Adobe always has awesome and powerful products and my hesitancy with it is more about their business model. Some time ago, Adobe went to the monthly fee price, and if you signed up for all of Adobe’s products in Canada, with the Cyber Monday deal that knocks a bunch off the cost, it is still $40 US a month, or about $52 a month/$600 a year. That’s pretty freakin’ steep. Now, maybe that doesn’t seem fair, because that’s ALL of Adobe together. Except here’s the kicker…while LightRoom and Photoshop are uber powerful, they are way more complexity than I want for my simple photography needs. InDesign for page layout might be nice, but again, overkill. Illustrator would be a nice-to-have as would Premiere for video editing. Even Acrobat Pro would come in handy from time to time. I could probably find a use for Spark, InDesign, and Audition too.
But none of them are “must-haves”, not like MS Office for instance. If Adobe dropped it to $100 a year, I’d say sign me up. At $600 a year? Yeah, no.
But I can license them separately if I find one I like, and Adobe has three products on my list — Flash, After Effects and Character Animator. While lots of people still use Flash even in 2020, it’s being phased out for website use and not generally recommended much anymore, so easily dropped.
AfterEffects is more about motion graphics in general, so not really what I want either.
Which leaves Character Animator.
1. Character Animator ($$$$$)
I downloaded ACA with their free 7 day trial and it seemed pretty powerful at first. It has some stock “puppets” to work with, including some anamorphic characters (monsters, etc.) and humans (man, woman, ninja). So some good stock characters.
I did a couple of tutorials and the interface is not particularly compelling for me. One of the features, quite common I know, is that you can use your own webcam and microphone to animate the character. So, for example, if I move my head side to side, or bob around, the characters head moves too. Equally, I can record my voice over the character and it will (in theory) lip sync to my words. Not very accurately, but a pseudo replica of my movements.
Which is okay, but not compelling to me. I closed out, checked some stuff back in email, did a couple more things, and went to go back to it. It wouldn’t load. Total crash. Okay, shut down, reboot? Nope, won’t load. I’m not sold on it, and it is more expensive than most because of the subscription model, so I’ll just uninstall it.
Nope. It insists on loading the Creative Cloud tool (CC) first, and it keeps hanging. The help page says reinstall. Why would I reinstall just to uninstall? Sigh. I eventually had to download ANOTHER uninstaller to get the first uninstaller to work. Nice.
And to be honest, this is one of the things I hate most about Adobe products. When I’ve used their Lightroom, for example, it didn’t just help me manage my files, it started doing a whole bunch of changes to folders and subfolders and meta data so that nothing else would be able to manage it either. That’s not an option I accept, particularly when I have other tools with better interfaces for some functions.
Okay, all of Adobe is definitely off the table. Too bad.
I’m looking for some simple but decent animation software and I have a curated list of 41 to consider.
7. Autodesk Maya ($$$$$)
One technique to finding stuff that is a bit higher-quality is to look at courses that people teach on the various learning platforms. One of the “popular ones” is called Autodesk Maya, and it is both big and powerful. There are lots of professional training options out there. Why? Because the software is expensive — $1215 a YEAR on sale — and people who have that kind of cash are likely in the business and either them or their work will pay for the training. I’m willing to pay for an animation package, sure, but not that much. Pass.
32. Synfig ($$$$$)
Synfig Studio is donation-ware, so I can try it out for free. I actually don’t care if the software is free, I am willing to pay if it does what I want and reduces my pain overhead. The software advertises that it has vector tweening (transformation in steps), layers and filters, and bones (skeleton overlaps to your artwork so you can make something move). I don’t know what I’ll need yet, but I’m willing to try it.
I was able to follow a basic tutorial to create a “Knight Rider” / Cylon look to a moving red circle on a black rectangle as the background and I created a robot image with clip art but added flashing lights.
Relatively straightforward, i managed to make it work. But perhaps a little more movement oriented and less stock art than I want. It was supposed to come with a bunch of examples, but if it did, I couldn’t find them.
I’ve wanted the ability to create some basic animation for a project I have in mind. It isn’t revolutionary, more fun, I just would really like to be able to do some animated images, etc. The closest I could describe it is somewhere between a comic book and a comic strip. Perhaps adding a third area for a meme where this would sit between all three points or at the centre of a tri-part Venn diagram. 🙂 And since I recently upgraded my home computer for a COVID world, I’m good to go!
