I was recently commissioned by Stone River E-Learning to create a video tutorial series on Sketch 3 software. If you need a lightweight software package to quickly mock-up websites or mobile apps, Sketch 3 is very useful. The learning curve is very small and there’s even a website devoted to templates and artwork specifically for Sketch 3 that you can use.
I didn’t want the tutorials to be a typical “this is how you use the oval drawing tool” course, so the very first lesson is creating an actual Facebook app clone. I figured it’d be more exciting to create working examples and the students would learn how to use all of the tools by actually making something.
If you don’t already own a copy of Sketch 3, get the 30 day free trial here and check out the course here.
A week or so ago, my colleague Alex Souza asked me to beta test his new plugin, “Kaboom“. It is an add-on for Kwik Photoshop plugin that lets you create particle emitters for your universal Corona apps. The benefit of using Kwik and Kaboom is that you can create full mobile applications with special effects without having to write a single line of code. Everything is done by placing artwork in Photoshop and telling it what you want it to do.
Within 5 minutes, I was able to create this:
I even wrote a tutorial on how to use Kaboom to create a similar project, which can be found here. If you order Kaboom within the next 2 weeks, you’ll actually save $20 off of the regular price, so it’s definitely worth acting quickly.
Please note: Corona Labs has not officially announced whether or not particle emitters will be supported in Starter or Basic versions of Corona SDK. If you’re a Pro user, you can use Kaboom today, but it’s unclear if Starter and Basic users will be granted access.
Last week I finally caved and purchased an Amazon Fire TV. I was very skeptical for awhile about purchasing one, especially since initial consumer reviews considered it an “in-beta” product and that the USB port on it doesn’t even support external hard drives or thumbdrives yet. However, a colleague of mine raved about it since it has the capability to accept XBMC and other 3rd part applications, so he actually bought 5 of them. Also, since I created Maddie Bear’s Snack Time for the Fire TV, it seemed like I should be able to test it for myself on an actual device.
Unboxing/Set Up/App Development
Unboxing it reminded me of unboxing the Apple TV. It was just the unit, remote, and a power cord. Setup was also the same, just plug it in and hook it to your TV via HDMI cable and the unit powers up. One thing that I thought was strange is that there’s no way to hook the Fire TV to your computer for app development, it has to be done through your Terminal/Command window. Once you have your Fire TV set up, you’ll have to go into the Settings > About and get its IP address. Then on your computer, connect to it via Terminal/Command window to push apps via adb commands (./adb connect <ip address> ; ./adb install AppName.apk ; etc.). This is pretty easy and I suppose it does save you the time from having to attach/detach the unit from your computer over and over.
Memory is kind of an issue depending on how many apps/games you plan on installing. After the operating system and XBMC, I had a little over 5 gigs of space left. This doesn’t sound terrible until you consider the fact that a lot of the higher-end games take 2-4 gigs of hard drive space. For example, Grand Theft Auto San Andreas takes up almost a gig. Then when you go to play, it says it needs to install another 2 gigs of data. If I were able to hook a thumb drive to the Fire TV and install games on that, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but since it wanted over half my available space, I opted not to install GTA.
Games and apps are categorized as Remote support or Game Controller support. Initially my game Maddie Bear’s Snack Time only supported the remote because I didn’t own a device to map out the game controls. I purchased a game controller and was able to add controller support by the following day. From a consumer standpoint, I do prefer games with controller capability, it makes it feel like you’re playing a real video game and not just an Android app that was ported over last second. Also, as a consumer, I really want there to be more great games available. The more I play on the Fire TV, the more I find myself enjoying the experience as a gaming machine.
If you do develop a game for the Fire TV and integrate Game Circle, Amazon is running a promotion where they’ll give you Amazon coins to give out to your customers. For example, (at the time of this writing) if you purchase GTA San Andreas, you’ll get $20 worth of Amazon coins as a bonus. Unfortunately, Corona SDK does not support Game Circle as of this moment, so Corona-made apps are not available for the Amazon Coin promotion. If you’re thinking about making an app with game controller support, I would purchase a game controller as soon as possible. Amazon is running a limited-time promotion where you receive $10 of Amazon coins and a $7 game, “Sev Zero”, with the purchase of a game controller. So essentially, you can buy a $40 game controller, get $10 of free coins, get $7 Sev for free, buy GTA for $7 with the coins, get another $20 of free coins, and end up with $14 of games, $33 of Amazon Coins, and a game controller for $40.
