Chapter 1 — Creating an App

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In this chapter we are going to create a simple tap-based game to keep a balloon in the air, along with covering some of the basics of app development. We will keep this first project as simple as possible for those who are new or have been away from programming for a while.

Using Corona

Corona Scripting

Corona uses the Lua scripting language. If you've ever programmed in any language, you will find Lua an easy transition. Our Introduction to Lua guide provides an overview of Lua, or you can learn Lua on YouTube. In a very short time, you will find yourself writing that great app that you've dreamed of creating!

If you're completely new to programming, Lua is still easy to learn and this guide will help you along.

Text Editors

In addition to Corona, you will need a text editor. There are several editors available and choosing one is much like choosing a car — everybody has their own preferences and you should explore which one suits you best.

If you don't already have a favorite text editor, the following options are recommended:

Editor Add-On Package macOS Windows
Atom autocomplete-corona
Xcode Corona Plugin for Xcode
Visual Studio Code Corona Tools
Sublime Text Corona Editor
Vim
ZeroBrane Studio
Notepad++
TextWrangler
TextMate

Creating an App

Your first app is going to be very simple, but it will demonstrate some important concepts. We are going to make a simple tapping game to keep a balloon in the air. Each time the balloon is tapped, we will "push" it a little higher.

Notes
  • The best way to use this guide is to follow every step — type in the code, add the images, and see your project gradually come to life. It may take a little more time, but you will gain a much better understanding.

  • Included with each chapter is a downloadable file which contains all of the images, audio files, and other assets related to that chapter. This chapter's source files are available here.

Starting a Project

Creating a new project in Corona is easy. In just a few simple steps you'll be ready to make your first app!

  1. Open the Corona Simulator.

  2. Click New Project from the welcome window or select New Project... from the File menu.

  1. For the project/application name, type BalloonTap and ensure that the Blank template option is selected. Leave the other settings at default and click OK (Windows) or Next (Mac). This will create the basic files for your first game in the location (folder) that you specified. This is also the folder in which you'll place all of your app files/assets, including images, program files, etc.

Including Images

For this project, you will need three image files, placed within the BalloonTap project folder created above:

File Size (w×h) Usage
background.png 360 × 570 The background — purely decorative so that we're not staring at a black background.
platform.png 300 × 50 The platform/floor — keeps the balloon from falling off the bottom of the screen.
balloon.png 112 × 112 The balloon.

To get going quickly, you can download and use the default images included with this chapter's source files. Inside the archive, you'll find the three images outlined above.

If you choose to create your own images for this project or any other project, note these basic image guidelines:

  • Corona supports PNG and JPG format.
  • Images should not contain an embedded ICC profile.
  • Avoid progressive JPG files since they will take much longer to load.

Loading the Background

The first image that we need to load is the background. Corona places everything on the screen from back to front in regards to layering, so the first image we load will exist behind other images that are loaded afterward. While there are ways to change the layering order of images and send them to the back or front of the display stack, we'll keep this project simple and load them in a logical order.

Using your chosen text editor, locate and open the main.lua file within your project folder. The main.lua file is the foundational "core program file" of every Corona project and you cannot create an app without it. This is the Lua file with which the application starts, every time you run the app.

In this main.lua file, type in the highlighted command:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
--
-- main.lua
--
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )

There are a several aspects involved with this command. Let's break it down:

  • The first word, local, is a Lua command indicating that the next word will be a variable. A variable, just like you learned in math class, is used to store a value. In this case, that value will be an image used as your background.

Note that local is always lowercase and it's used here to declare a variable; for example, the first time you use the variable, you should add the word local in front of it.

  • The second word, background, is the name of our variable. Any time we want to make changes to the image stored in background, we will use this variable name.

Remember to always use different variable names each time you use a variable. Just as it gets confusing if everyone in a classroom is named "John," using the same variable name for all of your objects creates confusion in your program.

  • The = (equal sign) is used to assign the variable background to an image.

  • display.newImageRect() is one of the Corona APIs (Application Programming Interface). It is used to load an image from a file so that you can use it in the app. There are a couple of ways to load an image into your app, but display.newImageRect() is special in that it can resize/scale the image (this will be explained in just a moment).

  • Inside the parentheses are the parameters which we pass to display.newImageRect(), sometimes referred to as arguments. The first parameter is the name of the image file that we want to load, including the file extension (.png).

The specified name must match the actual file name exactly, including case-sensitive matching! For instance, if the actual file name is background.png, do not enter it as "BackGround.PNG".

The next two parameters, 360 and 570 specify the size that we want the background image to be. In this case, we'll simply use the image's pixel dimensions, although as noted above, display.newImageRect() allows you to resize/scale the image via these numbers.

