Most iOS game developers across the world prefer using Cocos 2D v.3 with the SpriteBuilder suite, for making customized, high-end games. SpriteBuilder helps in creating native games for the Android platform too. Here’s a checklist of the features that have contributed to the success of this game development suite.
With the release of the SpriteBuilder 1.0 tool in January this year, cross-platform mobile game development has become easier than ever before. The SpriteBuilder suite is managed and supported by Apportable, and can be used with the both Cocos2D and 3D, as well as Chipmunk game development engines. In fact, many professional mobile app developers are off the opinion that SpriteBuilder has been instrumental in reviving the slightly sagging popularity of Cocos2D-Objective C, in 2013. So, what are the features that make this tool so special? Let’s take a look:
- Compatibility with Xcode and Objective C – Along with, of course, Cocos2D-Swift at present. Companies are increasingly taking to making games by using SpriteBuilder along with Xcode 6.0, and the Objective-C/Swift programming language. This compatibility feature is vital in making native mobile games within relatively shorter periods, and without major glitches.
- Open source – App developers love open-source software, and SpriteBuilder satisfies this criterion. The codes and snippets can be tweaked around, for adding customization to game development projects. Generally, leading mobile app companies get requests for making diverse types of games, and the open-source SpriteBuilder suite comes in very handy in that regard.
- Multiple screen modes – Just like Cocos2D has several layout options, the SpriteBuilder suite comes with two alternative screen modes. In the Fixed Screen mode, the attributes of the game nodes (expressed as a percentage of the parent container) do not change. As a result, all the ‘scenes’ you create for the game will be identical. On the other hand, the Flexible Screen Mode of SpriteBuilder allows developers to resize scenes, so that the latter can properly fit into the screens of different devices. As is understandable, the size and precise positions of the nodes also keep changing in this mode.
- Speed – SpriteBuilder was always expected to bolster the speed of iOS game development, but the real surprise has been how the tool has been able to cut down the ‘developer-to-stores’ time span for the Android platform. The support from Apportable has been influential for bringing this advantage to game developers. Instead of any third-party engines or suites, all Objective-C programs are compiled straight to the x86 (in certain cases, the ARM) machine codes. As a result, the entire process speeds up.
- Facilitates better collaboration between app designers and game developers – Mobile app agencies which have started using SpriteBuilder with Cocos2D have also witnessed better collaboration between their in-house designers and coders. On of the key reasons for this has been the presence of a robust visual editor in this suite, which allows the creation of game prototypes on a real-time basis. This lets designers (and even clients) to share their inputs, and changes can be done accordingly. As any mobile app expert would agree, developers and designers have separate capabilities which can turn into conflicting interests. SpriteBuilder keeps the joint workflow between the two teams seamless.
- Learning curve – Much less steep than that of Unity or Libgdx. What most new mobile game developers like about SpriteBuilder is the opportunity to create ‘fake Gameplay scenes’ that it provides. All that the developers need to do is make a new ‘Gameplay.ccb’ (preferably in 480×320 screen size), and then add an art pack and any number of game objects to it. Working with the fake scenes can be really helpful in learning how the overall gameplay content can be scaled up in future.
- Auto-adjustment of image sizes – With SpriteBuilder, iOS/Android game developers no longer have to separately specify the sizes of different images in the scenes. By default, the suite takes every image at four times(4x) of its original size (i.e., a 60×60 character becomes 240×240). Images for iPads are generally taken as double the size for those used for iPhones. Of course, you can keep the images used in smartphones and tablets of the same size, by selecting the 2x option under ‘tablethd’.
- ‘Safe’ and ‘Unsafe’ screen areas – Yet another big advantage of SpriteBuider is its developer-friendly screen representation. The overall screen area for games is divided into the inner, larger ‘safe’ area (the gameplay area that is displayed on all devices), and the outer ‘unsafe’ border area (which remains partially or completely hidden from view). Since the two areas are clearly demarcated, game developers get a proper idea about where they should put the gameplay content, and from where they should put in paddings or the larger background images. For instance, on iPhone 5, certain areas of the ‘unsafe area’ is visible.
- Enhanced features in the new version – SpriteBuilder 1.3.5 was officially launched less than a month ago, and it packs in even more delights for mobile game development professionals. The support for Xcode 6 and Swift has been bolstered further, while the multithreading feature in the Open GL is also an interesting addition. However, the two new features that have got app developers all abuzz about SpriteBuilder 1.3.5 are the Cocos2D Metal Renderer and the packages dynamically created for Cocos2D-Swift. It is expected that the CCEffectLighting property would also improve in future versions of SpriteBuilder.
- Licensing requirements – As already mentioned above, SpriteBuilder is an open-source game development suite. Mobile app developers can download and use it under a straightforward MIT license. In other words, there is no need to worry about copyright infringements and other such issues – while customizing the source code of SpriteBuilder. No extra expenses are required either. An Indie license would do the trick.
- Support for 3D game development – SpriteBuilder does not have many takers for three-dimensional mobile game development at present – but things can easily change within the next couple of years. Unity 3D, with its support for a large number of platforms, is the chief rival of SpriteBuilder in this domain. It will be interesting to note what further additions are made to SpriteBuilder, to improve the suite’s worth as a 3D game development tool. At least, SpriteBuilder is not ‘2D-only’ – and that’s something.
- Additional customization – When used with Cocos2D, SpriteBuilder offers a myriad of personalization options to game developers. The sizing type, reference corner, positioning type, and even the anchor point of game scenes can be adjusted as per the exact requirements. By using ‘Points’ (instead of the absolute UIPoints), the positions and dimensions of images can be automatically scaled up for devices with bigger screens.
- Tiled editor and boned animation support – The professionally-styled tiled graphic-user-interface (GUI) editor of SpriteBuilder is certainly one of its many high points. Add to that the support for high-end boned animations, built-in animation/scene editor, particle systems and improved localization tools – and there remains little scope for doubting SpriteBuilder’s position as the best suite for 2D native game development. The speed at which SpriteBuilder can generate sprite sheets is also impressively high.
The combination of Cocos2D v.3 and SpriteBuilder ranks high on the popularity count among game and mobile app developers worldwide. The SpriteBuilder suite is available for download for free, at the Mac App Store. For becoming proficient in native game development on the iOS and Android platform, thorough knowledge about the features of this suite is of essence.
Oh, and did you know – with SpriteBuilder, you can create a relatively simple mobile game in under 7 minutes?