Archive for 'Reviews'

Pencil This In

Managed to get your Apple Pencil delivered yet? If you have, and you’ve gone through some introductory tutorials, here’s a remarkable burst of creative applications from the redoubtable FlexMonkey for you to try out:

PencilScale – Using an Apple Pencil with an iPad Pro as an Electronic Scale

Following all the interest created by my Plum-O-Meter, I couldn’t resist trying a similar experiment with my newly arrived Apple Pencil, so here’s PencilScale, an iPad Pro application that uses the Pencil as an electronic scale … The update() method simply subtract’s the touch’s force from a base weight (which is set as the current touch force when the ‘zero’ button is pressed) and multiplies it by 140 which gives the weight in grams (very roughly) …and amazingly, that is pretty much all there is to it!

PencilController – Using Apple Pencil as a 3D Controller for Image Editing

My PencilController project is a Swift app for iPad Pro that applies two Core Image filters to an image: a hue adjustment and a colour controls which I use to control the saturation … The hue filter’s value is controlled by the azimuth angle and the saturation is controlled by the altitude angle: when the pencil is vertical, the saturation is zero and when it’s horizontal the saturation is eight (although when the pencil is totally horizontal, its tip isn’t actually touching the screen, so the highest saturation the app can set is about six and three quarters).

PencilSynth – An Apple Pencil Controlled Synthesiser

PencilSynth is an AudioKit powered synthesiser (mis)using the Pencil as a joystick controller. It’s based on AudioKit’s TouchRegions demonstration and works like this:

  • The Pencil’s horizontal position on the screen defines the output frequency
  • The Pencil’s vertical position on the screen defines the output modulating multiplier
  • The Pencil’s altitude angle defines the output carrier multiplier
  • The Pencil’s azimuth angle defines the output modulation index

FurrySketch: Hirsute Drawing with an Apple Pencil

I thought it was about time to play with the Pencil for its intended purpose, sketching, and see how I could use its orientation data to affect brush strokes.

FurrySketch is a Pencil powered drawing application that draws a sort of multicoloured hair and, most excitingly, the hair’s direction matches the angle of the Pencil. It was super simple to write and, at least in my opinion, gives really nice results … If you are writing drawing apps, adding Pencil support is not only super easy, it adds real value for your users. The technique I’ve used here to draw hair is only a few lines of code way from spray cans and air brushes and I genuinely believe the iPad Pro will prove to be an amazing device for creatives.

Seen any other creative applications? Let us know! And if you’re still pondering over getting one, check out Gus Mueller’s love letter:

The Hype is Real

Every single stylus that has been made for the iPad or iPhone has been a pile of dog shit when compared to what you can do with a Wacom tablet. Even compared to what you could do 20 years ago with a Wacom tablet. The KoalaPad on an Apple //e was probably better.

It’s been hard, and upsetting. And so much money wasted on crappy iOS styluses. I stopped paying attention whenever a new stylus was announced, since I was inevitably let down.

And then this week I got the Apple Pencil (which is Apple speak for a stylus) and an iPad Pro. This new tablet from Apple has the hardware support needed to make a useful stylus. Hardware support that has been missing for five long, very long, agonizing years.

And It’s God Damn Amazing.

It feels absolutely right. Super low latency, palm rejection, and … it just works.

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Join the Sprite Illuminati

Now this looks like a wicked awesome new sprite game making tool: Andreas Löw, already revered in sprite game maker circles for sprite sheet maker TexturePacker which has just continued getting more awesome since we reviewed 2.4 ages ago and for PhysicsEditor the premiere collision shape creator, has decided that the next thing that needs to be made easy is … dynamic lighting, with SpriteIlluminator!

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What is that exactly being edited there, you ask? Why, that’s a normal map. Not clear yet? Well, here’s a good writeup on the theory, but simply:

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These are supported in pretty much whatever major sprite framework you’re using, including SpriteKit’s SKLightNode as of iOS 8. So if you’re doing any 2D sprite work that would benefit FROM ADDING EXTRA AWESOME, we strongly suggest that you head right on over to the beta signup page while that’s still open!