I’ve had it on my mind for awhile. Way back when Jacob was in kindergarten, one of his teachers was married to a professional animator. I thought, “What a perfect person to ask!” If someone wanted to do basic animation at home, wasn’t a drawing superstar couldn’t draw at all, and wanted to use potentially stock characters to create some simple animated posters for example, or potentially at some point, some short animated videos in 2D, what would be a good beginner software to play with? He didn’t have a suggestion.
Which seems weird to me. If you ask photographers what to use for their processing or file management, they’ll tell you “experts use…” and “beginners use…” or “there are some free ones like …”. Ask coders, stats, business, writers, etc. a similar question, and you get a full litany. They often have VERY definite views about software options to work in. To the point where it’s like confronting a bear suddenly…back away slowly, don’t show fear, don’t run.
But I don’t see that with animators. I’ve even asked in Reddit channels, and got no take-up. If you ask a more specific question like “what can I do on a tablet”, they’ll tell you apps, but not ones that say what you can do for x or y. Not universally, of course, but often enough that I feel like I’m asking something weird, like “If I wanted to go to the moon, which car would I buy?”.
To be honest, I’m basically looking for the animation equivalent of clip art. A step up, a little more complicated, but I’m not talking advanced animation. And so, because I want to work on this in the new year, I’m doing a deeper search for animation software. Heck, maybe even something on sale for Black Friday weekend. Let’s see what I find.
41 programs to try
If that sounds like a lot of programs to try, well, it is. But I’m not against learning as I go and trying things out.
Adobe Character Animator
Animate CC (Formerly Flash)
Aurora 3D Animation Maker
Crazy Talk Animator 3 / Cartoon Animator 4
DigiCel FlipBook (note that the free version includes watermark)
I’ve been blogging the last week about various options to run trivia quizzes on my website, ranging from basic plugins to premium plugins or even embedding quizzes from external platforms (either dedicated to trivia like Kahoot or generic forms with a quiz option like MS or Google Forms). In my last post (Considering different trivia managers), I covered a huge list and while some of them were awesome in their own right, I have a very specific goal in mind with five criteria.
I narrowed it down to three free plugins for WordPress and for the head-to-head matchup, I am ONLY considering the basic plugin, not the premium options.
Setting up my criteria
For scoring/results, I’m looking for something other than just a score, all of them do that obviously. However, some of the full list of plugins added extra clicks to see the results, immediate answers per question vs. seeing everything at the end, etc.
For basic styling, I want to know that it is livable without any extra tweaking behind the scenes. I hesitate to reduce it to just saying that the defaults are acceptable, but that is close to what I mean. A slightly different way of understanding it is more like “how close is the basic styling to what I want”, because the closer it is, the less work I have to do to fix it. If it starts off crappy, then I have to do more to get it looking proper.
For advanced styling, I want to know a few things. Can I add images to the quiz opening and to individual questions? Can I change highlight colours, fonts, borders? Even if the basic is acceptable, how much tweaking can I do from within the plugin to get it fully tricked-out if I choose that one for the final option.
For tracking results, I am not sure how much weight I want to give it. I really don’t have a desire to have people log in, and I don’t want the responsibility to track that data. What I really want, I think, is more like a video game console with a high-score tracker and the ability to enter your name when you get a new high-score. That is a rare functionality.
I didn’t track the next two criteria in my initial review of all of the plugins but I feel there should be a basic review of flexibility and usability.
For flexibility, some allow the ability to create banks of questions and generate new quizzes dynamically. Equally, others allow shuffling answer options within a question or even questions within a quiz. For usability, it is probably simplest just to ask if I like using it? Or am I going to be fighting with it to make it do what I want? Cuz if I don’t like it, I am going to be constantly thinking there must be some sort of better solution out there. Instead, I want to nail it early and start putting up questions.
I’m scaling everything on a 5-point scale with no ties possible, each criteria has to have a clear separation and ranking between the three. I’ll give myself a bit of flex in terms of the points within 1-5.
Quiz and Survey Master
2 (okay layout at the end, not much “community”)
1 (forced results during, no community at end, slow scoring after each question)
4 (good layout, results at the end and/or during, sound if I want it or not, and comparisons of other people’s results)
3 (good layout of individual questions, highly readable, paginated)
1 (option to style text of each question or answer option is powerful but too manual, not enough theming)
4 (strong formatting layout at beginning for intro, pagination, good colour options)
0 (nothing special)
0 (nothing special)
3 (good overall options, highly readable)
1 (doesn’t right with theme)
3 (per quiz)
2 (none with quiz, separate page)
3 (average, separate page but not useful without logins)
When I started the quiz comparison based on the earlier overall weed, I thought the scores would be close. I was wondering if I would have to start weighting elements to give more stratification of results; obviously I didn’t. Not only was my own experience clearly in favour of Quiz Maker over the other two, and even Quiz and Survey Maker over HD Quiz, my beta testers for the resulting quizzes online were ALSO clearly of the same view. They thought Quiz Maker had a much superior look and feel while playing, QSM was adequate but lacking, and HD Quiz was too basic.
