Rui Viana isn’t a full-time app developer and he hasn’t learned how to use Apple’s iOS software development kit. Yet last week his newly released iPad game, Cargo-Bot, managed to become of the top 10 most downloaded iPad apps in the U.S., with more than 200,000 downloads in over a week.
By day he works as a programmer on Wall Street. In his free time, Viana built Cargo-Bot not with a traditional computer and the iOS SDK, but with an iPad using another iPad app called Codea, and the result was the first iOS game available in the App Store actually created on the iOS platform.
I spoke with Viana about how he rather accidentally became an iPad app maker and about how the shift in computing — and now programming — continues its march from desktop to mobile.
[Note: This Q&A is edited and condensed from two separate interviews.]
Q: Why did you go this route with Codea rather than the traditional iOS developer route?
I work in a programming language that’s similar to C. Apple’s [SDK uses] a version of C but the APIs that are in there are complex. I could understand if I spent a little time [but] Codea took a day to pick it up.
I haven’t built other games. This is the first time I did anything on the iPad. The thing for me that I think is really cool is it’s a different way to interact with users that you can’t get anywhere else. I always felt Apple’s API and structure for programming was pretty hard to understand. When the Codea guys had this I was really excited.
Q: How long did it take you to make Cargo-Bot?
I picked [Codea] up one night and really liked it, so I started doing a bunch of games. I did a version of Pac-Man and a [version of a] racing game in Codea that I used to like as a kid. But this is the first original one I did. The original prototype took a total of 10 hours, over a week. The hard part is polishing and the details. After that, we’ve been working on it for the past four months.
Q: The game did pretty well for a brand new independent developer. Were you surprised by the response?
I was. I was hoping it would get a thousand, so it surprised me a little bit. It was mostly targeted for people who are quantitative — programmers, engineers, math people. They seem to really enjoy it. Some people said it coudl be good for kids, I thought it would be a hard game, but it’s visual so some people said their kids got into it so that was unexpected and was cool as well.
Q: Do you think any of the appeal was that it was made on an iPad? Or does that even matter to people who just want to find a good game?
I think the story of it being the first game made on the iPad helped the downloads a lot. I think after Apple made it one of the new and noteworthy section people were downloading because it was there and it had a lot of visibility.
Q: What’s your take on this shift in developing games? If people who have day jobs in other professionas can easily make an app on the side with just minimal programming knowledge, what do you think that means for the App Store and for mobile apps in general?
I think what this means is it’s easy for people to try out ideas. The Codea app is really easy to pick up and do something with. If you have an idea for a complicated game you want to see how the mechanics work or how it looks. With Codea you can do that with a few days of work.
My impression is it’s harder to do with the SDK Apple provides. For develping a professional game you still need to use [the] actual Apple SDK but i think it would bring more people to try to develop apps and increase quantity of and quality apps available.