Thursday, March 26, 2009

Heads Up: Hold'em version 1.1(a)

The concept progresses...

We changed from a Slider (like on PokerStars, Full Tilt, & all online poker sites) to a "Spinner" which we think will work better on the iPhone. It allows for both fast swipes to throw in lots of chips and also a lot of precision even with very deep stacks.

When the spinner stops for some TBD fraction of a second; the chips between the 'bet pile' and the 'stack' will adjust themselves. Then you push the bet pile in to place the bet.

Dealing in this version of the game will happen automatically when the last bet is called or when it is checked through.

The dealer button may get cut (or cropped off the side of the screen), because there isn't a lot of room for everything. The deck itself can indicate the dealer--as in the current version.

NOTE: This will essentially become two games in one. The current version (without chips--to be used with real-world betting) will remain pretty much as-is. With this being basically a 2nd game that looks similar.

Current development (3/26/09):
  • The spinner is in place, but not tied in to betting yet.
  • Rudimentary betting (using the old slider) is working to a point; but needs refining and is now just numbers with no chips attached.
  • Turns and automatic dealing works, but not for preflop peculiarities yet.

Friday, March 20, 2009

San Francisco - Fitness Conference and Fun

Spent the week in San Francisco at a fitness conference. I was there representing which is a joint-project between Mike, Dan Maxwell, and myself. It was kind of strange since I don't really know much about the fitness industry. Dan is the one who knows fitness and Mike & I know software. It's a combination that works really well for our company, but when talking to fitness people; I mostly pointed them toward Dan. Also worked well since Dan is also the (much) better salesman.

Anyway, there are some crazy fitness fads out there. One company was essentially selling nylon tie-down straps with handles sewn on the ends for $300 a set.

There were any number of pieces of equipment that seemed like little more than a pillow on a stool similar random thingamabob.

Several companies were claiming that doing squats on a vibrating platform would make you work harder. Dan didn't think so, although a nice foot massage while working out probably feels good.

The hand-operated bike (spinning) things seemed like the big new fad that I hadn't seen before. When I first saw the machine on a big banner I asked Dan if it rotated down or if it was an inverted exercise bike. He thought it was for people in rehab who couldn't work their lower body (Broken leg, for example.) But it was a big thing all around, once we got inside...

The Stripper-pole workout system was a lot of fun to watch. It's difficult to imagine a gym installing a line of stripper poles next to their StairMasters. I'm not saying they shouldn't!

Anyway; it was a good time, and SF is always great! I'm right now sitting in Starbucks waiting for Alice to arrive from the airport. Then we get to spend a fun weekend on the town. Catch ya later!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Heads Up: Hold'em Version 1.1

After the release there was an immediate demand for virtual chips.

Frankly, the initial demand arose before most anyone would have had a chance to try the thing out the way it was intended--unless they were playing poker with friends the morning of release day.

Seriously, TRY IT ONCE with real chips.  It's great!  Really, it is!

In any case, I started playing around with concepts for adding chips to the program...  Here is the first draft concept image of this... 

This will be optional.  I want ot keep the current "real-world chips" option available, becuase that is the way I would want to play if at all possible.

But I can also see that in a car or on a plane, having virtual chips could be an easier option...

Part of what I love about the program (without chips) is the simplicity and style of it.  this is going to take some of that away.  But I tried to come up with a way of handling chips that would keep with the simplicity and design of what was there as much as possible.

The thinking is that it WOULD track turns now.  The center board would slide back and forth to handle the 2-sided design.  The Chip slider would set the bet ammount and then you would push the stack of chips forward to place the bet.

I will try to allow for Limit, Pot-Limit & No-Limit.  Pot limit would just say "Pot" where "all-in" is now.  Limit may just have a "Call" and "Raise" slider.

Again, this is a concept drawing so whatever the final ends up being may look quite different. 

I'm not sure how this will work for showdowns yet...  The software may award the pot based on normal poker rules.  Which also means building in a hand-reading system.  Currently, the software doesn't determine poker hands, it just puts the cards out there and lets you determine them yourself.

What adding chips will delay most is the Omaha version!  As Omaha has so many more rules for calculating the winning hand.  And it would require built-in High/Low support!  You'll just have to wait, my fellow Omaha fans.

