Age of Mobility

Getting Started with 2D Game Development Using GameMaker

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by Nick Landry

Anyone who knows me personally or follows me on Twitter knows that I’m a huge gamer. The problem is that between work, community events, social life, my wife and twin babies, I virtually have no time to play games. I now game vicariously through occasional mobile games, listening to gaming podcasts when I drive, and buying games I’ll probably never have time to play. I have over 20 MMOs installed on my home rig, and I’m addicted to Steam sales (I even have the 250+ badge on Steam).

The cool thing is that Steam started selling software a while back and during one such Steam sale over the holidays, I snagged a copy of GameMaker: Professional for only $25 (that’s 75% off). I decided to take it for a spin (thanks to my colleagues Joe Healy and Daniel Egan for the push). I’m no game development expert. I’m more of a game development enthusiast. I’m also learning Unity on the side, and my game development background is with XNA – a topic I have covered at many conferences and user groups over the last 7 years.

Game development has to be one of the most rewarding forms of software development. You’re basically using your programming skills to make something fun! But game development is also not for the faint of heart as it can truly test your programming skills, knowledge of math, creative juices, imagination and patience. Fortunately, there are cool game engines and IDEs like GameMaker to simplify our lives as we seek to produce fun games in less time.

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What is GameMaker?

As its name implies, GameMaker is a game development environment and engine produced by YoYo Games that lets you design and build cross-platform games for desktop computers, the Web, mobile phones and tablets.

How much does GameMaker cost?

GameMaker: Studio starts out free with the Standard edition. You can download it here from YoYo Games. There used to be 4 editions of GameMaker, where the free edition was limited in the number of resources you could use in your game projects (which translates in the complexity of the game you can build). The free version now has unlimited resources, and that is great news. In terms of support platforms for your games, the free Studio edition used to support Windows Desktop, Mac OS X and Windows Apps (i.e. Windows Store apps on 8.x). Now the free version only supports Windows Desktop.

This means you can start building Windows games for free and anyone with a standard Windows 7 or 8 computer can play your game from the desktop. Distribution won’t be easy though. Publishing to Steam is not that easy and self-publishing outside of public stores can be frustrating. You’ll probably want to publish it to the Windows Store. For that you need to upgrade to the Professional edition for $100. There are other features you will get in the Professional edition, such as texture management, multiple configurations, mobile testing and more. It’s a great bargain and if you already work as a professional developer during the day, surely you can afford a $100 tool.

Important Note: YoYo Games is currently running a Summer sale at the time of this writing. You can get GameMaker Studio Professional for a mere $60. That’s the cost of a single console video game. I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this deal. Other deals have been announced on the other modules. Read more about the sale here.

Beyond Windows Desktop and Windows Store, GameMaker also support additional mobile platforms, but you’ll have to first upgrade to the professional edition, and then buy these modules separately:

  • Windows Phone 8
  • iOS
  • Android
  • Web / HTML5
  • Mac OS X

And quite a few other platform exports are supported too. The following table shows the three editions of GameMaker, their respective features and add-ons. More details on the YoYo Game website here.

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You might be wondering where to buy GameMaker: from Steam or directly from YoYo Games? I’m told that the Steam version has a tendency to lag behind a bit in terms of updates, so you should probably buy direct from YoYo Games if you’re about to pay full price. You’ll also get the option of getting early access builds this way too. Steam does run sales often, so if you can get a great deal, get it on Steam instead.

GameMaker vs. Unity, Construct2, XNA/MonoGame, etc.

Why should I use GameMaker?

Why not use Unity? I hear it’s great and it gives me more exports for free?

These are valid questions. Game development preferences – just like with games – can be quite subjective. Unity is great and I’m learning that engine too. It’s true that GameMaker is not exactly a professional tool, it’s more of a hobbyist & indie tool. That said, I love how GameMaker is much easier to pick-up and build something fast compared to Unity. Unity is by far more powerful than GameMaker, and has a much larger and richer ecosystem around it, but the learning curve with Unity is steeper. Unity was also originally designed as a 3D game development engine. The 2D support added in Unity 4.3 makes it much easier to build 2D games, but it’s not exactly as easy as GameMaker to get started with it.

My game development background is with XNA. It was an awesome framework that simplified game development by creating a level of abstraction above DirectX in managed code and it made it accessible to C# developers. The XNA Content Processing pipeline also made it easy to import media assets in your projects. Unfortunately XNA is no longer being developed on at Microsoft. While it lives on across multiple platforms thanks to the awesome MonoGame project, once you’ve tasted the ease of use of a game development engine like Unity or GameMaker, it’s hard to go back to coding everything yourself, be it in C++ or C#.

There are countless other popular game engines like Construct 2, GameSalad, Cocos2d and Torque, but I’m not familiar with any of them yet. Some are even simpler than GameMaker as they try to avoid scripting/coding as much as possible, while other engines like Unreal, Havok, Marmalade and Hero Engine are for the “big leagues” professional game developers who only swear by C++.

Choosing a game engine is ultimately a personal choice. You should first look at the cost, the programming skills required, the learning curve and the supported platforms. This post is about GameMaker and once you’ve tried it, you’ll know soon enough if it’s for you, or not.

 

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Some Games Built with GameMaker

GameMaker may not have the impressive portfolio of professional AAA or indie games that Unity has, but there are still quite many good games that are powered by GameMaker. It’s a great engine for mobile and indie game development. Some examples include:

There are of course many more games built in GameMaker. Check out the Showcase page here for 30+ more featured GameMaker titles. if you know of other cool games made with GameMaker (even your own), feel free to link them in the comments below.

