Mark Brown, perhaps best known for being Deputy Editor over at Pocket Gamer, has just released his first game; Pixel This!, an elegant Nonogram title that he made to try and improve on the other similar games on the App Store. Because of his unique position as both someone who covers mobile gaming, and now someone who made a mobile game - and he did it almost entirely on an iPad using Codea - I was eager to learn more about Pixel This! and the process of its creation.
(full disclosure: Pocket Gamer and 148Apps are owned by Steel Media, which had no say in the promotion or editorial coverage of this game)
148Apps: What compelled you to make Pixel This?
Mark Brown (MB): I just adore Picross (or Nonograms or Griddlers or whatever you want to call them) which is this brilliant puzzle game from Japan that's all about using logic and deduction to draw a cute pixel art image. I think I accidentally stumbled upon Mario's Picross on Game Boy, and have loved those puzzles ever since. But I don't think I've found an iOS app that has done the game justice.
They're usually a bit ugly, or make it hard to control on the teeny tiny iPhone screen. They can be expensive or, if they're free, jammed with adverts or costly IAPs. So I thought there was room to make something better! Pixel This! isn't perfect and there's plenty of room to improve, but I'm really pleased with the result and the feedback.
148Apps: Why go with the free+unlock model on the game?
MB: It's funny, because I'm a pretty staunch opponent of the free-to-play model, but here I am launching a free-to-play game on the App Store! But I think this is a good way to let people have a go with the game first, see if they can grasp the rules and see if they actually like the puzzles before putting down their cash. It is, I hope, a non-evil free-to-play where you're not buying hints or lives or anything else that's going to wreck the balance of the game. It's just more stuff if you liked the first stuff.
148Apps: Talk about that awesome soundtrack!
MB: Hah! Well, you've got to focus on what you know, and I do not know music at all. So I decided to not subject anyone to my pitiful attempts to make a soundtrack, and want to encourage them to play their own music instead. Plus, I've always found that Picross is a fun thing to do while listening to podcasts or the radio, so it was super important that audio from other apps would continue playing when you load Pixel This!
148Apps: You made the game primarily on the iPad? How did you do this? What compelled you to work particularly on mobile?
MB: I programmed Pixel This in an iPad app called Codea, which lets you write Lua code on the tablet and then export it to Apple's developer program Xcode so you can submit it to the App Store. So the only time I used my Mac was to do the graphics in Photoshop and then some final code to get in-app purchases and Twitter support working. It's really cool to be able to write some code, hit a button, and then be immediately testing the game on one of the devices that the game will eventually be released on.
I'm also a big iPad nerd, and a huge believer in the idea that this whole "tablets are for consumption not creation" thing is totally bunkum. It's such a wonderful device to use, and the apps are only getting better, more powerful, and more flexible.
148Apps: As someone who covers the mobile space, does making games of your own change the way that you perceive them, and did your perspective as member of the gaming media affect development in any way?
MB: There are certain things we take for granted as journalists and players of games. We might flippantly say "this game should have iCloud saves and Game Center!!", without realizing how many weeks of work and testing that all involves. I don't think I'm going to stop complaining about missing features, slow updates, and missed release dates, mind you! But the experience will definitely color my view of development going forward.
As for the other way around, I think by being forced to play a billion iOS games a week makes me made hyper-aware of what works - and what doesn't - on the App Store. I hate being nagged by push notifications and I don't like being asked to review a game every five seconds, so I avoided that sort of stuff. But for the most part, I just feel very lucky to have my dumb little game on the same platform as so many amazing apps from so many hugely talented people. It's weird and awesome.
Thanks to Mark for his time.