Sunday, March 23, 2014

Android indie developer interview: Tomasz Kucza

Hi guys! Thanks for waiting so patiently for this post. Some exciting things are happening for me right now, which are eating up quite a lot of my time. Anyway, I'm proud to present to you yet another interview with an inspiring indie developer from my own country. After spending a couple of years in corporate jobs he managed to get full time with his mobile games. Quite interestingly, he does his graphics and sound by himself, and the effects definitely can't be called programmer art. Take a look by yourselves.

Bartek: Tell us something about yourself. Who are you? Where do you live? What do you do in life?

Tomasz: My name is Tomasz Kucza. I'm from Poland.

Bartek: When did your Android adventure start and how? Why did you decide to do it?

Tomasz: While I was working as a freelancer I started developing Android apps to broaden my programming knowledge and experience. And since it was more fun than doing boring corporate jobs and it brought similar money, I decided to go full ahead with Android development. And here I am.

Bartek: Do you work full time on your apps or do you have some other job as well?

Tomasz: I work full time on games right now.

Bartek:  How did you learn how to create apps? What resources were you using?

Tomsza: I have long experience in programming – master degree and a few years of different corporate jobs – which made learning Android development quite easy. I mostly use online sources to learn new stuff. When it comes to books I prefer novels.

Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use if any? Why did you choose them?
The Lost Heroes

Tomasz: I decided on using libGDX because it offered a lot of freedom. And in hindsight it was a good choice, especially with its new great support for iOS.

Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Tomasz: I mostly look back at games I liked as a kid and go from there trying to make something similar, but more modern and with a twist. But most of the time I make simple games because they seem to get more downloads than complex, large games.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from (graphics, sounds, music)?

Tomasz: One of my hobbies is composing music, so I make my own soundtracks. I gather sounds from different sources – sometimes I record them myself, sometimes hire someone to do them or find free sounds on the web. I plan on learning more about how to create sounds using software synthesisers so I can make my own retro sounds in the future.
With graphics I have only recently learned how to draw properly. You can judge how good or bad I am at it in The Lost Heroes – where all graphics are mine apart from the wizardess character, which was made by Olga Bikmullina, a great vector artist from Russia. But since I don't really like programming I try to draw everything myself – so I have an excuse not to code. For me the ideal graphics is the one from Rayman Origins and Legends – I would like to be able to make similar games one day. The most problem with my drawing is that it takes me a lot of time because I am too slow at it and I am often stuck at simple things that I just cannot draw. Thankfully, I have additional resources I use in that situations.

Bartek: What software do you use to create your music and graphics?

Tomasz: For making graphics I use free software - Inkscape (for vectorgraphics), MyPaint (for drawing) and GIMP (for additional work).
For music I bought over the years a large selection of music software (Cakewalk Sonar, Omnisphere, various orchestral libraries, synths and ethnic libraries), an electronic piano, and an electronic flute that
comprise my music studio.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Tomasz: I use Dropbox as a backup and some automated scripts instead of SVN or git. Nothing really sophisticated.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app?

Tomasz: It depends. I've been working on my puzzle platformer The Lost Heroes for over a year now and there is still no end in sight. This project is turning out to be a little too large for me. On the other hand the new game I am working on – a brick breaker inspired by Arkanoid – shouldn't take longer than 6 weeks.

Bartek: How do you test your apps? What devices/tools do you use for it?

Tomasz: I have a lot of tablets and phones for the sole purpose of testing. And some friends who enjoy testing new games from time to time.

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps? You can give a general estimate, if you don’t want to reveal the details.

Tomasz: No details on that, sorry. Enough to make a living in my country.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? What ad networks do you use if any? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Tomasz: I mostly use banner ads in my apps and experiment with in application payments. I'd much prefer if my apps had no ads or no in application payments... but you have to make money from something and paid apps are not selling that well.

Bartek: Which ones of your apps were the biggest success and which ones were below expectations? Why?

Space Bubble Shooter
Tomasz: My biggest success so far is Space Bubble Shooter – it's a unique reimagining of the classic bubbles shooter genre where I used physics to make the game more interesting. So in Space Bubble Shooter bubbles are much more lively – always in movement, shaking and reacting to the ball that hits them.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your apps?

Tomasz: I don't even know what ASO is. I am not very good at marketing.

Bartek: What are your favourite Android games/apps?

Tomasz: On a big screen – using OUYA – I love playing Nimble Quest. On a tablet – Bean's Quest is amazing and I always enjoy a good tower defence like Castle TD.

Bartek: What Android blogs/sites do you read regularly?

Tomasz: I mostly use RSS and Google+ to gather news so I don't really read anything regularly, just what I find in my news aggregators.

Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Tomasz: I have to make more games. The old ones are, well, old. My plan is to make a small, simple game and then a complex, large game and then a simple one and then again, a complex one. And try to do the best job I can in all of them.

Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Tomasz: Have patience. And don't try to save a game you think that is extremely good but which people just don't enjoy to play – you will only lose your precious time on that. And don't change something that works well and people like.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Tomasz: My apps:
iOS: search for Space Bubble Shooter in the AppStore
Me on Google+:
Me on Twitter:!/MagoryAndroid
Me on Facebook:

If you're wondering, what I've been doing recently, I can reveal some of the secret. I'm studying really hard for a job interview. To be more specific, I'm watching the Introduction to Algorithms video lectures prepared by MIT. I'm also reading books on algorithms and I'm practicing solving problems similar to those on Google Code Jam. I have to say that it's good programming practise and it's fun as well. You should definitely take a look at some online problem sets. They deserve a separate post, so I'll try to write more about them in the future.

If you're waiting for a change on my blog, I will be happy to surprise you soon with a completely new type of content. I decided to gather resources useful for mobile developers (e.g. free graphics/sounds sites, as networks, game engines, etc.) and publish them for all of you to use. It's going to take me some time to prepare, but I'm sure it will be worth it.

I'm aware that my posts have been somewhat irregular lately, so if you'd rather receive email/RSS notifications instead of checking the site every once in a while, sign up using the form on the right. I never send any spammy content. In fact, I don't even see the email addresses, because they are handled by the Blogger platform. Anyway, it's just a friendly suggestion :) See you next time!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Android company interview: Leviteo

LeviteoHi guys! Sorry for being absent for quite some time. I had to leave the civilized world and explore places without computers and Android phones. I have to say that I quite enjoyed it.
To make it up to you, I want to give you an interview which is different than usual. My today's guest will not be a single person, but a small development team with quite an unexpected hit app. They'll share information about the tools they use and their current projects. I hope you're curious about their approach, which is probably more professional than one-man hobby enterprises I mostly focused on before.

Bartek: Tell us something about you company. Who are you? Where do you live and work? What kinds of things do you do?

Leviteo: Hi there! We are Leviteo. A Polish-based Internet software house. We work and live in Bialystok- a small town situated in the north-east of Poland. We mainly develop mobile apps. It's not all, however, we also develop software (software designed for developers- such as tpacker- a first online tool to create texture maps, iOS and Android icons and animation sprite sheets), games, co-working with the Bialystok Technical University, we create tools designed to get various apps promoted (more info below), we are currently developing our game engine and do mobile apps, websites, marketing and various things for other companies.

Bartek: Who created the company and how did it all start?

Leviteo: The company emerged from two creative, yet very different minds. One of them, Artur Czemiel already had a company called Aexol which specialised in mobile app development. However, Artur lacked a partner with a business gut and that's why, when he met Jakub Ołtarzewski, a Business and Psychology graduate, he immediately asked whether Kuba would like to join him in business. Thus, Leviteo was born in March 2013. It is a relatively young but very progressive company.

Bartek: How did your programmers learn how to create Android apps? What resources were they using?

Crazy Ropes
Leviteo: Each and every member of our development team is a graduate of the IT department at Bialystok Technical University. Which basically makes them pros at everything they do. We have a software and a mobile team, both developing their unique projects.

Bartek: What libraries/frameworks do you use? Why did you choose them?

Leviteo: Corona SDK is our weapon of choice- this multi-platform tool is effectively speeding up our development processes and, what is more, people gathered around Corona are quite awesome! We use a tremendous amount of plugins which are very useful.

Bartek: Why did you choose Corona SDK? Did you try other frameworks/engines as well? What was your experience with them?

Leviteo: We use corona SDK mainly because:
  • Gideros has a very weak API and not a lot of materials included.
  • Phone Gap is too slow for our needs.
  • Corona SDK is great because we can use Lua language.
  • It has a great community behind it. For example there's an IRC.
  • 3rd party tools are available.
  • It has a very good documentation with examples which is very helpful.
  • Graphics 2.0.

Bartek: Where do you take app/game ideas from? How do you know if they have a chance to be successful?

Leviteo: There are 13 people working in Leviteo. All of them are passionate about mobile world and technology, so it's not really difficult to come up with great ideas with such a creative crew. Sometimes we gather in the common room to have a brainstorm- we always vote before something is decided and while creating an app itself- all the company is involved and up to date with the process. And how do we know if they have a chance to be succesful? It's out know-how ;) But seriously- with great knowledge on mobile app marketing, some sense in mobile world and a great idea, there is quite a lot you can do for yourself. I'm not saying it's all easy. Even the best ideas require strategy and analysis. We are patient and we try to learn from our mistakes.

Bartek: Where do you get resources from (graphics, sounds, music)?

Leviteo: All our resources come from the creative team. We have a few people responsible for the graphics, music and general design of the company. They are a very imaginative bunch. They can create anything from the background of the mobile app to the icon of calculator and make it an art.

Bartek: Do you hire grapic designers full time or do you have them create something for you whenever there's need for it?

Leviteo: We have a graphics department including two genius people. One of them, our art director is a Bialystok Technical Univeristy graduate and the other comes from Colombia, where she worked in a very big digital agency. They are available all the time which makes all the work easier, whether it's just an upgrade of an icon or a design of a whole game.

Bartek: What other programming tools do you use?

Leviteo: We use various tools- Dropbox, git, Tool emulator with Xcode and Android Studio.