Single Player:
There have also been requests for a single-player version.  I don't think this will happen.  If it does, that will be an entirely different App--since the underlying program would need to change completely.
If you want to play poker against your iPhone, Apple has written an App to do that.  The artificial intelligence on Apple's app sucks!  I'm not sure if we could do better or not.  We'll see if we ever attempt it...
Anyone know of an open-source poker AI program?

To be continued...

PS:  I placed 3rd at the Tulalip Casino Tournament March 12 for  $1100.  My first 4-digit poker win ever.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Six Days from Idea to App

I really love working on iPhone Applications. The speed with which Mike & I can crank out new products is amazing. This one amazed even me!

This is the story of how Heads Up: Hold'em came into existence.

The story begins with another one of our apps, iCatchall.
We had just added a Dice mini-app to the program. (At the time of this writing, the dice mini-app has not yet been released.)

Mike and I were very happy with how the dice mini-app had turned out. It looked good.

I started thinking about card-based mini-apps for iCatchall. I came up with essentially a video poker machine. My idea for iCatchall was that the video poker game wouldn't even keep score. It would just deal 5 cards. Let you hold any of them you want. Then draw new ones and show you the hand. I presume that mini-app or something similar WILL be included in iCatchall soon.

I then pictured two people using this mini-app to play a version of 5-card draw against each other on two separate iPhones. (The 'version' being that the two iPhones would be playing with separate decks, so it would be possible for the same card to appear in each hand.)

I then thought that Mike certainly had the networking know-how to devise a client-server system so that each player could be playing from the same deck. I then pictured multiple iPhones connected over a WiFi playing Hold'em. But that all started to sound incredibly complicated... Incredibly COOL, yes. But also incredibly complicated...

I then thought that a 2-player 'heads up' game could be played pretty easily on a singe iPhone. AHA!!! My mind began to race and I began (literally) to run in circles through the house thinking as fast as I could.

I then took some inspiration from both a chessboard and the old 'cocktail arcade cabinets.' Players would sit on opposite sides of a table, facing each other, and see the game from opposite sides. Just as they would if playing chess on a real board or poker with real cards. One player would view the board/table/screen upside down, but that was OK because playing cards are already designed to be viewed upside down. Each player would shield the screen with his or her hand when looking at their own cards--just as would be done with real cards. Or the iPhone could be picked up to block the opponent's view...

I scrambled onto and grabbed proofs of some playing-card artwork. Jumped into photoshop and made up a 'concept screen' to show to Mike. Here is that screen:


The above image is timestamped as being created at 3:40pm on Feb. 26, 2009.
Here is my exact email sent with this image to Mike:

Peter Burford
Michael Burford
dateThu, Feb 26, 2009 at 3:47 PM
subjectPoker game concept...

OK.... I'm kind of excited about this...

Gambling, keeping turns, etc would be done using real chips on the side. Possibly have Dealer button that bounces back and forth each hand.

Imagine the iphone placed between two players (like a chessboard). Each player holds one hand in the center to block the other view then slides their finger across their cards will reveal them.

The cards flip back instantly when your finger is removed.

If a player folds (maybe a double-click to prevent bumping) Then a new hand is dealt.

Both players must 'highlight' their Deal buttons to deal the next round.

After the River, "Deal" changes to "SHOW" (And would only show that player's cards)

The game doesn't even need to tell who wins. That's up to the players.

An Omaha option would just deal 4 cards to each player instead of 2.

I think this could be cool....!!!!!!!!

was created at 8:45pm that same night.

Most of the changes from concept-1 involved my attempts to make the community cards legible. The first working-draft used the cards shown as A and 3 of spades (with the numbers on the reverse corner, of course). When face card pictures replaced the suit in the center, it was found that the side-pips were too small to be seen easily. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

What could be called concept-2a only exists in a sample splash screen I made to 9:08pm the same day. At this point I had added the 'chip-slide' idea for peeking at cards, but still hadn't figured out that the buttons were unnecessary.
I was already aware of the unique and unusual aspect that the 'game' we were making was not a stand-alone game, but rather, it was one piece of a larger game played outside the iPhone. Throughout the tutorials and the website we have pictures of poker chips sitting next to an iPhone to convey this concept.

