Bubble Pets (no longer available)

Bubble Pets iPhone

Bubble Pets is a retro-styled, twitch action shooter. Described as “Whack-A-Mole on steroids”, it features bizarre, colourful characters, bonus stages, leaderboards, and sharing functions.

My first journey into game development, I started working on Bubble Pets in May 2010, and it was on the App Store in early October of the same year.

A month earlier, I decided I wanted to make a game for the iPhone. I was inspired by the fantastic simple retro games made by Japanese developer Poppy, and wanted to make my own.

I had studied programming years previously in university – I mainly learned Cobol – but I had never practiced it and never basically forgotten everything I learned. Essentially, I was starting from scratch.

I Googled “how to learn programming again.”

After some dead-ends, I went to and completed all the C tutorials.

Feeling confident, I checked out a Big Nerd Ranch book on Objective-C (the langauge used to program on iOS).

I was stuck on the 3rd tutorial. It just didn’t click. I felt defeated.

I read somewhere that when learning programming, if one source material doesn’t stick with you or isn’t working, maybe you just need it explained in a different way. I picked up Programming in Objective-C by Stephen G. Kochan.

It was a fantastic book. Kochan is excellent at breaking down complex concepts into relatable metaphors. Everything started making sense.

I didn’t complete all the tutorials in the book, but it prepared me with everything I needed to get started in iOS development.

I started researching how to make a game. I learned that to make a game, I needed a game engine. I researched a few, and came across cocos2d-iphone. I decided to stick with it because it was Objective-C, and because the community forum was very active.

I made a test app with sprite frames shamelessly ripped from Rush ‘n Attack for the NES. The app launched and a man running on the spot, with missing animation frames appeared on a black background. It didn’t do anything else.

Next, I made a test project. I decided on a “Simon” type game with green squares.

Bubble Pets early dev screen

It didn’t look like much, but it worked. I felt like a hacking genius. It wsa time to make a real game.

I jotted down notes, and played around with different ideas. I decided on pixel art because 1) I’m not an artist, and 2) I love retro games.

My first idea was “Pet Feed”, with the idea of tossing “food” at various pets or animals. Throw a bone at a dog: get points. Throw a fish at a cat: get points. Throw a bone at a cat: game over (obviously.)

Bubble Pets idea

I played around with some tests, but the concept never really worked. I then decided to make a more fast action “Wild Gunman” or “whack-a-mole” type game.

Over the next 3 months, I spent all of my free time and weekends working on it. I wanted to give up many times and almost did. I kept telling myself that “the only difference between me and the developer with the app on the store right now, is the developer with the app on the store never gave up.”

Bubble Pets second attempt

After play-testing, tweaking, adding more content, and going through provision hell, it was ready to go. I published it to the App Store, and spread the word.

Bubble Pets Level 1 Bubble Pets Dino on the Moon Bubble Pets Airplane Bubble Pets Octobus

It received a few thousand downloads. Reviews were good, and I even had a print magazine review!

Bubble Pets Review

UK Tap! Magazine (print, issue 2), 2010

Just as quickly as it felt like it was gaining steam, things tapered off. I did a couple of updates, but nothing matched the initial attention, so I decided to move on and started working on my next project.


Technologies used

Made in Shanghai, China in 2010