Hanging With Friends – A Rant

June 10th, 2011

Apparently my return to blogging is going to begin with a rant. A rant about Apple and about developers releasing unfinished products. Particularly “respected” developers, or at least, a company you would expect to have a QA process.

I was quite excited yesterday when on my Facebook stream a post appeared from Words With Friends announcing their new game. I’ll admit to having spent many hours playing WWF, and not just so I could chat to my now partner. It’s a well written version of Scrabble which has become an expected app on everyone’s iOS device.

Obviously this meant I was expecting a lot from their new game. Something fun, addictive, skill based, and easy to play. I won’t deny that it ticks some of those boxes, but I still have plenty to rant about.

First up, the app knew I had WWF installed… How? This seems like something they shouldn’t know… Or perhaps I’d just rather I was the only one who knew how many games I have installed? So it told me to log in to Facebook to use the same account, fair enough. It actually used the crazy FB app switching single sign on nonsense which I’ve been avoiding in my code because it looks so strange to users.

I get back into the app and I’m welcomed by the beginnings of a tutorial… It said something about avatars but I have no idea what as at that point the app crashed!
How exactly did this get past a review team? Any review team? Any testing?
Also, it wasn’t just me. Moments later Chris installed and it did exactly the same for him!

So off I go to settings to find an avatar since the tutorial didn’t reappear when I reopened the app. What do I see here but a button marked “Coming Soon”! Now, this is a big no no in the Apple world. We have had an app rejected for a button which said coming soon (and ours was there so that Game Center features were ready as soon as it came to iPad, not something we hadn’t written yet!) There’s a coin store feature coming soon, yet we seem to be collecting coins in game, and have no idea why or what for! It’s odd! It’s also an instant reject for most developers!

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Then there’s the fact that the tutorial wasn’t quite working. It popped up help about things on my third time doing that action, and there are some things I still don’t understand which I was expecting it to explain.

It seems to get confused when you’re playing multiple people sometimes and I’ve seen it have all the wrong names and words, and not had anything to show whilst replaying guesses. Also, if you tap back during the animation at the end of your turn, it keeps playing the sounds, and then sometimes shows the advert over whatever screen your on… And sometimes it doesn’t! The animations aren’t all that smooth and you have to wait for them to finish before you can play your turn.

Another gripe is the theming. I understand the reuse of the letter tiles even though they look a little odd. I like the use of balloons rather than hanging for this re-imagining of the traditional hangman game. What I just don’t get is why we’re dropping the loser into a pit of lava? If this is a cutesy alternative to hanging someone, why do they meet a gruesome end? And they look horrified about it too, the poor little avatars! Couldn’t we be floating over a paddling pool? A bucket of gunge? Something more child friendly! It’s just unpleasant for no good reason!

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I also have slight problems with the lack of skill… It’s mostly a game of luck, you guess right, all goes well, you don’t, you fail. There’s very little thought required, which is just so different to their other game, scrabble or chess.

Not only have Apple approved an app which crashes, has obvious bugs, and a big Coming Soon button, they’re promoting it! It’s the Game of the Week! Seriously? How does something this buggy get that honour? It is rather disheartening for us when our games have yet to get any good featuring and we know they’re great!

All that said, I do seem to still be playing the game. It’s quick to play a turn and when I’m not fighting against the interface it has some cuteness. Though I’ll be hoping for an update soon!

If you’d like to play Hanging With Friends or WWF with me, my username is ‘StarlitSkies’.

What game has failed to meet your expectations? How do you feel when an application crashes? Do you persevere if the user interface is clunky?