Nailed it!

Time stamped 11:16pm, Feb 26, 2009.
This was the last image I saved that night.

At this point, the pieces were pretty much in place conceptually. It just needed some polish. Oh, and to be programmed!

7:59am the following morning (Feb 27).
We now recognized that 'Interface tips' would be needed to get people going. As you can see, we hadn't quite gotten the gestures right yet...

8:11am. Just 12 minutes after Concept-4.
A better version of the tips, and we'd pretty much gotten things figured out. Except that you fold 'cards' not a 'chip' but we'd get there.
This got us to the notion that the Usage tips should be "ICON--ARROW--WORD." And they still are for everything except for "Next Hand" which needed two words.

This is the last 'Concept' image that I made.

At this point, everything was in place. It just took some polishing.
On the evening of Saturday, Feb 28, just TWO DAYS after the initial concept was thought up. My poker group had a game and we showed off a working prototype.

Before the 'real' tournament began, Mike and I played a somewhat-ceremonial "first match" against each other. We put up $1 each and I won. I probably should have taken a screen shot of my winning hand, but I didn't.

For the normal tournament (It was an 8-player Sit-and-go with $10 buyin and $5 rebuys/addon.) when it got down to heads up, Mike and I each pitched another $5 into the prize pool for our friends to finish the game using our software. It was between Dan & Marilyn.

This testing gave us some valuable real-world information.
  • The community card suits were difficult to read on that version of the graphics. In part because the players were at a large table and so were viewing the community cards from more distance than normal for an iPhone. (fixed)
  • It was difficult for players to activate their cards under the chip to fold or show. (fixed)
  • Using a hand to 'shield' while looking at cards could mess up the touch screen. (fixed)
  • Both players doing things simultaneously could mess things up. (fixed)
  • If people began a game using real cards, they were going to finish it with real cards. What could sell this game is the ability to play poker easily and quickly when you were NOT at a normal poker night. (learned)
  • For some reason, people have a harder time remembering virtual cards than real ones. (this one we could not address in our software.)
These were all addressed and fixed before submission to Apple. We joked that Mike and I could write off the $5 each as a business expense. In reality, that was a very well spent $10 which produced a much stronger initial release.

The community cards went through 3 (actually 4) versions before settling on the two options available on the software. The version shown here with the smallest side-pips was the initial version and too difficult to determine the suit of face cards between Clubs and Spades. The other two versions shown here are both available in the finished software, and either one can be selected by the players. The "Asymmetrical" one was the 2nd attempt in which I moved the face to one side and increased the single PIP to fill the empty space. This gave more space for the face picture. Some people we showed this to liked it a lot, and others didn't think it looked like 'normal' playing cards.
The third option with the narrowly cropped face image and the bigger side-pips ended up being the 'default' version in the software. This 3rd card also does less anti-aliasing around the edges so I could cram as many usable pixels as possible into the 60px width that was necessary to fit 5 cards on the screen.

Touch Screen
These improvements were all Mike. I don't know what he did, but holding your cards out with one hand and frantically tapping the screen with the other now causes no problems.

Again, all Mike. Look closely to see some nice subtle touches.
  • For starters, the whole ballet of movement when a new hand is dealt--gathering cards, sliding the deck to the opposite corner, getting the chips out of the way, dealing, capping the cards to get the chips back into place. Beautiful. All Mike.
  • The fade & shrink when cards are folded.
  • Even just sliding the 'deal' card in various directions and it going from wherever that is to the board when it goes.
  • Also notice that the board is dealt from the point of view of the current dealer. In both direction (left-to-right) and card orientation.

The sound effects were added last--going in the day before (and a few day-of) submitting the program to Apple. Last-minute does not, however, mean rushed. I think the sounds are simple but effective. I hope other people agree. (they are, after all, just shuffling and simple card sounds.)

The Icon
I'm also very proud of the icon.
The finished icon (shown here from the splash screen) is pretty much the idea I had in mind from the start. I called it "Face-off Jacks." When I came up with the Idea I didn't actually know it would be the one-eyed-jacks which would be perfect for the image. I just wanted two face-cards in a face-off. Jack vs. King, whatever.