Learning GameMaker Through Tutorials

This blog post is not about teaching you GameMaker (yet). YoYo Games already has a great set of learning resources for you to get started, and I won’t pretend to supersede that with my own walkthrough. My recommendation is that you go through the tutorials baked directly in the product:

  • Install and launch GameMaker
  • The New Project dialog will be shown. Select the “Tutorials” tab
  • Expand the “Beginner” tutorials branch on the left, select 01_My_First_Game and go through that tutorial, following the step by step instructions for the “bouncing clown” game.

This should give you a good taste of the GameMaker experience. Once you’re done, you can explore the other tutorials.

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There are many more great tutorials available, including:

  • GameMaker Tutorials by YoYo Games
  • GameMaker Tutorials by Shaun Spalding
  • RPG Tutorial Video Series: This series by rm2kdev is fantastic and I’m still going through it myself. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in building a retro RPG in 2D. Note that the series uses the art from the RPG Maker RTP engine, and you are not allowed to use it in games that you publish or sell. This is for learning purposes only.

Speaking of art… where should get your graphics and other media assets for your games?

Obtaining Art Assets for your Games

Since most developers (including myself) are not artists, figuring out which art files to use can be a big challenge when getting started with game development. You can partner-up with an artist to build a joint project together, but it’s usually a good idea to get started on your own with some pre-made assets as you learn the tools of the trade. Once you’ve built one or two test games, you’ll have a better idea on what to look for in an artist, and you’ll be more productive as you collaborate together on a game.

Here are some sources where you can look for pre-made art:

  • YoYo Games Marketplace: This is still new and in the “Early Access” stage. You’ll need the early access version of GameStudio too.
  • OpenGameArt.org: Carefully review the license for any art assets you find there before using them in your games.
  • Unity Asset Store: While this store is optimized for Unity developers, you can still find some good assets there too – some paid, some free.

If you have other sources of open art assets for game developers, please post it in the comments section below and I’ll add it to my post after review.

Remember that you are legally not allowed to simply lift any graphics from the Internet or other games for your own projects. It’s ok to do so if this is just for your own learning experience, but don’t publish these games until you’ve replaced the art with assets you are legally licensed to use.

 

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Packaging Your Game for the Windows Store

Running your game locally or creating an executable capable of running on the Windows desktop is all fine and dandy. That said, I bet you’d like to publish your game in a mobile app store to make it available to millions of users and (hopefully) make some money. You’ll need to buy GameMaker Professional and some additional export modules to package & publish your games to iOS, Android or Windows Phone. Luckily for us, packaging & publishing your game to Windows 8 or Windows RT computers, laptops or tablets via the Windows Store is included in the base Professional edition of GameMaker without the need to buy any extra modules.

If you have an existing GameMaker game you’d like to port to the Windows Store, make sure to read this blog post by my colleague Amanda Lange.

Read this knowledge base article to prepare your GameMaker environment for Windows Store development (referred to as Windows 8 in GameMaker).

Read this other knowledge base article to publish your game to the Windows Store.

For any other questions you might have about publishing GameMaker games to the Windows Store, refer to the GameMaker Windows 8 Knowledge Base here.

GameMaker Reference links

If you have other GameMaker resources to recommend, feel free to include them in the comments below.

You can expect more posts on this blog about game development in the coming weeks and months. Some will be for GameMaker, and others will be for Unity as I explore both tools. have you tried GameMaker before? What did you think of it? Have you published GameMaker titles? Let me know in the comments section below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

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Event Session – Building Universal Windows Apps for Smartphones and Tablets with XAML & C#

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by Nick Landry

The “Blue Wave” is in full swing. Thanks to the new Universal Windows app templates in Visual Studio 2013 Update 2, it is now easier than ever to build mobile apps for both Windows Store and Windows Phone. Developers are curious about the new features and I’ve been touring around speaking at events to spread the word about Universal Windows apps.

I recently presented this talk at Philly Code Camp 2014 last weekend, at the Microsoft Mobile App Devs of New Jersey (MMAD) Meetup and NYC .NET Developers Group.

Session Description

This session is your fast track into the wonderful new world of app development for Windows device. Come learn how your valuable C# skills now make you a hot mobile developer for smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. We’ll perform a quick lap around Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 and the new Windows Universal Apps, build our first app using XAML & C#, and debug it with Windows 8.1 and the Windows Phone Emulator. We’ll then explore the converged WinRT API services and features, such as touch input, accelerometers, Live Tiles, etc. We’ll also spend valuable time going over the new app model for Windows device apps, how to share code between phone and tablet, and how to build a converged UI in XAML for Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone. Lastly we’ll go over the app packaging and how to submit your Universal apps to the Windows Store. The converged Windows Platform is more efficient and far-reaching than ever. Come learn how to build mobile apps for hundreds of millions of Windows device users.

Session Slides

You can view & download the slides for this talk from my Slideshare account here, or you can use the embedded viewer below.

Session Demos

You can download the demos and samples for this session using the links below:

Session Links and Resources

If you have questions about this session, you can ask them in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick. If you’re interested in inviting me to present this talk at your event or meetup, you can reach me via my contact form here.

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Event Session – Beyond Cortana & Siri: Using Speech Recognition & Speech Synthesis for the Next Generation of Mobile Apps

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by Nick Landry

Speech is probably the topic I’m most passionate about when it comes to app development (ok, I have a soft spot for GIS too). From HAL9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Joshua in WarGames, to Star Trek computers, Siri and Cortana, having conversations with a semi-sentient computer using natural language and speech is probably the ultimate frontier of technology. But speech can also be a responsibility for us developers to make sure our apps are usable by all, and to keep our users – and those around them – safe. This talk is one of my favorite. It’s about using Speech Recognition & Speech Synthesis to build the next generation of mobile apps.