The final step for the background is to position it at the correct location on the screen. Immediately following the line you just entered, add the two highlighted commands:

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )
background.x = display.contentCenterX
background.y = display.contentCenterY

By default, Corona will position the center of an object at the coordinate point of 0,0 which is located in the upper-left corner of the screen. By changing the object's x and y properties, however, we can move the background image to a new location.

For this project, we'll place the background in the center of the screen — but what if we don't know exactly which coordinate values represent the center? Fortunately, Corona provides some convenient shortcuts for this. When you specify the values display.contentCenterX and display.contentCenterY, Corona will set the center coordinates of the screen as the background.x and background.y properties.

Let's check the result of your code! Save your modified main.lua file and then, from within the Corona Simulator, "relaunch" it using ⌘-R (Command-R). If all went well, the background should now be showing, centered on the screen.

If you get an error or can't see the background, there are a few possibilities as to the cause:

  • One of the commands was typed incorrectly.
  • The image file isn't in the same folder as main.lua.
  • The specified filename and/or extension is incorrect or mismatched in case.

Remember that the Corona Simulator Console window is a valuable place to check for and diagnose potential errors in your code. On Windows, this panel is always accessible in the Simulator. On Mac, if this window isn't already open, you can view it by selecting WindowConsole.

Loading the Platform

Time to load the platform. This is very similar to loading the background. Following the three lines of code you've already typed, enter the following highlighted commands:

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )
background.x = display.contentCenterX
background.y = display.contentCenterY

local platform = display.newImageRect( "platform.png", 300, 50 )
platform.x = display.contentCenterX
platform.y = display.contentHeight-25

As you probably noticed, there is one minor change compared to the background: instead of positioning the platform in the vertical center, we want it near the bottom of the screen. By using the command display.contentHeight, we know the height of the content area. But remember that platform.y places the center of the object at the specified location. So, because the height of this object is 50 pixels, we subtract 25 pixels from the value, ensuring that the entire platform can be seen on screen.

Save your main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator to see the platform graphic.

Loading the Balloon

To load the balloon, we'll follow the same process. Below the previous commands, type these lines:

local balloon = display.newImageRect( "balloon.png", 112, 112 )
balloon.x = display.contentCenterX
balloon.y = display.contentCenterY

In addition, to give the balloon a slightly transparent appearance, we'll reduce the object's opacity (alpha) slightly. On the next line, set the balloon's alpha property to 80% (0.8):

local balloon = display.newImageRect( "balloon.png", 112, 112 )
balloon.x = display.contentCenterX
balloon.y = display.contentCenterY
balloon.alpha = 0.8

Save your main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator. There should now be a balloon in the center of the screen.

Adding Physics

Time to get into physics! Corona includes the Box2D physics engine for your use in building apps. While using physics is not required to make a game, it makes it much easier to handle many game situations.

Including physics is very easy with Corona. Below the previous lines, add these commands:

local physics = require( "physics" )
physics.start()

Let's explain these two lines in a little more detail:

  • The command local physics = require( "physics" ) loads the Box2D physics engine into your app and associates it with the local variable physics for later reference. This gives you the ability to call other commands within the physics library using the physics namespace variable, as you'll see in a moment.

  • physics.start() does exactly what you might guess — it starts the physics engine.

If you save and relaunch you won't see any difference in your game... yet. That is because we haven't given the physics engine anything to do. For physics to work, we need to convert the images/objects that were created into physical objects. This is done with the command physics.addBody:

local physics = require( "physics" )
physics.start()

physics.addBody( platform, "static" )

This tells the physics engine to add a physical "body" to the image that is stored in platform. In addition, the second parameter tells Corona to treat it as a static physical object. What does this mean? Basically, static physical objects are not affected by gravity or other physical forces, so anytime you have an object which shouldn't move, set its type to "static".

Now add a physical body to the balloon:

local physics = require( "physics" )
physics.start()

physics.addBody( platform, "static" )
physics.addBody( balloon, "dynamic", { radius=50, bounce=0.3 } )

In contrast to the platform, the balloon is a dynamic physical object. This means that it's affected by gravity, that it will respond physically to collisions with other physical objects, etc. In this case, the second parameter ("dynamic") is actually optional because the default body type is already dynamic, but we include it here to help with the learning process.

The final part of this physics.addBody command is used to adjust the balloon's body properties — in this case we'll give it a round shape and adjust its bounce/restitution value. Parameters must be placed in curly brackets ({}) (referred to as a table in the Lua programming language).

  • Because the balloon is a round object, we assign it a radius property with a value of 50. This value basically matches the size of our balloon image, but you may need to adjust it slightly if you created your own balloon image.

  • The bounce value can be any non-negative decimal or integer value. A value of 0 means that the balloon has no bounce, while a value of 1 will make it bounce back with 100% of its collision energy. A value of 0.3, as seen above, will make it bounce back with 30% of its energy.

