Archive | Indie Interview

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Indie Interview: GeoSnake

Posted on 19 March 2010 by Todd

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Today we bring you an indie interview with David Perry, the creator of GeoSnake!

Company: Didev Studios
App Store: GeoSnake $0.99

How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
Since around September 2008. Before that I mainly wrote homebrew games for the Sony PSP.

How long did it take you to develop GeoSnake and how many people were involved?
Two of us worked on this project for around 15 months part time. Andreas Inghe provided the textures, audio and levels and I did the coding and vector graphics.

How did you come up with the idea for GeoSnake?
It’s based on an old PSP homebrew title named SnakPSP. Also, it’s Snake – The original mobile game!

What inspired you for GeoSnake from initial concept to formalized game?
The development cycle for GeoSnake was quite long, but seeing it evolve over the months was inspiration enough.

What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
Generally I find the game inspires itself. Sometimes you’ll add a feature to a game that ignites your inspiration and keeps you going night after night into the small hours.

What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
App exposure. If people never see your app they will never buy it. We’ve been lucky that GeoSnake has been featured by Apple in New & Noteworthy and sales have increased 10 fold because of it.

Can you describe your development process?
We use a project management system named Trac to handle the overall state of the project. It lists tasks that each of us have completed and need to complete in order to hit certain milestones. I can’t recommend it enough!

What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
Andreas generally steers the creative side and he’ll create several concept shots that advance throughout the creative process.

Did you do any pre-marketing before GeoSnake was released?
We created a small preview thread on the TouchArcade forums when we submitted it for review, aside from that nothing really.

What are you working on now?
We currently have four other games that are all at different stages of development, stay tuned!

Any plans for updates to GeoSnake?
Many. Although GeoSnake itself is a complete game we have some great ideas to make it even better. We’ve had the 1.1.0 update approved this week which adds more features and depth to the game.

What was your most frustrating task while developing GeoSnake?
Drawing the various shapes procedurally was a bit of a maths related nightmare – but I managed to get through it.

What have you found to be the most successful way to market GeoSnake?
Getting featured by Apple was the clear winner, however review sites and App Store gaming forums have been somewhat successful too.

How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
It pretty much drove the first update. 3 new features were user suggested and came from gaming forums.

Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
Bit of both really. I write games that I enjoy playing and also add features that I think others will like. It’s nice to feel that you’re giving others hours of entertainment for a mere $1.

What process do you go through to overcome creative block?
I leave it to Andreas to fight with ūüėČ

Since its release what you do differently looking back?
Nothing comes to mind really. We’d already released Bugz quite a while back and had learned from any mistakes made then.

What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
It was literally just me and my Mac. I mainly listen to heavy rock.

What was a must have during the development process of GeoSnake?
Caffeine!

What games influenced you in your decision to make GeoSnake?
As mentioned in the other question, SnakPSP was the basis but the original mobile snake game gave us the gameplay we were after. The look of some of the other ‘geo’ style games also influenced our general direction.
We were careful not to use pre-generated images like some of the other ‘geo’ games – the gameplay in GeoSnake is all generated procedurally on the device for that true vector look and feel.

How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
Visually it was just a highly polished variant of the original. Gameplay has evolved massively from the first concept.

Before the release of GeoSnake were there any huge last minute changes?
On the front end, no. However the engine had some major improvements to improve performance considerably.

How did you keep yourself motivated?
Sheer willpower!

How much did the art drive the game? The vision of what it was to look like how much of that was the driving force?
At the start that was pretty much the entire driving force – the look. However as the gameplay evolved it took a bit of a back seat and the gameplay became the main focus.

What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
Andreas uses Photoshop for art and FL-Studio for the audio. For development I use Xcode, Shark to profile, Trac to manage the project and Versions for source code management.

If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
I’m a big fan of ‘The Creeps!’, not having internet access removes the rest of the apps I use!

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Thanks to indieappolis for taking the time out for this interview.

We want to thank David for his time and for GeoSnake!

