The iPhone version will be arriving shortly. If you are a Kickstarter backer and have not yet filled out your survey to tell us what name you want to appear in the app, or given us your address to send your poster or Geoff doll to, please check your spam folders for emails from firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I know it’s been a while since my last update, and for that I apologize. I’d like to say I’ve been so busy putting new features into the app that I don’t have the time to write any updates. That’s partially true, in that I have been spending more time actually doing the work than talking about it. But, it’s not the whole picture. At the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, I was a little overly optimistic about our timeline. We’re not going to be too far behind, but there have been some unforeseen delays which have taken time away from both development and updating.
I have had a lot of help from a developer making a set of visual tools which handle the cross-device and cross-resolution sizing I need in order to support iPhone, iPad, iPhone 4S and iPad 3, as well as the upcoming iPhone 5. These tools were exactly what I needed, but he is developing them all by himself, and they were in an early beta when I first started using them. There were some issues with stability, file compatibility, and feature readiness, which have since been fixed but incurred delays. The good news is that many features were changed or added on my suggestion, including user interface features to save me time and make my workflow for this app more efficient. As time and code permit, he may add even more features which will help bring this project to completion sooner.
But, even after finding the tools to do the job, managing all the content is still a big task. Two animators were hired out of the Kickstarter funds and they powered through the animation list. There’s only a small handful of animations left now, and all the main character idle poses are done and being arranged in the app. New page layouts are being finished at a steady pace now, with final animations and the beginnings of physics-based movement. In this video recorded a few days ago, you can see the first five pages mostly complete, save for fine tuning and interactivity.
This video also shows more progress, including the fact that now I have a tool that allows me to record audio and video simultaneously from the iPad simulator, to actually show what the app is like to see and hear, instead of just faking it by overlaying mute videos with the book’s soundtrack (next time maybe I’ll figure out how to avoid having it also record from my microphone so the narration is more audible and you don’t hear roommates closing doors in the background 😆 ).
Even though we didn’t meet our stretch goals for hiring additional programmers, I found someone on Craigslist willing to work in exchange for the experience. Already he’s enabled volume control (shown in the video) and a Table of Contents (being fine-tuned now). With his help, I can focus on integrating the rest of the content while he upgrades the user interface and gets the app ready for prime time.
There has been a lot of technical progress in the past few weeks; solidifying our tools and practices, fixing old bugs, and getting the framework ready for when all the content is done. Throughout the rest of the month I’m going to be working day and night to get this app finished. I hope that by this time next month we’re waiting for Apple’s approval so we can show this book off in the app store.
Don’t expect any more long updates like this unless some really interesting stories turn up. From this point forward, it should be pretty much just a matter of churning through the rest of the work, rather than solving technical problems and having to re-structure and adapt. And, there may not be many more videos either. We’re going to have to save some of the book’s content as a surprise for when you finally have it in your hands.
We couldn’t have gotten this far without the money and support from Kickstarter. Without being able to afford new hardware, I’d still be recording videos at three frames per second, waiting endlessly for long builds or to open large Photoshop files. I’d still be doing animations right now instead of moving on to layouts and user interface, and during all of it I would have to worry about random computer crashes. But, because of Kickstarter, I’ve been able to outsource enough animation to focus on code, and make sure I have the resources to develop and test without pulling what’s left of my hair out.
So, thanks once again for being a part of this journey. It hasn’t been the shortest or easiest, but it will be worth it when we have a platform for producing beautifully illustrated, top-quality, hand-made, interactive, inclusive, progressive, and just darn cute book apps.
Victor B Andersen
On behalf of the Wompi Studios/Tomato Trouble crew.
My apologies for the lack of updates since the Kickstarter campaign, but since it’s success, Tomato Trouble is now in Full Scale Production. The vast majority of the art has been sized and exported, and an assistant animator has been brought on to handle the final character animations while I arrange the pages and finish the final code.
I have been working with a new set of tools, currently in beta but about to release a final version on the Mac App Store. The tools are SpriteHelper and LevelHelper, which make a great pair for constructing cross-platform iPhone and iPad content with animations, physics, and interactivity.
When the Kickstarter project launched, I was doing all the sprite arrangement and animation manually. There didn’t exist a good set of tools to make this process easy. I was dreading having to do everything, including all the scaling and positioning, by hand.
