Ever wanted to start up a tech firm? Got an idea that seems stupidly awesome and original? Or just fancy running a business, warts and all? There’s a fairly safe and inexpensive way of experiencing that life coming to iOS later this year. That title is Hipster CEO, a game which challenges players to “take an idea from their dorm room to Wall Street, Zuckerberg-style”. We had a word with Dublin-based developer, Ger Kelly, on his vision for the game and just how it came to be.
Ger (left) and his business advisory team.
148apps: Where did the idea for Hipster CEO come from? Ger Kelly (GK): Well firstly I have a huge passion for tech startups – I love reading about the causes behind startups’ success and failure, exciting new technologies, marketing techniques, stuff like that. Whenever I tell someone I work in a startup they always say that they’d love the opportunity to do just that. I wanted to give people a taste of what running a startup company is like – fun but difficult. It isn’t all air hockey tables and free beer but when it works, it’s the best feeling in the world.
Secondly, I was a video game addict as a kid – particularly sports/business simulations like Championship Manager and Theme Park. I always felt games like that were different in the sense that you were especially proud of what you did – like bringing some low-tier football team all the way to the Cup Final – you always wanted to tell your friends. Even now one of my fondest teenage memories is winning a league title with my favorite football team – which probably says a lot about my adolescence! I felt that there was room for a tech startup simulator in the same vein.
The name came about when a friend called me a total hipster because I guess I can be a little snobby about my musical taste at times. I had a few other ideas for a title but people really reacted really well to Hipster CEO so I went with it.
148apps: The idea of the game seems pretty lighthearted, will that continue throughout the game? GK: The Hipster element of the game is simply a veneer, the game will create the experience of building a tech startup as closely as possible. I think the Hipster shtick appeals to a lot of people in a fun way and I want people to have fun playing this game. However, the gameplay will be firmly rooted in reality so there won’t be any “wacky” investment offers tabled or disgruntled developers setting fire to their desks. On second thoughts I might include that last one!
Stuff like the Social Network movie and TV shows like Dragon’s Den and Shark Tank makes every man and his dog feel like they could grow a startup company into a huge success but, as anyone who has ever built a startup will know, it’s a lot of hard work. There are so many things you need to get right to build a winning product: quality development, creative marketing, and of course sales. It might sound crazy but so many tech startups out there have no sales strategy starting off – Hipster CEO will encourage players to start making revenue from day one.
Players will need to get the right balance of these three in order to succeed, all the while keeping their staff happy, handling investors, and dealing with the media. That sure seems like a lot but trust me that’s what a startup CEO has to deal with on a day-to-day basis!
I hope my app puts a smile of the face of those who play it because they feel rewarded not just because of some jibe at hipsters.
Where the magic happens – part of the Project 51 group – a creative collective in Dublin
148apps: Will the game solely be quite text focused, or will there be more game-style graphics too? GK: I really wanted to have a basic graphics pane which displayed your character, your employees, your office and stuff like that but it’s just not feasible for the first version. Like being able to see your little team graduate from your parent’s basement to some swanky, playground-esque office would be awesome. I have some design skills but nothing on the level that would be required for proper animation so I’ve had to shelve that idea for now. It will probably be one of the first things addressed if the game takes off.
I think Championship Manager showed that you can just have words and numbers on the screen and still create a totally immersive experience.
148apps: Will it be a one-off payment game, or will there be in-app purchases involved?
There will be a one-off payment and the option to get additional investment via in-app purchases. I want to stress, however, that you don’t need to make any in-app purchases after getting the app in order to build a great startup – it’s merely there as an option. I’d actually prefer if players declined the option to take investment completely and slowly but surely built a solid company but I know there’s people out there who will just want to get to a certain level as fast as possible.
148apps: Is there a way of completing Hipster CEO? Or is it more open ended than that? GK: It’s open ended. Each character in the game (including you as CEO) has certain stats that will grow and shrink based on their performance. If your company goes broke you’ll have the option to build another startup with the skill set you’ve developed. Most entrepreneurs fail with their first few startups so it may take players a few different cracks of the whip before they really hit the big time. It’s totally possible of course that they have a huge success of things and start getting acquisition offers to decide upon.
There will be an online leaderboard of all the players worldwide so you can see how you measure up as a CEO in the game. I’ve a lot of long term ideas for the game too – like inviting the top players around the world to become virtual venture capitalists in later versions of the game which other people can pitch to.
Sounding a pretty intriguing idea, we’ll be keeping a close eye on Hipster CEO‘s progress. Further information is also available at the game’s site. It’s hopefully set for release in October. Thanks to Ger for taking the time to answer our questions!
The semi-futuristic story of Greg’s search for his missing girlfriend Chloe has been a long time coming, but after two years in the making Lost Echo is finally on its way to the App Store. Soon players will be able to lead Greg through a number of different 3D environments as he tries to figure out where Chloe disappeared to, and why no one else seems to think she ever existed. We asked Nick Konstantoglou and Vagelis Antonopoulos of KickBack Studios to tell us a little bit more about their long-running (and intriguing) project.
148Apps: Lost Echo looks quite striking. What were some of your inspirations for its visual style? Nick Konstantoglou and Vagelis Antonopoulos (NK/VA): Thank you! We have a background in Architectural Visualization, so we knew we would put emphasis on lighting. That’s central to the style. We might have broken some kind of record for the amount of time we spent baking and tweaking lightmaps for an iOS game. We also researched a lot of modern architecture. For example the park (which is featured a lot in the trailer) is partly inspired by the HighLine park in New York. We went through quite a few iterations until we recognized the elements that fit the world we imagined. We wanted a world that looked slightly futuristic but realistic enough that it’s believable. There are also some shapes that are repeated throughout the game for story reasons (although it’s quite subtle).
148Apps: I also noticed that Lost Echo is supposed to work with older iOS devices, going all the way back to the iPhone 3GS. How in the heck did you manage that? NK/VA: We started making the game 2 years ago. Supporting 3GS back then was normal and expected. But since this is our first game, we failed where all new developers fail. Planning! This was supposed to be a smaller project, but we started adding features and then it became something more ambitious. All rookie mistakes, we know how to plan things better now. Although since we didn’t give up and actually finished the game it was probably a good thing! So we kept the 3gs support in. We added a bit more to the graphics later on as time went by and we considered dropping the support for older devices at some point, but then we found that keeping it wasn’t that hard. After we had written the shaders to perform within our expectation and with some self control with the polycounts, getting it to run nicely on older devices was not that hard. Unity being a great engine helps as well.
148Apps: Were there any particular point-and-click games or series that you were keeping in mind while you were developing Lost Echo? NK/VA: Well, not really. We love all the classics, for example Monkey Island. They are parts of our childhood and they are great games. They also have some elements that are very outdated now. But there is some of that old-school adventure spirit in our game. More recently we played a lot of Phoenix Wright. We can’t say we kept it in mind during development, but we did note how the dialogue presentation was great for smaller screens, very readable, and the variable text speeds gave it a lot of character.
148Apps: Should players expect traditional, item-centric puzzles (i.e. Monkey Island) or more self-contained head scratchers (i.e. Myst)? Possibly some sort of combination of the two? NK/VA: A combination. There are item puzzles, dialogue based puzzles, and self contained puzzles/minigames. We wanted variation in our game and there are slight shifts in style throughout the game, to keep things interesting.
148Apps: Is Lost Echo going to be a self-contained adventure or were you thinking of adding episodes/chapters later on? NK/VA: We are… not sure. There is definitely room for more stories, but the story arc that starts with this game, ends with this game. You have to understand, this is our first game and we didn’t (well, still don’t) know what kind of reception we would get, so we didn’t want to plan to make, say, 3 episodes/games and then be unable to make more than one. It’s also a pretty big game, much larger than the average episodic game and it took us a long time to develop. We’ll say this though, we would love to add a bit more to this game. We do have a small story that serves as a prequel to the game that we would love to add it to the game. But to be able to do that it will mean that the game will sell “well enough”.
We really appreciate Nick and Vagelis taking the time to answer our questions, and we’re looking forward to figuring out what happened to Chloe ourselves. Adventure game fans and lovers of psychological thrillers can check out Lost Echo when it’s released later this month for $2.99
Dive For Treasures was quite the delight when we reviewed it earlier this month, so we decided to find out more about its developer, Eccentricity Games, and the team’s plans for the future.
Who is Eccentricity Games?
Founded in 2010, the team is made up of a handful of industry veterans who came from a number of Poland’s major game development companies. With the help of a producer, Hubert Bibrowski, based in Canada, the team has steadily grown ever since.
What’s next on the horizon?
Over to Hubert Bibrowski to explain more here: “Right now we’re just coming out of launch mode. Dive for Treasures made the AppStore’s New and Noteworthy list in the U.S. marketplace so we are very excited. The feedback was great, we’re so happy to hear the game is well received as it was a bit of a gamble. There aren’t many games like this out there. Right now we are busy working on an update to the game. The main feedback we received was that people wish the game were longer so I’m happy to announce we will be updating the game with more levels soon. It goes without saying that these updates are going to be distributed free of charge to all existing customers. We’d like to send a big THANK YOU to all the game’s fans.”
Hubert also explained that there are more titles to come from the developer, too, with the first set to be presented in August. As he put it, “It is going to be a big one too…I’d say it is the biggest and most polished game in the history of our studio,” although he’s not yet able to reveal all. We’ll be sure to press him for more information when the time comes!
Anything else I should know about the developers?
All too happy to help, Hubert answered a few of our questions.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind Dive for Treasures? Hubert: Not sure…Maybe this thing I drive by every day?
Seriously though, we wanted to make a game focused on exploration, with a unique twist. We didn’t want to make another “runner” game, we wanted something fresh. When the submarine idea came up, we knew we had something that was fun and challenging in a new way. Sometimes, I think we gamers forget how nice it is to play something relaxing. We all agreed that there wasn’t enough of these types of games in the marketplace so we went ahead and made one.
148apps: You’ve tackled some very varied titles. Is there a particular genre that the team prefer to work on? Hubert: We like all sorts of games. Working on smaller projects, as opposed to large AAA titles, gives us room to experiment, explore and take risks. We always make the games that we ourselves would like to play instead of focusing on the flavor of the week that happens to be top on the app store. We really like tower defense games – I have a feeling one of our next titles will fall into that category.
Yawnie – encouraging kids to sleep.
148apps: What are the team’s favorite apps or games? Hubert: We like so many games that no one here can agree on just one title. We play our fair share of Starcraft, Gran Turismo and Left 4 Dead and of course we play a lot of mobile games: Sailboat Championship, Tiny Wings, King of Opera and Bike Baron are some of the office favorites.
Where can I find out more about Eccentricity Games?
We’ll be keeping a close eye on the new title set to be released in August, but there are plenty of other sources to learn more. There’s the Eccentricity Games website, Twitter account and Facebook page.
Thanks to Hubert and the rest of the team for taking the time to answer our questions. Dive for Treasures is out now, priced at $1.99.
DeNA and Scattered Entertainment’s ambitious mobile first-person shooter spearheaded by former Battlefield series producer Ben Cousins, The Drowning, has finally launched worldwide. After the first hands-on sessions at GDC 2013 the game has been in an international soft launch, but the final, complete version of the game is now available to everyone. I spoke with Ben Cousins about what he thinks this initial “complete” version of The Drowning succeeds at, and how the game has evolved over the past few months.
Cousins says that he’s quite proud of the way that Scattered Entertainment experimented with new control schemes. “…We were unsatisfied with the FPSes on mobile devices, and I think from our research, I think a lot of the potential audience who are really interested in the genre have a phone or a tablet, and they’re not satisfied with what they’ve got out there.” There’s two things that he thinks they have that others don’t; “The first thing that we’ve got which the competitors haven’t is a control system which is designed for touchscreens that you can play with just one hand, with just two fingers in fact on one hand, and one that really fluidly fits in with the way that we hold these devices and the usage patterns of these devices. So we’re really proud that we’ve created a control system which kind of unlocks the potential of this genre on the platform.”
“The second thing we’ve done is we’ve really respected the usage patterns of these devices as well. And we understand that people generally don’t sit down and create time for a four or five hour session of playing a game on a smart device. So we’ve deliberately created a game structure that means within two minutes you can make progress in the game and you can shut down the device, and you can bring it up for a two-minute session at any time, and you’re guaranteed to make progress.
“So we’ve divided the game into these discrete chunks. The gameplay feels very much like an FPS, you’re killing enemies, and it’s high action, and you’re in this 3D world, but the system we’ve created enables you to jump in and jump out in a way which a more console-style mobile-FPS doesn’t really let you do, you’ve got to wait for a save point or for a cutscene to finish or something like that.”
Interestingly, though, there’s a virtual control scheme in there as well, and Cousins justifies it by saying “If you remember back on Halo 1, you could actually opt to play that with the GoldenEye control scheme. Now the GoldenEye control scheme is very different from the Halo/Call of Duty control system. So in the same way that in that transition that Halo had to acknowledge the small numbers of players who were used to the GoldenEye style of controls, we’ve kind of done the same thing, we believe that the touch system we’ve created is the future of controlling FPSes on smart devices, but we also acknowledge that there is kind of a legacy on this platform and a certain number of people want to play with a traditional virtual stick style system.” He does believe that it’s a suboptimal way to play – and that most will switch to the ‘new’ control scheme, just as how console gamers have adapted to the scheme Halo introduced.
