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July 09, 2015

Jesse Freeman

We are excited to announce the new Amazon Fling service. This new service is a cross-platform toolkit that enables mobile developers to build rich multi-screen experiences for Amazon Fire TV. At its core, the Amazon Fling SDK allows sending video, audio and images from iOS and Android mobile apps to Amazon Fire TV. In addition to flinging media content to Amazon Fire TV, developers can also leverage two-way communication between Amazon Fire TV and mobile apps to create engaging second screen experiences.

The new SDK is designed to simplify the process of dealing with underlying network discovery and communication technologies that normally make this type of connection difficult to implement. The SDK offers a standardized way to communicate between your apps over a local network allowing developers to focus on building new and unique user experiences. Even developers who don’t have an existing Amazon Fire TV app can take advantage of the SDK’s media playback capabilities since a default built-in receiver plays these for you automatically. This is one of the quickest ways to leverage the power of our service and the built in functionality of the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV stick.

What Can You Do With the new SDK?

Out of the box it is straightforward to leverage our new SDK to send URLs of videos, images and audio files to the Amazon Fire TV. This allows you to take media content and easily play them back on the big screen from a mobile app. But flinging media is not all you can do with it. If you dig a little deeper into the SDK you can use mobile devices as a second screen or a companion app to what is running on the Amazon Fire TV. Here are some great examples of how developers are already leveraging the SDK in their own apps:

Red Karaoke uses an iPhone to send audio to their Amazon Fire TV app.

Karaoke Party by Red Karaoke, one of the first karaoke smartphone apps in the market, is leveraging the SDK to display song lyrics and videos on Amazon Fire TV.  Additionally, Red Karaoke uses the SDK to send audio from the microphone on the customer’s device to the TV.  Customers can now have a true Karaoke experience in their living room.

With Fling, Rivet Radio customers get the capability to share music and videos on the largest screen in the house.

Rivet Radio, a digital news radio broadcaster, allows people to listen to news on the TV.   By leveraging Amazon Fire TV’s built in media playback receiver, Rivet Radio lets listeners easily transition between listening on their personal device to sharing content with everyone in the living room.

There are more great apps that use our SDK coming and we are looking forward to seeing what developers come up with.

Updating Your App Using our new SDK

The new SDK is available today with support for iOS, Android and Fire OS. To get started visit the SDK page and download the .zip file. You can also read the getting started documentation, which will walk you through setting up your development environment for Android or iOS, Integrating the SDK into your Android or iOS app and integrating the Amazon Fling SDK into your Amazon Fire TV app.

The SDK supports rich, two-way communications with your Amazon Fire TV app.  You can build custom second screen experiences with the following APIs:

  • Set URL of the media to be rendered: setMediaSource()
  • Get information about the media: getDuration(), getPosition(), isMimeTypeSupported(),getMediaInfo()
  • Control playback: play(), pause(), stop(), seek()
  • Playback status: getStatus(), addStatusListener(), removeStatusListener(), setPositionUpdateInterval()
  • Custom command: sendCommand()

If you don’t have an Amazon Fire TV app, you can use the Amazon Fire TV default media player (already installed). If you’ve created an Amazon Fire TV app already, you can integrate the receiver SDK that will enable people to discover, remotely install (if needed) and control your Amazon Fire TV app while flinging media content to your media player.

Already Have An App that Supports Chromecast?

Our new SDK makes it easy for developers to adapt their existing apps that have Chromecast functionality to fling to Amazon Fire TV.  For more information on how to do this, check out our guides to integrating the SDK with an existing Android Chromecast app or iOS Chromecast app in the developer portal.

Get Started Today

With our new SDK, you can leverage the built in media players to send the content of your app or game directly to Amazon Fire TV. Being a developer for the Amazon Appstore is completely free- sign up today and get started. If you need some more information on building apps and games for Amazon Fire TV, make sure to check out the following links:

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

 

Big Buck Bunny is copyright 2008, Blender Foundation / www.bigbuckbunny.org and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 3.0, available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us/legalcode.  Elephants Dream is copyright 2006, Blender Foundation/ Netherlands Media Art Institute/ www.elephantsdream.org and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.5, available at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5/legalcode.

 

June 04, 2015

Corey Badcock

In April, Amazon introduced Amazon Fire TV, and it quickly became the most wished for item by Prime members in 2014.  Amazon Fire TV, made it easier for customers to watch Netflix, Prime Instant Video, Hulu Plus, WatchESPN, and more on their big-screen TV, and brought photos, music, and games to the living room.  In October, we brought the same experience customers love about Amazon Fire TV—ease of use, great performance, and vast selection—to a smaller and even more affordable device - Fire TV Stick, which is the fastest-selling Amazon device ever.

This week, we announced that Amazon Fire TV has the fastest growing selection of any streaming media device. In just the last 3 months, Amazon has added over 600 channels, apps and games to the Amazon Fire TV platform—more than Roku and Apple TV in the same timeframe. Popular new titles include Popcornflix, Funny Or Die, GameFly, Candy Crush Saga, and Fox News. 

For developers, one of the most exciting prospects of publishing your game on Amazon Fire TV is that you can run Android games directly on the TV. If you are already building games for Android, you can use the same codebase you currently have, and make that game playable on Amazon Fire TV.

How to Optimize Your App or Game for Fire TV

While you may be familiar with targeting Android tablets and phones, there are a few things you need to consider for your app to run correctly on Amazon Fire TV.  Below is a quick round-up of some of the great content we’ve created since the device launched to help make the transition easy.

Responsive Game Design: Making Games that Scale Across Desktop, Mobile & TV

Gone are the days where you can make a game and publish it to a single platform and expect to be successful. Like any business that sells consumer products, you need to go where the people are. That means the games you make should run on a multitude of different platforms and accept any number of different input types. With that in mind I have outlined what I call “responsive game design,” which is modeled loosely after some of the core concepts of responsive web design. It’s also a framework that will help you think about enabling your games to scale across multiple platforms.  Click here to learn more.

10 Tips for Remote & Controller

If you’re porting an existing Android app to Fire TV, you have to add support for user input from the Amazon Fire TV remote and maybe the Amazon Fire game controller. Luckily, basic controller support is already built into Android.  You can leverage the Android input device APIs and the game controller API from the Amazon Fire TV SDK to get your game ready to publish in no time. Here are the top ten things you should do in order to get your game ready for Amazon Fire TV customers.

Tips for Getting Your Android Apps Looking Good on Fire TV

While you may be familiar with targeting Android tablets and phones, there are a few things you need to consider for your app to run correctly on Amazon Fire TV. This includes understanding the layout, dimensions and orientation of Amazon Fire TV views, changes to the user experience when interacting with a TV (10’ away on average), UI and navigation patterns, as well as some other TV-specific gotchas such as overscan and color reproduction.  Here are some practical tips to help you get your Android apps looking good on Fire TV.

Building Apps & Casual Games for Fire TV Stick

Fire TV Stick is one of the most affordable devices on the market for creating apps and casual games intended for the big screen. The best part is if you are already building for Android, Fire TV stick is another great platform to help grow your audience.  In this post we cover how to get started, optimizing for Fire TV Stick as well as the hardware/software differences between the Fire TV Stick and Fire TV to help make your apps and games run great on both devices.

