My First iPhone Game: Outlaw Poker

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This is the story of Outlaw Poker, an iPhone game I just launched that is equal parts Tetris and Poker. It’s a western themed puzzle falling blocks game. The object is to make 5 hand poker hands with the falling cards. The cards can be rotated just like in Tetris-style games so that you can arrange the cards into Poker hands horizontally or vertically. It is available here on the iTunes App store.

I initially had the idea almost a year ago. I wanted to make an iPhone game just to go through the process of making one as well as to have potential for some passive income. For those of you who are not familiar, developers can sell apps in the iTunes App Store and make money. The developer determines the price and whatever you make, Apple keeps 30% for facilitating the transaction and taking care of the distribution, billing, etc. Not a bad deal especially considering there are over 100 million iPhones in the world.

So how did this game come about? I was thinking about games I liked and games people liked in general. If I had to name one game that had mass appeal, it was Tetris, hands down. Another trend that has caught on in the recent years is the popularity of Poker. My thought was to combine the two popular concepts together: a falling cards game where you have to make Poker hands.

There wasn’t anything out there like this and I wanted to play it. People say one way to make a successful product is to scratch your own itch – that is, make something you want and hopefully others will want it too.

Since I wasn’t an iOS developer but designed stuff, I went about looking for a developer who would want to partner with me to develop this game. Initially I had recruited a lead Creative Designer who would lead the charge on the design direction of the game but he was quickly overwhelmed with his own work. I also managed to find an iOS developer who was initially interested but was also too busy to take the project on.

So the project never went anywhere for a good six months. I would design some screens and work out some details every now and then, always keeping an eye out for an iOS developer looking to meet a cofounder and have a game under his/her belt.

One day I went to some developer meetup and met my cofounder Ben Roesch. He was a friend of a friend and worked at Accenture Tech Labs, where I used to work. I was straight up with him. I told him about the concept, showed what screens I had to him and asked if he wanted to work on this app. I basically told him everything. If he decided to decline but run away and take my idea, he had it and I would be screwed. He was game though. Within 2 weeks he had a rough prototype of the game that basically worked but had none of the bells and whistles. It was a very good sign.

Over the next months, we would hash out the missing artwork/screens, tweak the gameplay, find the sound and music. One of the hardest things to come up with was the new company we formed. I love puns and wanted this new game studio to have a witty name. Since it was an game app company, I thought it would be cool to have the word ‘app’ in the name. Unfortunately anything that I came up with like ‘tap that app’ was already taken. I think I finally came up with Appuccino Games because I’m a big coffee drinker and it reflects the fact that coffee helped us make this game. I wanted the logo to reflect the dual nature of the word play (app and cappuccino). Once the name came together though, it was easy to come up with a concept for the logo – an iPhone that looked like a coffee cup.

I wanted to take this moment to thank everyone who had a hand in making it. A big chunk of this goes to Ben who without him, my concept would never have been realized. Thanks Ben. I also owe Matt Jensen a big thanks. He came up with the original art direction. Even though you didn’t have the bandwidth to join us on this, I still want to thank you for all the work you put in. Don, thanks for forming our new company. I look forward to more business with you. I also want to thank all the beta testers who gave us valuable feedback. I won’t remember everyone but here goes: Craig, Ulliott, Sami Rageb, Christian Arca, Joe Dwyer, Christopher Lee, Brad Flora, Ravi Singh, Tal Liron, Nick Aiello, Brandon Leonardo, and more.

I also want to take a moment to thank Steve Jobs. He’s been an inspiration to my career. Without him, this game would not be possible. The platform this game was built on would not have existed. You have enabled me to not only create this game, but to be able to distribute it to the world. Thank you.

Without further ado, our game is here on the App Store. There’s also a free ad-supported version here. The difference is that the free version has ads AND the ad takes up one whole row so you end up with less playing area.