Word Search Party

October 10th, 2010

I have something very exciting to tell you all about today… my new game! :) Now, I know what you’re thinking, there’s not been a lot of beta testing going on over here, and I have been a bit quiet recently… but there’s been a good reason for that – I’ve been working like a crazy fiend to get Word Search Party finished before “real work” tried to get in the way! ;)

Before you all go “Ugh, another word search game” I would urge you to consider one important feature… that last word, party, and what it might mean. Does it mean an app full of balloons? Alas no, despite Chris’ repeated requests. Does it mean disco balls and wine cocktails? Again, I’m afraid not (though I think a disco ball would be good!) What it does, in fact, mean, is multi player competitive word searching! :D

How does multi player word searching work? Well, you can connect up to four devices together (using Game Center, two if you’re using Bluetooth) and are all presented with the same letter grid and word list. When someone finds a word it is marked as found on all the devices playing. To win the game you need to find the words faster than your opponents :) If you do win, you get to brag on Facebook about it too ;o)

Getting auto matches on Game Center can be a little slow, so when you go and download it (which of course you all will!) and want to try out the multi-player, just add me as a Game Center friend (StarlitSkies) and invite me to a game! :D

Word Search Party also features user generated content :) Within the app you can purchase the creator add-on and then you are able to make your own word lists about whatever takes your fancy! Today I added one all about Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to celebrate the date :) Obviously all the content gets checked by Chris or I to make sure there’s nothing inappropriate being shared… you can write filthy word lists if you want, we just won’t add them to the library ;)

To coincide with the app we also have the Word Search Party website which allows you to create word lists and generate word searches to print and play offline :) The library is shared between the website and the app which means it’s getting bigger and bigger every day! :)

The game is a universal binary and it even includes gorgeous retina display graphics for those of you lucky enough to have an iPhone 4 or 4th gen iPod touch, so it will look beautiful whatever your chosen device! :) Game Center obviously only works on iPhone/iPod touch at present but will be coming to iPad mid-late November so the functionality is there waiting for Apple to let you play :)

So obviously the link you’re all eager to click after all that build up…. Download Word Search Party in iTunes AppStore
It’s a free download with the hope that the adverts will annoy you enough to make you give us 59p ;) Plus, maybe even pay the extra for full library access or the creator add-on :)

If you do go and grab a copy (which I know you will) then please do come back here and comment to tell me what you think, what needs improving, what extra features it might benefit from. You know I’ll read your comments and will always do my best to make users happy :D

Flag Matching Cookies!

August 9th, 2010

To celebrate the release of Flag Matching (available for iPhone, iPod Touch & iPad!) I decided it was time to do some baking! :) We discussed possible cake ideas, but in the end I decided that with cookies and strawberry laces we could recreate the game play! :D

I have recently been browsing the Evil Shenanigans blog for recipes so thought I’d try out their Butter Cut Out Cookie Recipe. It wasn’t a great success to be honest… admittedly I replaced the milk with some double cream I had in the fridge which needed using up, but I don’t think that should have made it too runny? Perhaps my egg was too big? I ended up adding in a lot of extra flour (about another cup) before I got something I thought might roll after chilling. It didn’t! We ended up placing the cutters on the baking tray and smooshing the cookie dough into them to get the shapes! I was a little too frustrated during all of that process to take any photos… but once the cookies came out of the oven I was feeling a little happier with them…


Cooling Cookies

Once cooled I employed some helpers and set about creating some flags and country labels…


Cookie Decorating

I was actually rather impressed at our ability to recreate flags :) The writing of country names was a little harder, especially when the icing ran off and took the names with them. Cayden insisted on writing the names of his countries in their native languages just to make it more difficult! :)


Finished Flags

Once we were finished we cleaned up the icing (which might have gotten everywhere!) and set about recreating the game in tasty cookies…


Ready to Play
Completed!

So that’s how you can recreate a game in cookies! :) What game would you like to see recreated in an edible fashion? :)

Oh, and despite the difficulty in cookie creation, I’m pleased to report they were very tasty…


Tasty Cookies!

Mmmmmm Pie!

July 27th, 2010

My last beta post lacked images, so now that I have some I thought I would share them with you all! The app allows you to create pie charts in a unique way… I’m not going to go into details… instead I’m going to show you some of the strange pie charts people have been creating with the app! :)

If you would like to join in the crazy chart creation then you’ll need an iPad and to register with my blog and send me a message :) Always pleased to have more beta testers along :) Plus, I clearly need more silly charts! ;)

(Note: Spelling mistakes on charts made by their creators, not me! I only made on of these!)