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Indie Interview: Flower Garden

Posted on 08 February 2010 by Todd

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Today we bring you an indie interview with Noel Llopis, the creator of Flower Garden!

Company: Snappy Touch
Games: Flower Garden | Free

How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
I started doing iPhone development in the fall of 2008. I had spent many years in the games industry making PC and console games, so the iPhone was a breath of fresh air. I could still do all the cool game development bits on a great platform, with great tools, and with a very small team.

How long did it take you to develop Flower Garden and how many people were involved?
The most accurate answer is “it took me too long!”. Seriously. From the first line of code until submission it was 6 months (!!). Since then, I’ve probably put an additional couple of months worth of work in updates, PR, and support.¬†It was all done by me with some help from a friend of mine and terrific graphic designer, David Fennema, for most of the graphic design elements.

How did you come up with the idea for Flower Garden?
I was looking for a good idea that met three requirements: I wanted something that was fairly unique, that involved creating or caring for something (instead of shooting or destroying things), and that could be shared with other people. Then one day, it hit me in the middle of a long run. I ran home even faster and jumped on the App Store to see if there was anything like that available.

What inspired you for Flower Garden from initial concept to formalized game?
Before inspiration came a lot of research. I got out the library every book I could get my hands on flower morphology and procedural plant creation. I devoured them in a few days and stripped it down to the bare minimum (good thing otherwise I would still be making it!).

As for the design, I was mostly inspired by other Apple UI. I really tried to keep things smooth, simple, and minimalistic. You won’t see lots of buttons in Flower Garden.

What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
Clearly, other games are an influence on me. I see something I like and I want to make something at least as good. But most of my inspiration comes from other, totally unrelated sources. I’ve always believed that people should have as varied interests and hobbies as possible to come up with the best ideas. Sometimes it’s the combination of two obvious concepts in two very different fields that creates something very new and original.

In any case, I usually have my best, most creative ideas while running or cycling. There’s something about the mind wandering in different ways than normal that causes all sorts of creative ideas.

What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
That’s easy: Making money ūüôā Apart from that, it’s really a dream come true. I’m going to have a really hard time if I ever go back and work for a company.

Can you describe your development process?
I’m a big fan of iterative and agile development. I really believe in making very small prototypes early on and nailing what’s unique about a game. After that, it’s a matter of refining and refining until it’s ready to go.

As far as actual development practices, even working by myself, I still do short sprint/iterations (usually a week or so) and I do test-driven development for almost everything. Totally worth it.

What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
I try to prototype several ideas, even if I think I found the right one from the beginning. Then I pick the best of those and run with it. I try to get feedback as early as possible in the development cycle.

Did you do any pre-marketing before Flower Garden was released?
Pre-marketing? Not really. I released a teaser video, but probably only a few hundred people ever saw it. I definitely learned how to do a better pre-launch campaign since then.

What are you working on now?
I just started a new project, but it’s unannounced. It will be something much shorter this time though, just under two months. After that, I already have a couple ideas I’m itching to do. Shortage of ideas is not the problem. It’s time and manpower! ūüôā

Any plans for updates to Flower Garden?
I just finished a big update for Valentine’s Day, which includes a greenhouse garden and a new set of seeds (both available as in-app purchases) as well as a bunch of UI improvements. People have been loving all the new content provided through in-app purchases, so I plan on continuing to make new seeds and other features in the upcoming months. Expect another one at around Mother’s Day.

What was your most frustrating task while developing Flower Garden?
How long it took for sure. Looking at it it’s hard to think why it took so long, but there are so many things that are easy to take for granted. I even ended up cutting the whole cross-polination aspect (which was a good call in retrospect).

What have you found to be the most successful way to market Flower Garden?
This post tells all the story with sales numbers to back it up:¬†http://gamesfromwithin.com/making-a-living-barely-on-the-iphone-app-store Basically, I tried just about everything and it wasn’t making much of a difference. Then I hit on in-app purchases and things really took off. I’m not saying that IAP are the magic bullet for everybody because I think they’re very dependent on the nature of the game and what you’re selling, but they seem to be a perfect fit for Flower Garden.

