Nexercise, the app for tracking exercise among friends, has always been about gamifying the workout tracking experience. But for the recent 2.0 revamp, Nexercise has undergone major changes in order to make it more game-like, and to hopefully make its users more effective in getting out and exercising. With multiple rewards systems like Kiip and Pocket Change, President and COO Gregory Coleman hopes that his app can be a smashing success. I spoke with him recently about what his company is trying to do with Nexercise.
148Apps: With the major revamp to the app, what were your goals in changing and improving the experience?
Gregory Coleman (GC): We wanted to make the entire experience easier, more intuitive, and more elegant. We want new users to quickly figure out what to do and how to do it. We felt like some aspects of the old version created some confusion and friction points.
148Apps: Many of the new features resemble the kinds of rewards and tactics that a lot of free-to-play social games use. Was this intentional? And if not, did you do any further research into how they could help you out?
GC: This is intentional. The key to casual games is that they are quick to use, easy to learn, and fun to play. Our goal is to accomplish the same thing with Nexercise and we deliberately tried to tie into the same psychological components.
148Apps: Have you seen actual users taking advantage of the rewards and social features?
GC: Absolutely! According to surveys of our users and our own internal data, those are two of the most popular aspects of the app.
148Apps: How do you ensure that users don’t try to cheat the system?
GC: If a user allows us to use the smartphone sensors to actually track the exercise session, we give them bonus points. This also allows us to do some pattern matching on the backend to validate the activity and reject cheating. As far as self-reporting, it is an honor system. However, our community tends to police itself and is pretty quick to call out cheaters.
148Apps: Do you encourage certain behavior patterns for users?
GC: Yes. Our mechanics are based heavily on the psychology of exercise. We reward behaviors that are scientifically proven to make people more successful in living an active life (exercising first thing in the morning or on Monday for example).
148Apps: What are your plans in the near future for the app?
GC: We’re looking very heavily at integrations with the other tools that our users use. We currently integrate with the RunKeeper app and are evaluating what, if any, other tools we want to connect with.
The Rich Dad Company, which promotes books, seminars, and now interactive media based off of the financial teachings from the book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” which has sold 30 million copies (but not without its criticism from financial writers), is taking its message to mobile with the launch of Rich Dad Interactive. Their first app is a learning app called Clutch, and with it and future apps, they’re returning to the idea that sparked “Rich Dad Poor Dad:” teaching through gaming elements, or gamification.
Clutch is a learning app that will “take the physical [aspects] of Rich Dad, turn it into a mobile app, and gamify it a little bit, and teach people [in] the way that we’re all really learning today, through videos like YouTube, through activities, using social media and being able to share…’bragging rights,’ or what class you took or what investments you made,” according to Director of Technology Shane Caniglia. He says that gaming elements are there and play a key part of what Clutch will be, with social media functionality, “there’s unlock features in there that you have to make it through certain phases in order to unlock the next, and the last thing, I think the most importantly, the ability to simulate the experiences of investing in real life through Clutch as a tool.”
Gamification is nothing new to the Rich Dad Company – author Richard Kiyosaki and his wife Kim (an author of financial books herself) created a board game in the mid-90′s called Cashflow 101 that tried to teach the income philosophies he espouses: namely, having assets that generate more income than one’s expenses in order to be independently wealthy. Ironically, Caniglia says that when Kiyosaki “created the board game, the lessons didn’t necessarily translate from the game to the players. So he actually wrote the book as, this is kind of a funny story, as a marketing brochure to support the lessons in the game.” And then it wound up succeeding as a New York Times bestseller and kind of supplanted the gamification that was attempted with the Cashflow 101 game.
But with Rich Dad Interactive, it’s a return to that kind of gamification strategy. Times have changed, and gamification is a more robust concept, and that’s what Clutch will try to do. It’s adaptable, too: Caniglia says “we created it as a framework, so we can plug any type of content that we want in it, so it’s completely flexible and agile in that world, and that was a mission of ours from a tech standpoint.”
Caniglia sees this move to apps like Clutch and the upcoming mobile version of Cashflow 101 as key for the future of Rich Dad. “The general population just does not have an interest in attending seminars. The transition for us to digital is actually a fairly easy one – it’s the only way the brand can survive, number one. Number two, because we started out really as a board game… it’s a very easy transition for us to take our IP and turn it into these fun, interactive tools that we can now deploy on the mobile platforms. So the time is right for Rich Dad in order to reinvent itself as a brand but also to get to a younger demographic that, their lives are built around their mobile devices.”
