Outfit7’s Talking Friends series of apps has reached one billion downloads.
Seriously. The talking cat apps that feature characters like Talking Tom, later expanded out to a host of other characters, have been downloaded over one billion times. That’s an absurd number of downloads, and the series continues to look upward and outward, as it continues to expand from just being an entertaining toy app to something more substantial. I spoke to Outfit7 CEO Samo Login about this milestone.
148Apps: Did you ever imagine that you’d ever get anywhere near this point, getting one billion downloads with your apps?
Samo: I would say that when we started, that was one of our objectives. It sure seemed a lot with seven billion people in the world, but we didn’t set any limits where we should stop. So far, we have doubled the number of downloads every half-year, roughly. I spoke to a guy [recently], he can see us getting to two billion, but four billion would be a challenge! [laughs] I don’t think so because we are introducing new apps, so I don’t see a problem with four billion, so, why not?
148Apps: What is it about the Talking Friends series of apps that you think has led to this kind of success versus some of the other “talking cartoon-y character” apps that are out there?
Samo: I think that our objective was always to create something funny, and we invested always a lot into quality [with] all these apps, not only the graphics but the whole user experience. And I think that users notice that. It’s something that for sure, always differentiated us from other companies that had created talking apps.
We also plan in the future, always, some kind of hidden educational aspect, especially for preschoolers. If you create an app that’s a straightforward educational app, the kids can smell it. It’s like when you teach a child something, if you just cover it up into something funny and entertaining, the kids will have fun and learn about something at the same time. That’s the added value that we intend to give our users with our apps in the future.
148Apps: So really with your apps and going forward in the future, you’re really trying to use the likability and the familarity of these characters to branch out into other kinds of apps, but to also have, maybe to say, positive goals to them?
So obviously our audience wants all different kinds of entertaining content, not just the Talking apps. And for sure, we’ll be working in this direction in the future to create different kinds of apps, mostly with entertaining but also some gaming content to bring our characters into movies, music, merchandise, to increase the number of touch points are audience has with our characters.
148Apps: So this is something where you’ve taken this simple idea of, this kind of talking cartoon character that people can interact with, and now you’re bringing it to all sorts of new avenues, taking it to places that seem unexpected with the launch of the original app, but here you are.
Samo: I would say ‘unexpected’ when we started, then when we saw the power of our characters that with big distribution we’d compete with TV, with one billion downloads of our apps, and over 170 million monthly unique users, we actually compete with TV stations. And with apps, it’s much easier to get to a global distribution, than with any other technology before. So we are taking this from here, expanding this into other verticals, which is in my opinion, a logical next step. We didn’t expect it at the very beginning, but later on we became aware there is much more behind our characters than just talking apps.
Our own David Rabinowitz checked out Scopely/Rocket Jump’s Mini Golf Matchup a couple of months ago, and thought very highly of it. And why shouldn’t he? It’s a great casual game of virtual mini golf with painless online functionality. We’ve since managed to get in touch with Antony Blackett, the Managing Director of Rocket Jump, who agreed to give us some insight as to how their project became the gleeful game of putt-putt that it is.
148Apps: I imagine it was fairly easy to decide to make a mini golf game since virtually everybody loves mini golf, but were there any unexpected challenges in actually creating Mini Golf MatchUp? Antony Blackett (AB): Mini Golf did seem like the an obvious choice for an asynchronous multiplayer game. We experimented with a few methods of input and only after much discussion and testing did we eventually land on the sling shot method that’s in the game today. Another big challenge was finding out how to make each shot satisfying even when the player didn’t manage to get the ball in the hole. We wanted to make it feel physical and solid as if it were a little toy inside your phone, and also remain predicable unlike a lot of other physics-based games. Finally, while the idea of making a turn-based mini golf game was intuitive, we quickly discovered that creating a polished multiplayer game is no easy task, especially for a small team.
148Apps: I know touch interfaces, especially in physics-driven games, can be tricky to pull off. Did it give you any trouble? And if so how were you able to get through it? AB: The hardest part of designing the input system in Mini Golf MatchUp was discovering not only how to communicate things like power and direction to the player, but also figuring out exactly what we did and didn’t need to communicate to the player. Our initial approach was a flick system where the ball would inherit the momentum of your finger along the screen, but we found it was difficult for people to grasp the concept. Scopely ran frequent usability tests on players that had never seen the game before. We recorded them playing and ran over the videos many times to get an idea about what players expected to happen. Watching the video recordings gives you clues to what is really going on as people play the game and we closely analyzed these usability tests with the Scopely team to hone in on how best to improve the game.
Specifically with the flick system, we learned that it was easy for the player to make a mistake, but hard for us to know programmatically whether they had made an error. This meant we couldn’t reliably show them corresponding help tips and teach them effectively. On the other hand, the sling shot mechanic was a lot clearer to players because we included an arrow that indicates direction, and power appears as soon as they touch the screen.
148Apps: Any juicy bits of gameplay, specific holes, or mechanics that never made it into the final build? Any chance they may make an appearance in the future? AB: We’re currently discussing how we can add even more variety to the gameplay in Mini Golf MatchUp. We have some ideas around more pickups and new power ups to go alongside the mulligan, scoring changes, item collection mechanics and even cooperative gameplay. Potentially, developing new social features like sharing replays of your awesome, unbelievable hole-in-one shots. We might even stumble across completely new ideas along the way that are better. Who knows? It’s an organic process, but ultimately it’s driven by a detailed analysis of how players are interacting with the game.
148Apps: I love the colorful, yet simplistic, visual style. Was that pretty much what you had in mind from the get-go? AB: Corie Geerders is an amazing artist and he’s never shy of using color. Just look at the other titles he’s worked on that exemplify this vibrancy: GripShift, Shatter, Major Mayhem. At Rocket Jump, we find that nailing down a visual style very early in a project helps to unify all the decisions we make in the future. It’s much easier to see if a game mechanic, feature or sound effect doesn’t match the visual style of the game thereafter. One of the best parts about working with Scopely was that they supported our artistic vision, and they gave us the freedom to explore various approaches so that we could find the most exciting and engaging style for the game.
148Apps: Assuming you’re able to talk about it, what’s the plan for Rocket Jump’s next big project? AB: We have a few ideas in the back of our minds about what we want to do next. One of the things we’d like to do most, and what our fans would love to see, is a sequel to Major Mayhem. We don’t have anything planned out in terms of storyline, gameplay features, or dates, but we have a ton of ideas! We definitely want to push the limits of what mobile games can be like Major Mayhem, Rail Shooters, and Mini Golf MatchUp.
We’d like to thank Antony for taking the time to fill us in on the ins and outs of Mini Golf Matchup. If you’re interested in checking this cartoony game of golf out you can do so right now by grabbing the universal version off the App Store for free.
Demon Chic‘s storytelling impressed us so much that we came up with a whole new scoring category just for it: Story Quality. So, in order to learn more about just how the wholly unique title came to be, I chatted with one half of Beret Applications, Michael Frauenhofer, about the inspiration and creative process behind it.
148apps: Demon Chic is hugely different from anything else on the App Store, what inspired you guys to make it? Michael Frauenhofer (MF): I was planning on making something more traditionally “video game”-y, with stuff like fights to the death against robot soldiers and mind control chips in it. But, I’d just finished a novel for my undergraduate fiction thesis about a bunch of broke college kids doing drugs and getting in trouble, and then shortly before we kicked into full gear working on the project…I had a dream about a man in a dress with a big furry boa and a tasseled hat burning spiders with a magic cigarette. That dream’s atmosphere sounded way cooler than the, admittedly, generic sci-fi we’d been planning on pursuing, so we switched…and ended up combining the novel with the vibe of the funky spider dream.
We don’t have the budget or skills to compete graphically with something like Infinity Blade so we figured we might as well make the kind of game that probably only we would ever come up with.
148apps: What research was conducted in terms of the mental illness issues dealt with in the game? MF: The characters’ experiences with mental illness reflect a varied portion – but still, by necessity of scale, only a small portion – of the broad range of experiences someone diagnosed with schizophrenia might have. It’s a tricky diagnosis because there is so much variation within it that there really is no one experience a person with schizophrenia will face. It’s more of a symptom class – diagnosed based on what the person experiences rather than any one cause.
So a lot of the “meat” of the way that the game deals with the subject of living with schizophrenia comes from my own experience – the way that it talks about adjusting to life with hallucinations, trying to make decisions about medication, things like that [which] are…more universal experiences of trying to deal with the situations it creates.
As for the characters’ various coping strategies, they…reflect the variety of experience rather than propagate any specific viewpoint. Just as one protagonist identifies as straight, one identifies as gay, and one identifies as bi [and] they are, respectively, an atheist, an agnostic, and a devoutly religious person, the characters make different decisions about whether or not to seek treatment within the medical establishment or even how openly to define themselves.
I was very frustrated with how most of the media I saw dealing with schizophrenia seemed to either take a very strong hardline tack where the only acceptable way to handle it was through a doctor, and anything else was reckless or dangerous. I think [this] can be a damagingly closed-minded viewpoint, or alternatively romanticize being “free” and living off medication on principle, which I can see being just as or even more damagingly closed-minded. Some people are really helped, some people are really hurt.
I think it is important for art to take a stance when an issue requires it, but in this case I felt the most accurate and best stance to take was “different things work for different people and it’s critical to let people have the ability to make their own choices.” Once you’re open about having an experience of your own with mental illness, a lot more people open up to you about their own, and you end up realizing a way huger percentage of the people you know than you would ever have imagined have some form of “mental illness.” All of the people I’ve known have had wildly different experiences dealing with it, and used very different strategies, so it only really felt honest for the game to reflect that multiplicity.
148apps: Did any specific games or artwork influence the look and feel of Demon Chic? MF: The main story art’s style was largely defined by the artists we worked with for that – Marika Cowan, Julie Chien, and Elizabeth Gearreald – while the art style for the interludes, that I made, was mostly defined by my exploration of the limits of my own artistic ability. I…grew to appreciate the more hand-made-looking aspects of that…but to be totally honest, everything would look photo-realistically detailed in those sections if I’d had the capability to make it look that way.
In the end I was glad I wasn’t the best at drawing. The feel of the game was very heavily inspired by No More Heroes, Suda 51’s game for the Wii, which I’d been playing a lot of and really loving for its pacing. It experimented a lot with its structure and form, and wove rapidly between high- to low- concept and humor, but still retained a really jittery and frenetic energy with its quick cuts and rock guitars that I wanted to take inspiration from.
With eight billion coins having been collected in-game since Joe Danger Touch’s release in January 2013, the adventures of the daredevil stuntman have proved to be quite the hit. We managed to drag Hello Games’s managing director, Sean Murray, away from work on the latest game update, in order to learn a little more about the game and its future direction.
