Interview with Intel Software Innovator Peach Pellen

Published Date
25 - Jun - 2015
| Last Updated
25 - Jun - 2015
 
Interview with Intel Software Innovator Peach Pellen

The Intel® Software Innovator program  supports innovative independent developers who display an ability to create and demonstrate forward looking projects, by providing them speakership and demo opportunities at industry events and developer gatherings. From autonomous robots, to innovative 2nd screen applications, to performance graphic and game systems that go beyond industry standards, Intel Software Innovators demonstrate a spirit of ingenuity, experimentation, and forward thinking that inspire the greater developer community.

One of these Innovators is Peach Pellen, CTO of Black Gate Games. Peach graciously gave us some of her time to talk about her background, her work with Black Gate Games, and what projects she’s working on at the moment.

Tell us about your background.

I started out in the very early days of mobile apps – I had no prior experience and, at the time, I was a nerdy high school dropout looking for a career change. I used to be a writer, but the stress of keeping up with writing news articles at all hours and almost no sleep landed me in the hospital where I was technically, very briefly, dead.  (I like telling that story, I say “Writing literally killed me”, wait for someone to accuse me of misusing the word “literally”, and then elaborate.)

I’d always been very nerdy and with the app market just starting to appear, I dove right in, first with GameSalad, a drag and drop tool, then with the Corona SDK, which meant teaching myself how to code. As I did so, I wrote tutorials for others who were totally new to development and was noticed by Carlos Icaza (the founder of Ansca Mobile, creator of the Corona SDK) and began officially working in the industry.

I was very lucky to be taken in by Carlos, he provided, (and 5 years on continues to provide,) mentorship and helped me learn a tremendous amount about mobile technology as well as the industry as a whole, entrepreneurship and what it takes to create a successful application. I was able to focus on learning the skills that would be most useful in not only creating apps but helping developers, both new and experienced, do the same. When he decided to move on from his position as CEO of Ansca and found Lanica, the creator of Platino, I came along and it was at this time I became involved with Intel, attending MWC 2014 in Barcelona as one of their speakers, and began work with our engineers for improved x86 support.

Then, at the start of this year, Black Gate Games acquired Platino and I joined the company as Head of Product Management and Evangelist, before I was promoted to CTO – a move that made sense given my involvement with Platino, and my vast amount of experience in the industry, having been involved since the beginning as both a developer myself and in technical support roles. This is a very exciting time for both the Platino Engine and myself, as it allows me to truly prioritize things I consider vital, from improved performance, to Intel RealSense support, all the way to new platforms we will be adding support for. That I am now in a position to take feedback from our developers and really run with it is amazing to me, it’s what I wished I could do when I was starting out – change and grow the engine in ways the community was really passionate about. The best part of my job is talking with developers and watching their most-wanted features become a reality.

Tell us about your company:

Black Gate Games was founded in late 2014 by John Gould, the CEO of Avatar Software. The company was born from a desire to create great cross platform mobile games using JavaScript with the Platino Engine, used to create 2d and 2.5d games, which the company acquired in January 2015. The team is made up of veterans from the mobile, software and gaming fields. Platino is the major focus of the company, improving the popular game engine for our existing developers and for our own in-house development; among the many things we are currently implementing is support for Intel’s RealSense Snapshot technology so that it might be integrated in games created with Platino.

What got you interested in coding and development?

I’d always loved the idea of making games, and I found “code” (very simple HTML is all I’d touched in the past) fascinating. I used to just love programs like RPG Maker as a kid and I’ve always enjoyed creating something from nothing. I got deeper into it as I found I was able to connect with others and help them; people who had never coded before and thought it would be impossible to learn were telling me that my approach, (I always write my newbie tutorials presuming no prior knowledge, which is uncommon,) had allowed them to actually create an app; that has grown my passion for coding and development exponentially. My interest was encouraged by Grant Bertram (R.I.P.), my former partner back in Australia and an avid programmer, he felt my very logical way of thinking would be an advantage, and it truly was.

What project(s) are you most proud of?

My first website dedicated to coding, Techority.com, through which I was able to help several thousand people who needed tutorials for getting started, adding features, all the way up to publishing their own projects.

I am also VERY proud of Platino and how far it has come, as well as the behind-the-scenes changes coming in the next updates – although I have tremendous pride in the engine, the main source of my pride is a combination of my colleagues who have built and continue to innovate on the engine, and the community of developers who not only use Platino and inspire me with their work, but also provide resources, samples and tutorials for their fellow developers.

