iOS 9 and Sentinel Command

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So….Apple inexplicably changed some core behavior with SpriteKit in iOS 9.  I don’t know why they keep doing things like this.  The changes affect things around the reflection of sprites and the relative position of the children.  It’s causing some visual bugs (particularly on the AI ship side) and also, I believe, some crashes.

I’m going to work on getting a fix out for these changes.  Unfortunately, it’s going to take me a little while because this is core functionality that affects large portions of the game, and I’ll need to make it iOS version specific so that the folks not moving to iOS 9 aren’t affected.

I’ve taken a full time job, so GamerNationX is back to a part-time gig for me.  Thank you for your patience while I sort through this.

One more thing…we will not be using Apple’s SpriteKit for future GamerNationX games.  Changing how your game engine works at a fundamental level is unacceptable, and disrespectful to the developers who have been supporting your engine.

Sentinel Command 1.4 update

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We’ve decided to break out the new end game boss battle to it’s own update, v1.5.  The reason is the new base battle assets are finished and in the game and we want to push that out sooner rather than later.  The new boss battle is going to take some time from both the art side (new assets needed) and the code (we’d like to introduce some new battle mechanics).  1.4 Should be going ready to submit to Apple next week, which means a release sometime around September 23rd.


Sentinel Command Status

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Wrapping up our launch weekend, a few bumps but overall a good launch.  Thanks to everyone who has purchased the game, and for Owen and the staff at Pocket Tactics for publishing a thoughtful review of the game.

We had to push out two releases.  The first was to raise the minimum iOS from 7.1 to 8.0.  I’d used a set of SpriteKit functions that were added in iOS 8.0, so any device that was using 7.1 would get a crash.  An easy fix, but unfortunately it meant some players who had bought our game had to decide if they were ready to upgrade to iOS 8 or not.

The second release was a little tougher.  I had about five players report the game would go to a gray screen right after the splash screen.  No crash, just no game.  I spent hours trying to repro this issue, inspecting the code, looking for answers on the stack overflow and apple dev forums.  Finally I found a thread on the apple forums, where an app was going to gray screen on iPad for an iPhone only game.  We had started the game as a Universal app, and had switched to iPad only once we determined there was too much information that needed to be displayed to work well on phones.  Some of the universal storyboard assets and configuration settings were still present in the app, so I cleaned those out and pushed a test build to the five players who reported the issue.

That first change didn’t fix the issue – but it did change the behavior. Now the app crashed after the splash screen.  At this point I knew I was on the right path.  Within about an hour, I came across another thread that indicated a crash after the splash screen occurred due to a localization configuration issue in the storyboard.  I changed the localization settings to use English localizable strings, pushed out a build, and voila, problem resolved.  I’ve only used Apple’s expedited review request once before, I try not to abuse it, but I used it this time and am grateful that it exists.  Within 24 hours the fix was pushed out as v1.3, along with some gameplay balancing changes.

I checked our last two games, and both also had this localization setting unchecked.  I suspect many of the crashing issues in those games that we’ve never been able to solve are caused by this bug.  I’ve submitted builds to Apple for both 137 BC and Heroes of the Revolution for review (non-expedited, so expect about a week to see those go live).

I wouldn’t have been able to resolve that bug so quickly without Apple’s integrated Test Flight, and the support and patience of the five players that worked with me to troubleshoot the bug.  It’s a good reminder for all of us to reach out to the developer and give them a chance before submitting that 1-star review…

Looking forward: we’re going to keep monitoring the forums at Pocket Tactics and TouchArcade (where Sentinel Command discussions are ongoing) for suggestions about how to improve the game, as well as any reported bugs.  Mark and I are in the process of replacing the Daraay base art (we were never satisfied with the visuals of the base battles).  Once that is done, we’ve kicked around a couple of ideas on a final boss battle once all of the Daraay bases are destroyed.  Austin has offered to compose a special theme for the final battle as well.  More on that later once we’ve fleshed out the concept.

Look for a big v1.4 release in the coming weeks with these changes.