The international soft launch helped out in several ways. Cousins states, “So we actually went out with probably, an incomplete game, just because we got to the point where just playing it ourselves and trying got work out whether a feature was working or not wasn’t really helping, and we wanted to get on to the live audience,so that’s kind of what we did, and we’ve been adding a whole bunch of stuff that was in that backlog anyway.” The tutorial got trimmed down as part of the changes, and a stars system was added, which Cousins claims helped player satisfaction: “the game’s about going into these environments, playing for two minutes, getting a score, and then getting parts. Kind of exchanging that score for parts which you find the environment that you can then use to craft more weapons. And we never really had a clear way of showing the player whether they had a good score or a bad score. So players we were thinking were probably going in there and what was a reasonable score and actually they weren’t getting enough score to get that particular part that they need from the environment.”
“So we have a very direct feedback at the end of the round of whether you got a bad score or whether you got an awesome score, and this really helps the game loop because you do two things: you know you either just failed to get a score you wanted to get that part, and you want to play another round, or you’ve just succeeded in getting the score and it’s a fantastic kind of reinforcement moment in the game loop where you’re really excited because you just got that score that you needed to proceed.”
These little things may just make The Drowning a better experience, which players can now judge for themselves, as it is now available worldwide on the App Store.
Only last month, George Lucas spoke at a games industry event, saying that he thinks the “big game of the next five years will be a game…aimed at women and girls.” For an industry still primarily focused on appealing to men, that could be quite a shift for the future. While I don’t have a crystal ball to see what’s to come, I reckon one source of such a game is Silicon Sisters. It’s the first female-owned and run video game studio in Canada, and it’s already achieved some success with high school-focused School 26 and School 26: Summer of Secrets.
Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch with co-founder, Kirsten Forbes.
Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch, CEO of Silicon Sisters, was kind enough to find time in her busy schedule to discuss women gamers, empathy in games, and reveal some information on the firm’s latest title, Everlore.
148apps: Empathy is a primary issue that both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg feel games need to overcome in order to progress as a medium, do you agree? Brenda Bailey Gershkovitch (BBG): I guess that depends on how you perceive progress. If amazing graphics and incredible physics are your criteria, then we are very advanced as a medium. But if, like the filmmakers mentioned, you view the ability of the storyteller to connect with their audience in a more emotional and meaningful way, then I think empathy is an important tool. And there are some games that have done that incredibly well. Playing The Walking Dead can rip your heart out. But as an industry, we have lots of room to play this out more fully in our storytelling. We also have a fairly limited repertoire of voices through which we tell stories, and that can expand and be part of the growth of our medium as well. The market is expanding and needs to expand further, and expanded voice and perspective are part of that change.
Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead.
148apps: Do you think women gamers solely need empathy and romance, or is something else needed in order to encourage the female market further? BBG: I think that women gamers are a huge and growing segment and that no one or two things can possibly define what they would like to enjoy in this medium. I think it’s parallel to other forms of entertainment like film or books. Would we think that because rom-coms exist, that means women won’t have interest in sci-fi or thrillers or animated films or historical films or documentaries? Silicon Sisters is building romance games not to limit the market, but to expand the range of choices in the market, which we feel is somewhat limited currently.
148apps: What games do you feel encapsulate empathy and romance the best at the moment? BBG: I think Bioware is nailing a lot of this right now. So are some of the smaller more innovate indie games. I am playing a little game out of Vancouver Film School called Allie and the storytelling is terrific. As I mentioned above, the empathy and moral dilemmas in The Walking Dead or The Last of Us are really compelling. Silicon Sisters Interactive’s first title, School 26, is a game based on empathy and we’ve had more than 700,00 downloads in 30 countries. Girls ages 12-16 love that game, and empathy is the primary mechanic.
Silicon Sisters’ School 26.
148apps: A recent study has found nearly half the female population already game, a marked improvement on past years. Is a game specifically designed for women really needed at this point? Does that gender divide need to be created? BBG: This question always seems a bit weird to me. Why are we uncomfortable with games made for women or girls? (More so than with books written for women or movies targeted at women?) Why does this make us so uncomfortable? We segment markets all the time – it doesn’t mean anything beyond the idea that a market can be well served if a product is designed for them specifically, and built with them in mind. What gets my Irish up is when games are very haphazardly and disrespectfully built for women and girls – the “pink it and shrink it” model. These games are usually not designed from the ground up with that market in mind. Often, in the old days of manufactured product, these games had smaller budgets, lesser teams and were ‘guy games’ quickly re-wrapped for girls. These games often tried to reach the female audience through cheap tactics like lots of pink and throwing in a cute animal or two. That’s not game design. But games that really look for mechanics that connect with women and girls or that are designed from the very beginning with them in mind are a good thing, I think. Of course, there will always be games that appeal to both sexes and that’s great, but having segmented games isn’t a problem. It’s respectful of the audience you are trying to serve.
Whitaker Trebella, now operating under the company name of Fixpoint Productions for his game and music work, is releasing his second full-fledged game, Pivvot. The development of the game was quite like how it plays: a long and winding path that was fraught with obstacles, but with success waiting at the end.
It makes sense because he definitely doesn’t take the easy path through life: he’s a music teacher who also does music for a wide variety of iOS games, becoming one of the most prominent composers on the platform. He was self-started, too – music submissions for Tilt to Live eventually turned into greater attention and more work to start making music for games. Then, he decided to learn how to program in order to make his own games, and he created Polymer, which didn’t make him rich but made significant income for him, was extremely successful for a first release, and was a critical success to boot. He even got married to the love of his life, changing his last name from Blackall to Trebella, a combination combined from his and his wife Dana’s last names. So, what comes next?
That was the one thing he just couldn’t figure out.
A screenshot from the final version of Pivvot. It took a while to get to this point, though.
Trebella says that “I struggled for quite awhile with what kind of game I would like to make next. I probably had at least 20 totally different ideas running around in my head, fighting for attention. I sketched out a bunch on paper, prototyped a few on the device, and showed various people a couple of the ideas I had. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time after releasing Polymer.”
There was one idea that he worked sporadically on at the time, he just never felt all that motivated to work on it because he was struggling to make it work. A talk that Rami Ismail gave, one that wound up influencing fellow Chicago developers such as Dan FitzGerald and Lisa Bromeil of Dog Sled Saga, only helped to sway him toward ditching his idea when he got up to ask about it. His question about whether he should keep pushing with his idea (one he still might pursue in the future) was long-winded, and not exuding much confidence that the idea had a future. “I thought it had potential but it just never struck me. I never had that drive to finish it that I had with Polymer. And because it was a complex idea, it wasn’t even fun to play in the early stages. Eventually, I just scrapped it altogether.”
So it was back to the drawing board. After scrapping his original idea for his second game, he says “I started making a bunch of prototypes. Out of the many prototypes, I decided on one that eventually led to the creation of Pivvot.”
A screen from an early version of the game.
Terry Cavanagh’s Super Hexagon “very much so” influenced Pivvot during its creation. “I just really love the simplistic nature of Super Hexagon‘s gameplay. While it is a VERY hard game, it is VERY easy to understand what to do and how to do it. I wanted to get that same sort of feeling with Pivvot. Someone said to me recently that they enjoyed Pivvot because they knew what to do right away without even playing it. It’s back-to-basics gameplay. I was tempted a number of times to add bells and whistles but I kept thinking back to how awesome Super Hexagon is and how it focuses strictly on that one fun mechanic.” He even has talked to Terry Cavanagh and says “He seemed to think the idea was cool!” when he showed a version of the game to him a couple of months ago.
But curiously, it was also the core technology at work with Pivvot that helped convince him that this was the right idea.”I’m working in Unity with the Futile framework. It took me a long time to really understand how to make cool-looking shapes and objects in Futile. Once I figured that out though, it opened up a ton of options. I was able to create cool-looking obstacles, and maybe even more importantly, I was able to create the winding, pulsating path that is the centerpiece of Pivvot‘s gameplay. Once I had a winding path with some obstacles and some basic collision detection, I was able to play the game and actually have fun.”
“Once I was having fun with the prototype, I knew it had potential.”
He felt like he had nailed the core idea of pivoting around a point traveling along a winding path avoiding obstacles all the while, but making it fun was the biggest challenge. “It took an incredible amount of playtesting on my end. I would create an obstacle, then play the game over and over and over with just that obstacle until I either felt really happy with it or found something that annoyed me about it. For example, if I kept dying on one specific part of an obstacle and it started to feel unfair, I would make that part a bit easier; if a certain part of an obstacle pattern was just way too easy, I would tweak it to make it harder; if an obstacle played well but just didn’t look very cool, I would think about how to make it look better.”
Everything with the game’s art is actually generated through code. Pivvot has a very minimalistic look, consisting mostly of lines and geometric shapes. This wasn’t always the case, though: “the obstacles used to have outlines and other details on them. At first, I thought it looked very cool, but the more I played it, the more I realized the extra details really distracted from the minimalistic look of the game. Having said that, I needed to make sure it looked ‘artfully minimalistic’ rather than just ‘flat.’ ” Continue reading Whitaker Trebella’s Long Voyage to Completing His Second Game, Pivvot »
A great robot once asked: “You guys like swarms of things, right?” How right he was to make that assumption. There’s just something about overseeing a churning mass of critters that feels oddly right. Or perhaps that’s just my inner overlord talking. Regardless, Wobbles, from Play Nimbus, offers up such an experience by letting players guide their aimlessly wandering charges through perilous maps in the name of technological progress. Sort of. We had a chat with Play Nimbus’ Nick Mudry (Producer, Creative Director, Marketing) to get the lowdown on these odd little characters.
148Apps: What sort of game is Wobbles, exactly? I can see some definite similarities to Lemmings but it also looks like there’s more to it than that. Nick Mudry (NM):Wobbles is a 2D side-scrolling puzzle platformer where you guide a line of adorable creatures, called Wobbles, across a dangerous landscape. You do this by placing gadgets, such as fire, aqueducts, tunnels, etc, which the Wobbles interact with. For example, the fire lights their butts on fire and they fly into their air (think Mario 64) while the aqueduct allows them to safely land from falls in a pool of water.
Wobbles was inspired by Lemmings back when we were originally conceptualizing what game we actually wanted to make. It came up as “what if you had a ton of Lemmings running across a level and you were just throwing platforms in front of them?” That initial concept exploded into the game we have today. Minutes after we talked about that idea, we were already drawing concepts for the characters, mechanics, etc.
148Apps: About how many different eras are you expecting to include in the final build? Any plans to release more in the future? NM: We are launching Wobbles with a total of 6 eras: Cavemen, Roman, Medieval, Industrial, Modern, and Future. Each era has 10 levels, which adds up to 60 levels for the initial release. Each era has their own specific gadget, ranging from the fire all the way to one that reverses the Wobbles’ gravity. We’ve had many ideas for different eras and gadgets that we would have liked to do for release, but they have been put aside for now. If Wobbles has a good reception, I’m sure we might work on a few new ones and release them.
148Apps: What made you all decide on the name “Wobbles?” NM: This is an interesting story. It goes back to the night when we were initially conceptualizing the game. When we first saw the Wobbles’ concept and the way it was shaped, we were wondering what to call it. We threw a few ideas out in the air, but at the end of the meeting, we decided to call them “Wobbles” for the time being. It ended up sticking and being an adorable little name for them.
148Apps: Where did the Wobbles’ look come from? I think I see a little Alice the Goon in their design. NM: A lot of the game originated at that meeting many months ago, and so did the Wobbles’ look. During our brainstorming of how the game played and what we wanted it to feel like, our amazing artist, Laura, was already drawing concepts for what they should look like. When I turned around, I saw something that I could easily remember and adore and knew that would be the design we’d pick. Funny you mention Alice the Goon as part of their design. While I haven’t thought of that until just now, it does have a little bit of the same style. We’ve noticed the Wobbles also look like a few other characters in games. I won’t say exactly which ones, but just picture a Wobble with a space helmet and then think what other characters look similar.
148Apps: Were there any mechanics that you wanted to include but had to cut due to time/balance/other reasons? Anything you’re hoping to add later? NM: Before we went into a full production cycle this summer, we spent a decent amount of time in pre-production preparing. We had many meetings discussing what we should have in the game, and what we shouldn’t. This made us know exactly what we’d need to do, and didn’t have to cut anything. Surprisingly, things came together pretty well and almost on time. We did cut one feature, the stone bridge, since it was a bit redundant, but we didn’t miss it at all. There are things we hope to add later though. We have plenty of features in mind that we thought of during our production that we just didn’t have the time to add before release.
Wobbles is expected to wander onto the App Store sometime this month, where the curious and the insidious will be able to get their hands on it for $1.99. We’d like to thank Nick for his time and wish the team over at Play Nimbus luck with their game’s release!
There’s been a fair amount of buzz surrounding Breach & Clear even before it was released on the App Store last week. And with good reason: it’s pretty awesome. However, there’s a bit more to the story of this mish-mash of genres and themes, including some rather unexpected sources of inspiration. Josh Fairhurst (president of Mighty Rabbit) and Wes Keltner (Creative Director for Gun) took a few moments out of their busy schedules to share some of the juicier tidbits with us.
