Indie games development can be tough, especially when you’ve got a good idea for something but you’re not quite sure what way to take it. Having heard about Booya Squad, a Wisconsin-based team keen to turn their childhood comics into a mobile card battler, we wanted to learn more about their journey.
Booya Squad is a joint effort between Mike Bloom and his brother-in-law, John. They’re currently working on a social card game called Mario Italiano Four Families, but the story starts much earlier than that. Based on a comic book world they created over ten years ago, it’s been a long time coming. In that time, they’ve had to juggle big moves across country, raising a family, job changes, health issues, and many more challenges. The team’s blog explains the full story, such as how Mike skipped on a regular sleep pattern in order to get work done, but we also had a chat with him to learn the pertinent details behind everything.
148Apps: How much have various free internet resources helped you in your quest to go into game development? What would you recommend to other aspiring developers? Mike Bloom (MB): We used the internet to learn how to do everything we needed to know. When we started, we were very naïve to the amount of knowledge and skills we would need to complete the game. So as we progressed through the project we often came upon an obstacle where we needed to learn or come up with something. So we would Google it or search for it on YouTube. We were constantly amazed that if we dug deep enough into these sources, we would always find exactly what we needed. The trick is to use different search phrases. We did this for everything from balancing stats, building a clean UI, all the way to marketing methods.
The idea here is to not be scared to start down the development path because you don’t know how to do everything you will need to do, or better yet you don’t even know what is all needed. Since we went in half blind, we just found the answers when we needed them, and that was actually fun. It was like, oh we have to do that? Well, I’ll do that one, learn the skill and put it to use right away. Continue reading Booya Squad and the Long But Satisfying Path of Indie Development »
One of the more exciting gaming developments that has come about thanks to the rise of tablets and the iPad in particular is the resurgence of the adventure game. Touchscreen gaming lends itself perfectly to this kind of experience, and various indie developers are embracing its potential.
One such development studio is that of Belfast-based Billy Goat Entertainment. The studio is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign for their upcoming title, Her Majesty’s Spiffing, which is a quirky space-based adventure. While the campaign is focused on rewarding PC owning pledgers, there are plans for an iOS release. We took the time to learn more from founder, William Barr.
148Apps: How did Billy Goat Entertainment come about? And why the quirky name? William Barr (WB): The company came about out of necessity seeing as I carelessly decided to leave a job I wasn’t fond of (despite the meagre yet reliable monthly paychecks) and no one else would hire me! As for the name, I’m very much a child of the 90s, a time when every company needed to have some form of anthropomorphic cartoon animal mascot. I’m also incredibly conceited – Billy is of course a common abbreviation of William. These two factors contributed to the choice of name and the fact that we have a Cashmere Goat as our mascot! Continue reading The Challenges of Kickstarting a Project and why Her Majesty’s Spiffing should be Hilarious »
We at 148Apps can’t help but be fascinated by new developers – particularly new developers who have struck out alone, stepping away from their AAA development days. After all, it’s a big risk so they deserve some attention, right? One of the latest teams to arise from such creative bravery is Mighty Mill: a UK based 2-man and a bit team made up of James Trubridge, director; and Jake Gumbleton, art director; with help from Leavon Archer for sound and music. With plenty of experience under their belts, they’ve just released their first title, Tanuki Forest, so we felt this was the ideal time to learn more. Jake was all too happy to answer our questions.
Jake Gumbleton and James Trubridge.
148Apps: What made you decide to go it alone and set up Mighty Mill? Jake Gumbleton (JG): We launched Mighty Mill Games, after a decade each in the traditional game development world. There are two main driving forces behind this: Firstly is creative freedom. In larger organizations, the chain of approval is often daunting and you see so many great ideas get snipped away, particularly in the very conservative ideology that many big budget games are constrained by due to the money at stake on them. Working in a small team has always been our favorite work environment. It just breeds creativity and allows ideas to bounce around and grow.
We also wanted to be there to see our kids grow up. We read somewhere that most men’s dying wish is that they had spent more time with their kids when they were young. We both have children that have been born during [the] making [of] Tanuki Forest. Mighty Mill hopefully allows us to be with them when it matters the most in those early years. We get to play with our kids and experience all their firsts while still making our business work and grow for us.
148Apps: Where does the name Mighty Mill come from? JG: We are based in Long Eaton near Nottingham, England, and the place used to be a big textiles town so it is full of mills. Naming a company is harder than making games. The mills in Long Eaton are not actually windmills, but shhhhhh!
