All Posts By Rob Rich
rymdkapsel made a bit of a splash when it was released on the PlayStation Vita a few weeks ago. And in another couple of months this excessively minimal and abstract strategic base building “sim” will be making its way on to the App Store for everyone’s enjoyment. Martin Jonasson, rymdkapsel’s creator, was kind enough to tell us a bit about where it all came from, as well as what it all means.
148Apps: First off, how in the heck to you pronounce “rymdkapsel?” And what does it mean/refer to?
Martin Jonasson (MJ): When I started working on the game (unaware what I was getting myself into) I just named the project file “spaceblocks” because that felt nice and descriptive. But as the game grew it became clear that I would have to come up with something more interesting. I wanted something that sounded vaguely russian. I threw around a whole bunch of names before I finally settled on “rymdkapsel“. It’s the Swedish word for space capsule (rymd = space, kapsel = capsule). One thing I didn’t quite expect was how much of a hard time Americans would have with it. The Y seems to really throw people off. It’s pronounced “rimdcapsel”. Either way, I’m stuck with it now.
148Apps: So where did all of this come from? By which I mean the gameplay concept, abstract and simplified visuals, setting, and so on.
MJ: I’m not quite sure where it all came from! I started working on the game right after GDC last year. I needed a bit of a break from what I was working on at the time and figured I’d take a week to knock out a quick prototype of this idea I had. The original idea also featured a space station, but the element that stood out in my mind was having your station be attacked, losing pressure containment and seeing your little space-station dudes get blown into space flailing helplessly. As I was fiddling with the mechanics of building the station I discovered that it was very pleasant to just build a nicely organized station. I knew from previous prototypes and plenty of Tetris playing that Tetrominoes are perhaps the most satisfying to build with, so I put those in early on and the building felt great. As the building parts felt so good I decided to focus in on that and put another week on the prototype. Those two weeks grew to a month, and then two months, and then all of a sudden I had a game.
The minimalism also comes from previous prototypes I’ve made. The concept of removing cruft [the leftovers] to expose the “core” of a game has proved very successful for me in the past, so digging deeper in that made a lot of sense. It also aligns very well with me being just a one-man team (arguably two with Niklas Ström on music), keeping the graphics minimal makes my work burden smaller.
148Apps: Was releasing on PSN before iOS a strategic decision or is that just sort of how it worked out?
MJ: The game was originally made with the iPad in mind, and the first teaser trailer I released back in June last year is in fact filmed off of the screen of my iPad 1. After posting that I was contacted by Sony who asked if I would be interested in putting the game on their platform. The game has evolved a bit since then, but it’s definitely made with a touch screen in mind from the very beginning.
It also uses some magical technology to target all three platforms (Playstation Mobile, iOS, and Android) using essentially the same code base, so any improvements I make for one version will be easily brought over to the others.
148Apps: Please tell me you have future plans for rymdkapsel. More content/challenges, a sequel, SOMETHING. Pretty please?
MJ: I’m not quite sure what my future plans for the game are at the moment. I agree that it’s ripe for expansion, but at the same time it’s hard to keep it aggressively minimalist and at the same time add a bunch of stuff. I’d say it depends quite a bit on how it does once it hits the bigger platforms. At the very least I hope to get Game Center support in there before releasing on iOS, but I haven’t had time to look into that yet so I’m not sure if I can make it in time.
Big thank you to Martin for answering all our questions, and especially for shedding some light on rymdkapsel’s pronunciation. You all should keep an eye out for it when it hits the App Store this July. No official price has been given but Martin promises it will be less than the current $5 going rate on the Vita.
The indie game development scene has been around for an incredibly long time; pretty much ever since people had the opportunity to program for themselves. However it wasn’t until shareware became a common method of distribution the 90s that it began to catch the notice of the masses, and even so, it took another decade to really take off. Throughout all of that there have been a number of successes and failures, as it is with most games regardless of their budgets or marketing strategies. No one remembers the duds, of which there are always many, but people tend not to forget games like Minecraft or Fez.
