Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Android Is Here

I'm happy to say that BeatEvolve is now available on the Google Play store. Here are the links...

I'm franky amazed and delighted at how well GameMaker Studio lives up to its claim of being totally cross-platform. It was just a case of adding a bit of code to make BeatEvolve work in any aspect ratio and then it worked first time on every device we tested it on. So thank you to YoYo Games for making this easy when it could have been such a pain.

Also thank you to Google Play for having such an easy submission process compared to Apple. I suspect it is a double edged sword though. Being able to submit an app without waiting for approval is nice for the developer but potentially horrible for the player as there is nothing to stop a developer from putting a load of untested rubbish on there. This leaves it entirely in the hands of the community to give helpful feedback and ratings.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Monday, 10 December 2012

Update Announced

Good news everyone! BeatEvolve will be getting a BIG update in the New Year.

Improved Audio

BeatEvolve has been out for just over a month now. Reviews have been pretty good but the main criticism has been that the audio isn't professional quality. To be perfectly honest, I have very little expertise in this area and thought that exporting midi notes as .wav files would suffice. Oh, how wrong I was.

Fortunately for us and for everyone who has bought a copy of BeatEvolve, we now have a professional musician on board. His name is James Stant and he has kindly been supplying me with much, much better sounds which we will put out in the update.

The current audio has several problems:
- It is low quality
- The notes are generally very long which means they all blur into one another
- It turns out that half the notes are complete silence (thanks to James for discovering this). That not only eats
away memory but also causes other notes not to be played since the number of channels is limited.

The new audio addresses all of these issues, making the music sound crisp and beautiful. It's a complete makeover that really transforms the app from a fun little toy to something that actually produces really good music.

Drum Kit

Adding better audio just didn't seem like enough for this update. It's a vast improvement to the app but doesn't offer any new functionality. Therefore we've decided to also add an extra feature to the update - the Drum Kit instrument.

The Drum Kit is used in the same way as any other instrument in BeatEvolve. Select it then add Drum Kit notes to your layer grid. However, the way it works is a little different. The Drum Kit "notes" are not pitched which means that each row is able to be a completely different drum, cymbol and so on. So it's really 16 different instruments but used as if it was one instrument in so far as the BeatEvolve interface is concerned.

We want everyone to experience the awesomeness of this new feature and so the Drum Kit will be added to both the free and full version of the app. It really does add something special. Before this, BeatEvolve was essentially classical but the Drum Kit adds more of a pop element. Moreover, it's a lot of fun to play about with!

Monday, 12 November 2012

Where To Next?

It's been a few days since BeatEvolve hit the app store and now seems like a good time to consider its success (or lack thereof) and where to go from here.

Considering we've had no marketing budget what-so-ever, our little app hasn't done too badly on the face of things. However, it has to be said that anyone who thinks that putting out an app is going to make them rich should probably think again. I'm not saying it's impossible - just that you need a great app combined with a lot of luck and probably a large marketing budget to boot.

Quite a few sites have mentioned BeatEvolve, either through me making them aware of it or because they came across it themselves and I am very thankful to everyone who has helped to put the word out there. We haven't yet had a review as such but have received a few bits of personal feedback which have been very insightful and generally very positive. This may indeed be the first app ever to combine a matrix synthesizer with cellular automata rules which is very exciting!

The responses I've had from people in the digital music industry have been particularly interesting. BeatEvolve was never meant to be a serious music app. It's a musical toy for playing around and making tunes with the interesting (to me) focus on Game of Life style rules that let the music 'evolve' over time. And yet the serious musicians out there would actually be quite interested if only BeatEvolve had midi support, the ability to export to mp3 and so on. One potential reviewer even described it as a missed opportunity.

Unfortunately for me, BeatEvolve has been developed in Game Maker - a wonderful piece of software but definitely far more equipped for making games than music apps. As far as I know, there is no way I can add the ability to export music unless I wrote the app all over again from scratch in a different engine. (If anyone does know how to do this using Game Maker, I'm all ears!) I chose Game Maker because I know how to use it and am planning on making games with it in future so I have no regrets but it does, of course, put limitations on what I can do with BeatEvolve in the future.

So is this it for BeatEvolve? I hope not. I would sincerely like to add an update and have a couple of ideas to make it more awesome without having to rewrite it completely. In particular, I'd like to improve the sound quality of the samples and add an unpitched percussion instrument. This new instrument would actually feature 16 different unpitched percussion instruments as you move down the screen (differing instruments to replace the differing pitch). The more people that buy it now, the more possible this update will be.

The general feedback has actually been really good and I think it's a great app for casual players who want a bit of creative, musical fun in their lives. If I can figure out a cost effective way of making it more viable to serious musicians then, believe me, I will.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Evolution Explained

A lot of what you see in BeatEvolve has been done before but the unique addition here is that you are able to "evolve" your melody into something completely new. So I thought I'd devote this blog post to explaining how this evolution works behind the scenes, so to speak.