Since Amazon is giving away from coins like candy, it’s helping indie developer app sales. Where normally people might be hesitant to purchase a game that only has 1 or 2 reviews, now they’re free to buy it since they’re just using coins they got for free. The more developers are able to give away free coins from feature Game Circle apps, the more it helps the community as well. If you’re looking for a great platform to check out, I’d recommend getting a Fire TV.
Looking to make your own Fire TV app using Corona SDK? Check out Ed Maurina’s Fire TV plugin here.
As many of my regular readers know, I’ve created a few children’s book apps and am currently working on a new series. I took one of the books, “The Perfect Pillow“, and converted it into a paperback version through Bookemon.com. I liked Bookemon because there wasn’t a minimum order quantity, you could assemble your book on their website, and have a book ready to order in moments. However, I wasn’t thrilled about the price, nor was I happy that anyone could read the book in its entirety without purchasing it. That lead me to look for alternative publishing methods, one of which is CreateSpace.
CreateSpace is Amazon’s Print-On-Demand (POD) branch where indie authors can take their book, upload it to CreateSpace.com, and have it available to order through Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com. When a customer orders the book, CreateSpace prints it and then ships it out (Bookemon is also POD). This saves on costs since there aren’t a stack of books lying around that may or may not sell. I received the proof of my book from CreateSpace today, and would like to give you the pros and cons of both companies.
The advantage of using Bookemon (at least for children’s books) is that you can upload your finished artwork page-by-page to their website, drag and drop items as needed, and have it ready to go very quickly. The print quality is very nice with a thick glossy cover and pages that are also glossy and substantial to the touch. The learning curve is pretty small, I didn’t run into any major issues trying to figure out book assembly.
CreateSpace is great because it’s through Amazon, so you have an enormous potential customer base. They will also assign you an ISBN for free if you don’t already own one for your book. The card stock used for the cover is very similar to that used by Bookemon and you can choose glossy or matte. I’m also able to offer the book to customers for $5 less (shipped) through CreateSpace than I was through Bookemon. Also, if there are any mistakes in the book that will make it look bad when printed, each proof is looked at by someone at CreateSpace and you’ll receive a detailed report telling you what you need to fix. This was very helpful, I had issues the first two times I submitted my files.
I don’t like Bookemon because as I said before, it’s more expensive ($5 per book) than CreateSpace. I can’t see too many people willing to shell out $15+ for a small indie children’s book. Also, there’s no incentive to buy books from Bookemon since they let visitors read the entire book in the preview. Not sure why you’d pay for a book that you can read for free on the site that’s trying to sell it to you. You can avoid this by making the book private, but then you have to buy a bunch of books yourself upfront and hope you can sell them on your own.
The only issues I can see with CreateSpace is that it’s a little more difficult to get the book to them. There’s no option to upload images and assemble the book on their site, you have to export each page and then covert it into a single PDF file to upload. This might not be a big deal for a typical novel, but for something like a children’s book, it’s a bit of trial and error, especially when it comes to full-bleed cropping and print size. Also, after you approve the proof, it takes a week or so to show up on Amazon.com.
I originally drew the book at 1024×768, which is the resolution of an iPad 1 (the primary device I targeted back in 2011). For print sizes, I had to look for dimensions that were similar when exported at 300 dpi. Bookemon’s closest version is 7.75″x5.75″ and CreateSpace’s closest is 8.5″x6.25″.
Bookemon provides more of a true spine to the book whereas CreateSpace’s spine just looks like the card stock is bent around the interior pages. Bookemon prints at more of a true color of what you see on the computer screen and CreateSpace’s colors are darker. This is probably because you build the book on Bookemon’s site using an RGB profile and CreateSpace you need a PDF that’s print-ready at CMYK.
Bookemon’s pages are glossy and CreateSpace’s pages are a matte finish. I’m not sure which I prefer to be honest. The matte finish makes you feel like you’re turning real paper book pages and the glossy pages feel a little plasticky. With younger children, the glossy pages might be easier to clean sticky fingerprints off of though, so glossy might be better.
Overall, I think I’m going to go with CreateSpace for my upcoming Maddie Bear book series. It allows me to offer the books at a better price to customers, the books can be found on Amazon.com, and you get a free ISBN. Now that I’m familiar with the CreateSpace publishing process, I think it’ll go more smoothly next time.
I’m considering writing a book that explains my process of writing/illustrating a children’s book and then converting it into an app and softcover book. Would this be something you’d be interested in reading?
