Author Archives: Russellg

Download the Heroes & Guises Android Beta Now!

Test our beta versionThank you all for following the Heroes & Guises project. We are very pleased to have arrived at this significant milestone – being able to release a usable version of our product. We’d love as many people as possible to take part and give us some feedback. Your input will be very useful as we seek further funding to move towards the next stage. If you intend to take part please read the text below. Please note, this version is available on Android only.

What can you do in this version?

This first version has been developed to test the general concept of creating stories with alternate routes. In this version you can sign up, create stories (including using our story starters feature), explore all stories or filter by genre, and contribute to stories created by others. An overview of how to use the app as follows:

  • Getting started. The app opens on the dashboard. From here you can explore all stories, explore by genre or view stories that you have initiated.
  • Create a story. Clicking on ‘Start new publication’ lets you set up a title and introduction, you may like to use our story starter tool to write your introduction. You can then select genres and other settings and choose whether to make it a private or public story. Once all of this is set your story is created and you are taken to a front cover.
  • Contributing to stories. Each chapter can have 10 variations. You can swipe to the right to view them or all the way to the right to add a new variation. If you find a variation you like and want to continue that route you can click on the button at the bottom of the screen to go down to the next chapter. You can contribute once to each chapter of each route, giving you lots of opportunities to write. Stories have 6 chapters, after which you reach ‘The End’.
  • Dilemma. After 3 chapters you are faced with a dilemma chapter. Only 3 of these are available rather than 10. Use this to introduce a plot change.

Where features do not work you will see a ‘feature coming soon’ alert. There are many features we would have liked to have built in this version, but there was not the time, and we really needed the feedback on the core functionality.

How can you download the app?

You can find download instructions on the home page of our site in the Download section. In order to become a beta tester you need to join out Google group (don’t just click the link, you have to click the ‘Join this group’ button), then use the link to become a tester. You can then download in the Google Play store. We may make updates so check regularly and keep your app updated as we add features and fix bugs.

Feeding back

You can give us your feedback directly by simply emailing with your thoughts and opinions. We would like to know what you think of the concept, the design and hear your suggestions.

Known bugs

There are several issues that we know about with this version including the following:

  • Sometimes when submitting a chapter the app alerts you to ‘Please write something’. If this happens you can copy what you have written, leave the page, then go back in and paste the text in.
  • The layout on the story starters page does not display properly. This only happens the first time you go on this page.
  • Sliding motion doesn’t work. This might be on the main story interface or the genre slider on the dashboard. This occasionally happens and solves itself. Shut the app down and then reopen.

We hope you have fun and get inspired with Heroes & Guises!

The development of the app

The frontend of the app is built with HTML5, CSS and JQuery, JQuery Mobile and AJAX. HTML5 apps are getting more and more popular but it is still fairly uncommon to come across them in an app market place such as Google Play or the Apple App Store. The majority of the apps found in these app stores are created using native code. There are a number of pros and cons to each. One of the main limiting factors of creating a HTML5 app was accessing native like features. For example, a HTML5 app is unable to access the systems share system or even hardware features such as the camera and microphone. In order to get past some of these limitations, PhoneGap/Cordova was used.

PhoneGap is an open source framework that allows the creation of mobile apps using various standardized APIs. Once the frontend of the app was completed, the PhoneGap app was compiled using an IDE called Eclipse. Once the app was signed, it was then ready to be uploaded the to various app stores.

One of the downsides to creating an app using HTML5, is unfortunately speed. At this moment in time, the speed of native applications cannot be matched by an HTML5 application. On some devices, some things such as page transitions can appear a bit choppy. Another problem that we came across was the ability to use a devices built-in notification system. Currently, there doesn’t appear to be a clear way to be able to send a notification to a user’s device, or show the notification count on the application icon.

On the server side of things, a PHP framework called CodeIgniter was used, which claims to have a small footprint, and be ideal for powering the next generation of web applications. Storing all the users data, is a MySQL database. In order to communicate the frontend of the app to the backend, a lot of AJAX is used.

One of the main challenges faced during this project was the initial steep learning curve. This was particularly the case when using JQuery Mobile and PhoneGap. It took a while to get used to JQuery Mobile’s architecture, as the way it was structured was quite different to anything that had been used before. On the PhoneGap side of things, the most difficult part was the initial set up. A lot of software had to be downloaded such as Node.js and the Android SDK, and a number of environment variables had to be configured.