148Apps: Breach & Clear uses a great combination of strategy mechanics. What were some of the least likely places you pulled inspiration from? Josh Fairhurst (JF): The least likely place was NFL 2K1. The planning phase in Breach & Clear was beginning to feel a lot like creating a plan in a game of football, so we turned to the best football game of all time. Most of our gameplay was designed using powerpoint presentations supplied by our consultants. In each one of these images, vision cones were the dominant markings – so we built gameplay around that. A lot of people will probably think Frozen Synapse was an influence, but we didn’t set out to be directly influenced by it. B&C was originally fully turn-based, but we found that with proper tactics, enemies never got a chance to respond. We switched to using simultaneous turns as a response to that. Wes Keltner (WK): I agree with Josh, strategy and planning in Breach & Clear is somewhat similar to calling routes in football games. At one point we even discussed creating an ‘audible’ type button. During pre-production/design doc phase, my inspirations were a little more obvious. Classic strategy shooters on PC like Rainbow Six, SWAT, and Jagged Alliance, as well as titles like Final Fantasy Tactics were all staples for me.
148Apps: The weapon attachments all have some sort of statistical trade-off. Was this intentional as a means to prevent players from relying too much on relying on their equipment rather than stats and tactics? WK: We basically wanted all these cool attachments to really push the realism of each weapon. Allow the user to really customize and tinker. We put the heavy lifting part into good hands. JF: We felt that for every bonus, there should be some kind of drawback. At the same time, we definitely wanted to push tactics and proper planning above all else. In the end, the weapons and attachments don’t feel like they make a huge difference unless you lean a gun all the way towards one of the stats. We’re hoping to fix that in the future by adding some guns that will change the way you’re approaching combat entirely.
148Apps: Were there any classes or skills that had to be cut due to time/space/balance? And if so, were there any you regret not being able to include? JF: The Intel specialization originally had a tactic called “Direct Link” which allowed you to reveal the enemies in a chosen room. This was a great tactic, but in the end it felt like it would cause players to just leave their Intel guy positioned outside the level, slowly revealing all the rooms. I can’t think of too many things that we cut that I regret cutting, I think we made pretty good choices. WK: Yes, I don’t regret any of the cuts we had to make. As team working together, we all picked apart classes, features, content, each time they were considered. We would shoot holes in it, looking for weak spots. So the things that hit the cutting room floor were all for the good of the game. It’s often difficult to find a good balance between realism and fun.
148Apps: What are some of your preferred class combinations and loadouts? WK: My preferred team is a Fireteam Leader, Medic, and two Direct Action guys. I love the sprint perk. Being able to move a guy so quickly around the level allows me to get the drop on unsuspecting foes, as well as help another unit out. Having a couple Direct Action guys allows me to quickly subdue a situation that might have gotten out of hand if it had taken me two turns to get there. I run 100% suppressed on all weapons. Suppressed weapons, mixed with the lock pick kit, allows me to play B&C with stealth and precision. Mix that with two speedy Direct Action guys…You’re a fast, efficient ghost. JF: I tend to roll with a Fireteam Leader, Weapons Sergeant, Intelligence Officer, and Direct Action Specialist. I get into a lot of scenarios where an enemy is behind cover and there is no safe approach – I can quickly solve this by putting my Fireteam Leader into cover while using his “Draw Fire” tactics. After that I can use my Direct Action Specialist’s “Sprint” tactic to run behind the distracted enemy. I tend to prioritize anything with a high rate of fire and I modify the gun to get that RoF even higher.
148Apps: What’s next for Breach & Clear? JF: Right now we’re going through everything people are saying about the game – critics, customers, fans – everyone. We’re going to be working hard over the next few months to respond to these suggestions, and hopefully, get them into the game. Our first targets are knocking out all those “Coming Soon” banners! WK: Ditto on what Josh said…Oh and Android, Android, ANDROID! We can’t wait to allow Android players to start breaching to their hearts content. There are also some features and content Gun and Mighty Rabbit have been tossing back and forth but Josh hit it right on the head…we want to listen to the fans.
Our thanks go out to Wes and Josh for discussing design and tactics amidst all the post-launch hullabaloo. If you haven’t given Breach & Clear a spin yet, you should probably go ahead and nab it off the App Store for $1.99.
With Lums being the latest title to gain an esteemed Editor’s Choice award, we took some time to get to know more about its developer, Hyperbolic Magnetism, and find out exactly what makes the team tick.
Who is Hyperbolic Magnetism?
Primarily a team of two in terms of the development side of things, the team is based in Prague, Czech Republic, with Vladimir Hrincar and Jan Split Ilavsky at the helm. Having worked together on creating games since the ZX Spectrum days during Elementary school, the pair continued their working partnership throughout University, which eventually lead them to develop via the App Store. Alongside that, Filip Kuna has also helped them with non-development tasks.
The Hyperbolic Magnetism team.
What is Hyperbolic Magnetism most famous for?
The team has worked on particle system simulator, Midnight HD, puzzle game Escapology and arcade smash-em-up, Oh My Heart. I think it’s safe to say that Lums is the title that’s about to propel the team’s fortunes skyward, though.
What’s next on the horizon?
The team explained to us that their hope is to deliver more content for Lums, providing they are financially able to: “Our future depends a lot on the success of Lums. If we don’t make enough money to cover for the two years long development, we will have to make a compromise.”
Besides experimenting with various other prototypes and considering some very cool sounding ideas (a turn based multiplayer endless runner is one such idea that they told us about), the team has also just finished a side project title called I’m the Game. An iPad-only release, it’s set to hit the App Store next month, and combines Space Chem and Trainyard. The studio promises that it’ll be great for “crazy people who love extremely hard, mind-bending puzzles.”
The first screenshot of Lums
Anything else I should know about the developer?
Always! We had a more in-depth chat with the team to see just where the idea for Lums came from, and more.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind Lums and its unique look? Hyperbolic Magnetism: When we started to think about Lums for the first time, we wanted to create something with unique graphics. We knew that we could achieve that only by doing something technically challenging. We spent hours and days watching amazing non-gaming videos, trying to get inspiration. We played a few games like Limbo and Twilight Golf, [as well as] read articles about 2D soft shadows implementation. Thus, we decided to make a game with light and shadows. The original idea was to use a grayscale palette only. It had an even more intense atmosphere, but it was hard to distinguish the background from the foreground.
Lums’s level editor.
148apps:What challenges did you encounter? HM: There were many challenges. [Performance wise], we wanted the game to be 60 FPS smooth on iPhone 4, [so] we decided to write our own custom engine…and made it as fast as possible. In the end, it was much more work than just picking up 3rd party engine and working with it, but it was worth it – we would never be able to create such dynamic environment running 60 FPS.
[The] whole control system in Lums is quite innovative and we spent months tweaking it. We’d make something and one month later found that we didn’t like it. So we just deleted the whole control system and made another one. Right now the…magic consists of about 10 variables and there is a lot of mathematics. Quite funny considering how simple this thing looks.
Last but not least, the level design was not easy either. Fortunately, we made [an] in-game level editor which allowed us to work anywhere…it was quite normal that some levels were edited more than 1000 times.
Where the magic happens.
148apps: What’s your favorite thing about iOS development? HM We love the fact that you work for the specific devices only. When you make a game which runs without any problem on iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4, you are sure it will run smoothly on all the other iPhones, iPods and iPads out there.
Where can I find out more about Hyperbolic Magnetism?
We’ll be keeping a very close eye on the team given the tremendous promise that Lums has demonstrated, but there’s plenty of other sources to learn more. There’s the developer’s website, Twitter account, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Jan, Vladimir and Filip also have their own respective Twitter accounts for the more personal touch.
Lums is out now, priced at $0.99, but surely you’ve already bought it, right?
Whenever zombies and/or mutants have overrun the Earth, iOS gamers are always more than happy to take to the streets and start blasting. However, they haven’t had many opportunities to do so with friends. That’s why James Petty, president of Action Mobile Games, and the rest of the development team have been working on 2013: Infected Wars. They’re hoping to push the limits of what iOS gamers have come to expect from their action games, and James was gracious enough to answer a few of our questions about their soon-to-be-released project.
148Apps: What made you decide to create a co-op action game as opposed to a more typical single player affair? James Petty (JP): There were a few reasons for that. One, it has never been done before on mobile so I wanted us to do something new and fun to try and stand out. Two, I thought it would be really well received by the community since playing multiplayer is always more fun. Three, because it is so difficult to pull off; my hope was Apple would feature us in the App Store at release.
148Apps: I was also wondering just how big the environments might be. Are there multiple paths to explore? JP: They are not as big as some of the huge PC or console hits that many of us are familiar with. There are different paths you can take to some extent but we had to be creative to allow for the large number of creatures spawned at any given time. I wanted to make sure the player felt like the world was covered with infected. Most people probably don’t notice, but on mobile each unique creature takes a ton of resources which is why many games with higher end graphics will cap them at 3 or so. This wouldn’t work at all if we wanted to create hordes of enemies. So we were able to optimize the Unreal Engine to such an extent that we can have around 10 at any given time and have some amazing graphics to boot. With our custom spawn system you often don’t even notice the cap as we can have another enemy spawn as soon as one dies to really give you the feeling of an enemy ‘horde’.
148Apps: It looks like there’s a good mix of classes available (Field Support, Marine, Sniper, Sapper). Do you find that some compliment others better, and was it tough to balance them out? JP: Yes, this was extremely tough to balance out. It would have been easy to just get rid of the classes and have a bunch of weapons but I think that removes some of the depth you can achieve when you get to choose a strategy and see if it works. The field support in my opinion is the easiest class to master, and I suggest this for any player who isn’t as experienced with mobile gaming. The sniper and Sapper are the most challenging and work better in multiplayer.
148Apps: What sort of persistent character progression can we expect in 2013: Infected Wars? Do the characters actually learn skills or become more powerful, or is it more of a rank-based system that unlocks new gear? JP: There is no gear unlocking in 2013: Infected Wars; instead, the more money you earn from killing infected and the less you die the more money you have. However each class gets benefits with certain weapon types, and as you level up the weapons in that class become more affordable. You also get unique bonuses for each class but there isn’t a special move per say. The game is designed to offer fun replayability and you are meant to die. If you challenge players and they realize a mistake is going to cause them to die, lose weapons, and then have to try a mission again it really ups the intensity. I believe the mobile gaming community is really wanting a challenge and I stand 100% by 2013: Infected Wars being the most challenging mobile shooter that will be in the App Store.
148Apps: What would you consider to be 2013: Infected Wars’ most significant feature? JP: Definitely the fact we have a true full co-op campaign with a ton of content and true hordes of zombies and other infected to kill. And larger than life bosses that actually move around. This has never been done on mobile before and I really hope the community enjoys it. In fact we are already working on our first new content update before the game even hits the App Store.
We’d like to thank James again for taking the time to answer our questions. If you’re anxious to get your co-op mutant blasting on, keep an eye out. 2013: Infected Wars should be hitting the App Store within the next couple of weeks and set you back $6.99. Expect a full review from 148Apps when it does!
What has Paul Pridham of Madgarden been up to lately? Well, after the release of his collaboration with Rocketcat Games in Punch Quest, he’s been a busy little beaver. On his entertaining Twitter account, he’s posted in-progress screens of games he’s created. He’s released small projects such as Eggnogg, his take on the unreleased Nidhogg, and Mad Life, while working on Fargoal 2.
148Apps: Chillaxian was born from a poll on your site to determine your next game. Why go through this process?
Pridham: I have been participating in the OneGameAMonth.com challenge, where game developers are encouraged to try to make a game each and every month. I’ve managed to get a game out almost every month this year so far, and time was running out for July… so I had to think fast. Since I’m no good at thinking fast, I decided to offload the burden onto the good people who like to play my games… plopped 3 of my billion-or-so ideas into a poll, and BAM. Chillaxian emerged.
With Chillaxian, what was your objective in making this kind of take on the classic shooter?
Well basically, I have always liked Galaxian and the zen-like quality of its gameplay… the swerving, slippery aliens dropping shots that you just barely scrape past, no shields to hide behind… you have to be in a sort of mental zone to get very far in it. I wanted to reproduce that sort of vibe, but in a more relaxed, laid back way. The Chillaxian aliens are slower, bullets are slower, but the activity ramps up and you get a sort of mini-bullet-hell action. Just to be able to sort of chill out and play that kind of zoned-out gameplay, with super simple controls… on the couch. That was the goal.
You’ve worked a lot on various projects that you’ve shown bits and pieces of on Twitter – will we ever see any of these games in a fully realized form?
I know you are keen on RogueBot, Carter, and yes it’s coming! The OneGameAMonth effort has encouraged me to ramp up my prototypes and small games production, and for someone like me with a bazillion game ideas, it’s just a really good excuse to try out a lot of these ideas. I’ve got about four such games in the pipeline, and plan on releasing them all.
The unreleased RogueBot.
What challenges arise from rapid development like this? Is the satisfaction of completing a shorter project any different than a longer one? Will you do any more short projects in the future?
It’s hard to juggle multiple projects at once… but by choosing to explore concepts that further enable future games, I get the most bang for my buck. These shorter games allow me to iterate a lot of ideas and techniques that I can re-use down the road. In a way I think it’s more satisfying to complete these shorter projects, especially when you hit the small, refined target that you are aiming for. Perhaps it’s more a case of instant gratification, heh… but that works for me. In any case it’s a nice break from the bigger game projects which tend to slog on for a bit too long.