Quiz Maker beat the other two by a country mile. I’d prefer the quizzes weren’t done as separate questions and having to “add” Qs to banks or to a specific quiz, but that weakness may turn out to be a strength in the long-term. Let’s play trivia…
As I’ve mentioned in some recent posts, I am starting to get re-interested in trivia games online, and since I’ve always wanted trivia games on my site, I decided to do a shallow but extensive dive into various tools that will let me run trivia games on my website. Since I run my site with WordPress, I started with plugin options, and various lists of the top quiz plugins to consider and then branched out to other options.
While the idea of a really advanced quiz plugin sounds appealing in theory with power out the wazoo, the reality is that my needs are actually quite simple. I need:
Basic but decent styling.
In other words, I need it to automatically calculate the score AND not look like it was programmed in MS DOS. Beyond that, my “nice to have” list includes:
Different types of question formats, although almost all will be multiple choice;
A timer so people can’t simply Google the answers; and,
Some way to track results over time.
The last one is a bit of a double-edged sword. I’d like it to keep score somehow, but I don’t want people to have to register with the site and give me a bunch of personal information that I would then have to manage. I’d much prefer some sort of external link to do that, or cookies, but it depends on what the plugin offers.
1. WordPress Plugins
A. WP-Quiz came heavily recommended by multiple sites. It has a free and a pro version, however, I don’t know the last time I saw a free version of a plugin that was so limited. Don’t get me wrong, I could create some basic quizzes with it, embed them on my site, and I’d be good to go. Except the player can’t keep track of scores on an ongoing basis, nor can I. It runs the quiz, gives a result (if you tell it to), and that’s it. You can change some colours, and pagination, but other than the actual questions, that’s about it. All of the basic “quiz” features you might want are in the pro version. Of the 35 “tweaks” you can make to the settings, 25 of them are only in the pro version. That’s a lot of menu to go through just to see what you can’t do. It’s decent enough, but not enough functionality to try to get me to upgrade to $77/year. It has the basics but not my nice to haves without a subscription.
B. Quiz and Survey Master is one of the plugin types that openly notes that quizzes are really just surveys with pre-determined “right” answers. So offering a quiz plugin and a survey plugin together just makes sense — it’s the same basic tool. Once you start trying to create a quiz with QSM, you see why it is highly recommended.
It easily meets my initial needs — questions and scoring.
But on the nice-to-haves, there are 15 different options for types of questions, although some formats are more about survey info than quiz questions. For multiple choice, you can have vertical options, horizontal options, drop down options…you get the idea. You can even add options for comments from players or extra info about the right answer.
There’s also a way to add a contact form to get details about the players, formatting for text before the quiz (and six other messages, including the ability to include NGG galleries and images), control options for the quiz, emailing of results, results pages, and even styling. There are a LOT of options in there to figure out, although once set, you’d probably be okay for future quizzes too, keep the same look and feel and functioning.
However, in addition to all the base functions, QSM is also known for extra functionality through addons, some free and some not. Two of the biggest are certificates (for completing a quiz, with proof if you are over a threshold), and leaderboards (for tracking how various people are doing). Others that looked interesting included an advanced timer ($19, but the default core has a timer built in already); an option to synch and store the results in a google sheet (fairly common functionality); quiz as a popup ($35); flashcards ($25); emails as summaries ($25); extra shortcodes ($20); user dashboard ($25); mailpoet integration ($25); and advanced leaderboard ($10). Individually, there is about $300 worth of plugins, or I could buy the whole set for a one-time bundled price of $130. Not including potential additional coupon codes.
That’s not chicken feed, so the real question is how well the base works. In short, pretty powerful. But…
I don’t feel like there is a whole lot of styling support. It LOOKS boring. I don’t have it all tricked out, but I’m also feeling like it is somehow, umm, “too powerful”? More like just “over-complicated”.
QSM comes with a built-in block but it does nothing more than insert the code into the block editor. I can do THAT with a short code. But I don’t see great options to do a lot more styling. QSM does the first four well, and I bet I can MAKE it do the fifth one too, but there are other options to consider and I’ll come back.