UPDATES:

Adding 2D Lighting to Your Game

Normal map painting for 2d games

2d dynamic lighting tutorial for unity

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Healthy Kit

Looking for some Christmas presents for the other Apple fanbois/fangrrrls in your life? Here’s a rundown of various pieces of kit that are HealthKit-enabled, that’s a good way to combine geek fun with subtle lifestyle commentary:

How to make the most of Apple’s HealthKit in iOS 8 with compatible apps and accessories

..the free Health Mate app from WiThings can track your steps and log stats like weight using the iPhone’s M7 and M8 motion coprocessors. Where WiThings really shines is the integrated hardware accessories (sold separately) that can track unique data without user intervention..

If users are wanting to track nutrition and calories, the free MyFitness Pal app is a great choice. MyFitness Pal incorporates a large food database that can automatically fill nutrition information just by scanning a package’s barcode…

One of the most popular fitness tracking band lines on the market, Jawbone’s UP series boasts a number of tools to keep users healthy. The UP app was recently updated to integrate with HealthKit to track activity and add a sleep tracker capable of sending your data to the Health app. The software also provides personal coaching tips to achieve your personal fitness goals…

Another popular line of activity trackers come from Fitbit. Unfortunately, Fitbit has refused to natively incorporate HealthKit into its app. Instead, a third-party developer has created an unofficial app called Sync Solver for Fitbit that will read the data from your online Fitbit account and send it to HealthKit…

The Bowflex line of exercise equipment made by Nautilus has added HealthKit support for its app that will allow users to see workout stats in Apple’s Health app. Information such as workout duration, heart rate, calories burned and distance traveled are recorded…

Unlike many other fitness apps that track nutrition and activity, BACtrack integrates with a mobile breathalyzer that can measure your blood-alcohol content and send the stats to your iPhone…

With numerous accessories and one of the most mature platforms for fitness, the free Nike+ Running app can send your distance traveled, calories burned, run duration and more to HealthKit…

So there you go. We’ve been users of various pieces of the Withings kaboodle since the first scale shipped wow is it that long ago? and quite recommend them for keeping tabs on your various measurements. The other stuff mentioned above, well we’re sure it’s nice too, as always let us know any strong feelings you might have one way or the other!

And while we’re on the topic of HealthKit, the prolifically inquisitive Natasha The Robot has some intros here if you feel like programming your own healthy app:

HealthKit: Let’s Talk About Units

HealthKit: Asking For Identifying Information

HealthKit: Getting Fitness Data

Which is about all we’ve noticed in the way of tutorials — even the generally exhaustive Wenderlich iOS <N> By Tutorials didn’t have anything on HealthKit this time out. There’s a few testbeds and adapters on Github, but nothing jumping out as compelling. Hmmmm, wonder why that striking lack of interest from the development community in healthy apps. Hey, think how good the testing would be for you!

UPDATES:

HealthKit Tutorial with Swift: Getting Started

HealthKit Tutorial with Swift: Workouts

Step Counter in HealthKit

Researching ResearchKit

HealthKitHeartRateExporter: “A simple sample application for exporting heart rate samples from HealthKit.”

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Terminally Illin’

Now here’s a veritable novelette on a topic you almost certainly know less about than Craig Hockenberry does:

The Terminal

I’ve been using the Unix command line since 1983 and like most software developers, the Terminal app is a permanent fixture in my Dock. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of things that make working in this environment more productive, but even old dogs like me are constantly learning new tricks.

As much as I love them, these long “trick lists” on Stack Overflow have a problem: they’re poorly organized with little narrative describing why you’d want to use a technique. This long homage to the command line is my attempt to remedy that situation…

As developers, we live and die by our clipboard. Code and data moves between different contexts all day long thanks to Cocoa’s NSPasteboard. It should not be surprising that pbcopy and pbpaste are simple and powerful integration points at the command line…

Most apps have preferences that are managed by NSUserDefaults. You can easily view or modify these settings from the command line using the defaults command…

Speaking of designers, one of the best ways to communicate with them is through pictures. The screencapture tool let’s you do some things you can’t do using the Command-Shift-3 and Command-Shift-4 keys in the Finder…

Spotlight search on the Desktop has become an essential tool for developers. We find code, documentation, messages and all kinds of information that’s related to our projects using Command-space and a simple text field. Would it surprise you to know that you can do more complex searches of the same dataset using the command line?…

It’s incredibly handy to control your desktop apps using the shell. Since AppleScript has always been the best way to control apps, it makes sense that there would be a command line tool. The osascript tool is one the Swiss Army would love…

