Blocfall Now Available

I’m pleased to announce the release of Blocfall, a game for the iPhone. I’m also relieved, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever get to this point.

When I first decided to try to develop an iPhone app in the fall of 2009, I did what a lot of people have done: I took an iPhone SDK programming class, bought a few iPhone SDK programming books and started working my way through the material.

It turned out to be harder than I anticipated. Not only is Objective-C, Apple’s language of choice, rather unwieldy but sophisticated graphics require some knowledge of OpenGL, which is even more complicated. Plenty of experienced programmers have no problem dealing with Objective-C, but as an editor and writer with InformationWeek, I just don’t have the time that would be necessary to become proficient. Between work and family, it’s rare that I can find an hour or two in a given day to code.

Yet, a year later, Blocfall is here, thanks to Ansca Mobile’s Corona SDK. In late 2009, I began playing around with an early version of Corona so I could write about it. As I got interested in Lua, the language used to create Corona projects, Blocfall began to take shape. In September, Ansca Mobile updated Corona and the new features prompted me to complete the project.

Blocfall is not much to look at. (The art was done using Doozla, a drawing program for kids, and resized in Photoshop.) But the gameplay is actually quite fun, at least for me. It was designed to be something you can pick up and play one-handed for a few minutes while waiting for the train or the like.

Though Blocfall took about a year from start to finish, I’d estimate that I spent only a week or two doing actual coding. I expect my next app will take more actual coding time but less calendar time.

One of the things that appeals to me about Corona is that it’s well-suited for single-person development. There are actually quite a few good cross-platform mobile development tools out there, like Unity3D. But 3D graphics are complicated, and so is Unity3D. Like Photoshop, it’s something you can base a career on. Unity3D seems better suited for a small development team, particularly for the price.

One of the major reasons to bother with single-person development is to keep costs low. The cost of developing an iPhone app varies a lot, with estimates ranging from $5,000 to well-over $100,000 for some apps. For companies or individuals that can afford that kind of outlay, great. But for anyone developing an iPhone app as a speculative investment, that’s ridiculous when the median annual revenue generated by an app is $682.

If you accept the premise that most apps fail to generate much revenue but you still want to develop apps, the sensible thing to do is to make the failures as inexpensive as possible. Of course I hope that Blocfall will be the next Tetris, but that’s unlikely in the extreme. I’ll be happy if Blocfall earns back the $99 annual Apple iOS Developer fee and the $99 I paid for Corona (the price has since gone up).

That’s where you come in.