I had heard of LevelHelper before, but it did not yet support the iPad retina screen which is a must for this project. The art looks so great, it needs to be in the highest resolution that the device can support. Right after the Kickstarter campaign was completed, the software’s author began an open beta for the new version which does support the retina screen on the new iPad.
Since then I have been working with him to test his tools, and already I have seen a huge performance and usability increase. The tools are now in place to churn out the rest of the pages at a fast pace while the animations roll in. And with these new tools, I only have to arrange each page once for all four device resolutions — iPhone, iPhone4S, iPad, and iPad3.
There are some minor layout and interface issues to fix, but this video shows all the final animation and transition components proven and ready to be finalized. Shortly, animations and interactivity will be stitched in to the constructed pages and then final app testing will begin. In the next few weeks we will be play-testing the book with groups of school children, then doing performance testing and bug fixing before the final send-off to Apple.
It’s been a long process but we’re finally on the home stretch. More progress videos will be coming soon as animations and interactivity begin to replace the static placeholder images.
Last year, a friend’s cousin came to me with an adorable story about a dog who just happened to have special needs, and just happened to have 2 gay owners (which I hear is quite common for dogs these days). He needed a developer to turn the 2D illustrations into an interactive childrens’ book for iPad. What I loved about the story was that it wasn’t about either disability or sexuality, they were just facts that made up the background for the characters. It makes it real; to be a thing but not be defined by it.
Some of you may know I have a bit of a soft spot for gay rights. I’m not gay myself, but I’ve had gay friends all my life, and I was raised in a family where it was important that you stand up for your ideals. I think there should be no reason to treat anybody different, in behavior or in law, simply because of who they choose to love. When I see an opportunity to do a project which makes that ideal more prevalent in our world, I try to help out.
The project had no budget, but I liked the story enough to want to be a part of it. For the past nine months I’ve devoted a good chunk of my spare time to designing and writing a framework for producing interactive books on the iPad. I have chosen cocos2d as my graphics engine to bring the beautiful art to life, and I have created a data-driven book reader with synchronized narration and highlighted text.
The book is readable from front to back, but the pages are static and there are no interactive elements to touch and play with. Furthermore, they are all low-resolution first-draft images produced by the artist. The next step is to add life to each page, updating them with final art from Photoshop, and isolating layers which need to move or animate. After that, I will be making each page its own little world, with idle and character animations, moving trees, clouds, and animals, sound cues, interactive object behaviors, and more.
In addition to the animation and behavior programming I still have to do, like any software project, there will also be feature polish, debugging, performance optimization, usability, testing, and publishing phases which I will have to go through. Facing shortages of time, money, and hardware, it’s going to be difficult to finish this project in a timely fashion. Since it’s the kind of app I think there should be more of, I really do want to get it done, it’s just a non-trivial task.
So, with the help of the project producer Jeff Wannberg of Wompi Studios, I have made a Kickstarter campaign to help get this project finished. In addition to compensating me for the time I have spent, and will be spending to make this project a reality (being the coder, animator, and co-director), the money raised by this campaign will help to fund:
the new computers and iPads we really need to kick our development into high gear
software and tools which will make our jobs easier, so we can make apps faster
additional technical artists, animators, and developers to help bring this first app to market quicker
pre-production on sequels and other apps in a similar spirit
Although the Kickstarter campaign goal is set at $5,500, that is really a small amount compared to the costs of what we want to achieve. We could easily spend that much on hardware and software alone, and then still have only a single developer working in his spare time. Funding this project in a big way means that I will be able to devote my full attention to the project and also bring other people on board to help get it done faster (and hopefully better) than I could have done myself.
I will continue to post development updates here and on the Kickstarter campaign. If you are more technical or curious, you may prefer the updates here on my blog, as I plan to make them more detailed. What I am likely to post on the Kickstarter page as updates would be more related to the campaign or showing the completed version of something. Here, you are more likely to learn what it’s like to actually have to plan and develop a whole app from start to finish.
If you haven’t seen it yet, please watch the Kickstarter video and share it with your friends. If you are here from the campaign, then thank you so much for visiting, sharing, or donating!