A lot of the files we deal with are executable. Even if symbols have been stripped from the app, you can still infer a lot of information by looking at the null terminated strings present in the data…

If you’re developing for Mac or iOS, you already know how damn useful Instruments is for tracking application behavior. DTrace is the framework that makes all that possible. Well, take a look at all the stuff in the shell that “uses DTrace”…

Have you ever had a folder full of files that you’ve wanted to access through a web browser? You could setup Apache to do this by editing the httpd.conf file, or just enter the following command in the folder you want to access…

Data is never in the format you need it, is it? The shell’s notion of standard input and output has always made it great for doing data conversion. Here are some tools that you may not know about…

Pretty much guarantee you’ll find a whole bunch of somethings you didn’t know in there!

UPDATES:

awesome-sox-command-line: “Use your OS X terminal shell to do awesome things.”

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Project Management: Kanban

So chances are that, should you follow any kind of formalized project management, it’s likely to be a form of Scrum. And if so, we’ll just betcha that you’ll nod along with this piece:

Why SCRUM Sprints slow you down

Basically SCRUM sprints set you up to commit to something you can’t possibly deliver on. The only way to reach predictable performance in SCRUM sprints is if …

  • … your team’s performance doesn’t change ever: No people leaving, no people joining, no knowledge gained over time, no vacations, no motivation highs & lows,
  • … the items you are working on are highly predictable: You’ve done them many times, know which problems to expect & how to solve them, no external dependencies, no collaboration with others, no changes in scope even if they would make sense, …
  • nothing else comes up that’s more important: Server down, bug in the payment system, a security vulnerability that needs to be closed ASAP, incredible marketing opportunity if implemented & shipped in the next few hours, …
  • Considering this it is quite obvious why reaching predictable SCRUM sprint performance is almost impossible in most real world situations no matter how much time and effort you put into sprint planning and estimates.

    But the main problem is that SCRUM sprints force your team to optimize for predictability (“how much of what we’ve committed to can we get done”) instead of optimizing for value & agility (last responsible moment)…

Preach it, brother! Yes, we feel all that pain. Particularly that last point. Last time we had an interview ask about our experience as a scrum master in our last management job we scoffed “As if we ever knew what our priorities were going to be by the end of the day, never mind multiple weeks down the road!” These problems are obvious enough to everybody that sprints are usually one week these days, at least they are the last half-dozen places we’ve scrummed at … at which time you’re spending more time in planning and review than the effort is worth, amirite?

Some software companies are starting to embrace continuous delivery and feature pipeline visualization tools inspired by lean manufacturing concepts and Kanban.

This helps them to release improved versions of their software as soon as they are ready. On top of that it enables them to drop arbitrary sprint time-boxes if they want to.

By using Kanban and feature pipelines you pull new work items into your process once space (focus) frees up on the board.

This enables you to defer decisions & commitment to the last responsible moment, a time when usually more information & context is available allowing your team to be more agile compared to SCRUM time-boxes…

Well, this certainly sounds more like a project process that would actually work in the world we live in. Here’s another good discussion:

When to dump Scrum for Kanban

Kanban is useful when requirements and priorities change quickly and often. This becomes evident in teams who can see that their Sprint Planning doesn’t quite hold up for the entire Sprint duration. Kanban helps you react faster, but…

Contrary to popular belief, in Kanban, it’s not only about reacting faster, it’s about being closer to a state of Zen

But how do you get there? Simply prioritize: focus over speed

Well, that sounds worth a try. Let’s see what tools are out there:

Blossom is from the fellow who wrote that first article up there that got our attention; pricing is $19/month for 5 seats, $59/15, $149/25.

There’s approximately a zillion other Kanban tools, but these two seem widely well regarded for getting your feet wet:

Kanban Toolpricing is $5/user/month or $9 with time tracking, and a basic 2-user free one too.

LeanKitpricing is free to 10 users for basic features, $15/20 user/month for more

Us, we’re going to give Kanban Tool a shot, since the price is right and Adding tasks with Siri on iOS devices sounds pretty cool. But as always, if you have any particular recommendations of tools of this type you’ve tried and can recommend, or recommend against, please share!