With the recent release of Sci-Fi themed Endless Runner, RunBot, we took the time to get to know more about its studio, Bravo Games, and what makes the team tick, by asking a few questions of producer, César Ríos Oruña.
148apps: You’ve previously worked on some licensed titles such as Kung Fu Panda 2 and Power Puff Girls Snowboarding, how different is it working on those compared to original titles? César Ríos Oruña (CRO): Working on original IPs definitely has some additional challenges that you don’t face when working on licensed titles.
Let’s use RunBot as an example. When starting development of RunBot, we started with a “white paper”, having to define everything from the bare basics. How does the game look? What’s the game’s theme? How does it feel? You have so many options that you can get lost and spend a lot of time trying to figure where to go next. But don’t get me wrong, despite being a big handicap this is one of the best parts of making video games – we have the freedom to create whatever we want. In a licensed game, the story and background are already there, you just have to adapt it to the game.
For RunBot, from the very beginning, we had a slick futuristic city in mind for the setting and a powerful agile robot for the main character. And this is where another risk pops up: you don’t know 100% if that is going to work. If you are making an example; a Kung Fu Panda game from the movie, you already know that the characters are cool, people like them and everything is perfectly matching, because somebody has already done that job for you.
And then you have the validation process. This is a good news/bad news situation, as with a licensee, you get their help to make the game reflect their existing successful brand. But this can often lead to an iterative process that can delay the development team badly. As an independent, you can stop iterating whenever you want preventing the team from bleeding out, but you don’t have this great help that a third party can give to the team.
With RunBot, we decided for a mixed approach – we provided our IP and game development, and Marvelous Games provided the publishing support and game advice to help make the finished game we have today.
148apps: As you’ve made many different kinds of games, do you guys have a particular favorite genre? CRO: One of the great things of working on mobile platforms is that you can easily jump from genre to genre. Doing this keeps the team motivated and learning something new each day, absolutely indispensable to not getting stagnant creatively.
There are two genres that we are specially comfortable with: Cars/bikes (anything with an engine and wheels) mixed in with whatever game mechanic, and runners. Runners are especially good for mobile devices due to their simple controls and short play sessions. Some say that when you finish a game you just want to rush to another, the further the genre the better, but we are so comfortable with runners that after finishing RunBot we are still working on adding even more cool stuff based on feedback from our users. Adding cool things to a game always feels great!
148apps: Are you able to reveal any information on your future Marvelous Games’s published titles? CRO: The first game created within the Bravo – Marvelous alliance is RunBot, that just hit stores. Right now we are focused on improving it and we plan it to do it for a while. But I can tell you that we are also working on a number of other titles with them and we are extremely happy. Sorry I can’t be any more specific about games or dates, but this alliance is going to bring great titles to stores, I’m pretty sure about that.
148apps: How is GemWars’ (promised to be a ‘mixture between Warcraft and Clash of Clans‘) progress coming along? It looks a really intriguing mix of genres! CRO:GemWars is one of those titles that has become a bit “all-in”. We’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and the concept has been evolving since 2010. Don’t get me wrong, we haven’t been working on it full-time since that date, but it has been growing slowly since then until it’s the HUGE game that is right now.
As you can imagine a lot of effort has been put into GemWars. The idea is to take the concepts of city management, exploration, and real-time battles and mix it in a fantasy medieval theme. The amount of content (3 sides, 64 controllable units, 36 buildings, spells, equipment, heroes…) is big and getting bigger; we’re continually adding things. We are still in production, but I can’t provide any estimated release date, but when we do, we’d love to share more info with you.
While I’m busy keeping my fingers crossed for more info about GemWars, RunBot is out now and it’s free to download. Thank you to César Ríos Oruña for taking the time to answer our questions. To learn more about the studio and its past work, check out their website.
Behold Studios, creators of the IGF-nominated Knights of Pen & Paper are in the process of making their second game, Chroma Squad; a turn-based manager game that is heavily-inspired by the “sentai” shows of the 80′s and 90′s – such as Power Rangers. And of course, it will feature plenty of the pixel art that helped to define Knights of Pen & Paper as well.
148Apps: How did the idea of Chroma Squad come about? Saulo Camarotti (SC): After making a project like Knights of Pen & Paper, with a lot of references from our childhood, we thought that we could make a game with a theme that inspired us very much when we were ten. So, after thinking about the sentai team, we realized that we could go meta-language with it, and that came to the idea of managing a sentai TV studio.