Reaching New Android Customers with Xamarin & Amazon Fire TV

Xamarin is a cross platform development environment that leverages the power of the C# programming language and takes full advantage of native hardware acceleration. Xamarin includes a suite of tools that allow you to test, build, and analyze your apps across all of the major mobile platforms. Utilizing Xamarin you can now publish your own apps and games to all Amazon Fire devices. This includes Amazon Fire tablets, Amazon Fire phone, Amazon Fire TV and the recently announced Amazon Fire TV Stick.  Click here to learn how to get your app or game running on Fire TV using Xamarin.

Introducing the Web App Starter Kit for Fire TV

Fire TV and Fire TV Stick both support HTML5 web apps. The Web App Starter Kit for Fire TV is a new open source project intended to help developers get up to speed quickly creating a simple media-oriented app for this exciting new web platform. Features of the project include an example user interface designed for the 10-foot user experience, support for the Fire TV remote control, and sample components to create and customize a media app. You can learn more about the Web App Starter Kit for Fire TV here.

 

April 29, 2015

Jesse Freeman

We are excited to announce that Amazon Fire TV will now support the use of USB-connected external storage such as flash drives. This will enable customers to expand the built-in storage on the device so that they can install even more apps and games! For developers, this now allows you to specify if your app or game should be installed to the external drive or internally which was originally the default option. This is also a great opportunity for game developers who may have had concerns that their game would be too big for the Fire TV’s built-in 8 gigs of storage.

How to Modify your Android Manifest

Making the switch from storing your App or game to external storage is a simple process that will require a small change to the manifest file. To enable your app to be installed on USB storage, modify your Android manifest (AndroidManifest.xml) to include the installLocation attribute of the <manifest> element:

<manifest xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"

android:installLocation="preferExternal" ... >

...

</manifest>

The value of installLocation must be one of the following three values:

Value

Description

preferExternal

(Recommended for most Apps) Install your App on external USB storage when available.

auto

Fire TV chooses where to install your App.

internalOnly

(For Apps that play DRM-protected media) Install your App on internal device storage.

 If you are using a 3rd party framework or IDE, check with their documentation on how to enable this. In Unity for example, you can change this in the publishing settings when you have Android selected as the target platform.

While we strongly suggest enabling this behavior for most games, be aware that Apps, which play DRM-protected media, should use the ‘internalOnly’ flag, to maintain stability if USB storage becomes unavailable while your App is running. Also, you’ll need to decide if you are going to give you App or game write access to internal or external storage.

A New Interface for External USB Storage

The Fire TV platform will provide the user interface to manage USB storage, to fail gracefully if that storage is disconnected or becomes unavailable, and to enable the user to manage the space on both device and USB storage. Please note that external USB storage is not available for Fire TV Stick.

Ready to Publish Your App or Game to Fire TV?

Check out the following links below to learn more:

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

April 22, 2015

David Isbitski

The Game Developers Conference (GDC) is the largest annual gathering of professional video game developers providing a place for the industry to collaborate, network and share best practices for creating compelling game experiences. This year Amazon hosted a full Developer Day with sessions that covered building Android games for our full line of devices, Amazon Echo, Fire Tablets, Fire TV and Fire Phone, how to build better cloud gaming experiences, reaching fans with Twitch, and applying in-app monetization best practices based on Amazon's IAP data.

These sessions were previously only available to GDC attendees, and we’re excited to announce that we’ve made all of the Amazon GDC Developer Day sessions freely available online. Enjoy!

An Overview of the Amazon Devices and Services for Game Developers
David Isbitski, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
Alf Tan, Head of Games Business Development, Amazon
Vlad Suglobov, CEO, G5 Entertainment

An overview of Amazon's current developer ecosystem.  Learn how you can take advantage of AWS services specifically targeted for Game Developers, Amazon's Appstore and the new line of consumer Fire devices like Amazon Echo, Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick and Fire tablets, as well as monetization services such as in-app purchasing.  Plus, hear how G5 entertainment has had success on the Amazon platform from G5 CEO Vlad Suglobov.    

Top Tips for Porting Unity Games to Fire Devices
Jesse Freeman, Developer Evangelist, Amazon   
In this talk, we cover important tips for porting Unity games over to Fire TV, Fire tablets and Fire phone. Through code examples, we'll demo how to support multiple resolutions for pixel perfect Orthographic and Perspective Cameras, abstracting player input to support keyboard, controller and touch, and optimization tips for C# for the best performance. We'll also show how to deploy to our devices and get your game up and running on Fire OS. You'll walk away knowing what it takes to publish to the Amazon Appstore and help expand your game's user base.

How to Evolve Players into Fans
Peter Heinrich, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
We’ve analyzed the top mobile games to see what best practices make them stand out from the crowd. Several trends emerging now will amplify those best practices, and games will have more opportunity than ever to excel. In the future, the top games will have fully realized fan bases that will drive their user acquisition and engagement engines. That fan base will include players but also content creators, advocates and potential new customers — this will open up a wider range of monetization options.  Hear more about how top mobile games drive greater engagement and revenue and learn how to you can do this with your own game.

Build and Deploy Your Mobile Game with AWS
Dhruv Thukral, Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
Tara Walker, Technical Evangelist, Amazon 
Developing a successful mobile game today is about more than just the game:  Users expect backend services like user authentication, downloadable content, and social features. Using our AWS Mobile SDK for iOS and Android, it’s easier than ever to build a game with these services.  This session will provide a step-by-step approach to add features to your game such as user identity management, dynamic content updates, cross-platform data sync, and more.  We’ll demonstrate how to use the AWS Mobile SDK to securely interact with services such as Cognito, DynamoDB, S3, and EC2.  Finally, we’ll provide a few common architecture patterns and scalability tips for AWS game backends.

How We Made a Game No Fun
Mike Hines, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
There are lots of suggestions about how to make a game fun.  Best practices are everywhere, but you can't just follow them blindly.  To create a fun game, you have to figure out how best practices integrate into your specific game.  Watch what we did wrong, and what we learned along the way.       

Connecting with Your Customers - Building Successful Mobile Games through the Power of AWS Analytics
Nate Wiger, Principal Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
Free to play is now the standard for mobile and social games.  But succeeding in free-to-play is not easy:  You need in-depth data analytics to gain insight into your players so you can monetize your game.  Learn how to leverage new features of AWS services such as Elastic MapReduce, Amazon S3, Kinesis, and Redshift to build an end-to-end analytics pipeline.  Plus, we’ll show you how to easily integrate analytics with other AWS services in your game.

Deploying a Low-Latency Multiplayer Game Globally: Loadout
3:30pm-4:15pm
Nate Wiger, Principal Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
This is a deep-dive straight into the guts of running a low-latency multiplayer game, such as a first-person shooter, on a global scale. We dive into architectures that enable you to split apart your back-end APIs from your game servers, and Auto Scale them independently.  See how to run game servers in multiple AWS regions such as China and Frankfurt, and integrate them with your central game stack.  We’ll even demo this in action, using AWS CloudFormation and Chef to deploy Unreal Engine game servers.
 

How Game Developers Reach New Customers with Twitch
4:15pm-5:15pm
Marcus Graham, Director of Community & Education at Twitch
Ernest Le, Director Publisher & Developer Partnerships at Twitch
Twitch is the largest live video platform and community for gamers with more than 100 million visitors per month. We want to connect gamers around the world by allowing them to broadcast, watch, and chat from everywhere they play.  In this session, learn how game developers are creating engaging experiences and reaching new customers via the Twitch platform.

Amazon Fire TV Games on Twitch

Garnett Lee and Tyler Cooper hosted a steam during GDC this year on Twitch. The guys were joined by representatives from 2K games for XCOM: Enemy Within, Tellate for Game of Thrones, Ep. 2, Tripwire for Killing Floor Calamity and ended the night with Hipster Whale and a Crossy Road competition! If you are a gamer interested in seeing first-hand what the current batch of Android games looks like on the big screen be sure check out the stream here

Ready to Submit Your App or Game?