As you can expect, not everybody loved it though. A lot of people on the App Store left comments complaining about IAP maybe not realizing they were totally optional, or expecting they would get all of that for free. I don’t know.¬†I have been extremely sensitive to that and always made sure I never crippled the game in any way and every update added something new even if you don’t buy it. Most people voted with their money and the sales numbers really show that it was the right thing to do.

How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
It definitely plays a big part! The feedback I got through email and the Facebook group helped me choose the priority of the features to be added. For example, as soon as Flower Garden was released, people were begging to have tags in the pots so they could tell what seeds were planted there, so that made it in the first update.

Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
I’ve spent too many years writing games for other people. Now I’m making the games I want to make. And one of the things that means is that I’m not going to make any violent games. I have nothing against them, and even right now I’m playing Fallout 3 (which is ultra-violent), but it’s not something I want to make myself anymore. I’d rather appeal to different emotions in the players.

What process do you go through to overcome coder’s block or even a creative block?
Test-driven development totally gets rid of coder’s block. Seriously, I haven’t had a case of that in many years. There’s always a small step you can take, and after that things become easier.

Creative block is tough. Very tough. I can get very depressed if I’m stuck in a creative block, which makes things worse. Creating prototypes for ideas that you know are probably not going to make it is a great way to get out of it though. You’re doing something, and soon a bunch of other ideas come flooding. Bouncing ideas off other people really helps too.

Since its release what you do differently looking back?
What would I do differently? I should have jumped on in-app purchases earlier, but I had no way to know. I’m glad I tried all the things I did (lite version, Facebook integration, etc). My pre and post-launch PR campaign could have been better. That’s something I’m really hoping to improve next time with all I know now.

What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
I work from home, from a dedicated room I made into my office. I need lots of light and constant access to tea and muchies ūüôā

And yes, I’m listening to music all the time. I choose the music to fit the mood or what I have to do: there’s “getting things done” music, there’s “creative” music, there’s “this is great day music”, and “let’s power through this music”. I’m a huge music consumer because I end up listening to 10-12 albums per day. My tastes are very varied from current indie music (Metric, Vampire Weekend), singer-songwriters (Ingrid Michaelson), to more classic rock (Springsteen, Sheryl Crow), and even lots of classical music.

What was a must have during the development process of Flower Garden?
Probably the most crucial thing in the development of Flower Garden was the great community of other indie iPhone developers out there though. It was invaluable bouncing ideas off them, and being inspired by them. Couldn’t have done it in isolation, that’s for sure.

What games influenced you in your decision to make Flower Garden?
Nothing in particular. Even though people keep bringing up the similarities, I never played any Tamagotchi games.

To what do you attribute to Flower Garden success? Did you expect this level of success?
To be honest, until December Flower Garden reached exactly the worst-case scenario I had calculated before its launch. Since then things have really picked up and I’m much happier with how it’s doing now. I really didn’t expect in-app purchases to have this much of an effect considering the number of units that were there in the first place, but I guess the few people who were using Flower Garden were really enjoying it and ready for more content.

How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
Very, very close. I have some early sketches that show exactly the screens in the game as they are now. Fortunately the ones in the game are a lot prettier ūüôā

Before the release of Flower Garden were there any huge last minute changes?
Yes! It was kind of crazy, but two days before submitting the game I decided to try a little PR trick. I added the option to download bonus flowers by entering a code. Then I offered web sites the possibility of having their own seed and having them announce the code to their readers. This was without any strings attached, certainly not expecting a more favorable review, but I think it helped get reviewer’s attention and there were more reviews because of it. It was kind of scary coming up with something pretty major like that a few days before submission though!

How did you keep yourself motivated? What tips do you have for people with AADD like me?
Getting on a regular schedule really helped. I usually go running early in the morning, and then I work at least from 8-9am until 6-7pm. Collaborating with other people is also a huge motivator, as is giving builds to friends. But mostly is enjoying what you’re doing, and I enjoyed every minute of it, even the crazy crunch leading to the first release.

