Aeolus Released

My first game – Aeolus – was released last week :)

Aeolus – Greek God of Winds. You play the god of winds, amusing yourself with the mortals who venture into your domain. Yes, for some reason I believe every game has to have a story behind it (no matter how tenuous) :)

It’s an iPhone game that involves guiding hot air balloons to landing pads using swipes and taps. The simple gameplay makes it easy to get started and get through the levels. Getting the high scores is not so easy, with obstacles and different balloon types getting in the way.

It’s been over a year in development (for various reasons that include procrastination, too much XBox and a day job). I’ve got to admit I’ve had a lot of fun and learned a lot by doing it. A lot of the game has changed since the beginning too. Many of my original ideas about the gameplay, the look and the feel of the game have been cast aside along the way. Some were a bit painful to see go, others simply got left behind as the game developed and they no longer fit.

The result of this trimming and re-design is actually a really good game. If that sentence sounds like I’m a little surprised it’s simply because this is the first game I’ve ever done. My efforts have been to make something that I found fun, and make it to the sort of coding standards that I’m used to at work. I was also lucky enough to team up with a graphic designer friend of mine. Thanks to him my original developer art has largely been replaced by good looking graphics that are a world better than I could do and really give it a professional finish.

The big question is, of course: How did it do?
The answer is, equally of course: Good (as I’ve actually released my first game) but not great – sales were in double digits on the first day and have fallen since.

While my dreams of writing the next big thing in the iPhone world may be slightly tarnished, I can’t say I’m that surprised. I’ve already researched how these things work and know it is competitive, and it can be very difficult to get your app seen long enough to build lasting sales. Fortunately, this wasn’t a fire-and-forget plan. To-date I’ve only received positive feedback from people who have tried it, which means I’m pretty sure the game is actually pretty fun and addictive. I also have many ideas for new levels, updates, additions and improvements that will continue to improve the quality and quantity of the game. Rather than feeling disheartened, I’m actually feeling more motivated.

However, this is also uncharted territory. As a developer and project manager I’ve never had to do any sales, marketing or advertising so this is all new to me. So… if you have any advice, links or help on the marketing and advertising side of things (or personal anecdotes, ancient wisdom, prophecies, spells, voodoo or snake oil) I’d be grateful :)

If you like your non-violent arcady, puzzly, simulationy, strategy type games (still not sure quite how to class it) then please check it out and let me know what you think.

How to Replace an Image in Xcode

I’ve been playing with a lot of graphics in Xcode over the last few weeks and had a lot of trouble replacing images when not changing the file name. It can be pretty frustrating, for example, when resizing images to have Xcode refuse to show the new size. For some reason it keeps the old version of the image no matter how many times I delete and re-add it, or clean and rebuild the project.

I hit on the following sequence that works every time to replace images:

  1. Delete the original image version from within Xcode. Trash it. (Make sure you have the new version of your image available outside the project area first, of course…)
  2. Clean the project.
  3. Quit Xcode completely and restart.
  4. Copy the new file with the same name back into the project area.
  5. Re-add the file.

It might not be quick, but it’s worked every time for me so far. Given that other strategies for clearing things involve digging through files to find the project installation on the simulator to delete (and I can never remember where that is), this at least seems fairly simple and straight forward.

Hope it helps.

Lip Fuzz Linked to Development Progress

Growing a moustache has managed to take up a surprising amount of time over the last few weeks (go sponsor me at However, as my tache has got longer, so too has progress on the game improved. This indicates that moustache length is directly and officially linked to game development productivity and progress. Obviously…

A large chunk of the in-game graphics are now finished and the rest will hopefully get sorted out this week. The user interface has been cut back and simplified so that it’s easier to make pretty again once the in-game graphics are sorted too. A few new animations and effects have gone in as well which, while only small changes, make a nice difference to the overall gameplay.

On the software side of things the game is pretty much done. I even managed to review all of the code and tidy things up, as a sort of pre-release cleanup, and re-run the analytics and profiling tools to check things are ticking over nicely. Apparently the only memory leaks left are due to problems in IOS 6, which is nice to know, and it still runs fine on my old IPhone 3GS despite the new features, so it looks like performance won’t be a problem :D

So what’s next? Graphics, user interface and graphics, mostly. And little things like IPhone 5 support and tidying up the credits screen (found in the hidden options area of the game) and generally play testing as much as possible (it’s a hard life). The idea now is to fix up anything that doesn’t look right or that looks like it needs a bit of polish.

Whatever state the user interface is in I’m planning to release the app early in December so it has a chance to make it onto the app store before Christmas. I don’t know much about marketing and selling, but I instinctively think having the game available over the Christmas holidays can only be a good thing :)

For now, though, it’s back to considering my Mo and figuring out how to make a dragon breath fire.

