[Interview] Colonize the Universe in My Planet

My Planet is an interesting indie game available on Google Play with Android TV support. You start out with 100 people on a planet and you try to grow your population, controlling the amount of sun and rain to keep the population healthy and alive. Eventually, you’re able to start sending people to the moon and then to colonize more planets.

I wanted to get a better idea of the developer’s motivations behind the game and how they adapted it to the large screen of a TV, and I got the opportunity to interview them. The responses are shown below.

On the Game’s Origins

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What was the original idea behind My Planet?

I got the idea from an older Android game called Planet in a Bottle, which the original concept for My Planet was based heavily on. It was a fun game, but seemed to be abandoned by the developer, so I wanted to make something similar but take the concept further.

How did you work on balancing the amount of sun and rain in the game?

Really just trial and error, and with a lot of help coming from user feedback. I’d make some tweaks to the balance, look at the feedback in the Play Store reviews, and make adjustments accordingly. I’m still making adjustments to it, by the way.

How long did it take to develop the game? What roadblocks did you hit?

The original release probably took about a week and half, so not too long. Although I still consider it to be under development. I usually don’t plan out any kind of roadmap for my games in advance. Generally, I just throw something out there and see what kind of feedback it gets, and then go from there. The direction of my work is always heavily influenced by user feedback.

As for roadblocks, the big one for me is graphics design. It’s really not an area that I’m good at, but as a small one-man team, I never want to spend the money to hire it out. Another is the fragmentation found in Android. It’s not as big of a deal now as it used to be, but when My Planet first came out a couple of years ago, there were pretty big differences between Android Gingerbread and ICS+. It’s getting a lot better now though.

On Adding TV Support

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Why did you decide to support Android TV?

I actually got contacted a year or so ago by Amazon, saying they would send me a free Fire TV if I ported some of my games to the platform. I agreed, and originally designed the game for Amazon’s platform. Being as they are both Android though, I decided I might as well put the game on Android TV too. I ended up purchasing a Nexus Player also, for testing purposes.

How long did it take to add TV support?

Technically I had TV support working in just a matter of minutes. I already had larger screen support working for tablets, so a lot of the ‘responsive design’ stuff carried over nice to the TV. Implementing gamepad controls took probably a light days worth of work. Then further UI changes appropriate to TV probably took another light day of work. It wasn’t too bad.

How does the experience differ between a phone and a TV?

I tried to make the gameplay as identical as possible. I thought My Planet would be an easy one to bring to TV since it does not rely heavily on touch, and there are only a few controls, like turning the sun on/off and so on. The main difference is in the UI. Since you can’t touch things, I added on-screen indications as to what each button does. Overall though, it’s pretty similar.

On Android TV

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What is your favorite part of Android TV?

I like the idea of having a “console” in the living room full of indie titles, not locked down the way an Xbox or PS4 would be. It opens the door to a lot of different ideas that would never even see the light of day on a more mainstream console. There is also a lot of opportunities with the non-gaming aspect of the device, things that you used to have to build an HTPC for at a much higher cost.

In the next update to Android TV, what is one feature you want to see added?

I think they need to rethink the “home screen” on Android TV with a better way to organize apps and games. I’d also like to see better performance. I hear the NVIDIA Shield is pretty good, but my Nexus Player is painfully slow sometimes. As for software features, I’m actually satisfied with what is available at the moment.

What advice do you have for other developers who are on the fence about supporting Android TV?

I’d say that depending on the app or game, adding TV support may take only an extra day or two of your time, so why not? Particularly regular, non-game apps. They almost “just work” with little extra effort required. Obviously to make the app great, you would want to design a TV specific interface. But for a small one man team with a good app, why not just put it on there and see if it gains traction? If so, go back and build out that interface.

What’s next? Are you planning on a new game?

I am currently working on a game called My Colony that is in beta right now with non TV support, but it will be coming to Android TV soon. It is a lot more complicated than My Planet so the controls are going to require a lot more thought, but I’m looking forward to it.

I also have a non-game app called Network Browser that allows users to stream videos and content from their shared network devices, which I plan on bringing to Android TV soon. This is one that I personally will use quite a bit, so I am bringing it to Android TV as much for myself as for everyone else, but I think it will be a great app for HTPC type people who have large video libraries on network storage.

Nick Felker

Nick Felker

Nick Felker is a student Electrical & Computer Engineering student at Rowan University (C/O 2017) and the student IEEE webmaster. When he's not studying, he is a software developer for the web and Android (Felker Tech). He has several open source projects on GitHub (http://github.com/fleker) Devices: Moto G-2013 Moto G-2015, Moto 360, Google ADT-1, Nexus 7-2013 (x2), Lenovo Laptop, Custom Desktop. Although he was an intern at Google, the content of this blog is entirely independent and his own thoughts.

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