Coding Portable Poetry

A few years ago, at the Obx Labs, we created the Java prototype of “What They Speak When They Speak To Me” (Speak), an interactive poem conceived by Jason Lewis. The early prototype was then taken by Elie Zananiri who transformed it into a final, polished installation intended for large touchscreens.

Now that touchscreens are easily accessible to a large crowd of gadget baring people, the opportunity to show Speak to a larger audience is at our fingertips. The task was to port the Java application, which makes use of the NextText framework, to the iPad first, and all other iOS devices. Speak is 2D, it contains an interactive text with glyphs that move around following the reader’s touch, and it relies on JOGL, so we chose Cocos2D for iPhone because it quickly provides support for sprites, bitmap font atlases and OpenGL.

Cocos2D ended up being a great tool for the job. The only caveat might be with its CCAction system, which is not always the most efficient way to manage a large number of sprites, but in the end, it works. We wrestled with the ad hoc distribution process and the code signing madness that Apple put together to give the app to a few people to get feedback, and we are currently beta testing Speak, tweaking font sizes and adjusting colors.

Look for it in the App Store in a few weeks, under the name “Speak”.

Some useful resources found in the process:

  1. OOPS has a great post summarizing the basic resources needed for universal apps: Icons and launch images for the iPhone and iPad
  2. Steffen Itterheim has a mighty collection of source code and posts about Learning Cocos2D, and a book soon.
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