I recently presented this talk at Philly Code Camp 2014 last weekend, and at the Microsoft Mobile App Devs of New Jersey (MMAD) Meetup. I’ve also presented it at Internet Week NY 2014 last month, and I’ve done variations of this talk at other events in the past including VSLive, CodePalousa, DevTeach, DVLUP Day Boston and M3 Conference.

Session Description

Our society has a problem. Individuals are hooked on apps, phones, tablets and social networking. We created these devices and these apps that have become a core part of our lives but we stopped short. We failed to recognize some of the problematic situations where our apps are used. People are texting, emailing and chatting while driving. Pedestrians walk into busy intersections and into sidewalk hazards because they refuse to put their phone down. We cannot entirely blame them. We created a mobile revolution, and now we just can’t simply ask them to put it on hold when it’s not convenient. It’s almost an addiction and too often it has led to fatal results.

Furthermore, mobile applications are not always easy to work with due to the small screen and on-screen keyboard. Other people struggle to use traditional computing devices due to handicaps. Using our voice is a natural form of communication amongst humans. Ever since 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’ve been dreaming of computers who can converse with us like HAL9000 or the Star Trek computers. Or maybe you’re part of the new generation of geeks dreaming of Halo’s Cortana? Thanks to the new advances and SDKs for speech recognition and synthesis (aka text-to-speech), we are now several steps closer to this reality. Siri is not the end game, she’s the beginning.

This session explores the design models and development techniques you can use to add voice recognition to your mobile applications, including in-app commands, standard & custom grammars, and voice commands usable outside your app. We’ll also see how your apps can respond to the user via speech synthesis, opening-up a new world of hands-free scenarios. This reality is here, you’ll see actual live cross-platform demos with speech and you can now learn how to do it. Speech support is not just cool or a convenience, it should be a necessity in many apps.

Session Slides

You can view & download the slides for this talk from my Slideshare account here, or you can use the embedded viewer below.

Session Demos

You can download the demos and samples for this session using the links below:

Session Links and Resources

If you have questions about this session, you can ask them in the comments section below or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick. If you’re interested in inviting me to present this talk at your event or meetup, you can reach me via my contact form here.

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Internet of Things Expo Power Panel with Microsoft, IBM, Kaazing, LogMeIn & Aria

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by Nick Landry

I recently had the pleasure of joining a team of experts on the Things Expo Power Panel about the Internet of Things (IoT). The panel was recorded on Monday June 9, right before the Internet of Things Expo – which is part of SYS-CON’s Cloud Expo – which was held June 10-12 2014 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

In this Internet of Things Expo Power Panel, conference chair Roger Strukhoff led a discussion with several industry experts on how the future of computing lies in things and how, as computing takes a much more active role in our lives, it will at the same time become much more invisible. We discuss various company strategies for IoT, the effects of Moore’s Law on IoT, how to connect all these billions (or trillions?) of things in a realistic manner, how can companies get started, and much more.

The panelists were:

You can watch the panel on YouTube here or using the embedded player below:

Here are a few of the things that I mentioned in the panel:

Also, make sure to watch my interview with Kevin Benedict about Microsoft strategy in the Internet of Things recorded the very next day. Watch it here.

Where do you stand in the issues discussed in the panel? What does the Internet of Things mean to you? Is your company a player in that space? Are you a maker? What cool ideas do you have for connecting “things” with devices, computers and the cloud? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Dads: Teach Electronics to your Kids

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My Three Dads

by Nick Landry

Yesterday was Fathers Day. I feel very lucky because I didn’t grow up with one father, I grew up with three fathers. My father, my stepfather and my godfather. All three had a presence and an important role in my life. I am eternally grateful to them. My dad was a career lawyer (pictured above right), and was always quite busy (he’s 76 and still not fully retired). He was there as a great provider and a role model, but he was not the kind of dad who would sit down and play with me, do home projects or spend too much time in my world. Thanks to him I grew up in a nice home with everything I needed, I learned good values, I had unforgettable summers of fun at camp, I learned tennis, I had private ski lessons and a season pass every winter, I got to go to a private high school, and I didn’t pay a dime for University. I’m only scratching the surface here, of course. Thanks Dad.

My godfather was also important to me. My godparents are family friends and I would spend a few weekends a year with them. He was always full of great advice and wisdom, he was fun, and it was thanks to his purchase of the original Macintosh in 1984 that I fell in love with computers. His son was also my childhood best friend, and my godfather treated me like a son. He was also there to listen to me and support me when I had a tough decision to make about my studies and my career. He taught me to follow my dreams. Thanks Pierre-André.

My parents got divorced when I was 9, which is about the age I was when my stepdad entered my life (pictured above left), and I entered his. I know that many unfortunately grew up in a life of conflict with stepparents, but I was blessed to have experienced the most “amicable and stable” divorce you could have for your parents. Both my mom and dad found new soul mates shortly after their separation – and have been with them since – for over 30 years now. My stepdad became that dad that spends time with you, plays with you, listens to you, works on projects with you, and gives you his full attention. We did video projects together – from live action to stop-motion LEGOs. He built a tree house at our summer cottage for me. He did so much renovation work for my new bedroom in the basement, or new apartment, or new house. He filmed and created unforgettable video montages of so many happy moments of my life – including my wedding video. He did so much more, and he always treated me like his own son. Thanks Gaëtan.