148Apps: What are you attempting to do with the gameplay of Chroma Squad that you didn’t do with Knights of Pen & Paper? SC: We want more depth. We know that Knights is a great game, but it’s limited when you try to customize your experience. In Chroma Squad, we want that the player could customize everything in his studio, and make a sentai team of his dreams. So we’re planning in skill trees, items, color and jumpsuits options.
148Apps: Why go with Kickstarter for Chroma Squad? Did the popularity of Knights of Pen & Paper push you in one way or the other with this decision? SC: Yeah sure! We wanted to make a game with the help of the community. With a Kickstarter project we would listen to all feedback and promote a game where the community felt that they belong to it. We want to create a nostalgic experience, and for that, we need all the help. With the previous experience with Knights, we managed to get a lot of posts and reviews in major websites, and this was one the biggest reasons for our project success on Kickstarter.
148Apps: Now that the Kickstarter is a success, do you feel any different pressure in developing this game versus Knights of Pen & Paper? SC: Sure thing. When we did Knights, no one knew that the game was being developed, and no one had great expectations from our team. But now, we need to deliver what they expect us to. We really hope that we don’t frustrate any one =) For us, the game is already awesome!
Why target PC platforms before mobile this time around? SC: We wanted to make a deeper experience, and for that we wanted to use a bigger screen for the game. That’s why we’re just releasing it for PC, Consoles, and Tablets.
Thanks to Saulo for his time. If you’re interested in helping Behold Studios to get Chroma Squad (hopefully out in December of this year) funded, head on over to their Kickstarter page!
When ZigZaGame‘s Dragon Island Bluewas released on the App Store, many iOS gamers heaved a sigh of relief. It was (and arguably still is) the closest thing we’ve got to Nintendo’s exclusive monster-collection RPG series, while providing more than enough of its own unique gameplay elements to stand on its own. Now, just under a year later, we’ve got Hunter Island to look forward to. We recently had a talk with Ryan Kelley, COO of ZigZaGame, about Dragon Island Blue‘s reception, and what he and the rest of the team hope to accomplish with this spiritual successor of sorts. And I have to say, things are looking good so far.
148Apps: Would you consider Hunter Island to be a sequel to Dragon Island Blue, or something like a spiritual successor? Ryan Kelley (RK):Dragon Island Blue should get a separate sequel sometime in the future. We’ve been building a collection RPG engine for the past 3 years. We released Dragon Island Blue approximately a year ago, then spent the last year improving the engine based on user feedback, which led to Hunter Island.
148Apps: Were there any lessons/techniques/etc you were able to apply to Hunter Island after working on Dragon Island Blue? RK:Dragon Island Blue had 3 major sources of critical feedback: lack of a gripping storyline, lack of visual appeal (especially the interface), and the lack of updates (new content). Just in case some of the readers are considering picking up Dragon Island, I would like to note that it has an average overall rating of 5/5 Stars in the U.S., and we gave it our absolute best at the time. For Hunter Island, we wrote an engaging main story separate from side quests, added NPC interaction, and more importantly added a grand goal for each section of the game which directly ties in with the overall story. As a result, the game feels less of a chore although the actual story is 10 times longer.
We also overhauled the entire UI, changed the monster art direction, and implemented a tile-based map system. The new map is also a solution for updates. In Dragon Island, each section of the map was a large image, so the more maps we added, bigger the file size. This is a serious issue for iOS Apps because of the 50MB over-the-air download limit. However, in Hunter Island, whatever new world we decide to add in an update would be generated from tiles already existing in the game.
148Apps: Aside from the story and visuals, what is it you think will really set Hunter Island apart from its predecessor? RK: The tile based map system enabled us to make the map a whole lot bigger and exciting. In terms of size, this game is at least 10 times larger. Aside from that, we added what’s called a Bonus Attack system. Monsters are able to act twice in a row if they trigger this bonus action (similar to critical hit in most games). Each unique monster in Hunter Island has a random “grade” assigned to it ranging from S to E, with S monsters having the highest probability to perform a Bonus Attack.
We also introduced many new skills designed to make battles more strategic, such as chain attacks that splash damage to enemies of the same element, ally attacks that get stronger when you have monsters of the same element in your party, and playful ones like Roulette which kills a random monster in battle, friend or foe. Since the game eventually allows you to add 30+ monsters in your party, the combat feels like a mix of traditional RPGs and Collectible Card Games. A lot of the monster skills were inspired by games such as Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh. Another huge addition is the online component. While you can complete the full single player story offline (no pay wall), we are introducing online missions and online multiplayer via game center which was one of the most common requests. In online missions, players compete to beat dungeons and maps added regularly to get a special prize monster.