148Apps: How did the idea for Tanuki Forest come about? JG:Tanuki Forest has shifted a great deal since we began on it. It actually started as a brave experiment in asymmetrical multiplayer on the iPad but in the end it just was not fun enough. The aesthetic of the game comes from my fetish for Japan and Studio Ghibli in particular. A few years back I was lucky enough to go to Japan and visit both Nara and the Ghibli museum. It all had a big impact on me, which really came out in the aesthetic and feel of Tanuki Forest. Nara is so brilliant. The deer there have free reign. My wife and I had breakfast in our room one day with deer munching on the grass outside the open window. It was amazing.
I love character design and wanted to develop a main character who was super appealing. I still do not know what he is exactly.
148Apps: What are the most significant differences between working on an AAA project compared to something of Tanuki Forest‘s size? JG: I think specialization is the single biggest factor. Working with a very small team, you just have to do everything so you are constantly forced outside of your area of expertise. There are bits that you love to do but there also lots that you would really prefer not to! Having so little manpower also forces you to make some pretty hard decisions about what you can attempt to do.
The thing we enjoyed the most is the speed that you can iterate at. During our prototyping phase you get to say “what if we do ‘x’?” and then just do it right away. It allows you to really iterate fast and is great fun.
148Apps: What challenges did you face during development? JG: The hardest challenges are the decisions where you have little expertise but the results will make or break the success of the game. Our two hardest things to decide were: do we go with a publisher, and should the game be paid or free. We have opted for no publisher and to go free.
Tanuki Forest is very charming and quite understated for an infinite runner, and although our revenue will have to come from IAP we have nothing to aggressively drive this in the game. Our sincere hope is that people who love the game will spend a little money in the shop. This decision was so hard for us to make as F2P has a real stigma to it for an indie dev. I hate games that constantly bug me to buy stuff! In the end we felt that it was the right way to go for Tanuki Forest as it is an infinite runner. Larger future projects will probably be done on the paid model.
148Apps: What’s next in the pipeline? JG: We have piles of game concepts just waiting for us to add water and watch them grow. Some of these contain robots. We have our fingers crossed that Tanuki Forest will be a first step towards a very exciting future.
Thanks to Jake for taking the time to answer our questions. Tanuki Forest is out now and is free to play. There really is no reason why it’s not worth downloading, as it is rather charming.
The indie game development scene has been around for an incredibly long time; pretty much ever since people had the opportunity to program for themselves. However it wasn’t until shareware became a common method of distribution the 90s that it began to catch the notice of the masses, and even so, it took another decade to really take off. Throughout all of that there have been a number of successes and failures, as it is with most games regardless of their budgets or marketing strategies. No one remembers the duds, of which there are always many, but people tend not to forget games like Minecraft or Fez.
One theory behind this new focus on mobile devices is that iOS’ treatment of indies is a bit more welcoming. Not to say that Microsoft is terrible or that Apple is perfect, but there have been quite a few stories of Xbox Live Indie Game headaches.
“I felt like I was always fighting against the grain when Radiangames was focused on XBLIG,” said Luke Schneider on the shift away from XNA development. “I wanted to try to reach a broader audience and find more success. Though really it hasn’t been significantly different in terms of success on iOS.”
It was more a case of seeing the writing on the wall for Jesse Chounard from Third Party Ninjas. Once Windows Phone 7 came out it seemed as though Microsoft forgot all about their indie developers. “XBLIG developers actually lost access to some important features,” he said. “When the phone failed to gain traction, it seemed like the blame was placed on XNA.”
Nick Mudry and Play Nimbus came to a similar conclusion once the impending “death” of Microsoft’s service was announced. “We also moved away from XBLIG and to iOS because we were unable to develop with XNA for iOS,” he said
In this particular case, the discovery of Unity is what ended up tipping their hand. “We stepped up and started redesigning our game’s prototype,” said Mudry, “and it was done 10 times quicker compared to XBLIG/XNA.”
Jesse Chounard/Third Party Ninjas
Not everyone simply jumped ship from one platform to the other, however. Mike Oliphant opted to stick around the XBLIG scene while expanding Nostatic Software’s reach to other platforms at the same time. “Last year I ported my game engine so that it also runs on top of Unity,” he said. “This gave me the ability to target iOS and Android as well.”
A smart idea that has the potential for a lot more exposure, although it also means more work to create all those ports, though he admits that more platforms ultimately means more users.
Martin Caine of Retroburn Game Studios was initially drawn to XNA because of the development tools and allure of the Xbox 360 hardware support, but it didn’t seem like he would get a whole lot of publicity on the platform. “I had heard of the limited exposure and low download figures,” he said. “I’m now just focusing on getting one game released but plan to release it across many platforms including iOS and XBLIG.”
