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A few questions about Dope Runner answered

I want to answer two questions I’ve been asked about Dope Runner, my upcoming Android game. First of all, will the app be free or paid? There will be a free version, wich will only allow you to play on small maps and will have a small ad in the main screen. The full version will give you access to all map sizes and will be ad-free. I haven’t decided on the price yet, but it won’t cost much.

Second, people have asked me if the game will support multiplayer. It won’t, and here are a few reasons why. Multiplayer programming isn’t easy, and I do this all by myself. I simply don’t have the time to learn all this. When not done properly, it could ruin the game. This is especially true on a mobile device, where you’re on a potentially slow wireless network. Getting this to work without too much lag requires a professional team of programmers and a good server infrastructure.

Another reason why I won’t add multiplayer support is because this doesn’t work well for location based games. When I launch the game, it won’t have thousands of players overnight. Or ever at all. So what are the odds of two players being near each other? Imagine playing an MMO and never seeing other players. It’s the same with location based games, or even worse. Not only would it require a large player base, it would require players that are near each other! I decided not to waste any time on multiplayer and try to create a good single-player experience.

Dope Runner milestone 3 reached!

It has taken a while, but I have reached the third milestone in Dope Runner. Things are starting to look very good now! After this one there’s one more major milestone, followed by the finishing touches, and then the game can be released.

So what new features have been added? In the previous version, you could only buy drugs from dealers. Prices fluctuated, and from time to time prices peaked or crashed. In this version, drug labs and farms have been added. From time to time, they will have a supply of drugs for sale at much lower prices, so huge profits can be made. The supply doesn’t last long, however, so you have to be fast!

Notifications now work properly. You’ll receive notifications of price peaks and crashes, and of new supplies in labs and farms. There was already a text notification in the app itself, but now you’ll also receive on through the notification bar when the app is running in the background. I’m thinking about getting rid of the in-app notification text, because it has become more or less obsolete.

Speaking of running in the background, this was a major obstacle for me to overcome. It’s the first time I used services, and it was a bit complicated to get it working as I wanted. I also had to implement a wake lock, because the app needs to keep running even when the screen is turned off.

So what will the next milestone introduce? Cops! From time to time, they will try to arrest you. To fight back, you’ll be able to buy guns. If you get shot, you’ll have to visit a doctor. Also, burglars may visit your safe house! It will make the game quite challenging, and it’s the last major feature to be added.

One more thing I’m gonna add is a settings screen. In my main menu, I’ve included an Instructions-button. This will be replaced by a Settings-button, and the instructions will be published on this website. When I started I didn’t think a settings screen would be necessary, but I changed my mind. For example, the GPS update interval. A short interval is more accurate but consumes more energy. I tried to find a good balance between accuracy and battery life, but it’s best to let the player decide.

Here are a few screenshots:

dope_runner_12 dope_runner_13 dope_runner_14

Dope Runner milestone 2 reached!

The second milestone (out of 4) of Dope Runner has been reached! It took a bit longer than planned because of stuff I mentioned in my previous post. Each milestone is a completed, playable sub-project. Here’s what’s included in this one:

  • The player can visit drug dealers and buy and sell drugs. These are placed in the player’s inventory.
  • The payer can access his safe house and store drugs there.
  • Drug prices fluctuate. From time to time, one drug’s price can peak or crash for a short while.
  • There’s a price list of all drugs and all dealers. You don’t have to visit a dealer to find out the prices.
  • GPS update frequency has been changed to prolong battery life.

Now I’m gonna do some live testing, and start planning the next steps. One thing I have already found out is that this game is best played by bicycle, not on foot. The playing area is big! If you play it on foot, you probably won’t be able to make a lot of money before the battery runs out.

I have already done a few live tests, and I’m really starting to think it’s about time I got a new phone. My old HTC Hero is getting really slow, and it seems to have problems with GPS. It takes really long to get a decent fix, and it often stops working for a while. Not to mention it’s still running Android 2.1!

So what will the next milestone involve? In the next one, the drug labs and farms will work. From time to time, the player will be notified of new batches. The price of drugs will always be lower in labs and farms, but the player will have to be very fast, because the supplies won’t last long. Once a new batch of drugs is ready, the supply starts decreasing and the player has to be fast to get his hands on it. Also, your inventory space is limited, so you’ll either have to sell it as fast as possible, or store it in your safehouse.

Finally, here are a few more screenshots of the game. The first one is the main screen, with some new icons. Notice that two icons are disabled, this is because you’re not near a dealer or the safehouse. The second one is the price list. You can scroll through all dealers and see the price of everything they have available.

Dope Runner update

It’s been a while since my last update, and here’s why. My girlfriend moved in with me and we spent the last few weeks moving stuff (wich takes a long time and lots of trips if you don’t have a van or truck) and cleaning her old place. At last, everything is in place! Also, we got a cat! It’s a Persian/Ragdoll crossbreed, her name is Muffin and she’s the cutest little ball of fur I’ve ever seen.

But back to Dope Runner. Here’s a list of stuff that’s been added:

  • The trade screen. This can only be opened when you’re close to a drug dealer. I only made one for dealers, there will also be trade screens for labs and farms, and one for weapons. It shows a list of drugs and their buy/sell prices. The sell price is always 10% lower than the buy price. This means, if you buy something, change your mind and sell it back, you lose money! It also means the price has to go up at least 10% before you can make a profit. For buying and selling drugs, you click on the drug you want to trade and select the amount.
  • The inventory screen. At the moment, this only shows the drugs you have on you. Later on, it will also show weapons and ammo. When the safehouse is implemented, you will also be able to dump stuff in your safehouse from here.