C. mTouch Quiz sounded intriguing until I saw it hasn’t been updated in 3 years and has only 2000 people using it. Pass.
D. Quiz Cat has only 5000 users, but the live demo was decent. Or maybe I was just impressed because the demo included a Star Wars quiz with Lego Star Wars photos to drive it. Against my original headings, well, it doesn’t have a built-in timer nor does it really do different types of quizzes. It only keeps track of number of right answers with them all being the same weight and has no tracking of results over time, but the styling is not bad. The premium version gives me more styling, but that is about it. Simple, but not powerful enough. Pass.
E. HD Quiz was next on my list to try and I find it a bit amusing almost. The plug is pretty simple with a few extra features here and there. It sounds weird, but it seems “cute” to me. On the basic options, scoring and that it looks okay, it’s fine.
On the nice-to-haves, the timer is affected by pagination. So if you want a single page of questions, the timer works just fine; if you want separate pages for each question, the timer starts to act up. That’s not a deal breaker, and there are likely ways to tweak it to work properly, but I’ll call it “half-marks” for now.
Tracking results is limited (haven’t dove deep enough yet into an addon for saving results), but the styling has some decent options for text before and after quizzes, pictures with any question, featured images for quizzes, etc. Overall, a decent contender.
F. Ari Stream Quiz is pretty straightforward. Scoring and basic styling are there. And while there are no options for different types of questions, timers or tracking results, it offers the chance to collect data? That’s just plain weird. Why? It’s easy to turn it off though. (Oh, email was just slow, it sent me my results by email. Well, I don’t need THAT feature.) For a very simple clean quiz, it works well. Not quite a contender, but nice.
G. Watu is hard to evaluate. Against my original criteria of scoring, it’s fine. Styling? Not so exciting. But there are question options and the type of results analysis is awesome (including allowing weighting, and pass marks). Yet it almost seems like little more than an advertisement for Watu Pro (not that there is anything wrong with that, that is why a lot of the free plugins exist). The pro option expands the conditional logic of how it assigns “grades” for maximum flexibility in telling people how they did. More question options, including an option to have categories and sub-categories which sounds pretty great (for example geography and then categories for capital cities or continental groupings, etc.). I really like the idea of difficulty levels (like Super Quiz used to have). You also get certificates and timers. I’m also impressed that it has design themes too, although it would depend on how rich those themes were. In short, if I decide to “pay” for a plugin, it’s a contender. Otherwise, I have to pass.
H. Chained Quiz only has about 2000 users, but it is surprisingly decent. It keeps score and allows weighting of points which is a bonus. But the real pro and con is the styling of questions. For each question, you basically have a classic editor box. Which means you can DO almost anything with it. Except I’m a block guy now and a lot of the things I would have liked to integrate are blocks from Stackable. It DID let me insert an image from NGG which was AWESOME. I love that option.
But I don’t like managing the questions and the results page and this and that separately. It should be one quiz, with all the options in tabs for that quiz. Even the questions went to separate entries and pages/screens, which is how it was able to give a full edit screen. That is a lot of clicking and typing to enter the same stuff. Styling is great, but a pseudo-theme would have been simpler.
A pretty solid choice, just not quite there.
I. Quiz Maker wasn’t something I was expecting to wow me since it has only 7000 users. And as I started into it, the approach even to its menus gave me pause. It has a separate tab for quizzes and questions. In other words, the questions go into a databank and multiple Qs can go into multiple quizzes. Which is a nice feature in a sense, but not necessarily a bonus feature for me. I’d much rather control my quizzes so that the first 10 questions are in one quiz, and they are all “self-contained”. The benefit for the databank is the ability to use a “random” selection of questions i.e., one quiz that can be played multiple times and always get a different set of questions as long as the databank is large enough.
I also wasn’t initially impressed by the number of features that seemed to say “PRO only”. But then I started to delve into various settings. And there are a LOT of them, even in the free version. Whereas most have about 10-30 or so, this one probably has about 100. Then you open a quiz and that number goes through the roof. Holy crap!
So yes it does the scoring and basic styling. Weighting requires a pro subscription, but multiple options are built-in, as is a timer for the quiz. And the ability to track results, more or less, if I allow them to register or give more details than I probably want. Shown by IP address. If I decide to go that route, there is more to be done with the PRO version, but it’s pretty solid, and the results are all stored in a database if I want to do some analysis on how people are doing.