The evolution going on here is actually a technique known as cellular automata. It's something I first learned about while studying AI at university and has fascinated me ever since. There has been a lot of hype recently about emergence in video games and cellular automata represent about the purest form of emergence I can think of. Simple rules lead to a complex outcome.

So, where to begin? It's much easier to explain with an example.

Game Of Life

The Game Of Life ruleset was discovered by a mathematician called John Conway in 1970 and is the best known of all cellular automata because of it's similarity to life captured in a few simple rules.

You start with a 2D grid of cells. Some cells are "alive" (filled in) and others are "dead" (left blank). The starting pattern can be anything you like and the fun lies in trying out different ones. The pattern evolves by applying the same rules to every cell in the grid.

These are the rules for Conway's Game Of Life:
  • For each cell, count up the number of "alive" neighbouring cells. A neighbouring cell is any of the 8 cells that surround it.
  • Any "alive" cell with fewer than two "alive" neighbours dies, as if caused by under-population.
  • Any "alive" cell with two or three "alive" neighbours lives on to the next generation.
  • Any "alive" cell with more than three "alive" neighbours dies, as if by overcrowding.
  • Any "dead" cell with exactly three "alive" neighbours becomes an "alive" cell, as if by reproduction.  
Don't worry if this sounds confusing. It will all make sense with an example.

How To Calculate The Next Generation

First, let's take this starting pattern

Now we count up the number of living neighbours that each cell has.

Using the numbers in the image above along with the Game Of Life rules, we can generate the next step in the evolution.


Naturally, it takes a lot of time and effort to work out each step by hand but, of course, computers can do it so much faster! As it happens, the example above is particularly interesting in that it gradually drifts along the grid while keeping its original shape. This is known as a glider.

BeatEvolve Custom Rules

The Game Of Life ruleset is just one of almost countless possibilities in the world of cellular automata. If you'd like to read more about the subject, Mirek Wojtowicz has provided a very comprehensive website explaining all the most common types of rules and descriptions of popular rulesets for you to try out.

BeatEvolve lets you explore the whole range of Life and Generations style rulesets by allowing for customized rules. There are also six presets, including Game Of Life if you don't fancy creating your own.

The Generations style rules are very interesting an a perfect fit for music because they include decay states. This is when a cell is dying but not yet completely dead. A dying cell takes up space in the matrix and cannot be converted into a living cell. In BeatEvolve, a decaying note (cell) is played at a lower volume so you can get some subtle nuances into your music using decay states.

Finally, there is the option to use wrap around. If wrap around is selected then those cells on the edge count cells on the opposite edge as neighbours. Using wrap around means that patterns won't peter out as they get to the edge of the screen and is on by default for the six presets.

I hope I've managed to explained the evolution sufficiently in this post. Not sure if anyone will bother to read this but if someone out there now has a better understanding of cellular automata then this post has done its job.

Bye for now :).

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The (Second) Best Things in Life are Free

Well, BeatEvolve has been accepted for sale on the app store which is great news as this means it will come out on November 8th as planned. I've set the price at tier 3 ($2.99 or equivalent) which I think is reasonable considering it is a bit of a niche market product. However, if you think $2.99 is too much to pay for something you haven't yet tried then don't worry - BeatEvolve Free will be released on November 9th and will cost you nothing.


The idea of BeatEvolve Free is to give everyone access to the basic features of the app without having to buy the full version. Of course, I am hoping to tempt some to upgrade but I know full well that most people won't.

So, what restrictions does the free version have? Well, actually not many. You can still create three layers of melodies; you can still change the tempo; you can still manipulate the notes on each layer by flipping and rotating the pattern and you get access to all six evolution presets. The restrictions are that you cannot save the session or customise the evolution rules and you are limited to three instruments.


Hopefully, you can see that the free version is pretty awesome in its own right. But if you're looking for that extra 'wow' factor then please do consider upgrading to the full version ;-).

Friday, 5 October 2012


Big news!

BeatEvolve has been submitted to the App Store!!!

The launch date is set for Thursday November 8th, subject to approval by Apple so fingers crossed on that front. I'll also be submitting a free version with limited features which I'm hoping to get out there for November 9th.

iPhone Screen Grabs
2012-10-02 20.52.13 copy
2012-10-02 20.52.58 copy
2012-10-02 20.54.02 copy

App Store Description
Anyone can make music with BeatEvolve! With 31 instruments to choose from, the intuitive interface lets you combine 3 layers of harmonies to create awesome riffs! Select from one of six preset evolution rules or create your own from scratch then sit back and watch as the music changes all by itself.

Features include:
- Three layers
- 31 instruments
- Six evolution presets including Conway's famous Game Of Life
- Experiment by creating your own evolution rules
- Flip, rotate and shift the patterns you make
- Tempo adjust
- Save your musical creations to use later or show off to your friends