How to Create an iPhone Game From Scratch

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How to Create an iPhone Game From Scratch

Few games have had such an impact on the cultural psyche as Flappy Bird did two years ago. It waseasilyone of the most virally successful mobile games in history. But it might come as a surprise that the maker of Flappy Bird wasn’t a large games company, but rather one guy in his Hanoi bedroom calledDong Nguyen.

At some point, you’ve probably wished you could make your own iPhone games. Perhaps you want to do it as a creative pursuit, or maybeyou just want to earn a bit of extra money. Well, I’ve got some good news, and some bad news for you. Thegood newsis that it’s entirely within the realm of possibility, as many before you have proven.

That bad news is that it isn’t easy. You’ll need to level up your skill-set.

Skills Required

If you’ve ever finished a video game and watched the credits, you’ve probably noticed that games studios are big. Most games are backed bylots of people doing different jobs, but all working on the same project. These can be sound engineers, graphics designers, project managers, and of course, programmers.

If you’re making an iOS game on your own, you’re going to need to be all of those people in one. You’re going to have to pick up a lot of different skills, and become a true multi-disciplinarian. Are you ready?

The first is, of course, a grounding in software development. Knowing how to code is essential, but also helpful is an understanding of the theoretical. There are a lot of core concepts in computer science which lend themselves favorably to games design. For example, an understanding of flocking algorithms, and Djikstra’s shortest path algorithm can help you designthe behavior of AI players.

Unless you’re planning on making a text-adventure (or an interactive movie, which Christian Cawley thinks is overdue a comeback), you’re going to need to make some graphics. Make no mistake—design is hard. Harder than coding, in my view. Not only will you need to know how to use the likes of Photoshop and 3D modelers like Blender, you’ll also need to know some design theory.

And what’s a video game without some ropey voice-acting, cinematic music, and realistic sound effects? Unless you’ve got a sizable budget, you’re likely going to have to do some of the audio production yourself.

Finally, you’ll need some business skills to make your game a great success. This includes everything from spreading the news to managing your connections with both markets and consumers.

Let’s start with the fundamental software programming abilities necessary to create a game.

Programming Your Game

There are many ways to skin that particular cat when it comes to developing iOS applications, as my father would say. There are several techniques to consider, as well as numerous tools and methodologies that claim to make the development process simpler.

First, there’s the Apple approach to game development. This entails downloading Xcode, Apple’s flagship specialized Integrated Development Environment, which is available for free from the Mac App Store (you can only develop for iOS on a Mac).Apps created using Xcode are typically written in C++, Swift, or Objective-C.

Swift was unveiled at the World Wide Developer Conference (WWDC) last year, and it piqued the interest of many developers. Why? Because native-speed programs may be created without the need for a bulky, verbose language like Objective-C or C++. This is a language that resembles CoffeeScript, Python, or Ruby in appearance but has the flexibility and power of a lower-level language.

Swift’s disadvantage is that it is still in its early stages and so has some teething difficulties. It should be able to overcome them as it progresses. But, in the meanwhile, it’s worth considering studying Objective-C. The benefit of this is that it is ancient, and people are aware of its warts and wrinkles, as well as how to avoid them. Furthermore, Objective-C is the language of instruction in the great bulk of iOS developer materials and tutorials. If you choose Swift, you may have to figure out a lot of stuff on your own.

There is an alternative. If you already know a programming language and don’t want to learn Swift, you should look at third-party application development frameworks for that language. Ruby developers may use RubyMotion to create mobile applications, whereas.NET (which was just open-sourced) developers can use Xamarin. The benefit of them is that you do not need to learn how to utilize anything new. The disadvantage is that they raise the cost of submitting your software to the App Store marginally. For example, the lowest RubyMotion subscription is $15 per month, invoiced yearly. That is not a negligible sum of money.

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You already have the fundamental abilities required to build an iOS game if you are familiar with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Corona and Phone Gap are platforms that enable you to utilize your current web development abilities to create native mobile apps. There is no browser necessary. The issue is that HTML5-based mobile applications often operate quite slowly. The problem is so severe that, in 2012, Facebook changed their iOS app from HTML5 to native in order for it to work properly.

