I’ve moved to a new blog

Written by David Frampton @ 2:59 am, November 23, 2015

This is just to let you know that I’ve decided to discontinue this blog, and start a new one over at majicdave.com.

This is a result of me growing up a bit, becoming a little less angry/opinionated, and acquiring a few hobbies I want to talk about that aren’t directly related to Majic Jungle. It’s just time to start again with a clean slate.

The new format should inspire me to post a bit more frequently, at least for a while. I intend to post about World Project development, The Blockheads, and my new hobby building and flying quadcopters. So please update your RSS feeds (does anyone still use those?) and I hope to see you at majicdave.com :)

In which I semi-unretire

Written by David Frampton @ 2:42 am, September 9, 2015

Lately I’ve been working hard on a new game which has the working title ‘World Project’. This is the biggest undertaking of my game development career. It’s immersive 3D, multiplayer, set on a world 1.3x the size of earth with a large render distance, and is designed for VR. More info on the project is available on this page, and I’m also publishing a series of videos detailing my progress as I go.

So I thought I had better update my blog, given the last post here was titled ‘In which I semi-retire’.


Much of what I said in that post is still true, I still don’t feel motivated to work on Blockheads, and in hindsight when I wrote that I was voicing a desire to move on and do something else. I might not *have* to keep making stuff, but I was crazy thinking I wouldn’t want to. I love making games. It just took a few months to figure out what the next one would be.

But now I’ve found that new game, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed coding so much as I have this past few months. Making such a big and immersive thing is exciting, and working in VR is a whole new frontier.

So watch this space!

In which I semi-retire

Written by David Frampton @ 1:15 am, March 5, 2015

It’s been a while since the last Blockheads update, but I haven’t started working on another update yet, and I reckon I owe it to the community to explain where the game is at and why there might not be another update for a while, if at all.

I can’t really do that without being completely honest about my situation, so here goes.

Basically I’m struggling to find motivation at the moment. It’s not just The Blockheads, but I’m finding it difficult to start work on a new game as well. But that’s OK, I’m not complaining!

In short, I am just so happy enjoying life in the real world, and don’t feel the need or desire to sit in front of a computer and code!

Chopper, Chopper 2, and of course now The Blockheads have all done extremely well, and the net result is that I’ve earned enough to retire if I want to. I don’t have any desire to make a billion dollars for the sake of it, buy luxury yachts and mansions, or develop an expensive drug habit. I’ve saved most of what my games have made, and I’m happy that I can now support my family and I comfortably from now on, so I no longer have any financial incentive to keep working.

But of course it wasn’t all about the money. I’ve also had tens of millions of downloads of my games, lots of fun building and interacting with a community of fans, and been right in the middle of the most exciting time in the birth and growth of an entire new industry. It was a great experience, but I reckon I’ve done that now. I’ve got no dream to become super famous and world renowned, no desire to make more of a mark on society and no agenda to push. The Blockheads has done as well as anyone could hope for, and I no longer desire to push it to further heights. I also don’t feel a need to try to beat or repeat its success with another game.

So not having any real desire to carry on coding, I basically haven’t been. I’ve re-found my love of surfing, and I’m spending a lot of time outside, and very little time at my desk. I’ve lost about 15kg in the past year and am fitter and healthier and happier than I’ve ever been in my life. And of course I have a young family which I am spending a great deal of time with, and these are the moments that are more important than anything.

So for now, I’m on an extended vacation. I don’t know what the future holds either for me or for The Blockheads, but I do know that the game will continue to be available, I’ll continue to fix major issues that come up, and will keep the cloud servers and everything operating for a long long time yet. A couple of hundred thousand people still play the game every day and if anything that number is rising. Milla is doing a great job on support and community management, and will continue to do so. But the game now feels ‘complete’ to me, to the extent where I am unlikely to add more content in the future.

I’m still thinking about the possibility of selling The Blockheads, as someone might be able to come to it with the passion that I once had, and take it in exciting new directions. Otherwise there is the possibility of employing someone to take over development. Either way, that would require finding someone who can not only cope with adding to (or even better taking away from) 200,000ish lines of Objective C++ code, but also is a fan of the game and has good ideas for the future. Let me know if you are that person!

