New weekly challenge on GuitarBots: Holiday Season Chord Kickoff

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The new weekly challenge is out! This week we’re challenging you with Holiday songs’ special chord exercises:

Santa Lucia
This traditional Napoelitan song has been performed e.g. by Elvis. In Scandinavia it has been given various lyrics to accommodate it to the winter-light festival of Saint Lucy, at the darkest time of the year.

I have a little Dreidel
A traditional song strongly associated with the festival of Chanukah. Also featured in an episode in South Park.

Oh Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah
A popular Hanukkah song, also covered by the Glee cast.

If you have completed three stars on last week’s challenge, you’ll be rewarded the special Folk songs badge soon!

Play GuitarBots now!

Top 5 user suggestions we incorporated into GuitarBots

thxbots

Your ideas, feedback and praise matter!

1. Let me play ANY song I like!

  • You can create or find any song you like (as Guitar Pro file)
  • You can then upload, play and share the songs on Guitar Bots
  • Use the synthesized guitar to hear how it should sound like

2. Let me compete with friends

  • Add friends and other GuitarBots players in the profile
  • See their high-scores and progress, and BEAT them!
  • You’ll even get 5 free picks for each friend you bring to GuitarBots

3. Let me practice in slow-down

  • Solo too fast? We let you slow down the song in practice mode
  • You can step by step increase speed until you reach 100%
  • The pitch of the songs does not change when slowing down!

4. No more time limit

  • We let you now play for free without time limit
  • Practice mode does not cost any picks -> practice as long as you like
  • The picks re-fill several times a day

5. Teach me guitar techniques

  • We teach you the basics like: chords, notes, melodies, rhythms
  • Premium packages teach you scales, arpeggios, speed up
  • We are working on many additional packages and features

GuitarBots Songs – Robots and People behind the scenes

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Did you know that the GuitarBots soundtrack contains more than 60 unique songs, performed by both robots and live musicians?

While most of the instruments are played by machines programmed by our in-house composer and audio engineer Markus Pajakkala, there are also lots of real instrument tracks to spice up the mix and make it more organic:

In addition to the basic band instruments you can hear for example the bass clarinet, tin whistle and accordion. For some special tracks we’ve used external musicians to do stuff we couldn’t do ourselves. To give credit to these fantastic musicians, here is a short description of who they are and what they do:

Vocals

All female vocal tracks in the game are performed by Saara Jokiaho, a talented finnish singer and actress. She works mainly in the music theatre field but is also using her acting skills in another Helsinki-based entertainment industry startup. Saara sings the lead parts on Playing in the Park, Open Skies, Gazing at the Stars and Rap Robots, and background vocals on the Update Song and Celtic Bots.

Special instruments

Tero Hyväluoma is a renowned violinist and folk musician who plays anything from finnish folk music and bluegrass to heavy rock, performing with bands like Snekka, Frigg, Hot’n’Tot and Korpiklaani. Teros fiddling can be heard in Celtic Bots, Russkii Robot and El Condor Pasa.

Tapani Luojus plays the accordion on Celtic Bots and Russkii Robot. He is an experienced teacher and performer, continuing the long tradition of finnish accordion playing.

In-house talent

But let’s not forget to credit the Ovelin music team for the rest of the instruments. As mentioned earlier, Markus is responsible for programming all the software instruments, plus recording, mixing and mastering. But in addition, he also plays all the wind instruments (saxophones, flutes, bass clarinet, tin whistle, harmonica), keyboards and percussion and sings vocals in many of the songs, e.g. Robot City and Anarchy in the A.I. Outside Ovelin, Markus realizes his artistic ambitions in Poutatorviand Utopianisti.

I’m mainly responsible for the overall design of the music content and individual levels, but also play electric guitars on many tracks and sing vocals on e.g. House of the Rising Sun and the Valentine Song. Outside Ovelin I’m a passionate musician, performing mainly with Solaz and Popup.

Enjoy the music and dig the Robot Band, but remember that behind every mechanic musician or virtual performer, there is always human performance.

Yours truly,

- Joaquin

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The author of the post, Joaquin Hernandez, is the music education wizard extraordinaire at Ovelin ltd, the developer of GuitarBots. He makes the impossible possible for aspiring guitarists.

Building teams in Startups : On and off site

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From time to time, it´s good to try to take a bit of distance of the product development, and do something else with the team instead.

It does not always have to be a carefully organized team event: just taking a bit of casual time is enough to keep the culture and environment great.