Doodlemate: 1 Year Report

Doodlemate is the first app I wrote for the iPhone and was released in July 2011. Now it’s over a year old it seemed like a good time to review how things went. Hopefully my experiences will help others working on, or thinking of starting, their own apps.

The Backstory

Doodlemate started life as a personal learning project. Back in 2011 I was just starting out with IOS and XCode and trying to figure out how everything fitted together. Learning, for me, is better with a solid goal to focus my efforts, so I decided to pick an app idea to develop.

After looking at various tutorials I figured a drawing app of some kind would give me a good grounding in both the standard model-view-controller architecture and in custom drawing. Pondering it a while longer, I also decided that a variation on the drawing app tutorial would be good: smaller images with limited palettes, harking back to the days of pixel art on BBC Micro Computers where I started learning programming. It also occurred to me that I could easily string a few images together and make animations, which would be a lot cooler than just drawing stuff.

I sketched up some basic requirements and got started. I think my outline was:

  • home screen with list of animations
  • preview screen
  • drawing screen with animation settings on the flip side (it was in one of the Apple tutorials and I wanted to use the flip effect :) )
  • palette management screen
  • colour selection screen

As a learning project went, it was ok. At the time there were only a few animation apps available (that I could find) and most didn’t let you do anything with what you created. I figured animations stuck on the iPhone were ok, but if you could save them or send them to yourself then it would actually be useful. It was then I realised the animation app I was creating fitted the format for animated GIFs, and that there might actually be a market for my little pet project!

After that I shifted my thinking. Instead of developing a learning project to teach myself various concepts, I was developing an app for release to end users. I think I actually learned more about app development from that shift in thinking than from all the other programming problems I’ve encountered in the last couple of years.

First Year Stats

The numbers then. In the 12 months from July 2011 to June 2012, Doodlemate has sold a total of 468 copies around the world.

Personally I find this number amazing. That many people have bought my app and, over the year, it’s gathered enough ratings to get 5 stars on the app store!

The number of sales and ratings did seem pretty low to start with. It’s worth remembering that people are usually a lot more vocal about things they don’t like than things they do. I realised that for my app to have only positive reviews meant it was good enough that people don’t feel the urge to go rate it down. Not the most glowing endorsement, sure, but I must have done something right :)

Spikes in Sales

The sales saw several spikes over the year which are worth mentioning:

  • Release – can’t get any sales if you don’t release your app. Without any advertising or marketing my initial sales were fairly slow and probably consisted mostly of friends and family. Thanks everyone!
  • Update – A couple of months after release I finished the animated GIF saving features and made an update.
  • Christmas – Well, January really. Not sure why this might be but my guess is that everyone who got a shiny new iPhone, iTunes vouchers as presents or just had a lot of spare time flooded the app store over the holidays!
  • Getting a star rating – Getting enough ratings to get a 4.5 star rating on the app store (I think you need a minimum of 5 ratings) caused another jump in sales.
  • Getting a 5-star rating – Getting that last half star caused another jump in sales. Apparently there are people who only download apps with a 5 star rating.

Lessons Learned

There were a lot of lessons learned from developing Doodlemate, and only some of them involved the programming I originally set out to learn.

I Can Earn Money From Apps

Until Doodlemate was released, the idea of actually earning money from writing my own apps seemed like a pipe dream. While it hasn’t exactly made a fortune it has shown that it is possible for apps I write to actually sell.

App Development Takes Time

This goes without saying, but writing a decent app is going to take time. However long you think it might take, double it. That’s a good starting point, but you’re probably still short.

If you’re a first time developer (like me), then there are likely to be a lot of tasks you either don’t know about yet (so haven’t factored them in to your estimate) or that you are aware of but can’t accurately estimate.

Another consideration is whether you’re doing things in your spare time or if you can devote full days to it. Trying to develop apps around a full time job means spending all your spare time doing it. This can be ok for a while but is a hard pace to maintain for long. Life, people and events have a nasty habit of catching up with you so it’s worth factoring in a little ‘me’ time, no matter how disciplined and hermit like you think you can be.

In the end, it will all come down to your persistence in completing your app. Burning out through overwork or getting depressed and stopping after massive underestimation aren’t going to help things.

Get a Star Rating

It might seem obvious but you really must get a star rating on the app store, and ideally a 3 rating at minimum. Getting a star rating had a double effect for me: I got a spike in sales and it slowed the tail-off in purchases. I was getting higher sales figures for months after getting a star rating than I had on release.

Many people, myself including, ignore apps without star ratings, especially if they have a lot of competition in the store. I want to buy useful apps not test and rate new apps, so I leave it to other people. I assume that the crowd will have already tried apps and rated them if they’re any good.