148Apps: Do you think fans of Dragon Island Blue might be less interested in the more “cutesy” style of Hunter Island? And if so, is there anything they can look forward to that you think will change their minds? RK: The “cutesy” style was actually another common request made by players. Also, there are plenty of cool-looking monsters at higher levels and rarities. Even if you are not a big fan of the style, we believe that the depth and scale of the game will satisfy fans of Dragon Island Blue looking for a similar but greatly improved game experience.
148Apps: I don’t suppose there are any Easter Eggs hidden in Hunter Island for fans of the first game to stumble upon, are there? Any returning characters, monsters, or the like? RK: There are a couple of monsters that came from Dragon Island Blue, like the Unhappy Bird. Also, the game offers something special for Dragon Island players. In the first town, there is a little tombstone that you can tap on. It will ask the player a question related to Dragon Island. If you answer correctly, a special exclusive monster will crawl out to join your team. We have a few more throwback monsters planned for online mission rewards as well.
Major thanks all-around to both Ryan and the rest of the team over at ZigZaGame! If you’d like to keep an eye out for Hunter Island – and really, why wouldn’t you? – it should be hitting the App Store sometime in September of this year for $0.99 (Universal).
An insect’s life is harsh and dangerous. However it can also be quite beautiful, as is evidenced by the upcoming bug-riddled hidden object adventure, Morphopolis. This gorgeous looking story of an aphid grub trying to rescue its friend has been in development since July of last year, and it’s still in early alpha, but things looking really nice already. We were able to talk with Dan Walters and Ceri Williams, the game’s authors, about what to expect when we visit this lovely/brutal world.
148Apps: Morphopolis is certainly gorgeous. Where did you get your visual inspiration from? Dan Walters (DW): The art style emerged over a five week workshop during which we experimented with different techniques alongside developing the game narrative. We aimed for a hand-drawn aesthetic using rich, saturated scenery that suits the genre of game. Intricate line drawings and ink wash techniques had been used previously by Ceri while producing architectural drawings and we wanted to see how they would suit a more organic subject. Ceri Williams (CW): We used macro photographs that we took to build up a catalog of source images and investigate the depth of field effects seen at that scale. The content was drawn from these photographs and was heavily inspired by watching old David Attenborough documentaries on plants and insects.
148Apps: Aside from the “painting come to life” quality of the graphics, what do you think will set Morphopolis apart from other hidden object games? DW: The game is all about metamorphosis. Between each chapter you change through metamorphosis or inhabiting the bodies of larger insects. In each chapter, as you grow in size, the scale of the world you are in shrinks so that more becomes visible.
Taking narrative from the environment, creating places through the division space, and evolving this world as your awareness of scale, mechanics, and inhabitants change. These are concepts we discovered in architecture school, but they can be handled so much more playfully in an illustrated world. CW: The tone of the game aims to strike a balance between the beauty of the close-up natural world with the captivating visceral qualities of the insect kingdom. Familiar, but increasingly alien as you peer closer; we want Morphopolis to appeal to the inquisitive. We are trying to tap into the almost universal experience of being toddler/child and peering closely in the grass or plant pots and seeing a tiny world of insects and plants. This experience is both fascinating and beautiful and also slightly scary and gross which is the balance we are trying to strike with the game.
148Apps: I’m a little afraid to ask, but what do you mean by “a parasitic crusade?” DW: You’re right to be slightly afraid! In Morphopolis you will take the role of an aphid grub and as part of the gameplay you parasitically inhabit larger insects. This metamorphosis allows the narrative and complexity of the world to develop as the game progresses. In each Chapter the new body that you occupy allows you to interact with the world in a new way and gets you closer to achieving your goal of rescuing your companion. CW: There is nothing gratuitous about this metamorphosis as the game is designed to be accessible to all ages but we want to capture that sense of fascination and discovery found in nature documentaries that show the realities of the world.
148Apps: About how many different kinds of bugs do you think will be in the final build? Do you have a particular favorite as far as artistic rendition or just general species goes? CW: There will be about 20 types of creature in the game with the players’ character also changing between each of the chapters. I’m personally a fan of the stag beetle but this is possibly because this piece of artwork has remained almost unchanged from the very first test illustrations. DW: Without revealing too much, some of the bugs in the later chapters are quite amazing. By this point in the game it becomes apparent that perhaps this organic world is not quite as natural as it seems and the bugs begin to reflect this sense that there is a greater intelligence to the Morphopolis world. CW: I’d love it if players chose to keep the game on their screens as a kind of insect vivarium screen-saver. I’m a fan of bugs and insects but I’d like to categorically say that no spiders will feature in Morphopolis!