How much did the art drive the game? The vision of what it was to look like how much of that was the driving force?
I’m usually a very visual person, and art plays a huge role in my project. Flower Garden was different though because all the flowers are procedurally generated, so there wasn’t a really strong visual theme. It definitely help set the tone of the graphics though, going for a non-ultra realistic look. Maybe more like very detailed hand-drawn style.

What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
I always say I can do iPhone development with my Macbook Pro, the SDK, an iPod Touch, and an internet connection from anywhere in the world. That’s really a fantastic change from working with massive devkits for game consoles. But apart from that, I found Subversion, Photoshop, Audacity, and TextWrangler to be essential for development.

We want to thank Noel for his time and all of the great information that he shares with the indie community on his Games from Within blog!

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Indie Interview: Trenches

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Todd

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We are excited to have interviewed Michael Taylor, the creator of Trenches. We did not have time to interview all of his team members, but we think you will enjoy what Michael has to say.

Company: Thunder Game Works
Games: Trenches

Q: How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
We’re fairly new on the iPhone front.¬† Thunder Game Works was incorporated in August of 2009.¬† That said, everyone on the team is an industry expert in their own discipline, so we’ve brought all of that experience to bear for Trenches.

Q: How long did it take you to develop Trenches and how many people were involved?
The Trenches team was fairly large and incorporated developers, artists, musicians and marketing folks.¬† Quite a daunting under-taking for an indie developer, trust me.¬† The bulk of the team was made up of about five people, but the entire team was closer to a dozen.¬† It was a real challenge, but one of the things that I endeavored to do was find the best freelance talent available … and I think I’ve done that.

If I can speak for members of the team, I think the thing that attracted them to the project was my commitment to really allow them to push the boundaries.  All too often talented people get stuck working on projects that are completely penned in.  With Trenches, the whole design was just let the talent folks go and see what they came back with.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Trenches?
Trenches seemed to be the next natural step in a progression of games currently on the AppStore.  Trenches incorporates line-drawing, side-scrolling and Castle Defense.  We just wanted to kick it up a notch.

We wanted to create a side-scrolling attrition-style combat game ‚Ķ games like Knight’s Onrush, Cartoon Wars and XenoWars.¬† Players (like us) love the castle defense style games.¬† It seemed like a natural fit.

We also love the cartoony graphics of games like Minigore and Fieldrunners.

They’ve got great graphics.¬† We wanted to deliver on this, but also add in multiple sequences … to keep Trenches gameplay fresh and visually interesting.

Q: What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
That’s a tough question … you know, I love playing tough, in-depth, thinking games … then … I really love just blowing stuff up.¬† (As you can tell from using artillery on Zombies in Trenches)¬† I think the inspiration comes from the entire team throwing out ideas and building on each others ideas.¬† It’s a really cool environment.

Q: Can you describe your development process?
Most of the people on our core team are very seasoned software people.¬† We stick to a very regimented software process that, while boring, tends to deliver fun games … since there’s much fewer bugs.

Q: What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
Ah, yes … the creative process is the most fun.¬† Generally, we sit around and chat about game ideas that we think would be fun … just blue-sky, crazy stuff … to get our minds really stretched.¬† Some of the best ideas come out of those meetings.¬† Once the concept is roughed out, then we sic our artist on character creation.¬† That’s when is gets real fun!¬† The crazy stuff he sends back is the best.

Being an indie developer, we answer only to our players.¬† It’s really cool.

It really cuts through all the stuff that doesn’t matter and down to what does.¬† Do the players like the game?

The other great thing about being an indie developer is that half through building Trenches, we had a great idea to take Trenches a completely different direction.¬† This new direction was going to make the game a lot more fun.¬† So, we just went for it.¬† We didn’t have to ask permission, we just figured that the players would like the new direction more so … it was a done deal for us.

Am I even answer your question anymore?  Sorry to get us off track there.