Overall, though, the thing that impressed me most besides the sheer number of features was simply the ability to style just about everything. Font sizes, pagination, background images, colours, width on the screen. I did some random selections, not going for “awesome” so much as functionality, and everything worked. I even published it and shipped it to my phone where it worked JUST FINE. I like the mobile compatibility. It almost makes me want to buy the PRO version out of the gate and go crazy. VERY impressive. The PRO prices aren’t that bad either.
J. WP Poll – Best Polling Solution with Quiz & Survey is one of two with almost identical names. This one says it will do quizzes but when you install it, you find out that Quizzes are a paid online. Pass.
K. WP-Polls is the second of the two similarly-named plugins, although this one is by Lester Gamerz Chan. I like his work, I used to run this plugin, but disabled it awhile ago in favour of simple forms like you see in Part III below. I don’t remember it doing quizzes but one of the review sites said it did, so I was willing to try it again. Nope, it doesn’t. Pass.
L. Forminatorlooked promising pre-install. Lots of options, lots of users, current install. It has basic scoring and styling covered, not a lot of question options though. And I don’t see a timer or the ability to track results outside of user logins. There’s a pro option, but it mostly adds form options, not quiz options. It’s nice, it’s viable, but there are other plugins above that I liked better. Pass.
2. Premium options
There are a bunch of options that require premium purchases to do the quiz stuff and since there are free options to get me started with built-in upgrade options, I’m included to go that way. LearnDash is a premium plugin only, a learning management system that offers extensive quiz options to “grade” learning; Interactive is rated high but premium only; and Formidable is another plugin that is primarily about forms, of which quizzes is just one type but while forms are free, the quiz features are only in the premium version. All pass.
3. External options
Apart from basic and premium plugins, there is also the option to just host the questions some other way and embed them in my site.
One of the simplest ways to do it is through Google Forms. You basically set it up as a simple quiz, it has decent options, and it will also collect all the responses if you want. There’s only one problem. Google Forms reside on your Google Drive which not only takes up a small amount of space, almost every organization that has large-scale security blocks access to cloud storage like Google Drive as a matter of course. So, I work for the government, and part of what is driving my interest is an interest in running a trivia game for people at work. However, it’s not much of an option if they can’t actually SEE the quiz. And even if you embed it in a website, the link is still back to Google Drive and it doesn’t load.
Next on the list is MS Forms. You would think since it is part of MS, it would block it. Except it doesn’t seem to save on a OneDrive platform, but rather within Office.com itself. So I can embed it and still access it through the firewall at work. Which is promising. So when I apply the list of test features above, it has scoring and basic styling. Question options are sufficient, mainly multiple choice if you want it validated. But there is no timer, and if you don’t have them login in through an organizational account, it won’t track results. I can drop both features, but it makes for a pretty basic quiz, and while I like the styling options, there are better options above in the free site plugins.
I gave a plugin called Poll, Survey, Form & Quiz Maker a try, and while it seemed a little basic at first, it had some decent layout options as it went. Including the very popular option of adding photos to each question, and even each option within a question. So, just to see how it would appear on the screen, I tried to insert an image. No option to pull it from my website. Hmm, that’s odd. It wants me to reupload? And what’s with the sidebar missing? Oh, wait. When I loaded the plugin and went to add something, it made me create an account with their main website, which is not uncommon for plugins, if only to be able to access their API. What I didn’t notice was that it was actually just a plugin to let me create the quizzes on THEIR server (not my site), despite looking like a regular plugin. It’s just an interface for inserting quizzes from their site to improve the embedding process. I confess I didn’t realize that based on the reviews on various sites. Doh! That’s not necessarily a deal breaker, as I’m open to external hosting if it really improves the process dramatically. But most of the quiz features I want are behind the paywall in the premium options, and it sure ain’t cheap per year. Pass.
One of the plugins, Riddle, seemed odd. It had only 400+ users but seemed REALLY robust. Oh, right, cuz it too is just an “embed” plugin where you pay for an account on riddle.com and then embed your stuff into WordPress. Pass.
I was hoping I could embed a Kahoot game on the website too, but it didn’t auto-embed and further checking shows it only works if you have a publisher’s account with Kahoot which is way too expensive for my simple needs. Pass.
Crowdsignal is another popular one, but the base account has a limited number of games that can be played before it caps out. Pass.
I’ve considered a pretty long list of options in there, and I’m ready to name my final contenders:
HD Quiz (timer, good styling);
Quiz and Survey Master (not sure about styling);
Quiz Maker (options, mobile);
Google Forms has a storage problem and a firewall problem, so my external option would likely be MS Forms. If it just had a *tad* more features, I’d be willing to do it. Instead, I’ll choose between the three ones above and develop some options this week.