I’m absolutely going to do more short projects in the future. In a perfect world, these little games might even make a bit of money, and maybe I’ll get away with it! It’s so crazy it JUST MIGHT WORK.
Thanks to Paul for his time. Chillaxian is available now on the App Store.
I have very fond memories of seeing the sights of the world through a View-Master, with its fancy stereoscopic imagery. In a way, that’s the sort of thing that Poppy is set to offer, with the added bonus of users being able to create and share their own 3D videos, rather than be constricted to pieces of cardboard acting as film.
It’s the brainchild of Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry. Both previously have a solid background in software, with Ethan having co-founded Urbanspoon, and Joe establishing Snapvine and MediaPiston, but this is their first step into physical products.
“I’ve always been interested in products that let people express themselves and be creative,” explained Ethan. “At the same time, I love how the Viewmaster lets you lose yourself in another world. Poppy really came out of a desire to let people capture and share their own experiences in that same immersive way.”
It’s certainly proven to be a wise idea, given that Poppy hit its Kickstarter goal of $40,000 in less than 9 hours. As Ethan told us, “The success on Kickstarter has definitely exceeded our expectations. We’re thrilled that there will be thousands of people with a Poppy. [We] can’t wait to see how they use it.”
Sketches of the Design’s Evolution
The excitement is understandable, too. Poppy is set to be an inexpensive solution for those who love the look of technology such as the Oculus Rift, but not the price. Currently, for Kickstarter backers, Poppy only costs $49 with the full retail price set to be a respectable $69.
Despite that low price, Poppy looks like it’s going to offer a lot of functionality. A matter of placing one’s iPhone inside the device, the Poppy’s mirrors capture two stereographic images with the iPhone’s camera, before combining them into a single 3D video. It’s clever stuff, indeed.
Besides the photographic potential, users will be able to take in 3D imagery, such as the 3D videos available on YouTube, with future possibilities in the realm of augmented reality and in the use of other 3D applications. Indeed, numerous game developers have expressed an interest in the technology, so there’s the hope that Poppy could be used as part of a virtual reality world game in the future.
Currently, there’s still a little time to order the Poppy at the Kickstarter promotional price of $49 plus shipping, but for those who miss out on the offer (the campaign ends on Friday), Ethan told us that a pre-order system should be up after it ends. Bear in mind though, the price will be higher at $69 and Kickstarter backers will be shipped to first. The current plan is that Poppys will be shipped to backers around November/December time, with pre-orders to be shipped after that time.
Learn more about the project at the campaign page, and we’ll be sure to keep an eye on the Poppy’s progress in the future.
Lucky Frame has been quite the success story since the developer was founded by Yann Seznec five years ago. In that time, it has garnered plenty of success with software on other formats, won a Scottish BAFTA for Best Game and, surely more importantly, gained a prestigious 148App’s Editor’s Choice award for Wave Trip. Not bad, eh?
With the recent release of the studio’s latest title, Gentlemen!, we took the time to have a chat with founder, Yann Seznec, and learn a little more about Scotland’s hottest iOS focused property.
“I founded Lucky Frame 5 years ago, after I made a piece of music software for Wii remotes as a university project [The Wii Loop Machine]. The software got a lot of attention online and I managed to turn some of that attention into a little company! I even ended up on Dragons’ Den in the UK,” explained Yann, “…[it] was kind of hilarious (I didn’t get the money…).”
That didn’t deter Yann, though: “Jonathan [Lucky Frame's developer] and I spent a few years working on projects whenever we could, mostly music software and things like Mujik. Eventually we managed to go full time and hire [artist and designer] Sean, to turn us into the three-person studio we are today.”
Provided with funding by numerous creative agencies, Yann acknowledged how helpful it has been to have such support: “We have been really lucky to get support from a number of agencies and companies, notably [Scotland's national arts development agency] Creative Scotland, The University of Edinburgh, [UK based TV broadcaster] Channel 4, The University of Abertay Dundee, [innovation focused UK charity] NESTA, and many others.” Location is also important as Yann discussed, “Scotland is quite a good place to start a company, partially because of the support you can get if you really dedicate yourself to it. Without a doubt that support is what let us become a full time company, and allow us to focus on creating totally original work.”
While previous Lucky Frame titles have been focused on the single player experience, Gentlemen! is, essentially, a head to head beat-em-up, with two players able to participate across the one iPad screen. What inspired the team to pursue such an alternative route? Passion, as Yann explains. “All three of us are really passionate about local multiplayer games,” he said. “Some of our greatest gaming experiences come from sitting in a room with friends playing a game on a single screen. I think that on some level the rise of the tablet/phone as the primary gaming device could lead to that experience being lost.”
It wasn’t a new plan by the team, either. “We’ve wanted to try and approach that problem for a while,” he said. “We even did some experiments like Pyoing which turned out pretty well! Trying to make a local multiplayer game for touch screen raises a whole pile of challenges, which were really fun for us, and the Victorian-era theming really drove the whole design process.”
Gentlemen! is also set to be Lucky Frame’s first Android release, with Yann explaining that he was initially attracted to iOS thanks to the “accessibility” and “standardisation” that the format brings with it.
Wave Trip in poster form at numerous Apple Stores earlier this year.
With perhaps the best attitude to any walk of life, not just iOS development, Yann wisely acknowledged that the most important thing for the team, in terms of getting noticed, has been to “keep working on projects that we want to produce, and make sure that everything we release is something we can be proud of.” Take note, aspiring iOS developers, that’s a great way to feel good about future developments.
Thanks to Yann for taking the time to answer our questions. Gentlemen! is out now for the iPad, priced at $4.99. This is also the ideal time to get to know Lucky Frame’s back catalogue, comprising of Bad Hotel, Pugs Luv Beats, Wave Trip and more.
With the recent iOS release of XBLIG darling, Smooth Operators!, we checked in with creator, Andreas Heydeck, to learn more about the team behind it and their inspiration.
148apps: Who makes up the Heydeck team? How many of you worked on Smooth Operators? Andreas Heydeck (AH): The team consist of me (Andreas Heydeck), and…graphic artist Murry Lancashire. I’ve also [had] some help with graphics from Scott Tykoski, and music from Zack Parrish…[as well as] a couple of ‘consultants’ from the call center world.
148apps: Where did the inspiration for Smooth Operators come from? Why a call/contact centre? AH: Well, I’ve worked as a programmer at a multinational call center for quite some years now, and I’ve always thought that the inner workings in a call center is a pretty good setup for a management simulation game. The mechanics and game rules are already there. But, what basically happened was that me and a couple of friends from work went for a couple of beers, and we joked about doing the game and what cool features that could be put in to it. So, the day after I started working with it.
148apps: Did any particular games inspire you while making the game? AH: The obvious one would probably be SimTower, but also Corporation Inc. When you play the game, you will also notice some elements from your typical Tycoon type of game.
148apps: What encouraged you to port it over to iOS? AH: The mobile gaming market it so much bigger than the XBLIG market, and so it’s an attractive platform to develop for. I’ve also heard people say that this game would be an awesome iPad game, and it was a good challenge for me to port it.
148apps: What challenges did you come across, going from XBLIG to iOS? AH: First, I wasn’t sure what way I was going to do it…I chose to go for the Monogame framework, and it was quite easy. However, as with any new platform, there are some kinks and obstacles you need to overcome, but it wasn’t anything major. The biggest ones was adapting the screen ratios of iOS devices, and also to cut down on the memory handling, which isn’t really an issue when you develop for Xbox or PC (especially not with a 2D game). Oh, and changing the controllers from a pointer to a touchscreen.
Thanks to Andreas for taking the time to answer our questions. Smooth Operators! is out now as an Universal build, priced at $2.99.
With the recent release of mini-golf/billiards hybrid, Super Paper Pool, we thought we’d take the time to get to know more about developer, One Side Software.
Who is One Side Software?
For the most part, One Side Software is the brainchild of Billy Pilger, an Atlanta based developer. Having started four years ago by creating a physics engine which formed the basis for both of his titles, so far, Billy conducts the game design and programming, while the artwork is completed by Blake Clem.
What is One Side Software most famous for?
Primarily, Super Paper Pool. Billy has also completed work on Drawdle, a drawing-based puzzle game, requiring creative problem-solving skills and a certain amount of lateral thinking. It can be pretty tough!
What’s next on the horizon?
Billy told us that the focus is on continuing to support Super Paper Pool, with a promise of “new levels and worlds” in the future. He also told us about his plans for a future title, which he’d “like to be simpler and more character-driven” than his previous titles. “I think game developers have not yet fully realized the potential of the touchscreen interface, so I’d like to experiment with making a great touchscreen game first and foremost,” he explained.
Super Paper Pool went from this to…
Anything else I should know about the developer?
Yup! Always keen to know more, I checked in with Billy to learn about how One Side Software’s work came to be.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind Super Paper Pool? Billy Pilger: At the very beginning, I wanted to capture the experience of watching day turn to night and seeing the stars come out. I grew up in or near major cities and could not usually see many stars at night, so when I did get the chance to see them it felt special. It was an experience I wanted to impart to the player.
The game’s difficulty curve – challenging yet easier with practice – was inspired by Super Stickman Golf by Noodlecake Studios. The game’s pacing and cadence, especially the way the levels flow together, was inspired by the Quell series by Fallen Tree Games.
148apps: What’s your favourite thing about iOS development? BP: The ability to self-publish. The App Store allows just about everyone to make the apps and games they want, they way they want, without having to go through a publisher. Now using a publisher isn’t a bad thing – I’ve done it before and would gladly go that route again in the future – but it is comforting knowing that I’m never dependent on one to get my game out there in front of the players.
The App Store has been around for five years, and in that time its library has grown from just under a thousand titles to over a million. Even with so many releases (and more on the way) there are still a fair number of developers – prominent, indie, or otherwise – who haven’t gone near it. Why have some embraced the App Store while others have hesitated? Why are there still so many talented people, whose games would be a great fit for iOS, not releasing their games for the platform? I reached out to a number of developers, some who have and some who haven’t released games on iOS, to try and figure it out.
The Initial Draw
With such a big install base (600 million devices sold and 575 million user accounts) and a unified operating system, it’s only natural for many a developer to find the App Store appealing. Especially if the popularity or puslisher support for certain platforms starts to wane. Daniel Steger of Stegersaurus Games has been doing pretty well on the Xbox 360′s Xbox Live Indie Games marketplace, but lately it’s looking like Microsoft might be pulling the plug on the once indie-friendly venue. “iOS has been seen as one option because it has many consumers and seems to fit the scale of games I enjoy making,” Steger said, “Frameworks like Xamarin’s Monotouch could also make porting my games from XBox to iPhone fairly pain-free which is an added bonus as I could continue creating games for both platforms.”
Daniel Steger/Steger Games
It was the portability and popularity of Apple’s iOS devices that first attracted ISOTX‘s Jeroen Roding to the App Store. “The iPad is something you have with you all of the time, it is accessible at any given time of the day,” Roding said. “The average revenue per unit is pretty high and the whole shop backend is easy for the users.” It wasn’t just the install base, either. As a developer for Facebook games there was also cross-platform integration to consider that would allow users to “start the game on PC and Mac and finish it while on their tablet,” he said.
Both Marios Karagiannis from Karios Games and independent programmer Suraj Gregory-Kumar attribute their initial interest to the App Store’s popularity as well as Apple’s certification process. According to Karagiannis, “Companies that consider creating casual games for mobile devices cannot really afford to skip the App Store,” since he considers it to be “the biggest, more consistent app store of the 3 major platforms right now.” Gregory-Kumar agrees, but views the situation from a more practical standpoint. “I own an iPhone and wanted to venture in to unknown territory,” said Gregory-Kumar, “but more over it was a way of showing those around me the games I could produce, since the device is portable and easy to show off.”
As for getting apps certified, Karagiannis considers it to be a necessary buffer. “Remember that the lack of any kind of certification means in practice that a VERY large number of apps are utterly useless – including malicious apps.” In other words it’s like the Wild West. However, that also means getting something approved for the App Store can take a little while, as Gregory-Kumar recalls. “The App Store approval process is something which takes a lot of consideration, as the app must meet their strict guidelines, otherwise the app is declined.”
Mike Roush, co-founder of Gaijin Games, has a slightly different perspective on the matter. BIT.TRIP BEAT has been on the App Store since 2010, however he doesn’t feel like they’ve had much involvement in it’s App Store appearance. “I don’t really feel like Gaijin Games made the game, seeing as it was a port of the Wii version.” Roush said, noting that Namco’s involvement with publishing and co-developing the port attributed greatly to his feeling of detachment. He also believes they could take advantage of the shift in App Store shopper preferences from the quick and casual games of the early years to something more complex. “Nowadays,” Roush said, “it seems to me that people are interested in deeper, richer and more polished experiences.”
As appealing as any development platform might be there are always going to be a few aspects that give someone pause. Apple’s certification process, while a welcome buffer for some, becomes an unnecessary barrier for others. Daniel Steger had this exact problem when he attempted to move a few of his Xbox Live Indie Games to iOS. “I spent some time porting my game engine to work with Monotouch,” Steger said, “Unfortunately, after all that time I did not account for Apple’s sensitivity when approving games.” The first game he had attempted to port was rejected three consecutive times; the last of which was anything but constructive or informative. “I was told not to submit the game again, as it would never get approved.”
