Eric, from Ansca Mobile, talks about their tool to help accelerate iPhone, iPad, and Android development
You can download the podcast here…
Or listen to it here…
Interviewer: I’m here at Casual Connect in Seattle, and with me today are a special guest. How about you introduce yourself?
Eric: My name is Eric Herrmann. I’m the Director of Engineering for ANSCA Mobile.
Interviewer: And what’s that about?
Eric: ANSCA Mobile is a startup company. We are focused on mobile development, and specifically we make a tool for helping other people accelerate develop their games, specifically for iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Interviewer: So, folks would use this. Is this kind of like Unity then or what? What’s the difference between you guys and, say, something like Unity?
Eric: So, there are similarities. We are a SDK, a software development kit. We offer tools for developing games and other kinds of applications for mobile that will help you, for example, with the code to load an image and display an image. That’s kind of the very simplest level of thing.
The difference between us and Unity, for example, is we are a 2D tool. So, for example, we only deal with pictures and images in X and Y dimensions, not in the third dimension. You think of a 3D game where things are rotating and moving back and forth away from you and back forwards you. We’re not that kind of tool.
We’re more like – we can be used to create games like, for example, 2D games like Farmville. Farmville is actually a 2D game, pretty much all the single games are, so that kind of thing, Civilization.
Interviewer: So, mainly casual games, or it would be used for casual games that are appealing to the non-hard core audience.
Eric: Well, so casual game is… Well, here we are at Casual Connect which is really a conference about casual games. But, what does casual actually mean? It means people are going to pick up a game and play it for five minutes at a time and then put it down again.
That’s really what people do with their cell phones, with mobile? By definition, in a sense, any game that’s going to be on a phone is going to be casual. So, yes, we do that kind of thing.
Interviewer: And what’s interesting about you guys versus some of the other things like Unity, instead of C++ you use the scripting language to make your games. Can you talk about what athe developers who are using your tool have to use to make a game?
Eric: That’s right. So, in traditional iPhone programming, traditional being the way that you do it if you download X code from Apple’s developer website, you use the language called Objective C. Objective is very into C or C++ but, of course, it has this special syntax to it. And then, of course, there’s the Apple APIs that are fairly complex. It takes a long time to learn them because it’s a fairly steep learning curve.
What our system does, which is called Corona, by the way, which is the product name, is we extract a lot of that away. For example, to load a system and display it on the screen is actually only one line of code in our system. It would be something like local image equals display.new image and then the file name of the image.
Then, it will actually load the image and load it on the screen. You don’t have to do any set up, any tear down. You don’t have to worry about pointers.
Interviewer: And people can access this via the Lua scripting language, too, right?
Eric: So, the scripting language we actually use is called Lua. It’s a very popular one for use in games because it’s very embeddable. It’s very small. It’s very fast. It’s the scripting language for World of Warcraft and also for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and actually a whole bunch of other games that are currently shipping from the App Store.
For example, Tapulous for all of their Tap Tap Revenge games use Lua. The number one game on the App Store right now is called Angry Birds. That uses Lua as well. So, it’s a very popular way for developers to add scripting to their games. So, that’s what we chose as well.
Interviewer: And, I guess, how would developers… Can you talk about some of the development you’ve actually finished on games using your system and why’d they use it and how long it took to make the games?
Eric: Right. That is a whole variety, obviously. Principally, most of our customers are actually one person shops, so very small. I wouldn’t call them studios necessarily. They’re more like basements or attics. But people that have an idea, “Hey, I want to do a game or I want to do an application,” but they don’t have all the support staff and they can’t figure out how to program it in Objective C, et cetera.
So, they find their way to Corona because it actually lets them develop something quickly. You can prototype easily and come up with something quickly. As of right now, we don’t have a lot of name brand studios that you would recognize. We’re starting to pick up some traction with larger ones and that’s what we’re actually here at Casual Connect to do.
Interviewer: I think there was another company that actually, I guess, used your product to make a marketing game. Can you talk about that? Do you know much about that?
Eric: Do you remember which one that is?
Interviewer: They were the ones who, I guess, they took 10 days or something to make the game.
Eric: Right. So, let me bring that up.
Eric: I hope I can find it here because I don’t remember.
Interviewer: OK. So, you’ve gotten a chance to check out the games. So, can you talk about the games that have been completed using your system, some of them?