148Apps: How hard was it to take such a successful console game (Joe Danger 1 and 2 on PS3 and Xbox 360) and convert it to iOS? Sean: It was really hard! One of our weird little things we have at Hello Games is to never just port a game to a new platform without doing something special that fits it. We couldn’t just shunt Joe Danger over with virtual controls and the same set of levels because we knew it wouldn’t really work. Joe Danger on PS3 uses every single one of the pad’s buttons and sticks. So we went right back to scratch and thought about how a touchscreen can bring something new. We set ourselves two big goals – it was really important that it would feel like it could only work on iOS because we were building it specifically for iOS devices. And we wanted it to feel like nothing else you can play on iOS. No biggie We’ve designed lots of console games in the past, so it was really refreshing to get to think about touchscreens, and that meant the whole process was genuinely inspiring even while it was head-bangingly hard at times.
148Apps: What’s been the team’s reaction to the huge success on iOS? Sean: I can’t tell you how excited it’s made us. It’s quite embarrassing, really. We always get really nervous launching a new game, and this one was for a platform we had never worked on before, so we were especially scared. We had good feedback from playtesters, though, so we were sort of confident, but that’s never going to prepare you for what actually happens when the public get their hands on the game. As I said, we were trying to make Joe Danger Touch feel new, so it justified the hard work that went into it, and showed us that we could be at home on iOS as we’ve been on console in the past.
148apps: Are you able to reveal any details regarding the next major update? Sean: Yes! So, we’re working on more new characters – we’re planning on asking players to help design and choose them on our blog actually – and levels. We’ve got a nice idea coming that we hope will give players a reason to come back and play every day. And, this is probably saying too much, but we’re planning a massive set of cheat modes that are inspired by being obsessed with games like GoldenEye. That’s all coming in just a few weeks. On top of all that, and this is really is saying too much, but we had some ideas for a JDT update that have completely spiralled out of control into something else entirely. It’s super exciting and has got us all deep into learning new things on iOS, but it’s not quite ready yet for us to show off. I’m so excited about it though
148Apps: The Joe Danger series has always offered plenty of humour and personality, where does the inspiration for such level design come from? Sean: That would be the contents of our art director Grant Duncan’s head. To be honest, sometimes it frightens me, but if we give him a bright enough theme it’s usually OK. It all actually came from our very earliest days as a team when we were trying to decide on what game we would make. Grant came in with some toys from when he was a kid and one of them was an Evel Knievel stunt cycle. Mix that with our love for Mario, Sonic, Paperboy and so on, and the style kind of flowed from there.
148Apps: Any more fun statistics gleaned from Joe Danger Touch? Sean: Sure! So this morning we worked out from the total distance that Joe has ridden that, if we assume he’s 6 feet tall, he’s been the equivalent of to the moon and back three times. And he’s been in 5 million crashes. I think his insurance premiums are pretty high
Yes, we’d suggest avoiding ever riding pillion with Joe Danger!
Most famous for its work on fairly violent fare such as console game, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and, more recently, iOS title The Bowling Dead, Slant Six Games has experienced quite a change of pace lately. That change of pace has manifested itself in the form of Max’s Pirate Planet, an immediately adorable looking board game adventure for kids. With such a drastic change of focus, I thought I’d take the time to find out more about Slant Six’s thinking, courtesy of the game’s producer, Kelly Richard Fennig.
Kelly Richard Fennig
148apps: Max’s Pirate Planet is quite a change of pace from other titles, what was the inspiration behind making a children’s app?
Kelly Richard Fennig (KRF): You are absolutely right there! We are creating lots of new “firsts” in our studio right now, and Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure is our first children’s game and our first self published title. The inspiration for the game, came from a studio game design jam. Last year, a small 6 person team pitched this board-game set on a globe, about pirates, to be played on a tablet. The concept was definitely different from what we historically developed, there wasn’t a zombie or US Navy Seal in sight!
Creating such an entirely different game genre for a new audience was a welcome challenge for the team, and we wanted to see if we could successfully create an app kids would love…honestly it was way too fun of an idea to not make it. We enjoyed being able to step back in time and reminisce on our experiences playing classic board games with our families and the simple treasured moments they provide. As luck would have it, one of our artists has a brother who is a child psychologist, and his insights helped tremendously. We also did many play tests to see firsthand what the response was…So when the timing was right, we assembled a very small team to make the game…and 15 weeks later, Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure was born!
“If you’re going to try something so left-field of the norm, might as keep going left as possible and eventually it feels right.” (Some advice Slant Six’s Producer’s father told him as he was growing up)
148apps: It’s only just been released, but will there be any additional content for Max’s Pirate Planet in the future? KRF: We do have some content planned, but we are keeping this in our back pockets as further bonus material once the game has had a chance to gain popularity. As a product targeted at young children and also a board game, we wanted to avoid adding content via in-app purchases. This was a comfortable decision for us, as we know it will appeal to parents with young children. Our goal was to keep it very much like the experience families have when they buy a physical board game so all the pieces are complete. However, Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure has been designed to easily add more content if our customers are demanding it. We have already thought of additional characters, mini-games, and possibly even a new globe. In short, the more popular the game becomes, the more content we’ll keep adding to keep it exciting for players!
The Slant Six Offices
148apps: As the first self-published title for Slant Six, how have things been different compared to working for a separate publisher? KRF: Simply put, we are masters of our own destiny! It was a very empowering process for the team to make design decisions, influenced by having our game play tested by our target audience (children 6-10 years, and their parents). Our goal now is to get as much awareness for the app as we can.
As an independent studio, we don’t have the financial backing of a large publisher driving the publicity and user acquisition for this game. Our biggest challenge, which is the same for any independent developer, is getting our app discovered without a pre-existing user base. We had extensive play-test sessions prior to launch and the response was overwhelmingly popular. Our team couldn’t quite believe it until we saw the reactions of the kids, including a group of cub scouts going absolutely nuts over the game! Simply put: If children play this game, THEY WILL LOVE THIS GAME (this may sound like a bold claim, but this is our truthful experience). Another “first” for our studio is that this isn’t a free-to-play app, therein lies the challenge. It is a matter of informing people and getting it in as many influential hands as possible to see for themselves.
148apps: What’s next for the team? Will we continue to see this new, light-hearted Slant Six or will there be a return to more serious fare? KRF: To answer your question: we do have some large core multiplayer tablet games in the works that will appeal to our traditional gaming audience and we are looking at some potential next-gen console opportunities. That being said, we had so much fun making Max’s Pirate Planet – A Board Game Adventure, it’s been a breath of fresh air for the team to try something new, and if our customers tell us they want to see more light hearted family friendly product, we will gladly oblige. In fact we’ve got a few ideas up our sleeve already!
Thanks to Slant Six and Kelly Richard Fennig for taking the time to answer our questions.
Max’s Pirate Planet is available now as an Universal app, priced at $2.99.
With the release of Little Bit Games’ first title, The Seed, we thought it was time to get to know more about these up and coming Canadian developers.
Jennifer Vogt, Curtis Vogt and Cody Lee
Who is Little Bit Games?
The team is made up of developers/founders Cody Lee and Curtis Vogt, musicians Eric Cassell and Jennifer Vogt, as well as artist Jeffrey Taniguchi. Based out of Winnipeg, Canada, the team have been together since 2011 having been previously inspired courtesy of Ron Gilbert’s keynote speech at PAX 2009.
What is Little Bit Games most famous for?
Currently, its sole release: The Seed. It’s a physics puzzle game in which players must guide the Seed to the end of the level using droplets to manipulate its path. Minimalist in appearance, David Rabinowitz gave it 4 stars when he reviewed it earlier this month.
What’s next on the horizon?
We checked in with Cody Lee about the team’s plans. “The current version of The Seed in the App Store is part 1. We have plans to release part 2 as a free update later in the year, but we are planning for a quick project in between. We aren’t ready to announce anything yet, but we are currently experimenting with some really exciting and unique ideas that can only be accomplished on the mobile platform.”
Anything else I should know about Little Bit Games?
Having been intrigued as to just what makes the team tick, I checked in with Cody for a few answers.
Concept Art for The Seed
148apps: What was the inspiration behind The Seed? Cody: The original inspiration for the basic physics based puzzle mechanic of The Seed was an old PC game called The Incredible Machine. The game involved creating elaborate Rube-Golderg contraptions for each level and featured a very addictive tweaking trial-and-error type gameplay. Overall though, The Seed has taken a much different tone than its inspiration. We’ve noticed that most physics-based puzzle games on mobile platforms these days look and feel the same. Quite frankly, many feel like they’re trying to capture the Angry Birds “feel.” They’re colorful, and childlike and try very overtly to appeal to the casual audience. With The Seed, we really wanted to do something different and decided to take a much more mature and minimalistic tone which is what every detail [of The Seed] strives for. There’s very little text in the game, and the music and art are designed to give a zen-like experience, to offset what can often times be a very challenging game.
148apps: What’s your favorite thing about iOS development? Cody: Developing for iOS (and mobile in general) offers many constraints when it comes to screen real-estate and memory concerns, but it opens up a whole world of exciting game design possibilities you just can’t get on traditional video game platforms. The tools available and popularity of iOS development also make it super easy to get up and running and find documentation and open source libraries when you need it. Above all though, my favorite thing is probably how easy it is for indie developers to distribute their games. Digital distribution such as the App Store has made it super easy for up and coming game developers to get their games out to the public, and as a result the indie game development scene has been stronger than ever. It’s a very exciting time for indie games and iOS is definitely part of the reason why. This easy distribution is of course a blessing and a curse, as it also means a lot of noise in the App Store, making it difficult to get noticed!
Where can I find out more about Little Bit Games?
Plenty of places. While we’ll be keeping an eye out for the next update to The Seed, you can also check out the developers’ website, Facebook page and Twitter account.
As its latest title comes with the unique proposition of helping a children’s charity, we thought it time to learn more about Polish iOS developer, Shortbreak Studios.
Who is Shortbreak Studios?
Part of Techland, one of the biggest Polish game developers out there thanks to its work on titles such as the Call of Juarez games, Shortbreak Studios is made up of a core team of 9 passionate developers. A mixture of programmers, designers, level designers, artists and a producer, the company benefits from relying on Techland to work out the finances and allowing the team to focus on the creative side of things. As explained by producer, Pawel Rohleder, it means the combination of “the flexibility and creativity of a small independent development studio with the experience and knowledge of an established player in the gaming industry!”
Why should I remember the Shortbreak Studios name?
There are a couple of good reasons, so far. First of all, they made Sugar High, a game that perhaps owed a little too much to Tiny Wings but still proved to be great fun. More importantly, Shortbreak Studios has worked in conjunction with the Cape of Hope Foundation in order to create oncology clinic for children with Cancer.