Jane V./Price Rhythm
He tried to make the best of it by porting two other games, both of which did fairly well on Xbox Live and were, in fact, approved for the App Store, but it just wasn’t enough. “They were quicker ports just trying to make the best out of a bad situation,” he said. Unfortunately, while these games performed well on Xbox Live they didn’t even come close to recouping the time and money spent porting them to iOS in the first place. He’s been understandably hesitant to port any other projects ever since. Jane V from Price Rhythm was also initially put off by the approval process. “I am holding myself from developing games because I believe that in order to succeed in it and make the “killer” game, you have to make it really beautiful and engaging.” She said, “This requires a lot of graphical capabilities, marketing budgets and etc that a lot of indie developers just don’t have.”
Marios Karagiannis/Karios Games
Jeroen Roding, Marios Karagiannis, and Suraj Gregory-Kumar, on the other hand, were more concerned about the development tools themselves. Gregory-Kumar wasn’t much of a Mac user initially and was also worried about budgeting on top of his unfamiliarity. “Fortunately, my husband is an Apple fan so his Mac came in handy.” Gregory-Kumar said, “With the Unreal Engine you need a windows machine to install the software, and a mac to submit it, so developing using this process without the technology would prove costly.” Roding, on the other hand, was limited to his prior experience with developing browser-based games. “We didn’t really have the experience at the time to get our game functioning on iOS.” Roding said, “Now we are working with scaleform and Unity in order to get the game running smoothly on iOS and retaining the same value on PC and Mac.”
Marios Karagiannis, however, has had a fair bit of experience in designing for mobile ever since 2011. Although it was for Windows Phone. A platform he picked mostly due to the accessible development tools. “XNA was providing (at the time) an excellent game development framework for indies and Microsoft was really pushing for the platforms, which gave me a lot of perks.” He was also a little preoccupied at the time, what with pursuing his PhD and all. “Revenue as well as user acquisition was not my number one priority,” Karagiannis said, “I opted for having fun creating my games while making them available through a number of people through a centralized store at the same time.”
Mike Roush was mostly concerned about he and his team’s extensive background in console development, as mobile platforms are something of a different beast. The App Store is also a fairly unpredictable marketplace. “If we invest a significant amount of money into an iOS project and it doesn’t hit, then we are in trouble.” Roush said. There was also a lot less pressure for their games to succeed because they were a much smaller studio at first. “We had no fear of failing because our office burn-rate was around $1000.00. We didn’t really have much to lose and we could function on very little.”
Even though they’ve had issues or reservations in the past, everyone agrees that there are some qualities the App Store possesses that made (or will make) it worth the effort. Even Daniel Steger hasn’t totally written off Apple’s mobile platforms. “I wouldn’t say an attempt to return to iOS is out of the question,” Steger said, “but there are a few places that take priority because of my experiences.” He’s been attempting to use Steam Greenlight to release his most recent project, Mount Your Friends, on PC and has been eyeing Google Play for another go at mobile devices. He’d still be willing to give Apple another shot, however. “If I heard Apple was being more transparent now on their review criteria, or heard that my old, rejected submission to the app store would be considered today by Apple that may influence a return.” Suraj Gregory-Kumar is simply looking forward to more time to learn, and hopes that Apple eventually opens up iOS to other development tools. “It would be easier being able to use a windows machine to develop for Apple (using Xcode/Objective-C),” he said.
Mike Roush/Gaijin Games
Marios Karagiannis and Jeroen Roding are pretty much on-board already thanks to Apple’s install base. Since finishing his PhD last December, Karagiannis Has found that his priorities have been changing. “App Store users seem to be willing to pay more than Android users.” His biggest theory on this phenomenon has to do with the install base on Android versus iOS. “While on paper Android users are many more,” Karagiannis said, “the average Android user uses an old device and is used to getting all of their apps for free.” Of course a similar case could be made against iOS users, but there definitely seems to be a more universal acceptance of $0.99 releases on the App Store. Roding is more interested in the number of iOS users rather than the particulars of the App Store’s economics. “From a marketing point of view we really liked the average revenue per unit and the fact that we can reach a larger audience.” Roding said, “Also looking at the numbers for PC gamers having access to or owning a tablet are really good, around 30% of the PC gamers now owns a tablet.”
Karagiannis concurred. “Apple’s ecosystem proved to be quite robust and iOS as a gaming platform seems to be one step away from being the most successful gaming platform at the moment, including game consoles and PCs,” Karagiannis said. Mike Roush feels the same way, and has high hopes for Gaijin Games on the App Store. “We are actually working on the iOS version of Runner2 (it’s super amazing btw). I would be willing to bet, from here on out, every game we make will be on an iOS device.” Roush said, “You just can’t argue with the number of iOS units currently in the hands of people.”
Adam Saltsman is one of the most talented, intelligent, and opinionated developers working on the App Store nowadays. He’s worked on a selection of titles on the App Store as diverse as the influential endless runner Canabalt to the abstract touchscreen game Hundreds. However, there are reasons why he thinks Canabalt isn’t quite as influential as it appears to be, and his concerns about the future of the App Stores and the indies working on it.
148Apps: Canabalt remains one of the most influential games on the App Store as one of the first high-profile endless runners, and the one that seemingly sparked a million more games. What do you think of the game’s legacy, though? Do you see it in similar terms?
Adam Saltsman: So the funny thing about Canabalt to me is that it hasn’t sold as well as a lot of people think. We’ve probably sold maybe 250,000 or 300,000 copies or something, and a lot of those were during sales over the last few years combined. That’s nothing to laugh at, and I’m super thankful and grateful for that response from people, but I think the game had a bigger impact on journalists and other game developers than it did on the general public. Not to mention the hordes of games inspired by the games that Canabalt seems to have inspired, which probably outnumber Canabalt’s direct influences by a few orders of magnitude!
It’s important to remember that lots of games influenced Canabalt too, though, as well as Wurdle. These were not things created in a vacuum! All the same I could not be happier with Canabalt’s reception and impact. It feels like a huge honor, all the time, forever.
148Apps: The way that developers make money within the App Store has definitely shifted in the past 5 years, yet you have remained an outspoken critic of the way that many games use in-app purchases. Why is that? Has your position shifted at all over the last few years?
Saltsman: I don’t think my position has changed much. Most of the approaches to IAP or “free to play” style designs that are deployed on the App Store, especially in financially successful games, remain fairly corrupt or coercive in a way that makes me pretty uncomfortable. Some of these approaches have actually been outlawed in Japan, so I don’t think their coercive nature is completely imaginary. These approaches have even become formalized enough to have actual names (treadmills, energy systems, tight loops, etc).
I think players in general are at least slightly more aware of these systems. This is important, especially for kids. Many of these games still target children with schemes like “give us $5 or your virtual fish will DIE.” It’s good for people to understand that a “game” on their phone might operate that way.
But also there have been games with large IAP components that don’t really feel particularly coercive, like ShellRazer, which I think is cool. These games actually speak to the promise of IAP and F2P as a way of engaging a broader or different type of audience in different ways. These games are very definitely the exception to the rule, though.
148Apps: What do you think about the viability of the App Store over the next five years? Will there be any changes, or any directions that you would like to see the marketplace go in?
Saltsman: The App Store to me seems to really strongly favor a particular kind of approach (if you don’t do IAP of course), which we used on Hundreds. This approach goes something like this: “work on the game in relative secrecy for like 1–2 years, then launch it and hope it gets featured and impresses everybody enough to get the critical mass you need to get good word of mouth and a good long tail in the future.”
As a member of a small team, and somebody with a growing family, this approach freaks me out pretty bad, and there are a lot of platforms (especially PC/Mac) where you don’t have to take that kind of crazy all-or-nothing path. I would love it if the App Store could support preorders, and bundles, and a lot of these other things that help sustain small teams through risky development on other platforms.
On top of that, launching on the App Store first places certain price limits on your work in some people’s minds, and selling at a higher price point on other platforms later can be a challenge. For small teams, it seems like designing for PC/Mac first, with potentially touch-screen friendly controls in mind (e.g. favoring the mouse over gamepads), is a really superior way to approach things, from a business and tech perspective.
In the “old days” (ha ha!) it felt like you could just think up a real good game for the only model of iPhone/iPod Touch that actually existed, build it in a reasonable period of time, and kind of blow people’s minds. Prices weren’t quite as low back then either. It’s totally natural and understandable that those early successes would draw in more competition, but at this point, as a small team of 2 or 3, you have to be pretty receptive to the idea that you are up against teams of 10 or 12, with 1–2 years of publisher-backed runway. You can still compete, indies can ALWAYS compete…but if you are trying to make games commercially and take care of your family, you have to be cognizant of these things, and more considered in your approach in the future.
Thanks to Adam Saltsman for his time; it’s always a pleasure.
Over the past five years, many thousands of developers have tried their luck in creating the next big hit for iOS gamers. While some were there right from the beginning, others have found success in only the last couple of years. I took the time to chat to four relatively recently successful developers to find out exactly why they were so interested in pursuing the App Store route, and how they’ve found the experience so far.
“First and foremost it was the ease of development and getting things…running quickly, with no development kits and long processes of approval,” explained Simon Flesser of Simogo (most famous for the rather exceptionally spooky Year Walk). “That coupled with us being interested in the iPhone as a gaming platform and the different features it provides, touchscreen interaction, motion controls, constant internet connection…”
Simogo’s Year Walk
Barry Meade of Fireproof Studios (makers of BAFTA award winning The Room) had similar views: “As a small team with little resources to draw on, the fact you could self-publish on the App Store was a huge enabler for us…The Room might never have been made if we’d had to rely on a publisher as it was a bit too unusual…they would not have believed in the game like we did.” As he pointed out, “the App Store allowed a team from nowhere to make a small game and see big success.”
The Room‘s Fireproof Games is one such team made up of ex-AAA developers, with the studio formed by six ex-lead artists from Criterion Games’ Burnout franchise. Similarly, Warhammer Quest‘s Rodeo Games came from such a background. Formed from executives previously working for the likes of EA, Lionhead, Criterion and Codemasters, Rodeo Games were provided the opportunity to pursue something new, thanks to the App Store.
“Well, we’d been in the AAA games industry for many years and had been talking about how to take steps in setting up our own company. The App Store was just flourishing at the time. It was this awesome, new, bold place for smaller dev teams to put their games in-front of a huge audience. So we crafted a plan with the mindset of making the very best turn based strategy games on iOS, and Rodeo Games was the result,” Ben Murch, co-founder, explained.
Fireproof Games’s The Room
Neil Rennison of Fighting Fantasy developer, Tin Man Games, enjoyed a similar revelatory moment, after a move to Australia, gave him the chance of starting his own indie development studio, just as the iPhone and the App Store came to fruition: “I was originally running a small games art outsource company in the UK and then…I…moved to Australia with the dreams of starting my own indie and making my own titles instead of working on other people’s games.”
How different do they all think things would be if the App Store didn’t exist, though? “Very! Certain types of business models and certain types of games would probably not exist without the App Store,” Simon reckoned. Ben offered similar views, although noted the loss of the “middle tier” of gaming: “The gaming world would be a very different place right now. Just think about how many small companies and jobs have been created just from iOS gaming alone. Before the App Store, there was this surge towards “middle tier” gaming, i.e. titles coming out in the £10 – £20 bracket. I guess that market would have grown more and become an eco-system in itself. However, thanks to the App Store, creators who were interested in that model shifted into the mobile market, effectively crippling the whole “middle tier” gaming sector.”
Rodeo Games’s Warhammer Quest
Mention was also made, by Neil, of the fragmentation of the mobile phone operator universe, something that was a significant problem before the advent of the App Store. “Apple’s stock would be worth a lot less”, noted Barry. All quite rightly pointed out that none of them would be in the position they’re in today, if it wasn’t for the ease of the App Store.
For the most part, all four of our interviewees were very positive about the App Store’s impact. Each citing how it’s “paved the way for many small developers”, as Simon eloquently put it, and enabled them to try riskier material. As Ben pointed out, “Without the App Store, it would be nigh on impossible to get your strange little game idea in front of….well, thousands of people would be a struggle. Suddenly, anyone can release something that has exposure to HUNDREDS of MILLIONS of potential buyers. Just thinking about that blows my mind.”
Financial barriers are also lowered, as Barry explained: “The relative cheapness of mobile games development allows niche ideas to thrive.” Neil reinforced that point, citing how the games industry “was slowly becoming a bloated AAA only console game market and traditional game developers were beginning to struggle as the mid-point of the market was getting squeezed. The app revolution helped give developers options and in a way created its own new market in which everyone had the same opportunities from the big publishers to the lone bedroom coder…[it] was a perfect springboard for budding entrepreneurial devs like us.”
Tin Man Games’s Fighting Fantasy: The Forest of Doom
Simon was slightly more cautious, enjoying the risks that were possible to take, but also citing how it’s “paved the way for some very questionable money-grabbing schemes… the market place has been somewhat flooded with low-quality software. It might have lowered the quality bar for what is considered to be a release-able piece software.”
That’s clearly a thought that runs through each of the developers’ minds, given that each recommends changes that make it easier to find good apps and games. Ben would appreciate a better quality Related Apps section and a twist on the Genius section, “Some form of “We recommend these Apps for you based on what you’ve downloaded already” type thing.” Discoverability is a big thing for Barry too, “There should be a lot more ways to format the lists of games when browsing the store. A chart by user rating is very needed for those smaller companies who make great games but get buried by the marketing clout of richer but arguably less skilful publishers.”
