All Posts By Jennifer Allen
One of the finest things about app development is how it opens things up to more than just major studios keen to develop an idea. In increasingly dicey times for those reliant upon others for employment, it’s a particular boon to see and some great ideas can come out of tricky times.
One such game is the recently reviewed Glyph Quest, with its developer, industry veteran and one time lead designer at Bullfrog Alex Trowers, letting me know the background to its development. In his own words, “Leanne [Bayley] (the artist), was working in Plymouth, me in Brighton. We decided to move in together and she’d find a new job up this way. Then we found out she was pregnant and had become completely unemployable. Then I lost my job. Instead of finding a new one, we decided we’d try and make a game ourselves. Could we do it before Sproglet arrived? How hard is it for an 8-month pregnant lady to go through [development] crunch [time]?”
More is explained on Leanne’s blog but Alex was also kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.
148Apps: How did the idea for Glyph Quest come about?
Alex Trowers (AT): Glyph Quest was originally a side project for us to tinker about at home while Leanne was out of work. I was a big fan of Dungeon Raid‘s tactile dragging interface (and, more recently, Puzzle & Dragons). Also, I enjoyed the RPG-esque trappings of 10000000. So we kinda threw the rest together. We’re both firm believers in emergent and evolutionary gameplay rather than designing something up front and just implementing it, so a lot of the features we added were very much developed on the fly.
148Apps: How different did you find it going from working as part of a team to a much smaller operation?
AT: The amount of freedom afforded to you as part of a tiny team is fantastic. We put whatever we wanted in to the game as there were no people further up the chain with the power of veto. That’s why you’ll find plenty of references to all sorts of things scattered throughout and it’s those little touches that i think help us to stand out. In addition we really didn’t take ourselves or the genre too seriously. Of course the downside is the lack of resources. Glyph Quest was nowhere near as polished as it could have been come launch and things like our lack of config test or thorough QA were easy to call out. Another thing to consider is that while it’s great to have all of that power and control, it does rather mean that the buck stops with you and if it all goes horribly wrong, there’s no-one else to blame. It’s exciting stuff really.
148Apps: What challenges did you come across?
AT: Our main challenge was logistics to do with the pregnancy as well as all of the other things that went wrong in real life. For example, it’s not the easiest thing in the world for a heavily pregnant woman to sit at a desk all day. We also had many sleepless nights – either Sproglet would kick Leanne awake or this wisdom tooth (that I’m still waiting to get fixed) would decide that I wouldn’t be allowed to sleep. Then there was the roof falling off in the storms and the landlord serving us notice. And we had to have it all done and dusted before Sproglet was born.
148apps: You’ve written extensively about issues with the iTunes submission process [as well as the development process]. How would you improve it?
AT: The iTunes side of things was always pretty simple. Convoluted in places, I guess – particularly when it came to IAPs – but the level of documentation and support available went a long way to mitigating that. The main place where things fell over were with XCode and my own complete lack of knowledge about it. Knowing which menu to find the relevant option to enable or disable some game-breaking feature was an exercise in the arcane. A friend and old Bullfrog buddy of mine postulated that you need this barrier to entry in order to ensure that the platform is secure and I kinda agree with him.
148Apps: What do you plan to do next? Besides enjoy fatherhood!
AT: Next? Well, the success of Glyph Quest has taken us completely by surprise so we’re coming under increasing pressure to ‘fix’ issues with the first one or perhaps start looking in to a sequel. The plan was always to make Glyph Quest in order to fund a Kickstarter campaign for something much bigger. I’d still very much like to do that, but another Glyph Quest game makes an awful lot of sense. Then again, Sproglet was born at midday today, so I guess all bets are off and the thing I’d like to do next is sleep.
Huge thanks to Alex for taking the time to answer my questions and congratulations to him and Leanne on the arrival of their baby. Proving to be quite the inspiration given how much they’ve overcome in recent times, it’s the ideal time to try out Glyph Quest, available now on the App Store.
Following the surprise release of TowerMadness 2 last week we thought it was the ideal time to find out more about Limbic Software’s latest title, learn about some of the design process behind it, and discover just how it came to be. What better font of knowledge than that of Co-Founder and CEO, Arash Kesmirian? We caught up with him to find the answers to our questions and more.
148Apps: What made you decide to release a whole new game rather than update the original TowerMadness?
Arash Keshmirian (AK): We’ve been building on the original TowerMadness for nearly five years now; it went from having only four simple maps to over a hundred. There were 20 updates, and tons of towers, enemies, environments, and features added. I think this was a big part of why that game was a success – we kept it alive, listened to fans, and added more and more. At some point though, we had to draw the line. We wanted to do significant new things and had to completely overhaul the platform in order to evolve to the next step. A revolutionary new 3D engine, brand new art, sound; I don’t really think anything carried over from the original. Oh, just two things – the muzzle flashes and the lock icons are the same. They were too perfect to toss out!
