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iComics is one year old!

October 1, 2013 •

Blimey, I’d been so busy working on iComics these past few days that this completely slipped my mind!

On the morning of September 25, 2012, Apple approved version 1.0 of iComics and made it visible on the App Store. iComics has now been officially available to the public for over a year. Holy crap, that was fast. XD

If I am able to reflect on iComics and its development right now, all I have to say is this: this project has been hard. Bloody hard. Possibly the hardest one I’ve undertaken yet. For something you’d think as simple as opening up an archive file of images and rendering them to the screen, it’s actually WAY complex than what I was ever anticipating when I first opened the project in November 2011.

The app is a constant psychological battle with the user to try to distract them from noticing any load times, at the same time, being a technological battle of co-ordinating multiple concurrent threads, ensuring the next set of pages is ready to go… hopefully without some kind of conflict crashing the app. If anything, this has made me appreciate all of the other comic reader apps on the App Store as well, as they would have all gone through the same thing.

Ultimately, when it came to the design and feature-set of iComics, I’ve ended up pretty much choosing the hard route for every design challenge I’ve faced. I’ve written pages of custom UI code for a tailored look and feel, I’ve re-implemented Apple code from later versions of iOS so it’s backward compatible down to iOS 5 (So I can PROUDLY say that iComics supports ALL iPad models :D ), and I’ve spent months developing a multi-threaded algorithm that can cache pages of a comic, simultaneously as the user is reading through it. For each of these things, there was always an easier solution, but I firmly believed that by taking the time and effort to perfect each of them (well… getting them to stop crashing), iComics will have become a great app that users will feel is better than the rest. :)

On the App Store, I couldn’t be more happy with the current ratings of iComics. It’s more or less 4.5 – 5 stars in most countries, with many glowing reviews. In any case, simply knowing that I made an app that most people agreed wasn’t a complete waste of their money is enough to put me over the moon. XD

At this point, however, iComics is absolutely no where near finished. While I was really hoping to implement collections quickly, I spent the majority of this year tracking down critical bug reports users were reporting (Mainly involving certain comics loading pages incorrectly, corrupted RAR files, and solid archives breaking) and having what new features I’ve added ruin the threading algorithm again. And on top of that, trying to work out a new design for iComics after Apple dropped iOS 7 on us. XD

In any case, while I can’t promise when the next version of iComics will drop, I can definitely promise that I will not give up until iComics is the most awesome DRM-free reader on the App Store.

Thank you very much to all of iComics’ users! I’m glad you’re enjoying it!

iOS 7

September 11, 2013 •

Since we’re only a few hours away from Apple’s new announcement, I thought now would be the best time to post my reflection on iOS 7.

Just before WWDC, myself and a few friends were speculating on what iOS 7 would look like. We’d heard the rumours that it would be ‘flatter’, but we were guessing that that would probably mean a reduction in all of the glossy elements, and the removal of the over-the-top skeuomorphic design elements in apps like Notes and Game Center, and that would be about it. What we actually got though… we totally did not see that coming.

So at this point, what do I think of iOS 7? It’s NOT BAD, but definitely needs TONNES of refinement.

Don’t get me wrong, I definitely agree that iOS was definitely in need of a redesign. It’s gone through 5 years of looking basically exactly the same. But on the same note, I think Apple could have gone about it in a bit more of a subtle way.

On the whole, I like the design approach and directions its adopted. The unified status bar is a stroke of genius, and I love all of the new animations. Overall, the system looks really clean. But… there are a few things that bother me:

  • Making it so buttons convey their tappable nature via colour instead of a bordered edge can be extremely limiting, and sometimes messes with design pretty badly.
  • The thin typography can get pretty hard to read in places (especially in some places of iComics where bold text was prevalent).
  • Making heavy use of Retina pixels in design while there are still non Retina devices supported (iPad 2 + iPad mini) feels somewhat dodgy.
  • The elements in the status bar feel way too small.
  • ALL of the stock app icons. Yeesh. XD

After cruising around Dribbble for a bit, I personally find this design to be what I’d been hoping iOS 7 would have turned out as; a nice hybrid design that adopts some of the major new points of iOS 7, but still retains the major familiarity of iOS 6.