You don’t have to resort to any underhand tactics here. Simply do a bit of advertising with whatever you have available (friends, family, social media, clubs, societies, school news, etc) and prompt people to rate it honestly if they like it.

Aim for a 5 Star Rating

Ok, this might be a hard one to achieve but it should be what you’re aiming for, as a developer making an app and so that you maximise your returns. Essentially this means constantly testing, reviewing and revising your app to improve it as your working on it.

There are books devoted to this sort of thing so I won’t go into it, but I will say that the more testing, reviewing and improving you do before release then then better your app will be. Just remember to be honest about your app to yourself and be willing to accept feedback from others, even when they trash your favourite features. I’ve also found the more people you get involved in testing the better. Remember: you don’t have to like or use all the ideas people come up with, that’s your call as the developer.

Release Updates

Making an update does two things:

  1. It improves your app. You should have either fixed something or added a new feature to warrant making a new release. The better you make your app the more likely people are to like and buy it.
  2. It puts you back in the new releases section of the app store. This gives you a little extra visibility and another shot at getting into the coveted featured slot.

The flip side of this is that unless you’ve been very thorough in the original development, there’s a good chance your app will need improving or bug fixing after release. Prepare and plan for this in advance, don’t simply hope that once it’s released it’s all finished and you can stop.

What’s Next?

Well, Doodlemate is on hold at the moment. I do have plans for a round of updates and improvements based on all the new technology that’s now available and what I’ve learned from writing my second app. The simplest (and at the same time hardest) change is to make it a universal app. I would love to see it running on an iPad as well as the iPhone, partly because I want to play with all the extra space you get on the iPad display and partly because it opens up a whole new market of people who might like to make animated gif’s again :)

So there you go: some sales figures from a first time app developer and some things to think about if you’re developing your own app. Hope it helps!

The Subtle Approach

Now, I hope you enjoy the comic. It’s the last one I have in the back catalogue so anything from here on in will actually be new… don’t hold your breath ;)

RIP James

Today is the funeral for James McLaran, so will be spending today with his friends and family remembering him and his life.  Anyone who knows him can leave their memories here, or go to his memorial page on Facebook.

Creative Shadows

Last week saw a round of graphics updates, bug-fixes and improvements in the game. There’s a picture here showing the hard work involved. I wouldn’t say it’s ready yet (I still have to design another 18 levels) but things are moving in the right direction.


Finally, I’m not sure whether game playing is called research or procrastination anymore. Either way, I do like finding the odd fun game to obsess over whenever I get a spare 5 minutes. My latest attention hog is called Gears and Guts, and basically involves driving cars over zombies. And shooting zombies. And cutting zombies in half with chainsaws. And impaling zombies with spikes. What’s not to like? It’s a ‘fremium’ game that looks really well made and plays really well too. I can already see the looming wall in game progression pushing me towards buying upgrades but I’m not quite there yet. As long as you have a good tolerance for re-running levels and splatting zombies you’ll probably be ok. The only gripe is not unexpected, in that it’s a little sluggish and laggy on my old iPhone 3GS. I’m sure it will get repetitive soon, but for now there’s still another chapter to play through so I’m happy :)

The Journey (almost) Continues

Another week, another badly drawn comic. I’ve nearly run out of my backlog and might actually have to draw a new one soon! *gasp*

In other news, last week was busy with game development tasks as Syd, who has been working on the graphics for my current project, sent through tons of new stuff for me to play with. After a few rounds of bouncing images and screenshots back and forth I’m really excited about how it’s going to look.

Syd is an artist, graphic designer and aspiring BMXer. One of his recent projects was creating the art for the Jackamo Brown – Oh No The Drift Of The World CD packaging, which is the first release on Scroobius Pip’s record label Speech Developments (not cribbing from his blog post there, no sir!) Go check out the artwork :)

Heres a (much simpler) image from Syd which is just one of the many that have been flying around over the last few weeks, can you see what it is yet?

A set of red balloons.

Zombies and Tigers and Bears

What do they all have in common? Apart from appearing in countless films and stories, they’re also all simple creatures driven by primal urges and instincts. And what do you do when something’s basic instinct is to try and eat you? You start running, that’s what!

Not long ago I got and tried Zombies! Run, in the hope that turning jogging into a game would make me more likely to do it (not convinced yet but I’ll give it a few more goes). I thought it was a brilliant and innovative twist on a running app, and good fun too. It’s definitely a good distraction, which when I’m jogging is exactly what I need :)

Now there’s something bigger and better for fans of the zombie apocalypse who want to get some pre-apocalypse training in. Real-life Zombies, Run! A 5k race through zombie infested territory complete with obstacles. If you don’t fancy running you can try your hand at being a zombie and chase the runners instead. I am glad there are people in the world who don’t just come up with these crazy ideas, they actually execute them too!