148Apps: How long do you think it may take the average player to complete Morphopolis? Will there be any incentives for players to jump back in once they’re finished? DW: The time to complete the full game will vary greatly but we expect an average of 5-6 hours with players able to easily dip in and out if they choose. CW: We hope that players will enjoy the experience and not feel that they have to rush through the game. Hidden object sets and puzzles overlap one another in a way that allows the player to progress at their own pace and in the order that their exploration leads them. Because of this we expect that replaying the game will not result in repeating an identical process. DW: There are some features that we are exploring at the moment such as a system of randomizing the positions of certain hidden objects. We don’t feel that this will be necessary given the type of experience we are aiming to get across with the game however.
Thank you very much, Dan and Ceri, for taking the time to talk with us. If Morphopolis sounds like the kind of thing you’d like to play, you can sign up for early Mac/PC access or preorder all versions at once right here on the official website. Otherwise you can wait until later this summer when Micro Macro Games brings the iPad version to the App Store.
As a huge fan of interactive fiction thanks to a childhood full of Fighting Fantasy and Choose Your Own Adventure books, it’s been a pretty exciting time on the App Store of late. Besides Tin Man Games’s steady conquering of all things Fighting Fantasy, the release of Sorcery!, and Visual Baker’s Underground Kingdom, things have been kicked up a further notch.
Founder of the series, R.A. Montgomery and publisher, Shannon Gilligan.
That’s thanks to the latest Kickstarter campaign, focused on Choose Your Own Adventure books aimed at younger readers and now known as Choose ‘Toons. With the Kickstarter just launched, we took some time to chat to Shannon Gilligan, publisher at Chooseco.
“Choose ‘Toons are interactive cartoons, plain and simple. There are very abbreviated amounts of text at the choice points, but that’s it. Otherwise, you are watching an animated story, with choices!” explained Shannon.
The first app is based on Your Very Own Robot in which the reader uses their parents’ robot lab to put together a robot named Gus, leading to some entertaining mishaps. While Shannon told us that there are some “slight amendments and additions”, the app is set to follow the book “pretty faithfully”.
“It was interesting to adapt because I actually found that typical cable or Saturday morning cartoons are much more physically violent than what’s in our books,” Shannon noted. “It has something to do with watching vs. reading I think. And it’s nothing new. I watched Roadrunner as a kid and it’s quite violent, sometimes to the point of sadism. Our eyes are trained to be entertained which might demand certain kinds of less cerebral plot points.”
So, young readers and their parents should have nothing to worry about when it comes to the content of this forthcoming adaptation!
The Kickstarter comes with some fairly typical pledge awards, as well as some rather exciting high-end ones such as being able to pay to have one’s voice featured in the app. Most thrilling of all, though, has to be the one-off $10,000 pledge. Unlike anything else I’ve seen before, it gives the buyer their very own Choose Your Own Adventure for real. Throughout the campaign, backers and followers will be asked two questions each week, which will eventually lead to the adventure of a lifetime. While Shannon explained that Antarctica is out because of costs, pretty much everything else is up for grabs. Adventurous spirit and $10,000 to spare? You know what to do.
On a serious final note, anything that encourages kids and their families to read together has to be a hugely positive step. Even better, for this series, it looks set to combine nostalgia for the parents with new discoveries for the kids. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this Kickstarter’s progress. For now, check out the campaign page if you’re interested in participating or you fancy a $10,000 adventure of a lifetime. The campaign ends on September 12.
Ever had the idea for an app, but felt like the lack of programming and design ability was a bit of a non-starter? Well, 13-year-old Daniel Singer has made an app. He’s the designer of Backdoor, a chat app that lets users chat with their friends anonymously, trying to get clues to guess who they are. It’s available now on the App Store.
This isn’t even Daniel’s first thing that he’s helped to design: he helped create YouTell.com, an anonymous feedback site. He says that helped lead to the creation of Backdoor. “One day during a meeting, I was kind of thinking about how you reply to feedback, and if you reply a lot, that turns into a conversation. And from a conversation, the best platform to do that would be a messenger, and [on] iOS. And that’s kind of how it all started.”