How did Heal Them All come about?
Pawel Rohleder explains, “We have been supporting Cape of Hope for some time and it was our mutual idea to create a game about defending the organisms for mobile devices. We thought that fighting microbes inside the human body would be [a] very nice setting for a tower defense game as this genre is very popular on mobile patforms. Another idea was the freemium business model as we wanted to reach as many users as possible by offering a part of our game for free.” Notably, Heal Them All is entirely free to try out with the full campaign unlocked for $1.99.
What’s next on the horizon?
The team has lofty plans, with Pawel happily declaring the ambition that many hold, “Our main goal is to conquer the whole world with our mobile games!” At the moment, though, the firm is mostly working on two different projects that they aren’t able to discuss just yet, as well as porting to other devices. Possible updates for their current titles are also in the works and currently being brainstormed.
Anything else I should know about Shortbreak Studios?
Pawel was all too keen to tell us just what he and the rest of the team love about iOS development.
Pawel: Everything! We enjoy every aspect of mobile game development and we put a lot of effort and passion into every step of [the] production process. We believe this is the only way to make high quality games. One of the most important…[parts] in efficient mobile development is rapid prototyping. Each prototype must convince us that this could be a GREAT game. We cancel the project if we do not believe in its playable demo. And the sooner, the better. The development process itself is also very interesting because of tons of small decisions that the team needs to make in [terms] of hard negotiations or just [our] gut feeling . Personally, I love the final stage of the development where all individual assets turn into a working product and our vision materializes into a real game. This…shows us that it was all worth the effort but…it always makes us come up with a lot of new ideas and changes that we could make to improve the final quality.
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.
Greedy Bankers Vs. The World was only the beginning for Alistair Aitcheson. Now we have Slamjet Stadium to satisfy our same-screen multiplayer desires. Think football re-imagined by a bunch of aliens who were trying to piece the rules together a couple hundred years from now and you’ll have the basic gist of it.
Where exactly did you pull Slamjet Stadium‘s inspiration from? Not just the wacky-looking gameplay; I’m talking about the physical roughhousing, too. Super-intense family game nights as a young boy perhaps?
Haha, I don’t know really! I’m generally a fairly calm and friendly guy. I was never into rough-housing at all when I was a kid! I am very competitive though, as my friends know – I’ll always be looking for a way to mess up my rivals in any game.
So I wanted to experiment more with this kind of game design. The original prototype for Slamjet Stadium came out of a big batch of experimental multiplayer games I did over the summer and tested out in the pub.
Often you’ll find yourself scoring by spotting a really awesome shot or powerup, so paying attention to the board is really important. Hand-grabbing is certainly a useful tactic, but it’s only one way of doing things. That makes play really dynamic. One moment it could be best to play rough, the next moment you might need to think fast, or play accurately.
While we’re on the subject of the multiplayer, how are you going to influence players to stop being polite?
People tend to jostle as much or as little as they feel comfortable with, and surprisingly that’s usually quite a lot! There’s typically a “eureka” moment when one player realizes they can get in the way of their friend, or use their opponent’s characters instead of their own. The physicality often grows from there!
So I’ve put messages in the loading screens suggesting ways you can “cheat.” The game’s advising you to play foul, so it must be okay! That eureka moment has to inspire creative play, so it’s important that players know that the game isn’t degenerating into chaos.
Would you mind going into a few specifics? Stuff like general gameplay, number of teams, differences between teams (if any), etc.
Each player gets two characters on a team, and the rules are fairly simple. You grab a character with your finger, pull back to charge their engines, and let go to send them flying across the screen. You want to hit the ball into your opponent’s goal, and the first to score five points wins the match.
There are also various power-ups and stage hazards that appear: rage power to smash up your opponents’ characters, freeze power that traps them in ice, multiball release, powerful gusts of wind.
My favorite activates “Last Man Standing” mode, where traps come in from the side of the screen, and it’s up to you to avoid them (or throw your opponents into them); a point is awarded to the survivor!
There are nine different arenas in the game, with different effects and hazards. As for the teams, there are six to choose from and each has different physical properties: shape, weight, boost power and grip.
Are there going to be multiple game modes? Might we be able to look forward to something similar in a future update?
Right now it’s split into Multiplayer and Solo Play. In solo, you take on a gauntlet of computer-controlled opponents over three leagues of increasing difficulty. Beating each one unlocks an extra multiplayer stage, and you can compete via GameCenter over your fastest completion times.
In Multiplayer it’s very much a quickmatch format: you choose your teams and arenas, and can have a rematch or pick new teams after someone wins. I’ll probably add some extra variations and setups in updates; I guess it depends on what players want to see after the initial launch. My focus was on getting players into the action as fast as possible.
All the elbow-slamming, wrist-grabbing, butt-nudging madness of Slamjet Stadium can be unleashed upon your iPad on March 14th for $2.99.
When I was a student, I was too busy playing games into the small hours of the morning, let alone thinking about making them. Fortunately, the folks at Pixile Studios were a bit more studious than that, spending their time creating multiplayer tower defense game, Stratosphere: Multiplayer Defense. I took the time to learn a little more about the team.
Who is Pixile Studios?
Founded in January 2011 in Vancouver, Pixile Studios is made up of two University of British Columbia students, Michael Silverwood and Chris Clogg. With backgrounds in mobile, web and mod development, the team have just released their first title: Stratosphere: Multiplayer Defense.
What is Pixile Studios most famous for?
As mentioned, there’s only the one title so far from the Studio, but with Michael graduating this year and Chris already having graduated, I suspect the work will be growing exponentially.
What’s next on the horizon?
Michael explained to us that the main focus is continuing to support Stratosphere: “[we] are working on lots of new content for the coming weeks and months. The next big update will include new levels and modifiers, as well as a bunch of tweaks and improvements based on player feedback.” It’s not just evolution either, with Michael going on to tease us with the prospect of “a couple [of] pretty exciting new features…but they’re still in the early stages”. He was kind enough to offer us a sneak peek at one of the new levels, though.
Anything else I should know about Pixile Studios?
Michael was all too glad to talk with me about the company’s plans and inspiration.
148apps: What inspired you to make Stratosphere? Michael: We’ve been big fans of the tower defense genre ever since playing many of the early player created games in Starcraft and Warcraft 3, and even created some of our own that gained some popularity within the Battle.net community. It had always been a dream of ours to start our own game studio, so back in January 2011 we decided that we wanted to finally create our first full game.
We had been doing contract work building iOS apps at the time, and always had our iPhones and iPads loaded up with tons of new games, so we noticed that there was a bit of a gap in great multiplayer experiences. I’d be sitting at school studying and friends would always steal my iPad to play games, but there weren’t many we could play together even though the iPad’s large screen seemed perfectly suited for multiplayer. So we had the idea to design a tower defense game from the ground up for same device multiplayer. Even at that time the tower defense genre was starting to get crowded, but we thought that giving players the control of sending enemies, and designing the game around multiplayer would be something really unique and fun.
148apps: How has it been juggling University work with iOS development? Michael: It has been pretty crazy, and I’ve had to make some sacrifices to my social life at times, but it has definitely been worth it. The entire second year of development basically ended up turning into crunch time, and a couple of my less interesting courses suffered a bit, but overall I managed to keep on top of everything and survive on very little sleep. I’m finally graduating this May with a degree in Business and Computer Science, and Chris graduated back in May 2011, so I’m looking forward to spending even more time on Pixile and Stratosphere very soon!
148apps: What do you wish you’d known before you started? Michael: I’m tempted to say I wish we’d known how much work goes into creating a game, and what we were getting into, but I’m so happy we didn’t because it made us feel like launch was always just around the corner even though it took two years to complete!
148apps: What’s your favourite thing about iOS development? Michael: The level playing field of the App Store is pretty amazing for indie game developers. Ten years ago it would have been a lot harder if not impossible to build a game, self-publish it, and release it on a platform with players numbering in the tens of thousands. We’re pretty lucky to be growing up during this time and be able to build something and launch it up against all of the big productions from established game studios.
Where can I find out more about Pixile Studios?
There’s the developer’s website which is regularly updated, as well as the Twitter account and Facebook page. We’ll be keeping an eye on the team’s progress, too!
PagodaWest Games are soon to release their upcoming title Major Magnet, a physics-based platformer where players tap on magnets and swipe to jetpack around levels filled with orbs, cannons, and secrets, all in the name of getting high scores. It’s a uniquely-executed concept, but one thing stands out when playing the pre-release build of this upcoming game, due in February: it’s very much like the Sonic series.
The resemblance is not so much in gameplay as it is in terms of style: character designs, level backgrounds, even the fonts, all bear the kinds of hallmarks that the series has been known for. It’s very familiar, yet somewhat new. And it was no accident, as PagodaWest Games was partially born out of the love of Sonic, as the team of Jared Kasl, Tom Fry, Khoa Ngol, and Tee Lopes explain in this interview about the game.
148Apps: How exactly did your team come together initially?
PagodaWest: Tom and Jared initially met through the fan game Sonic 2 HD. After only a short amount of time spent socializing outside of the project, it became apparent that besides the obvious love of classic Sonic, our philosophies on game design were perfectly aligned, and so a close friendship was born.
At what point did you folks decide to make a mobile game?
Before our time on Sonic 2 HD was over, we started discussing the idea of starting our own game company. Due to circumstances in both our lives, we were at a point where it felt right [to] start PagodaWest Games, so that’s exactly what we did. With mobile gaming on the rise and the many game design possibilities a touch screen can provide, going mobile seemed like the way to go – added to which, the start up costs for development on a mobile platform were far slimmer than developing for home console or handheld.
Are there games besides the Sonic series that you feel are influences on Major Magnet?
As we were growing up, every so often a game would come along that would bring us pure joy the whole way through. We wanted to recreate this feeling in Major Magnet, so naturally the games that influenced us when we were younger have found their way through. Don’t be surprised to see a hint of NiGHTS into dreams… or the old Kirby’s Dreamland games as you make your way through Lastin Magnetic!
What kind of lessons from the Sonic 2 HD project were you able to apply to Major Magnet?
Shortly after we finished with Sonic 2 HD, we were able to reflect on what went right and wrong on the project. Even though it was just a fan game using an IP owned by SEGA, there were a few of us on the Sonic 2 HD team that tried to treat the project with a professional attitude.
We also learned, whether through ourselves or others, not to treat any piece of work too preciously. For example, there were some pieces of art that should have taken a matter of days to complete, yet they were taking months! With Major Magnet, we give ourselves a deadline for any feature, piece of art, or asset and plan accordingly to make sure it’s finished on time.