Yesterday was also a special Fathers Day for me: it was my first “real” one as a dad. My kids were born shortly before Fathers Day last year but they came early and spent a few weeks in the hospital NICU. I was a father already but I was not truly taking care of them yet, we had an amazing staff of nurses and doctors to do that. Today my kids are 1 and it really felt like Fathers Day. Every since my wife got pregnant I’ve been reflecting on the kind of dad I want to be, in essence striving to take the best of my 3 dads and adding my own touch.

This post is not about how to be a good dad. I barely know that myself and I’ll be learning how to be one for the rest of my life. This post is about one special thing amongst a million that you can do to be a great dad: spend time with your kids and teach them electronics.

 

Science Fair 160 Electronics Projects with Page 1

Left photo courtesy of MightyOhm

My First Electronic Kit

I got my first electronics kit in my early teens. It was a birthday gift from my stepdad. It was one of those popular Science Fair Electronic Project Labs by Tandy | Radio Shack. Mine was the awesome “160 choses à faire” (French for 160-in-1). Oh man, I had so much fun with this. For years I played with it. It was one of those things I could easily pack and bring with me to our cottage. It was safe thanks to these little coils letting you easily connect components without soldering. It was fun, I felt like I could create anything. I learned some electronics basics with it, but I also learned to read carefully. I was learning by reading, but it didn’t feel like homework because it was fun. And I learned patience. Some of those projects could get quite complex, requiring a lot of wiring. And I learned debugging, a skill that I still use today, which also requires a lot of patience. I would many times make a mistake when wiring a project, and I’d have to backtrack and figure out where I went wrong.

It didn’t end there. For years I would look at the Radio Shack catalog, searching for other cool stuff I could beg my parents for. There was a bigger version of this kit, the “200-in-1”. I can’t remember if I actually put it on some wish list, or if I never pulled the trigger to buy one with my savings, but I never got one. I eventually completely destroyed my 160-in-1 for a shop class project in high school and I regret it to this day. I do have fond memories of this kit, and this is something I want my kids to experience.

My kids are only 1 year old, but when they’re old enough, I’ll teach them electronics, and so should you.

 

Video Games and Kids

Electronics, Video Games, Your Kids and You

There are many options you can explore if you want to teach your kids electronics. If you don’t know electronics, learn it with them. All the kit suggestions I’m listing below are pretty much self-explanatory. If you’re a technical individual (chances are good that you are if you’re reading my blog), you’ll pick it up in no time, and can then explain your kid how stuff works. You can spend time together, share victories and frustrations, you can build something, be a maker!

I want to be clear: I am not suggesting that you focus on electronics instead of other important developmental youth activities, such as sports or learning a musical instrument. I am suggesting that you add this to your “dad to-do list”. Extra curricular activities are super important, but they usually all involve driving your kid somewhere and adhering to a fixed schedule. Once your kids are back home, what do they usually do? Hopefully they enjoy reading and do their homework, but chances are they also like watching TV and playing video games.

I have nothing against TV and video games, I’m a huge gamer myself and I grew up with video games. But we’ve come a long way since Pac-Man and Donkey Kong and today’s games are much more “engrossing” (I hate using the word addictive when it comes to gaming). Fighting the lure of an Xbox One is a tough thing to do, and denying them access only leads to frustration on all sides. Video games played in moderation are just fine, but when it becomes too much, try redirecting their attention and interests towards electronics. If they inherited any of your techie genes, they’ll hopefully have fun and pursue it on their own.

Another clarification: Don’t be a cliché. Electronics are not just for boys. Have your little princess learn technical stuff too. You’ll be surprised. Girls are often more patient than boys, and might stick with it even more. She’ll be happy to share something with her dad.

Electronic Kits for All Ages

There are quite a few options to learn electronics. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but as far as I know, these are the most popular options.

Elenco Snap Circuits

Elenco Snap Circuits (age 8+)

Snap Circuits makes learning electronics easy and fun. Just follow the colorful pictures in the manual and build exciting projects such as AM radios, burglar alarms, doorbells and much more. You can even play electronic games with your friends. All parts are mounted on plastic modules and snap together with ease. Enjoy hours of educational fun while learning about electronics. No tools required. Many kits are available, each with more or less parts, letting you create 100, 300 or 750 projects. There is a physics kit and other options too.

 

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littleBits (age 8+)

littleBits consists of tiny circuit-boards with specific functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap together for prototyping, learning and fun. Each bit has a specific function (light, sound, sensors, buttons, thresholds, pulse, motors, etc), and modules snap to make larger circuits. Just as LEGO allows you to create complex structures with very little engineering knowledge, littleBits are small, simple, intuitive, blocks that make creating with sophisticated electronics a matter of snapping small magnets together.

There are several kits available, even a space kit! Newer kits even let you teach programming to your kids. The diversity of projects being created with littleBits is quite astounding.

 

Elencto Electronic Project Labs

Elenco Electronic Project Labs & Playgrounds (age 10+)

Elenco’s Electronic Project Playgrounds & Labs are the spiritual successors to Radio Shack’s popular Science Fair kits. A wide selection is available. These are classic electronics trainers for expanding the depths of electronics understanding. They uses the same spring-wire connection methods as Radio Shack’s Science Fair kits (and a breadboard as well) for quick and easy modifications and troubleshooting. With the projects in this kit, learn about transistors, transformers, diodes, capacitors, oscillators, basic electronic circuits, and schematic symbols. Everything you need to build exciting electronics projects including: Delayed Timer, Optical Volume, Digital Light Dimmer, Tone Burst Generator, Audio Signal Tracer, Voice Level Meter, Voltage Drop Alarm, Function Generator, Voltage Control Amplifier and many, many more.