While he has a limited iOS programming background at the moment, he’s more a design person, and he just started mocking up Backdoor after having the idea. “I’m primarily a UI designer, so I immediately kind of hopped into Photoshop and just started messing with that.”
How’d he get started with design in the first place? He says “a few years back” (keep in mind that he’s thirteen, almost fourteen years old) that he “wanted to create a gaming youtube channel, because I was in to it at the time, so you had to like make a website and a channel design and all that, and so I had to learn the skills to do that, and from there I wound up liking the skills more than the actual YouTube page, and I kind of pursued those further, primarily with design.”
In speaking over the phone with Daniel, his youth is apparent, both from the way he speaks like a typical teenager, and in how he describes how he uses Backdoor: “One of my friends played a prank on me, which was quite funny, which was, I was sitting down at a table and they said “look behind you, it’s me” – and it was complete strangers and I looked behind them, and it was funny. I ended up using clues and I kind of guessed that it was someone I knew and not some random stranger. That was fun.”
But also, he has a maturity to his voice – his voice was deep enough that I was a bit skeptical if he was still thirteen, which he technically is – he turns fourteen soon – and of course, what he’s doing is something that people twice his age are trying to do with startups. He also has a youthful optimism toward what is available with technology that he an do with it: “The skills and the resources are pretty widely available and free as well to the most part. To learn programming and design, in 30 days of your Photoshop free trial, you can learn quite a bit, and then if you’re into it and go ahead and get a student plan, which is not that much. It’s really openly available to learn.”
“I tried looking for a teacher, and there really aren’t for design as far as I was able to find, unless you went to art school, but that’s a college, a conventional course. I ended up teaching myself a lot about design.”
And by going out and learning how to do all of this himself, he’s way ahead of even many adults who have the inkling in their head “Maybe I could create an app…” because he just did it.
Recently announced, Trouserheart looks like quite the quirky, DeathSpank-style fantasy action game. Notably, it’s a game that is being published by established Finnish games studio, 10tons and developed by similarly established and Finnish firm, Dicework Games. With our curiosity piqued, I was able to talk to 10tons’s Jaakko Maaniemi about how the union came to be, and just what players should expect when the game is released next month.
148apps: Why is it called Trouserheart? Jaakko Maaniemi (JM): It’s awesome you ask about the name, as we put some serious effort into coming up with it. We wanted to achieve all kinds of things with the name, and we’re very happy with Trouserheart. We wanted the name to be short, preferably one word – Trouserheart is ok in that regard.
We obviously wanted the name to be catchy, memorable and distinct, as there are hundreds of games released every day. As the name was your first question, I believe we succeeded here as well. The name also had to communicate the lighthearted, humorous tone of of the game. Check! Trouserheart is also the name of the game’s hero, King Trouserheart.
Finally, we wanted to [be] associated [with] the fantasy genre. The something-heart is a pretty well known fantasy convention, all the way from King Lionheart and Braveheart to hit games like Battleheart and Kingdom Hearts. Trousers also feature in the game’s storyline, but we’ll talk about that in detail later.
148apps: Will Trouserheart be a story-led game? JM: Trouserheart is not very story driven, apart from the clear setup and rewarding conclusion. The reason is that Trouserheart’s gameplay is very short form. In other words, a single session of Trouserheart is just a couple of intensive minutes. There’s not a whole lot of time, nor point, in cramming a lot of storytelling in there. And we’re concentrating 100% on making the gameplay as great as possible.
148apps: What inspiration led to the game? JM: We wanted to make a game that’s simple, easy to pick up and fun to play. It takes literally about five seconds from the start of each session to be in a fight with monsters, knee deep in your next quest. Seasoned gamers can probably name titles Trouserheart reminds them of, but there’s no single source of inspiration in that regard.
Visually, we wanted to make Trouserheart look instantly familiar, but with a recognizable quirky tone. The kind of blocky look works well with the gameplay. The bright colors and clear shapes also help the game look clear on the smaller screens of mobiles.
148apps: Are you able to discuss any of the features within the game? It looks quite hack n slash style in the screenshots, is that the case? JM:Trouserheart is definitely hack’n slash. In fact, hacking and slashing is basically the only interaction there is in the game, although you do a few kinds of different things with the whackage. We’re especially proud of how well we’ve nailed the virtual controllers. They’re really good. We’ve always been annoyed by how many bad implementations of virtual controllers are out there, and one of the driving factors in creating Trouserheart is that we wanted to do virtual controllers right.