UPDATES:

Why SCRUM Backlogs lead to bad Product Decisions

“… let us count the sins of “Agile” and Scrum …”

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Review: Learning iPhone Game Development with Cocos2D 3.0

Quite the twisted trail it’s been since we first noticed cocos2d-iphone way back in 2008 and watched it grow, split, recombine, be acquhired, and eventually have the founder jump ship for the C++ version cocos2d-x. It was looking bleak there for us peoples tasteful enough to revile the thought of sullying ourselves with other, lesser, platforms for a while there until Apportable stepped up to support what’s been a surprisingly frantic divergence from the cross-platform strains, not least the currently misnomed rechristening as “Cocos2D-Swift”.

And today, we’re going to take a look at the first and only so far book out there on learning modern Cocos2D-Swift,

Learning iPhone Game Development with Cocos2D 3.0

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The book follows the style of introducing concepts over the course of developing a single game called ‘CocoHunt’ which can be downloaded from the App Store and has its source available on Github. It assumes basic familiarity with Xcode and Objective-C, focusing solely on Cocos2D coding. And, unfortunately, that means no discussion of SpriteBuilder, which our first reaction is a significant flaw in an introductory book to modern Cocos2D. But let’s take a walkthrough of the book, as described by itself in the Preface:

Chapter 1, All About Cocos2D, provides basic information about game engines, additional information about Cocos2D, as well as examples of great games created with Cocos2D.

In which our above concern is addressed:

However, using SpriteBuilder doesn’t eliminate the need to write the code and understand how Cocos2D works. This is why, I strongly believe that first you need to learn pure Cocos2D and after that it will be very easy to start using SpriteBuilder and make your life even easier.

Well, that’s a valid perspective. Ours is to put off learning anything that there’s easier ways to accomplish, since after 20+ years in this industry we figure that knowledge becomes obsolete so fast that investing more than the minimum you can get away with is generally a misallocation of resources.

Chapter 2, Hello Cocos2D, guides you through the installation process and reviews the contents of the Cocos2D distribution package and demo projects that come with it.

And runs you through a hello world project with a sprite and label. Straightforwardly done.

Chapter 3, Cocos2D – Under the Hood, describes the architecture of the framework and its main classes. In the second part of this chapter, we will review several Cocos2D configuration options.

This would have been a good chapter to use as an introduction to SpriteBuilder, relating the architecture to SpriteBuilder’s layout. As it is, it’s a bit awkwardly placed to break rhythm. As the author acknowledges:

I know that you want to start writing the code and creating games as soon as possible. If you just can’t fight this feeling, then skip to Chapter 4…

That we’d say is a solid clue that our suggestion is a good one. (OK, we swear we’ll stop harping on SpriteBuilder now. Really.)

Chapter 4, Rendering Sprites, begins to unveil the process of game creation. In this chapter, we will add a game scene, background image, player, and enemy characters. We will review some of the main properties of Cocos2D nodes and will make them move, rotate, flip, and so on.

Remarkably well done chapter! As well as all the display basics you’ll need, smoothly works in anchor points, character composition, and use of TexturePacker even.

Chapter 5, Starting the Action, covers the process of controlling the game using states, handling touches, or using a gyroscope to get player input. At the end of this chapter, we will have a skeleton of a playable game.

Another excellent chapter, thoroughly covers interactivity as described and works in some good coordinate spaces and vector math discussion too.

Chapter 6, Rendering Text, shows you how to display score, lives, earned points, and winning and losing labels. In this chapter, we will use both True Type and Bitmap font-based labels of Cocos2D and will discuss benefits and performance considerations.

Straightforward and competent; covers Glyph Designer too.

Chapter 7, Animations and Particle Systems, demonstrates the use of different animation types and shows how to use particle systems to get really cool effects such as explosion and fire.

Competent enough for a beginner book, although we would’ve liked a little more on skeletal animation; covers Particle Designer too.

Chapter 8, Adding Sound Effects and Music, shows how to easily add sound effects and music, switch between music tracks, and adjust audio properties.

Again straightforward and competent, nice that it mentioned sourcing and attributing from Freesound, Nature Sounds For Me, and NoSoapRadio. Cool stuff, check them out!

Chapter 9, User Interface and Navigation, concentrates on creating a convenient user interface using Cocos2D controls such as buttons, the scroll view, table view, and so on. In this chapter, we will see how to create scenes that exist in most games, such as the menu scene, about scene, and so on, and how to navigate between them.

