An Elder Scrolls Online App: The Appocrypha Way
The quality of writing between films, graphic novels, books, and video games is fast becoming blurred as we steadily progress through the 2nd decade of the 21st century. Gone were the days when we were confined to monotone shades of characters and stories. The Elder Scrolls series of video games is a prime example of a saga that continues to create elaborate stories and lore—lore that spans multiple games that managed to create an ecosystem of shared stories covering different game releases.
In perhaps one of our most expansive developer interviews yet, we talked to JM (Juan Manuel), the developer of the lore reader app for Appocrypha: an Elder Scrolls Online App.
Join us as we converse with JM about the real-life challenges he had to conquer to develop Appocrypha — from the more conventional challenges of coding the app, to a personal ordeal from which he drew profound strength and inspiration.
(1) Tell us about yourself (Your name/nickname, hometown, age, occupation, favorite games that you play and what platform(s) you play)?
My name is Juan Manuel Muñoz Guillén, but for personal environments, my name is Jon M.M. Willem. I’m from Murcia a small town on the Mediterranean Shore in Spain. I’m 36 years old, and I work as Full Stack Developer (Backend, front-end & Sysadmin) for a British company who are creating awesome things which I love, working on remote. I play and have played many, many games throughout my entire life, beginning when I was 8 when my mother bought a Spectrum +2. I have a Steam account and PS Plus account, and though naming all the games I love would take an entire folio, I, of course, should mention The Elder Scrolls saga, which I love from the beginning to the infinite, and Appocrypha testifies it.
(2) Share with us how it feels to be the creator of something big for this game?
I don’t consider myself, or my app, part of the Elder Scrolls grandeur, those who really create the big thing I talk about at Appocrypha, are the authors of it, Bethesda and Zenimax. I admit that being part of the Bethesda team would be… pheww… like a dream. But I’m not related to them in any manner.
However, I’m quite proud of it, because I have Appocrypha as a ‘code storage’ repository for good practices at my other professional projects, that’s why it’s done with care and love for what it talks about. I also have avoided ads and social connections. I wanted to create something for people to enjoy this universe in a ‘gamified’ basic manner. I try to explain the Lore in an incremental way so people can get to know who the main characters of the Tamriel Universe are at their own pace.
(3) What inspired you to create an app specifically for this game? When did it cross your mind to create your app?
In the beginning, I created ‘Libros de Skyrim‘, an app exclusively in Spanish with all the books I had in an XML file, just for me, to learn Android Studio Development in Java. I really made it in an inspired weekend. My motto, when I want things that don’t exist, is to create them by myself, so that I did. It was a very simple app, but it served me well when I was living in Barcelona and had a 1-hour subway commuting time. I fixed it here and there, and uploaded it to the app store, just to see how it was to publish an app.
One year later, I came across the Play Console to check out the comments, and I got stunned when I saw an average rating of 4.7/5, from 5,000+ users or so. The people loved it because, when they play the game, they wanted to kill dragons, daedras or anything, they don’t want to read books. And Libros de Skyrim, simply, allowed them to keep thinking on that universe when they were not in front of their gaming device. In addition, many people were asking me to improve it, and to translate it into English. I wanted to do it but had no time.
A few weeks later, my mother fell critically ill. I told her before about the good ratings I had at ‘Libros de Skyrim’, and she offered me a deal: I would come to stay with her, and she would fund me 1 year of development so I could take care of her during her disease. Then I started Appocrypha, and moved back to my hometown.
Almost 1 year later, my mother sadly passed away, but during that year, I learned a lot about app development and got upgraded on many technologies I already used to make other professional works. The app is not giving much money, but I don’t really need it. I have to say, that ‘The Social Network‘ movie, and the conversations they have about ads in the disco when they met the Napster founder, inspired me a lot: we can’t place ads on something we still don’t know, because it’s the first of its kind. And also, ads expose a will of making money from something, and that’s simply not my will. I don’t do this for the money: I do this because I really love it. I have my job, my house, and I don’t need to get rich with Appocrypha. I’m happy as I live right now, but it would be nice if at least the app is self-funded each month. That’s why it’s not free.
However, though I never asked them directly, I’m sure all current users of Appocrypha would pay me a coffee if they met me anytime and anyhow. Most of them like it, and those who don’t, don’t say it either.
(4) Do you work independently or in a team? If in a team, how big is it?
For Appocrypha, totally independently; I must admit, humbly but 100% honestly, that I created the entire Appocrypha environment by myself: configured the servers, created the backstage Admin, the online API, the app, the mobile-adapted graphics… and the hardest of all: filling all the texts and translations. A French girl, Clémence, helped me with the French version, but she’s lost in combat, and I don’t like pushing people to make free things for me. I hope she’s fine, as she just… disappeared.
I must say here, I made Appocrypha as a joke on Hermaeus Mora, for he’s the Daedric Prince of the veiled knowledge (and ‘Apocrypha’ -with one ‘p’-, it’s Oblivion Realm)… but I must admit that having done all this by myself has turned me more like a Sheogorath servant, the Daedric Prince of madness.
I need people to help me with this, and everybody is invited.
(5) From the developer’s (and gamer’s) perspective, how do you think the app affects the overall experience of the game?
I like to think that, as a companion app, it improves the overall experience of the story in a deep manner. One of the things that makes me happier is when people tell me they use it to search for names they hear a lot in the game, but don’t really have an idea of who they are. And by reading it, they wanted to replay the game and enjoy some lore-missions knowing who the Blades were, or who was Ysgramor, or why the Dunmer were exiled from Morrowind on the 4th era. When people tell me they find it useful in any manner, I really feel stunningly proud of allowing people to enjoy The Elder Scrolls grandeur as much as I do.