 

Lego Mindstorms EV3

LEGO Mindstorms EV3 (age 10+)

While technically not an electronics kit – it’s actually a robotics kit – I just couldn’t publish this blog post without talking about LEGO Mindstorms. Some kids will actually be more motivated by stuff that moves rather than stuff that blinks. I grew up with LEGO and while a few kits included some basic electrical motor functions (I never got one of these) I really wish we had a robotics kit like this. The LEGO Mindstorms EV3 is the third generation of Mindstorms and was released in 2013. Combining the versatility of the LEGO building system with the most advanced technology ever developed by LEGO, create and command robots that walk, talk, think and do anything you can imagine (assuming you have the proper parts, of course). Follow the step-by-step 3D building instructions to create multiple pre-designed robots and bring them to life with an easy, intuitive and icon-based programming interface. Grab the enclosed remote control and take on challenging ready-made missions or download the free app and command your robot using your smart device. You can also visit LEGO.com/mindstorms to access loads of cool content and interact with a huge online community of other LEGO MINDSTORMS fans – kids and adults alike.

 

Gadgeteer

Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer

We’re now starting to enter the big leagues. Microsoft .NET Gadgeteer is an open-source toolkit for building small electronic devices using a wide variety of hardware modules and a powerful programming environment based on the .NET Micro Framework and Visual Studio/Visual C# Express. Even someone with little or no electronics background can build devices made up of components like sensors, lights, switches, displays, communications modules, motor controllers, and much more. Just pick your components, plug them into a mainboard and program the way they work together. .NET Gadgeteer uses the .NET Micro Framework to make writing code for your device as easy as writing a desktop, Web or Windows Phone application.

For educators, .NET Gadgeteer is a great way to excite students about programming, electronics and design. For hobbyists and inventors, bring your ideas to life in hours instead of days or weeks. Develop your inventions easily and show your friends and potential investors. Even professional prototypers can go from concept to test in less than a day. Hardware, software and physical design come together to enable quick assessment of sophisticated concepts. A .NET Gadgeteer system is composed of a mainboard containing an embedded processor and a variety of modules which connect to the mainboard through a simple plug-and-play interface. There are lots of .NET Gadgeteer modules available today, including: display, camera, networking, storage and a variety of sensors and input controls. New modules are being designed all the time!

 

Boards

Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Netduino, etc.

Whether you have older kids or you want to learn electronics for yourself, all roads eventually lead to the Arduino and/or the Raspberry Pi. This is where you step beyond just electronics and into the full Internet of Things.

Arduino can sense the environment by receiving input from a variety of sensors and can affect its surroundings by controlling lights, motors, and other actuators. The microcontroller on the board is programmed using the Arduino programming language and the Arduino development environment. Arduino projects can be stand-alone or they can communicate with software running on a computer. The Netduino is an Arduino-compatible development board by Secret Labs that uses .NET Micro Framework to let you build electronics projects with Visual Studio and C#. Secret Labs also has the Netduino Go which offers a plug & play architecture similar to the .NET Gadgeteer.

The Raspberry Pi completely revolutionized the maker space. The Raspberry Pi is a low cost, credit-card sized computer that plugs into a computer monitor or TV, and uses a standard keyboard and mouse. It is a capable little device that enables people of all ages to explore computing, and to learn how to program in languages like Scratch and Python. It’s capable of doing everything you’d expect a desktop computer to do, from browsing the internet and playing high-definition video, to making spreadsheets, word-processing, and playing games. What’s more, the Raspberry Pi  has the ability to interact with the outside world, and has been used in a wide array of digital maker projects, from music machines and parent detectors to weather stations and tweeting birdhouses with infrared cameras.

This world is huge and providing enough details to get started with Arduino or Raspberry is beyond the scope of this post. I’ll be posting more info in future blog entries. Here are a few reference links in the meantime:

 

What’s your story? Did you learn electronics as a kid? Are you teaching electronics to your kids? Do you have advice for other moms or dads who want to go down this path with their kids? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

Oh, and remember that 200-in-1 Science Fair kit I never got? I found one on eBay and 30 years later one of my childhood wishes came true. I can’t wait to show my kids in a few years…

Twins and 200-in-1

Live from New York, it’s the Internet of Things!

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by Nick Landry

I’ve been spending the last couple of days at SYS-CON’s Cloud Expo in New York City – which also includes the Internet of Things Expo (amongst others). It’s been fun so far to connect with attendees at the Microsoft booth and discuss all the goodness that is in Microsoft Azure, and I’ll be back there for another day tomorrow. Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting Kevin Benedict from Cognizant and MobileEnterpriseStrategies.com. We sat down for a short interview to discuss the Internet of Things, how Microsoft plays in that space, where things have been, where things are going, and also discuss some cool scenarios. The possibilities are truly endless.

You can watch the interview right here below. I’ve also included various links to some of the topics discussed at the bottom of this post.

Links from the Interview

What does the Internet of Things mean to you? Are you a maker? What cool ideas do you have for connecting “things” with devices, computers and the cloud? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

App Spotlight: MakerBot Thingiverse

StarTrekReplicator

by Nick Landry

3D printers fascinate me. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I do not own one (yet) though. There are several reasons for that:

  1. I have to convince my wife to let me buy one. No further comments.
  2. I’d have to cough-up a few G’s because I’d buy a really good one, like a tried-and-true MakerBot. There are cheaper alternatives but what I hear is they might have some flaws you only discover after 50-100 prints. Reviewers often don’t get that far before grading a 3D printer. I have more research to do.
  3. What would I print?