I’ve also been lucky enough to work on some awesome projects with companies such as Disney and the NFL.

What are you currently working on?

Right now my focus is on overseeing the team improving Platino, ensuring x86 retains complete support in all updates, and figuring out how we will best be able to show off our upcoming support of Intel RealSense Snapshot technology in samples and demos.

Tell us about your projects you have going right now; what are your future plans for these?

My primary project, outside of my duties as CTO, is creating an Udemy course for Titanium, the SDK Platino plugs into, allowing users to make games and not just apps. Titanium fully supports building for x86 devices already and once the course is complete, I hope to follow it up with one on Platino, showing how one JavaScript codebase can run across a range of devices. I would also like to start creating content for my new personal Platino website, learnplatino.com, before the end of the month. (I have been delaying this while we work on our next update to the engine.)

Did you use Intel tools to develop these projects?

No, but stay tuned; our samples are running flawlessly on the range of Intel devices we have been testing on, and as mentioned, the implementation of Intel RealSense will really tie our support for Intel powered devices together.

What do you think are the standout features about your project that everyone should know?

Platino lets developers build native, cross-platform apps with their JavaScript code. We are the only existing game engine to produce truly native builds to submit to the app stores. We also support x86 out of the box and have a number of fantastic features built right in, from native widgets (coming from Titanium) to sprites, particles, physics and the ability to add new features with modules, be they your own native code, or provided by other developers to the community.

One of our biggest advantages is that because we use JavaScript, Platino is very easy for new coders to pick up and learn using our tutorials and samples, but with our low-level access it is also ideal for experienced developers who want more power and flexibility, or to be able to use their own native (Java or Objective-C) code.

What programming language did you use and why?

Platino uses JavaScript because it is intuitive and easy to pick up and run with; I was able to learn enough to make a boggle clone in one day at a time in the past when the only language I had any experience with was Lua. It’s also flexible and opens up mobile development to web developers who are already familiar with the language, making it easy for them to learn our Platino-specific APIs. Finally, JavaScript is a hugely popular language, which means there are already a vast variety of resources, books, forums, etc. for when developers get stuck. (We provide our own support of course, but the more resources, the better!)

What IDE or development framework did you use and why?

Platino plugs into Appcelerator’s Titanium SDK so we’re using Titanium Studio, an Eclipse-based IDE. There are other Platino IDEs in the works that will give users more flexibility there, although personally I’m still a fan of an editor like TextMate or Sublime and command line builds.

Tell us about your experience with Intel technology while developing this project.

Intel has changed my opinion of Android* drastically. A few years ago, I was not a fan at all; the number of dreadful devices I’d used had really tainted my opinion there. I ended up attending an Intel event about 2 years ago and quickly became involved with testing Platino’s ability to support x86. (The previous company I worked for, Lanica, owned Platino prior to Black Gate Games acquiring the engine, I migrated along with it.)
Since getting more involved, playing with some of Intel’s tools and technology, and really working with several Intel-powered devices, I’ve become an advocate for Android and own multiple devices for personal use, not only for work. The performance on the Intel-powered Dell Venue 8 blows other devices out of the water; it really got me and the team passionate about Intel RealSense technology..

What trends do you see in app development?

In the past 18 months we’ve seen “Freemium” games rise up, full of In-App-Purchases, to consistently dominant the app stores highest grossing positions; this trend has now extended to paid apps, with excessive additional purchases needed to get key features in apps, or items and boosts in games, which will often have some form of “energy” dictating how long you can play before having to either wait for said “energy” to refill, or pay extra to continue. Thankfully, this has led to several independent developers and larger studios bucking the trend, which I’ll get to in a moment.

The second trend I’ve noticed, which to me is awesome, is the number of truly cross platform applications popping up. I believe that frameworks like Platino will continue to grow and become even more widely adapted, until cross-platform becomes the norm; this belief has formed over the past few years as I’ve watched a growing number of developers realize that by writing their code once in a language such as JavaScript, then deploying to multiple platforms, they save time and money – JavaScript is much faster to create with than Obj-C or Java, and maintaining only one code base cuts the development time in half from there. A developer using an engine such as Platino to build for only Android can cut their development time down by anywhere from 50% to as much as 90% in some cases, with the average developer I’ve talked to believing this number averages around 80% - and then, with truly cross platform engines like Platino, the time to rebuild that application for iOS takes less than two minutes. More and more developers are realizing that even if they don’t want to go cross-platform, the amount of time they save on an iOS or Android-only app ultimately makes it the only viable option unless you have money to burn.

