Meanwhile: now in development for Mac and Windows

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Tagged: m37, unity, meanwhile, skia, comics, steam, shiga, skiasharp

I wrote that long post about SkiaSharp in Unity, but I never answered the question: what kind of Unity project am I working on, which requires vector outlines and polygons?

Here's your hint:

Almost six years ago, I released Meanwhile: an Interactive Comic for iPhone and iPad. I've since ported it to Apple TV, but folks without Apple hardware have been forced to live without it. (Or to buy the hardback graphic novel, which I admit is a fine alternative.)

But relief is in sight! I have started building a Unity port of Meanwhile, and am working towards a Steam release for Mac and Windows.

For those who aren't familiar with Jason Shiga's nonlinear tale of mad science:

On the way home from the ice cream store, little Jimmy discovers a mad scientist’s wonderland: an experimental mind-reading helmet, a time machine, and a doomsday device that can annihilate the human race. Which one would you like to test out first?

Meanwhile is not an ordinary comic. You make the choices that determine how the story unfolds. Meanwhile splits off into thousands of different adventures. Most will end in doom and disaster. Only one path will lead you to happiness and success.

Why now? Why, I have a secret spreadsheet that correlates thousands of factors about the indie game market, and it predicts that the perfect time...

...No, I'm being silly. In fact it's just one of those collisions of happenstance. A couple of months ago, I picked up a contract gig which required me to learn Unity in a hurry. I read the manual, tried some sample code, and realized that a Meanwhile port was viable -- if I could find some kind of vector library that worked with Unity. You know that part of the story already.

Once I convinced myself that the technical problems were solvable, I contacted Jason and we agreed to move forward with the port.

Now: it's still in an early stage. The contract job I mention takes up most of my time, so Meanwhile has to be a side project. I've made a fair amount of progress, but there's still quite a lot of work to do.

You might think Meanwhile is a simple app, given that the artwork and the map already exist. It looks simple. But the original touchscreen interface took a lot of iterating and adjusting; the exact right scrolling logic wasn't easy to pin down. And then I had to break it down and redesign it for the Apple TV controller.

For the Mac/Win version, I want to support both mouse and game controller -- and let you switch between them freely, as most games do. Unity's input model almost does what I need... so there's a bunch of work right there.

Plus, of course, there's menus and buttons and all that bumf which have to be made right.

So this leaves a lot of questions which I don't yet have answers for.

  • When will Meanwhile be out on Steam? I don't know! I think I can finish the port in a couple of months... but that drops us into the middle of the Thanksgiving sale rush. Which is followed by the Christmas sale rush. Common wisdom says that you shouldn't try to release an indie game in November or December. So maybe mid-January?

  • How much will Meanwhile cost? Ooh, good question. The iOS version is $5. But PC versions on Steam always cost more, right? But this is a fairly old game, and it might strike Steam users as less interactive than they expect... But it isn't aimed at typical Steam users anyway... Oh, well, I'll pick a number.

  • Will it support Linux? As I noted in the Skia post, the SkiaSharp developers don't ship a native Linux library. "...But you can build your own!" Yeah, I'll try it. I don't really have any experience building Linux binaries for other people, so it's anybody's guess whether I'll produce anything usable.

  • What's this contract gig you mentioned? Not for this post to say! Watch this blog.

  • What about your other game projects? I'm afraid that The Flashpaper War is firmly on the back burner. I built several prototypes but they didn't work up the momentum to turn into a live project.

I spent some of this year playing with a prototype for an unrelated puzzle game. (Currently code-named "that thing with the hexagons", no, I don't have a better title.) I am optimistic about the hexagons, but Meanwhile has pushed it down the stack. Mostly, to be sure, because I want to build the hexagons in Unity too! Meanwhile is my Unity quick learning project.

  • What about Jason Shiga's next project? Jason's been talking about a new interactive comic he calls "The Box". (He put up a video preview this summer!) I don't know any more about it than you do, but I'm very excited. And yes, once The Box is finished, I will definitely be talking to him about an electronic version... although I can already see that would be an enormous challenge! Jason is designing for the physicality of bookbound paper. But I look forward to thinking about it.