Andy Gibson and Team Pesky actually did things the other way around when they prototyped Little Acorns on XNA, then ended up developing it for iOS once the basic framework was in place. After a few iterations the team brought the squirrel-themed platformer back to Xbox Live.
“Personally, I was really pleased to get Little Acorns out on XBLIG,” Gibson said. “The game feels great, has a good level of polish and an added split-screen co-op mode to celebrate Mr. Nibbles making it home.”
With the firm’s first release, PUK, hitting the App Store this week, we thought it was the perfect time to get to know more about the folks at up and coming UK based developers, Laser Dog Games. Here’s what we’ve learned.
Who is Laser Dog Games?
Based in Manchester, UK, Laser Dog is a three man team made up of Simon Renshaw, Mike Milner and Rob Allison. Simon and Mike, previously, worked in creating user experiences and digital branding through web apps, which made games the “natural progression.” Rob works on the code side of development, while Mike deals with the visual design as a conceptual artist. Simon deals with animation, production and game mechanics.
How did the Laser Dog name come about?
Simon explained to us, “We throw around ridiculous fictional brand concepts and ideas regularly, Laser Dog was one such example, originally the name of our ’80’s inspired electronica band’…[which] was never going to work as I can’t play music for toffee. We were playing with ideas on a train back from a client meeting in London and I think it was me that remembered the name Laser Dog. We both debated whether we could seriously use it, laughed a bit, then agreed that it was perfect. Mike mocked up the brand the following day and Laser Dog became final.”
What is Laser Dog Games most famous for?
Currently, only PUK, a fast paced, minimalist action puzzler. It’s a pretty entertaining Endless puzzler with 1000 unique levels testing players’ ability to react quickly and think fast. It’s certainly entertained me in recent days. We should have a full review shortly.
What’s next on the horizon?
Still in the ideas phase, Simon told us that one possibility is a game focused “on the player having to destroy themselves” with the hope for a “deeper experience than PUK“. There’s also the possibility of expansion with the team’s eyes closely on Ouya (a new type of games console) as well as working on mobile formats.
What else is there to know about Laser Dog Games?
Simon Renshaw was all too happy to answer a few burning questions I had about the developer and their latest title.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind PUK? Simon: We wanted our first game to mess with our players’ feelings of anxiety and stress so we started developing a simple concept about a fish repeatedly jumping out of a bowl, running out of air and having to be popped back in. [It] was nice but very limited…before we knew it, we were adding Super Meat Boy Saws and it became an all devouring mess! Scrapping this, but keeping with the fish theme led us to an idea about waves washing up on the beach and leaving pockets of water and fish in their wake. The basic game mechanic: to put the fish back in the pools before the pools dried up and the wave washed in again effectively clearing the screen…this was quite a nice idea, but fundamentally it didn’t require the theme.
We stripped the idea down to the bare minimum, designed a set of simple and pure game rules with a single clear objective: shoot PUKs at Portals before the time runs out, PUK was formed. We wanted the game to have enough ‘simulation’ freedom to feel like throwing a tennis ball around a court or bouncing balls around a snooker table so physics were essential. After some external play testing, the only thing players weren’t seeing were that the Portals (once puddles) were shrinking. This was replaced with fixed size portals and a timer…It didn’t really change the overall mechanic of the game, it just forced us to rethink the level design a little. I think (after a huge amount of play testing) if you can honestly say you still like your game after playing it for this long, you have to be proud of it, and we are!
148apps: As a relatively new iOS developer, is there any advice you wish someone had given you beforehand? Simon: Yes, I wish someone had said ‘get going, you bloody idiots! It’s great fun but it’s gonna take you a lot longer than you think!’. Test your game idea in your mind for as long as you can, move up to a note pad, squeeze this, bang out a prototype (PUK was originally created with Game Maker in 3 hours, albeit terribly and with just a mouse touchpad to test) then do something pretty with it to inspire you to make it great. Be prepared to bin big chunks of work if you haven’t thought it through, no matter how good. Allow plenty of time for testing and get involved with local Indie Dev meet ups. They proved invaluable for us as you can get genuine feedback (learn to read faces, not words!), advice and wisdom from people who genuinely want to help.
148apps: What’s your favourite thing about iOS development? Simon: One of the greatest things about iOS development is that it’s opened up a massive outlet for indie devs like us to showcase their work. It’s great when you open up the App Store and see so many indie companies competing with the ‘big dogs’ and, in most cases, maintaining more integrity with less in app purchases and generally more. As visual designers, we’ve always been inspired by Apple and their commitment to quality. Designing primarily for their devices and for iOS is a real privilege and it’s exciting.