words with Friends” does not come up that often, unfortunately. I spent about six months trying to find something that would be 1) original 2) fun to play 3) with chances of success.

One day the idea (Word Build) just popped up and then I spent the next 5 months frantically implementing it, trying to reconcile my time with my “day job”, the job that pays my bills (that is also doing software, but in a totally different area, a data format called HDF, Hierarchical Data Format, used by NASA on their satellite data and worldwide as a general purpose scientific data format; a PDF for science data, if you will). For me, doing games with Torque was the most fun software development I ever did.

What is next for you ans Space Research Software?

I have plans to do “word build” versions with languages other than English…Portuguese of course, Spanish, French. This depends on the availability of dictionaries for these languages.

And keep with the Facebook advertising campaign that has been fun to do. Facebook allows you to target your audience by criteria like countries.

Some months ago I had the idea of doing a Facebook app (a web version) of “word build”; after some research it seemed to me that HTML5 and Javascript would be the thing to go. But this would mean I would have to learn an all new set of APIs and programming in Javascript, and I am not sure if I have time for this. I recently moved to sunny California, to do some work for the University of California at Irvine related to HDF.

But if a brilliant game idea comes up I will jump to it immediately… using Torque of course.

#1
06/21/2012 (2:56 pm)
Very interesting, I love reading about success with the torque engine.
#2
06/22/2012 (1:46 pm)
@Pedro, did you get many downloads from the FB campaign?

#3
06/23/2012 (1:29 pm)
@Pedro - Congrats on all your work. And thanks for your iT2D resources.
#4
07/09/2012 (1:33 pm)
@Scott, not many downloads, no. I did an ad campaign targeted by countries, but the price on the major iPhone markets (US, UK) is very expensive, it can be up to $1 per click, while on other countries it can be as low as $0.01 ; this was a pay per click campaign where you set a bid price on the ad.

But after a while, after the number of likes reached some threshold, I discontinued the campaign, and now it has a constant stream of new likes without any ads, because people just check their friend's profiles, where Word Build is listed along with other major game names. Since FB has about $800 million users and growing, this has potential for more growth.

@Johnny, you're welcome, glad you find the retina code useful.