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Hiding Hannah – An Interactive Book for Kids

 

We are pleased to announce that the first app developed as part of our Glowdot Kids app division has been submitted to Apple, with an Android version to follow in two weeks.

We have been building an engine for interactive book development here for the past 6 months, and were eager to launch a few demo projects when we met with Squeaky Frog, LLC about “Hiding Hannah“, and we fell in love with the idea.  We had been internally discussing taking interactive children’s books for the iPad and Android tablets to the next level, by incorporating more game-like elements into the mix, and Hiding Hannah fit with our vision completely.  We had been previewing a lot of really great books on the iPad, but none of them did much more than make a couple sounds or animate a sprite when you interacted with them.  We envision a much more engaging experience in these books: combining all the narrative power of an old-school children’s book with three decades of gaming history to create an experience that simply would not have been possible even two years ago.

Hiding Hannah is a twelve page interactive book about Hannah Howard, a little girl who loves to hide everything, including herself.  Each page is a self-contained mini-game, in which the reader is tasked with finding Hannah, something Hannah Hid, or even Hannah’s parents.  Every read-through is different, as Hannah hides herself, or her object of choice, in a different place each time you load a page.  Hiding Hannah contains beautiful artwork by Sesame Street Workshop digital media artist Melanie McCall and is narrated by Tom Kenny, voice of TV’s Spongebob Squarepants.  Packed with sounds, artwork, animations and interactive elements, we think you’ll agree that Hiding Hannah takes the interactive children’s book to the next level.

The expected release date of Hiding Hannah is November 10, 2011.

The mission of Glowdot Kids is to take your idea for interactive works — whether just a concept, or an already published book — and apply our game development experience to bring it to life on modern devices like the iPad, iPhone and Android tablets.  We can even bring it to the desktop (Windows and Mac) or the web — or all of the above.

If you are an existing publisher who would like to convert your published works to an interactive format and publish to mobile and tablet devices, we can help you from concept, to development, all the way through the publishing process.  And if you are an aspiring author who is looking to publish your concept, we can even help you with art, sound, music and story.

Glowdot’s future in interactive publishing

We are extremely close to releasing our first interactive children’s book for iPad, iPhone/iPod and Android devices.  This represents a first step into a niche market that I feel is going to be very important to Glowdot in the coming months and, hopefully, years.

Glowdot has been developing software of just about every kind, for just about every platform, for over 10 years.  But by far our favorite type of project is games.  And not just because we love games, but because we love the opportunity to be creative, to create new worlds, and to put all of our artistic and technical knowledge and skill into making something immersive, alive and breathing.  Games are a lot like movies that way — the really great ones make you forget momentarily that you are playing a game, and actually make you feel like you are the main character (or, at least, feel a sense of empathy for him).

Interactive books are an interesting type of project.  They aren’t quite a game, but they aren’t quite a straightforward app either.  They really walk that fine line between the two worlds.

It is for that reason that I have always told potential new clients, when convincing them to go with us, that an interactive book is the hardest app an app maker can make, and the easiest game a game maker can make.

If you take a company that builds social apps, or business apps, or utilities, or any other kind of “standard” app, you are asking then to forget everything they know, and learn a whole new set of skills to build an interactive book (or game, for that matter).  In terms of technology, they are moving away from the iOS SDK and the CocoaTouch libraries to a game engine like Cocos2D or Unity — and that itself requires a good deal of learning time.  Essentially, for an app developer to make an interactive book, he’s basically learning on the job, and the end result is, essentially, his first game app ever.

This really became clear during my research phase into this new market.  Almost every interactive book app I found looked like a first project in a game engine.  That’s not to say they were bad, per se, just that they were a little amateur.  You could tell that the developer was in a little over their head, a little afraid to take risks, and a little bit lacking in knowledge as to how to breathe life into a scene.  I have yet to see an interactive book on the iPad that is more than a collection of buttons that trigger a sound or animation, or video embedded in a page, or a really remedial use of a physics engine to sort of randomly and meaninglessly bounce objects around a screen.

But they can be so much more.  The flipside is, for a game developer, interactive books are a dream project.  They contain everything we love to do (sound design, animation, art direction, interactivity, atmosphere) and none of what we hate working on (fine tuning controls, wrestling with physics, hacking around collisions, etc).  For us, they are wonderful projects because we get to spend all of our effort on the things we spent the most time becoming great at.  And those things, not coincidentally, are all the elements the end-user cares the most about as well, because those are the elements he or she interacts with and engages with.

To that end, we’ve internally come up with a sort of “grand concept” for any interactive book project that comes our way, and it is so far ahead of what is out there currently that we’ve decided a large part of our focus will be on these book projects.  Our first one, teased above, was done on an incredibly small budget and came out better than anything in the app store right now.  I can say that with full confidence.  And we’re so excited to do more.

And here’s the other exciting thing about this: we can offer up and coming authors access to the largest market on Earth right now, and we can package their idea into something thrilling and exciting for far, far less than it would cost to print and publish a physical book.  And for books that are already on the shelves, we can take that print book, create a digital, fully interactive version of it, and help publish it to the app store for a fraction of the total investment to publish the physical book.  And considering how quickly the big book retailers are folding, the time really is now to get your book published digitally.