We should also mention that Trouserheart is as relaxed and easy-going as a good hack’n slash game can be. We hope that if Trouserheart is the first hack’n slash game someone plays, they’ll enjoy it.
148apps: What motivated 10tons to go into publishing rather than development? JM: 10tons has been around for ten years now, and so far we’ve published around two dozen titles we’ve developed ourselves – and we’ll definitely keep developing games in the future as well. We’ve released games on most mobile platforms and know our way around different markets so we already had a nice toolset for publishing games. Both Dicework Games and 10tons are located in Tampere, Finland, so we had a chance to see the game very early in development. We immediately liked Trouserheart’s concept, instant accessibility, and style. A bit later it we found ourselves in a position where we could help each other: Dicework needed resources to finish and launch the game to realize its full potential and 10tons was dreaming of an easy-going fun mobile game that would also work with gamepads.
Thanks to Jaakko for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s great to see indie developers working together towards a common goal. We’ll be sure to cover Trouserheart in more depth when it’s released in September.
It can be tough to please a demanding parent. Sometimes it feels like the only way you can truly make them proud is to give them the world – or at least a world. And that’s exactly the kind of problem Captain Bubblenaut is facing. The only way to earn his father’s (Admiral Pop’s) respect is to take over the planet ERF and destroy all the ERFLINGS inhabiting it. Thankfully, Captain Bubblenaut designer and AAA game industry veteran, Dean Tate, has taken time out from his busy ERF-destroying schedule to try and explain all of this craziness to us.
148apps: Where’d the idea for Captain Bubblenaut‘s gameplay come from? Was it a product of the inspiration provided by games like Tiny Wings and Jetpack Joyride, or was it more of an instantaneous “Eureka!” moment? Dean Tate (DT): Originally Owen [Owen Macindoe, doctor of computer science] and I started by asking the question “What sort of skill-based actions are really fun to human beings?” and I think at the time I’d read something about how, evolutionarily, humans have succeeded as a species by being really good at judging parabolic arcs. ie. if you’re a caveman and you’re good at throwing a rock or a spear at a mammoth, you’re gonna go far, baby. For that reason, humans really enjoy judging parabolas, and if you look around, there are many, many games based on that concept that are very successful (eg. the Worms series, Scorched Earth, Angry Birds, Tiny Wings, and so on) as well as pretty much every type of sport ever conceived (football, basketball, golf, and on and on and on). So, weird way to come at the design of a game, right? We basically started with that blank slate, asking ourselves the question “what sort of game can we make about parabolic arcs?” Strangely enough the only game we really looked at closely in the beginning was Wave Race 64, which is all about looking at ocean waves (parabolas, kinda) and being really good at riding them on your jetski. A lot of our early prototypes were about water and waves.
148apps: It looks like you had a lot of fun coming up with all the different ERFLING designs. Was there a limit on how many you could add to the game or did you just run with it and see how far you could go? DT: The only limit was my time and energy. It took around a year of experimentation to land on a set of rules and guidelines that allowed me to quickly create new ERFLINGS. Once I had those down pat, and a huge list of types that I wanted to create, I just aimed to crank out 3 or 4 new ones every week or so, and did so through to now. I probably redesigned each one around 2 or 3 times. We’re shipping with around 90 designs, and I’d love to do another 90 and release them in an update some time.
148apps: Aside from experience, are there any particular insights from working in AAA development that you think might benefit your work as an indie developer? DT: For me it’s just design process. I learned a lot in AAA about design iteration fundamentals, philosophy, etc. How to fail fast and “find the fun”. How to tackle new design challenges. In some ways I think that allows me to work fast, but then I also think a lot of the more talented indies out there who don’t have AAA experience have an advantage in just being scrappier and more focused in their work than I am.
148apps: Between the music by Chris Remo (Thirty Flights of Loving, Gone Home), sound by Danny Baranowsky ( Super Meat Boy, Binding of Isaac, Canabalt), your own design experience (Bioshock, Bioshock 2, Rock Band), and Owen’s programming skills, it sounds like you’ve assembled an amazing team! What’s it like having so many well known (and super-talented) people working together on Captain Bubblenaut? DT: It’s great! It’s part of why I wanted to become indie. I love everyone I’ve met in this community and am thrilled to get to work with some of them, and hope to work with more!
148apps: Do you have any reservations about this being your very first iOS release? DT: Only that the market is very crowded and it’s hard to stand out. From my perspective as a creator and a designer, I feel like my best chance of success is in building something that is high in quality, original, built to take advantage of the unique aspects of the iPhone, and most of all, FUN. For me I think that’s the best way to succeed.