Popularity: 6% [?]

iPadDevCamp Hackathon Winners

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http://ipaddevcampchi.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/hackathon-winners/

I’ve spoken and written about hackathons before. I think they are awesome.

Ravi and I didn’t intend to participate in the hackathon. Although I enjoy them, this time, I wanted to enjoy the conference and listen to the sessions. However after getting together with Ravi and throwing around a few ideas, I started messing around with the design for an app idea. After a few hours of doing that while listening to the sessions, the thing started to look like something after all. I spent a few more hours in the evening on it and told Ravi in the morning the next day that we should consider doing the hackathon. It doesn’t matter if we get it done or not. To me, just doing it was more important. Lo and behold we were able to submit something as a last minute entry. I was able to show the design and Ravi was able to show the tech demo of the app. We didn’t expect to win anything but the judges really liked what they saw. We’re working on it and hope to have it in the app store soon.

I think this just reinforces my belief that if you feel like you want to do something or ought to be doing something, you should just go for it. What do you have to lose? The most that could have happened was that we wouldn’t win anything. Who cares? Having done the exercise, we now potentially have an app to show and a possible source of side revenue as well as a showpiece for our skill.

Popularity: 1% [?]

Cross Platform Mobile Development Face Off

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I recently gave a talk at the Google Android International Code Sprint in Chicago. I compared two cross platform mobile development frameworks. What that means is that you can use these frameworks to create applications in one programming language and deploy them to different mobile platforms with little or no code modification. This is a major convenience to many app developers. Anyways, here are my slides. They are very visual and don’t have a lot of content. My slides are really only there to support my talk but here they are for your viewing pleasure.

Popularity: 2% [?]

Why I Think Hackathons Are Awesome

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I’ve been a part of quite a few hackathons now: SocialDevCamp and Google Eco-Challenge hackathons where I served as one of the judges, ORDSessions and Day of Mobile where I participated, and BarCamp where I spectated. I’ve noticed so many great creations and products come out of them in such a short amount of time that I can no longer ignore them or write them off as geeks (myself included) just doing their thing.

So what do I think make hackathons great?

  • Meeting super talented people. I think participants in hackathons are in general, a self selecting group. People who can create, design, and build stuff want to participate. Those who can’t generally don’t. These participants are confident in their abilities to execute their ideas in a short timeframe. When looking for teammates, these people look for people with complimentary skills who can also execute. Companies like KeyLimeTie have found great iPhone app developers this way. I myself found a very talented designer for one of my projects when I awarded his team with the Best Design Award.
  • Scratching your own itch. Some use it as an excuse to build something they’ve always wanted to build, but never had the time to do. Others use the opportunity to learn a new technology they’ve been wanting to pick up. Those were certainly my excuses when I entered. I had always wanted to do mobile app development but never had a project.
  • Developing focus. When you don’t have a lot of time and the end goal is to show something that works, you quickly learn to get things done. You don’t have tons of meetings and endless debates on it. You come up with ideas, decide, and go. You also learn to be lean and agile. You just don’t have time to overarchitect your solution.
  • Being inspired. When code freeze is finally called, and the presentations begin, it’s always an exciting time. You get to see the fruits of labor of some of the most talented designers and developers in your community. The stuff that comes out of these tests of will are absolutely amazing. You can’t help but be inspired and motivated to up your level.
  • Winning great prizes. Although being able to bring an app to life in a short amount of time is its own reward, getting free shit is not a bad reason either. Ravi Singh, overall winner of the Day of Mobile hackathon walked away with a Google phone, a netbook, and a nice cash prize. Not bad for building something he enjoyed doing. Chad Paulson and I went home with cash. People at the Google Eco Challenge hackathon got Droids.

Outside my own experience, I think Facebook is a great case study of hackathons.

