Create an app? It’s easier than you imagined

To make learning parts of speech fun, Grammar Girl set out to develop an online game. Using the GameSalad platform, she realized her dream. Now she shares her experience.

You have a great idea for an app. You want to make an interactive book? A tip-a-day app? Maybe turn your content into a game? (Gamification is so hot these days!)

But you have a problem—no budget to get it made. Or maybe you got a quote from a developer that was 10 times more than you could afford. That’s the position I found myself in about a year ago.

Because I am known online as Grammar Girl and I love word games, it was a no-brainer for me to make a game app based on matching words with parts of speech, but it became clear that unless I did it myself, it wasn’t going to happen. I despaired. Then I discovered a tool called GameSalad, and my dreams were within reach. Grammar Pop could exist.

Gone are the days when you need to know Objective C to make an app. Today, you don’t even need to know what Objective C is; you just need to have patience and be willing to tinker, because now there are companies that create the underlying app code for you.

GameSalad is a drag-and-drop tool for making apps. It’s like using a content management system to post articles online. Instead of surrounding your text in <bold></bold>, you just hit the “B” button. With GameSalad, your drag rules create scenarios such as, “When the word is a noun and the player hits the noun button, give the player 10 points and play a happy sound.”

Help when you need it

The best part of GameSalad is the amazing community. The instructional section on the site is just OK, but GameSalad enthusiasts (and the GameSalad company) have made hundreds of videos on YouTube that walk you through the simplest building blocks you need to assemble an app, such as “How to Make a Simple Store,” “How to Make a Timer,” and “How to Swipe to Move Left, Right, or Up.”

People on the forums were always helpful when I had a question, and if you ever get truly stuck, paid consultants are ready to help you for an hourly fee. Companies and individuals also put out game templates that you can use as a base to customize and expand yourself.

What’s different from the past is that when you make your app using Game Salad, it’s easy to tweak it for different platforms. No more recoding your app from scratch for different platforms.

Grammar Pop will come out first for the iPad, but with GameSalad, it’s quite easy to release it for other platforms, such as Android. The biggest thing holding me back is deciding which Android devices to develop it for and getting all the devices for testing.

How hard was it, really?

I thought it would take two or three months to make Grammar Pop, and it ended up taking a year, but there are huge disclaimers behind that year. At least half that time was spent writing the game sentences and categorizing each of the 14,000+ words as a particular part of speech.

I took whole weeks off throughout the process because this was essentially a side project, and Grammar Pop is quite complex, having 28 levels and an achievement system that required nearly as much “coding” as the game itself.

I believe it would be possible for a beginner to make a simple tip-a-day app in about a month (less if you were doing it full-time).

The free version of GameSalad is robust. You can use it to make your app, and if you like what you’ve done, you can upgrade to Pro ($299 per year) to incorporate extras such as in-app purchases and integration with Apple’s Game Center.

If you need your daughter’s help to find your spam folder, making an app probably isn’t for you, but if you occasionally click on your content management system’s “source” button and tweak a table, then making a simple app with GameSalad is well within your reach. Start by downloading the free software and following along with a couple of the simple videos in the GameSalad Cookbook.

(A similar tool that I have not personally used is called Corona.)

Examples of GameSalad Apps

Grammar Pop (iPad. A grammar-based word matching game)

Zombie Drop (iPhone. A physics-based game)

The Story of Flewn (Multiple platorms. An interactive book.)

Resources

GameSalad Cookbook (Video tutorials from GameSalad. Start here for the basics.)

GSHelper at YouTube (GameSalad video tutorials, templates, and consulting. My favorite.)

UtopianGames at YouTube (GameSalad and Corona video tutorials and template.)

GendaiGames at YouTube (GameSalad video tutorials.)

Frying Bacon Studios (GameSalad video tutorials.)

Mignon Fogarty is better known online as Grammar Girl, and now as the developer of Grammar Pop.

COMMENT

Ragan.com Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive the latest articles from Ragan.com directly in your inbox.