The Bombing Brain Blog

What it takes to write a kick butt iOS game in a month – Part 2

(If you haven’t read Part 1 of this blog please read that first to get the full story of Spooky Playtime)

The marathon coding weekend
Between our other commitments, both home and work, we realized if we wanted to get this done in time we would have to truly dedicate some time to this project.  So some serious discussions began at home with the wives to try and sneak away for a long weekend to code.  What originally was planned as a 5 to 7 day coding get away ended up being shrunk down to about a 2 and a half day coding weekend over the labor day holiday.

Late Friday evening Gene and I headed to a family owned house in the Pocono mountains for some serious and concentrated coding.  Arriving around 10PM we unpacked our equipment, cranked up iTunes and got to coding until about 2:30 AM.  Went to bed. Got up around 9 and coded again until 2 to 3 AM with occasional breaks for food and drink. This process repeated until we left on Monday afternoon.  It was a lot of work but a lot a fun with requests to Joe for any additional graphics we needed as we went along.

(A few shots of the marathon weekend – lots of work but location of Bombing Brain hideout is beatutiful)

By the end of weekend we had the menu and all 5 games coded and working. We also had a list of about 95 to do items. We were feeling good as the majority of the coding was done. The “house” was framed and drywalled. Now we needed to furnish and decorate!

The crash report
Upon getting home from the trip, the kids were excited to see us.  I decided to let my kids give the game a dry run and see how they liked it.  They LOVED it except for one problem – it crashed after almost every game.  To the point where my 3 year old would say as the game ended – “crash!”. Oh boy…

The next 3 to 4 days I dug deep into our code. Using all kinds of tools to find out what was causing the crashes. Turned out to be some bad memory management on our part.  This tends to happen when you code something rather complex and have a minimal understanding of the framework you are using. So after doing a ton of research on cocos2d, learning a bunch and reworking some of code I got the app stabilized and running much more efficiently.

Family time
In order for this game to come alive we needed sound effects – lots of sound effects. Some we got from Garage band, others we made ourselves. The squeaky door sound is the door to my basement (still have to find time to oil that hinge). The bone rattle sound is Gene’s kids toy blocks!  These sounds effects were easy but we also needed kid sounds. Luckily we have 5 kids between our families ranging in age of 2 – 7.

So on one Sunday afternoon we gathered them together and Gene dusted off his old equipment from the band days and recorded all the voices you hear in the game. The kids had a great time cheering, counting and making silly sounds.

That same evening Gene’s wife, Karen, recorded all the instructional text using a Teleprompter iPad app we just happened to have: Teleprompt+.  Nice to have an opportunity to use your own app!

So now the sounds were recorded and we just needed on last piece: Music!

It’s Spooky, spooky playtime
While I was trudging through memory dumps and crash reports Gene started working on the music. All three of us have musical backgrounds, Gene and I were in a rock band together in high school and college. Joe and Gene were in a competition Jazz band in high school and had done numerous duo projects together in college and beyond.  Of the three of us, I am the least musical but the most techie. Therefore Gene and Joe took on the music of game. I knew it was gonna be great!

Gene has had the theme music in his head since July so he laid down the initial guitar, drums, vocals and sound effect tracks.  He dropped an mp3 of the theme for us to hear. I was blown away it was nearly perfect. He actually had a few versions. One with his normal voice on the the vocals and another with an effect on the vocals that made it sound a bit more spooky. Eventually we decided it was difficult to understand with the effects and later removed them.

Once Gene was done his part he shifted the audio off to Joe to work his mixing and percussion magic on the soundtrack. Joe added real drums, bass and some low vocals. This collaboration went back and forth between them until you get what you hear today.

In the next few days this same process happened on the other 2 songs: Spooky Scat and Spooky Grove.

The final push
All the pieces were now in place and we worked every night until 2 or 3 in morning editing and importing the audio, adding animations to bring the characters to life and just adding more polish to the app and making some minor tweeks for the iPhone version.

As we came toward the end we all took on our roles: Joe created all the screenshots and started on the website (www.spookyplaytime.com), Gene wrote up the descriptions and cleaned up any audio, and I worked on the splash screen and last minute coding changes and tweaks.

On September 24th 2010 at about 2:30 AM the app was submitted to Apple. Total days from the time the app project was first created: 40 days.

Time to rest…not really
Spooky Playtime was amazing collaborative effort. It showed us what we can do if we really put our mind to it.  So now you know the story of Spooky Playtime. So what does it take to write a kick-butt iOS game in a month (and not have your wife and kids walk you on you)?

It takes a lot but here are some of the major factors:

  1. Family first – yes we were under a tight deadline but we still had those family obligations.  Putting your family first will keep the family happy and understanding when you have go into hiding to get the game complete. I think also getting the whole family involved made everyone feel a part of it.
  2. Understanding significant others – This game would not have gotten done if our wives hadn’t of let us get away for a few days.  This is priceless and extremely important.
  3. Varying but overlapping skill sets – The 3 of us all excel in different areas and all of our skills overlap. So if someone is tied up with something then the other can fill in and move things along. Very important when on a tight deadline.
  4. Ability to function with little sleep – There were a lot of nights where we would only get 3 – 4 hours sleep a night. This can’t go on for too many days in a row but this is vital when trying to write an app in a month.
  5. Passion, Heart and Fun – If you don’t have these 3 factors you’ll never get an app complete.  Contrary to what you may hear in media writing an iOS app is not something you can do overnight. It’s not as simple as building a web page. It takes concentrated effort that takes a lot time.  Without passion you’ll drop the app the for something else. Without heart it won’t have that special charm that makes it stand out from the thousands of other apps. Without fun it’s just not worth doing.

We had a wonderful time developing this app and are currently working on more apps to add to the “Playtime” series. So no rest for us! Please keep a lookout on this blog, Twitter and Facebook for more fun and unconventional uses for Apple’s revolutionary mobile products.