That sound like a lot to cover? Yes it is, and the “and so on” covers a good many asides. There’s a bit too much crammed in here we think, probably would have been a bit easier to follow if focused into UI and navigation chapters; but it’s certainly very good as is.

Chapter 10, Physics, shows how to use the physics engine in your game. In this chapter, we will create a playable level using the physics engine; we will review how to create physics objects, adjust their properties, detect and filter collisions, use joints, and so on.

Yet another exceptionally well done chapter. Can’t think of an introduction to using physics engines we’ve ever read that was better than this, actually; balances features and explanation just about perfectly to get you started.

Chapter 11, Working with Tile Maps, explains tile maps and shows the complete process of creating and using a tile map in the game.

Including parallax animation as well, which is a nice feature to have explained in a learning book.

Chapter 12, Standing Out – Integrating Game Center and In-App Purchases, covers integrating Game Center and adding In-App purchases to the game.

For some reason, you have to download this chapter separately and the Preface link doesn’t work. But once you get past that gratuitous annoyance, again a straightforward and competent explanation of the described tasks. And bonus points for a nice collection of various asset-finding links for the penniless indie to finish off the book with!

So overall, we’re pretty darn impressed here, quality ranges from nicely done to downright outstanding all the way through the book; the best introductory Cocos2D book written yet, we’d say. Our only serious problem with it is that there isn’t any introduction to SpriteBuilder. And there’s a book devoted to that in progress by Steffen Itterheim, so if you’re more of a visual tool type person you might want to wait for that one. But if you want to get started NOW!, or you’re not a visual type person, then hey this is your best and most current choice for learning Cocos2D-Swift!

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Review: Unity 3D Game Development by Example

So, as we mentioned last time, we’d decided that it’s just about time to get to know the Unity game engine development environment a bit, and Packt Publishing was gracious enough to provide a review copy of their Unity 3D Game Development by Example video course to help us out with that!

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The fast, easy way to start developing Unity games

There’s no better way to begin building impressive video games than Unity. The free software gives you the tools you need to create stunning 3D games and publish them for computers, phones, tablets, and the web.

This friendly video course will teach you the Unity from scratch and develop fun example games, deploying them to your favourite platforms…

TL;DR: Most Excellent orientation walkthrough — just exactly the level of getting our feet wet enough to be comfortable if we absolutely had to dive in that we were looking for. Unqualifiedly recommended as your introduction to Unity if you’re Windows and Android centric, minor qualification if you’re OS X and iOS centric that it’s a just a bit of an ill-fitting suit, not perfect but not too hard to match up with either.

Walkthrough Notes: What you download is a folder of HTML-wrapped browser-presented video — reputed to work on any modern desktop browser, but not iOS devices — split up into eight sections:

Section 1. Learning How Unity Thinks [22:01 mins]: Understanding Unity UI; Unity 3D Project Structure; Game Objects and Components; MonoDevelop Explained; Creating your first Component; Pro-Tips: Understanding A MonoBehavior

This section jumps right in to describing the main window, so it assumes that you’ve already figured out how to get Unity installed on your system. Which is a simple and free download, we got version 4.3.2. The video is taken on a Windows machine and the screen is arranged moderately differently than how the sample project shows up in said 4.3.2 OS X download, but nothing that makes any real difference, we thought … until it said “use the middle mouse button to pan”. Yeah, that’s a tough one for us. OK, so it’s not perfect for the OS X user. Still, it’s pretty darn close. We’re also informed that if we don’t know C# we should go learn it first as that’s what all the scripting examples will be in. Yeah, that’ll happen. But any C-ish syntax knowledge is fine to follow along with this course.

Section 2. Building a Scene [16:13 mins]: Creating and Loading a Scene; Building and Manipulating GameObjects; Adding Components to GameObjects; Building and Using Prefabs; Pro-Tips: Understanding Unity Cameras

All pretty straightforward, and workable if not precisely elegant. Yep, we’re starting to see why Unity is widely considered the premier design environment.

