Angel Harp (is the Weirdest Instrument)

It was a joke, back in September. A goofy idea, amidst a brainstorming session of merely silly ideas. It’s a heavenly harp! And when you turn it upside-down, it becomes a Devil Harp! Ha, ha.

The YouTube trailer would probably look something like this:

I hacked Angel Harp together in my spare time. Four long months! The plan was to finish by Halloween of 2011, but it took considerably longer than expected. The synthesis was completed in one week, the sound effects in another week. Standing on the shoulders of Twang, Angel Harp produces somewhat-realistic tones (like an actual harp! Complex filtering!) And it has 3+ dozen strings, for serious plucking power!

And, the graphics… Let’s talk about that.

Once the Halloween deadline became improbable, I decided to hack each feature until it was “good enough.” If any feature became an eyesore, then I’d revisit it — either for version 1.0, or a future release. The clouds were redone a couple times. I had grand plans for the harp itself, using an (awful, buggy) harp modeling tool; in a future version, you can draw your own harps, and skin them with fancy materials, I think.

Angel Harp! Heaven!

How do you like those smiles? The facial expressions were sketched in 30 seconds, all of them. In my mind, the enormous half-circle grins and grimaces were very temporary. However, as friends were subjected to the ‘Harp prototypes, it became clear that people loved the primitive scribbled angels, and they wanted to keep them. Beware the things you bring to light.

I have mixed feelings about the facial expressions. Actually, I love them. They’re so happy. It’s almost a parody of top-selling app mascots; googly-eyed characters, managing diners and flying over the outback, are positively leering. Like they haven’t tasted human flesh for millennia, and then suddenly YOU show up.

I worry that prospective buyers won’t risk a couple bucks on Angel Harp, because it might look a bit hastily designed. (Even though it feels reactive and expressive, the screenshots can’t communicate that.)

Angel Harp was a conscious attempt to entertain all ages, and still deliver something unexpected and quirky. Everyone who interacts with Angel Harp loves it, but it’s a big, intimidating knot of weirdness to figure out. Is it an instrument? Why are there angels? Why do they squeal so much?

Frustrating admission: I must create apps that are more familiar to the average person (or a certain subgroup of insane musical geniuses).

Not-so-frustrating admission: I’m proud of the Devil Harp’s carousel of effects. The reversed audio, the tube amp distortion, and the fuzz box. Don some headphones, and lose yourself in the Devil Harp’s ambient spookiness. It’s nice.

Career-building achievement: I greatly expanded my OpenGL knowledge.

True tales of bits and bytes: The sound effects are stored in one continuous file, which sounds like this, and can cause hysteria:

Culinary trivia: Coffee is a wonderful drug. It powered both recording sessions. My arms flapped wildly, as I voiced every angel and demon.

Creepy outtake: Angel Harp mostly “designed itself,” but an early version of the Hell world was genuinely upsetting:

Flames + heat distortion + red lights = AAAAIIIEEEE YOU FOOL, WHAT HAVE YOU UNLEASHED

Will there be more Control Z apps in the future: I expect so! There’s one music app that I’m itching to create, but it’s a massive undertaking. Work, play, life, action, rest… I’m still finding the right balance. We shall see.

Is it better to create simple apps, which have one function: Almost certainly. I always want to go beyond the limits, and tinker with new, unprofitable things. This is my curse. If you’ve figured out how to manage this affliction, let me know.

View Angel Harp at the App Store!

4 thoughts on “Angel Harp (is the Weirdest Instrument)

  1. That sound effects reel is absolutely hilarious. I can clearly see you flapping your arms in the studio, bouncing off walls and sofas.

  2. That’s exactly how it happened!! Some “rare” angels were planned, too — 1 in 50 angels would be scowling, and smoking cigarettes. Their catch phrase was, “What are you lookin’ at?”

  3. … And if your harp strumming collides with them, the cigarette is knocked out of their mouth and goes flying off the screen!

    I wonder if this could use a version 1.1 treatment? There isn’t really anything like it out there, STILL.
    I mean, look at this fugly UI : http://harpapp.com/about
    And look at this insipid artwork : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/airharp-touchless-3d-harp/id431372563?mt=8
    And look at this boring-ass thing : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/celtic-harp-lite/id374158482?mt=8
    And what the hell is this?? : https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aeolian-harp/id374133120?mt=8
    Fail, fail, fail, fail.

    Also – perhaps the cartoon faces would be less of a pain to your aesthetic sense if they were left in their rudimentary amusing shape, but colored with some gradient effect? Turn the big cheese-wedge black mouths of the angels into big cheese-wedge golden orbs… ?

  4. Such negativity! I’m sure Angel Harp 1.1 would be awesome. Sadly, it’s the slowest mover of the Control Z apps, probably because market for harp apps is small (compared to guitar apps, for example).

    If there’s high demand for new Angel Harp features, then I’ll consider it. I feel like version 1.0 already makes a statement, and I learned all about OpenGL 3D along the way, so it’s a win!

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