Our thanks to Dean Tate and the rest of the team for all their hard work (past, present, and inevitably future)! Captain Bubblenaut will start exterminating ERFLINGS at the end of this month. If you’d like to help the little guy out, the full game (no IAPs) will only set you back $1.99.
Two things are a constant with dwarves, regardless of the fictions they appear in: they’re incredibly sturdy, and they have a thing for digging. TinkerHouse Games has taken these two concepts and run with them to create Dwarven Delve. Billed as an “action puzzle crawl,” it’s a combination of elements that tasks players with rotating entire sections of dungeon as they attempt to guide a small band of dwarves to the treasures within. It’s a unique and interesting concept we wanted to learn more about. Fortunately, Mark Jessup (Creative Director and Lead Designer for TinkerHouse Games) was on-hand to answer our questions.
148Apps: So what led to the creation of the world’s first action puzzle crawl? Mark Jessup (MJ): I really like pipe puzzle games like Pipe Dream and old-school top-down dungeon crawls. One morning when I was half-awake, the two merged and did a merry jig. When I was finally ambulatory I wrote it down immediately. Lane built the physical prototype in two days and had the first digital prototype a week later. He was a ninja. We were both really fired up about it and hit the ground running.
148Apps: I noticed some of the abilities seem like they’d work really well together (i.e. the Tinkersmith’s Hovermine and the Wayfinder’s Echo Lure). Was it tough to balance? MJ: Thanks for noticing that combo so quickly! It’s one of our favorites and the ideal we’re shooting for with regards to other ability combos down the line. So far, the biggest trick hasn’t been with individual or combo effects, as much as cooldown durations and the frequency of enemy spawning. None of the abilities or their power progressions threaten game balance in themselves, but they should be meaningful moments in the level, not just something you spam. And of course, we have to have a steady but not overwhelming number of enemies to keep you on your toes and make those abilities count.
148Apps: Are there any later skills you think are particularly cool that you wouldn’t mind sharing? MJ: Well, it’s still early in development, so I really shouldn—okay, you talked me into it. Our dwarves’ abilities are augmented over time by rediscovering their history; ancestral relics and lineage. So our Tinkersmith will eventually find a relic from the Age of Automata called the Gloam Mag. It upgrades her hovermines so that they shoot towards enemies in any adjacent hex, threatening a much larger area.
One of the Spellforger’s more powerful relics is called The Oculus of Maddening. It changes his ranged attack into a domination effect, so he can turn a group of enemies into monster-eaters. It’s quite fun.
148Apps: Was it always the plan to have a team of six, or were there originally more/fewer dwarves? And if there were initially more, were there any classes that you regret having to cut out? MJ: Actually, the biggest decision we had to make early on was whether the game would be centered around a small cast of characters or a large group of units that you essentially built into warbands. It was a fundamental design decision, obviously. We decided to go with the small group because the story is a very important part of the game for us, and we thought we could tell a better one with a small cast that you got to know and helped evolve over time. And for the record, we also realized the dwarven unit model would likely be much easier to monetize and more lucrative in the long run. But we didn’t do it because we really thought it wouldn’t let us design the best game experience. There’s nothing wrong with free-to-play in itself, but it wasn’t right for this game.
Fools? Possibly. But fools who love dwarves.
148Apps: I really like the concept behind character “leveling.” Was this Lineage system always the plan or was it something the game grew into over the course of its development? MJ: The lineage leveling system definitely grew out of conversations over time around the office. When we were thinking about the warband approach, finding your ancestors actually unlocked new units, which was cool, and gave the player something more satisfying than just getting a better score. And the idea of a lineage tree showing progress was a visual concept we really wanted to keep. So when we went towards the character approach we realized we could still keep that concept. Each dwarf is a member of a clan that extends back into the dark of history. Discovering the forebears and accomplishments of their clan makes their own abilities increase.
Our thanks to Mark Jessup for his time, and to the entire team at TinkerHouse Games for working on the first ever action puzzle crawler. Assuming everything goes according to plan with Dwarven Delve‘s Kickstarter funding it should be breaking ground on your iPad (sorry, iPhone owners) in December for $4.99. It’s apparently going to be a big month for dwarves.
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.
Dead Trigger 2 has been a go-to zombie shooter for many ever since it was released, which means that a lot of people would probably like to know about the special Easter promo Madfinger Games is having right now. Just start up Dead Trigger 2 (newest version required), log in, go to the Options menu, […]