Journal Index

Entries in iphone (5)

Thursday
Apr152010

Building a Preschool iPhone Game, Part 3

At last, it's available on the App Store!  Frogs and Fireflies was approved and made available on April 2nd.  It's a little bit later than I was aiming for, but the nice thing about being your own boss is that you have no one to disappoint but yourself.  We were experiencing some troubles getting the game to run reliably on 2G and 3G iPhones, and it took some time to iron those issues out.

Now it's on to promoting the app everywhere I can think of.  The game has already been reviewed on wired.com, as well as a few different app blogs.

We already have plans to make a few updates to the game, and make it fully support the iPad.  While the iPad is pretty neat device and shows a lot of potential for applications for children, my motivation is actually a desire to increase the visibility of the iPhone app.  As of now, there are approximately 180 educational games on the iPad App Store.  That is, if they all show in the browse by category function.  There are approximately 4,460 educational games in the iPhone App Store, by the same sampling method.  Of course, there are far fewer iPad devices out in the world than iPhone and iPod Touch devices, but if I can catch the attention of iPad owning parents, that might pull up our sales numbers enough to make us a little more visible in the iPhone App Store.  As many iPhone owners and developers are aware, it's easiest to browse the store by what sells the best, which naturally makes it challenging to reach that distinction in the first place.

In addition to iPad support, the next update should include a practice mode, and levels.  After that, we're moving on to create more games!

For more information on the creation of Frogs and Fireflies, see Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.  To try the game, check it out on the App Store!

Friday
Jan152010

Building a Preschool iPhone Game, Part 2

When I left off at the end of Part 1 in this series, I had found the developer and graphic artist I wanted to work with.  Finding them has turned out to be the most important part of the whole process.  Every day I work on this project, I'm very thankful for both of the individuals I'm working with.  Not only are they very skilled at what they do, but they're very easy to get along with, and never seem to fret when changes need to be made.  They're both as dedicated to the game's success as I am.

After I had verbal confirmation from both of them that they were interested in the project, it was time to get things going legally and officially.  It was a little bit scary to take something that was just an idea in my head and begin investing serious money in it!

As I mentioned in Part 1, I didn't have enough money to pay a developer upfront.  I'm not even sure how much a developer costs, but I only had a few thousand dollars to spend.  My developer agreed to a profit share agreement, where each of us would split whatever income the game makes from the iTunes Store.  That allowed me to spend the money I did have on paying the graphic artist, and on the legal fees that would be involved in establishing a company and getting contracts written. 

It took me almost two months to go through the whole process of incorporation.  The iTunes Store will only let you sell an app under a legal name, either your own, or an official corporate name.  It didn't seem right to sell a game we made together under only my name.  Plus, there were other benefits to incorporating, like keeping the finances separate from my own bank account, and having legal protection for not producing the game in my own name.  I read up on small business laws, which was the most time consuming part.  I weighed the pros and cons between forming an LLC or an S-Corp, and then hired a lawyer to help me file the necessary paperwork.  I was lucky and found a friend of a friend who specializes in small business law and gave me a good rate.  Once the ball was rolling on that, I hired a different lawyer to help me with the contracts for my developer and graphic artist.  I could have used the small business lawyer, but I had met someone who specializes in interactive media and video games while I was attending Boston GameLoop, and I decided to go with him.

We had a team conference call so the three of us could talk through the plans for the project.  Much of what we talked about was already in the design document I had written, but it was good to talk through it and make sure we were all on the same page.  The developer talked with the artist about the specs and file requirements she would need.  I didn't understand 100% of what was said because some of it was pretty technical, but I wrote it all down anyway. When the call was over, I typed everything we discussed in an email that we could all refer back to.

Since then, everything has taken place via email and file exchange at box.net.  The graphic artist sent me some pencil sketches, and after just a couple of back and forths, she arrived at art that I fell in love with.  The programmer got a first build together pretty quickly, too.  The first couple of builds were only playable on the computer, but it wasn't long before she had a build that ran on the iPhone itself.  Meanwhile, I took care of everything that needed to be done to get into the Apple iTunes Store.  Those things are all listed in this handy article, so I won't repeat them here.

In the past several weeks, there has been a lot of QA testing by the programmer and myself.  That means we play the game over and over to see what wonky 'bugs' occur that shouldn't be happening, and we record them in a spreadsheet.  The programmer then works out kinks in the code so the bugs don't happen anymore.  It can be time consuming to QA because once you observe a bug, you have to reproduce it a few times to confirm what conditions cause it to happen.