Microsoft even got in on the action when they made their Xbox Live XNA Game studio available. It wasn’t until 2008 that they brought Xbox Live Community Games (later dubbed Xbox Live Indie Games, or “XBLIG” for short) to Live users across the globe, but it created an environment full of possibilities for fledgling developers as well as people who wanted to get their games noticed. And now, five years later, a number of these developers have been making their way to the App Store. But why are they shifting their focus away from XNA development and on to iOS? We wanted to know. Luckily, Luke Schneider (Founder of Radiangames – Bombcats, Ballistic SE, Fireball SE, Gobs of Fun, Slydris, Inferno+, Super Crossfire, Super Crossfire HD), Jesse Chounard (code monkey for Third Party Ninjas – Happy Piggy!, Hypership Out of Control), Mike Oliphant (Founder of Nostatic Software – Sokoban for Beginners, Kung Fu FIGHT!, Quiet, Please!, Quiet Christmas, Ascent of Kings), Nick Mudry (Co-founder and CEO of Play Nimbus – Ball 2 Box, Wobbles), Andy Gibson (Art Director at Team Pesky – Little Acorns), and Martin Caine (Founder, lead programmer, producer, and director for Retroburn Game Studios – Accelerate, Positron) were willing to share their thoughts on the matter.
One theory behind this new focus on mobile devices is that iOS’ treatment of indies is a bit more welcoming. Not to say that Microsoft is terrible or that Apple is perfect, but there have been quite a few stories of Xbox Live Indie Game headaches.“I felt like I was always fighting against the grain when Radiangames was focused on XBLIG,” said Luke Schneider on the shift away from XNA development. “I wanted to try to reach a broader audience and find more success. Though really it hasn’t been significantly different in terms of success on iOS.”
It was more a case of seeing the writing on the wall for Jesse Chounard from Third Party Ninjas. Once Windows Phone 7 came out it seemed as though Microsoft forgot all about their indie developers. “XBLIG developers actually lost access to some important features,” he said. “When the phone failed to gain traction, it seemed like the blame was placed on XNA.”
Nick Mudry and Play Nimbus came to a similar conclusion once the impending “death” of Microsoft’s service was announced. “We also moved away from XBLIG and to iOS because we were unable to develop with XNA for iOS,” he said
In this particular case, the discovery of Unity is what ended up tipping their hand. “We stepped up and started redesigning our game’s prototype,” said Mudry, “and it was done 10 times quicker compared to XBLIG/XNA.”Not everyone simply jumped ship from one platform to the other, however. Mike Oliphant opted to stick around the XBLIG scene while expanding Nostatic Software’s reach to other platforms at the same time. “Last year I ported my game engine so that it also runs on top of Unity,” he said. “This gave me the ability to target iOS and Android as well.”
A smart idea that has the potential for a lot more exposure, although it also means more work to create all those ports, though he admits that more platforms ultimately means more users.
Martin Caine of Retroburn Game Studios was initially drawn to XNA because of the development tools and allure of the Xbox 360 hardware support, but it didn’t seem like he would get a whole lot of publicity on the platform. “I had heard of the limited exposure and low download figures,” he said. “I’m now just focusing on getting one game released but plan to release it across many platforms including iOS and XBLIG.”
Andy Gibson and Team Pesky actually did things the other way around when they prototyped Little Acorns on XNA, then ended up developing it for iOS once the basic framework was in place. After a few iterations the team brought the squirrel-themed platformer back to Xbox Live.
“Personally, I was really pleased to get Little Acorns out on XBLIG,” Gibson said. “The game feels great, has a good level of polish and an added split-screen co-op mode to celebrate Mr. Nibbles making it home.”
With the arrival of Mothers Day, children everywhere will be scrambling to show their appreciation. Perhaps consider one of these iOS options as well. Not that they’d replace quality time, of course. By all means go and treat your mom to a nice dinner, give her a call, or whatever else you were planning to do. We just ask you to consider adding one (or all) of these digital possibilities to your Mother’s Day plan.
