Apps and Apple: Award-winning devs behind Wylde Flowers, GoodNotes on working with the iPhone maker | Exclusive

Wylde Flowers is a narrative farm life simulation. GoodNotes is a freeform digital paper app.

a software developer created a new tool which will allow Apple users to change the system of iPhone font on iOS 16 (Photo credit: Reuters)

When Melbourne-based developer Studio Drydock started making Wylde Flowers, one thing was a sure-shot given. The game would be a flag-bearer of their core ethos— to represent the marginalised and celebrate diversity. Apple seemed like an obvious choice for a partner for the developer and its Arcade service was a natural fit for their upcoming game. (Co-incidentally, both Studio Drydock and Apple Arcade started roughly around the same time in 2019.) Wylde Flowers was launched in February 2022, first on Apple Arcade and on the Nintendo Switch and PC shortly thereafter. It would go on to win Apple Arcade Game of the Year, the very same year.   

“I will admit that it was a shock,” Amanda Schofield, Co-Founder of Drydock Studios tells FE. “Little bit before a game launch, you kind of see it all come together for the first time and that was the first time that I really said, oh, there’s something special here but I was just shocked with how obsessive our fans are for the world of Wylde Flowers,” she says, adding how the game has since chalked out a frenzy among players who’ve been showing their love through all sorts of things from cosplay to fan art.

Evidently, it’s not an experience that people have and then just walk away from. But it really stays with them and that means a lot to Schofield and Co., and for good reason. “Our team has put so much of themselves into this game and for it to be so well received has just been a really emotional experience. We’re very proud,” she says.  

Wylde Flowers is a narrative farm life simulation where you play Tara, a young girl from the city who’s just moved to the fictional island of Fairhaven to be with her grandmother and help her around her farm. Here, she can tend to all sorts of “comfort” activities from farming, to fishing, getting to know people, and even find love if she’s lucky. The concept is anything but new. Games like Stardew Valley and even the very recent cult hit Animal Crossing have made comfort games more mainstream. But Wylde Flowers adds a supernatural twist to it, also.

Wylde Flowers is a narrative farm life simulation. (Photo credit: Apple)

One of the key USPs of this game is that it is fully voice active from beginning to the end. That’s over 18 hours of dialogue, Schofield mentions, spread across a 30-to-60-hour game. Believe it or not, that wasn’t the plan to begin with, or so we are told.

“Honestly, the game that you see today would have been a much smaller game without the Apple team. I doubt I would have called it a narrative game at all,” she admits. 

Schofield talks about one of their early meetings where Apple asked if there was any way they could make the game bigger, something that apparently “doesn’t get asked a lot in those kinds of meetings.” Adding voiceover was high on their list owing to the nature of the story that they were trying to tell. Apple was not only all ears, it actually backed the idea and pushed for it to be implemented.   

Diversity, likewise, was a key metric. The idea –behind Fairhaven – was to make a world where people of all ages, body type, sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, you name it, could come in and say, “I am seeing myself for the first time in a game in a meaningful way and in a way that I [can] really relate to.” And even though this world at its heart would appear to be cozy, it doesn’t shy away from bringing real world issues like grief and prejudice to the foray.

“There’s only a handful of publishers in the world where you can say that this is something that they will defend,” Schofield says, adding that “Apple Arcade may still be a baby platform but the whole might of Apple is behind it. We’ve got a partner that spans the globe, has connections to people and through that, we’ve become a much bigger game than we would have been otherwise.”

Special emphasis was given on character development. Schofield in fact goes so far as to say that their characters emote “similar to the way that a Disney or a Pixar movie would emote.” Wylde Flowers has over 350 cutscenes spanning six and a half hours.

“If we’re asking people to sit through two movies, effectively, it needs to be really engaging,” she says, but even more importantly, “what we have found is that people watch Wylde Flowers the way they would binge a Netflix show,” which is a testament to the fact that all the effort that Studio Drydock has put into the game, has been resonating with the masses.

Paper planes

For Steven Chan, a student of math in college, jotting down equations on paper using pen was second nature. And like most of us who’ve been there done that, so was leaving behind a mess of scrunched up paper full of wrong equations. The iPad, it seems, couldn’t have come any sooner.

When Apple launched the first iPad in 2010, Chan “naturally” got on-board and started experimenting with all the different note-taking apps available at the time. But he couldn’t find one that piqued his interest. So, what did he do? Well, he decided to write one himself.

He worked almost full time on the app during his last semester skipping all lectures, only taking up assignments and exams. At the end, he got some of the worst grades he had ever made throughout his college days, but he did manage to finish the app. The app called GoodNotes would go on to win the iPad App of the Year award, 12 years later.

“For the first five years, it was just me alone, doing everything from coding to customer support to graphics design,” Chan tells FE, adding that “I treated it like a lifestyle business because I wasn’t sure how long that income could sustain.”  

Back then, writing on the iPad was still a very niche use case, he says, which invariably also made GoodNotes a niche app.

“The moment for us really came when the Apple Pencil was announced in 2015 because it made handwriting on the iPad a viable alternative to pen and paper thanks to its accuracy and low latency,” he explains.

Overnight, GoodNotes turned from a niche product to a mainstream product. This was also when Chan started hiring more people including Minh Tran who is their VP of operations at the time of writing. Chan had a lot of “good” ideas, apparently, and expansion was the need of the hour to bring those ideas come to life.  

“GoodNotes has become a truly global community with users in every corner of the globe,” Tran says, adding that “it’s a true companion for users when they need to work or study.”

The app boasts of about 19 million monthly active users and that number has grown 10x in the last three years alone, during the pandemic. Moreover, 99 percent of downloads are organic and users are spending on average 106 minutes per day in the app.  

“This year alone so far, our users have created 1.6 billion notebooks. And that number has also grown 10x in the last three years. In 2019, our users were creating 300 notebooks per minute. Today, they are creating three thousand books per minute,” he says.

GoodNotes is a freeform digital paper. (Photo credit: Apple)

GoodNotes is billed as a freeform digital paper [app] that allows students and professionals to handwrite and take notes, annotate PDFs, and share notes with friends and colleagues. Users can customise their writing experience through paper templates and pen styles. They can take photos of any paperwork and import it into the app. They can search for any handwritten note through its handwriting recognition algorithm. They can drag and drop any handwritten note to search on the web and they can create and save elements.

The team considers getting recognition from Apple a “big milestone” because a.) GoodNotes is iPad-only and b.) competition is pretty intense there.

“What really makes GoodNotes stand out is our focus on bringing the pen and paper experience to the iPad [to life], and we really want to make that experience as good as possible so people will no longer need to carry notebooks,” Chan says, adding that “we really appreciate what Apple has done with their hardware software integration to make this possible.”

Chan and Co. are now working to bring a slew of updates to the app including integrated study sets to allow users to drag and drop their handwritten notes and diagrams into flashcards and create study sets straight from their own notes. Full page typing and audio recording are also in the works.

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First published on: 23-12-2022 at 17:12 IST
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