“The hackathon is a hallowed tradition at Facebook. It starts when someone in the course of any workday calls for a hackathon. This usually happens about once a month. Anyone except Zuck can call for one. They settle on a night, and over junk food, beer, and Red Bull, Facebook’s corps of engineers stays up all night coding. A hackathon has only two rules: the project has to be something cool and it couldn’t be something they’d normally work on. Once the sun comes up, they all go to breakfast somwhere together and then they crash the entire next day. All meetings on that day are canceled. [Zuckerberg] knows they could get the same production just working a normal day, and it wouldn’t screw up everyone’s sleep schedules. But he could never replicate this esprit de corps.”

- Sarah Lacy, Once You’re Lucky, Twice You’re Good

Some of the things that have come out of these internal Facebook hackathons include:

  • Photos of You and Your Friends
  • AJAX in place Wall posts
  • Facebook on Nintendo Wii
  • Facebook Chat
  • Internationalization
  • Type ahead search
  • Friend Suggester
  • Desktop Notifications

I would encourage any designer or developer to be a part of these things if they’ve never done it or heard of it. I also would encourage companies to consider trying out internal hackathons for their own gain or sponsoring hackathons as a way to find great talent.

Popularity: 5% [?]

Outsourcing Success Episode 1

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Outsourcing is probably one of the most challenging things you can do. Horror stories of outsourced projects to India failing miserably abound. I’ve had a few experiences myself with outsourcing work to India. For the most part, I don’t have a high opinion of outsourcing in general but that may be because of the scale at which I do them and the limited exposure I have.

Recently, though, I’ve had a very pleasant experience with outsourcing. I had a small personal project which required the development of a website. I created the backend and designed the website. I needed to go from the web design to HTML code.

For those nontechnical readers, just because you have a web design doesn’t mean you have a website. A website design needs to be converted into code that web browsers understand. This in itself is a skill that many web developers and designers make a good living off. Often times, it’s an arduous task and if you are thorough, it can be very time consuming because you have to test your code to make sure that it works in all the different web browsers. This is because each web browser has its own quirks and a particular web design might not look the same in all browsers.

Needless to say, I hate writing HTML code. So I looked for an online company that would perform this task for me in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable price. I found this company PSD2HTML on google. I’ve seen affiliate link ads of this company before. In those links, they advertise design to HTML in 8 hours. I found the price to be very reasonable. Sunday night, I submitted by PhotoShop design to them and paid. To my disappointment, they came back to me with an estimate of 22 hours. Man, I was pissed. This was almost triple the advertised time. Of course I didn’t read the small print saying that if they have a heavy backlog then, it would take more time. I wasn’t going to take this so I emailed them back saying that they should either give me a heavy discount for not holding to their advertised word or that they readjust their estimates. I additionally told them I was a blogger which had over 700 readers last month (which I did), and that I was gonna review them and was extremely disappointed. By this time, 7 hours had already passed as I submitted the design right before I went to bed. Once I woke up, I had a note that they had questions about the designs which I answered back and forth.

By 10:40AM the HTML markup was done. About 10 hours had elapsed from when I submitted the order to when I got the markup. However if you take away the time it took to answer all the questions, their turnaround time was more like 2 and a half hours. The markup returned was very clean and of high quality as promised. I did notice that there was a slight visual blemish which I pointed out and they promptly fixed. I am happy to say that the HTML markup is indeed cross browser, and for the small sum of $160, their services saved me a lot of time and grief. I was able to use that saved time to do more important things (like sleep).

Their tracking system is also worth mentioning. Once you submit an order, you get sent an email which contains a link to a page that tracks your dialogue between their team and you. It’s formatted in a discussion thread form where the latest comment is at the bottom. There is no need to login which I find to be immensely user friendly. You just click on the link and you see the conversation. You can reply to the thread and they can reply to you. At the end you get a link to your markup which you can download. The system really is pretty easy to use.

In summary, I would recommend this service to anyone who needed a website developed in a timely manner. This could be used in conjunction with other website services like template sites (which sell website designs but with horribly code which often needs to be redone).

Popularity: 1% [?]

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