Sentinel Command Release Night!

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Tonight, around midnight, Sentinel Command will go live in the app store!  In fact, the global release has already started, with the game available in NZ/AU as I write this.  It’s a very exciting time for us here, as the culmination of a year’s work is finally released into the wild.  I hope that everyone enjoys playing the game as much as we enjoyed building it.

Regardless of how the game is received, I’d like to take a moment to thank everyone who helped us make Sentinel Command.

First of all, Mark Hoben.  Mark joined GamerNationX in December of last year.  I’d been working on the game for about three months, laying the foundation and using ‘dev art’ as placeholders until a new artist was on board. At that point, the game looked like something you might get if you put two cats in a room with a light brite for a few hours.  Steadily, asset by asset, Mark took my concepts and game mechanics and translated them into a beautiful and unique look that I think suits the game theme and setting perfectly.  He did this with no prior game experience, teaching himself how to do 3D modeling and textures in Blender in a very short amount of time, a remarkable achievement.  It was a pleasure working with Mark and I’m grateful to call him a colleague and friend, and proud of what we produced with Sentinel Command.

Mark’s son, Austin Hoben, composed all of the music used in the game.  When Mark first mentioned that his son was interested in doing the music for the game, I was noncommittal.  I knew his son was a talented teenager, I’d seen some of his art and Mark had told me of his interest in music.  So I asked for a sample of his work, promising myself I’d keep an open mind, knowing that we would need several variations of a common score based on the structure of the game.  This would be a challenge for a professional.  That first sample blew me away and I knew we had found our composer.  The music in the game is fantastic, and I think most people would be surprised and more than a little impressed to know that it is original work from a very talented young man.  I can’t wait to see what he does in the future!

Many of our friends took time to participate in several play test sessions over the past few months.  These sessions were essential to the game’s development.  These guys gave us solid, honest feedback and helped us answer a thousand questions about what was working and what wasn’t.  Thank you Pat Roby, Tristan Rees, Nischal Pathania, Jason Kim, Andrew Coldham, and Roy Kim!

Indie game development is not easy.  It requires a tremendous commitment of time and energy, meaning long days and working through weekends.  I want to thank our families for being patient and supportive while we pursued our dream and have tried to make the best game we could.

I don’t know what the reviews are going to say yet, I’m anticipating we’ll see some in the next couple of days, but good or bad, I want to thank all of the review sites that are taking time to try our game and share their feedback with their website’s communities.  In particular, I want to thank Owen Faraday at Pocket Tactics, the moderators at TouchArcade, Thomas Welsh of CalmDownTom, and the editors at 148Apps.  All of these individuals have helped spread the word about our games.  I’ve found their reviews to always be fair and honest, grateful when they said something positive (yay! they get what we did there!) and trying to learn when they said something critical.  In fact, a lot of their critiques have led to new features or changes in subsequent version releases of our games.

I want to finally thank you – the gamers who have purchased and played our games!  Nothing is cooler to me than the thought that somewhere in the world there are people playing a game that we created, and getting enjoyment from that game.  Seriously, that’s fucking rad.

We’re going to keep making games.  We’re going to keep getting better at it.  I hope you all come with us, it’s going to be a great ride.  Now let’s go play some games!

John ‘darkludus’ Ellenberger


Gameplay Balancing

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Still fine tuning the House Daraay escalation rate.  Right now I’m using three levers to do this:

1. Daraay Base Stage Progression Rate

2. Daraay Base Activation Rate

3. Daraay Attack Frequency


1. Daraay Base Stage Progression Rate

In Sentinel Command, the Daraay bases are conducting raids against your mining operations. These raids are used to gather Neoplatinum.  The bases must collect a certain amount of Neoplatinum to progress to the next stage.  At each stage, the bases get more powerful.  So I can speed up or slow down the base progression by changing the value needed to progress to each stage.

