The following interview was with Karan the co-developer of Alphabet Connection.
1) Tell us a little bit about your company
The company consists of my wife, Mansi Rauthan, and me. Mansi does the visual design and art assets and I do the programming. We share the work on all the rest: app design, business strategy, QA and everything else.
2) How did you get into the business of developing iPad/iPhone apps?
I had been developing iOS apps for clients for a couple of years, freelancing at first and then in full-time employment at a company. Mansi was involved in various web and mobile design projects at the same company. After a disagreement about the company's design aesthetics blew up out of proportion, we were both asked to leave. We then decided we had enough talent between us to create our own products and are now transitioning from consulting into our own apps.
3) What makes your Alphabet Connection app stand out from similar apps?
The puzzle design is done by a stochastic algorithm that we think makes innovative and unique levels. Other than that, we think we achieved a fairly clean and useable design. It's the sort of look we'd appreciate in other apps.
4) What's the thought process behind offering a free version with in-app purchases?
Gaining an audience is definitely easier with a free version unless you're an established brand or are featured by Apple or at least a top review site.
5) How does the algorithm, that creates the random puzzle boards, work?
The core of it is a scheme that generates random line segments and joins them or splits them up until the final counts of paths is between a target range. Layered on top are a bunch of heuristics that we think make for more aesthetically-pleasing levels, such as avoiding 'winding snake' paths and paths that execute a 180-degree turn to end up on consecutive rows or columns. Finally a supervising function checks the completed board for failure conditions, such as paths that are too short, or single-cell 'holes'. If the board is rejected, the whole process starts again.
The heuristics were put in place to avoid levels that may have multiple solutions, but we haven't managed to solve this completely. Refining this algorithm was definitely the most difficult part of the project, and we're pretty kicked over it.
6) Has anyone completed all 30 levels?
Definitely. In fact version 1.0 of the game had 100 free levels and a few people have completed those, including my mom!
7) What inspired you to create the comic "The Making of Alphabet Connection"?
Making almost any piece of software is a difficult and painstaking process, into which we think users have little insight. As we were working on this app, we went through a lot of tough times, some quite emotional (such as when the puzzle generator just wasn't making good levels despite our best efforts) and it was then that we decided we really wanted users to know the human story behind the app. It's a shame when users are quickly dismissive of apps and leave 1-star reviews just because they were free or 99 cents, when in fact a lot of work goes into any app.
8) What's some of the general feedback you have received from users?
We've been asked to add more levels in future versions. One complaint with version 1.0 was that the hints stayed on screen for too short a time, and that they could not be reviewed. We fixed this in the 1.1 update. I think it has helped us sell quite a few more hint packs.
9) Did you have to make any changes or updates when Apple's iOS6 came out?
We had to branch off our Facebook and Twitter integration to use the new Social Framework when running on iOS6, and the old code when running on iOS5.
10) Other than your own apps, what is your favorite app?
Karan: Super Hexagon
Mansi: OLO (http://www.ologame.com/)