I feel very very lucky to be in this position. I worked very hard for a few years, but I also had a lot of lucky breaks. I’m very thankful to everyone who has supported me by playing my games and buying my stuff. And who knows, VR is another exciting industry that is just getting fired up, and it might just be enough to pull me back in. In a few weeks or months I might find myself getting the creative itch again, this isn’t the first time I’ve taken a long break, so it might not be the last.

The Oversell

Written by David Frampton @ 8:30 am, June 16, 2013

The conventional App Store wisdom is that you should sell as strongly as you can in your screenshots, description and keywords, as they’re some of the few sales tools you have.

In the lead up to the Chopper 2 release, I spent a great deal of time agonizing over the staging and choice of screenshots that would be displayed in the App Store. But later, in the lead up to the launch of The Blockheads I spent a couple of hours to put together a few crappy screenshots, and left it at that.

There are a couple of reasons for the change of focus, and in hindsight it was a mistake to under-sell The Blockheads to that extent in its screenshots.

But there was some merit to the theory behind it.

There is a natural tendency to want to right wrongs in the world. If something looks better or worse from the outside than it actually is on the inside, people virtuously tend to warn or encourage others, let their friends know what to expect if they were to venture on in.

If you mis-represent your game in a positive light, new players will be more likely to download it, but less likely to find the positive experience they were expecting and recommend it to friends, and more likely to warn others against the experience. On the other hand, if you under-sell the game, new players are less likely to download it, but a little more likely to try to sell the game to their friends, even encouraging people to give it a go despite the barrier to entry of poor presentation.

I went too far with my crappy launch screenshots, and they under-sold The Blockheads to the extent that more potential players were probably put off than I would like. But if you (like me) are a developer in it for the long haul, and want a quality game and word of mouth to drive long term downloads, you really need to find that fine balance, where people aren’t put off by under-selling, and most importantly aren’t forced into a negative experience by over-selling.

There is a sweet spot, but don’t over-sell your game. You’re under-selling it.

(On a side note, It’s been far too long since my last blog post, mostly because I have been far too busy for far too long. But now with version 1.3 of The Blockheads about to be submitted, I think that might change. There is a Blockheads ‘postmortem’ coming one day… sorry for the neglect!)

Just a clone

Written by David Frampton @ 12:39 am, May 3, 2012

If you haven’t seen or heard of The Blockheads, it’s a work-in-progress game for iOS that I’ve been working on for some time now. To sum it up quickly, it’s an adventure, exploration, survival and creativity game played in a vast procedurally generated world.

That summary could easily belong to many games, in fact, there is a decent chance you just read that and thought ‘So you’re making Minecraft’.

I’m not.

I’m not going to try to prove that here, you’ll have to play The Blockheads to find out. And a single blog post is not going to dispel the ‘just a’ Minecraft/Terraria/Junk Jack rip-off police, I’ll just have to take that stuff on the chin.

But a tweet suggested it might be interesting to hear a bit more backstory on what my influences actually were, and I agreed. In short, Minecraft is an influence. Terraria and Junk Jack really aren’t, and there’s a whole lot of other games that are.

To start with, this game was first conceived before I even knew how to program. It was actually the game I always intended to make after I had the skills and resources to do so.

The initial idea was that the player controlled a number of humanoid characters. Back then they were cave-men like prehistoric humans. The player would teach them to use tools, discover fire, build huts, and eventually evolve into modern day humans. It would be played in the 2D cross section of a vast world, and the player would shape both the world and its inhabitants.

This idea, conceived in 2003, was heavily influenced by The Sims. I imagined an interface where progress bars told you needs and skills, where you placed pre-modeled objects that the characters would interact with and learn from. It was also influenced by Warcraft and Civilization. I imagined technology trees. Lumber mills and blacksmiths. Wars with other tribes, animals to farm and eat.

But for a very long time, this idea was out of my reach. In particular the art and level design required would have been astronomical. It would have taken me 100 years.

And then I discovered Minecraft.

Minecraft simplified the world so much, that anything was possible. With pixel art graphics, a few simple rules, and a procedurally generated world, my idea suddenly became possible.