The past year has been amazing for Ovelin. We have had a lot of changes, a lot of new people joining the team and of course, overall in new situation as company. To get everyone on the same page on the new phase that the company moved after securing funding, we decided to take the whole team offsite to a trip to Switzerland. This trip worked well on both getting new people familiarized with the old team members and on the other hand it offered chance to also look critically through our product roadmap. Some startups like Expensify actually take their team once a year to extended off site working and I can really why. As a team we got a lot out from the trip….and the skiing wasn’t too bad either :)

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Of course you cant do this all the time, so what about rest of the year then?  I personally think that the more simpler the better the activity often is. Booking a sauna space for evening or then just grabbing beers on Friday gives at least for me much more than fine dining & program. When the sun is out and the weather nice, we often just enjoyed the Finnish summer Fridays in nearby park, playing guitar (that is the benefits of a music startup:  that you always have someone playing guitar and singing), having a few refreshing beverages and playing outdoor games.

We had a trip to the local zoo to check in real life if the animals really could be hypnotized with guitar playing as in our game Wildchords. Results? Well let’s just say that we definitely got reactions, both animals & humans.

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So what is my point (in addition of sharing some cool pics about our trips) with this post? BeforeOvelin, I used to work in a big >2000 person organization and I remember hating almost all the company events. Even if you worked in a great team, the company policies and hierarchies often play their role in everything you try to organize. Working together in small startup brings the benefit of being able to interact closer and being able to do what feels right instead of what is the common practice. So do grab those Friday beers, do sports or just hang out playing games if you feel like it, but the main thing is to spend some quality time with your teammates!

- Mikko

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Mikko Kaipainen is the co-founder and COO of Ovelin. He likes sticking quotes of company employees on office walls to ensure their place in history for all eternity.

Behind the Scenes : GuitarBots Development Environment

What makes it run…?

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Matti Ryynänen, the lead programmer of Ovelin gives us a sneak peek into how the game development of GuitarBots came to life, evolved and continues to grow.

 

The starting Point

GuitarBots’ development started in the beginning of 2012. We knew from the start that we wanted it to be a multi-platform guitar playing game that would take the guitar playing to much further than our previous iOS-only  title WildChordsWildChords was built with open-source game engine ORX (www.orx-project.org) but we needed a more mature game engine to work with. We evaluated a few possible options and quickly decided to go forward with Unity3D (www.unity3d.com).

Unity3D

Unity3D turned out be excellent choice for the development of GuitarBots. It has component-based coding architecture, good tools for art development, rapid development with on-the-fly code compilation, and multi-platform build support – Everything to really helped us to concentrate on the game. Unity3D developers have an active community, so searching for answers to Unity-related questions is quick and easy.

Content Tools

After we had the basic architecture for evaluating notes and chords from user’s guitar playing, we needed tools for developing the content for songs and exercises.

We implemented an in-house exercise editor that allowed our music team to create new exercises forGuitarBots. The game is content-driven, so the exercise editor presented a very important step for us to get the song packages and exercises into the game. Thanks to our hard-working music team, we soon had lots of songs and exercises available despite the game being still in heavy development in the early stages.

Along with the exercise content, we also implemented a text-based configuration of GuitarBotstutorials so that our music team could create new tutorials without any intervention from the coders. Also, the background scenes in GuitarBots are created and configured separately by our artists with a camera-drive tool and messaging system that allows scenes and the Bots to react according to user performance in the game.

Continuous Integration Setup

Although our development team was small, we wanted to setup continuous integration (CI) environment for the game code and the content as well. The main component of our CI is a build server that checks out our code repository every once in awhile, builds the project from scratch, reports if there are compilation errors in the code, and publishes the up-to-minute builds for our team to test them out. We are using Jenkins (www.jenkins-ci.org) to carry out these tasks.

The build system creates a new web-browser build (similarly to what you now see at guitarbots.com) immediately when new code is checked into our code repository. When a new build of GuitarBots is considered ready for publishing, we flip a switch to redirect GuitarBots users to the desired build revision. Jenkins runs nightly builds for iOS, Android, Mac OSX, and Windows although they are not yet publicly available. In addition, iOS builds are uploaded to TestFlight (testflightapp.com) to make the latest builds available for our team to test them with iPhones and iPads.

Jenkins is also configured to build and push new songs and exercises to a server from which the game then downloads the content. This way our music team may push out new content to the game immediately, without a need to make a new build of the game.