If you are a publisher, or have a book idea, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.  We’d love to share some of our ideas with you.

Dennis Ritchie – An Unsung Legend

We all know about the passing of Steve Jobs this week.  I think its safe to say the world doesn’t need another blog post about his death, what it means to the modern world, modern software, and the tech industry.  To be sure, Jobs built Apple into a powerhouse in the last few years (and the last years of his life), and without his work, and Apple the company, Glowdot would not be what it is today.

But this post is about Dennis Ritchie, and I’m willing to bet most readers haven’t heard of him.  And that’s a shame, because without him, none of the Apple products or apps you know and love would exist — or at least, they wouldn’t exist in the form you know them.  Dennis Ritchie was truly the father of the technologic world as we know it now.  And that his death has gone largely unreported, while people build shrines outside of Apple stores to Steve Jobs, is kind of a shame.

Ritchie created the C programming language.  Every language I use on a daily basis is based on the C language.  Objective-C, which almost every app you use on your iOS device (per Apple’s pretty strict demands) is built in Objective-C, which is C with an object oriented extention.  When I build apps and games in Unity, I use C#, which is sort of a mix of C++ (itself an object oriented extension of C), and Java (a C-like language).  And even PHP is C-like.  The influence of the C language is really everywhere, from language structure, to commonly named built-in language methods (like printf, for example).  It’s just impossible to understate the influence of C.

But Ritchie also helped develop Unix.  OSX is built on Unix.  iOS is built on Unix. The majority of the Internet is built on Unix, or Linux, which is an open source implementation of Unix.

Keep in mind we are talking about technologies created decades ago, which have been snowballing ever since, culminating in our purely digital world — a world that quite simply wouldn’t be possibly without C, Unix, and the Internet.  Everything we do and use is an extension of these technologies.

I started programming on a Commodore 128 in 1986.  My first programming class was in high school in 1993 — a class in Pascal (an ancient language no one uses anymore, which is nothing like C).  But it wasn’t until my first year of college, in a class called “Unix Programming in C” that I really decided this was what I wanted to do with my life.  The textbook for that class was the same textbook in any C/Unix class – “The C Programming Language” by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie.  Messing around on a C128, making primitive games and generating beeps was one thing, but learning Unix and C, socket programming, even early text-based GUI programming, opened the world to me.  Even in 1993, these now old technologies inspired the same explosion of ideas that our new i-devices do for me today.

As an interesting side note, the “Hello World” program, which anyone learning programming surely knows, originates from the K&R C book (although it is attributed to Kernighan, not Ritchie).  If you haven’t heard of Hello World, it’s the first step to learning a new language — making a simple program that simply prints “Hello World” to the screen.

So this post is my little RIP to a true legend.  Dennis Ritchie.  Thank you for my career.

Glowdot at Unite11

This week we are at the Unite11 Unity Conference in San Francisco, California.

While Rick is here to learn some new Unity skills, both Rick and Michael are here to meet other Unity developers and potential clients, so if you happen to be in San Francisco this week, send us an email and we’d be more than happy to come meet and chat with you!

This is also a perfect opportunity for us to talk about how Unity fits into our strategy for the rest of 2011 and beyond.  Unity is an extremely big part of our future plans, for many reasons.

Up until now, iOS has pretty much been the only game in town for mobile apps and games.  In 2009 and 2010, almost none of our clients asked for Android, but in 2011 we started getting more requests.  Typically, we advised against developing for Android — either in parallel or in lieu of iOS — for the simple reason that while there might have been more Android phones out there, Android still wasn’t a great app marketplace.  And because of  the way standard app developments go (Objective-C/Cocoa Touch for iOS, Java/Android SDK for Android), developing an app on both platforms meant two separate developments — which, of course, means twice the cost.  So we would generally advise against Android because it simply wasn’t worth the extra time and cost.

That’s definitely changed (and continues to change) in the second half of 2011.  Android is becoming a legitimate platform for apps, and great new phones and tablets (notably the Galaxy Tab 10.1) running Android are out or coming soon.  Android really can’t be ignored anymore.

So what does this have to do with Unity?  Unity’s huge advantage as a tech platform is that it is cross-platform.  Which means, generally speaking, that developing apps in Unity means one development for both platforms.  Actually, it’s even better than just two platforms, as Unity apps are ready to run on iOS, Android, Windows, OSX, X360, Wii, and PS3.  And Unity adds more platforms all the time — this week, Unity is introducing developers to a new platform — Flash.  Which means we can compile our iOS apps to Flash with very little modification.

This is a huge advantage to our clients, not only because it keeps development costs down, but because it allows you to target multiple platforms for roughly the same cost, and therefore have even more markets to hit.

At any rate, I’ll have more to say about Unity and how it can benefit our clients in the coming weeks.  Right now, we’re off to the conference!

Rogue Runner for iOS

Rogue Runner FREE to support Japan Relief!

In collaboration with OpenFeint, and in support of Japan relief efforts, Rogue Runner for iPhone and iPod Touch is FREE for the next two days.