For more information about getting started with the Amazon Appstore, Amazon Fire devices, or how to submit your game check out the following additional resources:

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

April 20, 2015

Simon Howard

In March a new over the air software update was released for Amazon Fire TV (version 1.5) and Fire TV Stick (version 1.1) that adds a bunch of new features to these devices, both of which enable customers to use apps or play games in the living room as well as watch video and other content. At the same time a new version of the Fire TV SDK (which is for both devices) was released.

This blog is about what these new features mean to app developers and Fire TV/Fire TV Stick users. Below, I first focus on the new developer related features and then provide a summary of the remaining new features that are purely user centric. Note: some of the features are not available on Fire TV Stick and this is highlighted below.

Apps Can Now Be Installed to Internal or External USB Storage

This feature is for Fire TV users only and enables them to download apps and games to an USB storage device (hard drive or USB memory stick) that is plugged in to the Fire TV. This is in addition to the built-in 8GB available to users and it obviously means that users have the opportunity to download additional apps some of which could be yours!

By default, an app is installed in the internal storage, but if the internal storage is low and there is external USB storage available, the app may be installed onto that external storage instead. As a developer you might be wondering, where you should install your app. In most cases, you could go for either, however, if your app plays DRM-protected media then it must be installed in the internal storage. Note also that any data or files that you write to storage from your app, is always installed in the internal storage even if your app is installed in the USB storage.

You can specify that you prefer for your app to be installed to USB storage by modifying your app’s Android manifest file (AndroidManifest.xml) to include the installLocation attribute of the <manifest> element as shown below:

<manifest xmlns:android="http://schemas.android.com/apk/res/android"

    android:installLocation="preferExternal" ... >

    ...

</manifest>

See this article on the Amazon developer portal for more details.

Easier and Quicker Debugging on Fire TV or Fire TV Stick via ADB over USB

Prior to the update, you could only connect to a Fire TV or Fire TV Stick device for development purposes over a network; for Fire TV this meant an ADB connection over a wireless or wired Ethernet connection and for Fire TV Stick this was by a wireless connection, as it does not have an Ethernet socket.

Now, you can also connect to either of the Fire TV devices via ADB over USB. This is really useful as it gives you the ability to debug your app over a faster connection. Additionally, it enables you to avoid having to connect to a wireless network in locations where you might get charged or where bandwidth is low or where perhaps you are worried about security.

To find out more about how to setup debugging for ADB over USB see this article. Also, this blog on setting up ADB is very useful.

Give Your Users a Traditional Mouse Pointer Symbol

Fire TV supports the use of a mouse that is connected via USB or Bluetooth.  If you’ve created an app that supports pointer-based input, prior to the update, the mouse pointer was always displayed as a large circle. Now, you can display a traditional mouse pointer symbol that may be more appealing to your end customers.

  

By default in the updated software, the pointer is the large circle but you can change it to a mouse pointer via an edit to the Android Manifest file as shown below:

<activity

     android:name=".MyActivity"

     android:label="My Activity">

     ...

     <intent-filter>

         <action android:name="android.intent.action.MAIN" />

         <category android:name="android.intent.category.LAUNCHER"/>

     </intent-filter>

     <meta-data android:name="com.amazon.input.cursor" android:value="pointer"/>

</activity>

See this article on the Amazon developer portal for more details.

Other New User Features

A set of additional new user features was introduced in the update. These are:

  • Captive portal support - Fire TV and Fire TV Stick users can now use Wi-Fi networks in hotels or other locations where web based authentication is required. Previously, you could connect to the network but there was no way to enter the username and password details
  • Browse and search Prime playlists - Fire TV and Fire TV Stick users that are also Amazon Prime customers, can choose content to play from hundreds of playlists
  • Hidden PIN entry - Fire TV and Fire TV Stick users can now enter their PIN as hidden characters when they are prompted for it whilst making purchases from the device
  • New shortcuts - If Fire TV or Fire TV Stick hold down the Home button on the remote (or Wireless Bluetooth controller) for a few seconds, a short cut menu is displayed from which the shortcuts are available to put the device to sleep, to enable display mirroring or to access settings
  • Wireless Bluetooth headphone support - Fire TV users can listen to audio from movies or TV content and apps via Wireless Bluetooth headphones

Conclusion

The new features introduced in the March update for the devices further enhance their capabilities and the new SDK brings some real benefits to developers.

You can develop for Fire TV and Fire TV Stick using Android Java with for example the Eclipse or Android Studio IDE. Alternatively, you can develop using HTML5 and a framework such as Cordova.  This article is a great starting point to learn how to port your app existing app to the platform or to create a new app.

Here are some more links to useful articles related to development for Fire TV and Fire TV Stick:

That’s it for now. There’s never been a better time to start developing for the living room!

Simon Howard (@SimonH109)

 

April 07, 2015

David Isbitski

Amazon is hosting a Developer Day on April 25th at the Cross Campus in Santa Monica, California. Amazon Developer Evangelists will share industry best practices and help mobile developers learn how to grow their app business via the Amazon Appstore. Amazon technology leaders will be on-hand to answer developer questions and lead talks on topics such as building apps and games for Android devices, BlackBerry,  Fire tablets, Fire phone, Amazon Fire TV, and how to build voice controlled experiences for Amazon Echo. Attendees will also learn best practices around how to make fun games and to market your game to influencers and build a fan base.

The format of the workshop will be split between morning lectures and afternoon “App Hours.” The App Hours will allow developers to get 1:1 support to publish and tests their own apps and games to the Amazon Appstore, guidance around building apps and games with Android, Unity and Xamarin, and hands on experience with the Amazon Mobile App SDK, Fire Phone SDK, Fire TV SDK and Amazon Echo SDK code samples. Developers will also be rewarded with Amazon gift cards for successful app submissions to the Amazon Appstore during the App Hours’ time period.

Already have an Android app? Bring your APK for a chance to win cool prizes! Click here to register now!

Agenda

Check-in and Breakfast
9:30am-10:00am

An Overview of the Amazon Devices and Services for Mobile Developers
10:00am-10:45am
David Isbitski, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
We will start the day off with an overview of Amazon's current developer ecosystem. Learn how you can take advantage of Amazon’s Mobile Apps SDK, Amazon's Appstore and the new line of consumer Fire devices like Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick and Fire tablets, as well as monetization services such as in-app purchasing.

Building Spoken Language Apps and Experiences for Amazon Echo
10:45am-11:45am
David Isbitski, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
Echo is a new device from Amazon designed around your voice. It's always on—just ask for information, music, news, weather, and more. Tucked under Echo's light ring is an array of seven microphones. When Echo detects the wake word, it lights up and streams audio to the cloud, where it leverages the power of Amazon Web Services to recognize and respond to your request. With the release of the developer SDK you can now build your own apps and experiences for Amazon Echo. This session will cover everything you need to know starting off with how to use the SDK, how to build your first app, and end with the app submission process.

Lunch
11:45am-12:00pm                       

How We Made a Game No Fun
12:00pm-12:45pm
Peter Heinrich, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
There are lots of suggestions about how to make a game fun.  Best practices are everywhere, but you can't just follow them blindly.  To create a fun game, you have to figure out how best practices integrate into your specific game.  Come see what we did wrong, and what we learned along the way.          