Room for Improvement

Of course, there’s always room for improvement. We are currently looking for a proper automated testing setup of the game and guitarbots.com online service. Since we updating GuitarBots and publishing the changes to our users frequently (even daily), an automated test setup would save time and keep developers calm by finding out at least the most obvious bugs in new releases.

For usability testing, we have used a quick and cost-effective service at www.usertesting.com. However, the game usability tracking and automatic bug reporting could be integrated directly to the game, for example, via our metrics system.

- Matti Ryynänen

The author of the post is the Lead Developer of Ovelin, who enjoys coding like gardening and prefers machines to humans as martial arts partners.

Take time before acting

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Helsinki-based startup Ovelin has developed two wildly successful guitar-learning games – becoming #1 music game in 34 countries with their games WildChordsGuitarBots, and guitar tuner app GuitarTuna. We were talking to their CEO Christoph Thür on how they organize their development process.

Tell us about yourself. What does your company do and what is your role?
I am the co-founder and CEO of Ovelin. We are making learning to play the guitar fun and motivating with computer games. You can play our games with a real guitar on your laptop, and you do not need any kind of special guitar or special equipment. The microphone on your device listens to what you play and then the game gives you real-time feedback if you do well or not – just like a guitar teacher would. The game is packaged in a fun way, so it is easy to approach, simple and step-by-step – and if you do well, you unlock harder levels.

How big is your development team? And how is it organized?
We are eight people on the development side. We have a visual artist, a 3D artist, an audio signal-processing expert, the lead programmer, and two additional programmers – one of which works on the game side and the other one – on the server side. We also have one person who is making the game content – the exercises, the tutorial material and the music. And we have a musician.

The team is based in Helsinki, except the audio signal-processing and the music guys, who are based in Tampere. They are coming here every week for one or two days, and then we have the whole team together.

Can you tell us about the development process?
For much of the time we have had two-weeks sprints. We plan the work almost with everyone individually – the developers, the visual artists and the management side. Then we would work in two week sprints, after which we would have a demo day, and the retrospective – and then plan the next sprint based on that.

For the last two months, however, we have stopped doing the sprints. We still have the retrospective, but instead of the sprints, we decided to use a priority document – that had to be alive and include all bigger features or tasks, with a person responsible for each. The development is then being done according to priorities – for example, if you have something that you are responsible for, but someone is coming and asking you to make visuals, and their item is higher in priority, then you have to actually help them on their request first before you finish your own work. So our process in a way is more similar to Kanban than Scrum now.

Do you have regular meetings for the development team?
We have one big office for everyone and we have 10am stand-up meetings, where we quickly go through everyone’s two most important things from yesterday and two most important things for today. Then, as I said, we have the retrospectives and the demo day every two weeks. Once in a while, when we meet major milestones, such as beta release or the full release, we agree on a feature freeze and put certain more flexible targets. We agree on things, and then about halfway through we see are we on track, because very often we realize that many things had come up that we did not plan, and a few things had gone away that we did plan, and that seems to work better for us.

Do you plan any changes to your process in the future?
It is hard to say, but we are trying to go more into the lean startup methodology. We are fairly happy with the priority document, but we would like to have a bit more determined task acceptance or approval criteria. Right now, it is often planned by the people themselves, or in certain cases by me, and we would like to have a bit more emphasis on the metric side – by looking at the data and A/B testing. That is one of the major updates we would like to bring to our process, now that we have the users and we can track what they are doing.

What other challenges do you have when it comes to development?
For us it is a bit difficult, because we do not have a product owner in the company. The product owner is basically me, but I do not want to be the only one, so we try to keep it open to the whole team. But often we end up with these overarching discussions – and it would be nice to have another product owner who is different than me.

Do you have any advice for other start-ups and their CTOs?
I think it is really good to take time, design, and go through the plan with the team. There is a big temptation to just say let’s work, so we do not waste time on planning, but very soon it starts costing much more. I also think it is good to learn what other companies are doing, but right now we have a bit unique game process case, so not everything that works for others would actually work for us. You have to learn from others – but you have also remember to actually think through it yourself, whether it makes sense for your specific case or not.

- Interview and Text by Dalia Lasaite, EyleanBoard

GuitarBots Christmas Song Package launched!

Christmas came early this year! Get into the Holiday spirit with the new Christmas Song Package for GuitarBots!

The all-new song package features 9 new song levels, ranging from classics such as “Jingle Bells”, “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Silent Night”. There are three chord-songs, three notes-songs and a three-song heavy metal special for the more advanced players!

Get started for FREE now at: www.guitarbots.com

Read the full press release on MynewsDesk

More info on GuitarBots