Microsoft #DevMania – a week of development insanity

By April 1, 2015Blog

Every year for the last couple of years I have taken part in a Microsoft initiative called the Developer Movement (#DevMov). Basically Microsoft gives developers points for creating apps for Windows Phone and the Windows store. The points can be exchanged for fun prizes like coffee mugs, shirts, and if you are dedicated enough even a Microsoft Surface or an Xbox One.

You can also get points for taking free classes from Microsoft Virtual Academy. (Including #GameDev courses like Unity and Construct 2 – two of my favorite tools!) The program is only open to Canadian Developers, but if you aren’t from Canada I recommend you check out DVLUP, an international developer reward program from Microsoft and Nokia.

The #DevMania Challenge

This year there was a new challenge – March 16th – 22nd was #DevMania. During this time frame any app submitted to the Windows store (either phone or desktop apps) earned 600 extra points. This was my chance to really get ahead and give me a boost towards the 22,000 points I need to get an Xbox One. As an added incentive the first 200 devs who submitted 5 or more apps would get a free Nokia Lumia 1520.

Choosing my weapons

I knew that I didn’t have much time. Even though I knew about the challenge for weeks before it started I had a bunch of prior commitments so wouldn’t be able to actually start development until the first day of the challenge. I knew I had to make 5 apps in a week – no easy task.

I decided to use my HTML / JavaScript / CSS skills along with the Intel XDK tools to make as many apps as I could, and then round out my submissions with a couple games made using Construct 2. I knew that by using AngularJS and Google Material Design I could make my apps look good and work well. Even though I knew that my apps wouldn’t be the best apps in the world considering the time frame I made a commitment to myself that winning the challenge wasn’t worth putting out things that I wasn’t proud of.

GratzApp-1App #1: Gratz

March 16-18

My first app idea came from my children. Okay…. Maybe it came from a bit of frustration with them. But it also came from a lot of frustration with myself.

I wanted a way to provide positive reinforcement to them for everyday things. We had tried using little markers and things around the house, but I wanted a way to give them a little reward no matter where we were.

So I came up with Gratz. It’s a very simple app, you take a photo of each child you want to track and add their name, then you take a photo of every type of reward they can get. Pressing the star button next to their photo gives them a star, pressing the gift button lets them redeem stars.

In my case the redeemable items are things like choosing a TV show to watch, being allowed to play video games, or a little bit of candy. The kids actually love it. My son asked if we could also add me and my wife so they could give us rewards when we are good.

PhoWord-App1App #2: PhoWord

March 18 – 20

One of the earlier challenges in the #DevMov program had been to create a photo app. I got super busy and didn’t have a chance to complete that challenge. Even though I knew I wasn’t going to get the bonus points for it, I still wanted to try my hand at making a photo app.

Back in 2013 I fell in love with a little app called Rando. It was a simple concept – you took a picture and in return you got a random photo back from someone else. I decided that I wanted to make a Photo / Word app where you posted a word and someone else would be issued that word as a challenge.

I decided that this app should also use Firebase on the back-end. I did run into a little bit of difficulty getting images to save in Firebase, so I also spun up an Azure site to store the images.

It was now Friday and the deadline was on Sunday

In retrospect both apps were WAAAY more ambitious than they should have been. I had now used 4 of my 7 days creating these two apps. It was time to switch gears. My wife and children were going to be away for a week, so I knew that if I wanted a shot at getting the Lumia 1520 I would have to create 3 more apps in a day.

I decided it was time to stream some #GameDev. I got everything set up so that I could stream on Twitch until I had all my apps done. I went to bed at a decent time, knowing that Saturday was going to be a long day.

Space Lanes for Windows PhoneApp #3: Space Lanes

March 21: 09:00 – 11:30

I needed a game that I could create quickly. I fired up Construct 2 and started working on a simple ship and asteroid game for mobile. My goal was to make a game that I could extend and add assets to later in the day.

I searched GameDev Market for something that fit the idea I was trying to implement and found a great Asteroids Game Objects bundle for $15 that had everything I needed. It took me most of the morning, but in the end I was pretty happy with what I ended up with.

carpmageddonApp #4: CARPmageddon

March 21: 13:15 – 20:30

After lunch I started with a lot of enthusiasm. I now had two apps and a game! I was ready to kick things in gear and crank out my last two projects.

My new plan was to take Space Lanes, turn it on its side, add some extra fun and new assets and turn it in. This took me way longer than I expected. Streaming on Twitch was a great motivator, but it also made me want to make sure that my games were compelling to anyone watching.

I found some great submarine assets on the GameDev Market again, so at least I didn’t have to worry too much about that…. Or so I thought.

My obsession with seaweed and bubbles

While working on CARPmageddon I decided that the only way for it to look “underwatery” was to have bubbles. I spent a fair amount of time working on those and trying to get them just right. The result was that I had great bubbles – but I was running out of time.

Then Adam Hill suggested I add some seaweed…

Down the rabbit hole I went! Again, I’m super happy how it turned out, but it chewed up some extra time. By the time I finished CARPmageddon it was 8:30pm. I still had one more app to build.

Desperation kicks in

At this point I got a response from the Canadian Developer Connection Twitter feed to this question:

The response that I got solved all my problems! They said:

 Suddenly I was energized again!!!

All I had to do was port CARPmageddon to the Windows store as a desktop app and I was done!

I spent the next hour getting keyboard and controller inputs working in CARPmageddon and at around 10pm I was ready to submit everything. I looked back at Gratz and thought that it would make a pretty good app for desktop, too, so I also did a quick port of that using the XDK tools.

When Adam heard that I could just port CARPmageddon to Windows, his reaction was priceless.

Final app count

At about 11pm I had 6 apps to submit. CARPmageddon ended up having some issues on mobile, so only the desktop version was accepted.

Here are the 5 apps that were published:

Gratz

Make good behavior fun with Gratz! Take a photo of your child and give them stars for their good behavior.

Download Gratz for Windows PhoneDownload Gratz for Windows

PhoWord

Choose words that you would like to see photos of and other people will snap a picture for you – or complete photo challenges for other people.

Download PhoWord for Windows Phone

Space Lanes

Swipe left or right to avoid meteors! Tap to shoot them and collect coins!

Download Space Lanes for Windows Phone

CARPmageddon

Avoid the killer robotic fish! Destroy as many as you can with your torpedoes!

Download CARPmageddon for Windows

Wrapping it all up!

I’m not going to lie. I’m a little surprised you made it this far.

Today I got an email from the Developer Movement team.

It said, “Great news! You were one of the first 200 applicants to submit at least 5 approved apps to the #DevMania challenge, so you will be receiving a Nokia Lumia 1520!”

I did it! It was a lot of work but in the end it all paid off! I ended up earning an extra 3,000 points and I got a free phone!

I also ended up creating a YouTube tutorial for Construct 2: How to make pretty decent seaweed in your Construct 2 game. =)

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