Archive for the ‘Apple’ Category

A Journey through the Exoplanets

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Sometimes you hit it lucky.

You find a great client, working with a great customer, commissioned to create a great product.; in the development world, the perfect triumvirate.

Journey to the Exoplanets on Apple’s iPad had the potential to be good right from the off. Along with my client Brandwidth, and their customer, Scientific American, this perfect triumvirate served to create an unusual level of expectation that, despite going unvoiced, managed to hover over our heads from the first line of code through to the final submission process.

It wasn’t perfection, I’m not even sure such a situation is possible, but it’s about as close as any project is going to get. The artwork was done with passion and intensity. The development was pushed hard by a design that in many respects went way outside the conventional app thinking. But perhaps most importantly, everyone involved, the client, the customers, the team, all saw the potential, and worked hard to realise it. People basically gave a damn, and for that to happen right across the board is rare. To get a chance to be working on such projects amongst such people is rarer still.

So it was of course a pleasure to work on. The design goals were met, and in many places exceeded. We all set out to make a great app that would blow people’s minds, and I think we did that in spades. Three months of ups and downs, trials, errors, backward steps and breakthroughs, all with a finished product to show for it.

I’d always expected there to be euphoria on releasing a product, particularly one that I’d built myself from scratch. In this case it’s actually more sadness than anything, good things have to come to an end after all. Possibly the hardest thing to reconcile is that, from now on, I’m going to have such high expectations with everything I touch. Is it really possible to hit a home run twice in succession?

As a final note, a quick thank you to the guys at Brandwidth and Scientific American. These last few months really have been an absolute pleasure, and I look forward to breaking expectations together again in the future. And of course a big shout out to Caleb Sharf ; having the assistance of the Director of Columbia University’s Astrobilogy Center really did push the Planet Builder above and beyond.

Update: some great reviews are coming through for the app, so feel free to check out the article on, as well as a great review by author Greg Bear on

Mobile exploits with BoulderDash

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

ScreenGrabIPadBD copy.png

When I started iPhone development, the learning curve was relatively shallow; I knew Mac development well enough, and ten years of writing games and tools gets you knowledgable about a whole host of languages and technologies from C++ and DirectX through to 3D engines on the XBox and file converters in Perl. But these handsets are different in a host of ways, and I’d never touched OpenGL before.

To get myself up to speed writing on the iPhone and the OpenGL graphics pipeline, I looked to my gaming past to find something that I wanted to play on the handset. That something ended up being BoulderDash. I grew up playing it on the Commodore 64, and still love it now, there just wasn’t a perfect version for the iPhone. It ended up being a great project to start from scratch, and actually, a great one to finish. It was a real labour of love, never intended for release, which is why it used all the sounds and graphics straight from the c64 version, but boy did it turn out well. Not only does it play identically to the c64 version, it even came with a persistent level unlocking mechanism as well as a high-score / fastest times table. Very neat indeed.

I started iPad development shortly after they arrived on our shores. The iPad and iPhone share operating systems (give or take a few tweaks), but I thought it worth taking something I’d developed for its smaller cousin and porting it across to get a feel for the issues. The perfect candidate? BoulderDash. First on the iPhone, and now first on the iPad. Quite fitting I thought.

I was struck by a few things. Firstly, how quick and easy it was to get an already completed iPhone app up and running on the new hardware. I guess the sharing of the OS helps, but still. The only major issues in fact were the ones you’d expect: the graphics were too small, and the screen layouts broken. It took me roughly six weeks to go from zero to a complete ready-to-release version of BoulderDash on the iPhone, but approximately 3 days to port it to the iPad up to the same standard (along with a few additional bug-fixes along the way). That’s very cool indeed.

The other thing that struck me was just how exquisite the game actually looks and feels on the bigger screen. I really do love the iPad, and there’s some great games for it, but to create something yourself and see it rendered in such finery really is something else. So much so that I’m actually considering releasing it under DigitalOrigins in some form. Even if I have to replace all the sound and artwork and change the name to something like DiamondRush (which I actually rather like), I think it would be worth having this in the hands of people so that they can get some enjoyment out of it.

Perhaps now is the time to commission some artwork. Anyone up for the task?

Apple’s MobileMe + iTunes + App Store = ???

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

This is a great question to pose now that Apple is putting the finishing touches to its billion dollar data centre.

Of Apple’s three current cloud offerings, MobileMe is probably the most notorious, having been around for rather a long time now, first free, then not, then given an overhaul, repackaged, and again dutifully ignored by many of their faithful.

iTunes and the App Store have, in contrast, seen meteoric rises to fame over a very short period of time, enabling Apple to deal first in music, then video, and now in pretty much anything from books to pdfs as well as apps from the newly tagged-on app store. Despite its rather outdated and inaccurate nomenclature, iTunes really is pretty special, particularly for Apple, but it is merely the start of things to come.

Now, buried within the settings of Apple’s recently updated iBooks app, you can switch on “synching”. This rather innocuous feature may not seem particularly significant when iBooks is used on a single device, but used on both an iPhone and an iPad you now have the capability of reading a book on one that then automatically updates the current page on the other wirelessly with no user intervention required. The synching technology behind the scenes? Your humble iTunes account.

Quietly, and rather nonchalantly, Apple has slipped its first piece of MobileMe-esque cloud communication and synching technology into iTunes, at this stage giving them a small test bed to enable them to eek out any behind-the-scenes issues, but ultimately giving them one hell of an expansion opportunity.

And expand it they will, because right now they are staring down the barrel of two cloud technologies. MobileMe, has a subscription fee, has become a little crusty and underpowered, has low uptake and is desperately in need of a revamp to keep it inline with its competitors. The second, iTunes, well, nearly everyone has it, nearly everyone has an account with it, nearly everyone likes it, and it is far in advance of the competition, whilst being completely free. And now it is starting to be used to delve into the world of wireless synching across the multitude of Apple devices.

It would seem that Apple are readying themselves for one rather awe-inspiring software merger, and with the new data centre later this year, they will finally have the capacity to make it a success. And it’s a smart move. They have consumer’s homes in the palms of their hands right now, and a multi-tiered move like this would very quickly shore-up their advantage against the likes of Google who are desperately trying to get a foothold into an extremely lucrative technology segment.

So, renaming iTunes to iMedia, folding the current MobileMe offerings into it, and pushing forward on not just app synching, but full multi-device, multi-OS synching, along with cloud storage for all, with access to all personal documents and data, all of the time, wherever you are in the world on whatever device you have to hand, and, well…

Kinda takes your breath away, doesn’t it?