What is exciting for you right now in app development?

As I mentioned above, the “Freemium” trend, (at least in its most aggressive forms, there is nothing wrong with IAP,) has led to some awesome developers actively going against this trend. There are developers out there such as Kairosoft, Armor Games, who have a number of games available to buy without any IAP, as well as Firemaple Games and Mika Mobile, both of whom exclusively use the traditional pay once, play forever system. Finally you have companies like Chillingo who, while guilty of following the hardcore freemium trend in some of their games, have also released games like Puzzle Craft (one of my favorite games right now) where there is IAP to gain access to more of the game without putting the work in, but can be played endlessly without running out of any kind of energy; this makes IAP an option, not a requirement, to make the game enjoyable and I am very excited to see more developers starting to embrace this and abandoning the aggressive freemium model.

I am also extremely excited about RealSense Snapshot technology; I believe that it’s going to be infinitely useful in app development but will also see some fantastic, creative implementation in games, allowing for a new kind of interactivity. I believe that within the next year we are going to see those who get on board early and work on creating something unique and engaging will end up with apps that not only achieve tremendous attention and accolades, but also are held up as examples of how new technologies like the Intel RealSense Snapshot are able to have a significant and lasting impact on mobile development without additional hardware. (The latest big trends we’ve seen have been smart watches, Bluetooth headsets, clip on camera lenses, charging cases, console-style controllers – all awesome, none built into your device.)

What do you think has been the biggest challenge for you personally in app development?

I’ve been a developer for 6+ years now and my biggest challenge, by far, was finding the right framework for building cross platform was really difficult. Many create apps that are not truly native, use analytics without the developer’s permission, bloat apps with unnecessary libraries or, with one particular SDK; they actually released their own cloud platform and killed it off again within two months of the release because they ended up with less than 10 people using it. Finding a framework that didn’t have those issues was vital for me; cross platform should mean cross platform, and I don’t have two months of development time to lose because a company decides to kill off a product with zero warning, labeling it an “experiment”.  Ultimately I only had to deal with this challenge once, I’d been using an SDK owned by the company I was working for at the time, started to see a lot of these issues appearing, stopped using it for my own apps and left the company, I was very lucky in that regard; within an hour I had paperwork in my hand and was working on Platino, the engine I’ve been using exclusively for game development since 2012. (For utility type applications with no game-type features or functionality, I use Appcelerator’s Titanium SDK, it supports x86 and is of course cross platform. Excellent SDK.)

The biggest success story?

I’m unfortunately prohibited from talking about particular client applications I’ve worked on in detail and that has been the bulk of my development work in terms of complete applications.

So, outside of published applications I’m not able to discuss, when I think of my career so far, there are two things I’m very proud of –
1) I’ve been able to mentor a number of people who consider me a success story; I was living in poverty less than a decade ago before I taught myself how to code and managed to make a go of it, become recognized as an authority on mobile development with a number of SDKs, the longest I’ve been unemployed since I started working with Carlos back at Ansca has been one hour and now I’m sitting here having just become a CTO at a fantastic company.

2) I have taught a LOT of people how to code with no prior experience, but one particular dev who came to me, who I’ll call X for the sake of privacy, was completely tech-illiterate. Their computer was freezing because the drive was full and they didn’t know how to check the space left, how much RAM they had, what operating system they were on beyond “It’s a Macintosh!” – X was convinced they could never make an app. They now have several and have run workshops for kids learning how to code. Definitely a success story.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank Intel wholeheartedly for the opportunity to be a part of their Innovator program, it has given me a chance to stay more informed about, and embrace new and exciting technology and meet more fellow developers working on amazing projects. It also made GDC especially interesting this year, as I spent quite a lot of time in the Intel area and met a LOT of amazing people, including several other female developers, which was just awesome. I look forward to seeing how Platino can work with Intel to bring our developers access to exciting new technologies like RealSense Snapshot, in the coming months.

A big thank you to Ms. Pellen for sharing her story with us! You can contact Peach via peachpellen.com or twitter (http://twitter.com/peachpellen). If you’d like to learn more about some of the technologies mentioned in this article, please check out the following links:

  • Intel RealSense Developer Zone
  • Intel Android Developer Zone
  • Intel Software Innovators Program
  • Techority.com
  • Platino
  • Black Gate Games

For more such intel resources and tools from Intel, please visit the Intel® Developer Zone

Source: https://software.intel.com/en-us/blogs/2015/04/09/interview-with-intel-software-innovator-peach-pellen