Phil Chu Talks About Developing Apps and Unexpected Successes

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Phil Chu from Technicat

Phil Chu iOS developer and owner of Technicat.

Today we shine a light on Technicat, LLC. In this interview, Phil Chu answers our questions to give you an inside look into iOS development. Read on to find out about their apps and what it's really like to be an iOS developer.

AC: Tell us a little about your company and your background in app development.

Phil Chu: After my last salaried job in 2002 (working on console games), I formed a software consulting company, Technicat, LLC, and started taking contracts, mostly in video game development, contributing to projects like Darkwatch at High Moon Studios and the Blue Mars virtual world from Avatar Reality. About five years ago I started playing around with the Unity game engine with an eye toward working on my own game projects, and when they introduced iOS support, I began creating and self-publishing apps under the label Fugu Games. 

AC: What are some of the apps you've created? How many have you released to the App Store?

Phil Chu: My flagship app is HyperBowl, a licensed port of an arcade/attraction game I worked on for Hyper Entertainment over ten years ago. It’s a 3D bowling game that has six fantasy world lanes that you roll around, so I have the main game as a paid app and I’ve released the lanes individually as ad-supported apps. Some of my other more popular apps include a very simple bowling game called Fugu Bowl and a maze game called Fugu Maze. Overall, I have about a dozen apps on the App Store right now.

AC: How do you get your ideas for new apps?

Phil Chu: Generally, I feel the point of doing this indie stuff is to work on whatever you feel like working on, so to tell you the truth, it’s kind of arbitrary. I made Fugu Maze to get some practice on developing iOS apps and to try out a maze-generation algorithm that I found on Wikipedia, and to my surprise it was downloaded 20,000 times in its first week on the App Store.

I got the HyperBowl license because I was thinking it would be really cool to bring that game onto the iPhone, especially since the aspect ratio of the iPhone reasonably matches the original arcade game (which used a tall projection screen and a real bowling ball that worked like a big trackball), and I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask my previous employers at Hyper Entertainment. And it turns out they were very nice about working out a license arrangement.

Before I got HyperBowl running, I prototyped the controls I wanted to use for it in Fugu Bowl, and it turns out that’s my most downloaded app, over 100,000 downloads to date not counting upgrades.

AC: What does it take to make a great app?

Phil Chu: Time and perseverance. Money probably helps, but two out of three ain’t bad. Interacting with customers helps, too – I get a lot of feedback and free testing from the HyperBowl page on Facebook, and a lot of nice encouragement to keep working on it.

AC: How do you balance design and function during app development? Do you think one is more important than the other for an app to be successful?

Phil Chu: I don’t think they’re exclusive – you design for function.

AC: How long does it typically take to get an app from idea to App Store?

Phil Chu: For me, it varies wildly. It took me over six months to get the first version of HyperBowl on the App Store, and that was just the first lane. It took about two years to get all the original lanes in, and I’m still refining it and adding content. I’m sure I’ll make an update soon to take advantage of the new screen resolution and performance of the new iPad. In contrast, Fugu Bowl and Fugu Maze were basically weekend projects, but even with those, I periodically update them to add new content and features and compatibility with the latest hardware and iOS versions.

AC: What excites you about the current development atmosphere for iOS devices? Where do you see the platform a year from now?

Phil Chu: The increase in hardware performance is very exciting. It’s amazing that I’ve got a high-end arcade game that I worked on a decade ago now running on tablets and phones, with some graphics features that weren’t even available back then. And with Unity, I’m using a game engine with power and ease-of-use that wasn’t available back then, either. I’m sure a year from now we’ll still see the steady increase in performance and screen quality – I expect the iPhone and iPod touch screens will also have increased resolution – and there will be a bunch more middleware solutions like Unity, UDK, Corona…that let you program in high-level scripting languages. I expect there will be more audio and voice recognition capabilities available to developers, too.

AC: What are the biggest challenges in iOS developemnt? Is there anything you'd like to see added to the platform in future updates?

Phil Chu: The rapid pace of hardware development does pose a challenge for app developers – you have to keep buying the latest hardware and testing among multiple devices and iOS versions. And a lot of people may not realize this, but most developers don’t get early access to the new devices, so there’s always a game of catchup when they’re launched.

Also, when you develop a new app, there’s no guarantee Apple will accept it when you submit it to the App Store, which can give you pause if you’re thinking about investing a lot of time and money in a particular idea. I’m pretty happy with the platform overall, although in the future I would like to see features such as matchmaking in Game Center, and maybe some access to Siri or speech recognition in general.

AC: How do you get the word out about your apps? Do you have any marketing tips you can share?

Phil Chu: I can’t say marketing is my strong point, but I think the Facebook page for HyperBowl is pretty successful, with about 550 fans right now. I also have a Facebook page for Fugu Games, but I’m putting most of my marketing effort into HyperBowl since that is my most major project.

Twitter is useful, also – I have users who prefer communicating with me there. It’s good to have YouTube videos of your app, too. I made some videos of in-progress development, but I paid for a nice-looking promo video of the finished app, and I put links to YouTube/Facebook/Twitter in the app. Also, work with vendors and partners who will help promote your app.

AC: Besides your own of course, what is your favorite app right now?

Phil Chu: Hard to choose, but I like the ABC Player a lot. I watch Once Upon a Time and Modern Family with it. I also just started trying out a novel and short-story writing app called, Writing App, since I’m also interested in self-publishing books. It has good support chapters, which a lot of writing apps don’t.

AC: What apps do you use on a daily basis?

Phil Chu: This might make me sound boring, but every day, I play Scrabble and use the Twitter app on my iPad.

AC: Do you have any new apps in development? What can we expect to see from your company in the near future?

Phil Chu: I have a bunch of apps that are in a prototype stage, where I’m still just playing around with ideas. I’ve also talked with several other indie developers about collaborating. The most likely new apps that I’ll release are probably some new HyperBowl lanes and projects built on top of prototypes that are available on the Unity Asset Store.

AC: Any last words? What else would you like our readers to know about your company?

Phil Chu: This is a great time to be a software developer – kind of like the old days when I started out on an Apple II, with all the tools and middleware and open source software out there, you don’t have to wait for other people, you can embark on a project yourself. And better than the old days, it’s a lot easier to self-publish your work, now. But you need to do your research – I have a lot of people approach me with their ideas for apps. Ideas are a dime a dozen (I actually have at least a dozen I haven’t acted on), you have to put some work into it! And making money is important, but don’t just try to make money, make the app that you want to make. I’ve found that every time I release an app, as long as I think it’s kind of nifty, someone else will, and that always makes it worthwhile.

Phil Chu from Technicat, LLC offered some interesting insight into their development process. Please take a moment to thank him on Twitter or share this article with a friend to spread the word about his apps. If you have additional questions, ask them in the comments and we'll get you the answers!

Contact Phil Chu of Technicat, LLC

Website: http://technicat.com/
Twitter: @fugugames
Facebook: http://facebook.com/fugugames
Google+ Profile: https://plus.google.com/100289050499599589234

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  • Justin Walker

    Great suggestions for building smart apps with great user interfaces. I’m starting to develop a couple of apps on my own after working with an agency for several years. I’m looking forward to reading Chad Mureta’s new book App Empire. http://appempirebook.com. He’s a highly-successful developer who built a multi-million dollar business after he couldn’t do long hours at the keyboard after an accident. He’s proven time and again how to take great ideas and market them in the app form. App Empire offers the secrets to building wealth by designing, creating and marketing successful apps across any platform—iPhone, iPad, Android and Blackberry. Check it out if you’re looking for more advice and ideas.