Higher “quality control” is an important wish for Simon, while Neil would appreciate a way to reply to App Store reviewers.
Rodeo Games’s Hunters 2
For the most part, though, all four developers were, understandably, happy with how the App Store is performing, both in terms of business and personal use.
“I think Apple does a marvellous job at finding and promoting good games. It’s so nice that they can give small developers, such as us, a big spotlight if they find something that is good…it’s almost…unbelievable that something as strange as Year Walk can get the same type of exposure as a mainstream game from a big publisher,” beamed Simon.
The “open territory” of the Store was appreciated by Barry, also, “You can upload a game to the store and be published in 150 countries within 24 hours – this is really quite incredible when you compare it with how difficult it was to get a game onto other platforms only a few years ago. It’s pretty much a revolution in terms of enabling creativity,” with Neil offering similar views.
Simogo’s Bumpy Road
As a consumer, it’s also proved quite the hit with Ben pointing out, “it’s that feeling of being able to browse a huge catalogue of games from your sofa, eventually finding something that’s right up your street. They have great landing pages in the App Store making it easy to find great games that you may not have heard of previously.” Neil appreciated the vast wealth of games, too, “it’s enabled me to play games that I haven’t played in over 20 years and also experience new innovative game designs from some truly talented people that wouldn’t have otherwise had the opportunity to shine.”
While it’s clear that the App Store isn’t perfect, mostly in terms of offering great visibility to the titles that deserve it, these four developers have clearly found it an overwhelmingly useful experience. Each of them, from different backgrounds, have found great and deserved success, highlighting the best of what can come out of the App Store in terms of original efforts.
We’re certainly fascinated to see what will come next from these relatively new developers, part of the next generation of exciting game makers.
Rocketcat Games’ titles have been a unique presence on the App Store. While many pixel art games exist on iOS, theirs have had a special look and feel to them that just hasn’t been matched by others.
Also, gnomes. Lots of gnomes.
I spoke to Kepa Auwae, who is in charge of “Planning, Business Stuff, Design” and is the public voice for Rocketcat Games, and was previously a registered nurse before Hook Champ allowed the him and the studio to make games full-time. We discuss why their titles remain so unique, the future of the studio, and just why we don’t hear from the other two members of Rocketcat.
148Apps: There are a lot of pixel art games on the App Store, but Rocketcat Games seems to have a voice and style all its own with games that have attracted a loyal fan base. What do you attribute this to?
Kepa Auwae: Our games have a pretty clear voice, probably because there’s so few people working on them and everyone contributes. I think it’s also easier to build a fan base when you’re working on a small niche that others don’t really touch. There’s not a lot of people making our sorts of games on iOS, with our level of difficulty and scope.
148Apps: Your grappling hook games (Hook Champ, Super QuickHook, and Hook Worlds) are actually only a few titles using the grappling hook mechanic at all on mobile. Is this due to the challenge of using the mechanic well?
Auwae: It turns out that level design was really difficult for our grappling hook games. The placement of every bit of ceiling was important to the flow of the level. It’s kind of like designing a level for a platformer, except imagine you control each leg and you’ll trip if you don’t step on the floor exactly right.
As for how few games use the genre, I think it’s mostly just how genres work for videogames. You need a huge hit to really provide incentive to cloners on a big scale.
148Apps: Reminisce back to the time of Hook Champ and its cosmetic IAP. How did the response and reaction from people then compare to the reaction you got for the IAP in Punch Quest? How have your fans responded to your evolution in titles you’ve released?
Auwae: We get as many complaints about Hook series IAP, still, as we get complaints about Punch Quest IAP. And because the Hook games are out longer, we have a bigger amount of complaints total. It’s bizarre, since the Hook IAP was almost entirely cosmetic, hats and such.
That said, we didn’t get many complaints about the Punch Quest IAP at all. I think fans knew that we were trying to do things right. Trying to anyway, I’m not happy with how the design in Punch Quest turned out. In the future, I’d like to completely avoid the concept of people paying to skip in-game progression.
148Apps: Your games have largely been core-gamer-friendly genres; do you see your future mobile titles going down this path, if you even have a future on mobile at all?
Auwae: It would make a lot more sense to make casual-friendly games, as the “core-gamer” type of games we make take big amounts of time to work on. This next one we’re releasing, our randomly-generated action-adventure game, is getting to the 2-year mark. These are the types of games we’re interested in making, even if it doesn’t add up from a business standpoint.
Our plan for the future is to release on multiple platforms, especially PC. The big differences are that there’s a much bigger audience for such games there, and you can feasibly charge more than $5 per copy. Definitely not leaving mobile, any game that makes sense on iOS will be developed simultaneously for it. As an example, I’m starting work on a project with the Punch Quest developer (Paul “Madgarden” Pridham), and that’s being worked on for both PC and iOS so we can make sure the controls and graphics are perfect on both platforms.
148Apps: You, Kepa Auwae, have served largely as the public voice of the company. Who are the other members of Rocketcat, and why do you keep their voices silent? Do they even exist?! Or are they actually gnomes?
Auwae: There’s Jeremy Orlando (Programmer) and Brandon Rhodes (Artist). All three of us are incredibly shy. We had to pick which one of us would have to interact with everyone. I’m not better equipped to talk to anyone, it’s just that I lost when we drew straws. After a few years I’m now ok at the whole “public voice” thing. Also they’re gnomes and I’m really ashamed of that.
Thanks to Kepa Auwae for his time; it’s truly appreciated.
Rovio Entertainment, creators of Angry Birds, has a new publishing initiative called Rovio Stars that will see its first titles Icebreaker and Tiny Thief released soon. Kalle Kaivola, Senior Vice President of Product & Publishing at Rovio Entertainment, took the time to answer some of my questions about Rovio Stars.
Why launch a publishing initiative? What advantages will Rovio Stars have over other mobile publishers out there?
Expanding into publishing games was a pretty logical step for Rovio Entertainment to take. In the course of our work we run into a lot of interesting, fun and creative game projects – things we know our fans would love. Why not help the developers of these games to give them the final polish, and let our massive, dedicated fan base know of them? Right now it’s a huge challenge to get your game known in the avalanche of games and apps that are flooding the different app stores – it’s not enough to have a good game if you can’t get the word about it out there.
Rovio Entertainment is in an unique position to do exactly that. We communicate with our fan base directly on a daily basis, and they know they can expect quality fun from us. We also have a huge amount of know-how in creating mobile content, and we have a lot to offer to the developers in terms of helping them put the finishing touches to the project. Under Rovio Stars we do a bit more than a traditional publisher does in helping with the game project, things such as lending our expertise in QA and marketing.
When looking for titles to publish, what are you looking for in these games? Rovio has been one of the chief faces of casual gaming–will Rovio Stars largely focus on casual titles as well?
We are looking for games that have engaging gameplay, memorable characters, offbeat humour, and which are fun and addicting to play. The term casual is a bit tricky in the sense that traditionally it has connotations of simplicity and a lack of challenge, but as everybody who has tried to three star their way through Angry Birds games knows, that certainly isn’t true. It’s safe to say that we won’t be publishing FPS shooters or survival horror in the future, so the Rovio Stars games will casual games in the sense of being suitable and fun for all ages, from kids to grandparents.
Why should people ultimately care about the titles that Rovio Stars will be publishing?
The sheer amount of games on the app stores is a challenge not only for the developers, but also for the gamers – how to find the great game amongst the multitudes? This is where Rovio Stars comes in. It’s the stamp of quality that tells the gamer that the game they are about to buy has the same level of polish, engaging gameplay and quality fun as Rovio’s titles.
Sometimes it seems like the majority of free-to-play games focus more on arbitrary time limits and less on actually making a compelling experience. Dave Calabrese, President and CEO of Cerulean Games, feels pretty much the same way. Not content with many of the current freemium sim-style games out there, he and his team set out to create something more akin to one of those meticulous “tycoon” style games that were all the rage back in the 90s. It’s a tall order, but it looks like Vineyard Valley is coming along quite nicely.
148Apps: What inspired you all to create a virtual free-to-play rendition of that “build a vineyard” dream most world-travelers seem to develop? Dave Calabrese (DC): This entire venture actually started because a friend of mine from school contacted me one evening. She informed me about a large community who used to play a game called My Vineyard. That game went offline over a year ago, however the community has been dying for something new, and nobody would listen. So I did the research, and felt it was a viable business direction! We spent 3 months just having fun and planning out something awesome. So we took all our notes – everything from the community, all of our own ideas, and ideas of what the general public wants and nobody is giving them – and assembled it into the Vineyard Valley that you see planned today!
148Apps: I see in your Kickstarter description that Vineyard Valley won’t be using typical free-to-play “pay to win” models or rely on energy. So how *are* you making use of the freemium model? Is it primarily through Vinos? And what exactly are Vinos, anyway? DC: We have a pretty cool system that we are using to monetize the game. We call it the Five Point monetization system. The concept is – as you may have guessed – something where we monetize on 5 separate levels. Only one of those actually has the players spending real money – and that is where Vinos come into play. You earn them by running your business properly, and you can purchase them using real money. Aside from that one and only currency exchange, the player won’t have to spend physical money – which allows us to keep it freemium. The other four methods incorporate partners, advertising and more.
148Apps: I’m intrigued by the more classic approach to a business sim you’re using for Vineyard Valley, especially the idea of trading wine between players. But why exactly would players want to buy and sell wine from each other? Is there some sort of added incentive to exchanging with someone else aside from simply seeing what other players have created? DC: Good question – and I think you are going to really dig the reason. Part of your vineyard is you have a shopping village. This shopping village is something you design and build just like anything else in the game. You start from essentially a wooden stand on the side of the road, and build it into a full blown village with shops, cafes and more. This is where some of that classic business sim comes into play. Your vineyard in the game – just like when you go to a real life vineyard – sells bottles of wine. This wine shop is located in your shopping village. You choose what is sold there. Now, each wine will have a type of rating which denotes its quality, uniqueness and more. Say you create a wine that has a very high rating. You can choose to put a bunch of its bottles in your shopping village, however you could also sell a bunch of bottles to your friends. Just like in classic business sims such as Theme Park, NPC visitors come and tour your vineyard, and shop in the shopping village. The higher rated wine you have, the more it will attract more visitors. Not just rating, but also the proper time for the right wine – a pumpkin wine might attract more visitors around Halloween, while a refreshing Ice Wine might attract more visitors in the middle of summer.
148Apps: Since you’re obviously trying to avoid making Vineyard Valley too much like the majority of other freemium sims, what other games might you be using for inspiration? My guess is older PC business/tycoon titles, which I’m all kinds of okay with. DC: Exactly, older business sims. Specifically, the original Theme Park from the mid-90s. Today’s business sims are nothing more than seeing how well you can follow the leader while mindless clicking things. See, that’s also what made My Vineyard different – there was a lot more you could do than just mindlessly click and follow the leader. We’re of course staying as far away from cloning My Vineyard as possible, however the base inspiration is still there – design and build in a sandbox environment, and have fun with your friends.
148Apps: Are there any pointers you’d like to share with prospective winery managers eager to jump in to Vineyard Valley once it’s released? DC: Once you finish watching the game introduction (yes, the game has an ongoing story), think through the base options and decide on the initial kinds of fruit crops and wines you want to develop. Just like the wine, you can also sell and trade the raw ingredients with your friends. Maybe your vineyard will specialize in grapes along with citrus fruits, while your friend’s vineyard specializes in grapes and stone fruits. That’s a great opportunity to trade with each other. Maybe you will also become an expert in citrus fruits and have very special fruit types available that others won’t so easily get…
Thanks to Dave for setting aside a few minutes to discuss digital wine with us. Anyone interested in backing Vineyard Valley’s multiplatform development can do so on its Kickstarter page, and the sooner it gets funded the sooner we can all presumably start with the fruit fermentation.
Outfit7’s Talking Friends series of apps has reached one billion downloads.
Seriously. The talking cat apps that feature characters like Talking Tom, later expanded out to a host of other characters, have been downloaded over one billion times. That’s an absurd number of downloads, and the series continues to look upward and outward, as it continues to expand from just being an entertaining toy app to something more substantial. I spoke to Outfit7 CEO Samo Login about this milestone.
148Apps: Did you ever imagine that you’d ever get anywhere near this point, getting one billion downloads with your apps?
Samo: I would say that when we started, that was one of our objectives. It sure seemed a lot with seven billion people in the world, but we didn’t set any limits where we should stop. So far, we have doubled the number of downloads every half-year, roughly. I spoke to a guy [recently], he can see us getting to two billion, but four billion would be a challenge! [laughs] I don’t think so because we are introducing new apps, so I don’t see a problem with four billion, so, why not?
148Apps: What is it about the Talking Friends series of apps that you think has led to this kind of success versus some of the other “talking cartoon-y character” apps that are out there?
Samo: I think that our objective was always to create something funny, and we invested always a lot into quality [with] all these apps, not only the graphics but the whole user experience. And I think that users notice that. It’s something that for sure, always differentiated us from other companies that had created talking apps.
We also plan in the future, always, some kind of hidden educational aspect, especially for preschoolers. If you create an app that’s a straightforward educational app, the kids can smell it. It’s like when you teach a child something, if you just cover it up into something funny and entertaining, the kids will have fun and learn about something at the same time. That’s the added value that we intend to give our users with our apps in the future.