2. Daraay Base Activation Rate

There are six Daraay bases in Kernwall, the province you are trying to protect.  They aren’t all active in the beginning of the game.  Staggering the rate at which the bases go live and start conducting raids affects the difficulty.  If the player doesn’t have the resources to handle the number of bases that are active, then the game can get overwhelming very quickly.

3. Daraay Attack Frequency

The frequency that the bases conduct their raids has a dramatic effect on the difficulty.  If it is too frequent, the enemy can rapidly take down the mining installations in a sector after defeating the player once.  It takes time for the player to recover from a defeat, so the game has to take that into account.


It’s a fine line between super easy and impossible with a game that essentially runs as a simulation for 3-5 hours.  My goal is to provide a moderate challenge for most players on the normal difficulty setting. The easy setting should be, well, easy.  And the hard setting should be difficult but still very possible to beat.  I’ve got till Monday to get it right.  (at least for v1.0)


Sentinel Command Release Date Set

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Hey all,

I’m in the process of putting in the last art assets for the fleet HUD in Sentinel Command.  Mark is working on the final versions of the title and loading screens now, and Austin just finished the final version of the music in the battles.  What I’m getting at is: we are getting really close to the finish line!

We have chosen July 27th as the date we’ll be submitting the app for review with Apple, and August 13th as the release date into the app store.

I’ve been working on this game since last September, Mark and Austin came on board in December.  I think it is definitely the best game that GamerNationX has put out, and I can’t wait to get it released into the wild.  I think strategy fans are going to love this game!

-John ‘darkludus’ Ellenberger

T-Minus 13 Days

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Getting close now…

We are targeting July 27th as the submission date to Apple for Sentinel Command.  Mark and I had a meeting yesterday to go over the last few art assets and tweaks that are needed to the game.  We think July 27th is the date that all of those items will be done and we’ll be ready to submit the game to Apple for review.

This means Sentinel Command will be available in the app store on either Aug 5 or Aug 12.  It depends on what the review cycle is like for Apple in a couple of weeks when we submit.  Today the average review time is 7 days, so Aug 5 is looking good.  Very exciting!

I’ll keep our site, FB, and Twitter updated with the exact release date as we get it locked in.


Sentinel Command Update

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Mark and I are hard at work finishing Sentinel Command.  Aside from a few remaining art assets that need to be put in, the main focus right now is finding and fixing bugs and balancing gameplay.

Sentinel Command is a simulation.  There is an economy to the mining operation that you are trying to protect.  Neoplatinum ore is first gathered at mines, then shipped to nearby refineries.  Once the ore has been refined, it is sent collected at a centralized sector capitals.  At regular intervals, a war council convenes and the accumulated Neoplatinum is sent from the sector capitals to you at the Sentinal Space Station.  You then are responsible for the distribution of that Neoplatinum to your allies to aid with their war efforts, as well as determining how much to hold back in reserve to improve your own forces.

The enemy is trying to disrupt this mining operation.  Every time they raid a mine, refinery, or sector capital, the supply chain is disrupted.  As the enemy conducts successful raids, they use the Neoplatinum they have taken to improve their own forces, increasing their effectiveness while depriving you of the valuable resource.

As I said, it’s all a simulation.  So each game plays out a little differently.  Early battles can cause cascading effects that make the game either really easy or really difficult.  There was a similar effect in Heroes of the Revolution.  The way things unfold early could have deep ramifications throughout the game.  This is one of the things that I love about making these types of games – even as the developer, I can be surprised by what happens.  If the simulation becomes complex enough, it is simply too difficult to predict what will happen next.  This creates a real challenge as the developer.  A common piece of feedback for Heroes was that the early game had more focus and felt better than the end game.  A lot of this had to do with the developer has more control over the initial setup and events in the early stage of the simulation.