You might be asking why this would be helpful. Say you or your client want to create an app that will run on all iOS and Android devices. Well, you could create the artwork for retina iPads, shrink it down in Photoshop for non-retina, shrink it again for phones, and then repeat for Android, Kindle Fire, Nook, etc. or you could design everything in Photoshop one time and then let Kut do the rest for you. Let me show you what I mean.
First, I downloaded the free trial of Kut and installed it via the Adobe Extensions Manager. Then in Photoshop I opened the Kut panel.
I opened Kut’s settings and selected the devices I would like to support.
I started a new Document. In this case, I chose iPad Retina as my starting device since it has one of the largest resolutions of 2048×1536.
Using different layers, I created a screen for a game that is sure to win numerous awards for fantastic artwork. I saved my .PSD file to a folder on my Desktop.
I clicked the Publish button and got a popup window since it was my first time using Kut (in this instance, I wasn’t making an app icon, but Kut will create icons for your app if you want it to).
So I did as the pop up asked and pasted the code into Terminal.
And just like that, I had artwork compressed and sized for every device.
Obviously had I purchased the full version, the watermark of “KUT KUT KUT KUT” would not be on each image. However, in mere moments, I was able to create artwork for a game for 8 different devices. This could normally take hours and Kut did it all in a click of a button. If you’re thinking about picking up Kut, buy it before December 31st and it’s only $19.99.
I decided to pick up the full license to remove the watermark. Kut is definitely very useful software for cross-platform development and for $19.99, you can’t go wrong. This time when I published out my artwork, I was given a developer’s report that is part of the full-version of Kut.
This is extremely useful for rebuilding the interface in your coding language of choice. Now not only do I know the dimensions of my artwork, I also know the exact coordinates to place them on the screen. If you’re reading this, you should stop now and download Kut, it’s a great tool that I’m going to be using a lot.
In my previous blog post about being a one-man studio, I noted that since I create my personal apps as a hobby, I don’t have funding for sound effects, narration, etc. Now for my current project, which is a storybook series called “Maddie Bear Books“, I’m in the same boat.
Once I finish the storyline and illustrations for the first book of the series, I don’t have any money to pay a professional narrator or to buy any sound effects/music that I can’t create myself. To try to raise some funds, I decided to start a “Bearstarter” campaign. It’s a lot like Kickstarter, but without the Kickstarter fees, overhead costs of shipping and producing rewards, minimum monetary goals to meet, etc.
The benefit of going this route is that if people want to donate out of the goodness of their hearts, there’s no minimum amount to raise or if they want a physical product for their donation, I also have signed prints available. All of the proceeds go directly into app and book production and it’s a cool chance to be part of a project from the very beginning.
There are two reasons I choose to be a one-person studio instead of outsourcing or working as a team (except for The Phrase Game where I collaborated with Dan Williams). It’s not because I’m great at every part of app development, I’m actually not spectacular at any part, it’s because I have a $0 budget for my apps and I get bored very easily.
I just create mobile applications for fun (at least the ones that aren’t for my day job), so I don’t set aside any money for development. I don’t keep a stack of cash around my home office to purchase sound effects, artwork, music, or to outsource coding. To me, making mobile applications, books, and games is my way of relaxing and to learn something new. The fact that I’ve been able to make a decent amount of money from them is just a bonus, but money is never the driving force.
My first paid book app, The Perfect Pillow, was made because my wife and I knew that we wanted to start a family, and I wanted our daughter to have something to read that her dad made. I put it on the app stores at 99 cents just to see what would happen and to my surprise, it brought in decent revenue. I won’t complain though, app and book sales have actually paid for various home improvements and for my daughter’s first birthday party.
Not having a budget for app development works out well for me because I quickly get bored with tasks. I’ll start writing the script to a children’s book and get bored after 10 minutes, so I’ll switch to drawing. When that becomes mind-numbing, I’ll switch to writing the code, then I’ll start recording various sound affects that I think I may need. Having to do every aspect of apps helps me not get bored with making them. Unfortunately, it also means that I’ll probably never become an expert at any particular part of app development since I’m always spread thin. Whereas big companies have the luxury of having separate departments for each division, GP Animations is one guy who is the developer, illustrator, animator, sound engineer, producer, intern, writer, UI designer, code monkey, and dish washer.
However, as I said before, this is my way of having fun, which is probably one of the nerdiest ways to relax. I’m not looking to become a millionaire from making them, but it’s certainly nice being able to provide an extra few nice things for my family from a book or app that I would have made anyway. This mindset may not work for you if you’re looking to make app development your only source of income, but the message of doing what you love can apply to everyone.