How to Evolve Players into Fans
12:45pm-1:30pm
Peter Heinrich, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
We’ve analyzed the top mobile games to see what best practices make them stand out from the crowd. Several trends emerging now will amplify those best practices, and games will have more opportunity than ever to excel. In the future, the top games will have fully realized fan bases that will drive their user acquisition and engagement engines. That fan base will include players but also content creators, advocates and potential new customers — this will open up a wider range of monetization options. Come see how top mobile games drive more engagement and revenue and learn how to you can do this with your own game.      

Break
1:30pm-1:45pm

App Hours
1:45pm-3:45pm
Get 1:1 support to publish and test apps and games to the Amazon Appstore. Learn how to build apps and games with Android, Unity and Xamarin. Get hands on experience with the Amazon Mobile App SDK, Fire Phone SDK, Fire TV SDK and Amazon Echo SDK code samples.

Raffle and Wrap-Up
3:45pm-4pm


Seating is limited so be sure to register for the event to reserve your spot. Hope to see you there!

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

 

April 06, 2015

Russell Beattie

The New Web App Starter Kit Features - Subcategories, YouTube Support, Live Streaming, in App Purchases and More - Make It Even Easier to Create Engaging Fire TV Media Apps

Launched last December, the Web App Starter Kit for Fire TV is an open source project intended to help developers get up to speed quickly creating simple media-oriented apps for the Amazon Fire TV and Fire TV Stick. The Starter Kit provides a basic media app template that is designed for the 10-foot user experience and includes UI controls, support for the Fire TV remote, sample UI components, support for various data formats and more. Since its release, the Starter Kit has been used to create dozens of apps already live in the Amazon Appstore for Fire TV, including Wall Street Journal Live, University of California TV, University of Washington TV, Gear Live TV, and Motorz TV.

You can find the Starter Kit on the GitHub project page.

The latest release, version 1.2, just launched and we want to give you an update on some of the new additions that benefit both developers and end users alike. These include technical improvements such as a streamlined build process and code enhancements to help reduce app development time, as well as a host of new client features. The Starter Kit now has support for YouTube videos, podcast feeds, a cleaner user interface, continuous video playback, search, live streaming videos and more. The end result is a richer code base that improves the developer experience and helps jump start the creation of great looking, functional, full-featured media apps.

Here are some more details about some of the cool new features we've added.

Easily Create & Manage Multiple Apps

In addition to general bug fixes, code optimization and documentation cleanup, we've also completely reorganized and streamlined the original build process to make it much easier to create and manage multiple apps. This gives developers more flexibility, and gives us the ability to include a variety of sample media apps that show off all the features and functionality available in the Starter Kit. Apps are now self-contained in a src/projects folder, which hold unique files for that app, while pulling files from the src/common folder during the build process. The result is a much more organized project structure, allowing developers to create more than one media app within the same source tree, enabling both code reuse and the capability of easily individualizing each app as needed.

We've also made it much easier for developers to customize the functionality and look of their apps without having to dig into the project code as much. The build process allows for customizing the included CSS and assets, and the project's init.js configuration file allows developer to enable/disable various options such as button display, player types, data models, logo and more. For more specifics on all the various options available for developers, check out the documentation hosted on the GitHub project page.

Quickly Create Fire TV Apps Based on YouTube Content

One of the most important new features that we've added to the Starter Kit is the ability to use YouTube as the source for an app's media content. We've integrated the official YouTube API and the YouTube HTML5 video player into the Starter Kit template so that developers can easily create YouTube-based Fire TV web apps. By simply adding in their YouTube API Developer Key, choosing a channel, and adjusting the project's initialization options, a developer can create a full-featured media app in very little time. The project gives developers the flexibility to choose to automatically add categories based on a channel's current section setup, or create a customized category menu with selected playlists, channels and even search terms. Below are screenshots of an example app created from the official Amazon Web Services YouTube channel, with the logo and categories automatically imported using the YouTube API.

When the user has selected a category (such as "Featured"), the screen displays a horizontal list of videos to browse and play. It's incredibly easy for content owners and developers to use the Starter Kit to quickly create custom media apps for their YouTube content.

Built-in Search Helps End Users Discover Content

The Starter Kit now gives developers the option to enable integrated search functionality, with no extra dev effort needed. For media apps that use a static data feeds such as JSON or MRSS, the search will be done on the client, returning results derived from the feed's media meta-data such as title and description. For apps using the YouTube template, the search will use the YouTube API to dynamically return results from the YouTube server. Below is a screenshot of a search for "Fire" in the above AWS YouTube channel app, with the results shown displayed in the same format as a category list.

Differentiate Your App With Custom Themes

Developers can easily customize their web apps using CSS to give a unique look and feel. We've provided several sample themes in the Starter Kit that show how easy it is to include a custom theme.css file to a project. Below is a screenshot of the AWS media app using a sample theme with a dark background, colored content titles and a custom category menu list that hovers over the list of videos rather than hiding them under a solid bar.

Build Apps From Thousands of Video Podcasts with Built-In Media RSS Support

The Starter Kit has also added support for using Media RSS as a data source. This common XML data format used by thousands of websites was created for podcasting, and adopted by a variety of content providers as a standard media feed format. Developers can now easily create media apps from these feeds in minutes. Below is a screenshot of a sample media app created using the public video podcast feed for a popular tech blog This Week In Tech.

Make App Content More Discoverable With Subcategories

The first version of the Starter Kit only supported one row of media within a given category. This worked well for many apps, but most need one or more levels of content below that. We've now added the ability for apps to have multiple levels of subcategories contained within the media list. This allows apps based on the Starter Kit to support navigation hierarchies such as Show/Season/Episode, Genre/Subgenre/Movie or simply create playlists within categories to present more organized content to viewers. Below is a screenshot of an example app using the official Kindle YouTube channel. Each playlist within the "All Playlists" category is represented by a thumbnail image and a description, presented in the familiar horizontal format. When the user selects a playlist, they get a list of videos within that subcategory which they can select and play, or by hitting the back button, go back up to the playlist selection screen again.

Enhanced Media Playback Controls

In addition to the navigation enhancements above, the Starter Kit now has added nicer playback controls for when the end user is viewing a video. We've improved the skip functionality and interface, providing the developer with better control over the length of the skip, and the end user with a clearer indicator of how far they have skipped back or forward. We also added the option for videos to play one after another within a category. As a video is nearing its end, a dialog will appear with the title, description and thumbnail of the next video to be played, and a countdown timer shows how long before it automatically starts. The user can activate the next video immediately by hitting the select button on their remote, or wait for the countdown and not have to touch their remote at all. The screenshots below show these new user interface options in action with a video from AWS.

Stream Your Content With Live Streaming Support

The Starter Kit includes a new custom HTML5 player that supports live internet video streams. The screenshots below show an example app created using NASA's popular live stream. The stream is displayed in a category list like a normal video, but is marked as live video. During playback, the stream is marked as being live, and controls that wouldn't work in a live stream (such as skip forward) are removed, making the user interface simpler and cleaner for end users.

An Easy Template for Implementing In-App Purchasing

Included in the Starter Kit is a new sample media app that shows how the Amazon In-App Purchasing system works for Fire TV web apps. Because of the potential complexity of subscriptions or media purchases, we decided to start with a more basic sample app that shows how IAP works by enabling users to purchase "upgrades" - in this case, custom app backgrounds. Below are screenshots of the IAP sample app in action. When a user clicks on the (large and obvious) Upgrades button, they are presented with the option to buy additional backgrounds for 99 cents each. If they select a background, they'll go through the standard Fire TV purchase process and the background will be unlocked for them to use. Though somewhat limited, the sample shows all the basic steps a developer will have to go through - adding graphics, descriptions, prices, etc. - to enable IAP content in their media app.