Section 3. Scripting Interactivity [20:26 mins]: Component Basics; Useful pre-built components; Trapping Player Input; Communicating Between Game Objects; Pro-tips: Building a Messaging System

On the other hand, nothing to confirm your low opinion of the development environment like finding out that building a messaging system is considered a “pro tip” instead of something taken for granted, that’s for sure. And this MonoDevelop thing you use to write your C# scripts in … well, it’s no Xcode, that’s for sure. Prejudice about this kind of environment being suited well only to projects that don’t involve any serious programming: Confirmed.

Section 4. Sound and Music [17:49 mins]: Unity Audio Basics; Building and Playing Game Music; Adding 3D Audio to the world – Controlling Audio Sources; Pump Up the Volume – Setting Volume and controlling Music Playback; Pro-Tips: Saving Player Preferences

Another straightforward section to breeze right through. Saving preferences counts as a “pro tip” as it points out the existence of System.Xml.Serialization. Yep, if you’re used to iOS SDK programming adopting this is going to be quite the shock.

Section 5. Building UI [30:51 mins]: Unity GUI Basics; Skinning your GUI; Game Experience as GUI; Game Experience as GUIScore and Time Displays; Pro-Tips: Pausing and Ending a Game Round

By “UI” here they mean HUD-type displays.Throws in some side tips like internal glows to add a little style to the experience too.

Section 6. Finishing the Game – Title Screens and Menus [11:38 mins]: Building a Title Screen; Building the Main Menu; Pro-Tips: Create a Pause Menu by Reusing your Work

Which is tying together the screen creation and GUI layout stuff that we’ve been introduced to already.

Section 7. High Score (Saving and Loading) [19:28 mins]: Tracking Player Score in Your Game; Building the High Scores List; Displaying High Scores from the Main Menu: Pro-Tips: Building your Finished Game

Some more UI/navigation tweaks, and how to output a Windows executable. Which differs by only one popup selection from outputting an OS X executable.

Section 8. Where to Go from here [27:00 mins]: Extending Your Work – Expand Score into Combo Scoring; Where to Go From Here – The Unity Community; Where to Go From Here – Unity 3D Pro; Where to Go From Here – Porting to Android; Pro-Tips: Publishing Your Finished Game

And of course being a person of taste and style Dear Reader, you have no use for the bits on how to publish on Android, but no doubt the pitiable intern you fost that nonsense off on will find that bit of interest. No mention of iOS in the porting bits, but presumably touch handling would be similar and looks like controls are about the only necessary difference.

So overall, we’re quite completely satisfied with how that went for the time investment. Nice efficient introductory walkthrough touching on enough to get off to a flying start yourself without getting bogged down or distracted much of anywhere; and if you’re doing simple games, that’s all you need! Would have been nice to something that was OS X aware, but there’s only a couple of places where things like referring to the middle mouse button show up, no particularly big deal. On the other hand, we were just a touch disappointed to not find any discussion of porting and native code integration across various platforms, a little more discussion of that as opposed to “here, add a touch handler and you’ve ported to Android” would be rather welcome. But that’s mainly because being a real — that is, iOS — developer, our skin was crawling with revulsion watching that C# coding in action and our thoughts immediately jumped to how can we write as little code as possible in MonoDevelop should it actually ever become necessary to work with a Unity project.

So yeah, the end result of this exercise is a switch from “intense skepticism” to “downright loathing” of the prospect of ever having to code ourselves in this environment. But for those who don’t have a project with heavy coding needs, or are Windows people who are happy programming C#, first off we’re sorry for you, and second off yep Unity most likely actually is a good choice for you and this is a definitely worthwhile fast start on getting orientated with it. Thoroughly recommended!

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Sales Tracking: AppViz 3 and App Annie Advertising

Well, it’s been quite a while since we last made any note of developments on the sales tracking tool front … oh, wait, that’s because there really haven’t been any of note until this week. But then, there were two!

First off, our desktop tool of choice AppViz has undergone quite the revamp, becoming now a cloud-stored subscription. As should shock to the core nobody sensible really, as the economics of maintenance for a tool of this type are pretty ridiculous.

So what’s new? It would be easier to say what isn’t. In partnership with the Iconfactory, we’ve rethought, redesigned, and redeveloped AppViz, resulting in a more polished, elegant and powerful experience. The app was rewritten from the ground up, its code reviewed and optimized. In addition to a beautiful new interface, we focused on improving performance so that the new features and UI will scream on even modest hardware.