Corn Bread Recipe

July 23rd, 2010

One of my favourite foods to eat and to bake is cornbread. It’s this really tasty, moist, slightly cheesy, slightly spicy, corny bread of awesomeness :) It goes really nicely with chilli or any kind of Mexican food. It’s great cold the next day too, should there actually be any leftovers. I adapted an old, american recipe in a number of ways, a few ingredients replaced with English equivalents, and some quantity adjustments so you don’t end up with random leftovers of yogurt and creamed corn. So without further ado, here’s a recipe for you…

Ingredients
1 & 1/2 cups of yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup of plain flour
3 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp salt
2 eggs, slightly beaten
200g (small pot) of Greek/Natural yogurt
1 cup grated mature cheddar cheese
1 can (418g) cream style corn
1/2 cup sunflower oil
2 tbsp chopped jalapeƱo peppers

Instructions
The reason I like this recipe is because it’s really easy. All you need to do is throw everything into a big bowl…

and mix!

You can vary the amount of chilli peppers depending upon your taste (I’ve even made it without any and it was still very tasty!) Once it’s all mixed just pour it into a square pan…

and bake at 190 degress for 45 minutes or until a skewer/sharp knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Serve warm with a bowl of chilli :)

If you try making this recipe please leave me some feedback :) I’d love to know what you think :)

Why I’m Loving iPhone Development

July 10th, 2010

Since leaving Astraware I have been doing a lot of iPhone development and have been gaining an increasing love of it. Which is just strange since I put off starting as long as possible thanks to a dislike of all things Apple. I promise I haven’t become an Apple fangirl… Nothing so dramatic… But I am really loving iPhone development, and here’s why:

Speed of Prototyping & Development
Working with interface builder and the UIKit it is very easy to put together a quick prototype without too much time or effort. It all falls quickly into place, and I’m getting even faster as I become more adept with the various controls. This week I started doing more subclassing of the standard controls which gave lovely results without a huge amount of effort. I also worked out how to control the auto-resizing/movement on rotate so my new iPad app can work in all orientations without argument… Mostly thanks to clicking a few carefully chosen buttons!

Xcode
To start with, xcode annoyed me. All the keyboard shortcuts were different to what I was used to in Visual Studio, I couldn’t find the debugging tools, and, me being me, I seemed to manage to crash it all the time. As time has progressed things have changed – I’ve learnt the shortcuts, the IDE has been updated, and we’re finally getting along. It’s ability to autocomplete makes typing very fast. All its various tools make debugging and leak hunting a lot easier. Plus the simulator is very good, so long as you don’t want to test camera or phone functionality! Apple have really improved it over the time I’ve been using it and I actually quite enjoy using it now!

App Store
As much as I want my app to instantly appear as soon as I have finished it’s creation the app store is a wonderful thing. Being a windows mobile user, I’m used to hunting the internet for new and interesting software. There has never been just one place to go looking which had such a large choice. When I did find an interesting app, there was no guarantee it would run well, or even run at all on my specific device. I know there’s the new market place, but it’s offerings are sparse (or at least, they were thee last time I looked!) and the quality is often still lacking.
The app store gives people, general users who’d never dare download random content from the Internet, instant acces to hundreds of apps. Every app has been checked so they feel confident giving everything a try, even things they might not usually use/play.
So whilst I sit here anxiously waiting for Apple to look at my new game (oh yes, it is a new iPad game I’ve been making!) I can console myself that once it is reviewed, people will trust that it’s safe to play and hopefully some of them will buy it :)

Community
One thing I’ve not had before is use of the internet as a resource for programming. Instead of struggling away with problems on my own, or hassling other team members, I can now just ask the Internet. Any time I get stuck with a bizarre error message, a warning in the console, or just a ui element not behaving how I expect I can just ask Google and since Google knows all, the answer inevitably appears. Stack overflow has saved me from numerous head scratching problems, and various other forums helped when I was trying to do interesting things with multi-touch.