The next step is a price list screen, and implementing the algoritms for adjusting the prices. The price constantly fluctuates between two values, and from time to time the price can either crash for a short period of time, or go through the roof. These will be the perfect times to buy and sell drugs

More screenshots, improved graphics

I have been working my ass off the last few days to create some decent graphics for Dope Runner. With my previous projects, I always used dummy graphics at first and didn’t start working on proper stuff untill all the coding was done, but I’m not gonna do that anymore. It’s a lot of work, and I don’t want to do it all at once. Instead, I squeeze it between my coding sessions. The screenshots you see are the result of lots of work and a few failed attempts. Often I have an idea in my head, I start drawing something, I think it looks fine at first but when I run the app on my phone it looks like absolute crap! Usually this means back to the drawing board!

The menu got a thorough overhaul. The molecule in the background is an LSD molecule, by the way. I also designed an app icon, a task that can be more difficult than any other. I came up with a good color scheme for the entire app. Considering you play the bad guy, it had to be something dark. And I designed some map icons. These represent the different locations you can visit. There are drug dealers, labs and farms, a loan shark for when you’re low on cash, a gun shop, a doctor in case you get shot and, of course, your safehouse. The last screenshot is the game’s main screen. This is still a work in progress. You always see your location here, game status (such as money) and a menu. At the bottom, there will be a pager-like display for receiving messages.

Besides graphics, I also tweaked the code a lot. When I first tried it on my phone, it drained the battery in about an hour! That’s what happens when you set the GPS receiver to update continuously. Updating every few seconds is more than enough for an app like this. And I put the GPS code in a background service. When I started development on Dope Runner, I just put GPS code in the activities themselves, wich results in a lot of duplicate code. Now I only have to write GPS code once and it sends the location data to the different screens. This wasn’t easy since I never used services before. It was a bit confusing at first, but now it works fine.

My focus at the moment is tracking the location and enabling and disabling menu items when you’re near certain locations. I have also drawn up some blueprints for the buy/sell drugs screen, wich will be a major milestone.

Introducing Dope Runner

It’s about time I introduced my latest project! I started working on this a few weeks ago and now I’m finally able to show something to the world. I have divided the project into several “milestones” and now I have reached the first one. Each milestone is a finished part of the entire project.

So what is this project about? It is a location-based game, inspired by the classic Dope Wars game. In the game, you are a drug courier and your goal is to make money buying and selling drugs. Drugs can be obtained from dealers, farms and laboratories. Of course, the police will be on the lookout, and you can be arrested at any time! Of course, you won’t go down without a fight…

The game is location based, meaning you’ll have to get outside into the real world! The locations in the game are real world locations, placed randomly on the map. The game requires GPS, you it’s best to play it in an area without tall buildings so you have good reception.

The first project milestone consists of a map generator. When you start a new game, various locations are placed randomly on the map. You enter a name for the game, select the desired size of the playing area (1, 2 or 4 square kilometers) and when the GPS has a decent fix, the map generator can be started. The location you’re at when doing this will be your safe house, where you can store things when you don’t need them (or don’t want to get caught with).

The map generator required a bit of creativity. The locations had to be placed random in the area, but there had to be a minimum distance between them. I thought about several ways to do this, but the solution I found is quite elegant. I started by generating 1000 random locations in a certain radius around the starting location. Being completely random, they could be any distance from each other. Here’s how I made sure the points I end up using are far enough apart. I have a list of 1000 completely random points. I take the first point and start calculating the distance between this point and each of the 999 other points. If a point is, let’s say, closer than 100 meters to this point, I remove it from the list. When I’m done cycling the list, all points in a 100 meter radius around the first point have been removed. This is repeated for all other remaining points. This takes a few seconds, but the speed is acceptable.

After that I end up with a much smaller list of locations, but still more than I actually need. I then gradually increase the allowed distance between the points and repeat the process until I end up with the number of points I need, with the maximum amount of distance between them.

The final step is making sure all locations can be easily reached. Since the locations still consist of random coordinates, they might be in a place you can’t possibly reach, such as the middle of a river! Luckily, Google has a service called the geocoder. The geocoder takes coordinates and finds the nearest street address. I use the coordinates of this address and voila, I have a random location that can always be reached! There’s one disadvantage I probably won’t be able to solve, however. When you’re in an area that doesn’t have many roads, all generated locations will be placed on the available roads, and they will probably end up too close together. Playing the game in such a place would be kinda boring. The best environment for the game would be a town with a pretty dense road system, but without skyscrapers.

So what kind of locations will you visit during the game? First of all, you have a safehouse. You can hide cash, drugs and weapons in there, but remember it’s not burglar-proof! There will also be several drug dealers. They buy and sell drugs, and by keeping an eye on the prices you can make a nice profit. On medium and large maps, there are also farms and drug laboratories. From time to time, you can buy drugs there at much lower prices, so you can make lots of money. Speaking of money, if you’re running low on cash, you can visit a loan shark to borrow some, but you better pay him back quickly! There’s also a weapons dealer where you can buy guns and ammo. And finally, there are cops and competitors. You won’t see these guys on the map (they’re undercover) and can stop you at any time. The competitors, by the way, are NPC’s, it’s not a multiplayer game. The game has no time limit. You can play until you get killed. This can be in a police shootout, a loan shark you didn’t pay back in time, or a competitor.

Here are two screenshots so far. The first one is the map generator. I’m not too happy about the colors, so I’ll probably try lots of other color schemes until I find something I can live with. The second one is a map of the area surrounding the Google HQ, with random locations. The icons are the default Android icon, but I’m working on a nice icon set. This time, I’m not gonna make the mistake of waiting until all coding is done to get started on graphics!