Tag Archives: app store

App Review: Scouting Thomas

As a father of a 13-month old, I’m always looking for new children’s apps that she’ll be interested in now and ones that she might have interest in years from now. It’s actually the reason I wrote, illustrated, and programmed the Colin Turtle children’s book series. I recently stumbled across a new app called “Scouting Thomas” through social media and I was instantly interested by the great artwork style.

Scouting Thomas

Opening the app, I was immediately impressed by the well-animated intro sequence of Thomas and Buddy roasting marshmallows.  I tapped on the animation, and Buddy’s marshmallow burst into flames and Thomas quickly put out the flames using a fire extinguisher. It was cute, funny, and being an animator and app developer myself, I was impressed that there was such fluid animation on a splash screen of an app.

The next screen I visited was the Jokes & Game page. Here you can tap on Buddy and watch him tell kid-friendly jokes to Thomas. The jokes are a bit corny and might be slightly too sophisticated for very young children, but I think kids in the demographic that Flying Monkey Pie Productions are aiming for, will enjoy the humor. The games screen offers a crossword, Scrabble-like game where users can solve questions by jumbling supplied letters. Here I was impressed that the app offered a game, a joke screen and an introduction animation without making the app running the least bit slowly on my iPad. The only qualms I had thus far were that the kids didn’t speak, you have to read everything yourself, and the controls to the game were a bit clunky. While moving letters around to solve a puzzle, you had to make sure that there wasn’t a letter in the space to where you wanted to move it, otherwise the letters would overlap in the same space. I would have liked to see the letters shift down one space to make puzzle-solving quicker and easier.

Scouting Thomas 2

One part I did enjoy was that after reading all of Buddy’s jokes, you get rewarded with a scout badge. Throughout the app, you can earn different badges for completing various tasks. I think kids would enjoy being rewarded for going through each part of the application and performing different actions.

Scouting Thomas Badges

Next, I visited the how-to section. This section is an interactive portion that shows you how to make a contraption that shoots out marshmallows. You drag the parts on the screen connecting them, and when you’re done, you know how to make your own marshmallow shooter. You also earn another scout badge for completing the contraption in the app. I didn’t have the parts needed, so I did not get to test out actually making the marshmallow shooter. Could be a fun weekend project when my daughter is loder though.

There is also a theater section where you can watch a short animated film. I was really impressed by this because the animation is fluid and the frame-rate never dropped. I was probably more impressed by the theater than most people would be that purchase the app, but it’s probably because I know how difficult it can be to make a great animation and also have it play well on a mobile device.

There is a comic book section as well, where you can tap on each panel of a comic strip and have the speech balloons appear. This is where I would have really liked to hear the kids actually speaking, but I’m well-aware of the costs of professional voice actors, so I wasn’t terribly surprised by the lack of kids’ voices. Still, I think it’s what could have taken this app from being great to being a fantastic experience.

Overall, I am still amazed by how much the creators were able to fit into a single mobile app and not only that, to keep the quality of the work so high. Kids will love this app because of all of the different activities, and adults will be surprised by the high level of quality that the app displays. Pick this app up if you’ve got little ones and want to keep them entertained.


Mobile Updates

I apologize for slacking on new blog posts, my wife gave birth to our first child on July 22 and things have been very busy ever since. I have kept up with mobile development though, so I figured I’d go over a few items in which I can cover in more detail in future posts.

Pending Apple’s approval, I should have two new free apps debuting in a couple weeks. One is called “Newborn Tracker”, which I created out of necessity. It helps you track when your baby eats, how much they consume, and when they have a dirty diaper, etc. Apparently this is really important in the first couple weeks of having a baby so the pediatrician knows how they are doing.

The other app is called “Serial Box”, which lets you keep track of all of your valuables, their serial numbers, their worth, and store an image of them in case of theft or fire. The apps were based off of an old tutorial I used, so that’s why they’re completely free. Plus, I just think they’re useful and I want people to be able to take advantage of them without paying or putting up with ads.

I have written a guest blog post for Corona Labs that will be on their site on Sunday, August 19th. Check it out on www.CoronaLabs.com/blog. It covers my process of using Kwik 2 beta and Corona SDK to create my children’s eBook “Floating Fun“.

Speaking of my children’s book, I was also interviewed by Alex Souza, creator of Kwik about being the first person to ever create an app using Kwik 2.0 Beta. You can read the interview here and see it on the Kwiksher Showcase here.

When I told Ray Wrenderlich from www.RayWenderlich.com about my book, he asked me to write a tutorial on How to Create an Interactive eBook without Code. I wrote up the first draft as well as about 70 screenshots to take you through the process step-by-step. Now I’m just waiting to hear back from the editorial and testing teams to make revisions and get it published on their site. I’ll keep you posted when it’s available.

If you’ve never visited the site before, I strongly recommend it. I completed the 7 part tutorial about creating a Bluetooth enabled card game and I started the first part of the Apprentice series, which is free if you sign up for the newsletter. So far, I have to say the iOS Apprentice series is by far the best written tutorial I’ve read on how to learn Objective-C. Instead of giving you a chunk of bland code to copy and paste, the author explains in everyday terms what each word means, giving real world examples in which to compare them.

Bluetooth Card Game

First Thoughts: Stencyl

Yesterday I discovered a piece of software called “Stencyl“, which the company claims lets the user create Flash and iOS games without having to write any code. This is achieved by using either pre-made templates or blank projects, importing artwork, and assigning commands via drop-down menus.

I was curious to how this would work, so I downloaded the trial, which is exactly like the paid version ($149 a year), except you cannot export your final projects for the App Store. You’re free to make as many games as you’d like to test on your own simulator, Flash player and devices, though.

Upon opening the software, you’re greeted with a welcome screen in which you can choose a template as a starting point or start a full tutorial. I decided to first take the Flash player tutorial where you make a game similar to the original Mario Brothers and then I completed the iOS tutorial where you create a block-smashing game.

You can import your own artwork or use the graphics provided by the software, and then through drop-down menus, you can assign physics, actions, and properties to each sprite. Many actions are already pre-built, so it already knows what a reset button would do, or what would happen if a player falls into a pit of doom, which saves time.


Going through the tutorial definitely helped and it was pretty easy to follow along. By the end I had a working knowledge of the software and knew how to convert Flash game actions to iOS actions just by dragging and dropping blocks of code they supply. I imagine if you spent a weekend playing around with Stencyl, you could have a pretty decent game ready for the App Store at the end.

Stencyl iOS game created with a video tutorial
Stencyl iOS game created with a video tutorial

From what I’ve seen so far, there is definitely a lot of potential for a user to create some amazing games using Stencyl. I am interested to see if it can be used to create apps that require different logic than the pre-built chunks of code provided. Perhaps a quiz application, or a game that requires a lot of complex rules like a card game. Overall, I would say Stencyl is definitely worth checking out, especially since it’s free to build apps until you want to publish them on the App Store.