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Announcements: Version 1.2 update

As the new app version (1.2) is about to be released, here are all the major changes that were made to the game:

New and improved puzzles

6 great new levels have been added, as well as tweaks to improve the existing levels. Thanks to user feedback a few problematic levels have been moved on to the bonus stage where they can cause less grief.

The 4 stages of the previous release have now been merged in to a single main ‘Quest’ stage of 51 levels as well as a second bonus stage for those seeking an extra challenge after completing the game.

You can now tackle any level of the main stage (expect the last one) without needing to complete or skip proceeding levels. This should prevent users getting stuck and abandoning their efforts, and also allows new levels to be added to the main quest without breaking any logic for existing players.

Payment model change

Manowar is now free-to-play with ads. Ads are frequency capped and displayed in natural breaks to avoid unnecessary disruptions of gameplay. This will hopefully open up a new audience for the game while still supporting maintenance and improvement into the future.

Device support

The game now supports all modern iPhone and iPad devices. A major update to the fundamental way that graphics are managed and scaled will make future accommodations for new screen resolutions much more simple to implement.

Thanks for your continued support of the game. Good luck!

App store link

Screen shot: New level preview (Q39-ADP)

This is a preview of new level Q39-ADP:


Announcements: Puzzle App Game of the Year Award!

I’m very pleased to learn that Manowar has won a Puzzle App Game of the Year (PAYG) award, in the Best Physics Puzzle category. The awards are curated by puzzle authority Tom Cutrofello (@labmicepuzzles) who runs the superb Gotta Solve It puzzle blog.

Tom’s reviews are always honest, to the point and thoroughly considered. I’ve always held his blog to be the premiere puzzle app review site on the web, so this means a lot to me.

Check out all the amazing winners here:

Announcements: Version 1.1 update

This is the first update to Manowar and has a number of improvements. Thanks so much to everyone for sharing their insights and feedback, in particular nSalmoria, PJ and onlyPhoenix.

Drag input

Drag input was really not up to standard in the original release. With this in mind the system for manual control has been redesigned.

Multiple touch is now supported, so you can simultaneously drag with one finger while firing cannons with the second. Double tap also centers the ship angle.

Also you can now visualise the angle of the ship with a guide graphic at the bottom of the screen. The guide turns red at the extreme angles required to perform certain manoeuvres and a marker appears in the center when equilibrium is reached.

Puzzle tweaks

Many levels were slightly tweaked to be easier to solve mechanically. I want the puzzle to be primarily a logical / lateral challenge, so if there was something simple I could do to make life easier - especially in the early levels - I changed the design.

New levels

G9 and G12 have been replaced with new designs to address issues with the previous levels which were too easy and too flaky respectively.


Some additional help screens were added to guide players through the new drag input controls and clear any confusion over how level skipping works.

Flying balls

Fixed a pretty major bug that allows users to make balls ‘fly’. For the sake of leaderboard parity the less said about this the better :)

Skipping Stage 3

You can now skip levels in stage 3. Players who’ve made it to the really challenging levels in Gnosis can now skip and circle back to levels rather than getting stuck and abandoning all efforts.

Thanks so much for your support. Happy playing!

App store link

Announcements: The game is live

After over a year in development, I’m happy to announce that Manowar is finally available in the App Store.

App store

Taking an independant game from planning stage to finished product was at times very challenging. The sheer volume of work involved in iterating the design and polishing was relentless and daunting.

I am immensely thankful to have had received amazing support and advice from family and friends who in the end got this project over the line.

I am proud of the result and hope that the game finds an audience of some kind who enjoy playing it as much as I enjoyed making it.

The process is by no means finished either. Look out for improvements and updates in the months ahead.


Art process: Achievement icons

Art process: App icon

Manowar app icon

Finalising the app icon for iTunes.

Screen shot: Finalising levels

Level design

Finalising level design now. It’s shaping up to be 3 x 16 level stages with a bonus stage containing all the levels that were deemed to tricky or mean. Thanks to primary level tester Zach, who is being ruthless as usual in breaking my levels and finding sneaky short cuts that need to be plugged.

Resources: Unused sound effects

This whole set of guitar sound effects made by Keir Nuttall did not end up being used in the final game.

They are now released on SoundCloud for royalty free download.

Art process: Trailer preview

Building the trailer now.

