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Colors Live Creator Talks About the Challenge of Creating a Stylus for the Switch

by Willem Hilhorst and Daan Koopman - June 7, 2020, 12:12 pm PDT
Discuss in talkback! Source: eShop Action Committee

You won't believe what this pen can do!

In an interview with the eShop Action Committee podcast, Jens Andersson discusses the reasoning behind the Colors Live Kickstarter and tech behind the Colors SonarPen.

The Kickstarter, which launched May 13, sees a new version of the popular Nintendo 3DS application coming to Nintendo Switch. At the time of writing, the software is over 700% funded, ensuring that the it will launch later this summer.

In this interview, Andersson claims that the software will be send off to Nintendo soon for inspection. We have two longer quotes for you below, with more information being offered in the full audio interview.

Daan Koopman: You are bringing Colors to the Nintendo Switch. How did that idea come about, and what lead you to the creation of the Kickstarter?

Jens Andersson: It was a fairly long journey. So, because the 3DS community is still active, there is always this constant like ''oh we should bring this to the Switch''. Which kind of makes sense, because it was both a critical and commercial hit on the 3DS.

But, there is no stylus on the Switch. It would still make sense financially and everything, but it is no fun working on something that wouldn't be better than the previous incarnation. I needed to find something to either add as a feature that made it stand out or solve the fundamental issue that there was no stylus.

One of the guys that we worked with on the 3DS version manufactures styluses. He contacted me, saying that ''Okay, I have a new stylus that I've been working on. It is a little more complex than the previous, which was pretty much a plastic mold.'' He wanted me to add support for it, for the Colors software on iOS and Android.

It was this really interesting idea of a very simple stylus, but still have pressure sensitivity by jacking it into the audio jack. It basically communicates with the stylus through the audio jack and you get pressure sensitivity out of it. I said: ''Sure, I could add to iOS and Android, but it solves my problems for the Switch so maybe we can do something here.''

Suddenly that opened up the possibility of making a better version of Colors on the Switch than there had been on any previous device. Bringing back pressure sensitivity, and having a really nice painting tool. Suddenly the project was viable in my mind.

After that the issue was the eShop, because: "how can I sell this?". It is software, but it is also hardware. I talked to Nintendo. I went to them with the idea to sell it as an in-app purchase. People would download the software but they would also pay for the stylus (a big Buy Stylus button) and we ship it to them. But they looked at me blankly asking: ''You wanna sell hardware in the eShop?'' They did not like that. And I can totally understand their objections in terms of warranty, who is responsible for things, and all that. Nintendo is often conservative, and this is a very small product. Nothing like triple-A games or stuff like that. They wouldn't change the store to accommodate me. I get that.

But they did help us with trying to find a solution. We talked about physical goods publishers and other ways. In the end they told me: ''You can sell the stylus, that is not a problem. And we can sort of find the balance on how that should work.'' I talked to physical good publishers about doing a physical version of Colors and there was some interest, but it was still a risky proposition. We are an unproven thing.

Daan Koopman: You wouldn't say its unproven, considering your track record, but...

Jens Andersson: Yeah, but you'd be surprised how little track record means in terms of...

Daan Koopman: That's a bummer.

Jens Andersson: It's okay! It is kind of fair. You still need a good product and everyone makes bad things once in a while. [laughs] That's part of making good things. You make lots of stupid stuff and then you find something that works and finish that. That's the idea, right.

Anyway, all those things lead to the Kickstarter. Because it really solved the issue of selling the software and hardware in a bundle. I could do it in way that people could understand. It is a Kickstarter and it is is sort of like pre-ordering as well as supporting an idea. Luckily we had this amazing community so we could reach out to them. It just seemed like a good idea and we made it happen!

Daan Koopman: So, you need to explain some stuff about that pressure sensitive pen. It plugs in to the headphone jack, correct? Explain that to me.

Jens Andersson: Correct. It is a half meter cable that plugs into the audio jack, and technically it pretends to be a headset. So, in Colors, I actually plays a tone through the audio. A tone of about 8000 hertz goes through the cable to the tip of the pen. There is a resistor in there as well that dampens the tone depending on the amount of pressure that is applied to the tip of the pen. This vibration goes back to the Switch through the internal microphone of the pen, which measures the volume of the sound. That calculates the pressure used on the screen. So the touch is recorded by the screen as normal, but the pressure goes through that thing. It is an ingenious idea. It sound weird explaining it, but it really works. Elton, the person who created this is really clever and the pen works really well. The precision you get out of it is basically analogue. The levels of precision makes it feel very much like a Wacom pen. It's so cool and there are no batteries in there either. It is durable and fairly cheap to produce. Especially compared to the Apple Pen which is almost a hundred bucks. We sell the software and hardware together for 39 on the Kickstarter. It's so much fun. I've never done hardware before, so this is exciting.

Be sure to listen to the complete interview over on the eShop Action Committee podcast. Let us know if you backed the Kickstarter for Colors Live!

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