The third one used to be the key issue for me. My 3D design skills are quite rudimentary and I’d be afraid of wasting a lot of time and filament (i.e. 3D printing material) only to produce really crappy objects, parts and prototypes.

Then I discovered MakerBot’s Thingiverse.

Oh man, I think I’m gonna have to buy a MakerBot soon. Thingiverse is a portal for 3D designers and makers to share their designs, turning 3D printing into living community where ideas literally come to life. Think of Thingiverse as the internal database of the Enterprise (or Voyager or DS9) replicators. I never saw any Star Trek character play with 3D models before they replicated anything. I bet they had great 3D design engineers at Starfleet to seed the database. The crew just “queried” the database (using voice) and the replicator made it. This truly makes a 3D printer a tool for everyone.

Thingiverse is available on the web, but also as an app for iPhone, Android and now for Windows 8! The Windows Store version works both on Windows 8 and on Windows RT.

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App Description

MakerBot’s Thingiverse is a thriving design community for discovering, making, and sharing 3D printable things. As the world’s largest 3D printing community, we believe that everyone should be encouraged to create and remix 3D things, no matter their technical expertise or previous experience. In the spirit of maintaining an open platform, all designs are encouraged to be licensed under a Creative Commons license.

The Thingiverse app lets you browse Thingiverse from the comfort of your computer. See what we’ve featured, what’s new and noteworthy, what the community has made, and what’s popular. When looking at the things themselves, scroll through beautiful slideshows of photos. Like items, add them to your collections, and quickly share them to your social networks or email.

Make. Share. Discover.

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Impressions

If you’re familiar with the Thingiverse community on the web, you’ll feel right at home in the Windows app. There are featured collections, creations from MakerBot challenges, a global feed showing the latest activity in the community, and a list of recently made “things”. There are even customizable creations which you can personalize with the Customizer app accessible straight from within the Windows app.

You can of course search to your heart’s content. No voice search like Star Trek yet though, hopefully that will come someday. The first thing I searched for when I launched the app? Raspberry Pi cases. Yes, there are tons of them. My next search was cases for the Intel Galileo. Since I’m doing some really cool stuff with mine right now.

When viewing the details page of a “thing” design, you will get:

  • One or more photos of the final result as posted by the designer
  • Instructions (if made available by the designer)
  • Community stat counters for likes, collected, how many makers made one and more
  • User comments
  • Suggestions for other designs
  • File downloads

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If you do not have a community account on Thingiverse, you can create one straight from the app. Once logged in, you can “like” various creations, and create lists of favorites called “Collections”. If you create something someone else designed, make sure to say so in the app and post a nice comment for the designer. It’s a community after all. You can fill out a full profile in the app and also sign-in with your Twitter account.

I was also happy to see the Thingiverse app supporting Snapped View. Snapping Windows apps is in my opinion one of the most underused and underestimated features of Windows 8.x and I find it critical for app developers to support it. MakerBot Thingiverse supports snapped view very well. If you squeeze the app even more, its responsive design will even adapt to the allowed app width and you can use another app side-by-side. It’s amazing how browsing for replicator models works well while watching Star Trek on Netflix.

Overall, I love the app. I highly recommend you take it for a spin. Go download it now!

Do you own a 3D printer? Which one? What do you use it for? If not, are you thinking of buying one? Let me know in the comments section below, or contact me on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

 

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(re)Introducing Windows Platform Developer Magazine

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Almost a year ago, I decided to test the waters on a new feature of my (then) favorite iPad app: Flipboard. Flipboard is still one of my favorite apps on the iPad, and I also use it on Android and Windows 8. Flipboard was basically my favorite way to read all the articles gathered under my own Google Reader, with everything neatly organized like a magazine layout. Flipboard has evolved beyond its RSS roots, especially given the closure of Google Reader. I now use Feedly instead, but Flipboard doesn’t integrate with it. You can still add individual RSS feeds to Flipboard however.

Flipboard also offered article feeds from well known news sources, and later introduced a feature to curate your own magazines, and then share them with the world. Not only limited to mobile devices (especially tablets), Flipboard announced last year that Flipboard Magazines could now be enjoyed on the web.

I decided to experiment with the idea and launched my first Flipboard magazine: Windows Phone Developer – featuring news,  tips, and techniques for mobile developers passionate about Windows Phone. The launch “issue” included 66 articles from the past month, covering Windows Phone both the end user and the developer point of view. The months went buy, the magaine grew with more articles and more readers and I can honestly say that so far this has been a successful experiment:

  • Over 300 articles!
  • Over 48,000 readers!!
  • Over 1 million page flips!!!

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Today I am re-branding and re-launching my Flipboard magazine for a new world of Universal Windows apps for phones, tablets, laptops, desktops & other Windows devices. Introducing:

Windows Platform Developer Magazine! Access it here at http://aka.ms/wpdevmag

The articles in Windows Platform Developer Magazine are curated from various sources, including official Microsoft blogs, DVLUP, Conversations on Nokia, Windows Phone Central, and other sources including blogs from MVPs, community experts and such. If you feel there is another source of articles I should be drawing from, feel free to let me know in the comments below. I also individually select and curate each article that goes in. I do not use scripts to populate the magazine from RSS feeds. As such, the appearance of new articles is not always regular, and I promise to stay on top of things to keep the content fresh.