So I started work. Initially, in part due to my childhood love of Sim Earth, I started making an evolution game. It was a 2D cross section world, where instead of starting with cave men, the player would start with amoeba, slowly evolving through a massive tech tree until modern humans were reached.

However, issues quickly showed up as I began coding and started thinking about how the game would work. In particular, the evolution component was quickly becoming just a long winded prelude to the much more interesting part of interacting with humans. Animals are cool and all, but they don’t shape their world like people do.

So I stripped out a large amount of the code I’d written, and just kept the world. And then I added the first blockhead, and suddenly it all made sense.

During development, the game has drifted closer to Minecraft than I had hoped, but it’s been an organic process. There were some key decisions that took it from being something totally different to something much closer. As an example, one such decision was to give the characters inventories. Initially I had thoughts of items being magically transported to where they are needed, and workbenches and chests being the main interface for the game. But for a number of reasons I decided giving the characters inventories would make the game better, so that is what I did. And as a result it is more like Minecraft.

But there are still many things that I have kept or added that have no relation to Minecraft. For example, like my initial concept, The Blockheads has multiple characters to control instead of one. This might seem insignificant, but it really isn’t. In Minecraft you are in the world, you are the character. In The Blockheads you are god. The characters do your bidding. This totally changes how the game feels, and I think, is better suited to the pick up and play nature of mobile devices.

As a side note, I’ve also already been accused of making ‘just a’ Junk Jack or Terraria clone. I’ve never played Terraria, though I have watched some gameplay footage. I did play some Junk Jack. However I have taken not a single idea from either of them, so similarities are probably due to our shared source of inspiration from Minecraft. However without going into too much detail, they both taught me a few things not to do.

So in summary, yes I have drawn inspiration from Minecraft. But this game was conceived before Minecraft or its main inspiration ‘Infiniminer’ even existed. I have drawn inspiration from The Sims, Sim Earth, Civilization, Starcraft and Warcraft, and even Plants vs. Zombies amongst many others. But what Minecraft gave me was the ability to create the game I always wanted.

The Blockheads is not ‘just a clone’. Of anything. It’s a game I’ve been thinking about for years, with influences from all over the place. And I know people are going to enjoy it.

Ideas are just a prerequisite for execution

Written by David Frampton @ 5:38 am, November 16, 2011

This article has come up a few times since it was written by Derek Sivers in 2005, and after seeing it linked to by John Gruber recently I though it time to voice my issues with it.

I do agree with his overall angle. Derek is arguing that ideas are not worth as much as everyone seems to think they are, and I whole-heartedly agree.

But I disagree with the example given where he multiplies the quality of an idea with the quality of the execution to get a measure of success. A multiplier says that without an excellent idea, your product will only ever reach some capped level of success.

Which gives far too much influence to the initial idea. It still says that an idea can single handedly multiply potential profits twentyfold. It still implies that before anything has been started, ideas do have some intrinsic value in their potential.

You see the problem with all this is that before an idea is fleshed out, whether it is good or bad is a matter of speculation. In hindsight anyone can look at the iPhone or iPod and say it was a good idea. But when someone (presumably Steve) at Apple said “We’re going to make an mp3 player”, how many knew it was the right thing to do?

The idea was made good by the execution. If Apple hadn’t done an excellent job of taking the iPod from an idea to a highly successful product, history would say it had been a bad idea to start with.

Execution is a million discoveries, a million solutions, and a million more ideas. That first idea? That’s just the first step on the way.

One final note: There is no doubt that a partially executed idea can be highly valuable. That value is in the partial execution, and has little to do with the simple spark that started it.

So this is how I would change Derek Sivers’ formula:

IDEA = 1

SO-SO- EXECUTION = $10,000
GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

Why AirPlay is the Next Big Thing

Written by David Frampton @ 12:14 am, August 27, 2011

So I’ve mentioned a few times on twitter how I think AirPlay will change everything. In particular it has the potential to make huge waves in the gaming world, and take a big bite out of the console market.

In case you’re not sure what AirPlay is, or what is changing, AirPlay is a feature that allows streaming of content from an iPad or iPhone to a TV via an AppleTV. In the soon to be released iOS 5 there is now the ability to mirror anything on the display to a TV. It also allows developers to display game content (or any other content) on the TV, while displaying controller buttons (or any other content) on the device itself. This particular feature is iPad 2 only at present, but it is the game changer.