How does this benefit Japan relief? I will be donating a portion of the revenues from Rogue Runner IAP and sales for the game over the next 21 days to the Japanese Red Cross, with a minimum donation of $500. That minimum $500 donation has already been sent. The goal is for the game to bring in enough money to exceed that advance which will enable me to contribute even more.

This whole promotion is the idea of OpenFeint and it is absolutely wonderful. I could not think of a better combination of benefits: indie game developers get promotion for their games, OpenFeint gets the word out about their service, gamers get free games, and Japan relief charities get some much needed funding.

Please spread the word!

Glowdot in O’Reilly’s Best iPad Apps Book

Two Glowdot iPad apps made it into O’Reilly’s new book, Best iPad Apps: The Guide for Discriminating Downloaders.

 

mentalBlock was named “Best Sliding Physics Puzzle Game”. You can read that page from the book here.

Additionally, my casual music making app for non-musicians called SoundSketch was named “Best App for Making Music in a Grid”. You can preview that page from the book here.

They liked the mentalBlock icon so much, they featured it on the front and back covers.

It’s an honor to see my work in print. Especially considering the number of iPad apps in the store, and the competition in those two categories — there are some really tremendous physics game and music apps on the iPad right now. To be listed as among the best is a great feeling.

I have also created a press page which you can reach from the top menu, wherein you can find articles about Glowdot apps and mentions about me in the press. I was surprised upon putting that list together that I’ve been mentioned in The Guardian, TechCrunch, and tons of other places I had no idea about.

Need an app?

Looking for a freelance iOS app developer?

I am now available for contract iPhone and iPad app and game development.

The success of the apps I have developed through Glowdot speaks for itself — both in terms of critical success, as well as user response. Two of my earliest apps — Zen Jar and PhotoZen, both created in 2009 — continue to be heavily used. The games and apps I developed in 2010 — notably mentalBlock for iPad, Rogue Runner for iPhone, and SoundSketch for iPad, were all successful in the app store, as well as with the major reviewers.

Rogue Runner, for example, was featured by Touch Arcade with the headline: “Rogue Runner exemplifies why App Store gaming is awesome“. This in addition to multiple features by Apple, very enthusiastic response from players, and peaking near the top 50 in the app store (#35 in games, #6 in arcade and action subcategories).

Combined, my apps have been downloaded half a million times in the app store, and well over a million when all download channels are combined. Rogue Runner also has over 40,000 registered GameCenter players, and over 50,000 OpenFeint players currently active, and a grand total of 160,000+ players as of this post.

I am now turning my development experience and expertise over to others. In addition to development, I can help with the much more critical phases of marketing and general strategy.

To any interested parties: my hourly rate is about 60% of what the current standard rate is, but it is still expensive to develop an app — especially if your app is a game. So please have a budget in mind before contacting me. Getting an app made is not cheap, but I do my best to stay within a reasonable budget.

With that said, feel free to use the contact form on this site to get in touch.

TouchArcade: ‘Rogue Runner’ Exemplifies Why App Store Gaming is Awesome

TouchArcade wrote a wonderful review of our game Rogue Runner today.

Glowdot listened to all the great feedback that was given in the forum thread, and the first update issued addressed a lot of the gameplay concerns. Rogue Runner was now much more enjoyable to play, and Glowdot vowed to issue content updates at a ridiculous pace. As soon as one update was approved, he would immediately submit the next one that he was working on while the previous one was in review. Two months and five updates later, and Rogue Runner has blossomed into much more than the initial release, and the beautiful thing is that the majority of content is directly inspired by the actual people playing the game.

If you haven’t played Rogue Runner yet, now is a great time. The full game is only .99 and the free LITE version is actually bigger than the 1.0 release of the full game.

Rogue Runner
Rogue Runner Lite

Rogue Runner for iPhone and iPod Touch

Rogue Runner is an episodic endless run game.

You play as a soldier locked away in a top secret military base in the desert. After years of being experimented on and shaped into a super soldier by evil government agents and alien collaborators, you finally decide you’ve had enough. You hijack a prototype vehicle (either a jeep equipped with rocket boosters or a jumping tank) and bust out. All you gotta do is run as far away as you can, before the MIBs, aliens, UFOs and black helicopters can stop you.

Feature List:
————

  • Vehicles – endless run AND endless drive!
  • Multiple vehicle choices — Jeep and Tank, initially, with more to come
  • “Last Chance” mode – when your vehicle is destroyed, you’ll pop out as soldier. Still armed, but more vulnerable.
  • Enemies that shoot back!
  • Air enemies (helicopters and UFOs) that you can fire targeted rockets at (by tapping them)
  • Completely randomly generated terrain
  • Kill enemies by shooting them, firing rockets, or stomping
  • Insane, movie quality sound effects
  • OpenFeint leaderboards, and in 1.1, achievements

The game engine is nearly infinitely expandable, and I plan on submitting a new update every time Apple approves the previous one.

For updates and news about this game keep an eye on this thread, and also you can follow me on twitter @stromdotcom and subscribe to my youtube channel, also stromdotcom for new videos, etc.

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