AppViz 3 is packed with powerful features we think you’ll love, from a Dashboard that gives you a bird’s eye view of your market performance, to the Financial module that can reconcile your bank statements with Apple’s financial reports and compute revenue splits with partners. Even our graphs have been redesigned, providing a greater level of detail and analysis…

You can check out all the features here, but we’ll just highlight the two we stopped reading at:

• Partner Splits – Add partners to your apps & calculate monthly splits

• Financial Reconciliation – Reconcile monthly reports with your bank account

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That ‘Reconcile’, that’s the key. If there exists any other method to have that sorted for you, we don’t know of it. Good-bye, annoying spreadsheets!

Of course, if that isn’t a compelling feature for you, hey have a look at appFigures’ current feature set. We paid for it for a while to get the email reports, which caused us more headaches than they saved anyways because exchange rates are estimated (see ‘Reconcile’ above, did we mention we find that compelling?) but dropped it when App Annie started sending out sufficient enough emails to satisfy our reporting requirements; and if anything new and exciting has happened over there we’ve missed it, but check if you want and let us know if you find anything overly useful that AppViz is missing.

Which brings us to App Annie, where the big news is integrated ad network reporting:

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Our Advertising Analytics service is free and simple to set up, no SDK or app-coding required. Just log-in to your App Annie Analytics account and click on “Connections” to get started. To find out more, we’ve set up a page to tell you about all these new features.

It all begins with 7 ad networks today, but over the coming months we’ll be aggressively adding more and more so you get the most comprehensive list of networks possible. Currently, you can connect to AdMob, Chartboost, iAd, Jumptap, Tapit, TapJoy and MDotM. If there’s a particular ad network or feature you would like to see added to Analytics next, email us at [email protected] and let us know.

So if you use any of those networks, hey it’s free. As is their basic tracking service, which might be all you need. As long, of course, you can live with the discrepancy problem noted above with appFigures:

Currency conversions. Apple’s “Financial Reports” use Apple’s own currency rates, whereas App Annie always uses today’s exchange rate.

Did we mention already that ‘Reconcile’, that there’s a killer feature we’ll happily pay for? Why yes, yes we think we did. And far as we know it’s only available in the new AppViz, and there aren’t any particular pain points we’ve noticed troubling us about sales tracking otherwise, so that pretty much narrows down our choice of service to no choice needed. With a mental note that if we ever get into the ad-pushing business on our own behalf, App Annie has a unique to our knowledge integrated offering there. But if any of you think I’m dismissing or have overlooked some important consideration in one’s sales tracking tools, be sure to let us know!

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Review: Escape Plan

Bit of a diversion today; we’re cutting away briefly from our accustomed iOS programming captivation to give you Dear Readers a recommendation for some lifestyle reading material. So if you’re just here for the geek and not interested in discovering the wide world out there, see you next time; on the other hand, keep reading if “Escape Plan: Discover the World, Live Better for Less” sounds intriguing:

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Ah, still here. Excellent. As you may have picked up on if you’ve been hanging around here a while, trolls do like to traipse about; seen about a third of the world, depending how you go about counting. (TravelersCenturyClub.org is the grandaddy of the place-counting cliques, and comes up with 321 places; MostTraveledPeople.com aggregates a bunch of minor sources like the DXCC List plus splits larger countries into their provinces and adds a bunch of oddball specks and border quirks to come up with 873 places; and of course the true connoisseur logs their visits to the 981 and counting UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well.)

And we tend to get a reaction whenever this comes up of how ohmigod you must be so rich to do that. And we’re like, well, no actually, if you have some clue about figuring stuff out on your own instead of supporting travel agent chains by booking package tours, it’s actually not a terribly expensive solo hobby — cheaper than it would cost to stay at home (living in the most expensive city in North America makes that comparison easier, of course…) quite often.

And then they’re like ohmigod you go by yourself to strange places how could anyone ever do that scary scary eek! And we sigh. Same planet, different worlds.

So for all those of you who have that instinctive reaction to the idea of going wayfaring, this is the single best book we’ve ever encountered to change your view of the rest of the world. And for those of you who think long term travel is a great idea but impractical, this is the single best book we recommend for you to read too. Hey, we’re iOS programmers, get a data sim from Keepgo.com (née iPhoneTrip) and all we need to be productive fits in a carryon and can set up anywhere with a cell signal, amirite?