148Apps: So really with your apps and going forward in the future, you’re really trying to use the likability and the familarity of these characters to branch out into other kinds of apps, but to also have, maybe to say, positive goals to them?
So obviously our audience wants all different kinds of entertaining content, not just the Talking apps. And for sure, we’ll be working in this direction in the future to create different kinds of apps, mostly with entertaining but also some gaming content to bring our characters into movies, music, merchandise, to increase the number of touch points are audience has with our characters.
148Apps: So this is something where you’ve taken this simple idea of, this kind of talking cartoon character that people can interact with, and now you’re bringing it to all sorts of new avenues, taking it to places that seem unexpected with the launch of the original app, but here you are.
Samo: I would say ‘unexpected’ when we started, then when we saw the power of our characters that with big distribution we’d compete with TV, with one billion downloads of our apps, and over 170 million monthly unique users, we actually compete with TV stations. And with apps, it’s much easier to get to a global distribution, than with any other technology before. So we are taking this from here, expanding this into other verticals, which is in my opinion, a logical next step. We didn’t expect it at the very beginning, but later on we became aware there is much more behind our characters than just talking apps.
“Being a Ranger means preparing for the rigors of protection of the citizens of Nova Prime” says Eric Marlow. “It’s the full experience of being a Ranger that we wanted to show the player, and we hope they can not only enjoy the game, but also develop a deeper understanding of After Earth.”
148Apps speaks with Eric Marlow, Vice President of Global Studios at Reliance Games, about their latest title, After Earth – The Mobile Game. In the interview, we learn more about the game, how it’s tied to the film, and what it is that makes the game unique. We also learn about the process Reliance Games went through in creating it and how they worked closely with the movie studio to capture a familiar After Earth experience that fans can appreciate.
148Apps: Tell us a little bit about After Earth – The Mobile Game?
Eric Marlow: After Earth – The Mobile Game is an action/adventure game released on mobile for iOS and Android devices. At its core it is a runner, but we’ve adopted a number of things from the film so that the player is presented with new challenges that will keep things interesting.
How does the game tie in with the film?
It was very exciting to work with Sony and Overbrook (Will Smith’s production company) on the game. They were both quite active in not just supplying us with background information about the movie, but also in helping to craft the look and feel of the experience. The goal was to create something that was part of the After Earth film universe, but also to dive into new territory. One of the first design parameters was that we didn’t want just a traditional script-based movie game. We wanted to explore the lore behind After Earth. And as we found out, the backstory was quite deep!
The film’s writers created a chronological timeline for events that happen in After Earth that span over 1000 years. All options were fair game in developing the environments and situations as long as it matched the direction set by the film’s reference materials. In fact, at one of our last design meetings, it was mentioned that we have to be very solid in what we want to show, as what we make will become canon to the After Earth story. It was really cool to realize that.
What’s unique about the game? Is it just another endless runner?
This question is where we started our design discussions. Our team was eager to not only offer an experience that was tied to the upcoming film, but also create a bolder, fresher experience that goes beyond simply running.
One of the biggest additions to the game was allowing the player to use the cutlass – the weapon of choice for a Ranger.
You’ll also battle The Ursa, a genetically engineered monster that was created to wipe out the human race that “infested” Nova Prime. Ursas are unique in their ability to smell fear, and the true measure of any Ranger is to control their fear so they can become a “ghost” – or invisible to the Ursa. This is something that we included in the game as well – a “fear meter.” This fear meter acts as a shield as you move through the game. Your fear will increase as you perform poorly, but your fear will reduce when you do well.
As a Ranger you will be tasked with a number of missions that are taken from the backstory of After Earth. These missions allow you to explore new parts of the After Earth mythology, including unseen parts of Nova Prime. We even take you to a new world where secret R&D is conducted on the Ursas so we can learn how to defeat them. To get to this point you will have to use your wing suit when jumping off cliffs, zipline down treacherous mountains, use the Skipjack to navigate quickly through city streets, and even master wall-running techniques to leap over deep canyons.
Is it the chicken or the egg? Do you have game ideas that you make fit with a licensed property, or does the property inspire the way the game will work?
It’s a little of both. In the instance of After Earth – The Mobile Game, the concept just seemed to fit. We were even happy to see the film’s trailers featured running. It just drove home the fact that we made the right decision. We are also working on another game (soon to be announced) where the entire set of film characters and action fit perfectly into a typical game progression mechanic. In those instances it’s really easy. But not every game reveals itself so effortlessly. So in some instances, we need to work with the studios to explore areas of their universe not touched by the films. The good news is that most studios these days understand that the game is really an extension of the movie experience, so producing a script-based game is no longer what they want.
How much access do you have to the source material that you’re basing the game on, like with After Earth? How much does it influence the direction of the game based on it?
This will vary depending on the studio, but in most instances we will have access to 3D assets such as character models, sound effects, and the film’s bible. The bible usually contains all the pertinent backstory, design elements, color palettes, character bios, set piece descriptions, etc. The film’s musical score is usually not part of the deal, as that is handled separately. But having said that, we’ve found that studios are willing to give us a listen to the film’s score and it allows us to be inspired by the soundtrack. That’s a big win for us as the entire game aesthetic just becomes an extension to the film.
Licensed games don’t always have the best reputation for quality. Why do you think that is? How do you think that developers working on licensed titles can improve on that?
Games based on movies always had criteria that the game comes out commensurate with the movie. That means that there are immovable deadlines to hit if you are to release the game on time. With PC/Console games, this is complicated by the fact that their development timelines are much longer than say a mobile game might be. If you back up 18-24 months from a movie’s release date you might find that the script is not finished, principle photography may not be completed, the CG assets are not yet available, and the music isn’t finished. So leveraging these assets becomes a big problem. The situation does improve with mobile games, as the development timeline is shorter and the film’s assets are mostly completed in this timeframe.
The best way to improve is understand how long it takes to make the game you want, and give yourself enough time prior to the film’s launch. Having solid project plans that includes all the steps you need to include (making sure to include things like country testing, marketing, and approvals) is step in the right direction.
We’d like to thank Eric Marlow for providing us with his insight on the process he and his team went through in the creation of After Earth.
Our own David Rabinowitz checked out Scopely/Rocket Jump’s Mini Golf Matchup a couple of months ago, and thought very highly of it. And why shouldn’t he? It’s a great casual game of virtual mini golf with painless online functionality. We’ve since managed to get in touch with Antony Blackett, the Managing Director of Rocket Jump, who agreed to give us some insight as to how their project became the gleeful game of putt-putt that it is.
148Apps: I imagine it was fairly easy to decide to make a mini golf game since virtually everybody loves mini golf, but were there any unexpected challenges in actually creating Mini Golf MatchUp? Antony Blackett (AB): Mini Golf did seem like the an obvious choice for an asynchronous multiplayer game. We experimented with a few methods of input and only after much discussion and testing did we eventually land on the sling shot method that’s in the game today. Another big challenge was finding out how to make each shot satisfying even when the player didn’t manage to get the ball in the hole. We wanted to make it feel physical and solid as if it were a little toy inside your phone, and also remain predicable unlike a lot of other physics-based games. Finally, while the idea of making a turn-based mini golf game was intuitive, we quickly discovered that creating a polished multiplayer game is no easy task, especially for a small team.
148Apps: I know touch interfaces, especially in physics-driven games, can be tricky to pull off. Did it give you any trouble? And if so how were you able to get through it? AB: The hardest part of designing the input system in Mini Golf MatchUp was discovering not only how to communicate things like power and direction to the player, but also figuring out exactly what we did and didn’t need to communicate to the player. Our initial approach was a flick system where the ball would inherit the momentum of your finger along the screen, but we found it was difficult for people to grasp the concept. Scopely ran frequent usability tests on players that had never seen the game before. We recorded them playing and ran over the videos many times to get an idea about what players expected to happen. Watching the video recordings gives you clues to what is really going on as people play the game and we closely analyzed these usability tests with the Scopely team to hone in on how best to improve the game.
Specifically with the flick system, we learned that it was easy for the player to make a mistake, but hard for us to know programmatically whether they had made an error. This meant we couldn’t reliably show them corresponding help tips and teach them effectively. On the other hand, the sling shot mechanic was a lot clearer to players because we included an arrow that indicates direction, and power appears as soon as they touch the screen.
148Apps: Any juicy bits of gameplay, specific holes, or mechanics that never made it into the final build? Any chance they may make an appearance in the future? AB: We’re currently discussing how we can add even more variety to the gameplay in Mini Golf MatchUp. We have some ideas around more pickups and new power ups to go alongside the mulligan, scoring changes, item collection mechanics and even cooperative gameplay. Potentially, developing new social features like sharing replays of your awesome, unbelievable hole-in-one shots. We might even stumble across completely new ideas along the way that are better. Who knows? It’s an organic process, but ultimately it’s driven by a detailed analysis of how players are interacting with the game.
148Apps: I love the colorful, yet simplistic, visual style. Was that pretty much what you had in mind from the get-go? AB: Corie Geerders is an amazing artist and he’s never shy of using color. Just look at the other titles he’s worked on that exemplify this vibrancy: GripShift, Shatter, Major Mayhem. At Rocket Jump, we find that nailing down a visual style very early in a project helps to unify all the decisions we make in the future. It’s much easier to see if a game mechanic, feature or sound effect doesn’t match the visual style of the game thereafter. One of the best parts about working with Scopely was that they supported our artistic vision, and they gave us the freedom to explore various approaches so that we could find the most exciting and engaging style for the game.
148Apps: Assuming you’re able to talk about it, what’s the plan for Rocket Jump’s next big project? AB: We have a few ideas in the back of our minds about what we want to do next. One of the things we’d like to do most, and what our fans would love to see, is a sequel to Major Mayhem. We don’t have anything planned out in terms of storyline, gameplay features, or dates, but we have a ton of ideas! We definitely want to push the limits of what mobile games can be like Major Mayhem, Rail Shooters, and Mini Golf MatchUp.
We’d like to thank Antony for taking the time to fill us in on the ins and outs of Mini Golf Matchup. If you’re interested in checking this cartoony game of golf out you can do so right now by grabbing the universal version off the App Store for free.
For those of you who don’t know, the original X-Com: UFO Defense is one of the most beloved strategy games in existence. It was only fitting for it to receive a modern update of sorts, but XCOM: Enemy Unknown turned out to be a modern update that was treated with the utmost respect by Firaxis (Civilization IV, Civ. V). Now that same re-imagining of a genre cornerstone is coming to iOS. XCOM: Enemy Unknown’s lead designer, Jake Solomon, was kind enough to answer some of our questions regarding the upcoming mobile release.
148Apps: You and the rest of the Firaxis team obviously have a ton of reverence for X-Com and it shines through in Enemy Unknown. Has X-Com had any influence over other projects you’ve worked on? Jake Solomon (JS): Since the first time I played X-Com, it has been one of game designs that exemplifies to me a great game, and that means that it’s also been a big part of how I think about game design to some extent. Specific influences are probably harder to point out, but I still crack it out and play the original from time to time.
148Apps: What’s your fondest memory from the original X-Com? Mine is making it to the point where I’m invading alien bases without having lost a single soldier on the way. JS: Wow, that’s really hard to pick one memory. There are always a handful of moments from a game that you remember, and you take them together and you can tell these war stories about the game. For example, I remember this one game where I had this one rookie who was so useless and I was like: “Son, you’re going to Mars. I can make that happen for you.”
148Apps: How about the aliens? Any particular favorite or least favorite? I find I have a sort of love/hate relationship with Cryssalids. JS: The Chryssalid is iconic for sure. I guess the one I don’t miss is the Silicoid. I mean, it’s a rock, and it spits at you, and it leaves a giant trail showing where it went. It’s such a non-threat.
148Apps: Deciding what to cut, keep, and change when streamlining X-Com’s mechanics for Enemy Unknown must have been pretty tough. Was there anything you all were actually glad to see go? JS: I don’t think I was necessarily happy or sad about specific changes we made. We felt the mechanics changes were necessary because of the systems we wanted to include in the game, like soldier and alien abilities and the class system. We did want to make sure that all of the decisions you were making were meaningful ones that had real consequences within the game, and keeping that in mind was sort of a guidepost for the mechanics design.
148Apps: The iOS port of Enemy Unknown looks like it’s coming along quite well. Was an iOS version always planned or was it a result of the game’s PC and console reception? JS: There was a discussion about whether the iOS version was even feasible at first. Unreal 3 does scale very well, but we still had to go investigate the tech side. And what do you know? It worked really well. After that it was largely a matter of adjusting the interface and making some changes for storage size.
148Apps: Please tell me the option to customize soldiers’ names and appearances is still in there! JS: Yes, you can still fully customize your soldiers. That’s such a huge part of how people play XCOM that it wouldn’t have been the same if that wasn’t in there.
148Apps: Have there been any features for iOS devices that aren’t prevalent on consoles/PCs (camera, QR codes, augmented reality) that you’ve considered incorporating into this version of Enemy Unknown? Not necessarily as major elements but as little extras or something? JS: We wanted to make sure that the game that we released on console and PC played solidly on the iPad, so getting that experience solid was our highest priority. I’m sure there are cool things we could do with the camera and location tools, but that’s something to think about for the future.