One of the most important lessons we learned from Sonic 2 HD was to formulate a team of people we can trust and depend on. It’s important to know if you ask for something to get done, you can trust that it’s going to be taken care of in a timely manner and to the very best of their ability. We chose our team very carefully for Major Magnet, and so far things have gone off without a hitch!
How did the magnet gameplay mechanic come about? Was it a big part of the title initially, or did it become an important part of the game later on?
The concept of tapping button-like magnets within the level was conceived from the get go, working along the lines of Newton’s law of universal gravitation for attracting Marv to a given point. However, it was the “swing ball”/“orbiting” mechanic which is now core to the gameplay that was refined and honed a couple of months into our prototype development.
We had initially planned a hybrid system that allowed the player to select between standard attraction to a magnet or forcing Marv into orbit by either tapping the magnet once or holding down on it respectively. Due to the fact that the game is rather fast paced and holding the magnet would not only require the player to “track” the magnet if the camera moved but also obscured the screen with their finger, we settled on a tapping and timing system using only the orbiting physics, solving these problems and streamlining the gameplay.
The animation for the game is very crisp and clean; is this just a case of high production values on your end, or does the Corona engine that you worked in have any effect on that?
With regards to the engine, our only base requirements when going into using Corona was that it could display sprites cleanly and plentifully without a loss in performance across a wide range of devices. Having satisfied these criteria with aplomb and having a clear idea of what aesthetic we were after, the rest of the power was indeed in the artist’s hands.
For all of the character animation, every single frame (for which Marv’s in-game sprite has roughly 200 alone) was painstakingly hand-drawn adhering to the strict principles of 2D animation that have been well established in the West for over 80 years. A few animations used for special effects like Marv’s particle trail use a mix of “baked in” animation and real-time particle effects making the trail look rich and dense without stressing the CPU.
Major Magnet does appear to have a currency with upgrades, and there’s the ability to buy additional currency. In a world where many retro-focused developers are eschewing IAP, was there any reason why you felt like this was an acceptable inclusion?
From the beginning of development we felt IAP could have a place in our game, but only if we really felt it added something meaningful for the player and would not hinder their experience in any way if they did not want to use the in-game store. Firstly, our system uses an in-app currency, Magnorbs, which you collect in the game’s levels and mini-games. If you save up enough Magnorbs, you can spend these in the store to purchase useful items to help you along if you’re having trouble – such as the Super Boost which can be used at any time during gameplay, freezing Marv indefinitely until the player swipe-boosts him in the direction they choose.
If the player chooses to rely on these items more frequently, they may wish to buy additional Magnorbs to purchase more items at their discretion. However, unlike freemium games whose sole income is from IAP, there is absolutely no obligation for the player to spend more money in Major Magnet in order to progress, it is simply a means to enhance their enjoyment of the game by saving them time if they ever come unstuck.
Thanks to PagodaWest Games for their time. Major Magnet is scheduled to be released in the first quarter of 2013.
Powering ahead with plenty of interesting updates for traditional yet challenging test of reflexes game, Blendamaze, we thought it was about time we got to know more about developer, BorderLeap.
Who makes up BorderLeap?
A one-man band, BorderLeap is solely Nate Dicken’s work. A 15-year veteran of web and mobile site design and development, as well as work conducted on Flash games, Nate has been going it alone since the summer of 2012. He does, however, plan to partner with other developers this year.
What is BorderLeap most famous for?
Currently, Blendamaze. We reviewed it in October 2012 and admired its twist on an old classic. Players have to manipulate colorful marbles in order to cross over paint palettes and blend colors appropriately. It’s a pretty challenging game but the tilt controls work well making it quite satisfying.
What’s next on the horizon?
Nate explained to us that Blendamaze is just the beginning. While he plans to add new levels and features, with a free version offering a unique set of levels, there’s also going to be a learning-focused version of the game, aimed at kids. Besides Blendamaze style games, there are also plans afoot for a multiplayer puzzle game, plus a few productivity apps, too. Looks like it’s going to be a busy 2013 for BorderLeap!
Anything else I should know about BorderLeap?
You bet! We took some time to get to know more about Nate’s plans for the company.
148apps: What was the inspiration behind Blendamaze? Nate: When I was a kid I had one of those original wooden labyrinth marble games that we’d play often to see how far we could get. Early last year…I came across it in storage. With my love of drawing and painting, I’d been contemplating creating a color-theory game. Memories of playing the labyrinth game began to mix with ideas of how I could combine it this color theory component. In my dream to create something completely unique in the App Store, the idea behind Blendamaze was born – a unique combination of labyrinth board and artist’s paint palette. The difference with Blendamaze is that you actually want to drop your marble into the holes as each hole is filled with paint. Drop your marble into the hole and…whatever color was on your marble blends with the color in the hole. The concept is simple but the end result is a beautiful, yet challenging puzzle game that both adults and children enjoy.
148apps: What’s your favorite thing about iOS development? Nate: I love the ability to create whatever you want and see it come to life. There’s a smaller, more defined set of variables in designing for iOS/mobile rather than building for the web in general and this creates a unique challenge. The market, while crowded, has a massive potential customer base ready for you and it’s fairly simple to publish apps into the App Store. What is truly exciting is to see that really great apps and games are regularly featured, even those developed by small studios or individuals. This…creates a pretty exciting framework for someone like myself to develop in.
148apps: As a relatively new iOS developer, is there any advice you wish someone had given you beforehand? Nate: I wish I had a better grasp earlier on how competitive the market is and how important it is to build your network well before launch. Long story short, after I left Modea to start BorderLeap, I needed to pick up consulting work to help pay the bills. This left little time to build the game, so I had to focus 100% on development and push off all marketing efforts to launch time. While this led to what I believe is a great game, it’s been a struggle to market it post-launch. Friends had told me that launch day was vital, yet to a degree it was too late – I had to launch and strive to build up marketing efforts after going live.
Secondly, I wish I had a better perspective of really how different releasing an app into the App Store is than releasing a web site…there’s such a tremendous emphasis placed on the first version of a game and especially launch day. With so many apps in the marketplace, your app or game must stand out so there…is little to no room for launching with an app that is not fully ready to make its debut…within the competitive iOS space an app or game must be as full-featured as possible as an app’s early presence in the App Store is so important. While I’ve been able to integrate features since the game went live in September, there are times I’d wished I’d pushed it out a few more weeks to bring the game farther along before launch. Good examples are upgrading the app to be universal for both iPhone and iPad, and adding a rewards system along with the Painter’s Toolbox – items that help you solve tough levels. These have been time-consuming to add, but well worth it.
Where can I find out more about BorderLeap?
A few different places, besides here, of course. There’s the BorderLeap website, the official Twitter account, as well as Nate’s personal account where he keeps people up to date with developments.
Blendamaze is out now and is currently on sale at $0.99.
We’ve been keeping an eye on Fat Pebble since its latest release, Clay Jam, was announced last year. Offering an innovative claymation visual style and encouraging community participation through its competition, finally Clay Jam is here. What better time to learn a little more about the folks behind the name?
Who is Fat Pebble?
Fat Pebble is a games studio, based in Brighton, UK. Having developed numerous titles for a variety of mobile formats, the firm caught the eye of publishing giant Zynga, leading to Clay Jam’s release under that label. Combined, the team offers over 40 years of experience, having previously worked for companies such as Lionhead, Climax, Blitz and Zoë Mode.
What is Fat Pebble most famous for?
The Windows 7 port of MiniSquadron which is a pretty great claim to fame, and Kung Fu Touch. We reckon Clay Jam will propel Fat Pebble to more recognizable levels, though.
What’s next on the horizon?
Fat Pebble’s Michael Movel wasn’t giving away too much about this when we asked, explaining that the team will be ‘concentrating on updates to Clay Jam for the next few months’. Plans are there for prototyping a new game in 2013, with the hope that it’ll be ‘quirky and possibly hand-made again’.
What else is there to know about the developer?
Plenty! We took the time to learn more about them by chatting with Movel, art director Chris Roe and technical director Iain Gilfeather.
148apps: What’s your favorite thing about iOS development? Iain: I like the fact that most of the players are not traditional gamers. It’s exciting to make games for an entirely new type of audience and explore new boundaries.
Chris: You don’t need big teams for iOS and mobile development in general. This lets you experiment much more and means you can be much more creative.
Mike: I think it brings developers and players much closer together. Updates are a big part of mobile development and what that means is that players can have a very direct influence over what changes we make to Clay Jam. We’ve had a whole heap of emails with suggestions and feedback, and we also trawl the forums – all this very much drives what we put in any new updates.
148apps: Is there an iOS app or game that you wish you’d developed first? If so, what apps/games?
Iain: Tiny Wings. It’s a really well-made game and great fun too. It all seems really well-thought out too. I would have liked to have made that.
Chris: Enviro Bear 2010! A physics-based, bear driving game! It’s flawless! I wish I’d thought of it.
Mike: I’m still playing Temple Run. I want all those achievements. It’s really nicely balanced. But I’d go for either (PC games) UFO: Enemy Unknown or Grim Fandango, for different reasons. They both really grabbed me when they first came out and I still play them today. I would be really proud to have written the script to Grim Fandango.
Where can I find out more about Fat Pebble?
There’s the website, Facebook page, and Twitter. And, of course, we’ll keep you up to date on all the latest about the colorful developer.
Fortunately, amongst all this, Jack has found the time to answer a few of our questions when it comes to all things to do with Curiosity and just how he feels about its progression.
“At first we were going to just allow players to tap the smaller 60 billion cubelets that make up the cube one by one. This was to see if the power of curiosity alone was enough motivation for people to carry on tapping with no other benefits,” he explained. “Surprisingly, this worked and it’s great seeing tons of tweets flying through of people hooked on this…we could have left it as pure as this but we felt that there was more that we could do with the cube.”
Jack explained that the inclusion of features such as the potential for combos via rewarding players with more coins, the longer they chip away for has added to the appeal: “…some people out there have been going crazy about getting the highest chain in the world: currently the highest chain is up in the millions! ”
As he points out, “…there is an urge in some people to tidy up all the left-over cubelets that are scattered around where people have come and gone, and so for those OCD-type players (there’s a few of those on the team) we give coin bonuses for clearing the screen of cubelets.” With such bonuses, it enables players to buy small upgrades thus feeling “powerful”, while aiding them in their quest to “get to the center faster”.
Along the way, Jack reckons that Curiosity can be considered as art. Echoing many of our thoughts here, “…I think it’s a pretty ancient perspective to have if you feel that Video Games cannot be art.”
“There [are] many wonderful things about Curiosity, the fact that people from all over the world can join together in working towards one goal…Each layer contains some mysterious image and it’s really fascinating to see the world unwrapping it like a present before it is revealed in all its inspiring beauty…it’s fascinating how each image or colour changes how players interpret the whole experience with some tweets saying one layer feels cold and and another motivating, and even thinking the audio has changed when it hasn’t.”