As it stands, I think the ‘flat’ motif of iOS 7 needs to be revisited a bit more. At the moment, it feels overly simple to the point where the UI feels like it’s wasting the build quality of the screen it’s being rendered on. And with the design of the current app icons, I feel like the experience may be at risk of losing its premium feel.

In any case, I have faith that Apple will fine-tune the system before iOS 7 makes the final drop.

I will most definitely be supporting iOS 7 in iComics, but I’ll also be continuing to develop it on iOS 5 and 6 to ensure all current users can continue to enjoy it.

And if worse comes to worse, there’ll always be iOS 8. XD

Pokémon X and Y

August 22, 2013 •

Of all the reasons for attending the Pokémon Game Show in Tokyo last weekend, probably the most very important one was the chance to get a sneak preview of playing Pokémon X and Y, the upcoming Pokémon title for Nintendo 3DS.

Naturally, I was there in a heartbeat to give it a try. :D

As was probably to be expected, a HUGE chunk of the game show floor was dedicated to the placement of Nintendo 3DS stations with copies of Pokémon X and Y running. To get in, you had to present your guide map from your Pokémon show bag, which would then be stamped (Assuming so people couldn’t keep going back for more. XD). A guide would then take you to one of the 3DS stations and give you instructions on how to play. :)

I probably don’t have to explain what the demo featured, as many people way more versed in Pokémon lore than me at this point have already posted about it, so I’ll just give my general impression about it. :D

Back in 2000, when Pokémon Red and Blue were being superseded by Pokémon Yellow, Pokémon Stadium came out. When I first saw a demo of Pokémon Stadium, I had a grandiose vision of it that it was just like the (at the time 8-bit) Game Boy Pokémon series, with the full world-traveling storyline and everything, in full 3D. Sadly, that wasn’t actually the case…

… until now. :D

Basically, from what I saw in that demo, Pokémon X and Y fulfilled the vision that my 14 year old self had more than a decade ago. It. Is. Amazing. :D

And the weird thing is, it felt perfectly natural going from the pseudo-isomorphic 2D/3D feeling we had in Pokémon generations IV and V to complete 3D in generation VI. They absolutely nailed it.

Seriously. If Nintendo is having trouble pushing 3DS hardware at the moment, they won’t once this game hits the stores.

My only problem is that thanks to Nintendo’s policy on region locking the 3DS (Incidentally, go sign this petition!), I have no idea whether I should buy an Aussie 3DS or a Japanese 3DS. ಠ_ಠ

Anyway. Yes, Pokémon X and Y is amazing. Yes, it appears to cost more than previous generations, but yes it’s going to be worth it. :D

The Pokémon Game Show 2013!

August 17, 2013 •

It’s uhhh… probably fair at this point to say that I’m a pretty big fan of Pokémon. And naturally, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Pokémon X and Y

So when I heard about the Pokémon Game Show that was going to be held in Tokyo, which would be featuring playable copies of X and Y, there was no question about going or not. XD

The event was being held at Tokyo Big Sight, so less than a week after Comiket ended, I always already heading back there again. Thankfully, this time around, the crowd was SLIGHTLY smaller than what was at Comiket.

BigSight

After seeing such a massive crowd at Comiket (And also at Reitaisai), it was kind of weird to see Big Sight so empty this time around.

In any case, when I got a bit closer, I knew I was definitely in the right place.

Pokémon Game Show Sign

Unlike Comiket and Reitaisai, getting in was actually somewhat different. As it turns out, due to the volume of people in the show floor, it was actually necessary to stagger the entry of new people until the others had left. So after I initially went in (After a baggage check, interestingly enough), I was required to wait in line with a block of people for about 20 minutes or so. (I guess this is actually pretty normal, but coming from Perth, I can understand why I’ve never seen it before. XD)

After finally entering the show floor, I was immediately floored at the size and scale of it. Holy crap it was massive!