So go try it out. Download the Flipboard app on Windows 8, iOS or Android, and subscribe to Windows Platform Developer Magazine at http://aka.ms/wpdevmag. You can also use the link to flip through in a web browser.

What do you think? Do you like the magazine? I will be announcing a couple more magazines soon. Are there more topics you’d like me to cover in other magazines? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter at @ActiveNick.

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Join ActiveNick for Studio Time in New Jersey + New Win8 Dev Contest

BAMcontest

What is Studio Time?

Studio Time – also known as Office Hours – is a block of time set aside to allow Windows Phone & Windows 8 developers to work on their apps/games and get some help and guidance in technical areas or with their app UX, design, and marketing. This is also a good opportunity for you to do some real user testing or get some guidance and feedback on how to improve the overall functionality and/or aesthetic of your applications.

This work session is the first of many I will be hosting at the Microsoft Iselin office in New Jersey. Studio Time sessions are open to anyone looking for some time and help to finish their project before publishing, or work on driving more downloads for their apps and games. Formal presentations are NOT held during office hours and these events will remain unstructured. Office hours will typically open at 4:00PM but feel free to arrive when you want. Check the schedule on the New Jersey Windows & Windows Phone Dev Meetup site for the exact schedule and hours.

Cross-platform developers who work on iOS and Android as well as the Windows device platforms are welcome – whether they use native tools or PhoneGap, Xamarin or various game engines. Note that Studio Time is about guidance, learning, sharing & testing. This is NOT a premier-level technical support service. If you have some esoteric bug or technical issue for which you cannot find any help online, don’t expect miracles during Studio Time.

If you have any questions about Studio Time, feel free to ask in the comments section below.

Please RSVP for Studio Time

Your name must be added to the building security list so please RSVP and do not show-up unannounced. Since there is a limited number of seats, please keep your RSVP up-to-date. If you RSVP and later realize you cannot make it, please cancel your spot as a courtesy to the event host and other attendees.

To RSVP and get the Studio Time schedule, times & location, visit my Meetup page. I will be adding more sessions over the following weeks and months. Join the Meetup to stay informed.

Microsoft’s Best App a Month Contest

I also want to let you know about a new contest we are running from March to June 2014 that might be of interest to some of you working on your Windows 8  apps. It’s called Microsoft’s Best App a Month Contest.

We want to find and showcase cool and innovative apps and games on the Windows 8 platform. Have you created something recently we should know about and have attended one Studio Time that month? Do you have an idea for a cool Windows 8 app or game and you’re just getting started? If so, enter your app / game into the Best App A Month Contest, where you could win a new Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet.

Who Can Enter

Legal residents of the US and DC 18 years and older who attend at least one monthly in-person Microsoft app development session (aka Studio Time) in an eligible location. I will be hosting the Iselin, NJ location. The other locations are New York City, Boston, Rochester, Atlanta, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Philadelphia, Raleigh and Washington DC.

How to Enter

Publish an app during one of the Monthly Prize Periods Mar-Jun 2014 and submit your entry via the city-specific web site form. Note that since Studio Time is only starting now in the Iselin, NJ office, the March & April entries will be combined for the April prize.

Entry form for Iselin, NJ: http://aka.ms/BAMnj

Prizes & How to Win

One winner will be chosen from each location each month using the following criteria:

  • Use of modern design and features
  • Performs as described without crashing
  • Originality and uniqueness
  • Use of Azure cloud services or storage

Prizes: Each monthly winning developer will receive a Dell Venue 8 Pro Windows 8.1 Tablet (ARV $299).

Terms & Conditions: You can win more than once in each city, but you cannot win in more than one city. This Contest starts at 12:01 A.M. Pacific Time (PT) on March 1, 2014, and ends at 11:59 P.M. PT on June 30, 2014 and will consist of monthly prize periods and participating locations. Important: For the Iselin, NJ location, the months of March & April will be combined into a single prize, then followed by separate prizes for May and June. Please read the terms and conditions for more details.

Good luck! Get started with your Windows 8 apps and I’m looking forward to seeing you at my upcoming Studio Time sessions. Please feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @ActiveNick or in the comments below with any questions you may have.

Announcing Nokia DVLUP Day New York City: March 22

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Learn to make amazing Windows Phone apps at Nokia DVLUP Day in New York City on Saturday March 22, 2014 and win big prizes just for participating. Join Nokia Developer Ambassadors Nick Landry & Lance McCarthy, as well as several Microsoft Technical Evangelists, as they provide hands-on Windows Phone development training in a dynamic and fun event. Whether you’re a seasoned developer or barely know how to code, you will walk away with the ability to write a mobile app.

With full sample source code and step-by-step instructions, you will learn how to make an app or game from scratch, or learn new techniques to enhance your current apps & games. No matter what you want to build – an app or a game – or what your programming skill level is, four individual tracks to choose from means there is something for everyone.

DVLUP Day is a unique community event that combines presentations by Windows Phone experts along with a hands-on workshop to help attendees get started on their apps. BRING YOUR LAPTOP! Work with our experts, get started on your app or game, publish it within 3 weeks after the event and get a free Windows Phone 8 device!

