Notes on Game Center Integration

Despite the good advice on just using a library or someone else’s solution to getting game center working, sometimes I’m just stubborn. Well it wasn’t actually completely stubbornness as it was more of a “don’t have an alternative” situation. Tilt to Live uses AGON for it’s leaderboards and awards system. It has served us well and never faltered. Despite that, Game Center has arrived to rain on it’s parade so-to-speak. To give TTL hopefully more life in the long run I decided to implement Game Center alongside AGON over the past week. It was trying, painful, and sometimes down right frustrating. Trying to get 2 closed and incompatible systems working is wrought with trial and error and lots of hackery :).

Below are just some things you may find useful if you’re considering game center in an update

1. Game Center is not a full solution

Namely, there is no offline support to speak of. Another biggie that I grossly underestimated is a lot of the ‘fault tolerance’ is on the game developer to implement. Scores don’t make it to the servers? Save them for the next time. Awards not work online? Save them. User has no internet connection? Save them. User is age restricted from using Game center? Save it again.

Are you on a 3G with 3.x iOS? Don’t use game center. Are you on a 3GS with 4.0? Don’t enable game center. Are you on a 3G with 4.1? Despite GC not having an API to detect THIS case, you need to disable it because GC doesn’t work with it.

This is where services like OpenFeint and AGON shine. They offer seamless offline support with minimal hassle. I actually ended up leveraging AGON’s offline support to help deal with the score submission failures for Game Center. This saved a lot of time, and in OpenFeint from what I hear it’s even easier. In conclusion, If you don’t have any award or leaderboard solution implemented already it may be a good idea to use one with offline support first before concerning yourself with game center.

2. Be mindful of when you send scores and awards

If you have a fast paced game, you may want to store any scores or new award unlocks until the main gameplay is done, THEN send it off to Game Center. It creates a noticeable pause mid-game. Other social gaming platforms deal with this in different ways, but I remember early on seeing some OF games do a “mass” unlock at the end game sessions and such. Nowadays I believe it’s well known to just commit the changes in 1 transaction during some low key point in the game.

3. Keep your descriptions short

This is a sad one for us, because Tilt to Live thrives on witty descriptions and jokes for it’s awards. We’ve opted to keep them the same in-game (using AGON) but we’re modifying the GC ones so that other users can see the descriptions in full in the GC app.

4. Be sure to login from your app

While the Apple documentation stated there was some way to log into the sandbox through the GC app with a test account, my mileage varied. So the sure-fire way for me to do it was to log out from the GC app, then log in from within our game. Not seeing your awards or scores? Make sure you’re logged in from your game.

5. Wait a bit after modifying your leaderboards/awards

Apparently there is some time before your GC app updates with the latest awards and stuff. I’m not exactly sure how this works or if there is some cache that has to be updated to pull the latest info down. Either way, if you’re not seeing any changes you are not going crazy.

6. Multi-tasking support can be hell

It was hell for me for several days because of one tiny issue: The simulator does not post GKPlayerAuthenticationDidChangeNotificationName messages. Not realizing this I was going mad wondering if I had my implementation wrong or whether there was a bug in GameKit itself. After discovering this was limited only to the simulator I soon found sanity in my testing of multi-tasking support. Having users change names, log in and out, all while your app is running can be daunting so approach this case with care. It seems Fruit Ninja dodged a bullet here by not fully supporting multi-tasking :P.

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