We hope you like the new features added so far and look forward to continuing to expand the Starter Kit functionality over the months to come. We'd love to hear your thoughts, so if you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please use the GitHub project page to send them to us.

Ready to Build a Web App for Fire TV?

 

 

March 20, 2015

Judith Hoffmann

Having an Amazon Fire TV and the LAOLA1.tv app will come in very handy this weekend! One of the most-watched football games in the world, El Clasico, is taking place this Sunday, March 22nd. Spanish rivals Real Madrid and FC Barcelona will face each other, along with hundreds of millions of supporting fans worldwide. Previously available online and via mobile devices through video on demand only, LAOLA1.tv decided to tap into a new segment by distributing unique content live on the big screen. LAOLA1.tv and Amazon are offering customers in Germany exclusive television coverage of El Clásico with the LAOLA1.tv app on Amazon Fire TV.  Plus, the game will be free to watch on mobile devices for Amazon Appstore customers in Germany and Austria.

“We know we can reach millions of customers through ConnectedTV, especially via Fire TV, and monetize well on Amazon Appstore, therefore we decided to double down our investment and commitment in the Amazon ecosystem. Together with the Amazon Appstore team, we were able to build the perfect story, not only for the start of LAOLA1.tv live streaming on set top boxes and ConnectedTV, but also for the growth of the Amazon Appstore and Fire TV in Germany and Austria" says Felix Blank of LAOLA1.tv.

Follow LAOLA1.tv’s example. Find out more about how to build your app for Fire TV and reach millions of customers in the living-room.

Judith

 

February 25, 2015

Peter Heinrich

Do you have an idea for a great mobile game? Have you been following Jesse Freeman's blog series on creating games for the Amazon Appstore? Are you looking for inspiration to finally dive in and get started?

Thanks to the folks over at Scirra, now is the perfect time to fire up Construct 2 and turn your amazing idea into a working game—without programming. Scirra just launched their Build a Game Challenge, which rewards game developers for submitting their Construct 2 apps to the Amazon Appstore. From now until April 1, 2015, you can earn up to $100 toward the purchase of royalty free assets available from Scirra, like graphics, animations, sound effects, and music.

Fast, Fun, Powerful

Construct 2 is a drag-and-drop game creation tool that makes it easy to build 2D games based on HTML5. No coding is required, so even beginners can get started quickly. Experienced developers will find it flexible enough to support demanding requirements like complex behavior processing, graphical effects, and specialized event handling.

Worldwide Reach with Amazon

Once you have created your HTML5 game with Construct 2, you can publish it to Amazon's Appstore and make it available to millions of players around the world. Your game will be accessible in 236 countries and territories, and will appear in our store right alongside the native Android apps there. (Learn more about publishing web apps on Amazon.)

Turn That Game Idea into Reality

Don't put it off any longer! Take Scirra's Build a Game Challenge and bring your game idea to life. You will have fun doing it and even earn rewards along the way.

Not sure how to get started? Stay tuned for our upcoming blog series on building a game with Construct2.

Ready to Submit Your App or Game?

  • To learn more about the Amazon Appstore, click here
  • Click here to register for free as an Amazon Developer. 
  • Click here to download the Amazon Mobile SDK. 
  • Click here to submit your app

-peter (@peterdotgames)

 

February 19, 2015

David Isbitski

Amazon will be out at GDC San Francisco next month offering several opportunities to connect directly with you. Starting on Monday, March 2nd from 5:05pm to 5:30pm you can hear @MikeFHines talk about What Makes the Top 50 IAP Games Unique on the Amazon Appstore and lessons you can apply when generating revenue in your own games.

Then on Tuesday, March 3rd from 10am to 5:30pm we will be hosting an Amazon Developer Day covering games for Amazon Fire devices, how to build better cloud gaming experiences, reaching fans with Twitch, and applying in-app monetization best practices based on Amazon's IAP data. Technical evangelists from Amazon Appstore and AWS will be on hand to answer your questions as well as the Games Business Development team to discuss game promotion opportunities. We’ll also have devices for you to explore and test your games on, as well as a chance to win some Amazon Fire devices! Here is what the day’s agenda will look like. Click here to add a session to your GDC Scheduler.


An Overview of the Amazon Devices and Services for Game Developers
10am-10:45am

David Isbitski, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
Alf Tan, Head of Games Business Development, Amazon
Vlad Suglobov, CEO, G5 Entertainment

We will start the day off with an overview of Amazon's current developer ecosystem.  Learn how you can take advantage of AWS services specifically targeted for Game Developers, Amazon's Appstore and the new line of consumer Fire devices like Amazon Fire TV, Fire TV Stick and Fire tablets, as well as monetization services such as in-app purchasing.  Plus, hear how G5 entertainment has had success on the Amazon platform from G5 CEO Vlad Suglobov.          

Top Tips for Porting Unity Games to Fire Devices
10:45am-11:30am

Jesse Freeman, Developer Evangelist, Amazon  
In this talk, we'll cover important tips for porting Unity games over to Fire TV, Fire tablets and Fire phone. Through code examples, we'll demo how to support multiple resolutions for pixel perfect Orthographic and Perspective Cameras, abstracting player input to support keyboard, controller and touch, and optimization tips for C# for the best performance. We'll also show how to deploy to our devices and get your game up and running on Fire OS. You'll walk away knowing what it takes to publish to the Amazon Appstore and help expand your game's user base.

How to Evolve Players into Fans
11:30am-12:00pm

Peter Heinrich, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
We’ve analyzed the top mobile games to see what best practices make them stand out from the crowd. Several trends emerging now will amplify those best practices, and games will have more opportunity than ever to excel. In the future, the top games will have fully realized fan bases that will drive their user acquisition and engagement engines. That fan base will include players but also content creators, advocates and potential new customers —  this will open up a wider range of monetization options.  Come see how top mobile games drive more engagement and revenue and learn how to you can do this with your own game.

Catered Lunch
12:00-12:30pm

Build and Deploy Your Mobile Game with AWS
12:30pm-1:30pm
Dhruv Thukral, Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
Tara Walker, Technical Evangelist, Amazon
Developing a successful mobile game today is about more than just the game:  Users expect backend services like user authentication, downloadable content, and social features. Using our AWS Mobile SDK for iOS and Android, it’s easier than ever to build a game with these services.  This session will provide a step-by-step approach to add features to your game such as user identity management, dynamic content updates, cross-platform data sync, and more.  We’ll demonstrate how to use the AWS Mobile SDK to securely interact with services such as Cognito, DynamoDB, S3, and EC2.  Finally, we’ll provide a few common architecture patterns and scalability tips for AWS game backends.

How We Made a Game No Fun
1:30pm-2:15pm

Mike Hines, Developer Evangelist, Amazon
There are lots of suggestions about how to make a game fun.  Best practices are everywhere, but you can't just follow them blindly.  To create a fun game, you have to figure out how best practices integrate into your specific game.  Come see what we did wrong, and what we learned along the way.       

Connecting with Your Customers - Building Successful Mobile Games through the Power of AWS Analytics
2:30pm-3:30pm

Nate Wiger, Principal Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
Free to play is now the standard for mobile and social games.  But succeeding in free-to-play is not easy:  You need in-depth data analytics to gain insight into your players so you can monetize your game.  Learn how to leverage new features of AWS services such as Elastic MapReduce, Amazon S3, Kinesis, and Redshift to build an end-to-end analytics pipeline.  Plus, we’ll show you how to easily integrate analytics with other AWS services in your game.