Finally, if the thought of writing code turns you off, you may want to try a codeless solution, in which the sophisticated code is created by an algorithm rather than by a person. There aren’t many of them available on iOS. There is no MIT App Inventor in the Apple universe. Only Microsoft’s TouchDevelop, which we previously discussed, comes close.

It is important to note that codeless applications are often inferior to those created by humans. However, if you’re simply making a game for yourself or for pleasure, they’re perfectly OK.

Choose Your Graphics Library

Every automobile has an engine, and every video game has a graphics library. You may use them to design and manage the visual aspects of your game. There are several alternatives available here, each with its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Swift was not the only geeky-bombshell to be unveiled at WWDC 2014. Metal, which was developed in collaboration with Epic Games, was also unveiled. Despite the hardware restrictions of the iPhone and iPad, Metal is an iOS exclusive that can deliver breathtaking, console-quality graphics. It does this while using less battery power than you may imagine. The demonstration, trust me, must be seen to be believed.

Of course, there are drawbacks. To begin with, since Metal is an iOS exclusive, you can forget about transferring your game to Android without a major rewrite. Second, it only works on iPhones with A7, A8, or A8X processors, which is terrible news for anybody with an older iPhone. Because it’s also relatively new, there’s less learning material to draw on if you decide to include it into your most recent project.

If you’re looking for something more established and cross-platform than Metal, you’ll be relieved to hear that there are plenty of options. The most noticeable is probably OpenGL ES (Open Graphics Library for Embedded Systems).

The gold standard of graphics libraries is OpenGL. It is accessible for practically every platform and is continually being updated and enhanced. Although it takes a low-level approach, it is very adaptable and has been used effectively in both basic and sophisticated games.

SDL is the last option (Simple DirectMedia Layer).This multi-platform library may be used to produce 2D visuals as well as access the machine’s input devices.

SDL is really fast, but it’s unlikely to be used on its own in an iOS game. It’s just much too low-level and austere, with no native support for 3D graphics or hardware acceleration. SDL is more often used in a game project with a higher-level graphics library, such as OpenGL.

However, this does not rule it out as a viable choice for iOS game creation. You could even discover that it works well for simpler, less complicated games. Check out this basic Hello World app to see it in action.

Finally, there are third-party graphics libraries that extend current ones in order to make development simpler and quicker.

Sound, Music andDialogue

You’ll probably want to add some sound at some point throughout the development process. It’s amazing how music, sound effects, and conversation can make a game much more immersive and engaging.

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Sound effects might be costly to buy, but you can make your own using cheap home items and a good microphone. Do you need to replicate footsteps? Walk on a washing-up basin filled with pebbles. Smacking two baking pans together or striking a pot with a wooden spoon may be used to mimic gunshots. Simply put in the effort to experiment. You’ll be amazed at what you come up with.

In the meanwhile, check out the various public-domain and creative-commons sound libraries that have popped up in recent years, as independent game creation has seen a renaissance. pdsounds, freesound, and soundjay are three famous examples.

You may always commission something special, such as a piece of conversation. This seems to be costly, but it does not have to be. Fiverr is a marketplace for individuals to conduct odd things, mostly in the creative field. People creating code to brilliant voice performers may all be found here. These services are priced at—you guessed it—five bucks.

You can locate a voice actor who will meet your needs, whether you need to hire an elderly guy with a British accent or a young lady with an American accent.

Graphics & Design

I’ve always struggled with designing images and sprites since I’m not very artistic. Don’t take it from me. You simply need to look at CakeSteroids, one of my very first video games (an asteroids clone with a dental health theme).Yes, it is meant to be a cake.

Design is not my strong suit. There’s more to it than simply making things appear nice; there’s a science behind it. A science that is wonderfully articulated in the book Design For Hackers. If you’re not very aesthetically inclined, you’re probably feeling discouraged right now. There are, however, techniques to make creating your sprites and components a little simpler.

I’ve discovered that sketching something out is nearly always simpler than drawing it on the computer. So grab a pen and paper and start drawing your sprite. Make a digital copy using your scanner after you’ve polished it. Then, get Inskcape, a free vector graphics application. Once installed, input your scanned design and use the Trace Bitmap method to turn it to an useable bitmap picture.

