On January 30, 2010 I released my very first iPhone and iPod Touch application. It was a game called “Alien Chew Toy”. It makes me smile to think of the long and complicated road that “Alien Chew Toy” followed until it finally reached the iTunes store. I have always been the type of person who likes to look behind the curtain of a puppet show. I have always wanted to find out how things were created. I have always been as interested in the process as the product. I’m sure I’m not alone. I thought I’d take a moment and share a bit of the travels “Alien Chew Toy” made before finally being offered for sale as a game for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
This application began life in 1996 as a game on the Macintosh computer. I had been programming computers since I was in Junior High School in the early 1980’s. I had taught myself the BASIC computer language on a Radio Shack Color Computer. I had my first formal training in high school. I took a class in PASCAL. After I graduated from high school I rarely did any programming. In 1996 I decided I would like to again give programming a try. I was especially excited about learning to program on a Macintosh computer, something I had never tried to do before. I found a free basic language called TNT Basic. I did not set out to create a game. My only goal was to learn how to program on the Macintosh. I learned how to move objects on the screen and detect when they bang into each other. I also learned how to play different sounds. This was the point of inspiration. I had to use a sound already included on the computer. That sound was the squeak of dog’s rubber chew toy. “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy” was born.
The game found life online when I converted it to a Shockwave game. Again I wanted to learn a new programming language and be able to share my game on the World Wide Web. I decide to “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy” would be the perfect choice. The game was a moderate success on the website I created.
“Attack of the Alien Chew Toy” was a simple game. The player’s ship moves left and right on the bottom of the screen. Asteroids are dropping from the top of the screen to the bottom. Hitting an asteroid means certain death. Although the ship has lasers, these are useless against the asteroids. The lasers are used to shoot at a small alien ship flying from one side of the screen to the other. Every time the alien hits an asteroid it bounces off and goes in the other direction making the famous squeaky dog toy sound. I always loved “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy”. Something wonderful happens when I play it. My mind becomes numb. I am completely focused on the game and all of the stress and worries of everyday life disappear. The action is continuous. The game is not hard, but does require all your mental efforts when playing.
When Apple computer opened up the iPhone and iPod Touch platform to anyone who wanted to develop software I was excited. I had never programmed in Objective C, the language used to program the iPhone and iPod Touch. I wanted to learn, and what better way to learn a new computer language than to recreate my favorite game, “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy.” I began. I didn’t even own an Apple computer at the time. I installed the necessary software on my father’s computer and remotely accessed it from my home through the Internet. That was frustrating to say the least. Eventually I added a Mac laptop to my computer collection and I was off and running. I had to change the name from “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy” to “Alien Chew Toy” because the longer name would not fit under the icon on the devices. I spent three or four months programming. I found great tutorials on the Internet and was able to piece together a working copy of the game. My understanding of programming for the iPhone and iPod remained limited. I was not sure why it works at all, but somehow I managed to get enough things right that the game is playable. I was even surprised when Apple accepted it. Sometimes I still am.
I am asked frequently if the game is selling well. That’s difficult to answer. I explained sales of the app based on food. I began by saying, “I can go out and buy a couple of sodas.” Eventually I could purchase a meal. It had to be a value meal from a restaurant that sells fries in a cardboard scoop, but it was a meal. People understood. They smiled. The situation, which could have been awkward turned into a humorous exchange. A few days later I told them I could I could now take a date out to a restaurant, as long as she enjoyed eating fries from a cardboard scoop. I am happy to say that I can now proudly take a date out to a nice restaurant and I won’t be embarrassed. Some people purchased my game from Denmark. One sale came from Italy. That was exciting. Now when people ask I just tell them, “Sales have leveled-off.” If they push me for more details, I explain that sales have “flatlined”. Yes, few people find “Alien Chew Toy” in the iTunes store and my hope of taking a date to both a movie and dinner are over.
By most accounts, “Alien Chew Toy” was a failure. I won’t be able to quit my day job (or even my evening job) and no one will be interviewing me for a “Rags to Riches” news article. But by my account, it was a success. I loved “Attack of the Alien Chew Toy” 15 years ago and I love “Alien Chew Toy” for the iPhone and iPod Touch today. And until I hear otherwise, two people from Denmark and one person from Italy also enjoy it.