Chess engine fun & games…

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Its been a month since my last update and despite outside impressions to the contrary, we are very very close! Tomorrow myself and Matt intend to meet for a couple of hours to finalise the App store submission which means, all being well, ChessJournal v1.0 should be available within a week!

The end of May launch would put us about 6 weeks behind our original intended launch date of mid-April. As regular readers will know its been a learning curve and perhaps the biggest lesson materialised since my last post when we realised we had issues with the Stockfish chess engine…

Myself and Matt thought we had done all our homework on the licence for Stockfish but thankfully a new friend on Twitter (Acid App Chess – check them out here) pointed out some complications and our misinterpretations with the Stockfish licence (specifically around open source code) that meant we would be unable to use it. Integrating Stockfish had taken the best part of 10 days so you can imagine we were not happy with this effectively lost time. Whilst the chess engine is not the sole key to ChessJournal we do consider some analytical support on your games an important feature so you can evaluate key moments in your games. Therefore we set about looking for a new chess engine built on JavaScript with a suitable licence. As it turns out, not such an easy task!

Perseverance was the order of the day and eventually we found Garbo-JS.  A lovely example of a chess engine with a playing strength of around 2600 ELO, more than strong enough to evaluate any given position that your average club player will find themselves in.  Unfortunately Garbo-JS hadn’t been updated for about three or four years (a lifetime in development circles), so Matt found himself scratching around in the dark whilst I desperately tried to figure out the strange outputs that Garbo-JS was showing. Our situation was analogous to finding an old sports car engine covered in dust.  Somewhere inside was a powerful engine, it just needed a hell of a good mechanic and a couple dozen oil changes!

Fast forward three weeks and we are proud to say that the our chess engine is now purring nicely and giving good clean honest evaluations of any given chess position. With some minor amendments to the user interface (UI) the app is now feeling really nice to use.  Nicely done Matt!

new_chess_engine_interface

So that explains the delay in launch and the fun shenanigans that we have been enjoying in the ChessJournal camp in recent weeks. Our final bug sweeps have thrown up some fascinating issues, most notably the one below which neither me or Matt can really explain (don’t worry its fixed now)!

weird_bug

As always I will finish this blog post with a social update.  Our little community now numbers 402 followers / likes.  Its reassuring to see the steady growth and interest in our project. Thanks for all your patience, we really are very close and I can’t wait for you all to get your own ChessJournal’s on your phones.

I have been playing with the v1.0 of ChessJournal for the last week and on my next blog post I will write about using it to analyse my personal chess season from 2015/16.  Its surprising what findings it throws up!

Until next time!

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

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How understanding chess players helps design decisions

Hello ChessJournal fans!

Welcome to another update on the development of the best companion app for over the board chess players (I know Im bias but what the heck). Last week I spoke about several ways ChessJournal can benefit the amateur chess fan. This week I thought I would discuss a major design decision for ChessJournal and why we have chosen that route.

Since the beginning I’ve wanted ChessJournal to be a product not a service.  Let me explain what I mean…

When I explain to friends, family and team mates what ChessJournal is many of them ask if it will be cloud based i.e. will you be able to remotely store your chess games and access them from any device.  In short the answer is no.  By choosing to make ChessJournal cloud based there are a number of factors that we need to consider, most importantly the storage of your data and all the factors that this entails (e.g. emails, usernames and passwords).

In essence, making ChessJournal cloud based means making it a service that would have a number of implications. These include:

  • 24 hour access and support (I know I’m a young father but even I have to sleep some time!);
  • A subscription payment model in order to cover mine and Matt’s time with servers and data storage etc;
  • Reliance on an internet connection!

This final point may initially sound moot but if you think about our principle of “carrying all your chess games in your pocket” then a reliance on an internet connection can be annoying.  From personal experience, many tournaments in the UK are limited in their wifi coverage and are often in cold dark halls but I have also been known to conduct analysis on trains, planes and even the bathroom (perhaps I’m sharing too much now…)!

So very early on in the development of ChessJournal we felt that it was a product and not a service.

We want chess players to access their games anytime, anywhere. No matter what.

We want to focus our efforts on making an exceptional application that  improves and meets the needs of over the board chess players with each new release.

We want the ChessJournal community to engage and tell us how they are using their individual ChessJournal’s and what features they need.

We want people to pay once and receive all the benefits that ChessJournal can provide for years without having to worry about monthly or annual subscription fees.

Perhaps most importantly we want a premium application that is not littered with adverts, or pushing people to constantly upgrade.

A final added benefit of us choosing to make ChessJournal a product and not a service is that all of your game data will naturally be stored in the cloud anyway as a natural consequence of backing up your iPhone.  Therefore, you the customer, have the best of both worlds. A quality premium app with your data backed up.  Happy days!

As always I will finish this post with an update on progress this week.  The big news from development land is that we have integrated the StockFish analysis engine (with a few wires still hanging out of the back) and are tweaking our game board interface.  Obviously the integration of StockFish enables a strong level of analysis but also allows some fun planning on the ChessJournal roadmap in the future. Keep your ears open for those updates.

Our social media presence continues to creep up with our little community now totalling 365 likes or follows.  Thank you for all your comments, shares and feedback.  Me and Matt genuinely take onboard every comment as we continue our journey towards launch day (what I have affectionately started calling “International ChessJournal Day”).

Keep reading and sharing!

Until next time…

Jon

UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.

 

 

 

A design preview…

We are drawing to the end of another week and I thought I would share some news from the ChessJournal team.

Development is well under way this week with file structures and basic forms starting to take shape.  Matt assures me that he is having lots of fun whilst I continue to tinker with designs and try to tell the wider world about ChessJournal.  Speaking of spreading the word about our project, we had an interesting week on social networks.

Our Twitter presence has risen by a massive 28 followers to 105 people.  I am pleased to be getting a steady stream of feedback and comments from the Twittersphere so kept it up people!  I also decided to register a presence on Facebook knowing thats its an easy platform for a lot of chess clubs to use.  During the registration process Facebook very kindly told me that 28,000,000 people had stated an interest about chess on Facebook.  I excitedly set up the ChessJournal page imagining all the untapped potential…

After a week we have 6 likes (and one of those was my wife).

My disappointment at the Facebook presence was dramatically forgotten in the middle of the week however when the ChessJournal blog started to receive a massive spike in visitors.  A deep dive into our analytics revealed that an innocuous post on Reddit (“What is your workflow when you analyse your own games?“) had started to drive a lot of traffic our way.  I noted that the Chess community on Reddit only numbered approximately 50,000 people which, when compared to Facebook, shows thats its not about quantity but quality of engaged passionate Chess players online!  I whole heartedly embrace the Reddit crowd, welcome to ChessJournal!

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To finish with I thought I would share some early screenshots of our design efforts.  Obviously things are in flux as the natural part of a design and development process but I hope this gives you an idea of what to expect from ChessJournal 1.0.

I hope you all have a good week and I look forward to giving you more updates soon.  Until then, spread the word!

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UPDATE: We are delighted to say that since this blog post was written, ChessJournal is now available on the App Store. You can download it here: 

http://itunes.com/apps/chessjournal

Thank you for your support.