Who doesn’t think of getting their mom some flowers on Mothers Day? Nobody, that’s who. Flower Garden allows users to grow their own flora, as well as acquire new seeds for more exotic (and in some cases fictitious) examples. After some TLC they can then harvest their flowers and create a bouquet. A bouquet they can send to anyone on their Contacts list. And if the price seems a bit steep don’t fret; there’s a possibility (nothing official, just guessing) that it may go on sale like it did last Mothers Day.
Released: 2009-04-10 :: Category: Games
Let’s create! Pottery HD
Mom always likes it when you make her stuff. She always held on to that hideous ashtray you made for her back when you were in first grade, even though she doesn’t smoke. Now you can shower her with a ton of virtual ceramics without the hassle of any cleanup. Much like Flower Garden it’s possible to send photos of a piece to anyone you want, including mom. Unlike Flower Garden it’s also possible to give a particular favorite physical form through a little in-app purchase of some 3D printing.
Released: 2010-07-16 :: Category: Entertainment
Moms also like to get cards. Not just on Mothers Day, either. Downloading Apple’s official custom card creation app is practically a no-brainer for such an occasion. And as an added bonus you can send her customized greeting cards of the family/kids year-round. Think about that: the ability to send your mom personalized (and physical) greeting cards whenever you’d like, for any occasion. All without having to browse through the paltry selection at the store.
Released: 2011-10-12 :: Category: Lifestyle
Giving your mom some eFlowers or making her a card is cool and all, but putting together a comic book that chronicles your adventures fighting crime (or even something a bit more tame) is just plain fun. I dare any moms out there not to laugh, or at least crack a smile, when their sons or daughters present them with the first issue of The Incredible Mom, Spidermom, or even Iron Mom.
Moms and video games. I know there are always exceptions, but, at least for my generation, more often than not the two just don’t mix. I’ve spent over 25 of my 31 years playing them, and my mom has spent almost as much time expressing her distaste for them, specifically, she said, “all that bloody, gory, gooey violence.” I decided to take the time to really talk to her about it; to figure out exactly why she had a tendency to turn up her nose at my hobby-turned-career, why she eventually stopped scrutinizing my pastime, and what iOS games (if any) she could even end up liking. It was interesting, to say the least.
A Bit Of The Old Ultraviolence
As it turns out, my mom’s disinterest/distaste for video games stems from a fairly common issue: violence. Not just the concept behind the acts, but the increasingly realistic depictions. When I was little and playing something on my Nintendo it never really bothered her since she and my dad could simply nix anything they thought was too much for me. Not that it happened often since very little from that era was all that graphic. However, as I got older, I tended to play more violent games. I personally attribute it to the industry increasing its mainstream focus on violence as it grew into itself, along with coincidence. I mean, sure, I played Resident Evil and Silent Hill, but I also played Intelligent Qube and Jet Moto which probably wouldn’t have bothered her at all if she’d ever seen me playing them. This is when it really started to bother her. She was legitimately worried that my constant exposure to video games would alter my personality. As time went on, she realized I was doing just fine, but she still wasn’t too crazy about all the gore.
Even after I graduated college and moved out of the house, video games continued to bother her. As a teacher, she had begun to notice a shift in her students as more and more of them began to make video games a larger part of their lives. “It’s much harder to keep kids’ attention,” she said. Many of them required more and more visual stimuli in order to keep their focus. She also noticed that many of the younger or more impressionable kids started to act out things they saw on TV and in video games. “It seemed like they thought they were invincible,” she told me. One group of boys she’d taught years before went so far as to murder a 25 year old cook as he walked home from work simply out of boredom; an act that some claimed was inspired by a video game. I now realize why my success at getting her to accept the medium has been so difficult.
However, she hasn’t written games off entirely. She’s come to appreciate the technology behind it all, and can definitely appreciate the imaginative visuals found in many of the more offbeat titles. With my increased interest in all things iOS, I’ve managed to have even more success in convincing her that the industry isn’t all headshots and zombies. In fact, I’ve managed to find a few iOS games she’s even curious to try on her own.
