Twisted Maestro: Designing My First iPhone Game

As a Senior Software Developer at KeyLimeTie, my day-to-day work requires me to focus on some very technical issues. A typical day may include creating a REST web service, optimizing software for thread-safety and performance, or even critiquing open-source frameworks. Although these technical challenges are satisfying, I never really need to tap into my right-brain skills which include extensive graphic arts and music experience.

In my free time I enjoy merging these technical and artistic sides and my latest project is the iPhone game I’ve branded as "Twisted Maestro." This easy to learn game presents a player with a piano-like device used for testing finger dexterity and visual acuity.

Gameplay Approach

When deciding how to model the gameplay of Twisted Maestro, I first had to acknowledge that I don’t fall into the target demographic of many of today’s popular games. I frequented video arcades during the early 80’s, but over time I’ve very much drifted away from being a gamer. I evaluated recent games and found those which require unusual dexterity and movements were not very satisfying for me. So I consciously decided to take the Zen approach of "Beginner’s Mind" and disregard any presuppositions I may have about the latest gaming trends. I wanted to make a game that was attractive for its simplicity, one that was visually stunning and was appealing for its difficulty and physical challenge.

Twisted Maestro early concept wireframes. Twisted Maestro early concept wireframes.

Design Strategies

Typically, the UX and navigation patterns of handheld games don’t follow the same guidelines as a professional business app would, designers take liberties to do whatever they can to create unique interfaces. Contrary to this trend, I wanted to follow the Apple Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) as much as I could without sacrificing creative design. For example, since the upper left corner is the sacred location for the Back button of navigation, this is where I placed the Audition button which leads back towards the keyboard home screen for performing an audition.

Another aspect I thought to be important was to target the physical needs of as many people as I could. When performing an audition on Twisted Maestro, knowing the amount of time remaining is important to get the best performance. Recognizing that the majority of the population is right-handed, I placed the time indicator where it would be least obstructed for viewing by a right-handed player. A physical limitation I also wanted to address was that of color-blindness. Original prototypes arbitrarily used green and red for gameplay indicators, but I later changed these in order to respect players with red-green color-blindness, the most common case, and give them a better experience.

Realistic-looking, oversized keyboard.

I wanted the overall graphic design of the game to be realistic and seem like you could actually be holding the auditioning device. I tested different sizes for the buttons and found that using a larger button gave the perception of a larger, more realistic device. Also contributing toward this realism are very high-resolution graphics, textures with intentionally aged effects, as well as keyboard audio recorded in a professional studio.

Gameplay Tuning

The difficulty of each level and the scoring algorithm were not easy to determine and took many iterations to get correct. In order to find proper values, I gained feedback from a wide array of testers ranging from preschoolers to teenagers to senior citizens. I needed the game to be rewarding for younger and less nimble players, but also be appropriately difficult for the more advanced gamers. I find the ultimate compliment to be when a player wants to play the game “just one more time”.

Conclusion

Creating the Twisted Maestro game proved to be very challenging in many ways. I spent most of my development time in two areas - fine-tuning the gameplay and scoring algorithms, and refining graphics to give the perception of realism. The final game has been getting great reviews worldwide and I owe its success to the many testers who contributed their honest feedback during development iterations.

I enjoy my role here at KeyLimeTie and I certainly don’t strive to be a professional game developer, but this personal experience has been extremely rewarding and I’m anxious to leverage what I've learned for a KeyLimeTie customer project.

Download Twisted Maestro on the App Store

Twisted Maestro is compatible with iPhone, iTouch, and iPad Visit www.twistedmaestro.com or download from the App Store.

Interested in Your Own Mobile App?

If you are interested in putting the skills of developers like Patrick to use developing a mobile app for your company, please contact KeyLimeTie at 630.598.9000 or sales@keylimetie.com. Follow us on Twitter at @KeyLimeTie.