Interview: WebOS Developer Keen-Studios talks up Checkers 2 and WebOS development

Keen-Studios has been working on applications since the launch of WebOS. Checkers was one of the first free games to land in the App Catalog and the developers continue to develop for and support WebOS. Checkers is a simple, but awesome application that allows you to customize your play style as well as explore your skill against different difficulty levels. Checkers 2 also incorporates online play against other WebOS users if you are tired of beating the computer. Keen-Studios was one of the first developers to bring the multi-player gaming idea to WebOS within Checkers. So let’s meet the genius behind it all shall we?
Let’s start by introducing yourself, who are you and where did you come from as far as reading/writing code for WebOS and maybe some other web based platforms?

My name is Jordan Gensler, and I’m the CEO of Keen Studios, which is a small development company focused on mobile applications. As far as writing code, I’ve been working with web development languages since I was 11 years old, and over time started developing websites for family and friends. I was introduced to the Palm Pre in early February and was immediately interested in it, both as phone and as a development platform. Prior to developing on webOS, my experience in mobile application development was close to nothing. I quickly picked up webOS development, seeing as it was from the languages that I had started my programming with, and worked actively in the homebrew community before getting contacted by Palm to get my applications included into the webOS App Catalog.

So you started off by making a Checkers application. Do you play Checkers? What attracted you to the development of Checkers?

When I started making webOS Applications in the homebrew community, I was mainly porting existing open-source Javascript games over to webOS. Checkers started as one of these ports.  I also thought that checkers is a fun game that should be brought to the platform.

You were one of the first developers to bring multiplayer to WebOS. When you first introduced Checkers it was only single player and you only had a free version. After Palm allowed paid apps in the App Catalog, you got right to work on Checkers Pro. It wasn’t until later that you brought multiplayer to your app. Was creating a multiplayer game on WebOS difficult for  you? Also, do you feel that multiplayer has made the experience better for end users?

Creating a multiplayer app was an interesting challenge. Back when the app launched in the app catalog, I got a surprising amount of users requesting that I add in online play. I took on the challenge in October of last year, and started researching the best way to handle the online interactions. I finally came up with a challenge system with an online “lobby” of users. After working on the online system independently for a few weeks without any progress, I contacted Roy Sutton, a fellow webOS developer, who helped me and built the framework that Keen Studios Online is built on top of. Development peaked in November, when we released betas of our online system, which allowed users to login and register. After November, the company went off the radar for quite a while, and attempted to return back into the community and start releasing apps again in January and March, but didn’t succeed with this until June. So the road developing it was quite long and interesting, but I feel that it was well worth it because of the value it adds into the app. I personally log in and play users every now and then, and feel that it’s a really enjoyable experience.

You now have Checkers 2 in the App Catalog, which is still relatively new. What is different between Checkers Pro and Checkers 2?

The differences between these applications is quite large. Checkers Pro was released in October, and runs on our 1.0 checkers framework. Checkers 2 runs a much updated 2.0 version of the framework. Along with that, Checkers 2 also adds in online play, additional features and settings, and (finally) a flipped board in single player, which allows you to play single player checkers from the bottom or top of the screen. Checkers 2 also features revamps to the achievement system, as well as uncountable bug fixes. Checkers Pro is being phased out of development and sales, but users who purchase it will be able to get free items from the soon-to-be-released Checkers Shop.

Do you plan on continuing development of Checkers 2 or will it eventually phased out in favor of a possible Checkers 3?

Currently, we have Checkers road-mapped out to version 2.2. This week, we plan to release Checkers 2.1, which will add in the stat server, and fix several bugs in the online system. Checkers 2.2 will bring in the Checkers Shop, where users can download and buy themes and other goodies.

As far as developing goes, what makes WebOS so enticing for you today? There are so many platforms out there right now. WebOS still has a fairly small user base and some think it may be in trouble, even with the recent acquisition from HP. Do you think WebOS is still a good platform for developers? Do you think it is still a lucrative platform for developers who want to sell their apps?

Developing on webOS is not only enticing because of ease of development, but also the community involved in it. The entire community surrounding webOS, including the folks over webos-internals and precentral have a really positive attitude on things, and are really pleasant to work. As for paid apps on webOS, the few paid applications that I have released on the platform haven’t done superb, but not far under my expectations. It’s also a better platform for indie developers, because of the smaller amount of apps in the catalog, the indie devs have a better chance to be seen.

We continue to hear good things about how easy it is to develop for WebOS. WebOS uses 3 main languages for most of its App Catalog applications. HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. For a while it seemed that maybe this would be Palm’s weakness because you couldn’t write native code that supported graphically intense games or other robust applications. Now Palm has the PDK (Plug-in Developer Kit) that allows developers to write in C/C++. We have already seen very robust 3D games from Gameloft and EA that show what WebOS can really do as far as graphics go. Is this something you are interested in getting into or do you think you are going to stick with the original Mojo SDK tools?

Currently, we’re planning to develop both SDK and PDK applications. We have a small team dedicated to the development of PDK applications, and we plan to have a few PDK apps in the catalog for the Palm Hot Apps competition.

Is it more difficult to develop a PDK application than it is to develop an application using the  SDK? Which development kit do you prefer and why?

Applications are more difficult to develop with the PDK. In my experience working with the PDK, it is more time-consuming than the SDK, but it does offer higher performance for games and the like. I personally prefer developing with the SDK. The SDK allows me to quickly develop the base of the app quickly, and from there add polish and work it up into a full-fledged application.

With the growth that Apple and Google are seeing with their mobile OS’s, Android and iOS, do you see yourself creating apps for either of those platforms? Also, in your experience, what are the benefits of developing on each of those platforms compared to WebOS for, both developers and end users?

I’m currently working on porting Checkers over to both Android and iOS, but it’s a work in progress. The benefit of iOS and Android is the huge market associated with both of them, but that can also hurt small developers because the chances to get noticed in their app stores are significantly lower.

Who are some of your favorite devs? What other developers inspire your coding?

I’m personally a big fan of Delicious Morsel. The guy behind that is clever and full of ideas. As I mentioned before, Roy Sutton is a great developer too. The guy behind Spaz is also really great. Most of the indie developers in the community are good people.

What do you have planned next? What comes after Checkers 2?

After Checkers 2, we’ve got the planned release of Checkers 2.1 and 2.2. Additionally, we’re planning on launching a new app, Planet Eaters, this weekend alongside the Checkers 2.1 release. Past that, we have some other projects in the works, but nothing is set in stone.

Thanks for your time, we appreciate it and look forward to hearing from you again.
If you have not already, go to the WebOS App Catalog and search for Checkers. Download the newest version of Checkers 2. You can also find  ‘Perfect Bounce’, also developed by Keen-Studios, in the App Catalog.
Update – Keen-Studios app ‘Planet Eaters’ will hit the App Catalog sometime today. It has already been approved by Palm so check that out as well.
You can find Jordan and the rest of the Keen-Studios development team in the following places:
Twitter here
Facebook here
Keen-Studios homepage

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About Daniel Rodriguez
I am 22 years old, I am a little bit new to writing but I love it and I am addicted to gadgets, whether it be Phones, PC's, OS's. Software. I love it all!

2 Responses to Interview: WebOS Developer Keen-Studios talks up Checkers 2 and WebOS development

  1. Stacy says:

    Very good interview.

  2. hmm, interesting.. thanks..

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