“I love that people have chiseled some phenomenal art into the cube that have surpassed my expectations and that literal art is being digested by people through their phones across the planet and then being shared across social networking sites and blogs. People have chipped marriage proposals into it as well as obituaries.” As Jack describes it, “…the cube itself is a giant canvas that the entire world can share with no censorship or moderation.”
Such feelings are what Jack hopes to be the main benefits for players. “I hope that people feel like they have been a part of something regardless of whether they have made that final tap…especially since it won’t be able to be revisited by anyone else after this experience is over.”
Having said that, he does suggest that it’s not entirely for the sake of it: “…there is something that people tapping on the cube are doing, and are already involved in that they are unaware of. I can’t say what that is yet, but in the future…that tapping will have counted for something.”
Given that Curiosity is just part of the 22 experiments planned by the team, we asked Jack just what the eventual end goal will be, “The final game we make is something that Peter has been thinking about for 20 years. He considers it the defining game of his career and we are all very excited about creating that experience for the world. The dream is that this final game will be something that 100 million people will play everyday.”
Jack’s willing to acknowledge, however, that this is a “huge ambition”. As he points out, Curiosity managed over 600,000 players in the space of 4 days but that’s still a way off such a lofty number. “…by creating these experiments and analysing the tons of data that we get from them we are finding out exactly how we are going to construct a game that can change the world.”
A game that can change the world? Suddenly, huge ambition sounds like an understatement. It’ll be fascinating to see what 22Cans come up with next, and after GODUS.
If you’re interested in contributing to GODUS’s development, check out the Kickstarter page.
Barely two weeks have passed since the release of 2K Games’s Borderlands Legends. Things travel fast in the world of iOS gaming, however, and we checked in with James Lopez, associate producer at Gearbox, to see how he felt about Legends, as well as any plans for the future.
“We never really imagined [Borderlands Legends] being a FPS. It’s clearly possible, but we’re very happy with the FPS experience in Borderlands 1 and 2,” explained James. “The goal of Legends was to try something different, something that explored other facets of Borderlands, untapped potential.”
As anyone who’s played Borderlands Legends can attest to, it’s quite a change of pace to its older siblings, but it turns out that there are some significant similarities in its 4 player based squad combat. “Although you can play Borderlands 1 and 2 alone, we always intended the true experience to include all 4 characters at once. We wanted this to be the same for Legends.” James Lopez elaborated to explain that, “…clearly, we can do missions with fewer characters (the tutorial starts off that way), so it might be something we revisit later.”
Somewhat unusually for a game closely connected to a console or PC title, Borderlands Legends lacks any functionality directly tied into its bigger brothers. James told us that this was “never really considered…an option”, citing that the team wants the fans “to be able to enjoy the full experience for whatever they buy.”
What challenges were faced trying to convert a typically FPS title to the iOS screen, and implementing strategic elements, however? James explained, “We kept asking ourselves what the core ingredients of Borderlands are. Some things were obvious, but some were elusive and some were difficult to accomplish because of time constraints (like randomizing gear, UI tweaks, adding gameplay features).”
Despite such issues, James has been pleased with the response to Borderlands Legends. “We tried to put as much of the core formula of Borderlands in as we could, and we’re glad people are feeling like we accomplished that. That doesn’t mean we won’t try to squeeze in more, though!” It’s worth noting that, at the time of writing, sales figures as well as critical reaction to its release, aren’t as positive as Lopez and the team hoped. App Annie’s listing demonstrates the progress sales wise, while an average Metacritic rating of 51 demonstrates that not everyone found it to their liking.
Improvement seems to be a common theme with 2K and Gearbox’s future plans for Borderlands Legends, however. As James explained, 2K China’s developers believe that “…there are some things we’d still like to revisit, and I believe they’ll knock it out of the park.” and while he couldn’t discuss any immediate plans for DLC or extra content, he did tell us that “…given the great response so far, I think we’d be crazy to stop here”.
As 2K China finds its feet in the iOS world, it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with next. As James explains, “Legends hasn’t been out long, and this is somewhat of a new frontier for us”. Discussing the recent announcement by Subatomic to include in-app purchases within Fieldrunners 2, he expanded upon that by explaining ‘…I think we’d like to explore any option that allows to create content of value for our fans.”
While James Lopez and the team might be clutching their cards close to their hands for now in terms of DLC support, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on any further developments for Borderlands Legends. For now, check out our review to learn more.
Shellrazer isn’t just another shooter. After all, the main character is a giant war turtle with guns on his back. As designer Shane Neville states, “I’ve never seen a game like it, either thematically or in gameplay. Most shooters are about dodging bullets in a screen filled with bullets, where Shellrazer has no dodging at all. Rather, Shellrazer’s gameplay is about weapon management, choosing what weapon to shoot and when to use it to destroy as many goblins and yetis as possible.”
I had the opportunity to review Shellrazer a few months ago, and I instantly became hooked. 148Apps gave the game its prestigious Editor’s Choice award, as well. Goblins, steampunk war machines, sheep riders and a whole lot of bad ass elements combined together into one game was a dream come true. I was kicking butt and taking names and it was awesome. Once I eventually made it to the end, I yearned for more turtle warfare and so did others.
Slick Entertainment heard the outcries of gamers and chose to issue an update to wipe away the tears. Just like Shellrazer isn’t just another shooter, this isn’t just another update. It’s a HUGE update. When asked why the team decided to update Shellrazer owner Nick Waanders responded by saying, “A lot of people told us that they thought the game was too short, even though it took them 5 hours to complete. (For a $.99 game that’s pretty good though, isn’t it?). We had all the tools ready, so it was easy to create a bunch more enemies and levels, and provide more content for people to enjoy. It seemed like the right thing to do.” Artist Jesse Turner had more to add, “For me on the art side it was because I really love the wacky universe of Shellrazer. It’s a ton of fun and really easy to just come up with stuff that fits in such a strange setting and it felt really natural to make another world full of bad guys and guns.”
The update adds a completely new world to Shellrazer known as Ice-Breaker and it launches on November 8, 2012 for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The Yeti King’s have stolen a freshly laid War Turtle egg, and gamers must help get it back.
Along with over 25 new levels and 20 new enemies to battle, the best addition to the game are the Yetis. They are extremely tough, but they do have one weakness: fire. “We’ve added two new weapons to help deal with the Yeti hordes: Chuckles the Dragon whose fire breath cuts through the waves of enemies and Combs the Necrobomicon who has a cool projectile that does damage over a vertical column of magic fire,” said Neville.
There are more updates that Shellrazer fans will appreciate, like iPhone 5 and retina support, multitouch controls for crazy combos, iCloud support to share saved games between Apple devices and ratings for the levels. In addition, Shellrazer will be free from November 8th to the 15th, after which the price will increase to $0.99 afterwards. Since it’s completely free for a week, there’s no excuse not to grab a copy. Snatch it up from the App Store, and help the war turtle rescue his girlfriend and get back their precious egg from those pesky yetis.
While the update trailer is in the works, check out the exclusive visual design for the Wal-Russer, below.
In January 2011, British games developer Bizarre Creations was closed by Activision. Looking through the games that Bizarre were responsible for, it’s no surprise that many fans were hugely disappointed to see its closure. Racing titles such as the Project Gotham Racing series were seen by many as the pinnacle of racing games, with similar successes coming from the retro shooter Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved and the cartoony Fur Fighters. Unfortunately, despite the release of arcade racer Blur and James Bond 007: Blood Stone in 2010, it wasn’t enough and Bizarre Creations was dissolved.
What happened next, though? And why am I talking about console games on 148Apps? Because a number of new gaming studios rose from Bizarre’s flames, many of them iOS focused. Recently, I got the chance to see how things are progressing for a few of them.
One of the first to reach the iOS market was Grubby Hands, a one-man studio founded by company director Dr Danny Pearce, the firm released their first title, David Haye’s Knockout in June 2011, immediately topping the charts. A new release emerged in December 2011 with Boy Loves Girl, which garnered similar success. How has Danny found going it alone, however, and why did he consider setting up his own firm?
“At the time that Grubby Hands was founded in 2011, the AAA console market was a volatile place…After Bizarre Creations closed, I was cautious about joining somewhere that may suffer the same unfortunate fate,” Danny explained to us. Much of the temptation also came from the “exciting new market” of the App Store. “Apple had created a suite of cool gadgets over the past few years, and I was itching to start making games for them. Now seemed the perfect time to launch a studio with a new mobile focus.”
Going it alone proved quite beneficial for Danny. He could finally “get [his] hands dirty with design, art, code, sound and music” rather than be forced to specialize. A “fast development cycle” also appealed, although “strict budget” constraints proved tough.
I recently had the chance to speak with CEO Victor Penev and check out an app called Edamam that has set out to change how people find recipes. The app features over one million (yes that’s six zeroes) high quality recipes for users to browse through. What makes it so unique from other apps similar to it is the semantic technology to enhance the search experience. “Behind this seeming simplicity and elegance sits a powerful semantic platform, utilizing artificial intelligence technologies,” said Penev.
When a list of recipes is shown, users browse them by picture so they can actually see the dish first. Each recipe provides a complete nutritional profile, a list of shopping ingredients and the source of the recipe. If the results look overwhelming, it’s possible to narrow and filter them based on diet or health restrictions. There are popular choices like Vegan, Gluten-Free and meals under 200 calories.
The goal is to help users make better food choices. Instead of spending hours in front of the computer, Edamam makes it possible to find exactly what they are looking for thanks to its intuitive interface. According to the Penev, “It saves time and allows for intuitive, easy answers when they are most needed – at the grocery store or the green market.”
I asked Penev about what makes Edamam’s service better than just searching for a recipe on Google? “Google in particular is a very painful search experience with regard to recipes,” he said, “especially in a mobile environment. The top results are never of quality recipes but rather of sites that are good at SEO and often times are not even recipes. Users inevitably have to scroll, click through and read through many pages to start narrowing results. Google also does not allow for diet/health filtering. Last but not least, Google’s recipe search is not a visual search. People want to see only a few quality, visually compelling recipes and have the ability to quickly compare them and choose what they need all while walking in the aisles of a store. Edamam has solved this problem for consumers, Google has no answer.”
So, there you have it. Edamam is for passionate cooks as well as those who love to eat. It not only saves time, but it also helps users discover new quality recipes. Edamam is completely free to download and there are no hidden in-app purchases.
Talking to Terry Cavanagh (pictured, left), the first thing that jumps out at me is how pleasant he is. How soft-spoken and thoughtful he comes across as. Particularly for somebody who tortures people.