Art process: Tutorial illustrations

Tutorial illustrations

Art process: Meet the crew









Miscellany: Sacrifices

Sacrifice list

Often sacrifices must be made to get the game over the line. Sometimes this includes making balls telepathic so their lips don’t move. Alternative: they happen to be eating a big sandwich or reading a book.

Marketing: Choosing a game name

Choosing a game name stopped being fun 500 iterations ago. The original name “Golden Cannon” did not feel right for how the game has turned out. Here is my criteria for success:

  • Memorable and short
  • Availability: App store, domain availability, avoids trademark violations
  • The mood: Mysterious
  • The location: Ocean and Ships
  • The genre: Puzzles
  • The core mechanic: Tilting

The first 2 points seem to conflict for most ideas. With over a million apps in the iOS store alone, many memorable and short app names are taken. Here are a few amassed with the help of my brother Keir.

  • Abraxis
  • Ebb
  • Iron seas
  • Eon
  • Kraken
  • Nero
  • Slant
  • Angular
  • Arcamedes
  • Mystery Ship
  • The Rolling Curse
  • Octavius
  • Angulus
  • Manchuria
  • The Manchurian Curse
  • Cassandra
  • Tilt Deck
  • Saxon
  • Britanic
  • Lost
  • Baychimo
  • Pequod
  • Pequad
  • Titan
  • Madrigal
  • Juniper
  • Europa
  • Celeste
  • Aurora
  • Arabella
  • Arcadia
  • Nautilus
  • Dragon fish
  • Rickets
  • Battery
  • Gun crew
  • etc etc etc

Art process: Ball characters

Cannon ball faces

At a crucial moment the balls reveal themselves to be ragged but doe-eyed pirates.

Design process: Satisfying puzzle level design

What makes a puzzle satisfying? Having a puzzle design philosophy really helps resolve design choices. These are a few of my thoughts on what makes a good level:

The illusion of simplicity
When the user glances at the level it might look pretty straight forward. They have a go but realize that it’s not so simple after all. Preferably this realisation takes as long as possible to occur.

This false narrative may be cunning but we don’t want to use any red herrings or dirty tricks. Remember the user is not our enemy - we want them to feel accomplishment not resentment after solving the level. Games are supposed to be fun, aren’t they? So be playful.

Questioning assumptions
Perhaps after trying to use brute force to solve the level, the user has to actually think and be creative. There seems to be a natural barrier to this for most people.

The user is required to go back to the beginning and analyse some of the choices and assumptions they made along the way. They experiment and feel out different branches of consequence - each choice seems to have repercussions that are hopefully unexpected.

A narrative appears
The user must experiment over and over, slowly unraveling the puzzle to reach a solution. They know they are on the right track because a pattern appears in the chaos.

This pattern could be anything, and is difficult to describe in general terms, but it acts as a sign that the puzzle was designed by a human. A secret conversation that is earned by the user’s thoughts and imagination.

Level complete!
The user feels like a smarty pants. They were toyed with, though never tricked. They’ve been surprised and rewarded for questioning their assumptions with an interesting narrative / pattern that gradually revealed itself. They were forced to be analytical and creative along the way.

Other thoughts
This approach is more for early levels.

As levels get more advanced and introductions are out of the way then a different class of puzzle emerge. I call these types of puzzles “grinders” and they are for seasoned players who know all your tricks. They look complex - the illusion of simplicity can be dispensed with - and they take a long time to solve. They also tend to have less of a narrative / pattern. The aim here is to let the user dwell in their analytic computations for as long as possible.

Miscellany: Gold Cannon

In other news it would appear that this site’s sister URL goldcannon.com is a brand of Chinese condom? More details as they become available.

Development: Level editor

Manowar level editor screenshot

The level editor for Manowar was built in Flash.

This was for a few reasons, mainly for it’s visual focus, the handy component system as well as the ability to write helper JSFLs to add functionality to the Flash authoring environment.

The basic workflow is as follows:

  • A JSFL linked to a keyboard shortcut creates a new unique level based on a template sprite.
  • Flash components representing each game object are dragged and dropped onto the level and component params adjusted to suit.
  • Layout is cleaned up with built in alignment tools and custom ‘snap to pixels’ JSFL.
  • A keyboard short cut launches the AIR file which saves serialised level data directly into the project directory and then runs XCode.

Working in the IDE had other unforeseen advantages, such as the ability to create a guide layer to sketch the planning of the level. SPOILER ALERT below.

Level editor planning sketch

The above may look like a speed addict’s scrawling on a toilet stall, though these lines actually help plan the level while building it.