There are many who agree, but also many who don’t, and after seeing a few of his tweets I asked @michelboutros to explain himself, and he kindly did so here. I don’t want to pick on Michael, he’s just given a good summary of pretty much every argument I’ve seen against AirPlay – why AirPlay will be a bad way to play games, and why game consoles will still be the dominant gaming force in the living room.

So I’ll address his arguments one by one.


I saw this a lot with the remote control feature in Chopper 2. “So I have to buy both an iPad and an iPhone, that’s like a billion dollars! I can buy a PS3 for a fraction of that!”. The fact is though, that most people who have an iPad, also have an iPhone. People may buy consoles to play games, but they buy iPhones to be phones. They buy Apple TVs to watch content (though this will change), and they buy routers to route packets. If you combine all of the stuff that people already have into a game console, you’re not costing them a billion dollars, you’re saving them the price of a dedicated console.

As time goes on and AirPlay becomes more widely adopted the cost will lower too. All routers – even the cheap ones – will be expected to support Bonjour out of the box. And TVs may even come with AirPlay built in, so you may not even have to buy an AppleTV. The router needn’t even be a part of the equation, as there is no technical reason an AppleTV couldn’t just create its own Ad Hoc network for devices to connect to.

Graphics performance

A common argument against iOS devices being suitable for ‘real gaming’ is that the devices themselves are not capable of delivering the same quality graphics as the consoles. Firstly, the Wii proved that having the highest quality graphics is not a prerequisite for a gaming platform to succeed. Most gamers don’t care too much whether a monster is made out of 1000 polygons or 100000 polygons. It’s just not that big a deal.

But I would also argue that the iPad 2, and no doubt the iPhone 5 (which will almost certainly feature AirPlay) are already pretty competitive. They are ‘good enough’ already, and though an XBox or PS3 can push more polygons, and run more complicated shaders, programmers are pretty good at making the most out of what they have available.

The argument that Michael makes about the retina iPad requiring games to push 2048×1536 simply isn’t true. Regardless of the screen resolution of the device, a game can simply render as many or as few pixels as it likes, and output at the native resolution of the TV.


I’ve played a few games over AirPlay, and have just finished working on an update to Chopper 2 to improve AirPlay compatibility. It’s not perfect. There is a small delay, and the frame rate isn’t quite as smooth as what comes out of a console. But it’s pretty damn good. I was blown away by the lack of latency really, it’s comparable to the latency when using an iPhone to control Chopper 2 on an iPad. Just like with the graphics performance issue, it’s ‘good enough’ for most games, and will only get better from here.

The Controller

This is perhaps the largest roadblock for iOS when it comes to competing with the console, and is probably the largest factor I think that will save the console from certain doom. (Another large factor is unique hardware like the Kinect, which will ensure consoles still have a place in the living room for a while yet).

I do agree that there are games for which a touch screen and accelerometer/gyro just aren’t the right fit. And the ones that come to mind are the First Person Shooter type games, where you need to control both aim and movement with high fidelity.

The FPS might stay firmly rooted in the console/PC world, or we might see innovations that allow it to come to iOS. Perhaps third party hardware makers or even Apple themselves might release accessories that make first person shooters easier to control on iOS. Or perhaps touch screens will evolve to provide programmable tactile feedback.

But again I think of the Wii, which has got to put a huge amount of its success down to the uniqueness of its control system. On the iPhone, entire genres have appeared that would have been tedious to play with a console controller. Flight Control is a prime example. Even the likes of Angry Birds or Doodle Jump took off in part because they suited the available controls so well.

Multiplayer gaming is going to be huge over AirPlay with the iPhone 5. It won’t be long before everyone has a game console/controller in their pocket. Card or board games immediately come to mind, but there are just so many possibilities when you put a handful of people in a room with an AppleTV and their own controllers and game collections.

Developers are itching to come up with a plethora of ways to use the iPhone and iPad as wireless controllers for games displayed on TVs. The swarm of developers already creating games for stand alone iOS devices are just waiting for the next big thing … and this is it.