We have also made a few tweaks to the conditions that affect the game's difficulty, but now we're ready to watch some kids play the game and see how difficult they find the game to be.  I am most curious to see if kids understand how to play the game, because when the game is released, we won't be there to tell each player what to do.  I'm doing my best to make the game play intuitive without using formal directions, so we'll see how clear it actually is when I observe some kids play.  Watch this blog for more about the kid testing process and intuitive play in Part 3.

Picture of a toddler playing with an iPhone by jessica.garro, shared via Creative Commons.

Friday
Nov272009

A Review of 3 Preschool iPhone Apps: Tickle Tap Apps

I recently received a request from zinc Roe Design to review their latest preschool apps; three in a series called Tickle Tap Apps.  It’s always good to keep abreast of the latest kids offerings in the App Store, so I was happy to oblige.  Here goes!

Sort Slider asks players to match full color objects with their silhouettes, one at a time.  You play by dragging the color picture with your finger, or tilting the device until it slides into the correct shadow.  Practicing the skill of observing the shape and characteristics of objects could come in handy in school, because standardized tests often include questions that require careful observation.  To me, this feels more like an academic activity than a game, but then kids in the target age range like school, so this may still hold appeal.
Sort Slider features an adorable dog mascot who provides positive feedback after each correct answer.  He doesn’t talk, but he does bark, and is obviously pleased with the player’s success.
I would place the target age range for this app around 3 years old.  The objects used in the app have distinct shadows that young children should easily be able to differentiate, but this may make it too boring for kids 4 and up.

Count Caddy is another app that features a good educational concept for preschoolers.  Counting games for kids are a dime a dozen, but they usually don’t take the challenge beyond touching items one at a time to hear numbers in sequence spoken aloud.  Count Caddy is a young child’s counting activity done right.  Instead of simply tapping an item to hear a voice count it, the objects appear one at a time, and the player drags it to move it into a collection area.  This allows the child a moment to process the fact that she is adding it to a group. 
What really makes Count Caddy first class among counting apps is that it introduces the concept of counting by twos and threes, sometimes called 'skip counting'.  Counting by twos and threes is a concept kids don’t usually fully understand until kindergarten, first grade, or even later, but I think it’s great to expose preschoolers to topics that are a little advanced for them.  A child as young as 2 could play Count Caddy, because the only action necessary is sweeping items across the screen to the collection area.  In counting by twos and threes, the objects are already lumped together in groups, and the narrator counts by two and three aloud.

Sound Shaker is an app I would only recommend for a very mellow child.  It’s more of a toy than a game, which is not to put the app down in any way.  It’s a noise maker that a child can customize.  There are 6 sounds to choose from.  Once you’ve selected a sound to work with, you tap the screen to make fingertip-sized balls appear that will chime the selected sound when they hit the edge of the screen.  The app has great physics, so you can make a pile of balls and slowly tumble them around.  The one that impacted to make noise gets a star on it so you can see which impact triggered the noise.  Another feature I didn’t discover until the third or so time I played is that you can hold your finger down on the screen to make items that sound at a higher pitch.  A narrator does say about 12 seconds in to "tap the screen longer to make new sounds," but I guess I was previously too busy playing to really listen to her.  I fall into the camp of people that try to tune any narrative I hear out as an annoyance, even though it may be providing helpful information.  That’s OK though.  Discovering this feature on the third play made the game novel again.
I haven’t observed a child play with the app, but it is my fear that the game encourages you to shake the iPhone / iPod Touch vigorously, because sounds are only made when objects collide with the edge of the screen.  To their credit, you can use your finger to fling balls into each other or against the wall, and shaking the device fast does not make the balls move fast.  They seem to have selected a reasonable top speed to discourage rough shaking.  That doesn’t mean a child won’t want to try, though.  It would be all too easy for the device to slip right out of the hand and go flying across the room.  I would recommend this app only to those parents who have a rugged grippy rubber case on their device.

Each of these apps is currently priced at $1.99 in the iPhone App Store.

Wednesday
Nov112009

Building a Preschool iPhone Game, Part 1

I'm in the middle of producing an iPhone app for preschoolers.  A lot of people seem to be curious about the whole process, so I thought I would share some of my journey. 

First, you need an idea for a game.  My motivation to make a game came from browsing the App Store. I noticed that with some exception, most of the apps available for young kids were pretty dry.  There are many 'touch the thing that begins with this letter' games, memory card games, flash card apps, simple jigsaw puzzles, and apps where you touch an animal to hear the sound it makes.  I grew up playing pretty sophisticated games on the Apple IIe, so I thought I would try my hand at designing a game that I would have enjoyed as a kid.