The same thing is happening for Sentinel Command.  I feel like the early part of the game plays fairly consistently through the first couple of war councils.  This is about 3-6 battles, depending again on how the simulation goes early on.  After that, I’ve seen a lot of variation in terms of difficulty and AI aggressiveness.   So about half of my time right now is playing through the game and making modifications to different configuration settings to try to get the game to have a more predictable difficulty curve.  Ideally, the game is pacing the player – so as the player gets more and more powerful ships, weapons, equipment, and abilities, the AI has roughly the equivalent so that the challenge level remains consistent.  Obviously, if the player is doing really well you want that to be reflected, and vice versa if the player is not doing so well.  The other half of my time is fixing bugs and making little tweaks while I do this gameplay balancing.

The goal is to submit the game to Apple for review on July 27th, which means we will go live in early August.  I think hardcore strategy fans are going to like this game – and maybe even some more casual players will as well.  After all, it’s fun to blow shit up in space, right?


Announcing Sentinel Command

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I’m proud to announce that we are getting close to finishing our next game, Sentinel Command!

Sentinel Command is a strategy game with a science fiction setting.  A galactic empire ruled by six powerful Houses has erupted in civil war.  As the heir to House Sedaris, you must defend your family’s domain and the important province of Kernwall.  The asteroid fields of Kernwall is where the most valuable resource in the galaxy, neoplatinum is found.  You must protect the mining operation in Kernwall, and choose how to distribute the neoplatinum amongst the other Sedaris provinces to aid in their defense.

As the other provinces receive your aid, they can push back the invading House Daraay forces, and gain control over strategic assets such as new ships, weapons, shields, and other ship components.  These upgrades will then be available to you to improve your fleet and better defend Kernwall.  If you fight poorly, and the neoplatinum production falls off, then those assets will fall into enemy hands as the Daraay forces advance.  The fate of the war will be decided in your province!

Combat is inspired by JRPGs of yore, with each ship taking turns based on initiative.  The bridge officers on each ship earn experience in combat, allowing them to unlock more powerful abilities that you can then use on their ship’s turn.

You must seek out and destroy the bases that the enemy is using to stage their invasion in Kernwall to win.  You lose if the enemy overwhelms your forces and destroys the Sentinel Space Station, which is your own base of operations.

In terms of scope and complexity, this is the biggest game we have done so far.  We’ve tried to make a game that is approachable and immediately playable by everyone, but has enough depth to make hardcore strategy game fans excited.  I think you will be pleased with the end result. :)

Right now, we’re working on getting the final art assets in the game, fine tuning the gameplay, and polish.  I’d estimate 4-6 weeks of work left before we can ship…I’ll post an update here once I have a better fix on when we’ll be ready to submit to the app store.

John ‘darkludus’ Ellenberger

Next Game Play Tested

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This past week, Mark and I had a play testing session for the next GamerNationX iOS strategy game.  We did a similar play testing session with ‘Heroes of the Revolution’, which really helped us refine some of that  game’s mechanics before release.

This time around, we invited more participants, and had the first session much further in advance of the targeted release (mid-May).  When you have been working on a project for any significant length of time, you start to develop blind spots.  You know what areas probably need more attention, and you suspect what is working and what isn’t – but you may also be giving some areas of the game unnecessary attention.  Maybe it is a feature that will eventually be more robust and fun, maybe it is a mechanic that you are emotionally attached to and can’t let go of, or maybe it’s just a feature that made sense at one time but the game design has evolved and it no longer has a place.  These are the blind spots I’m referring to.

Let me tell you, it doesn’t take long for a play testing group to drive home what is fun and working in your game, what needs work or attention, and what is just not needed.  We got the message, loud and clear, from the group last week.  The nice thing about agile development is that we can reshuffle the dev and art priorities quickly and react to last week’s play test session immediately.  My goal is to have a much more refined version of the game, based on the playtest feedback, in about two weeks.  At that point, we’ll start pushing out a beta build to a broader group and have another playtest session.

So that is where we are at.  We’ve got some ideas for the game title, but haven’t locked it in yet.  There is still far too much developer placeholder art for me to post screenshots – but we are working on that.  The core game loop and major features are in the game, with the exception of  sound and music.  I will make another post soon with more specific details about the game setting and gameplay.

We’re very excited about this next game – it’s definitely the best one we have put together and I’m hoping that you all will love it!