Written by David Frampton @ 11:38 pm, July 7, 2011

[update - it wasn't clear, when I refer to 'freemium' I am specifically talking about the type of free to play games which are currently filling the top grossing charts. Those where the player buys packs of in game currency to speed up and improve something they are trying to grow/create.]

Eli Hodapp from TouchArcade today posted an article showing that Free-to-play revenue has now overtaken premium revenue on the App Store.

I mentioned on twitter that I thought this was a bit sad, but there wasn’t enough space to really say why. So I thought I’d explain.

Developers are noticing. Many of the developers I have talked to recently are at least planning their freemium games in their head, if they haven’t already shipped or started working on one. We’ve all seen the writing on the wall for a while now. Freemium is where the money is. At 99c a pop, premium games just can’t compete when it comes to revenue.

So developers are switching to making freemium games, and we’ll see more and more of them in the future. As a side effect we’ll also see less and less premium pay-up-front games.

The thing is, I don’t believe the majority of people actually prefer these kinds of games. As a genre they’re fine and good, and I’ve enjoyed a few of them myself. But this financial ‘voting’ if you like, is not representative of gamers as a whole. Freemium is just so damn good at making money, that its users are over represented. And as a result, developers are switching focus away from what the majority of gamers actually want.

I’m sure everything will be fine, there’s only so many freemium titles that can be made before that market will be saturated and developers will start moving back to premium. Also, as Dave from NimbleBit (creators of the excellent freemium title Tiny Tower) pointed out, they’re probably not actually taking away any customers from the paid games. Though freemium is an appealing and growing market, the premium game market is still doing just fine.

But I do feel a bit sad for all the premium games we’re missing out on as developers work on freemium titles. I’ve played enough freemium games now, but there will be a lot more to come.

And to be perfectly honest, I’ll probably be one of the developers responsible.

[UPDATE 2 - Eli has responded here.

I agree with what he says there. Really my use of the distinction between freemium and premium in this post is completely incorrect. Not all freemium games are of the kind that I'm talking about, and a game needn't be premium in order to avoid being of that type. However this post still stands as long as you keep in mind that I am only talking about the farming type games as I defined above (added after Eli had written his post). These are the games making the money, that developers are flocking to create.]

Is Being an Indie all Fun and Games?

Written by David Frampton @ 12:15 am, May 11, 2011

I was asked this today on Twitter, and it’s a common question:


So I thought I would answer in a blog post to provide a bit more detail. Of course I can only answer this from my own unique point of view, others will no doubt have quite different experiences. For a bit of background, I quit my day job nearly 3 years ago and have been working on Mac/iOS apps and games mostly from home, mostly alone since.

I’m going to start by saying that for as long as I can, I’ll continue indie development. There are many, many positives to this lifestyle which far out-weigh the negatives. But I’m a bad news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the cons.

First up, you can’t escape. This is the case in many day jobs too, but I’m sure anyone who is self employed will tell you that they are working nearly 24/7. Even when I’m not sitting at my desk I’m almost definitely planning my next promotion or figuring out how to tackle some problem. It’s harder to put your job out of your head when you own the business. Even more so when the business is in the room next to where you sleep. And then there are the emails, which are relentless.

Over time I have adapted somewhat. I’m definitely better at taking time off than I used to be, and at times will just ignore emails for a week or more. But it’s not easy, as I know my business is suffering as a result.

The second negative is the lack of people contact. I know I absolutely have to bounce my ideas off people to get the best results, and this is not always possible when working alone or in a very small team. There’s only so much Chopper talk my wife will put up with. But aside from the product quality implications of working alone, it does affect social skills. The wrong kind of person could end up totally scared to even leave the house, and the number of real world relationships you have will almost definitely suffer.

The third main negative is the result of a positive. When you work from home, you don’t have a commute. This is wonderful, everyone hates commuting. But there is something good in the commute, and it’s something that I keep trying to replace but can’t. That thing is forced time alone, without distractions, to think and plan. Exercise gives that time too, and I should do more of that. But it’s worth mentioning that I do spend less time just thinking things over than I used to.

