The Making of an iPhone Game for Kids.

Posted by Duncan McDougall on March 15, 2012

Who's New at the Zoo Logo

So yesterday my first iOS game, Who’s New at the Zoo, made its way into the App Store. This posts is kind of a making of report and how I managed it on a tiny budget.

Who’s New at the Zoo? is a fun new puzzle game for young kids focusing on improving concentration and memory skill. Every day a new animal moves into the zoo. The players job is to remember who they have seen before and tap who they think is new. As new animals are added, they shuffle positions. The more you play a level, the harder it gets as you can be confused whether you saw the polar bear in this game or one before.

Who's New at the Zoo In Game Level

The idea came about from a game I remember playing in nursery similar to Kim’s Game. The teacher would show you a tray of toys. You had about a minute to memorize everything in front of you. She would then cover the toys with a towel and you had to close your eyes. One item was removed and when the towel was removed you had to pick out which toys is missing. 

Kim's Game

The development work started as soon as the idea popped into my head, mid February. As I work full time this was a part time project, working an hour or so a night and at the weekend. After only a few weeks work, on March 3rd I submitted the app to Apple. Wouldn’t you know it, they accepted it first time after a week waiting for review. 

Corona SDK logo

I have been playing around with Corona SDK, a multiplatform framework, coding in lua. It has an incredibly documented API so getting a working prototype was complete within the first couple of days. It must have been only three days in and I was uploading a test build to TestFlight and distributing a beta copy to friends for testing. This rapid application development would have been severely stunted if it wasn’t for finding a fantastic free animal vector pack from the brilliant CustomizedGirl. Maybe with a future release I’ll create my own animals illustrations but people seem to love them so probably best mess with a good thing.

Testing the app with friends and their kids was a really interesting experience and shaped the game a lot. My youngest tester, at 3 would talk through who he had seen in previous rounds with his dad and press each one to confirm before hitting the correct answer. He loves the noises, big ticks and crosses. Getting all three stars and a high score wasn’t as important to him as I though it would. He just wanted to play the game for the sake of playing. For this reason the points system was pushed to a nice to have for any bigger kids, cutting it back leaving it simply big and colourful.

Points and highscores weren’t ripped out completely after my 20 something friends got hold of it and became hooked. Getting the top score on level offered some serious bragging rights, given how tricky it is to get a perfect round. Memorising 12 animals isn’t as easy as you might think. There was pretty encouraging, for a game I had aimed solely at nursery school aged kids in the beginning.

Marketing is something I’ve never really done before. I had kind of banked on Apple accepting my app the first time, telling friends it was due for launch on the 14th. It could have easily bit me in the ass if Apple said no. Luckily they said yes. So I’ve been emailing reviewers every since hoping to get some exposure. I would have loved a bit more hype on the run up so maybe for the next one I’ll leave a bigger gap between launch and review.

The total budget of this project not including Apple and Corona membership which I already had was only £6 which was spent on the menu music. All other sounds and graphics where either hand crafted or public domain. That’s the indie way. There’s plenty great sites out their for free graphics and sound effects like and to really help keep your budget to a minimum. There’s no need for expensive tools either. GIMP and Inkscape are good enough alternatives to Photoshop and Illustrator for the most part. 

So what does the future hold for Who’s New at the Zoo? Well the game is about ready to go for Android. It really just depends on how well the iPhone version goes since I’ll need to upgrade my Corona license. I plan on getting some themes in there, maybe sea life, farm animals or even vehicles. Since there are a lot of big kids playing, maybe some trickier challenges like an all bears level but this really depends on my illustrating skills. 

Available in the App Store

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