Guest Post: The Birth of Corona – Part I

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This is a guest post by Joseph DeSetto, co-founder of reallyMedia (winners of this week’s App of the Week) and a founding partner of LifeForms Creative. The latter’s initial product, LifeForms for iPad, is a PDF annotation tool for personal information management.

Joe also authored The Business of Design and Flash MX: Rich Media for the Web and was a speaker at the 2009 HOW Design Conference. He can be found online at or @desetto on Twitter.

Dom Sagolla, before he was the author of 140 Characters: A Style Guide for the Short Form, had just finished his presentation at the Ritz Carlton in Sarasota, Florida when I met him in the hallway back in late 2008.

“Great presentation, Dom. It is cool you’ve got apps out there already. Someone needs to make something like Flash for iPhone, though. Motion tweens. Easier scripting than Objective-C. I haven’t looked at C since college.”

Dom just smiled and listened. It would be another year before I would learn first-hand that being a conference speaker meant listening to rants only vaguely related to what you just presented. I had taught Flash for close to seven years and had been eyeing the emerging market for mobile apps as a logical next step for my career.

“I have some friends back in California you should talk to — I can’t say what they are doing, but you might dig it.”

I gave Dom my card, and thought it was polite of a twittering Valley insider to come all the way to Florida to sprinkle technology on those of us living on the edge of the universe. I honestly never expected anything to come of the conversation though.

A few weeks later, thanks to Dom’s introduction, I found myself at a meeting with Carlos Icaza in the lobby of a Miami Beach hotel. He showed me an iPhone simulator running the “Fishies” demo app, and the simple code that made it work. “This looks like ActionScript.” I told Carlos, having never seen Lua code before. “This runs on the iPhone?”

When I got home, I knew that even with my Flash expertise, there was another guy in town far more talented in both art and code — Todd Williams of HD Interactive. I made a deal with the guys at HDI that we’d start a new company to sell apps and mobile games. A few days later, reallyMedia LLC was formed and registered with Apple. The whole experiment was driven by the idea that some guy named Carlos and his partner Walter had some idea of what they were doing (we hoped!).

We got an initial build, and those were fun days. Knowing my students struggled with the oddball “bitmap in a movie clip in a graphic” broken English of Flash, I would e-mail suggestions to Walter and Carlos for naming the new functions in what would become Corona SDK.

It wasn’t love at first sight, though. As longtime Flash people, both Todd and I opened the build we were sent from Walter with a bit of “uh, now what?” No timeline. No drawing tools. No visual way to open a project in the thing called rttplayer (you may know it as The Simulator now). No, well, anything! Just cryptic instructions to run from Terminal once we were done in a text editor.

We got past the command-line throwback and thought about some logical first things to try. Experience in early Flash and even Director helped, and we started some basic tests like “press a button to make a box move.” We then progressed into making a slider puzzle. We had a basic feature set, but it was clear immediately that Corona was much easier to learn than XCode.

Of course, one big thing was missing; well, many big things, but the one we couldn’t do without was a Build function. We had to e-mail the folder, zipped, to Walter. He would do whatever it was that Corona actually did and then send us back a binary file to put on our phones. Walter was, effectively, the first server at the company.

We progressed quickly, pushing the two-man startup as fast as they could support us. We needed text fields or we couldn’t display a score on the screen. We needed sound or, well, every game has sound doesn’t it? My team and I traded points of hope, optimism, and despair rather frequently about early Corona. We were going out on a limb and creating the first game ever made with the software. Our first game was being developed with no knowledge — and only mixed confidence — that Apple would approve the entire idea of building games with this new Lua SDK.

We needed a very simple concept, so my business partner, Sean Carey, suggested making a game for his two year old. We called it tapDots, a connect-the-dots game that plays little chimes. Todd pulled out some old Flash tricks to make tapDots with this early version of Corona. There was no tweening, so instead of fading in a number, he used a sequence of images. It scrambled Walter’s early roadmap and it took some convincing, but tapDots did release with sound too.

With the knowledge that tapDots did, in fact, get approved by Apple for sale we immediately looked towards creating another game that would push Corona a little further than a toddler audience.

Next Week:  The Birth of Corona – Part II

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This entry has 8 replies

  1. Ziao says:

    Awesome read guys, more 😉

  2. Rickwhy says:

    Sweet! Looking forward to next part!

  3. Carlos Icaza says:

    This brings back fond memories. I remember meeting you at the hotel in South Beach, it was near 13th street. Near the place where they had that famous scene in the movie “Scarface” with Al Pacino as Tony Montana.

    The Godfather image is apropos for how we met and how super secretive we were. Your story is dead on. I can’t wait to read what you have for part II.

    I also remember meeting with you and Sean in Naples the second time around, like in February. Aso, if I remember correctly, TapDots was in the app store a few weeks (maybe a month or two) before we had our major announcement at the HOW conference trade show.

    You guys came in and supported us on our product launch in Austin. Ha! maybe am saying too much but that is for part II. But it was all so secret until that day…..

    I remember being up until almost 5:00am fixing our site and our pages and going over stuff only to take a flight that morning at 8:00 to Austin for the HOW Conference. The PR was going out at 6:00am EST. By the time we landed in Austin, our servers were overloaded, my phone had like 60 messages from friends and colleagues, and my inbox had gone crazy.

    I could go on and on….


  4. Joe Hocking says:

    This is a really fascinating little story. Carlos, were reallyMedia literally your first users?

  5. Carlos Icaza says:


    Yes they were. And Joseph captures it very well.


  6. JD Smith says:

    I don’t see Part 2 anywhere; is it not coming?

  7. I appreciate the comments everyone. Part 2 is coming soon.