Notes
  • A bounce value greater than 1 will make an object bounce back with more than 100% of its collision energy. Be careful if you set values above 1 since the object may quickly gain momentum beyond what is typical or expected.

  • Even if you change the balloon's bounce property to 0, it will still bounce off the platform object because, by default, objects have a bounce value of 0.2. To completely remove bouncing in this game, set both the balloon and the platform to bounce=0.

Save your main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator. As a fun experiment, you can try adjusting the bounce value and relaunch the project to see the effect.

Functions

At this point, we have a balloon that drops onto a platform and bounces slightly. That's not very fun, so let's make this into a game! For our balloon tap game to work, we need to be able to push the balloon up a little each time it's tapped.

To perform this kind of feature, programming languages use what are called functions. Functions are short (usually) sections of code that only run when we tell them to, like when the player taps the balloon.

Let's create our first function:

local function pushBalloon()

end

Functions are essential to developing apps with Corona, so let's examine the basic structure:

  • As before, we use the keyword local to declare the function.

  • The keyword function tells Corona that this is a function and that its set of commands will be called by the name pushBalloon.

  • The ending parentheses (()) are required. In later chapters we will put something inside these parentheses, but for now you can leave this as shown.

  • As mentioned above, functions are self-contained sections (blocks) of code which run only when we tell them to. Thus, whenever you create a function, you must close it with the keyword end. This tells Lua that the function is finished.

Excellent, we now have a function! However, it's currently an empty function so it won't actually do anything if we run it. Let's fix that by adding the following line of code inside the function, between where we declare the function (its opening line) and the closing end keyword:

local function pushBalloon()
    balloon:applyLinearImpulse( 0, -0.75, balloon.x, balloon.y )
end

It's considered good programming practice to indent at least one tab or 3-4 spaces when you add lines of code inside functions. This makes your code more readable and it's easier to recognize functions in longer programs.

balloon:applyLinearImpulse is a really cool command. When applied to a dynamic physical object like the balloon, it applies a "push" to the object in any direction. The parameters that we pass tell the physics engine how much force to apply (both horizontally and vertically) and also where on the object's body to apply the force.

The first two parameters, 0 and -0.75, indicate the amount of directional force. The first number is the horizontal, or x direction, and the second number is the vertical, or y direction. Since we only want to push the balloon upwards (not left or right), we use 0 as the first parameter. For the second parameter, with a value of -0.75, we tell the physics engine to push the balloon up a little bit. The value of this number determines the amount of force that is applied: the bigger the number, the higher the force.

As shown in the diagram at right, positive x values in Corona extend to the right, while positive y values extend downward (not upward as in the Cartesian coordinate system). This is why we use a negative value (-0.75) to push the balloon upward.

The third and fourth parameters, balloon.x and balloon.y, tell the physics engine where to apply the force, relative to the balloon itself. If you apply the force at a location which is not the center of the balloon, it may cause the balloon to move in an unexpected direction or spin around. For this game, we will keep the force focused on the center of the balloon.

That's it! We could, if needed, add additional commands inside the pushBalloon() function, but for this simple game, we only need to push the balloon upward with a small amount of force.

Events

Events are what create interactivity and, in many ways, Corona is an event-based framework where information is dispatched during a specific event to an event listener. Whether that event is the user touching an object/button, tapping the screen, or (in this game) tapping the balloon, Corona can react by triggering an event.

Adding an event listener is easy — do so now, following the function:

local function pushBalloon()
    balloon:applyLinearImpulse( 0, -0.75, balloon.x, balloon.y )
end

balloon:addEventListener( "tap", pushBalloon )

Let's inspect the structure of this new command:

  • First, we must tell Corona which object is involved in the event listener. For this game, we want to detect an event related directly to the balloon object.

  • Immediately following this, add a colon (:), then addEventListener. In Lua, this is called an object method. Essentially, addEventListener, following the colon, tells Corona that we want to add an event listener to balloon, specified before the colon.

  • Inside the parentheses are two parameters which complete the command. The first parameter is the event type which Corona will listen for, in this case "tap". The second parameter is the function which should be run (called) when the event occurs, in this case the pushBalloon() function which we wrote in the previous section. Essentially, we're telling Corona to run the pushBalloon() function every time the user taps the balloon.

That is everything — you have a functional game now! If you save your main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator, it should be ready to go. Try your best to continue tapping/clicking the balloon and preventing it from touching the platform!