Bartek: How long does is take you to make a single app?

Leviteo: It depends, really. We have plenty of mobile apps that have taken various amounts of time to be created. There are those which were created in just a week, and there are those which are still developed and upgraded. More or less, it takes a month or two, or even three to publish a quite satisfying mobile app. Mind the fact that there are just a few people working on them in Leviteo. If we had 100 people just in Mobile Development Team, mobile apps would be produced on everyday basis. Otherwise, it's just the matter of discipline, deadlines, and care put into the projects that make us develop at all. We are not Woody Allen's of the mobile world, but we do quite alright for ourselves!

Bartek: How much are you making on your apps?

Leviteo: Well, all I can tell you is that our most successful mobile app has more than a million of downloads. Please, do the math yourself :)

Bartek: How do you test your apps and find bugs in them?

Leviteo: Software testing methods are traditionally divided into white- and black-box testing. These two approaches are used to describe the point of view that a test engineer takes when designing test cases.

Bartek: How do you monetize your apps? What ad networks do you use if any? Do you have any advice on it for others?

Leviteo: How do we monetize our apps… Generally our apps are free to download. We tend to implement various in-apps to buy which are not expensive at all :) We have tried various monetization techniques and discovered the best ones for ourselves.

Bartek: Which ones of your apps were the biggest success and which ones were below expectations? Why?

Weed Scale
Leviteo: Weed Scale was and is our biggest success. With over more than a million downloads it gave us a boost to do more and better apps. The app was very innovative when it was published so that was a big step for us. But honestly, we try to put our heart in every project. Otherwise it would just be a waste of time and money. How the app is going to be received- regardless of our efforts- it's all a mystery.

Bartek: Do you use any marketing techniques or ASO to promote your apps?

Leviteo: Yeah, we do use marketing techniques. Our Marketing has 4 people. All of us go beyond efforts to come up with the best ideas to promote our apps. ASO is very effective, that is true. It's very difficult to come up with the best phrases that would make our app visible to the potential gamer/user. What is more, one can post about their app on various mobile development forums, have their app reviewed, create some promo graphics and game plays. Of course social media is very ubiquitous in our promotion. It's all I can tell you. The rest is our secret which proven to be effective and brilliant.

Bartek: Do you publish for other platforms as well?

Leviteo: Yeah. We publish our apps on iOS market as well.

Bartek: What are your team's favourite Android games/apps?

Leviteo: We all love Candy Crush Saga. Seriously! It's a great app with a well- thought psychology which makes you hooked after just one level. It's our dream to create games as well as King or Rovio. What is more, our developers are also heavy game players. Being game-oriented makes work easier because you don't have to guess what players would like. Players are the best developers.

Bartek: What Android blogs/sites do your team read regularly?

Leviteo: Corona SDK forum, XDA-Developers and other various forums tackling on mobile apps development.

Bartek: What are your plans for the future? What do you want to create/achieve?

Leviteo: We are currently developing our game engine which would be (we do hope it!) very successful! ;) We are currently opening a platform designed for developers on which you can exchange mobile app reviews for being reviewed. It's all very exciting- you guys should totally check it out. ( Our market research showed that there is no such thing where you can safely get your app boosted without any bigger effort. And yet, we came up with this tool and we are really hoping to do good with it. The fate of a mobile app is very cruel, especially of these which are not promoted with money. Hopefully, this tool will be an answer to many frustrated developers who would not stand a chance with their apps- even brilliant ones which are just a drop in the ocean of Google Play Market. The future looks very promising and busy!

Bartek: Why do you think people need another game engine? Could you describe what's different in it than in other existing solutions? When do you want to publish it?

Robot Chicken Street Run
Leviteo: We think that it's worth working on your own game engine. It's going to be something else, we promise you, we cannot discuss it yet, however. We are in the last stages of building the engine, so it's going to be published very soon. We sound mysterious, we know, but, that's all I can say for now!

Bartek: What advice would you give to other developers (something that you wish you had known before yourself)?

Leviteo: The advice I was given to tell you by our development team leader, is that you should choose your development tools wisely. You can loose a lot of time only because your tools are not designed to fit your needs in particular projects. So read, research, get to know as many tools as possible and then feel free to estimate which one of them would be best for you. Moreover, great ideas are not always everything. Mobile marketing is very important.

Bartek: Where can people find you on the Internet?

Leviteo: There is a lot of places you can find us. Please check these out:
Twitter: @Leviteo2013

Just a quick update of what I'm doing now. I'm in the middle of the Programming Mobile Applications for Android Handheld Systems course on Coursera. I have to say that I quite enjoy it and I learn a lot. Unfortunately, it's too late to sign up for it now, so if you hadn't done it before, you'll have to wait for the next session.
I'm also working on a small app, but I probably won't finish it soon, for some mysterious reasons I'd rather keep for myself now :) I can tell you that it uses Google APIs though...
I expect being quite busy this month, but it doesn't mean that I won't post other interviews and maybe even manage to squeeze some extra content - we'll see. Anyway, thank you for staying with me and I hope you enjoyed reading this post. See you soon.