The IDE editor was very quick to build and the component system makes it a breeze to add new game objects when needed. Its biggest downside is that no-one else can have a go at making new levels without first having Flash on their computer. This proved inconvenient and limiting. It’s a shame there was such a barrier to getting some fresh perspectives on level design.

At the end of the day though the other advantages of the system, chiefly its rapid development and ease of use, have justified going down this path.

Screen shot: Stage art

A new mechanic is introduced in each stage as outlined below:

Stage A

Stage Abraxas - the first stage - is pretty basic with black cannons and balls only.

Stage B

Stage Blepsei introduces colour. Coloured cannons only affect their corresponding colour balls and rotating platforms.

Stage C

Stage Gnosis - the final stage - features booths that swap the colour of any balls that roll through them.

Animation: Game completion

If you’ve made it all the way to the end of the game you need to get something for your efforts. In this work in progress the balls go all boy band and present themselves, one by one, to the player. Not very clear at this point what they would say.

Progress shot: Gameplay

Ship progress

I love seeing these on other blogs. Progress of the game over the last 12 months or so, from prototype to near final product.

Art process: Select your ship

Select your ship

The stage select screen comprises of a series of ships which the user scrolls through horizontally. I wanted something that looks like an scroll depicting ancient folklore. Nintendo did it with Zelda, as did the ancient greeks:

Exekias, Ajax and Achilles Playing a Game of Dice, 530 BCE via Fischer Art History

Image via Sigrid Rodli Illustration

I was also influenced by the amazing light on dark work of Norwegian illustrator Sigrid Rodli.

The concept art with pale ghost ship as seen through a telescope.

Working version with parallax animation.

Art process: Making fairly realistic clouds

Image via Cinemazzi

I love the clouds from the film poster for Hayao Miyazaki’s ‘The Wind Rises’ and wanted something similar for Manowar.

This seems to be done in gouache or similar opaque paint where the artist was able to ‘paint on’ the white hilights. As I’m using watercolour this was not an option, so I decided to work in reverse.

First the source image was cleaned up and inverted.

Using the above as a reference I painted a watercolour in blue.

Then the result was scanned and colours inverted, which greatly increases the realism of the result.

The result applied to the game.

Concept art: Title screen

I’m working on the title screen. Updated the font to something more futuristic.

Now that I’m looking at it… the composition sort of reminds me of the poster from Jaws.

Image via Aliexpress

The inspiration for the button comes directly from The Octonauts opening credits:

Image via The Octonauts

Animation: Trailer mockup

I just made this mockup of the opening animation that appears when the game is launched. I know these things get tedious on repeated viewings so I tried hard to keep it under 15 seconds.

Animation: Cannon fire study

I’m trying to get the timing right for the cannon fire effect. Smoke will eventually be added as a particle effect.

Concept art: Dark skies

Concept art of Golden Cannon game.

Most of the game elements are near to final state in this version.

Concept art: Gloomy ship

The problem with moody and majestic is that it tends to come out a bit gloomy.

Concept art: Level select

Stage select concept art

The concept art for the level select screen. A rope has a loop representing each level in the stage. Knotted loop = locked level.

Concept art: Early look and feel

Early look and feel of Golden Cannon game.

Early look and feel of Golden Cannon game.

These are my initial attempts at developing the look of the game using a monochrome palette as per a rich indie tradition.

Animation: Parallax ship rotation

Experimenting with a parallax shift in the background of the ship to add some depth to the cross-section.

Prototype: Playable demo 2

This is the second prototype of the game (requires Flash).

  • The aim is to fire all the balls off the ship to complete the level.
  • Drag the ship left <-> right to roll the balls into the cannons.
  • Tap anywhere to fire.

Still trying to work out the core mechanic with variations on the original concept. This includes internal firing cannons and cannon ball boxes that crack open to release more balls.

Prototype: Playable demo 1

This is the initial playable demo of the game (requires Flash).

  • The aim is to fire all the balls off the ship to complete the level.
  • Drag the ship left <-> right to roll the balls into the cannons.
  • Tap anywhere to fire.

This prototype was made to work out if the core mechanic of the game is compelling enough to continue. It has been well accepted through play testing and there seems to be some potential for this concept to grow to support some really interesting puzzle ideas.

Design process: Sketch

This is the initial concept sketch for Manowar. Note the ‘Restart level’ button: pretty cutting edge stuff.


Howdy! Thanks for dropping by the development blog for Manowar, a puzzle game for iOS.