Goodbye James

Posted by steve | Smalltalk | Tuesday 22 April 2014 4:09 am

I was saddened to read receently that James Robertson passed away suddenly. He was a torch bearer in the Smalltalk community. I crossed paths with him several times while at ParcPlace-Digitalk. He was an incredible and outspoken advocate. Gone too soon.

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The Crimea Quiz Game App

Posted by steve | Apple Software and Hardware,Education,Mobile Phones | Friday 11 April 2014 8:04 pm

Apple just sent me notification that the newest iOS App I’ve written “Crimea Quiz Game” has been approved and is ready for sale. From my past experience I think this means the App will begin to show up for sale in the Australia App Store at midnight tonight and then work its way across the global App Stores accordingly.

This is very exciting for me. Effort to get to this point has been really different than for other Apps I’ve published. But let me share some excitement by describing what this App does before I spend more time describing the interesting experience of getting this App approved.

“Crimea Quiz Game” is an iOS game that you play in your living room at home with iPhones, iPads and an Apple TV. The key feature is that this is a quiz you play using the Apple TV to present the questions and you use your hand held iPhones and iPads to vote on the correct answer. The game uses many of Apple’s new iOS 7 capabilities including the Multi-Peer Connectivity framework to automatically connect between all the devices, Sprite Kit for the graphics and text presentation, and AirPlay to send output to the TV screen.

When we play-tested this it generated a lot of excitement and was quite a bit of fun. Here is how a typical Apple TV display looks while playing the game.

Crimea Quiz Game Apple TV Display

Crimea Quiz Game Apple TV Display

On your networked iPhone are buttons matching the multiple-choice answers.

iPhone Answer Buttons

iPhone Answer Buttons

If you think you know the answer tap the matching button before one of the other players. The only thing is, see that timer up on the Apple TV display?…

Countdown Timer

Countdown Timer

If no one answers before the timer runs out (and it gets red as you get close), then no one scores.
The game then shows the correct answer, and the name of whomever got it right, on the Apple TV display for a few seconds and then the next question is presented. This cycle is repeated until the game ends and someone has the highest number of correct answers.

Game Over

Game Over

The game itself is about the current crisis in Crimea. I figure most folks, me included, don’t know much about the Ukraine and Crimea or even where the heck it is. So as a quiz topic this should be both interesting and educational. The game has 28 questions built-in. When the game is launched you can select how many questions are chosen randomly for a game round.

I also had some fun designing a setup screen with custom controls that is used by one player before the game begins. Here’s that setup display running on the iPhone.

Setup Options

Setup Options

The open source program Gimp was used to create the custom graphic elements and then I coded up some custom Sprite Kit controls for the buttons, switches and sliders.

Now, a little bit about the process to get to this point. The game was written and submitted to Apple for review on March 24th. Then on April 2nd the App was rejected with a reason that I’ve never encountered before “Metadata Rejected”. Apple provided details about the rejection and it turns out they didn’t find some problem with the App. Rather, they asked me if I would create a video showing how to work it. This was something new but then I figure, maybe the written text description I had given was not enough. After all, this app uses the Apple TV in a manner that I have not seen much in other App Store games. So setup might be confusing. And I figured if Apple said they needed a video showing how to setup the game hardware, then anyone would. So I created a video using the iOS simulator, and Quicktime and iMovie for editing and submitted that to Apple the very next day. In the mean time I was busy enhancing by adding features and cosmetic improvements so I decided to create a whole new version and resubmit.

Apple rejected it again on April 3rd. This time they wanted me to make the video again but using real Apple hardware and not showing it running on the simulator. Okay. That was a little more effort. I had to dig out our old Cannon video camera and threw together a few short clips showing the game being played on some iOS devices we have at home. I also did some editing in iMovie to see if I could make up for the lousy video skills. The app was resubmitted with a link to the first and second video. A new binary was readied on April 6th.

Then I didn’t hear anything for a few days. This morning (April 11) at 3:05 AM I received a text message that the game was in review! My first thought was, wow that’s early. Apple must have a pretty decent size staff running day and night for App reviews. I figured that maybe in an hour or two I’d get notice that the App was approved. The previous App I created took only 2 hours to approve once they began the review. But, this one is a lot more complicated because it has networking and uses the Apple TV. Around 1:00 PM I received a message from Apple saying that they needed more time to test it. Now I was secretly hoping this meant that maybe Apple found the App pretty interesting and was playing around with it. Just a fantasy, I know. Around 5:00 PM this evening I received a message saying the App was approved for sale in the App store. That was quite the journey. But like I said, I’m real excited. I think this App is a pretty neat idea, it’s fun to play, and it’s both timely and educational.

Here’s honestly hoping this game is a success. It’s just like those trivia games you see in some bars except this one you play at home with your friends.

The App is in the App Store at this link. I have also created a support web site which also shows off what it does and provides links to the setup and playing videos that were created for Apple during the review process.

So go check it out. I’m quite proud of it and also have a lot of plans for where I will take this idea in the future.

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