So I got to thinking about what my game would include.  I wanted something very simple.  I wanted kids to be able to play without frustrations.  Young kids don't have the fine motor skills necessary to make delicate motions required in many small touch screen games, so I knew I shouldn't design something that would need careful precision on the part of the player.  I also knew the game had to be somewhat intuitive, because I didn't want to include any kind of aural or text instructions.  I'm of the mindset that players come to a game to play, and many people don't have the patience for reading or listening to instructions.  Plus, if the audience is preschoolers, most wouldn't be able to read anyhow.  So simple, intuitive play was my first directive.

Next, I needed a setting.  Most games are mimicking a system found in the real world.  For example, SimCity and Diner Dash mimick urban planning and restaurant management.  So what type of system would interest small children?  I thought about this for a couple of weeks.  Finally, in the middle of a walk through my neighborhood, I was struck with a concept I really liked.  Over the next few days, I brainstormed ways a player could interact with this concept via touchscreen.

Then it was time to work on my game design document.  I searched Google for a couple of templates to study, and chose one to use as my main model.  I didn't include every section shown in the template, because my game isn't as complicated or lengthy as some games, like fantasy role playing games.  But it was handy to have a structural guide for sections I would need.  It took me a couple of days to think through the game mechanics.  In other words, I had to plan out what the computer would do after each action a player could possibly take, and what would trigger the computer to introduce more advanced challenges to the game.  I also had to think about specific characters and objects in the game, and what the computer should be doing with them at specific times.  Once I had all this decided upon, I would be able to talk to a programmer about getting the game built.  The programmer uses this information to write the code.

Finding a programmer to work with was a challenge!  I talked to some of my colleagues from the children's media industry, and they were very supportive.  My friend Lynn tried to connect me with some production companies she had worked with before.  I didn't have any money to offer upfront though.  It was difficult to find a company willing to devote manhours with no guarantee of profit.  That was understandable.  Established companies would need to put their paying clients' work first.

In September, I attended GDC Austin and met many wonderful people from the video game industry.  Even there though, not everyone was interested in my game.  Kids' games are a niche market, and many of the people at the conference were interested in bigger selling MMOGs and console games.  I met some experienced iPhone programmers, but they seemed busy either developing their own game ideas, or working for bigger fish in the pond than myself.  I made sure to have individuals sign a non disclosure agreement before discussing details of the game with them, but honestly, I didn't get that far with very many of the people I met.  If they weren't interested after hearing my elevator pitch, I didn't press the issue.  I wanted a development partner who was excited from the get go, not someone I would have to constantly be motivating.

I did meet someone at GDC Austin I'm really excited to work with, and work has already begun!  I have a great graphic artist on board, too!  She's someone I've worked with on other projects.  Watch this blog for updates on our progress, including more details on the game itself. 

In the meantime, if you're interested in producing your own iPhone game, check out Carla White's Inside Secrets to an iPhone App.  It continues to be a great help to me in this process.  Another thing I should mention is that before you share your design document with anyone, it's a good idea to register it with the WGA West or East.  This will provide you with an extra layer of protection, should you find yourself in the position where you feel someone has stolen your idea.

Learn about my next steps in Building a Preschool iPhone Game, Part 2!

Photo credit: apdk, shared via Creative Commons

Tuesday
Aug252009

Why Would You Give a Preschooler an iPhone?

When I tell people that I design iPhone games for preschoolers, some people ask me, "Who would give an iPhone to a preschooler?"  Now usually these people are not parents, or are not into the latest technology like smart phones.  Other people don't question it, because it makes sense to them.  Perhaps they've seen small children on the train, or sitting at a restaurant, playing with Mom or Dad's iPhone.  A lot of people are concerned, as I initially was, that a child would break an iPhone.  But as I and many others have witnessed, children are actually quite careful with the devices.

But a question many of us still have is, "What does a preschooler do with an iPhone?"

Marc Prensky gave his 4 year old son his old iPhone when he upgraded himself to a new one.  He profiled his son's usage of the device in a recent article.   As one might expect, he plays educational games on it.  But he also uses the iPhone as a prop in his imaginative play.  Marc said his son likes to pretend he runs a taxi dispatch service, and he uses the voice recorder to act that out.  That must be adorable, and now Marc could save those recordings on his computer.

Perhaps most notable is how quickly his son tired of the educational games available, which Marc described as activities that included forming letters and recognizing words.  He said his son requested "fun" games like they have on the Nintendo DS.  Designers, take note!  Games should be games, and not activities kids would do sitting at a desk in a classroom.  Even 4 year olds know the difference!  Game designers must catch up.

Picture of 12 month old girl using iPhone courtesy of gnta, shared via Creative Commons.