Eric: Right. I have two examples here that we’re going to talk about. The first is a game called Smuggy. It’s a very simple game. It could be played by kids or teenagers. It’s a very graphically rich game with some animated characters.
The really exciting thing about it is it’s a pretty simple game, but the exciting thing about it is the developers actually completed the entire game in 24 hours and submitted it to the iPad App Store, and it was accepted. So, 24 hours for an entire game. I think that’s pretty cool and it was all done with Corona.
The other one that we’re featuring is called AstroJunk from Unicorn Labs, and this one is a little bit more complicated. It’s essentially like a tap issue kind of game where you’re shooting the asteroids. This game was start to finish, starting with the concept and finishing by submitting it to the App Store, in 10 days. So, it really is remarkable how fast they were able to do it and yet have a fully playable and graphically rich kind of game.
Interviewer: So, your system is great for even prototyping ideas and stuff like that.
Eric: That’s right. So, we have a real time simulator, real time in a sense because you press reload and it will instantly reload your animation. There’s no compile cycle for that part of it. So, it’s very, very quick to make changes and prototype.
Interviewer: Are there any limitations of your system? Is there parts of the hardware that you can’t access that if they were doing it in raw Objective C on iPhone or iPad they would be able to access it? Or does your system allow for all the access to the necessary APIs or hardware?
Eric: There’s always going to be things that Apple is going to add that we haven’t had time to add yet, so absolutely. We tend to work in a basically number of votes kind of thing. So, if there’s a lot of our developers want a particular feature, then we’re going to look at having it very quickly.
We are aiming really for the mainstream, what we call the 80 percent case. We’re going to cover 80 percent of the developers. There’s always going to be somebody that needs some custom thing that we can’t do, but for the other 80 percent we’re going to make it much, much easier for them to get their applications done.
Interviewer: The other question is the games you showed me, and a lot of the games that are done in Unity and other systems, they’re just for the short play. Do you offer any kind of interface that people can develop their own or integrate, say, leader boards or online or kind of back end databases to interface with the game?
Eric: So, we’re introducing a new product called Corona Game Edition. In addition to integrating some games with features such as a physics engine and spread sheet support, we’re also adding open frame support, social gaming leader boards. challenges, achievements, that sort of thing. So, we’re basically partnering with open frames to provide that.
Interviewer: Let’s talk about pricing. Some indie game developers have looked at these systems, and it’s prohibitively expensive just to get started for these other systems. What is the pricing for you guys?
Eric: Right. So, we have an introductory price of $99. That’s for a year’s subscription to our product, but we think that offers an enormous amount of value. So, first of all, you get the SDK for iPhone and iPad. That also allows you to develop Android. While we are developing the software which will be another month or two, we are also offering the Game Edition included with that price.
So, I think, compared to the competition, that’s an enormous amount of value. We don’t put any restrictions on that. You can build as many applications as you want. We include all of the updates that we do during that entire time, so we think it’s a very nice package.
Interviewer: Right now, you guys are in Alpha. When will you guys be in Beta, and when will you have the final release?
Eric: So far, two products which are at the Beta SDK, we’re looking at finalizing, in other words, actually declaring it, Golden Master, hopefully, in about a month. If there’s a few bugs, we’ll need to extend that date a little bit.
And then, for the Game Edition we’re looking at about two to three months.
Interviewer: And can you clarify then what’s going to be the difference between the basic edition and the game edition?
Eric: So, you can actually do several kinds of games with the basic edition, and many people have done that. The game edition, again, what we see is like professional level features. The physics engine, the spread sheet support, and the social gaming kind of integration.
Interviewer: And so, there are no surprises. Once you guys released, right now you’re in Alpha. Once you release the final, the price will change a little. Can you talk about that?
Eric: We expect to be raising the prices. We haven’t completely decided what the final prices will be, but we think for the amount of features you’re getting, that’s pretty darn good.
Interviewer: Will it be a surprise, or will it be significantly higher than $99. One concern that smaller developers have is they’ve invested $99. Actually, say the price for it is $99. Once you guys release the final product, you’re going to have to pay to upgrade to that.
Eric: No, absolutely not. The $99 is for a year’s subscription, and so that’s good for that whole year. We are facing competitive pressure from other vendors, so we always keep that in mind. It’s not going to be outrageously expensive.
Interviewer: And what is the website that people can visit to check out this product, download it, stuff like that?
Eric: It’s ANSCAMobile.com.
Interviewer: How do you spell that?
Eric: A-N-S-C-A Mobile.com.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.