Deploying a Low-Latency Multiplayer Game Globally: Loadout
3:30pm-4:15pm

Nate Wiger, Principal Gaming Solutions Architect, Amazon
This is a deep-dive straight into the guts of running a low-latency multiplayer game, such as a first-person shooter, on a global scale. We dive into architectures that enable you to split apart your back-end APIs from your game servers, and Auto Scale them independently.  See how to run game servers in multiple AWS regions such as China and Frankfurt, and integrate them with your central game stack.  We’ll even demo this in action, using AWS CloudFormation and Chef to deploy Unreal Engine game servers.

How Game Developers Reach New Customers with Twitch
4:15pm-5:15pm
Marcus Graham, Director of Community & Education at Twitch
Ernest Le, Director Publisher & Developer Partnerships at Twitch

Twitch is the largest live video platform and community for gamers with more than 100 million visitors per month. We want to connect gamers around the world by allowing them to broadcast, watch, and chat from everywhere they play.  In this session, learn game developers are creating engaging experiences and reaching new customers via the Twitch platform.

Mobile Ads Team at GDC

The Mobile Ads Team will be at GDC and has created a special offer just for attendees!

While attending GDC anyone who integrates the Amazon Mobile Ads API for the first time into their app or game will receive a $100 Amazon.com Gift Card.* The Amazon Mobile Ads API is easy to integrate and delivers highly-relevant mobile optimized ads from Amazon and brand advertisers ensuring a great experience for users. Members of the Mobile Ads team will also be on hand in booth #2429 to help you throughout the event.

Amazon Fire TV Twitch Broadcast

Then on Wednesday, March 4th we will be broadcasting live from GDC with a couple of special guests from 4pm to 7pm. The event is open to the public from 4pm to 6pm and you do not need to be a GDC pass holder to attend. Simply stop by the AWS Pop-up Loft on Market Street between 4pm to 6pm PST and join us in person for the Twitch stream.


We will be showcasing several new Amazon Fire TV games as well as interviewing the game developers who created them. Not at GDC? No worries, you will be able to watch the stream live on Twitch here from 4pm to 7pm PST.

If you’re a gamedev at GDC this will be a great opportunity for you to speak directly with Amazon Appstore, AWS and Twitch experts all in one place. Hope to see you there!

-Dave (@TheDaveDev)

*Visit exhibit #2429 for more details. Send us an email at amazon-mobile-ads@amazon.com with your Amazon Developer Portal registered email ID to qualify. Existing apps already sending ad requests do not qualify. Existing developers who integrate the Amazon Mobile Ads API into another qualified app for the first time are eligible for the offer. One Amazon.com Gift Card per participant while supplies last. Amazon.com Gift Cards ("GCs") may only be redeemed towards the purchase of eligible products on www.amazon.com GCs cannot be reloaded, resold, transferred for value, redeemed for cash or applied to any other account.  Amazon.co.uk is not responsible if a GC is lost, stolen, destroyed or used without permission.  See www.amazon.com/gc-legal for complete terms and conditions. GCs are issued by ACI Gift Cards, Inc. All Amazon ®, ™ & © are IP of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. Amazon may modify or cancel this offer at any time.

 

February 10, 2015

Jesse Freeman

Welcome to the final part of this five part series on making games for the Amazon Appstore. Part one, two, three and four helped you build the foundation for your game’s design and in this final post we will talk about how to actually market your game.

So you have finally finished your game and are ready to release it to the world. While there is a lot you can do after you have completed your game to help make it a success, you should always be thinking about marketing your game from the very beginning. The following section will help you with everything from naming your game to how to help it stick out in an overcrowded mobile store. While marketing a game is not an exact science, and its success has a lot to do with the quality of your game and pure luck, you can still take the necessary steps to ensure it gets the most attention possible out of the gate.

Naming Your Game

The name of your game is going to be the single most important decision you make. Companies spend huge amounts of money doing market research to come up with product names, and what you come up with for your game has lasting effects. The most basic thing you can do to help your game be more successful is to simply give it a descriptive name. Look at other games and how they came up with their names:

  • “Mario” – Named after the main character. While it doesn’t describe what you will be doing in the game, it helps establish the lead and his name defines the brand.
  • “Legend of Zelda” – The word legend implies a deep story told a long time ago, and saving Princess Zelda is the main objective of the game.
  • “Grand Theft Auto” – The name alone implies stealing cars and breaking the law. It clearly describes the main gameplay mechanic the player is going to expect to be doing.
  • “Angry Birds” – Doesn’t get any more basic than this. You play as a bunch of angry birds.

Naming a game isn’t always an easy task, but make sure your game’s name is clear, descriptive, and easy to remember. Also, make sure your game’s name makes sense for sequels and continuations if you find yourself with a hit on your hands.

Getting People to Play Your Game

This topic really goes back to the beginning section on what platform to build your game in. The key to success is really getting your game in the hands of as many players as possible. To do that, you will need to pick a platform with the most reach possible. While HTML5 has the incredible advantage of being published to the Web, you will find that it is more difficult to publish to a native store. Frameworks like GameMaker and Unity will allow you to publish to multiple platforms, but they charge extra for that service. Some features are free, and while GameMaker allows you to export an HTML5 version for the Web and Unity has a Web Player for its game, you really need to do your research and pick the right tool from the beginning.

The ideal scenario is that you are able to release your game on all of the major platforms: Web, iOS, Android, FireOS and desktop. From there, you have some granular options to decide on, like what devices to support on each mobile platform, and even what version of the OS you can support. Don’t forget Web stores, such as Chrome Market and Firefox’s new Web-based Phone OS. Also, there are online game portals that do revenue sharing based on ads around your game. While mobile is all the rage, don’t forget how many people still use Web browsers, and every modern mobile device also supports playing Web games, so you get even more bang for your buck. I am now working on having all of my games as Web-playable demos pointing to the app store versions to help broaden my audience, since being found on the Web is much easier than in an app store.

If the Web isn’t your thing, also keep in mind cross-platform desktop publishing. A lot of indies have had success with Steam Greenlight, as well as bundle deals like Humble Bundle. Both of these distribution solutions leverage desktop compiling and usually want games that support Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you intend to ever get your game on Steam, make sure you are able to offer a desktop installer.

Charging for Your Game

With all of this talk about distribution, you are probably thinking through all of your monetization options. Let’s take a look at the three most common options out there now:

  • Flat rate – Your first instinct is probably to charge a flat rate for your game, like 99 cents or more. Some games can command a very high premium on the mobile market, but gone are the days of charging $5, $10, or more, especially if you are just starting out. When it comes to pricing your game, you should do a lot of research on your game’s genre, its competition, and what it costs. If you see a lot of high quality free games similar to yours, it’s probably best to consider an alternative option.
  • Free with ads – This was popular for a long time before in-app purchases were introduced. Basically, you make the game free and use ads to help generate money. While there are clear advantages to making your game free, which allows anyone to download it, it is also incredibly hard to monetize from ads. As an example, my most successful game on Android with almost 50k downloads (roughly 1-2k players a day) only generates $1 or less each day. In order to really make money with ads, you will need at least 100k players a day or more, and show larger, more obtrusive ads that tend to slow down the game’s flow or frustrate players.
  • IAP (in-app purchases) – The final approach, which has gained considerable popularity lately, is relying on IAP (or in-app purchases). Usually, the game is free and you try to upsell so users buy more levels, items in the game, or even ways to speed up their in-game character’s development. What’s good about this approach is that your game is completely free, so you get my people playing your game, and if they like it or you have compelling IAP, they end up paying more than they normally would had your game been sold at a flat rate. This model is extremely hard to pull off successfully, and it’s a fine line between adding additional value to your game and trying to exploit the player’s compulsion loop.