Working with Mithun, an Ambassador of Acorns Children’s Hospice

Following a meeting at Acorns Children’s Hospice in Walsall with Naz Bi and some young people, our Business Development Manager, Sue, and our Designer, Harry, arranged a meeting with Mithun, an Ambassador of Acorns, at his home.  Many thanks to Mithun, who has kindly given up some time to help us with feedback on the features and designs of the app during the development phase.

Mithun was kind enough to tell everyone a little about himself and how he got involved in the Heroes and Guises Project.

“I got involved with Acorns Children’s Hospice from the young age of 7, when I first started to attend their respite care and their services. Whilst I was attending Acorns I made quite a lot of friends. We used to stay up late, watch movies, play games and have take-aways. The best part at being at Acorns was going in for respite with my friends. I was discharged from Acorns and their services recently at the age of 21 due to the age limit.

When I reached the age of 19, Acorns were looking for people to volunteer as an Ambassador and I put my name forward. Being an Acorns Ambassador enables me to still be apart of Acorns and to make a real difference to my life, as well as improving Acorns services and the future of paediatric palliative care and adult care services.

The second edition of Acorn’s ‘Kurious Viewz’ magazine started as a task that I signed up for with my friend. Creating this magazine has given me the opportunity to bring my artistic talent to life and to learn new software. I have been part of a team and have experienced Acorns’ client views on holidays, outings and interests by reading through the articles as I was putting them together.

Being a part of the Heroes and Guises Creative Writing App Project has enabled me to be part of the design process, based on the survey I did with Sue and the Designer, Harry.  The app will benefit me by trying out something new and different, that I have never tried before. The app will enable me to write stories and share stories with friends on social sites such as Facebook. I look forward to the finished product and testing the app once it is ready.”

Once the app is ready, we will be arranging another visit to Mithun so that he can test the app and give us more valuable feedback.

Heroes and Guises at ‘Living Healthy with Diabetes’ Conference and Exhibition

Harry showing designsMany thanks to Gursh Athwall at Diabetes UK for the invitation to attend their one day event to promote a healthy lifestyle for people living with diabetes in the Wolverhampton area.

I attended the event with Russell and Harry at Wolverhampton Racecourse to introduce Heroes & Guises. Throughout the day, we had the opportunity to find out more about diabetes and talk to people living with diabetes, and their carers. We enjoyed networking with other organisations at the event, some who offered to display our promotional material at their groups, and others who signposted us to local organisations that may be interested in our project.Sue getting feedbackRussell and I received lots of useful feedback on the features of the app and we all chatted to people who took time to complete our survey. Our designer Harry received valuable feedback on design mockups, which have helped to guide key aspects of the user experience.

We discussed the positive health benefits of creative writing and we found that people who were interested in creative writing were open to writing using an app. Some people offered to pass our promotional material to young people in their families who use smartphone apps and who are also interested in creative writing.Demonstrating designsMany thanks to Diabetes UK for inviting us to the event, and to everyone who gave up their time to talk to us and give us some feedback on the project. The staff at Wolverhampton Racecourse provided us with lots of cups of tea throughout the day, and a very enjoyable hot lunch! Thanks too to the organisations who offered to display our promotional material at local support groups and venues. All the support and feedback is very much appreciated!

If you’d like to contribute to the development and design of the app, please complete our online survey now!

By Sue Brettell, Business Development Manager

An insight into wireframing Heroes & Guises

During the past few weeks  we have spent a lot of time developing the user experience for Heroes & Guises. We thought we would share some of the steps in progress we have made.


The first step in designing the app was to write a plan of how it will work. This involved brainstorming the story setup and the reading/writing process. After this we were then able to list all the possible screens a user would face when using the app.


For the second step of the design, we sketched a few basic ideas for the screens, coming up with different options for the reading and writing interfaces. Whilst doing this we also researched other mobile apps, gathering inspiration for different designs such as layout, navigation and the use of images.


Once satisfied with the sketches, we moved on to the third step of creating wireframes for the different screens in Illustrator. For mapping out the user experience it helped to communicate complex ideas and spot problems, such as navigation complexity, content fit and usability.

For the focus to be on the structure of the app, the wireframes use subtle tones of gray, so the designs are not over powered by strong colours. Also using standard icons to represent key actions helped make the decisions of going text only, icon only or text with icon.


The overall aim for the app is for a user to be able create a story, whilst giving other users the chance to collaborate, interact and explore  different ideas within that story.

To achieve this goal, the fourth step was to come up with an innovative user interface that would be simple and understandable for a user to navigate through a story and its several chapters.

After much deliberation on this, we came up with the idea of displaying the text of each chapter from the story on cards, which can be tapped to open and which slide sideways to view alternate versions. users can use up and down button for the next or previous chapter and also by incorporating animations the cards can be flipped around to view more information about the chapter, such as the amount of favorites, comments, bookmarks and responses.