The Devices
I hated the iPhone when it came out. I hated the screen for being touch sensitive rather than pressure sensitive. I wanted a stylus (though I do now have one for my iPad!) and I wanted my accuracy back. I also hated the need for iTunes, but that hasn’t changed! The screen I have become used to, I can be accurate now I’ve learnt to use it, and I can even type! This was mostly written on my iPad!
Apple are putting new technology into the hands of many, those who would never have considered a smart phone before. I find myself recommending the iPhone to those looking to upgrade because of the array of apps out there, knowing that they’ll be happy with the interface (once used to the keyboard) and there’ll be much less tech support for me to do!

So there we go… five reasons why I’m really loving iPhone development. Something I never thought I would say, and the reason why Worcle has been left behind for a while. Maybe I’ll knock up a quick version just for iPhone/iPad instead, I have a feeling it would be a much faster way to get it released than Airplay right now… or maybe my enjoyment will wane soon and allow me back to it. For now, I’m happy with iPhone work and eager to show you my new game (those of you who’ve given my iPad UDID’s should be getting a demo soon if Chris will let me!) :)

What do you love/hate about iPhone development? Are there similar experiences for other platforms which I’m missing out on? I would love to hear your thoughts! :)

A New Job and a Crocheted iPad Case!

July 1st, 2010

I have been remiss in my posting duties again haven’t I?
In my defence life all got a bit stressful for a while there choosing between two jobs (I know, nice stress to have!) ;)

Monday marked my first day working full time for Lightwood Consultancy. I have been working for Chris for a few weeks already part time, but Monday was still an exciting day for a number of reasons :) Firstly, I got to spend the morning working on a new game idea (hopefully I’ll be able to tell you all more later, and maybe get some of you involved with testing) and secondly, the afternoon saw me gaining some new gadgetry :)

Working on iPhone/iPad development with my “pretend” Mac has been frustrating at times… when it works, it works wonderfully… when it doesn’t, it just totally refuses to work for anything up to 2 hours! :( So, as much as I don’t really like Mac OS… I am very pleased to have a 17 inch Mac Book Pro sitting on my desk! Even more pleased to have an iPad sat on my desk too ;)

Yes, my desk is suitably covered in gadgetry in that photo :) I had to have a bit of a rearrange as I’m rather too used to having Mac development to the right of PC work… which leaves the extra monitor for my email :) It is rather nice having a full time job where I get to work at home :)

Since today I have been arguing with some silly image transformation nonsense, I took some time out this afternoon to write a little blog post for Chris. Being the strange person that I am, my first instinct when I got the iPad was to make it a case. Oddly, Chris seems quite content for me to put crochet patterns on his blog… I’m hoping for a recipe next time ;) If you’d like to make a case for your iPad and know how to crochet then you can find some rambling and a crochet pattern over on his site – A Simple iPad Case.

I haven’t forgotten about you, this blog, or Worcle. I’ve just been enjoying my new job and the new crocheting opportunities it brings! :D

Worcle Update

June 11th, 2010

Those of you not on my beta team might be wondering what’s happening with Worcle… it has been rather quiet on the development front I know. I’m pleased to say that it is progressing nicely and I’m ever hopeful that I’ll get it all finished before the end of the summer :)

I have both game modes working nicely, so you can choose whether to work along at your own pace scoring as highly as possible, or fight against the clock to get your words made. I have highscores working (though name entry only on Android and iPhone at present). I have neatened up the graphics, though I’m still not 100% happy with them… they are much better than they were :)

I still have a long todo list… some bug fixing, a reworking of the dictionary system, and a few more features to put in (like trophies, and maybe some form of social network integration). But the end is in sight, my todo list is shrinking, and there’s nothing huge and scary left to add :)

So today I have finally paid Apple the $99 to become a proper, paid developer, and those of you with iPhones, iPod Touches or an iPad (real iPad support will be in Airplay at the end of June, but for now it should work just in iPhone resolution) should register on here if you haven’t already and then email me your UDID :D I only have limited places, and I’m more likely to give you a slot if I know you but leave me a nice message here and I might add you even if I don’t! You also have to promise not to share the game with anyone (less easy to do on iPhone anyway).