One last con perhaps, working from home means I have a totally different lifestyle to my friends and family. This turns out to mean that I see less of them as a result, and have to make a bit more effort. For me to go into town to meet someone for lunch is harder than if I was just there, and I’m probably not ready for lunch when they are, due to the sleep-in. Weekends become almost meaningless, as do public holidays, except as times you really should make the effort to go out and do stuff with your mates, rather than carry on working on that product release. Weekends also become times to avoid leaving the house, as all the weekday workers are out and about, totally stressed, trying to squeeze everything in before Monday.

There are perhaps other negatives that various people might encounter. I am pretty self motivated, so don’t find that to be much of a problem. Also, running a business means far less specialization than in the 9 to 5 world, so you need to be able to thrive doing many totally different tasks, switching quickly between them as necessary. I’ve also been fortunate to only have a slight taste of what effect financial pressure would have, and it would definitely make things a lot less comfortable.

So what about the positives? I could write an entire book about the positives. So to try to cover everything without getting to book length, I’ll just make a list.

  • As I said, the lack of commute is great. Not having to commute saves time, money and stress.
  • I have full control over the office. Decor, noise levels, temperature, even the food, coffee, and beer on hand is all totally up to me.
  • I don’t get interrupted by colleagues.
  • I get to have my weekends in the week. This is actually a huge plus. I can time excursions around traffic, do the shopping when no one else does, go surfing/snowboarding when everyone else is at work. There is no business benefit (particularly as I’m in the New Zealand timezone) to working 9 to 5 or Monday to Friday, but many personal benefits to not doing so.
  • The definition of ‘weekend’ can be stretched somewhat.
  • I don’t have an alarm.
  • I can drink beer at my desk.
  • I see a lot more of my wife (and when we have kids, them too).
  • I can live anywhere I want, and in fact will be moving out of the city soon, to a cheaper and nicer area. Not many jobs, but that doesn’t matter.
  • I never have to look busy, or occupy a desk. If I’m not being productive I just stop working.
  • I don’t ever have meetings to go to.
  • I don’t have to file for leave, and in fact (though it may harm the business if I do so) I can decide to go on a trip one night and leave the next day. I’ve actually done this and it was awesome.
  • Every project can be finished before it is released. I get to decide when to ship, and never get told to ship something I am not proud of.
  • I can work on whatever I feel like working on. I still have to do things I don’t enjoy in order to get the job done, but I can factor my own enjoyment into the equation. It’s not always just a matter of ‘it needs doing, so you have to do it’. Sometimes it can be ‘it needs doing, but screw it I’d rather do something fun’.

Without going into too much detail that probably sums it up. I don’t want people to read this as boasting, I just really love working for myself, and you can see why. There are a few negatives, but they are vastly out-weighed by the positives.

In saying that, I can’t recommend that everyone quits their day jobs and goes indie. It’s not for everyone, and I have been extremely lucky. But if you do, I wish you the best of luck. Hopefully it works for you too.


Written by David Frampton @ 10:51 pm, April 21, 2011

I got this forwarded to me today, from a graphics designer:

This is Harry Fielding from marketing at Majicjungle. You
may already have heard of us. We are a popular game
maker for the Mac and iPod App Stores. Our most
popular game is most likely Chopper 2. We are creating
a new game for both OS’s and we are looking for lots of
YouTube designers and coders to enter and help us out.
We already have a large amount such as j0egas and
MacIsTheGeek for coding but we are still looking for
more. If you were to help us we would be asking for
either graphics or music, or even better both. Of course
we would pay depending on quality and time spent. If
you are interested please reply back to
harry.fielding@ymail.com and we will chat on that. This
is for the reason it will have to go through our servers
and it could arrive to anyone in our support section. If
the answer is yes we will fill you in and send you a
untextured dev format.
Please help us!!
Harry Fielding
Customer and Marketing

So someone is trying a scam where they pretend to be representing me, in order to sign up graphics designers.

I feel a bit pissed off, but at least the email is so bad that people should pick up on its illegitimacy. I’m not quite sure where the money making part of the scam comes in. It could be as simple as trying to get bank account information, or as complex as actually making an app and not paying for the work.

Whatever it is, if you get an email like that, it wasn’t from me, or any other legitimate developer.

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