Here is the complete program, just in case you missed something:

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
--
-- main.lua
--
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )
background.x = display.contentCenterX
background.y = display.contentCenterY

local platform = display.newImageRect( "platform.png", 300, 50 )
platform.x = display.contentCenterX
platform.y = display.contentHeight-25

local balloon = display.newImageRect( "balloon.png", 112, 112 )
balloon.x = display.contentCenterX
balloon.y = display.contentCenterY
balloon.alpha = 0.8

local physics = require( "physics" )
physics.start()

physics.addBody( platform, "static" )
physics.addBody( balloon, "dynamic", { radius=50, bounce=0.3 } )

local function pushBalloon()
    balloon:applyLinearImpulse( 0, -0.75, balloon.x, balloon.y )
end

balloon:addEventListener( "tap", pushBalloon )

Extra Credit

Congratulations, you have created a basic game in just 30 lines of code! But there is something missing, isn't there? Wouldn't it be nice if the game kept track of how many times the balloon was tapped? Fortunately that's easy to add!

First, let's create a local Lua variable to keep track of the tap count. You can add this at the very top of your existing code. In this case, we'll use it to store an integer instead of associating it with an image. Since the player should begin the game with no score, we'll initially set its value to 0, but this can change later.

local tapCount = 0

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )
background.x = display.contentCenterX
background.y = display.contentCenterY

Next, let's create a visual object to display the number of taps on the balloon. Remember the rules of layering discussed earlier in this chapter? New objects will be placed in front of other objects which were loaded previously, so this object should be loaded after you load the background (otherwise it will be placed behind the background and you won't see it).

After the three lines which load/position the background, add the following highlighted command:

local tapCount = 0

local background = display.newImageRect( "background.png", 360, 570 )
background.x = display.contentCenterX
background.y = display.contentCenterY

local tapText = display.newText( tapCount, display.contentCenterX, 20, native.systemFont, 40 )

Let's inspect this command in more detail:

The second two parameters, display.contentCenterX and 20, are used to position this text object on the screen. You'll notice that we use the same shortcut of display.contentCenterX to position the object in the horizontal center of the screen, and 20 to set its vertical y position near the top of the screen.

The fourth parameter for this API is the font in which to render the text. Corona supports custom fonts across all platforms, but for this game we'll use the default system font by specifying native.systemFont.

The final parameter (40) is the intended size of the rendered text.

Let's check the result of this new code. Save your modified main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator. If all went well, the text object should now be showing, positioned near the top of the screen.

Continuing with our program — by default, text created with display.newText() will be white. Fortunately, it's easy to change this. Directly following the line you just added, type the highlighted command:

local tapText = display.newText( tapCount, display.contentCenterX, 20, native.systemFont, 40 )
tapText:setFillColor( 0, 0, 0 )

Simply put, this setFillColor() command modifies the fill color of the object tapText. The setFillColor() command accepts up to four numeric parameters in the range of 0 to 1, one each for the color channels red, green, blue, and alpha. In this game, we're filling the object with solid black, so the first three channels are set to 0 (alpha defaults to 1 and it can be omitted in this case).

Let's move on! The new text object looks nice, but it doesn't actually do anything. To make it update when the player taps the balloon, we'll need to modify our pushBalloon() function. Inside this function, following the balloon:applyLinearImpulse() command, insert the two highlighted lines:

local function pushBalloon()
    balloon:applyLinearImpulse( 0, -0.75, balloon.x, balloon.y )
    tapCount = tapCount + 1
    tapText.text = tapCount
end

Let's examine these lines individually:

Look carefully — to update the on-screen text, we update a property of the text object, not the object itself. In this case, we modify the text property of tapText by writing tapText.text, followed by =, then its new value. Because we increase the value of the tapCount variable on the line directly before, then update the text object with that same variable value, the visual display will always mirror the internal tapCount value.

That's it! If you save your main.lua file and relaunch the Simulator, your game is essentially finished — now, each time you tap the balloon, the counter at the top of the screen will increase by 1, effectively keeping score.

The complete BalloonTap program is available for download here. If your project isn't working as expected, please download this source code and compare it with what you've created.

Chapter Concepts

We've covered many concepts in this chapter. It may seem a bit overwhelming, but be patient, look at your code, and read through the sections again if necessary. If you need help, the Corona Forums are a friendly venue to communicate with other Corona developers and staff members.

Here's a quick overview of what you learned in this chapter:

Command/Property Description
display.newImageRect() Loads and displays an image on the screen.
object.x Sets the horizontal x position of an object.
object.y Sets the vertical y position of an object.
display.contentCenterX Shortcut for the center of the content area along the x axis.
display.contentCenterY Shortcut for the center of the content area along the y axis.
object.alpha Sets the alpha level of an object (opacity/transparency).
require() Loads a given module or library, for example "physics".
physics.start() Starts the physics engine.
physics.addBody() Adds a physical body to an object.
object:applyLinearImpulse() Applies a simulated impulse force to a physical object.
object:addEventListener() Adds an event listener to an object, for example "tap".
display.newText() Creates a text object on the screen.
object:setFillColor() Sets the fill color for text and vector objects.

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