From feedback we found that this intuitive interface works very well, as it is quick and easy to access different chapters and versions of a story. If you want to leave any feedback on our designs, we would like to hear it. Please leave a comment or contact us.

By Harry Johnson, Designer.

Play Heroes & Guises… on paper

Paper GameIn the midst of the designing, developing and talking to the world about our game we thought it might be a good idea to actually play it. However, in the digital game stories can go off in so many different directions that without some serious origami skills it would be impossible to play it fully on paper. We have however created a simplified version that can be played in groups. It gets across some core features of the game – for instance everyone starts with the same story introduction, but as the papers get passed around they go off in different directions. The group also get to vote on plot changes and vote for the best chapter.

We have begun to play this amongst our team, and Sue, our Business Development Manager, is offering to facilitate sessions using this game for organisations and groups. If you work with young people in a health setting and are interested in Sue coming to your organisation to run a session then email her on for more details.

If you would like to download the game and give it a go in your group you can use the links below. There are 3 versions available, as well as a rule sheet. Be sure to get in touch to tell us how you like it!


> Rules of the game
Fairly standard instructions of how to play.

> Story 1
A story involving a beach scenario.

> Story 2
A story involving a mystery character.

> Story 3
A version involving a plane accident.

By Russell Goffe-Wood, Project Director.

What can be achieved in 12 weeks?

ClockThe short time period in which we have chosen to test our idea might be the cause of some nail biting for the team, but it was intentional for a few reasons:

  • To fail fast: We want to know if other people think our idea is good as soon as possible. In the tech industry we like to ‘fail fast’ so that as little money and time is spent on bad ideas. However, failing fast doesn’t mean giving up. It means ‘learning fast’, so that if something needs to be changed then we can make that change and move forward.
  • To be staffed by interns: A full-time graduate internship form the University of Wolverhampton’s STEP scheme is 12-weeks. A big part of our project is about creating employment opportunities and giving people a chance to get work experience. Our app is being designed, built and promoted by recent graduates. We want to show that in 12 weeks an intern can achieve a lot and contribute to something meaningful. It’s not an easy time for them, but the skills they are gaining are invaluable.
  • To remain focused: There are no luxuries in 12 weeks. We cannot spend hours tweaking small details and trying to implement peripheral features. We have to remain focused on the goal, which is to test the core idea with our target audience. If they like it then we can make it better, but for now we just need to make it.

It was also a reality-check to realise that 12 weeks is considered end of life care for many young people with terminal illnesses. Our graduates are having an intense 12 week period to kick off their careers, whilst some young people are having an intense 12 weeks that will end their lives.

To make the best use of our 12 weeks we have divided our time into fortnightly sprints, coming together after each one to reflect, discuss and plan the next 2 weeks. This is helping us to stay focused and manage our time in this short period. It is refreshing and sobering to know that we started in September and by Christmas we will be finished with our prototype phase, hopefully with the answers we need to begin moving forward in the New Year.

By Russell Goffe-Wood, Project Director.

The motivation behind the project

Chapter 1It is with great pleasure that we are here, being given a chance to create something that has the potential to help people. Thanks to Creative England, Creative Skills for Life and the University of Wolverhampton, Horbury & Goffe have been able to pull together a talented team to build and test our idea. We are a team that is passionate about creativity and we are an organisation that is passionate about creating innovative solutions that help people to help themselves.

Heroes & Guises might seem like a game on the surface. You can interact with your friends and make new friends. You might gain some points and get to the next level, but along the way you are being creative. You are having to think of ideas and bounce off other people on the fly and in the moment. These skills are important for people that want to help themselves, to solve their own problems in their lives. If we can help people to learn these skills in a fun way, and in a way that helps them to express themselves at the same time, then we feel we are doing some good.

We want to make something new to the world that is engaging and can inspire people. We want your help to do this. You can give us feedback on our idea in our survey. You can install our prototype app when it is ready and tell us what you think about it. We are building this tool to help young people with life-threatening illnesses. I wish we couldn’t say there was a market for this, but it seems that this represents a huge number of young people. If you are in this group we want your input above all. We also want input from writers, non-writers, techies, designers, young people, older people, carers, parents and anyone with an opinion. If what we are doing can look better or be better or be more helpful then we need to know.

Please keep reading this blog and share it with your friends. In the coming weeks of our short prototyping period we will introduce you to our team and what they are doing. We will also give you previews of the app and how it will look and work. We will also be testing and giving away a paper version of our game.

By Russell Goffe-Wood, Project Director.