Last week, the Nintendo eShop received its very first “app” in the form of painting application Colors! 3D. Focused on being a portable digital canvas for the Nintendo 3DS, Colors! 3D lets you create your own stereoscopic 3D (and regular 2D) paintings on the 3DS and share them with the Internet via a vast gallery of art that is constantly updated with creations from the Colors! community. Even better, each creation is automatically uploaded with a play-by-play video of how it was created, which other users can view and learn from.
Colors! originally started out as a Nintendo DS homebrew application, and then went commercial on the iPhone. Ever since he created the original homebrew app, Colors! creator, Jens Andersson—previously of Lucasarts and Starbreeze—has been in contact with Nintendo to bring the application to one of their platforms commercially. We got in touch with Andersson to find out how he went about developing the 3DS version of the app and what the future of both Colors! and Colors! 3D holds.
I think the most obvious question on everyone’s minds is, how did you go from developing Nintendo DS homebrew to being a licensed Nintendo 3DS developer?
Jens Andersson, Collecting Smiles founder: Well, ever since my original prototype I’ve been in touch with Nintendo. Once the Nintendo 3DS was announced, I felt that this was the perfect platform where Colors! could really grow up and become something bigger. Going through the process of becoming a licensed Nintendo 3DS developer was initially a little bit daunting, but I think my background working on big console games and having a good understanding on how the console videogames business worked help me to avoid some of the pitfalls.
Once through the doors, Nintendo was super helpful. They very much want original content on their consoles and I think Colors! 3D is a good example of what they are looking for. They hadn’t done too much work with third-party apps or games that are heavy on user-generated content, so in some ways I got to test the waters on doing those things on a Nintendo platform. This was sometimes a bit frustrating compared to just release something and then work your way through any issues as you find them, as is possible on for example iPhone, but in the end I think the end-result was better off for it.
Colors! gained a lot of traction as DS homebrew, but you moved it to iOS after that. What improvements did shifting to IOS devices afford you?
iOS has an amazing distribution platform. I was lucky to release very early in the App Store and because of that didn’t really drown in all the apps that were quickly released later. Also, it allowed me to make a few buck from it as well, which I hadn’t done up to that point. Either way, as with any console, you can really focus on one platform and work with the community to improve things.
However, the iOS devices still suffer from the lack of stylus support, which is why I’ve spent the last year working on the Nintendo 3DS.
Stereoscopic 3D art is the focal point of Colors! 3D. How did this affect development of the app, and what challenges did you face with regard to 3D in particular?
I always intended 3D to be main feature when I took Colors! to the Nintendo 3DS. What I wasn’t sure was exactly how I should pull that off and I wanted to make sure it didn’t become anything else but painting. We tried a bunch of things to get there, and some of those things were way too technical. The result we ended up with was the layer-based painting where each layer has a separate depth.
It was also important to still allow Colors! 3D to be a great painting tool for 2D paintings, which is why the layer-based approached worked so well. You can still use those features, but without worrying about the 3D aspect of things.
Since I initially didn’t have access to a Nintendo 3DS devkit, I worked with Nvidia’s 3D Vision and their active shutter glasses. That allowed me to prototype things, but as soon as I got it running on the actual hardware, I never used those again. Glass-less 3D is just so much more comfortable than putting on and taking off glasses every time you test something.
Do you have any pointers or 3D-specific tips for folks looking to create 3D drawings that you think would be helpful to know?
I think the online gallery shows that better than I ever could. Colors! 3D has only been out for a short while, but I see people doing things in 3D that I didn’t really think was possible. Even after working on Colors! for a number of years, I still get stuck in the gallery, looking at video playbacks of the paintings to see how people create their works of art. This is the reason why I’ve kept working on this project.
What’s next for Collecting Smiles? Do you plan to update Colors! in the future, or are you moving onto something else?
I will keep working on Colors! for a bit longer. The reception to Colors! 3D has been so phenomenal and the sales seem to be doing well, so I hope we can do an update that adds a few things that didn’t make it into the original version. I also want to bring Colors! to a few more platforms, like the PlayStation Vita and the upcoming Wii U as well as finally get it out for Android and iPad, which are both way overdue.
Can you say anything about future improvements you hope to make to Colors! 3D? For instance, Photoshop-like functions to recognize and fill shapes for the less artistically gifted? Or do you feel that’s something that Colors! was never really created in mind with?
Exactly. Colors! is designed to be very focused on painting. It’s been very interesting to develop something along with the community, as you always risk trying to please what everyone and that can really make your product bloated. It’s a challenge to filter through all the suggestions and feedback and only add the things that fits the app, to still retain the simplicity and focus of it as a painting application. A good example of this is a Line Tool. A lot of people have asked for a line tool, and while that would be a great tool for many people, we believe that this would not add to what we are trying to do with the app.
As for things we’d like to improve in Colors! 3D, I’m currently listening very closely to all feedback that is generated since the US launch. One thing never manage to implement was the ability to paint to paint with more than one friend simultaneously, and a lot of people have been asking for the ability to paint over Wi-Fi as well.
This might be interesting for a potential update. Perhaps more important is to focus on the community features. We would love to add more ways to browse the gallery, like having followers as well as adding a robust challenge system that people can participate in directly from the device. In the end, the community will have to help us decide what is most important, because it’s them that makes it possible for us to be here in the first place.