An award-winning independent developer from Ireland, Cavanagh has become known for wonderful, mercilessly difficult games like VVVVVV and Super Hexagon. The latter is Cavanagh’s first iOS game; a low-fi arcade gauntlet that challenges players to move left and right to survive an incoming barrage of lines and shapes for as long as possible. It bent our brains in circles and became a surprise cult-hit on the App Store, moving about 72,000 copies since release, according to Cavanagh’s last look.
Wonderful. Mercilessly difficult. The two don’t quite go together, do they? Against all odds, however, it seems that driving people mad is what’s driven sales for Super Hexagon. It’s a phenomenon that beckons the question: why is a game that’s so hard so very easy to love? What makes difficulty so satisfying?
“I think it really comes down to a couple of small things,” reflects Cavanagh. “The main one is that it’s fair. It never feels like…” he pauses for a moment. “Put it this way: whenever you mess up in the game, it always feels like it’s your fault, and that’s really, really important.” We’re talking about his game, but Cavanagh’s first guiding principle speaks to a fundamental shift in values within the industry.
Where once it was understood – embraced, even – that quarter-sucking games would be hard-wired for player failure, notions of ‘cheapness’ have taken over. Blistering difficulty can still exist, but with less erratic exceptions and more dependable rules. If dependability is one piece of the difficulty puzzle, it becomes clear in talking more with Cavanagh that simplicity is its interlocking mate.
“With [Super Hexagon], the sort of things that can happen in the game are very simple, very learnable. In a sense, nothing comes out and surprises you.” Almost immediately, he corrects himself. “Well I suppose that’s a lie…waves are decided randomly at the edges of the screen… [but] every pattern in the game is discrete and learnable. That’s a big part of the game; training your muscle memory and getting to know the patterns.” An important distinction, it seems. Nailing down the difference between too hard and just hard enough means understanding that systems can be complex, but that learning them shouldn’t be.
Playing Super Hexagon, it’s easy to see the way that approach informs every layer of the game. Case in point? The score. Far from recycling the bloated arcade method left over from the coin-op era, Cavanagh gives players only one measure of success: time. An ever-present reminder of the true game at work…survival of the fittest.
Soon after the game’s release, it became apparent that this choice just may have been the unexpected ace in the hole. Players would tweet out their latest time, wearing it like a badge of honor. Super Hexagon has no formal social features, no “tools for virality,” but armed with their hard-fought numbers, players began jostling for position in a metagame of milliseconds. I ask Cavanagh if that was part of his plan all along, and while he won’t speculate as to the social impact, I may have just discovered a third rule of difficulty.
“I think you’re dead right about the score being an exact measure of how good you are,” says Cavanagh. “If you’ve lasted for 14.36 seconds, that’s an exact measurement; it tells you a lot of information, which is not like the kind of scores we’re used to seeing. People are used to seeing exaggerated scores, scores that are multiplied by a million. Scores where there are all sorts of measures in place to prevent you from knowing how you’re actually doing. I think having a score that means something makes the score important to players.” Something to strive for. Arguably, difficulty becomes easier to cope with when success isn’t obfuscated by jargon, when players feel like they’re being rewarded for of their work.
Inevitably, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Feeling rewarded. Yet in some ways, that leads me back to square one, wondering what could be so rewarding about frustration. About losing. Pausing again, Cavanagh responds simply.
“I don’t know if I really think of the game as frustrating.” Only then do I realize, I’ve never asked what he does think of the game. So I ask.
“I feel like you’re trying to get into a rhythm with the game; when you’re playing the game really well, it has this sort feedback, and your senses are going off at the right time, and you’re making all the right moves, and everything…just feels right. And the game is about trying to get into that frame of mind.”
And perhaps that’s when something that’s so hard becomes so easy to love: when the pursuit of that feeling is more satisfying than the experience of not always finding it.
AppyNation is a publisher that’s a little different from the rest. Just one glance at the company’s website will tell you that. A cheery and vibrant looking site, its main page focuses on the games it has released (such as Fluid Soccer and Ninja Ranch) as much as a look at the indie games movement. Most famously, it has introduced a “Hall of Infamy,” focusing on review sites that charge for coverage.
Describing itself as a “revolution in games publishing that favours independence and collaboration between developers and publishers,” it all sounds pretty exciting and unique within the virtual wall of AppyNation. Most impressively, it’s even been recognized by the British government and described by Culture Minister Ed Vaizey as “exactly what the games industry needs to grow,” which is precisely why we decided to delve a little further into why AppyNation is a publisher that’s very much worth keeping an eye on.
We checked in with Communications Manager Andrew Smith, previously best known for his sterling work on Snake/Geometry Wars crossover, Hard Lines.
148apps: AppyNation is described as a collective of developers. What makes you different from other publishers?
AppyNation: Exactly that – we’re not some monolithic presence that sits on top of a pile of developers telling them what to do. We are a pile of developers. But, y’know, slightly better organised than that suggests. It means our priorities come from the ground floor, from the trenches of development, from where they really should. We then feed everything we learn from every product back to all of the developers in the group, rather than storing it for our own means. The success of the group is down to the group, not just one or two superstars, and we’re not throwing tons of content out on the off-chance we get one or two mega-hit games. That’s just not how the Nation rolls. Boiled down to one word, what sets us apart from the others is love. Or hugs, the popular internet version of love.
148apps: How do you decide what developers become a part of AppyNation?
AppyNation: We were founded by a group of developers identifying a need for a publisher that’s truly on their side, and we’re still a bit young to be out there hunting down new members – but our doors are always open and we often get enquiries about what we offer and what kind of things we do that set us apart. When we do open our doors, it’s only for committed, talented developers with either a proven track record of quality output, or the promise of wonderful things to come in their near future. We also insist on a very open, flat structure and share knowledge 100%. Nothing is kept secret, no tricks of the trade go unshared, and the ups and downs are shouldered by the group as a whole. Again, this came from the needs of the founding members, after years and years of being taken advantage of and exploited by the more ‘traditional’ publishers out there.
148apps: Is it a conscious decision to stick with UK based developers or are there any expansion plans afoot?
AppyNation: Right now we’re all based [in the] UK, but that’s a circumstantial thing rather than something we’ve decided on. The UK is a hotbed of development talent – we’re so proud of our heritage in this aspect and we have a really bright future to look forward to, but that said we’re always on the lookout for like-minded developers to talk to and work with.
148apps: As founding members of O.A.T.S., we’re delighted to see others stand up to app sites charging for coverage, which has been the case with your Hall of Infamy. How did it all come about?
AppyNation: We’re really glad it’s been supported so widely! It all started when a delightful PR lady by the name Charley Grafton-Chuck (who works at Johnny Atom) bemoaned the practice on twitter, and it got us thinking… everyone at the Nation HQ had seen this happen in the past, but had assumed it was dead and gone, nasty thing that it is. Seeing it crop up again in 2012 just seemed crazy. We took it upon ourselves to make a stand. AppyNation really does want to improve the industry for everyone – we fundamentally don’t believe that competition is mutually exclusive to collaboration – and this is just the beginning. We hope to keep publishing informative articles that really get people talking. Debate about issues is the best step towards resolving them.
148apps: There’s a real sense of community about the AppyNation site. Was that a conscious decision in the planning stages?
AppyNation: Absolutely! We’re not interested in being a company that sits between the fans and the developers, or a figurehead, or anything like that. We want to be more of a flag that highlights the way to great games, interesting articles and blog posts, and that sort of thing. The developers we’re made up of are the lifeblood of the Nation, without them we’d be nothing. With them, we can do great things – and that’s why we wanted the website the way it is. Glad it worked!
148apps:Fluid Soccer (Fluid Football in the UK) has been your most successful release so far. How is it performing now that it’s been out for a short while?
AppyNation: We’ve been so happy with Fluid Football, with nearly half a million downloads so far! A couple of weeks and one update down the road, it’s settled a little in terms of sales, but we’re still seeing thousands every day. The initial success was a great way to make a splash and some headlines, and we’re in a great position now to really grow the fanbase (not just installs, we want passionate fans!), expand sensibly into more territories around the world (naturally it’s been doing really well in football-friendly nations already) and really double down on updates. We’ve got another chunky update coming soon (after the bug fix and IAP Sale updates… which is still going on by the way!) and a very exciting plan for the long term. As long as the fans are there, we’ll be pushing out great stuff for them to enjoy.
148apps: What’s the next step for AppyNation? Have you got any other games currently in the works? Able to divulge anything on them just yet?
AppyNation: We’ve got several games in the pipeline, with a really great puzzle game coming up next. I don’t want to tease, but it’s really good fun, a twist on a classic, and we’re all very excited about letting the fans get their hands on it. One thing we don’t want to do is limit ourselves to a particular genre, style, audience or even monetisation model. We firmly believe the game should determine that, and forcing something into such a delicate mix as a good game is asking for trouble – we all know it’s tough enough as it is to make a good game without voluntarily adding more complications. The developers we’re working with are always making great strides, and if the pace keeps up we’re going to be struggling to manage them all properly!
To find out more about the work that AppyNation does, check out its website.
The folks at Grab Games are a versatile bunch. They’re last game, Amoebattle, tasked players with coordinating an army of amoebas to strategically best their opponents. Their latest game, Picsy, is a social photography game. Quite the difference there. I was able to ask the game’s Lead Designers, Greig Carlson, Hans Vancol, and Harold Vancol a few questions about their newest title and their answers have me looking forward to Picsy‘s planned updates.
So, going from a squad-based RTS featuring microorganisms to a social multiplayer photo-sharing game. Was it difficult to “change gears” so drastically? Not at all! Our game designers are well versed in different game genres. Additionally, we had 2 separate teams working on those two projects
How long did it take for you all to come up with the name “Picsy?” About 6 weeks. We had several other names but trying to secure a trademark is a huge challenge we didn’t originally foresee
Was it difficult at all to integrate so many photo uploading options (take a photo, choose existing, paste from clipboard)? Not really. Those are all standard features one would expect in playing a photo game like this. Originally we wanted to include a lot of other options for submitting photos, such as Instagram, but figured we could get to the additional features in future updates. Plus, we didn’t want to give users too much at first as we felt it could become a bit overwhelming.
How exactly are the judges for each round selected? That was one thing I was never entirely clear on. There is a Single Judge game and a Multi Judge game. In a single judge game, the judge rotates from round to round. In a Multi Judge game, everyone in the game is able to judge the photo submissions.
Were there any features that you wanted to include that didn’t make the cut? Tons. The challenge is getting a game out with enough features to keep the user happy, while keeping the scope contained so that you can be first to market. Otherwise, we could have been in development for well over a year.
Any that might be added in a future update? We’re already on our 3rd version of the game and plenty of features have been added thus far. We’re currently working on more features such as photo filters, new word options, creating your own words, sharing options, etc. We’re constantly improving the game so stay tuned for future updates!