The reality is that, if this is your first game, chances are high that you will not make a lot of money off of it. Having a successful game is kind of like winning the lottery. I am not telling you this to discourage you; I want first-time game developers to have a clear idea of what they are in for. Even seasoned game developers have a difficult time monetizing their games without help from marketing firms. Even getting good reviews on game sites, which is hard to do, doesn’t always translate into lots of sales. The best thing you can do is get featured on the app store itself, but once that promotion is over, unless you have a real hit on your hands, you will see a natural drop off in your game’s sales or downloads.

The last thing I want to talk about, which leads into our next topic, is that making games is a learning experience. The more games you make the better you become as a game developer and grow your chances of making a hit game. While it’s very frustrating for first-time game developers to work hard on something and not see people download it or buy it, you shouldn’t give up. One of the best things your game can be is a promotional tool for you and even your next game. Always be sure to have links to your other games inside of your game to help promote everything you are doing. You may be surprised to realize that, over time, you actually end up building up a following of people more willing to pay for your next game if they continue to play and like the ones you are releasing now.

The More Games You Make the Better

I talk to a lot of game developers each day, and they all have the same story: the more games they have in the store the better their sales are. This happens for two reasons. The first is that, when you make more than one game, they are all featured on your game’s download page under a section that highlights other games made by the same author. That means that each additional game you make basically gives you free advertising for your other games. The second thing that happens is that, when a person likes your game, they naturally want to play more games you have made. This means they will look at anything else you have created, which is the basis for building your own fan base. So each successive game you release will naturally help drive downloads and sales of your past games as well. This is another reason why you should not give up if your first game isn’t an instant success and just keep making as many games as you can!

Conclusion

The good news is that publishing to the Amazon Appstore is free and easy, especially if you are already building Android games. Simply sign up for a developer account at the developer portal to get started today. Here are some additional links to help you gets started:

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

February 06, 2015

Jesse Freeman

We are now 4 topics into this series on how to make games for the Amazon Appstore. If you missed the original posts, make sure to check out part one, part two and part three to get caught up.

Once you have your game up and running, and you begin to approach being able to release it, you are going to want to go over all the details and make sure it’s polished. Sure, you can put a game out there just to see how it does, but in today’s saturated market of mobile games, you need to make sure you put your best foot forward when releasing your game. Here are a few things you should do in your own game before you release it.

Consistent Design

One of the most important things you should do in your game is make sure your art style is consistent throughout the game. Your in-game graphics and your UI, and even the splash screen, should all look and feel like they belong together. The best example I have of this is Mega Man 2.

As you can see the box art for “Mega Man 2”, on the left, is completely different than what the actual game looked like, on the right. While there is a time and place for being creative with your game’s art style, just make sure you don’t set the wrong expectations for your perspective players. This is especially important when it comes to creating screen shots to entice people to pay for or download your game. In the end, keeping everything consistent will help make the overall game feel more polished.

Supporting Multiple Resolutions

How to support multiple resolutions is probably one of the most common questions I get asked at all of my game design talks. Outside of supporting mobile resolutions, which are all over the place, desktop monitors have been driving game developers crazy for years. When it comes to designing for multiple resolutions, you just need to understand how aspect ratio works and decide whether your game will attempt to maintain it. To help myself out, I always start with a comp of the three main resolutions I want to support.

Here you can see that the native resolution of my game is 800 X 480. This is a 5:3 aspect ratio. From there, I can easily scale my game to 1024 X 768, which is a similar aspect ratio of 4:3. My game will also support 1366 X 768, which is a 16:9 aspect ratio. The key to this system is that my game camera simply shows more of the game screen as I change aspect ratios, and the UI moves based on the resolution as well. Here is an example of the game at two different resolutions.

Here is the game at 800 X 480. As you can see, the camera shows less of the action, but I make sure the UI scales down nicely to support the lower resolution without any overlapping.

And here is the game at 1366 X 768. As you can see, both versions of the game are fully playable, but you end up with a little extra screen real estate at the higher aspect ratio.

Perceived Performance Optimizations

The last thing I want to talk about when polishing your game is perceived performance. A lot of the time, developers spend days upon days trying to optimize their code when they end up forgetting that a few minor tweaks to the way their game runs will help give the impression of better performance to players. Sure, optimizing artwork is a key part of any performance optimization, but why not make your loading screen look more interesting while people wait, or work on making the transitions from screen to screen more seamless. Even tricks like lowering the FPS could actually help out if your game is struggling to maintain 60 FPS. Most games can easily get away with 30 FPS. Also, having more animation transitions and frames can help remove the feeling of slowness or unresponsiveness in gameplay.

Conclusion

The hardest thing to really understand is how to support multiple resolutions. Once you understand that you will be on your way to being able to make games across multiple platforms and screen sizes. To help get you started here are some resources to help you better understand our Fire Phone, Fire Tablet and Fire TV resolutions and tips for optimizing:

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

 

 

January 28, 2015

Jesse Freeman

As we continue our game design series we’ll focus on one of the most important aspects for any game, adding artwork and sounds. Don’t forget to check out part one for picking a game framework and part two for game design 101.

If you don’t come from an art or music background, you might find this part of the game creation process the most stressful. Building a game for the first time will stretch all of your skills, like programming, creativity, design, and more. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and forget the most valuable part of making a game, which is building something fun to play. In this section, I will talk about some approaches to adding artwork and sounds into your game.

Working Without Art and Sound

The first thing I tell people just starting out is to use placeholder art and sound while building a game. It may be hard to believe, but you can always get artwork later, and sound is just as easy to find online or get help making. To be honest, if you build a compelling enough game, you may even be able to convince an artist or musician to work for you and share the profit from the game. But none of that will happen if you don’t have a fun game to begin with. It also helps to take a look at other games that use minimalistic or dynamically generated art as inspiration as well. The following are a few very successful indie games that do that.

“Thomas Was Alone”
http://www.amazon.com/Bossa-Studios-Ltd-Thomas-Alone/dp/B00LXFHI60

While “Thomas Was Alone” looks deceptively simple from the screen shots, there are a lot of subtle visual effects that add depth to the art style. But, at the end of the day, the game is really about a set of primitive shapes and basic geometric levels.

“Super Hexagon”
http://www.amazon.com/Terry-Cavanagh-Super-Hexagon/dp/B00BVDNKSY/ref=sr_1_2

“Super Hexagon” was a hit as soon as it was released. It revolves around the simple concept of not touching the walls that rotate and move to the music. As you can see, the levels appear to be dynamically generated, and while its creator uses a really great soundtrack to move the levels along, all of the visuals can be sorted out once you have the basic gameplay mechanics down.

Let’s talk about how to make art and some ways to package it up into your game.