Easing Into It
First I asked her to take a look at Triple Town. I figured a turn-based game with no timer and some cute, if oversized, cartoon bears might be okay. I mean it’s a fairly adorable game with some really addictive puzzles, so why not? And I was right for the most part. She didn’t have a problem with it since the only vaguely troubling imagery is “just angry looking bears.” She also thought, “(It) sounds exciting. Build a city. ‘Plot’ against the bears. Looks like something ‘I’ may even be able to handle.”
Next up: Spaceteam. Both because it’s family-friendly fun and because I freaking love it so, so much. Although it can get pretty frantic; I wasn’t sure how well she’d respond to it. “I remember watching you and dad play this one,” she said. “It looks and sounds like a great time.” And really, who wouldn’t like to try and desperately keep a lone starship functioning by shouting commands at their friends while simultaneously trying to follow their own sets of instructions?
After that, I decided to show her Paper Titans. Since my mom has an art background and actually teaches art, I figured there was a good chance that she’d appreciate the visuals. I mean it’s flippin’ gorgeous to begin with but it also does a fantastic job of capturing the look of a paper world with paper inhabitants. I was right again. “LOVE the bold graphic style,” she said. “Looks like my kind of game; fun, colorful, sounds easy (low stress). So far (this is) my fav.”
Getting A Little Retro
I didn’t want to focus entirely on new releases, though. I also thought there might be some worthwhile considerations from the App Store’s past. Hence my next choice: Zen Bound 2. “Very, very appealing,” she said. “[The] graphics look excellent.” It’s the kind of reaction I was hoping for. The entire game is meant to be serene and calming with no timers or real possibility of failure. It’s almost more of a relaxation exercise than a game. “This is my top choice,” she enthused. “I want to wind the rope!”
Moving right along, and in keeping with the visually inoffensive, I brought up Tiny Tower. Nimblebit’s first major iOS success still has quite the following today, and it’s managed to last this long without resorting to any sort of violence. My mom liked it right off, saying, “Everyone looks HAPPY!” This is true: I’ve yet to spot a bitizen who doesn’t look like they’re having the best day of their life at all times. “My kind of game,” said mom. “I would try this one.”
After some thought, I figured I’d also show her Heads Up!. Not because she’s my mom or there’s much of a chance she watches The Ellen Degeneres Show, but because the game itself seems right up her alley. It’s a party game that requires interacting with other people, it’s goofy, and there’s a good chance that several laughs will be had. “Yes! Looks like fun,” she said. “My kind of game.”
Last, but not least, I tested the waters with a slightly more complex game that keeps things cute: Cut the Rope. I wasn’t entirely sure if the more involved gameplay mechanics would be off-putting but I was willing to bet that the adorable mascot would win her over. “Probably wouldn’t keep my interest at all,” she said. Ouch; I was totally wrong on this one.
The Heart Of The Matter
So why go through all this effort? Why try so hard to show my mom examples of iOS games that don’t fall under the rather broad viewpoint she used to view the medium with? For two reasons:
First, video games have been a significant part of my life for close to its entirety. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed immensely, but was never able to truly talk about with her due to her previous experiences. Since I began writing about them professionally they’ve become even more significant in my life, and I wanted to be able to find some way of sharing that with her. I think introducing her to the casual market is a great way to accomplish that and I’ve already found a few titles she’s interested in checking out. Say what you will about casual games, they’re still a great way to introduce non-gamers to the medium.
Second, I don’t want her to keep worrying. I know she understands that I’m an adult and that none of the virtual violence I’ve taken part in over the years has had any sort of negative effect on me, but I also know there’s still a part of her that worries. Both about me and about what the industry may or may not be doing to children. I wanted to help her to understand that, despite all the media attention and tendency of AAA releases to rely on violence, it’s a very diverse field that’s grown immensely ever since I first tried to get Mario past that first walking mushroom.
I suppose in the back of my mind I’ve always been concerned that she had the wrong idea about what I do and what I write about. This was my chance to finally address that concern and I feel like we really made some progress. Granted, I doubt I’ll be excitedly discussing Star Command or Robot Unicorn Attack 2 with her any time soon. Still, I can finally, really, talk to her about one of the major facets of my life for the first time. It’s a great feeling.
[Happy Mother's Day to you, Rob's mom! --Ed.]