(6) Is there any margin of error when it comes to the app’s performance and provided information?
Yes, I must admit that Appocrypha is big, and sometimes it’s a good practice to close the app totally, as pages are ‘stacked’ and I dispose those beneath the stack so they don’t use memory, that’s why I suggest people to use the Home Button on the top-right shield button to go to the home, as that cleans the stack totally. However, this is only a minor issue related to performance. You must have many (but many, many) pages stacked to make your device crash.
On performance, I follow all my technologies’ best practices to allow a good data flow, with profiling and debugging, however, the more data and features you add, the more tiny bugs appear here and there. I must say, the app is not crafted in stone: it grows every day and is ready to grow much, much more, and it’s intended to be a good-developing-practices repository for me and my other professional projects.
On translations and texts and lore accuracy, yes, there’s a 5%-10% margin of error possibilities (most of all for English users) to find a translation error, or a misrepresented description or name. However, I’m open for fixes on that matter, as I’m not omniscient on Tamriel matters.
(7) When it comes to designing the user experience/UX of the app, what motivated you or what influences did you have?
The entire app environment is based on the Elder Scrolls Universe game UI. However, I haven’t ripped anyone’s graphics: all the elements inside the App have been checked and reformatted one by one into vector or bitmapped sources, optimized for devices, just to allow people feel that they are in a place related to Tamriel, something I consider important as the universe has a characteristic art style.
(8) What programming language or tool did you use to create this app? Do you have any favorite PLs or tools in particular?
I use Laravel for API and backstage, and Ionic 3 (Angular 5) for the app code. I use PHP Storm for the backend elements and Sublime Text Editor for the Ionic/Angular 5 app. I should also mention Postman, an awesomely designed and built software to improve API development. And of course, Android Studio. But my favorite is… the Terminal 😉
(9) What were your biggest challenges for this project? How did you overcome them?
Taking care of my mother, programming during night guards at the hospital. In addition, I should say Appocrypha also helped me a lot when she passed away, giving me something different to think about. This seems a bit sad, but actually, I say it in a positive way. I know she’s happy with me and proud, wherever she is because I can feel her smiling at me every day.
On the technical side, sysadmin was a big deal for me, but now I love Linux servers and manage many of them professionally, and it gave me a full knowledge of the whole app developing process: from server management, through private and public backends, to frontend app development, UX design, Illustration (I also bought a Wacom I use normally now) and deep android development.
(10) Are you expecting the game’s expansions to change your app’s dynamics and performance? Is it something that you’ve already prepared to tackle?
I’m absolutely excited and expectant to see in my hands the new TES VI announced release. I saw live the Bethesda conference at last E3, and I loved Blades and the return of Bendu Olo. Also, many people spent many hours with Skyrim’s Hearthfire DLC, and TESO also explored the now traditional house-craft feature from TES. I like the possibility of Bethesda moving the house-craft gamers to a mobile app with micro-payments; maybe the experience with TESO pointed them on that direction, and I think it would be a wise movement on their side: focusing on housecraft features for TES VI I think that would be an error (at least as vanilla, maybe better with latter DLCs). I loved Hearthstone though, most of all the library wings, heehee.
Concerning Appocrypha, I’m ready to update it, and Appocrypha is ready to handle it. It might sound geeky, but the first thing I want to do in TES VI is… reading 🙂
(11) Are there any exciting new developments for your app that you would care to share?
Of course: I’m preparing the Festivals, and Languages lore categories (with words, letters, and a name exporter in dovah, falmer, daedric…) It will also contain a shop with t-shirts (a feature I had at the beginning but is now just hidden), customized cups, etc… though just to allow people to collaborate further with me. The app will also include a useful links area (with links to wikis, Elder Scrolls official pages, and my fav, The Imperial Library), and I need to make an important fix to the book area.
(12) Do you plan to create more apps like these for other games in the future?
Not for games, but for written sagas. The power of Appocrypha relies deeply on the books on it and the lore that evolves them; everything is about that. I don’t tell where you can find the books in-game: I just allow people to read them because it’s a Lore Explorer, not a game wiki.
I cannot create this for other games I love, like Plants vs. Zombies, or Zelda, just because there are no books in those games in the manner that books exist in The Elder Scrolls.
I’d love to make a similar app for The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, The Kingkiller Chronicle, Harry Potter… and all the sagas I love. And if someone points me to other video game sagas with as much literary content as The Elder Scrolls, I’ll be pleased to play them.
(13) Could you share a few quick tips to new users of the app?
Appocrypha rewards curiosity by tapping names. It offers all books, but you must have coins to buy them. Those coins are not for sale with real money: you need to read and tap over names, to get coins. Tapping over names might become mechanic, but if you tap on the gloss-scroll that pops up, you might not just get coins, but also wisdom.
When you enter a book, there are five buttons in the lower area. Those links are all bound to the book you are reading, and you can see maps, a full glossary, and user comments for each of them. As a pro tip, you can check the total gloss amount at your profile’s progress indicators. The amount of glosses is what keeps growing every day, as I dedicate generally 2 hours to Appocrypha each day.
(14) Any advice you’d like to share to aspiring game app or web developers?
Love your family, never surrender, go always beyond, make it better, give the most of yourself, and be creatively proactive. Don’t reinvent wheels, but if you need to improve them, do it with decisiveness. And, on the internet, never stop studying and learning; all technologies might get eventually obsolete, so stay always on the top of the wave, or you won’t go further in 5 years at most.
Don’t forget to show some love for JM’s Elder Scrolls Online App, which is an excellent lore reader and story compendium
For more Interviews, check this out: Be At Your Best: Clash of Clans Maps and Bases App