Thanks to finally finding a job, I’m only working on Worcle one or two days a week. I’m trying to get updates out on a Friday to give weekend play time :) This means I am hoping to get a new beta up this evening for everyone to play, and if Apple play nice (i.e. email me back quickly) and you’re speedy with your UDID, then you might get to play for the weekend! :D

Weekend in Wales

May 25th, 2010

We have been blessed with some beautiful weather over the last few days (although it’s looking rather grey today!) We made the most of the weather at the weekend by taking a trip to Wales to spend some time with Bryan’s Mother and to see the sea! :)
First we went over to Conwy to see the castle…

 

We stopped by the smallest house!

Then headed to the seaside to eat icecream and go for a paddle :)

On Sunday we took a picnic over to Lake Geirionydd. It’s one of those well hidden places that somehow everyone knows about! The single track lanes with grass growing down the middle didn’t look like they were going to lead to a well-known area… but when we arrived there were already plenty of people out canoeing and playing in the lake, with many more sitting and enjoying the sunshine.


By the time we left the lake the roads you can see in the photos were packed with cars… and given their narrowness, this made escaping quite a challenge! I was very glad not to be driving! It was a beautiful place though, and well worth a picnic if you’re nearby and brave enough to drive those roads! ;)

Amazingly, the Google Streetcar has been down there – “Street View” of the Lake
There are a few more photos over on Facebook – FB Photo Album (you don’t need to use FB to see my photos!) :)

So how did you all spend your weekend? Were you out enjoying the sunshine? Or stuck inside revising for exams?

First Release – Aidan J Reed iPhone App

May 13th, 2010

Friday was an exciting day for me, which involved a lot of happy dancing! :) You might have noticed an extra link at the top of the page… or perhaps the title of this post gives it away ;)

Apple approved my first ever solo iPhone app! Barring the pretty pictures from Kaweb it was all my own work. And Apple approved it first time! :) Oh the relief!! :D

Okay, I’ll admit it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve ever created, and unless you live in or are planning to move to Leicestershire then it’s not going to be of much use to you. However, it was a very interesting project and I learnt a lot about the whole app development process.

Being without the Astraware framework is odd for me. Most of my C++ was learnt in amongst their framework and I didn’t really know anything else. Then I started learning the Airplay SDK which was similar, but different. So I was jumping in the deep end with a switch to Objective C and learning Cocoa Touch, plus all the other things I’d never considered. From the simple (how to re-skin a button) to the more complex (slow-loading images) it was a wonderful learning experience. Lucky for me, the internet is a wonderful resource and my Google Fu is strong, so when I found myself struggling with something, a quick check of a few sites usually yielded the answer (I don’t think I would have coped without Stack Overflow!!)


The app lets you search for properties based on a number of criteria (you are only given a location choice and sale/let/student choice on the title screen, but you can refine your search as you would expect). You can save your searches so you can get back to them quickly. You can also email links to your friends, and contact one of the branches. You can view the property location on a map, zoom into images, view floorplans. All the kind of things you would expect from an estate agent app really :)

You can read the proper blurb about the app over on Aidan J Reed‘s website which includes a nice link to the app store.

I learnt all sorts of important things about how to work on an iPhone. I discovered not having an actual iPhone is a bit of a pain (I have an iPod Touch, but testing things like location awareness is hard, and I can’t test things like call functionality!) I also learnt that dealing with people can be frustrating… trying to find a balance by being nice and letting them change their mind a little without letting them just keep adding features and going completely outside the original contract. Also, people are slow to approve things… I spent much longer waiting for client approval than waiting for Apple approval! I discovered that only the “Team Leader” can create distribution builds, which led to some need for password sharing :?

Most of all, I discovered that it’s rather exciting to have built something from scratch all by myself and for it to be download by people all over :) I can’t wait to get some more things ready for release! :D