This image didn't appear out of nowhere. Below are some rejected versions...

The king one was more of a joke than anything else. I knew the jacks were right pretty much as soon as I looked through the card graphics. It just took me a couple tries to get it.

And that's it.
The first version of the program was submitted to Apple on March 4, 2009. Six days after I made the first concept drawing.
I think the program is very cool and will be fun to play poker on airplanes, coffee shops, and other strange places when opportunities present themselves. The program itself is really quite simple--it's just a virtual deck of cards which are dealt and flipped as indicated. But that's all a real deck of cards is. The game is whatever you make of the deck of cards.

I hope people who use this software will understand that. We were not trying to create an online poker client for the iPhone--we were trying to create a virtual deck of cards so people can challenge each other to a new type of hybrid-poker: part virtual, part real.

Enjoy our virtual deck of cards!


UPDATE: A minor bug was found. (Involving one player's ability to show his cards after the other player had folded--it would not have effected the outcomes of hands. Just a player's ability to rub it in when he won.) So we pulled the submission and resubmitted a day later. So it was 7 days. Whatever...

UPDATE2: Another bug was found to push back the approval process. This one would have never effected 'real' play but if a player used the 'undo' button repeatedly (30 or more times) on a single hand then strange things could happen. The bug would only have ever come up when re-dealing to yourself over and over to make a royal flush or 4 of a kind. We both fixed the bug and limited players to 2 "undos" per hand.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My iPhone Apps

Wow, Mike and I really do have a lot of stuff on iTunes. We have been showing advertising in one of our free apps: iHourglass Free and recently switched from showing regular advertising from an ad-network to showing our own advertising system which currently just shows our other software. It would be easy (if it isn't already done) to convert this into an advertising system which other developers could either buy for their own use, or subscribe to. Not to shabby... But since everyone loves advertising. Here's what we have:

Our first, and our strongest app. An FTP client with a built-in text editor so web developers can make changes to their sites from anywhere. For some people this is the iPhone's killer app.
FTP On The Go in AppStore
FTP On The Go Website

A grab-bag of 20 apps in one. It seemed like a better way to doing 'small & silly' apps rather than selling them separately. Includes lite versions of some of our other things.
We think this one has the best chance of being featured by Apple and really taking off! (Strange to aspire to the Koi Pond app...)
iCatchall in AppStore
iCatchall Website

Began life as a feature in FTP On The Go, and was so cool it became its own app.
Wireless Storage. Uses a web-based access, so you don't need install any software on the computer(s) you are connecting with. It also works great for single-use media that you don't want to have to roll through iTunes and the sync process. Like if you want to hear a single podcast show without subscribing. Or watch a video for a plane ride and then delete it.
Wifi Disk in AppStore
WiFi Disk Website

Ever since the beta, my poker group has used this for our home tournaments. Easy to use, very versatile, and stylish. If you play home poker tournaments, get this!
Five-Deuce Poker Tournament Timer in AppStore
Five-Deuce Poker Tournament Timer Website

Began as a feature in iCatchall and grew into its own app. A very simple but fun and addictive game. Which gets very hard once you score about 700 points...
Kitchen Sink in AppStore
Kitchen Sink Website

The business version of iCatchall. It includes all the useful stuff, and removes the silly novelty stuff.
iCatchall Tools in AppStore
iCatchall Tools Website

This one also began as a function of FTP On The Go.
Lets you instantly upload pictures you take with your iPhone.
FTP Picture Upload in AppStore

This one should be much more popular than it is! It lets you share contact information from your iPhone's address book over a WiFi network with someone else's iPhone contacts.
ContactClone Pro in AppStore
ContactClone Free in AppStore
ContactClone Website

An alternate version of WiFi Disk with a sillier name.
AirFloppy in AppStore

Not pictured...
An Hourglass Timer

iHourglass Free
The free version of iHourglass.
Ironically, this is (BY FAR) our most-downloaded software. The power of being free...

Let's you 'hide' a picture and text until a certain date (like a birthday).
This one never really caught on much. This was also one of our earliest Apps, so if we go back for an update, it will be MUCH improved...

There you have it! Not bad for a couple guys working from home.