If it doesn’t work, there is still hope. There is no scarcity of royalty-free graphics samples, just as there is for audio files. These are often distributed under public domain or creative commons licenses and are free of charge, however credit and a payment may be requested. There are other websites that provide these, but one in particular is worth mentioning: OpenGameArt.

After you’ve finished building your game, you may focus on quality assurance.


For the most part, iOS developers have had it easy. This is particularly true when contrasted to their Android counterparts, who must battle to make their applications operate in an increasingly fragmented Android market with thousands of devices.

This does not, however, obviate the necessity to test your application. First, you must assess how effectively it operates. Then you must identify any faults or glitches that may interfere with gaming.

Of course, you can test your app yourself—though you definitely shouldn’t since it’s time-consuming. More significantly, you could never aspire to be an objective spectator. Without a new set of eyes, you may find yourself shipping a game with obvious flaws that you just missed. It’s always useful to seek a second opinion, and there are plenty of firms that will provide one (for a fee).

A testing business will put your app through its paces on a range of devices and under a variety of scenarios. They’ll make predictions about what should happen and then check to see whether your app delivers on those expectations. Most importantly, they are unbiased.

There are hundreds of testing firms, each with its own set of fees. Three stuck out from the throng throughout my study. TestElf, for example, costs $50 per app. Applause, which provides a boutique approach to testing and costs a variable fee based on the extent of your exam. Finally, AppThwack provides deep, exhaustive testing with quick response for as low as $20 per month.

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When you’ve developed your app, it’s time to share it with the rest of the world.

Ship To The Store

Apple is the iOS platform’s gatekeeper. You must first clear a few hurdles before submitting your software to the marketplace. The first step is to sign up for the iOS Developer Program. This costs $99 per year and must be paid regardless of whether your app is free or not.

It’s worth noting that Apple are very strict about what they allow on their app store, much unlike Google Play. As a result, if your app is sexually explicit, facilitates piracy, or is likely to harm its users, it will be rejected.

Make sure you thoroughly read the App Store guidelines before deciding to submit your app,as each review process will eat into time you could spend promoting or improving your app.

The last step in the games development lifecycle is marketing. There are thousands of apps and games on the App Store. It’s almost impossible to stand out solely through yourgame’s own merits.

You can, of course, promote thegame yourself. This can be done through social media, but also by contacting members of the technology and gaming press, and asking them to consider writing about your app. The problem is, writing to journalists is an art form, and it’s easy to get it wrong.

Don’t just take my word for it. My colleague, Justin Pot, has written at length at the mistakes companiesmake when they pitch, as has one-time MakeUseOf writer Jessica Cam Wong.

I get anywhere from three to ten email pitches per day, and the ones I pay attention to are the ones which are clearly written, spellchecked, and most of all sincere. Once you’ve written a killer pitch, you need to find someone to pitch to. There are services which exist purely for this service. The most notable is, which sells the email address of 588 journalists for a flat fee of $9. That said, you’re paying for something that is essentially free. Most technology blogs publicly display the email addresses of their writers. You can find relevantMakeUseOfemail addresses, for example, on our about page.

If you want to advertise your app, but don’t have the confidence to pitch it yourself, you can always turn to the services of a professional PR company.

Curious as to what a PR firm offers to an app developer, I spoke to Ayelet Noff, founder and CEO ofBlonde 2.0, which specializes in marketing technology startups. I was curious as to what someone gets when they hire a specialist tech PR firm, and how much it costs. Here’s what she had to say:

“PR is about two elements: Storytelling and relationships. Make sure your story is interesting enough to capture the attention of the journalists by using the most appealing and timely pitch possible. Then consider the relationships you have with different reporters to see who would be the best fit.

The advantage of doing the work with a reputable PR firm is that we have these connections already in place, and have already mastered the craft of knowing how to tell the story in the most appealing manner. Most tech PR companies will work on a retainer basis with a price range of $3,000-$15,000 monthly. Blonde 2.0 fees start at $5000.”

Get Creative!

There’s a lot to learn when it comes to iOS games development. If you’re working by yourself, you’ll find you need to become a veritable polymath.

Not only will you need to have a level of business acumen, you’ll also need a flair for design, a close eye for details, and the technical skills required to build the thing. I couldn’t do it,could you?

If you’ve got a great idea for a game, are building one, or have built one, I want to hear about it. Leave me a comment below, and we’ll chat.

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