Another big departure from the original was our emphasis on adding characters to the game. So far there are two – Bo, a brave ram that defends your sheep against the first intruders into the flock and helps beginning players, and Xen, an old, wise, friendly alien that runs the tower laboratory to help you defeat the evil aliens. His motivations are unclear. We spent a lot of time making them come to life with dialogue and sophisticated animation. Our hope is to connect players with the game’s world in a deeper way than before, and we added some little surprises to this effect too, like funny descriptions for all the alien types:
148Apps: It’s been 3 and a half years since the first title was released, how come there was such a significant gap between the releases?
AK: Well, because of the constant updates to TowerMadness 1 we didn’t really feel like there was a “gap” for players. But in terms of releases, we had to go explore other ideas and grow creatively before we were ready to come back to TowerMadness and make a proper sequel. In the years that went by, we developed and released Nuts! and Zombie Gunship. We’ve been fortunate to see them grow into massive franchises of their own, and each appeals to a different group of players with different expectations from games.
We did have a few “false starts” with TowerMadness 2, though. We’ve gone through a fair number of rejected design doc ideas that we ultimately decided would be too different, hard to play, or just not that fun. It took a long time to find a vision that worked. About nine months ago we cracked it, and set to work building TowerMadness 2.
148Apps: How has the evolution of iOS since the first game changed the development of TowerMadness 2?
AK: The Apple Xcode tools we use to develop our games have been consistently improving over the years – but specifically for iOS, we’ve enjoyed leveraging a lot of new iOS features in TowerMadness 2. For one, we’re making full use of iCloud to let players carry their progress with them from device to device, and ensure nothing is ever lost. Since people tend to invest a lot of time in TowerMadness, this was really important to us. A bit more on the technical side, we’re leveraging a lot of new “under-the-hood” iOS features to provide the graphics and animation you see in the game.
Tower defense games in general are a challenge performance-wise because you have a lot of characters on screen that need to be drawn, animated, and run AI. Our custom engine leverages a lot of iOS optimizations to make this fast and keep framerates solidly at 60fps on modern devices. It screams on A7. As far as experimental features go, I really like playing on the TV with Apple TV and Airplay, so we added iOS controller integration to the game. It seems a bit odd for a tower defense to do this, since it’s quite well-suited to touch, but I think it’s a neat experience on a big screen with a controller and a few friends watching.
148Apps: TowerMadness 2 has been a surprise release on the App Store. Why the secrecy rather than building up hype beforehand?
AK: Limbic has always been about experimenting. Back in 2009 we were one of the first free apps on the App Store with TowerMadness Zero, and we’ve innovated in other areas by doing things like split-screen multiplayer, Airplay, and other “tests” well ahead of the curve. Our marketing is no different – we wanted to see what would happen if we dazzled our fans with the release they’d been hoping for, without a tortuous tease beforehand. We’re in an age of game development now where the entire process is laid out for fans, from concept to alpha to beta to release, and we wanted to try the polar opposite for a change. When I was a kid I remember one day coming home from school and finding a brand new SNES game lying on my bed, a totally unexpected gift from my parents. Those were the best kinds of surprises, and I wanted our fans to experience that kind of joy too.
148Apps: Tower Defense games run the risk of being samey, what makes TowerMadness 2 stand out from its predecessor?
AK: There are a few things that make TowerMadness and TowerMadness 2 unique. The first major aspect is the free-grid style of tower defense gameplay, which really opens the game up to strategic placement of towers and sophisticated tactics. We combine this with a vast array of tower types and alien types, making each level and each round really different in terms of how the waves play out. We’ve added some interesting gameplay mechanics when it comes to environments, with towers overheating and freezing in different climates. I hope to expand on that in future versions.
Another core aspect of the original TowerMadness was the competitive leaderboards. In TowerMadness 2, we’ve streamlined the score dynamic into a simple level time. If players can send and defeat waves more quickly, they’ll finish the level with a shorter time. We use Game Center challenges to facilitate grudge matches, and this has been a big hit with our team internally.
148Apps: How did the idea of using sheep in both games come about?
AK: When Volker, Iman, and I created the first TowerMadness, we originally had concepted it as being cows. I have some limited 3dsmax skills [and] was responsible for all of that game’s artwork. The problem was, I had no idea how to make cute-looking cows. I did have some theories about making cute sheep, though. So I built this guy, and he stuck:
Today, with the talents of our Art Director, Lee, we have a much nicer-looking flock…
Plus, I think it makes a much better story that the aliens are trying to abduct the sheep to knit their emperor a sweater (it was a scarf in TM1). What would they do with a cow? Milk? Steaks? The aliens don’t have mouths, and invade completely unarmed… For all we know, they might be vegetarian pacifists!
148Apps: Thanks for your help and time in answering these questions
AK: Thanks for having me. We’re really excited to finally get this out in the hands of players, and we can’t wait to see how the game grows as it evolves.
TowerMadness 2 is out now, and on sale at $2.99 (usually priced at $4.99). The original TowerMadness is also available for those keen to catch up on past hits.
Released: 2009-05-23 :: Category: Games