I’d think that the ability to copy/paste photos would take some of the fun out of a game if all anyone ever does is Google image searches. Might there be a chance of including an option for custom rules when setting up a game that would disable certain things, such as said copy/paste? We have considered different game options like copy paste, time restricted games, camera only, 1 vs 1 game modes, public vote games, etc. We made it so that users get more bonus points for taking pictures with their camera as opposed to copy/paste from the web which incentivizes users to submit original photos.
I know there must’ve been at least a few test rounds when Picsy was in development. Who’s the reigning champ at Grab Games? Any chance you can share their best submission? There were tons of great photos submitted during testing which is why we fell in love with the game. One photo that stands out in my mind was for the word “Outrageous”. Photo has been attached [see above]. As you can see, the UI is temp from one of our early versions.
Both Picsy and Amoebattle are available right now for free and $4.99, respectively.
Here at 148Apps, we like to keep you informed on all the latest developments and games or apps set for release shortly, but thought it was about time that we also learned a little more about the people behind such great creations. This week, we take a look at UK-based developer, Mojo Bones.
Who are Mojo Bones?
The company is comprised of art man Mark Norman, programmer Andrew Jones, design guru Stuart Ryall and Clarence, a slightly sinister sounding caretaker of the website.
What is Mojo Bones most famous for?
Currently, it’s Tongue Tied, an enjoyable physics platforming game. Players have to help two dogs called Mick & Ralph navigate 50 levels, while the dogs are permanently attached at the tongue. It’s not always the easiest of games, but it’s pretty fun and certainly quirky. Completing tricks is a particular joy to behold.
What’s next on the horizon?
Funny you should ask that, as Mojo Bones’s latest title, The Curse, is coming out this Thursday. It’s pretty different from Tongue Tied! as it’s a puzzle game with Professor Layton-style qualities. Players have to complete 100 puzzles in order to beat the evil Mannequin. Some are quite simple but many involve a lot of lateral thinking. We liked what we saw when we checked it out last month and we suspect you will too.
Anything else I should know about Mojo Bones?
Oh yes, we had a few words with Stuart Ryall to see how he felt about things.
148apps: What’s your favorite thing about iOS development? Stuart Ryall: One of my favourite aspects of developing for iOS is the way that it forces you to approach development in different ways to more traditional platforms. Not only do you have to consider that the people who end up playing your game might not actually be gamers, but you also have new control methods to think about, alongside the fact that gameplay is much more ‘short-burst’. I think it’s great when you’re forced to revaluate what you already know, and the world of mobile always keeps you on your toes. Creatively, it also provides a lot of freedom.
148apps: Is there an iOS app or game that you wish you’d developed first? If so, what apps/games? Ryall: Tough question. Every week there are interesting new games popping up on the App Store and the competition is extremely high (which, again, is a good thing). It would be tough to pick a single game as there are so many but I think there are key aspects from certain games that really stand-out. I love the artistic style of Sword & Sworcery and Machinarium (great soundtracks too) and you can never overlook the perfect simplicity (and influence) of games like Tiny Wings, Angry Birds and Cut The Rope. It’s also great when you discover games that make perfect use of the touch screen. Solipskier is a great example.
As Spiderweb Software’s fantasy epic hits its 18 year anniversary, the final game’s App Store debut is looming on the horizon. But it’s not just the second iOS release for the series, not counting Avadon as it’s a separate thing, it’s the final chapter to a second trilogy. That’s six games, total. And I was lucky enough to be able to ask series creator Jeff Vogel about it.
First and foremost, what made you all decide to create a role playing game in the first place? I’ve been obsessed with role-playing games since I first learned to play Dungeons & Dragons, around 32 years ago. Sometimes there is something about a genre that just grabs you and doesn’t let go.
I have to ask, when you all began work on the first Avernum, did you have plans for a 6-part series? Avernum is a rewrite of my very, very first game, Exile: Escape From the Pit, which I started in 1994. When I began it, I honestly thought it was just a hobbyist thing, and I didn’t look for one second past the first title. Happily, the world I created turned out to be very versatile and have a lot of stories in it.
And why six games specifically? Two trilogies. I think three games is a really good length for telling one epic story. So the whole series is two almost self-contained arcs.
I imagine you’ve learned quite a bit from working on so many titles, and not just the Avernum series. Were there any particular bits of experience you’ve gained along the way that have been more useful than most? I have learned so much since I started, and 18 years in, it feels like I learn more every year. Things about how to design, to code, to test, to market. It’s a huge, complex field, and there is no shortage of mistakes and foolishness on my part I need to correct.
In that vein, have there been things that you know now that you wish you knew back at the beginning? I wish, when I started, I knew to pony up the money and find good freelance artists. I made a lot of the art in-house, and I should have had real people doing it. Especially the interface.
Have there been any unique challenges in developing any of the Avernum titles for iOS as opposed to Mac or PC? Adapting from a mouse/keybords interface to a touchscreen was difficult and required a lot of thought. Touchscreens don’t work as well for hardcore, tactical games. Happily, people seem to be happy with the interface we developed.
I imagine iOS distribution is fairly different than Mac/PC. Have you found there to be any specific hurdles in releasing, selling, and supporting a game on the App Store? Marketing. Visibility. It’s a hugely, HUGELY busy and competitive platform. It’s so hard to stand out from the teeming masses. Happily, we are about the only ones writing this sort of game for iOS, which helps.
Has there been more notable success on one platform as opposed to the others? Avadon: The Black Fortress continues to do really well for us. I recommend it. It’s fun.
Now that the final game in the series is coming to iPad, might there be plans to bring earlier titles to the platform? Yeah, a few. I’m adapting Avernum 6 now, and I hope to have it out in October. However, the older games use an old code base that would be extremely difficult to adapt to iOS.
On a similar note, are there any plans to make the series available for iPhone? No. The screen is too small. I will need to rewrite the engine from scratch to adapt to it.
I hope to someday write games for the iPhone. I’m really thinking about it. But that sort of thing needs to be baked in from day 1.
Lastly, how’s Avadon 2 coming along? I noticed the little blurb about it on the website. Will that be available for iOS alongside the first one? It’s going. Slowly. I want it to be out next summer, but I’m having a little bit of mid-life burnout. But it is happening. And it will absolutely be out for the iPad.
Telltale Games has released its third episode of Playing Dead, a video series discussing its new game based on the hit comic book and TV show, The Walking Dead. In this episode, gameplay footage is released as well as an interview with The Walking Dead creator, Robert Kirkman.
Here are some highlights from the interview and gameplay footage:
The game doesn’t follow Rick from the comic books or TV show, but is set in the The Walking Dead universe. The game will give people some information on some of the other characters like Glen before the known story of the comics and TV show. I also noticed Hershel in the gameplay footage.
Like Mass Effect, different choices create a different storyline experience. So players will be able to replay the game with different choices and end up with different outcomes.
The gameplay footage shows the player doing tasks such as feeding children, repairing a radio, fighting zombies with hammers, and talking to NPCs. Dialogue choices seem to be a big deal and remind me quite a bit of Mass Effect.
The PC and Mac versions of the game are already available for preorder and will be released in late April. It hasn’t been explicitly announced, but we can hope that the iOS version is released at the same time as the PC/Mac, XBox, and Playstation 3 versions.
Check out the interview and gameplay footage in the episode below.
With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, we’ve been focusing on the romantic aspects of the App store. Alongside reviewing Boy Loves Girl, the tale of a boy keen to woo the lady in his life, we had the opportunity to interview Dr Danny Pearce, Company Director for the game’s British developer, Grubby Hands.
One particular question that’s bound to be on everyone’s mind was just why the name Grubby Hands?!
“Grubby Hands is a name that came from some subconscious activity when thinking about gaming. I think it’s connected to the NES and SNES days when pad swapping was commonplace, like Mario or Street Fighter with friends,” said Pearce. “I always had a problem with getting a sweaty pad handed to me from a friend with ‘grubby hands’. I had a ritual that involved a five second wipe with my t-shirt before every round. I guess that image stuck and resurfaced 20 years later.” An experience that I’m sure all gamers can empathise with.
Moving onto just what a change of pace Boy Loves Girl is compared to David Haye’s Knockout, Pearce explained just what hook Boy Loves Girl offers: “Boy Loves Girl follows a young boy’s journey as he tries to impress a girl. I really wanted to make a game that was sweet and captures something truthful. Then the idea of a boy going to the end of the world for a girl and giving her the moon on a piece of string stuck and the game grew from there.”
As Pearce explains, “It starts off as a pleasant experience. Everything is calm and relaxing, while the player gets used to the game and the controls. It then gets progressively more challenging as the girl gets more demanding, to the point that it really requires a lot of skill, mental attention and physical accuracy to complete,” but fortunately that’s not all we should expect from Boy Loves Girl, with Pearce promising Game Center to be integrated ‘really soon.’
So, what’s next for Grubby Hands? Dr Pearce was understandably guarded as to exact details but there are discussions in terms of “either a sequel or a huge update to a ‘previous game’ in the near future.” Pearce also informed us that Grubby Hands is currently “prototyping something original and probably [our] most ambitious game yet.” Don’t get too excited yet, though, as he also went onto explain that it’s “easily the biggest game we’ve attempted to make, so will probably take until the end of the year to complete.”
On a final note, we thought it was only friendly to see just how the Grubby Hands guys are planning on spending Valentine’s Day. “We’ll start the day under a mild spring sun, listening to a calm stream, break the still to eat strawberries and cream and then proceed to whack the keyboard trying to finish off the next ‘Boy Loves Girl’ update!”
Given the cold and rainy spell that much of Britain is suffering from at the moment, here’s hoping that the 14th brings with it plenty of sun for Grubby Hands!
Many thanks to Dr. Danny Pearce for taking the time to answer our questions.
This week at 148Apps.com, writer Rob Rich previewed the upcoming freemium Charlie Brown game, Snoopy’s Street Fair. Rich was pleasantly elated by the game’s trailer, as he writes, “(The Peanuts characters have) been around a long time. Long enough, in fact, to have spawned more than a couple video game iterations. Now it’s time for the unnaturally bald man-child and his friends to try their luck on iOS with Snoopy’s Street Fair. I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised and confused by the odd choice of gameplay style at first, but after only a few seconds of that trailer down there I’ve completely changed my tune. I’m legitimately excited for this game.”
Kid-friendly site GiggleApps plumbed the depths of the mysterious with its review of Boquitas: The Hunt for the Chupacabras. Writer Amy Solomon comments, “There is so much I really appreciate about this app. It is wonderfully colorful, with a bright and lively palette that I greatly enjoy. The look of these illustrations is highly stylized, reminiscent to me of the great, iconic cartoons created by Genndy Tartakovsky, and include clever interactions that add richness, whit and whimsy to this pitch-perfect storybook application. The art direction here is perfectly realized as the reader’s attention is focused in all the right places to further this story along, creating nice moments of suspense and great humor.”