148Apps: I could see Enemy Unknown‘s multiplayer working quite well on iOS, especially if it was asynchronous. Any chance of that happening or is the focus entirely on the campaign right now? JS:There will eventually be an update that includes multiplayer, and that’ll be a free update for people who own the game.
148Apps: Will the iOS version of Enemy Unknown include the “secret” characters and/or extra Council DLC missions? Or might the missions be available as add-on content? JS: We’ve been focusing on creating the best release on iOS as possible – we hope this release like the PC and console will drive a lot of interest and community feedback!
We here at 148Apps would like to extend our appreciation to Mr. Solomon and the entire Enemy Unknown team for answering our questions and for making a remarkably excellent strategy game. No specifics on a release date or pricing are available yet but it’s due out “this summer” and will have a “premium” price tag.
With its latest title, Can Knockdown 3, recently earning a coveted Editor’s Choice award here, I took the time to learn a bit more about Polish game developer, Infinite Dreams.
Who is Infinite Dreams?
Based in the Southern Polish city of Gliwice, Infinite Dreams is made up of around 15 members of staff, encompassing several developers, graphic artists, Quality Assurance workers, a game design guru and one marketing expert.
What’s next on the horizon?
PR and Marketing Manager Artur Starzyk answered this one for us: “At the moment we are working hard to release [a] new level pack for Can Knockdown 3. We are more than happy to receive positive feedback from the fans and we would like to meet their expectations. There is also [a] huge community gathered around Let’s Create! Pottery HD and they encourage us to release updates for that title too. Obviously, [a] new project is in the pipeline but I can’t reveal more info about it [yet].”
Anything else I should know about Infinite Dreams?
Artur had some more to say to us about things of interest.
148apps: What does the team enjoy most about iOS development? Artur: It’s the satisfaction of making good products in a short time. We are doing our best to release polished games and then…waiting for the media reviews and our fans’ opinions. We can release games more often on iOS than [the] AAA industry can, so the fun is much…better
148apps: Infinite Dreams offers quite a few different types of games. Is there a particular genre you’ve found most enjoyable to design? Artur: There is no any particular genre we like the most. We simply love to create new type of games (like Let’s Create! Pottery) or just redefine the existing genres (Jelly Defense) to surprise our fans. This is our way of thinking about the mobile games industry.
Where can I find out more about Infinite Dreams?
Infinite Dreams has embraced the social networking world, so there are plenty of places to learn more, besides here. There’s the website, Google+ page, Forums, Facebook page, Twitter and YouTube channel. We’ll be sure to keep you in the loop about the latest developments, too!
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.
Demon Chic‘s storytelling impressed us so much that we came up with a whole new scoring category just for it: Story Quality. So, in order to learn more about just how the wholly unique title came to be, I chatted with one half of Beret Applications, Michael Frauenhofer, about the inspiration and creative process behind it.
148apps: Demon Chic is hugely different from anything else on the App Store, what inspired you guys to make it? Michael Frauenhofer (MF): I was planning on making something more traditionally “video game”-y, with stuff like fights to the death against robot soldiers and mind control chips in it. But, I’d just finished a novel for my undergraduate fiction thesis about a bunch of broke college kids doing drugs and getting in trouble, and then shortly before we kicked into full gear working on the project…I had a dream about a man in a dress with a big furry boa and a tasseled hat burning spiders with a magic cigarette. That dream’s atmosphere sounded way cooler than the, admittedly, generic sci-fi we’d been planning on pursuing, so we switched…and ended up combining the novel with the vibe of the funky spider dream.
We don’t have the budget or skills to compete graphically with something like Infinity Blade so we figured we might as well make the kind of game that probably only we would ever come up with.
148apps: What research was conducted in terms of the mental illness issues dealt with in the game? MF: The characters’ experiences with mental illness reflect a varied portion – but still, by necessity of scale, only a small portion – of the broad range of experiences someone diagnosed with schizophrenia might have. It’s a tricky diagnosis because there is so much variation within it that there really is no one experience a person with schizophrenia will face. It’s more of a symptom class – diagnosed based on what the person experiences rather than any one cause.
So a lot of the “meat” of the way that the game deals with the subject of living with schizophrenia comes from my own experience – the way that it talks about adjusting to life with hallucinations, trying to make decisions about medication, things like that [which] are…more universal experiences of trying to deal with the situations it creates.
As for the characters’ various coping strategies, they…reflect the variety of experience rather than propagate any specific viewpoint. Just as one protagonist identifies as straight, one identifies as gay, and one identifies as bi [and] they are, respectively, an atheist, an agnostic, and a devoutly religious person, the characters make different decisions about whether or not to seek treatment within the medical establishment or even how openly to define themselves.
I was very frustrated with how most of the media I saw dealing with schizophrenia seemed to either take a very strong hardline tack where the only acceptable way to handle it was through a doctor, and anything else was reckless or dangerous. I think [this] can be a damagingly closed-minded viewpoint, or alternatively romanticize being “free” and living off medication on principle, which I can see being just as or even more damagingly closed-minded. Some people are really helped, some people are really hurt.
I think it is important for art to take a stance when an issue requires it, but in this case I felt the most accurate and best stance to take was “different things work for different people and it’s critical to let people have the ability to make their own choices.” Once you’re open about having an experience of your own with mental illness, a lot more people open up to you about their own, and you end up realizing a way huger percentage of the people you know than you would ever have imagined have some form of “mental illness.” All of the people I’ve known have had wildly different experiences dealing with it, and used very different strategies, so it only really felt honest for the game to reflect that multiplicity.
148apps: Did any specific games or artwork influence the look and feel of Demon Chic? MF: The main story art’s style was largely defined by the artists we worked with for that – Marika Cowan, Julie Chien, and Elizabeth Gearreald – while the art style for the interludes, that I made, was mostly defined by my exploration of the limits of my own artistic ability. I…grew to appreciate the more hand-made-looking aspects of that…but to be totally honest, everything would look photo-realistically detailed in those sections if I’d had the capability to make it look that way.
In the end I was glad I wasn’t the best at drawing. The feel of the game was very heavily inspired by No More Heroes, Suda 51’s game for the Wii, which I’d been playing a lot of and really loving for its pacing. It experimented a lot with its structure and form, and wove rapidly between high- to low- concept and humor, but still retained a really jittery and frenetic energy with its quick cuts and rock guitars that I wanted to take inspiration from.
With eight billion coins having been collected in-game since Joe Danger Touch’s release in January 2013, the adventures of the daredevil stuntman have proved to be quite the hit. We managed to drag Hello Games’s managing director, Sean Murray, away from work on the latest game update, in order to learn a little more about the game and its future direction.
148Apps: How hard was it to take such a successful console game (Joe Danger 1 and 2 on PS3 and Xbox 360) and convert it to iOS? Sean: It was really hard! One of our weird little things we have at Hello Games is to never just port a game to a new platform without doing something special that fits it. We couldn’t just shunt Joe Danger over with virtual controls and the same set of levels because we knew it wouldn’t really work. Joe Danger on PS3 uses every single one of the pad’s buttons and sticks. So we went right back to scratch and thought about how a touchscreen can bring something new. We set ourselves two big goals – it was really important that it would feel like it could only work on iOS because we were building it specifically for iOS devices. And we wanted it to feel like nothing else you can play on iOS. No biggie We’ve designed lots of console games in the past, so it was really refreshing to get to think about touchscreens, and that meant the whole process was genuinely inspiring even while it was head-bangingly hard at times.
148Apps: What’s been the team’s reaction to the huge success on iOS? Sean: I can’t tell you how excited it’s made us. It’s quite embarrassing, really. We always get really nervous launching a new game, and this one was for a platform we had never worked on before, so we were especially scared. We had good feedback from playtesters, though, so we were sort of confident, but that’s never going to prepare you for what actually happens when the public get their hands on the game. As I said, we were trying to make Joe Danger Touch feel new, so it justified the hard work that went into it, and showed us that we could be at home on iOS as we’ve been on console in the past.
148apps: Are you able to reveal any details regarding the next major update? Sean: Yes! So, we’re working on more new characters – we’re planning on asking players to help design and choose them on our blog actually – and levels. We’ve got a nice idea coming that we hope will give players a reason to come back and play every day. And, this is probably saying too much, but we’re planning a massive set of cheat modes that are inspired by being obsessed with games like GoldenEye. That’s all coming in just a few weeks. On top of all that, and this is really is saying too much, but we had some ideas for a JDT update that have completely spiralled out of control into something else entirely. It’s super exciting and has got us all deep into learning new things on iOS, but it’s not quite ready yet for us to show off. I’m so excited about it though
148Apps: The Joe Danger series has always offered plenty of humour and personality, where does the inspiration for such level design come from? Sean: That would be the contents of our art director Grant Duncan’s head. To be honest, sometimes it frightens me, but if we give him a bright enough theme it’s usually OK. It all actually came from our very earliest days as a team when we were trying to decide on what game we would make. Grant came in with some toys from when he was a kid and one of them was an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. Mix that with our love for Mario, Sonic, Paperboy and so on, and the style kind of flowed from there.
148Apps: Any more fun statistics gleaned from Joe Danger Touch? Sean: Sure! So this morning we worked out from the total distance that Joe has ridden that, if we assume he’s 6 feet tall, he’s been the equivalent of to the moon and back three times. And he’s been in 5 million crashes. I think his insurance premiums are pretty high
Yes, we’d suggest avoiding ever riding pillion with Joe Danger!
Most famous for its work on fairly violent fare such as console game, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and, more recently, iOS title The Bowling Dead, Slant Six Games has experienced quite a change of pace lately. That change of pace has manifested itself in the form of Max’s Pirate Planet, an immediately adorable looking board game adventure for kids. With such a drastic change of focus, I thought I’d take the time to find out more about Slant Six’s thinking, courtesy of the game’s producer, Kelly Richard Fennig.
Kelly Richard Fennig
148apps: Max’s Pirate Planet is quite a change of pace from other titles, what was the inspiration behind making a children’s app?
Kelly Richard Fennig (KRF): You are absolutely right there! We are creating lots of new “firsts” in our studio right now, and Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure is our first children’s game and our first self published title. The inspiration for the game, came from a studio game design jam. Last year, a small 6 person team pitched this board-game set on a globe, about pirates, to be played on a tablet. The concept was definitely different from what we historically developed, there wasn’t a zombie or US Navy Seal in sight!
Creating such an entirely different game genre for a new audience was a welcome challenge for the team, and we wanted to see if we could successfully create an app kids would love…honestly it was way too fun of an idea to not make it. We enjoyed being able to step back in time and reminisce on our experiences playing classic board games with our families and the simple treasured moments they provide. As luck would have it, one of our artists has a brother who is a child psychologist, and his insights helped tremendously. We also did many play tests to see firsthand what the response was…So when the timing was right, we assembled a very small team to make the game…and 15 weeks later, Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure was born!
“If you’re going to try something so left-field of the norm, might as keep going left as possible and eventually it feels right.” (Some advice Slant Six’s Producer’s father told him as he was growing up)
148apps: It’s only just been released, but will there be any additional content for Max’s Pirate Planet in the future? KRF: We do have some content planned, but we are keeping this in our back pockets as further bonus material once the game has had a chance to gain popularity. As a product targeted at young children and also a board game, we wanted to avoid adding content via in-app purchases. This was a comfortable decision for us, as we know it will appeal to parents with young children. Our goal was to keep it very much like the experience families have when they buy a physical board game so all the pieces are complete. However, Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure has been designed to easily add more content if our customers are demanding it. We have already thought of additional characters, mini-games, and possibly even a new globe. In short, the more popular the game becomes, the more content we’ll keep adding to keep it exciting for players!
The Slant Six Offices
148apps: As the first self-published title for Slant Six, how have things been different compared to working for a separate publisher? KRF: Simply put, we are masters of our own destiny! It was a very empowering process for the team to make design decisions, influenced by having our game play tested by our target audience (children 6-10 years, and their parents). Our goal now is to get as much awareness for the app as we can.
As an independent studio, we don’t have the financial backing of a large publisher driving the publicity and user acquisition for this game. Our biggest challenge, which is the same for any independent developer, is getting our app discovered without a pre-existing user base. We had extensive play-test sessions prior to launch and the response was overwhelmingly popular. Our team couldn’t quite believe it until we saw the reactions of the kids, including a group of cub scouts going absolutely nuts over the game! Simply put: If children play this game, THEY WILL LOVE THIS GAME (this may sound like a bold claim, but this is our truthful experience). Another “first” for our studio is that this isn’t a free-to-play app, therein lies the challenge. It is a matter of informing people and getting it in as many influential hands as possible to see for themselves.
148apps: What’s next for the team? Will we continue to see this new, light-hearted Slant Six or will there be a return to more serious fare? KRF: To answer your question: we do have some large core multiplayer tablet games in the works that will appeal to our traditional gaming audience and we are looking at some potential next-gen console opportunities. That being said, we had so much fun making Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure, it’s been a breath of fresh air for the team to try something new, and if our customers tell us they want to see more light hearted family friendly product, we will gladly oblige. In fact we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeve already!
Thanks to Slant Six and Kelly Richard Fennig for taking the time to answer our questions.
Max’s Pirate Planet is available now as an Universal app, priced at $2.99.
A new expansion pack is now available for The Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle-earth. The Desolations of Smaug is available for free and features new campaign maps and bosses for players to strategize against, along with new armor and weapons for them to collect and equip.