Pokémon Game Show Floor

Not only that, the place was fully decked out. There was an amazing light-show at the front door, there were giant Poké balls floating in the air, and there were awesome Pokémon stands featuring the starters and the legendaries from all of the games every 20 metres. XD

The show floor was divided up into multiple sections, each catering to different Pokémon related activities. In the corner, there was a Pokémon Tretta lab in the corner, where the prize for winning was an exclusive Red Genesect tile.

Pokemon Tretta

In the middle, there a dedicated section for video/ card game Pokémon battles, with a raised stage in the middle. Suffice it to say, incredibly awesome. XD

Pokemon Battle Stage

And in the far corner, was the Pokémon X and Y exhibition (Will write more on that later). :D

PokemonXYExhibition

Beyond that, there were a few other sections, of which I’ve uploaded photos onto my Flickr.

Overall, it was an amazing day. It’s sometimes hard to fathom just how popular Pokémon is; especially in Japan. But when there’s events like this, it blows your mind even more. XD

Summer Comiket 2013

August 12, 2013 •

Even though a great deal of my friends have said how amazing Comiket is, sadly, I’d never had the opportunity to go. Until today. :D

Since I’m almost about to go home to Australia, I have very little space for buying any more things, and not to mention this weekend went on record to be ONE OF THE HOTTEST in Japan’s meteorological history, I was a little hesitant about going. But I figured, since I’d come this far, it’d be worth going to check it out, if only  for the experience. Whoo boy, and what an experience that was! XD

I decided I was only going to rock up and hour or so before it ended. I just wanted to walk around a bit, check out how the place was laid out, check out the pixiv booth, and then pop home before heat stroke set in. XD

Being from a small Australian city, I’ve only ever been used to conventions ranging in sizes of 4,000 to 18,000 attendees. Jumping off the train and witnessing the magnitude of Comiket’s over 500,000 attendee reputation BLEW MY MIND. This thing is big. It is crazy big. Holy crap it was big. XD

Having been a volunteer at Perth’s most kickass Japan-themed convention, I was also keeping an eye out for how the event was managed. It was absolutely incredible how meticulous crowd flow was managed from the train station right through the entire convention centre.

I basically did one lap of both halls to check out what kind of goods were on display, before heading up to the industry booth section. While I was walking through the rows of tables, looking at all of the comics, music, games and animation DVDs, I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of admiration for everyone there. I feel like I can only appreciate a small amount of the sheer amount of work that goes into those creations and how proud they must feel when people come up and buy that work.

Since my Australia-bound luggage-space is already at a premium, I originally wasn’t planning on buying anything. But as I was walking through one of the rows, a very enthusiastic chap offered me to browse one of his artbooks, and then got 4 of his friends to train their fans on me as I was browsing it. Figuring that gesture alone was worth it, I bought the book off him. I plan to cherish it as my first official book from Comiket. ^_^

Comiket Art Book

In any case, while I was a bit sad I didn’t get much time to look at any more goods in great detail, I ultimately don’t regret going at the end of the event. To say it was HOT is a crazy understatement, and by the time the event officially closed, I was completely drenched in sweat and partially blind as a result. ^_^;

Overall, I still found the whole experience amazing and definitely worthwhile, even in the extreme heat. Even though I’ll be back in Australia by then, I’m definitely considering flying to Japan for Winter Comiket and actually doing the whole thing properly next time. :D

Getting an apartment in Japan

August 10, 2013 •

When I came to Japan to work at pixiv this year, I knew this was going to be my first time in the country where I’d have to actually find a proper apartment to live in. When I came here on my working holiday, I spent the first half of it living in accommodation provided by the company, and the second half was traveling around Osaka, home-staying with Japanese families (Excellent fun, by the way!).