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2011-10-05 :: Category: Books
Finally, on 148Apps.biz, Rob LeFebvre got some initial impressions of iCloud from a developer’s perspective when he spoke to Dave Howell of Avatron Software. LeFebvre writes, “Howell suggests that iCloud is now allowing developers like him to reduce costs, and use iCloud to store information for app usage, including Key Value Storage. This allows developers to leverage the free nature of the basic iCloud service instead of incurring server costs, or using higher priced options like Dropbox and Box.net.”
With Halloween coming up, don’t forget to check 148Apps often for great weekend and holiday sales on the apps and games you love and want. Or, just Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to get the latest news, contests and more delivered right to you.
See you next week after your early week candy binge!
See Part 1 and Part 2 of this exclusive interview with Toy Studio.
If there is one thing that can be learned from a developer like PopCap, creators of such notable franchises as Peggle, Bookworm and Bejeweled, it is that gameplay is paramount. A considerable amount of time went into tinkering with Monster Slider’s fundamental mechanics, in order to assure that it was challenging, while still maintaining an approachableness that would appeal to the masses. The problem was that even after the prototyping stage, something seemed to be missing.
It was only a matter of time before they realized that the game lacked a compelling main character. Sure, a random monster is temporarily amusing as a placeholder, but they found themselves wondering what about this indiscriminate beast would compel the player to spring to their aid? Realizing that something needed to change, artist Jess Riola sprang into action, producing several pieces of concept art for different protagonists. The team instantly fell in love with an adorable blob-like creature named Squishy, and then proceeded to build a world around the character.
This was far from the only change from the game’s original design, but thankfully the small team structure fostered within Toy Studio allowed for programmer Pavel Nakaznenko to implement changes very quickly.
“…For Squishy’s Revenge, we were able to change and add a number of things. We did that with relative ease and speed for how major some of the changes were. With only three people, if something didn’t feel right or wasn’t fun to play, a quick meeting would get everyone on a same page. It’s drastically different where in a big company you’d have to go through a lot of red tape to get changes approved.” — Christian Arca, Studio Director
While this brand of development isn’t necessarily specific to Toy Studio, one aspect of their proverbial “special sauce” is the use of their own unique style of focus testing. In an age where millions are spent on making sure every aspect of a console game is suitable for mass consumption, the team opted for a more grassroots approach that was far more economical to boot. Who knew that opinions were as close as a trip to the local coffeehouse?
Operating under the assumption that the best way to get feedback is to simply take the game to the masses, every couple of days they would take a build to a nearby coffeehouse and ask random strangers to give it a whirl. Much to their initial shock, not only were people more than happy to pitch in, they would also frequently provide unexpectedly helpful feedback. These bits and pearls of wisdom were extremely crucial in shaping the finished product. Plus, when part of the job description includes time away from the office, everyone can benefit from the change of scenery.
The result of this constant collaboration, communication, cooperation, and commitment is the brain tickling puzzle game that will be released on the App Store today. While the trio who worked on this project will move on to assuredly develop even bigger and better products down the road, Toy Studio is still far closing the book on Squishy’s Revenge.
“We’d love to continue to work on Squishy’s Revenge. One idea we had was to add the option to create your own levels and share them with others. To be able to put the tools we had in the players hands, it would be awesome to see the creative levels they could dream up.” – Rob Lockhart, Game Designer
Sometimes the process of completing a task and the knowledge gleaned throughout can prove to be even more valuable that the finished product. While tremendously proud of the Squishy’s Revenge, Arca was quick to note that this release is part of a much bigger, studio-wide plan for looking towards the future.
“Regarding future releases, instead of saying, ‘We need an iPhone game,’ we’ll say, ‘We have this great game idea, where would it make sense to release it?’ iOS is obviously a powerhouse in the mobile industry so offering future games there is often a given but not all the time.”
This is far from an iron clad promise of more iOS games in the future from Toy Studio, but it is good to know that now the platform will be in serious consideration down the road. Rest assured that they have nothing but positive things to say about the entire process and look forward to applying what they have learned going forward.
Starting today, Squishy’s Revenge has finished its quest from concept to completion. The game is available for download now in the App Store at absolutely no cost, so there is no excuse to not take the blob out for a spin. For more details check out the trailer below.
Game development is a curious field to say the least. All that consumers really know is that cool ideas come in and fun games come out, with very little insight into the tedious process that ultimately forms the final product. Even on a platform like iOS where the overhead to actually producing a game is far smaller, taking a game from conception to completion requires the time and effort of several tremendously dedicated individuals. But why would you take our word for it? We have enlisted the help of the team over at Toy Studios, who generously gave us a brief glimpse behind the curtain of their newly released puzzle game, Squishy’s Revenge.
Toy Studio is a fairly small developer based out of Chicago Illinois made up of fifteen folks that share a common thread of passion for creating quality videogames. When asked about the origins of studio’s unique name Studio Director Christian Arca stated confidently:
“What does everyone consider fun? Toys. You’d be extremely hard pressed to find someone who wouldn’t think a toy is fun at some point in his or her life. The only purpose of a toy is to be played with, which is key to having fun. Toys stimulate the imagination and take you to a magical place only you can see. So we wanted to emphasize play and fun, not just in our games but the studio culture itself.”
Despite only having been in existence since September of 2009 the team working behind the scenes at Toy Studio have been hard at work, churning out an impressive thirteen games in that short span. Having successfully released titles on both the Nook Color and Facebook, it seemed like the next logical step was to transition into the iOS space.
The process of learning to develop for a completely new platform is not necessarily an easy one, even for the most talented of squads. So why would a team want to go through the hassles of trying to come up with a whole new game design, when they already have thirteen successful templates already in their quiver. After careful consideration and deliberation amongst the group, it was decided that the best way to introduce themselves to the iOS world was with their Nook Color game, “Monster Slider.”
Stay tuned for part two and three next week, wherein we learn all about Squishy and his Revenge!
This week at 148Apps, writer Gianna LaPin continued the 500,000 Apps Interview Series by chatting with Colin Lynch of Freeverse. Lynch says, “There are plenty of skill-sets that are helpful in creating great apps and great games. An eye for design, an ability to analyze the market and spot opportunities, speed of thought and action to take advantage of those opportunities, great coding skills, flexibility to work around problems or change directions when events warrant.”
Over at our kid-centric sister site GiggleApps, reviewer Amy Solomon took a thorough look at Practice Book, a new iPad app that uses a familiar connect-the-dot approach to helping children learn letters and words. Solomon writes, “Because my son is new to creating letters, this is an app we work on together. I may demonstrate the correct way to connect the dots in terms of the up or down motions commonly used to make letters or give him simple instructions that he can follow by himself. Sometimes I hold his hand and together we trace over template in the hope that his muscle memory for writing these letters will develop. We often use a stylus as well to get used to holding a pencil to write.”
iPad Only App - Designed for the iPad
Released: 2011-07-28 :: Category: Education
And at Android Rundown, Carter Dotson comments on the new that iOS superhit Instagram is coming to the Android platform…sort of…maybe…one day. He writes, “Instagram’s CEO Kevin Systrom has announced that an Android version of their photo sharing service is “on the horizon” for Android. The app is very close to being real, as they don’t even have a team assembled to develop the app for Android. That is also sarcastic.”
iPhone App - Designed for the iPhone, compatible with the iPad
Released: 2010-10-06 :: Category: Photography
Finally, here in the states, it’s the Labor Day weekend. That means scads of sales on tons of apps. Keep up to date with the latest and greatest changes by visiting our Huge Labor Day Weekend Price Drop Round-Up. There are great deals to be had, and some amazing games to play in between bites of char-broiled goodness.
That’s it for this week. Want to know the latest and greatest news about everything happening in the iOS world, including giveaways and contests? Join us on our Twitter and Facebook streams. You’ll be glad you did. See you next week!
We had a chance to sit down with Ken Case, CEO of the OmniGroup, during the recent WWDC. We talked all things OmniGroup including the process they followed bringing their apps to the iPad, their plans for OmniFocus, and what else the future might hold.
Q (Jeff Scott – 148Apps): Tell us a little about how the decision was made to start bringing your applications to the iPad.
A (Ken Case – OmniGroup): When we started hearing rumors about Apple doing a tablet, we thought that could be interesting. We didn’t know if it was going to be Mac OS X based or iPhone OS based. The touch part made us lean toward the iPhone OS, the larger screen size had us leaning toward Mac OS X. Didn’t really know what to expect. So we decided to just be ready to evaluate it when it comes out. And when we saw the introduction and particularly when we saw the Keynote demonstration we knew yeah, this is a place we can put some real apps. So we made a decision that day and started working that week to bring some of our apps to the iPad. From the time we saw the announcement to the time we had to submit the apps for launch day there were lots of 18 hour days. One interesting way to measure how the apps were progressing was how long we went between code commits. There was a period there where the longest we went, between code check-ins, was 37 minutes. It was a lot of hard work obviously, but a lot of fun. It’s not often you get a chance to do something like this for a new platform.
Q: One of the most interesting aspects of the release of OmniGraffle for the iPad was that you utilized the device to the edge of it’s capabilities without ever seeing a device.
A: We were pretty worried about that. The QA team particularly. Apple did some testing and we asked them how well it works. They could tell us that it launched and that it worked, but they had no time to do any real testing of the performance.
Q: Let’s talk a little bit about OmniFocus for the iPad. As far as I’m concerned you can’t get it done quick enough!
The plan had been to submit the final version to Apple around June 18th, but some things got in the way. It will still be submitted soon.
I wasn’t expecting the pixel doubled iPhone apps to look as as bad as it turned out. I was hoping that they would have done what they are doing on the iPhone 4 and pixel double the artwork but scaled the text. Perhaps once iOS4 comes to the iPad they will clean up some of the edges. Certainly going forward, everybody who is developing now for the iOS is expecting a whole range of screen resolutions which should make it easier for Apple in the future.
We got a little more information from Ken about future plans for OmniPlan and OmniOutliner for the iPad. But those plans are all still really early and we’ll get back in touch as those get closer.
For now they are going full steam ahead on OmniFocus for the iPad — and I can’t wait for it. OmniFocus 1.7 for the iPhone/iPod Touch was just released with iOS4 updates to support local notification, some background processing, and instant application resume.
CultofMac reports that, for the next 48 hours, Calendars+ by Readdle can be downloaded for free. The app works with Google Calendar and the built-in iOS Calendar and lets you manage your work, either online or offline, with an easy to use interface to navigate through. It’s originally priced at $6.99 and will return to [...]