Register for free on Eventbrite here

Location

DVLUP Day New York City will be held on March 22, 2014 at the new Microsoft Office in Manhattan at:

11 Times Square, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Click here for a map and directions

What You Will Receive

As an attendee of DVLUP Day NYC you will be eligible for the following:

  • A Windows Phone 8 device. Every attendee who publishes a new app or game within 3 weeks of the event will get a new Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 8 device. Developers who update an app or game older than 6 months with significant changes are also eligible.
  • A heavy-duty DVLUP backpack. The first 150 registered attendees to sign-in the morning of the event will receive a swag bag full of goodies, even the backpack itself is worth $89 (it’s a Wenger, Swiss Gear TSA friendly laptop bag). We’ll have swag, t-shirts and other goodies for everyone too.
  • A Nokia Developer Offers token. This is worth hundreds of dollars and contains the following:
    • Microsoft Windows Phone DevCenter account (this is your portal to publish apps to the Windows Phone Store and also unlocks physical devices for building apps)
    • Telerik UI for Windows Phone license
    • Infragistics NetAdvantage for Windows Phone license
    • BugSense Performance Monitoring solution for Windows Phone (3 months)
  • $50 AdDuplex credit (approx. 20,000 ad impressions). AdDuplex is an ideal network to cross-promote your app with others. You’ll learn about AdDuplex in the App Marketing & Advertising lightning talk.

There will be multiple random drawings for all attendees to win a Nokia Lumia “Hero” device of their choice (Lumia 1020, 928, 925, 920) and other prizes. In addition to the phones, we’ll be giving away other prizes from Nokia & Microsoft, including JBL PowerUp Bluetooth Speakers, Xbox ONE and Xbox 360 games, software licenses, gadgets and more. The first drawing will be during the Lightning Talks after the day of training for all attendees. Another drawing will be held near the end of the event in the evening for the attendees who stayed to code and get help during the hands-on workshop.

Breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner will be served. Come see the latest Windows Phone & Windows 8 devices in our device bar, and connect with other developers in the community

Register for free today! This is a unique event you just can’t miss!

DVLUP Day NYC Agenda – March 22, 2014

8:00am – Registration Opens: Continental breakfast & coffee will be served.

9:00am – Opening Session: Introduction from Nokia, meet the experts, housekeeping.

*** 15 min break ***

10:00am – Windows Phone Breakout Sessions: 4 tracks

  • Track 1: App Development – Getting Started & App Studio
  • Track 2: App Development – Maps, Imaging & Cloud Services
  • Track 3: Game Development – Getting Started with Unity
  • Track 4: Game Development – Porting Unity Games to Windows Phone

12:30pm – Lunch Break

1:30pm – Breakout Sessions Continue (same tracks)

*** 15 min break ***

3:00pm –Lightning Talks with Q&A

  • App Design & User Experience
  • Windows Phone Packaging & App Store Submission
  • App Marketing & Advertising

4:00pm – Hands-on workshop begins – All staff on hand to help you get started

6:30pm – Dinner Break

9:30pm – Event Ends

Register for free on Eventbrite here

Track 1: App Development – Getting Started & App Studio

Learn how to write Windows Phone apps with XAML/C# and explore the amazing APIs available to you. See first-hand how to use the powerful tools, Visual Studio and Blend, to produce great apps with amazing UIs. You will also learn how to generate a store-ready Windows Phone app in under an hour using Microsoft App Studio. Learn how to get started with App Studio and have a store ready app without having to write a single line of code. Then take a dive into the downloadable source code to discover how to customize your app further.

Track 2: App Development – Maps, Imaging & Cloud Development

So you’re already experienced with Windows Phone app development and you want to take your apps to the next level. Join us for a deeper dive into some specific SDKs for Windows Phone developers. You’ll learn about location services, maps and how to call Geospatial Information Services (GIS) from your apps. We’ll also explore the Nokia Imaging SDK, letting you easily add advanced imaging effects and filters when dealing with photos in your apps. Finally, we’ll see how your apps can reach leverage Windows Azure to create a custom back-end to store structured and unstructured data in the cloud and deliver a compelling user experiences. We’ll discuss how you can use Windows Azure to extend the on-line presence of your app by building additional channels to showcase your application and interact with your end-users.

Track 3: Game Development – Getting Started with Unity

Learn how to make fun games for Windows Phone using Unity. In this track you will learn how to code casual 2D games for Windows Phone using one of the best game engines and toolset – used by Indies and Pros alike. And the best part is it’s free! Game development is one of the most fun and rewarding forms of software development. If you’ve ever considered writing games, this is your chance to get started.

Track 4: Game Development – Porting Unity Games to Windows Phone

If you’re already an experienced Unity developer and have published games on other platforms like iOS =, Android, PC or others, come join this session to learn how you can reach a whole new audience of gamers on the Windows Phone platform. Learn about adapting your game for touch controls, how to deal with Windows Phone specific considerations, and we’ll even help you to bring your game to the Windows Store too.

Developer Environment Needed

Windows Phone 8 development requires Windows 8.x Pro to install the SDK and emulator. If you’re running Windows 7, you can still build Windows Phone 7.8 apps using the 7.1 SDK. If you’re using a Mac, you can create a Windows 8.x Pro virtualized environment using Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion.

All attendees can build Windows Phone applications using a web browser and Microsoft App Studio, as covered in Track 1.

For more information on getting started, visit http://www.ageofmobility.com/?page_id=961.

See You There!

DVLUP Day was a huge hit with developers in 2013, with stops in Boston, Tampa, Sunnyvale and Vancouver. This is going to be an awesome day in New York City and I look forward to seeing you all there. Just for showing up and learning, you get hooked up. Just for publishing an app, you get hooked up. Mark off that Saturday March 22, register now and come join us.

Mobility42: Apps for Life, the Universe and Everything