Working with Artwork

I love pixel art. It’s super easy to make, and most of the games I build are based on old Nintendo games I used to play as a kid. While pixel art isn’t for everyone, here is a list of some design tools to get you started:

  • Photoshop – This is one of the most popular and expensive art tools out there, but with Adobe’s new Creative Cloud plan, you can pay for it monthly. Photoshop is great for creating rasterized artwork, and you can do vector art as well. I use Photoshop for all of my game design and layout work.
  • Illustrator – Just like Photoshop, this is the most popular vector-based art tool out there. I suggest using a vector-based editor if you are going for a cartoony look or want to make sure your game’s artwork can scale to any resolution. Not a lot of game engines support vector artwork like Flash did, so that’s something to keep in mind.
  • Aseprite – If you are doing pixel art, this is one of the best editors out there. Not only is it free and open source, it’s just great for making pixel animation and even supports importing and exporting sprite sheets.
  • GIMP – If you are looking for a Photoshop alternative, I suggest checking out GIMP. I was never able to get into it, because I’ve been using Photoshop since version one, but GIMP is free and a lot of game developers and artists I know use it.

I could probably write an entire book on tools for making artwork for games, but you should take a look at other online tools I may have missed or that you might already own. At the end of the day, it’s all about doing the best you can when it comes to making artwork, and if your game is good enough, you will eventually find someone to help clean it all up. I actually outsource all of my artwork even though I have a background in art because I want to focus on the game and let someone else carry the burden of making good game art. You can find my own collection of open source art work at http://jessefreeman.com/category/game-artwork/

Working with Sounds

Just like artwork, creating sound effects can be a daunting process. I suck at sound design, and it’s another thing I try to outsource as much as possible. I do have a secret weapon, though, called Bfxr, which you can use online or install on your computer as an AIR app from http://www.bfxr.net/.

This app is perfect for generating simple 8-bit sound effects for your game. It may look intimidating at first, but as you can see on the left-hand side, there are a bunch of pre-defined sound templates, such as pickup, laser, explosion, and jump sounds. But the most important button is Randomize. I use this all the time to come up with new sound effects, and you can use the Synth option in the middle to modify it. I use these as placeholder sound effects in most of my games, and over time, I have built up a nice little collection of sound effects I can use from game to game to help speed up my development. You can download my collection at http://bit.ly/gamesfx.

Once you have some sound effects, you are going to need a way to convert them. Bfxr likes to generate .wav files, but you’ll be hard pressed to find a game frameworks that still use that file format. That is why I use a program called Audacity, which you can get at http://audacity.sourceforge.net/.

For example, when it comes to HTML5 games, you are going to need to output .mp3 and .ogg files, since each browser supports a different file format.

Conclusion

While this is just a small part of what you will need to produce artwork and sound effects, I have a few links below to open-source artwork and additional resources to help you get started:

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

January 22, 2015

Jesse Freeman

As we continue this multi-part series on how to make your first game for the Amazon Appstore we’ll dig into the fundamentals of game design. If you are just finding this post, make sure you check out part one which covers picking a game framework that supports exporting to the Amazon Appstore.

For most people, it usually starts the same exact way. You have a game idea and just want to start building. Making a game is more than just having a good idea and the skill to code it; you have to think through the gameplay, the target audience, and map out what it is you are going to build.  I love this tweet by Sean James McKenzie of @baconandgames about your first game idea:


To help you simplify your idea to something manageable you should start by getting it down on paper. No one builds a house without a blueprint, and you shouldn’t make a game without a solid plan either. This could be something as simple as a task list with everything you need to do or something more specific, such as a document outlining all the details. Either way, your game design process is going to start with a blank page. Let’s talk about how to fill it in.

Document Your Idea

In traditional game development, you are encouraged to make a game design document. This is usually a large document outlining every aspect of a game. It’s the blueprint that the rest of the team must follow when building out the game. If you are a single developer, this is overkill. You can easily boil down a GDD into a single list of tasks with a few introduction paragraphs and any collateral or references, such as screen shots and links to other games or game mechanics you like.

It’s up to you to find the best way to document your idea, but the more you work through the details the better the project will end up. It’s very “cheap” to work out your ideas on paper or in your head before you start coding. Once you begin the coding process and need to go back, you amass what we call technical debt that can make your code unmanageable or, even worse, kill your productivity altogether by forcing you to constantly hack together new solutions or refactor code you’ve already written.

If you are having trouble getting started I highly suggest checking out the 1 Page GDD by Javi Cepa (@JaviCepa).

Getting Feedback

The most important part of this documentation process is sharing your idea with others and getting their feedback. I know you want to protect your idea with your life, but the reality is that most people starting out making games need feedback from others. We all start out with the lofty goal of “making a game I want to play,” but the reality is that you are just one person and, in order to be successful, you need to appeal to larger markets. I’m not saying you should post your game ideas online for all to see, but find a select group of trusted friends and run it by them. You’ll find that some feedback is hard to take, but being able to filter out what will actually make your game better is a valuable skill to have.

Play More Games

Perhaps the most important thing outside of documenting your own ideas is to start playing games … a lot of games. As a game maker, your hobby should be playing games, taking them apart, and figuring out what makes them tick. You should keep a notebook of all the games that you play, and even the ones you don’t play but see online. Use something like OneNote, or any note-taking app. The idea is to write down what you like about the game, what you don’t like, and some of your big takeaways from playing it. There should be screen shots if you like the art style and links to any collateral information on the game that will help you with your own ideas later. Since you never know how a game will inspire you, it’s important to be as detailed as you can. It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s honestly the most valuable tool you will ever have when it comes to finding inspiration and avoiding common pitfalls.

Conclusion

Once you have mastered these three steps for writing down your ideas, vetting them out and finding new inspiration you will be on your way to making your own game. To help get you started, here are a few games I suggest trying out on the Amazon Appstore which inspire me:

Ready to Submit Your Game?

  • Click here to register for free as an Amazon Developer. 
  • Click here to download the Amazon Mobile SDK. 
  • Click here to submit your app

- Jesse Freeman (@jessefreeman)

 

January 13, 2015

Paul Cutsinger

Since it’s launch in April, the Amazon Fire TV and Amazon Fire TV Stick has quickly become the best-selling streaming media box on Amazon. With this, app developers have an exciting set of new customers to reach using your Android games running directly on the TV.

To transition a tablet or phone app to Amazon Fire TV, it’s most critical to support the TV remote and/or Game Controller.

In this video blog post, we’ll build an app from scratch for Fire TV using Unity. You’ll see how to get a game object reacting to events from the TV remote and Game Controller and you’ll see how to test your app on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. You can also learn more about building Fire TV support into your app on the blog.

Start a new project in Unity

Add the game object that we’ll control with the controller.

Create movement

In this segment we create the script that will receive TV remote and the Game Controller events and cause the Game Object to move with the D-Pad or joystick.  We use the Unity Input Manager and the default horizontal and vertical inputs so that both keyboard and controllers work.

For reference, here are the Unity Input Manager and KeyCode values for the Fire TV Controllers

(Timestamp 1:36)

Add button support

Next we add support for Back, Menu and the A buttons. This illustrates how you’d pause, show a menu, and perform game actions like jump or shoot.

(Timestamp 9:15)

Test the app on Fire TV

Now you need to build the app from Unity and run it on device using Android Debug Bridge (ADB). In this segment, we’ll go through that step by step.

If you don’t yet have ADB, here’s a post to help you set up ADB.

(Timestamp 20:06)

Use the Fire TV controllers to move the cube around and change it’s colors

More importantly, you’ll be able to see how easy it is to respond to controller events in your app.

(Timestamp 24:21)


Now, how will you to integrate controller support into your game play and UX?

Ready to Submit Your App or Game?

  • To learn more about the Amazon Appstore, click here
  • Click here to register for free as an Amazon Developer. 
  • Click here to download the Amazon Mobile SDK. 
  • Click here to submit your app

Please let me know if you have any questions.

-Paul Cutsinger (@PaulCutsinger)

 

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