Making things a bit more interesting, I also had a few criteria for the apartment of my dreams:

  • pixiv have a policy where they can add help subsidise your apartment rent, providing the apartment is within a certain distance from the office (So, the closer to the building in Sendagaya, the better!)
  • Since I knew I wasn’t planning to stay in the longterm, ideally the place would be pre-furnished.
  • IDEALLY (but not necessarily), I would like a place that wouldn’t require me to commit to a 2 year contract (And then having to pay piles of money to cancel down the track)

A few weeks before leaving Perth, in probably the most stereotypical way of looking for apartments in Japan, I started my search on GaijinPot.com. I’d heard from a few people that it’s not unheard of for landlords to refuse new tenants purely because they’re not Japanese before, so I figured if it was listed there, they should all be okay.

There ended up being quite a few interesting places on GaijinPot. There was one particular one that I especially liked the look of since it had a loft above the kitchen where the bed (I like lofts. XD) So I sent a message to the realtor and asked that (given my set of criteria above) whether it might be possible to rent that one when I got to Japan. I promptly received a reply from a realtor from Tokyo Best Realtors explaining to me that although that particular unit DID require a 2 year commitment, if we met up once I arrived in Tokyo, they’d be able to help me find a much better suited apartment. I agreed and we scheduled a meeting on the first Saturday of me arriving in Tokyo (free of charge!).

When I actually arrived in Tokyo, I was expecting to start working at pixiv straight away, so I was a little nervous at imagining how I was going to manage full-time work, out of a hotel, while at the same time searching for an apartment (To the point where I was wondering if I should have committed to an apartment before coming to Japan). Interestingly/thankfully, when I arrived at the office, I was informed that it was necessary for my employment registration (including bank account registration) that I have a permanent address before I could actually officially start work. So with my newfound free time, I was looking forward to securing an apartment as fast as possible.

On the first Saturday of being in Japan, I went and met Mr Taka Nomura of Tokyo Best Realtors in a café in Shinjuku to discuss apartment options in the area. Thankfully, he spoke absolutely flawless English, so it was very easy to get down to business (I doubt that I could have done that with my Japanese!).

Mr Nomura explained to me that there is actually a central database of available housing in Japan, accessible only via licensed realtors, and that although online sites like GaijinPot display a good number of apartments, the central database has the most comprehensive list. After showing me the database, he told me that even if I couldn’t get a furnished apartment, it IS possible to rent a full furniture set in Japan (on a yearly basis), so it’s not completely necessary to search for furnished apartments. Anyway, after doing a little bit of searching in the general Shinjuku area, we discovered that there were actually 2 short-term apartments that were available for rent on an ongoing basis (ie you could cancel at any time). One was quite small, but close by, and there was another one that was further away, but a lot bigger.

As it looked like time was going to be of the essence, we left the cafe to go check out the smaller apartment to see what it was like. Since I was actually expecting something tiny, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was actually quite open and felt rather roomy; more than enough for my needs. On top of that, it was still in the range of the pixiv housing subsidy. So without doing too much thinking, I told Mr Nomura that I would definitely like to rent this apartment. Mr Nomura said he’d contact the landlord and see if they’d accept my application.

A few days later, I received an email from Mr Nomura saying that the landlord approved and the apartment would be mine once I’d paid the initial invoice, which consisted of all of the initial setup fees such as cleaning, lock fitting, and remaining rent for the month. After paying that straight away, I had another meeting with Mr Nomura to sign the contract and receive the key, and that was it! The place was mine!

Overall, the process was very quick. It took less than 2 weeks to go from having absolutely no idea what to do, to receiving the keys to my new apartment. I was very impressed at Mr Nomura’s handling of the whole process. He was extremely professional and meticulous in explaining all of the details, and was always extremely prompt when communicating via email.

After this experience, if I was going to do this again, my recommendation now is to most likely bypass GaijinPot and just meet with a Tokyo real estate agency directly once you’ve arrived in Japan. Since they all have access to the same database, you won’t find different places at different agencies, and so it’ll boil down to how the agency will treat you. At this point, I’m very glad to vouch for Tokyo Best Realtors as their service was absolutely amazing.

If you have any questions about this post, feel free to follow me on Twitter, or like my Facebook page!

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