Even if you’re one of the jaded Bindere Dundats of the peripatetic lifestyle, yeah you know 99+% of this already no big surprise secrets in wait, but even so there’s probably a couple of practical tips you’ll pick up flipping through this to make it worth the read. For instance, we had not previously been aware of EarthClassMail.com which looks like a significant upgrade to our usual mail arrangements.

So yeah; we recommend to pretty much everyone that this should be put somewhere near the top of your personal development reading list. And if you don’t have one of those — why, nothing better to start it off with, click that banner NOW!

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Review: Cocos2d-x by Example Beginner’s Guide

If you’ve been luxuriating in the joy of developing games iOS-centrically the last few years, it’s a pretty good bet you’ve been using cocos2d-iphone. And it’s also a pretty good bet that the pressures are mounting to acknowledge the existence of other, lesser, platforms, if you get our drift. The path of least resistance to that is to go with the cocos2d-x fork adopted as part of the cocos2d coordinated releases. But up until now there’s been a substantial dearth of documentation for that option, which the good folk at Packt have now remedied:

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The first chapter runs through getting you set up and doing the Hello World thing on a Mac with Xcode with the 2.0.4 version, which is the last stable release before the book’s publication date, just in time to be superseded by the 2.1.3 release, although the differences are pretty trivial; and recommends for your tool suite that you pick up Texture Packer, Particle Designer, Glyph Designer, and cfxr. Which we’d agree with across the board.

Chapter 2 goes over the basic structure of the cocos2d framework, introduces C++ to the native iPhone developer and discusses how to live without ARC, or conversely for the C++ programmer how to live with the root class paradigm. Not sure you’d ever manage to square that circle to anyone’s complete satisfaction, but what’s here is a good attempt.

Chapters 3 through 9 go through a series of mini-game examples, introducing

  • images (including retina), sounds, sprites, multitouch, bounding collisions
  • sprite sheets, bitmap fonts, background music, actions, universal apps
  • particles, drawing primitives, vector math
  • placeholder prototyping, terrain generation, platformed collisions
  • texturing terrain, parallax, sprite nesting, menu and tutorial modes
  • Box2D physics worlds, bodies, controls, and collisions
  • scenes, transitions, data loading and saving, notifications, accelerometer

That’s one solid amount of stuff to cover in a beginner’s guide! Plus there’s a very nice appendix on introductory vector math applications, nice touch there. And these games are rather polished for tutorial examples. Indeed, our first criticism of the book is that they’re not up on the App Store for you to check out yourself what you’d be learning, which you may recall we thought was a pretty compelling feature of the Creating Games with cocos2d book. But hey, you can see screenshots on the author’s blog here.

Chapter 10 — “Code Once. Retire.” — yep, that’s what we’re probably here for … and it’s a bit of a disappointment. It covers how to set up an Android “Hello World” project skeleton with Eclipse, and some arrangements for hybrid Android/Mac compilation … and that’s pretty much it. For the intended audience, that strikes us as rather a flaw. What would make this a five-star book is if all the samples were available on the iOS App Store, as grumbled about last paragraph, but also on the stores for at least three or four of the platforms cocos2d-x targets, and discussion in the book of just what was involved in customizing the code, assets, and deployment tactics for each.

So, depends what kind of “beginner” you are how valuable you’ll find this.

“Beginner” to cocos2d from scratch? Easy five stars, buy it now.

“Beginner” to cocos2d-x with an oeuvre of cocos2d-iphone code you want to get shipped on other platforms? Useful, but just barely gets you started on anything but porting your Objective-C to C++ code, which chances are you could do on your own if you’ve ever programmed anywhere but the iPhone. If you do have a solid C++ history and at least nodding familiarity with Android project setup, three stars; if not, four stars.

So overall we’ll give it a solid four stars; some more followthrough on deploying the examples onto non-iOS platforms, and we’d give it an unreserved five stars.

Postscript — Other cocos2d-x Resources:

Those awesome iPhone Game Kit dudes have a game called Paralaxer deployed to all the popular stores that you can buy the source of, to go along with a free book in progress.

The Wenderlich archives have a recently updated Cocos2D-X Tutorial for iOS and Android: Getting Started and Space Game.

And digging around the project’s wiki and hub pages always might turn up something interesting too.

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