Q: Did you do any pre-marketing before Trenches was released?
We did actually … we did a lot.¬† It wasn’t, though, just pre-release marketing … it’s constant.¬† We communicate with Trenches players daily and yes, we actually do read every email and every forum posting.¬† We love to hear what the players are saying … they give us the best ideas.

Q: What are you working on now?
Well, we’ve got a bunch of new things.¬† I’ve literally got twelve months of game development on my whiteboard.¬† Unfortunately, all of it is too speculative to let out … because some of the ideas are terrible … <grin> … and some are good.¬† We’re trying to figure which is which.

Q: Any plans for updates to Trenches?
Absolutely!¬† We’re completely committed to making Trenches the very best it can be.¬† We’ve got new Skirmish battle types coming; like King of the Trench and Capture the Flag.¬† Those are going to be a whole mess of fun when we release Trenches multiplayer.¬† We think Trenches is pretty fun right now … but it’ll go to a whole new level with multiplayer.¬† I can’t wait to get beaten to a pulp! (It always happens) <grin>

Q: What was your most frustrating task while developing Trenches?
That’s a good question … I can’t really think of a frustrating part of developing Trenches.¬† I guess I never really had a moment to think … let alone get frustrating. <grin>

Q: What have you found to be the most successful way to market Trenches?
We’re still discovering that … if you’ve got any ideas, we’re all ears.
Marketing iPhone apps is a part Voodoo, part hard work and late nights.
During the initial rollout of Trenches, we were working 16 hour days …
just communicating with reviewers, players and anyone that would listen.
Now, it’s like we’re part-time … we’re only working 10 hours a day. <grin>

Q: How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
We live and breath on user feedback.¬† It’s one of the reason we really wanted to develop on the iPhone platform.¬† Developers have the luxury to get so close to the players.¬† We’re talking directly with players daily.¬† The early players, especially, have actually affected the direction of the game and the unit balancing in Trenches.¬† When I said that we read everything, I mean EVERYTHING … and we take it all to heart.

Q: Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
We’re all so focused on playing multiplayer games … we really only build games for the AppStore.¬† Maybe it’s because there’s no time let in the day.
Meh, in either case … the desire is to draw Trenches (and our other titles) to multiplayer.¬† The desire is to make all the Thunder Game Works titles standard with multiplayer.

Q: To what do you attribute to Trenches success? Did you expect this level of success?
Well, we thought Trenches would do well, but it’s done better than we expected thus far.¬† Time will tell though, as we have a very long view for Trenches and the other titles in our development pipeline.¬† As for what we did “right”, boy … that’s a tough one.¬† I can’t think of a single thing that we really “hit out of the park”, if anything … it was just everyone on the team bringing their A game.¬† We all worked really hard to bring the best game we thought possible.

Q: How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
Wow … it was actually quite a ways off.¬† The original concept for Trenches was pretty low … certainly compared to what Trenches is today … and will be in a handful of weeks.¬† It was kind of funny … once a build was ready and we’d play around with it … we all just started in with “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if …”¬† Yeah … Trenches took a little longer than we’d planned. <wink>

Q: How did you keep yourself motivated? What tips do you have for people with AADD like me?
You know, I would just encourage anyone to just build it and put it out there.¬† The players are pretty vocal and they’ll tell you what they liked and what they didn’t.¬† Games can’t be a ship it and forget it deal.¬† You’ve got to be committed to long-term support and enhancements.¬† I mean … look at Pocket God.¬† Good grief … they’re the poster child for on-going support.

Q: If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
Ack!¬† Would I have solar power to recharge the battery?¬† <grin>¬† I think my greatest video game addiction has got to be Left4Dead.¬† Now, maybe you can see why there’s zombies in Trenches.¬† Once the batteries on the laptop died, I’d likely drop into a deep psychosis and start recruiting the native island animals as Rochelle, Ellis and Nick … I always play Coach.¬† Don’t ask me why … I don’t know … it just works out that way.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say?
If I could communicate one thing to your readers, it’s our freakish commitment to supporting Trenches and making it the best value on the AppStore.¬† We’ve got a long list of improvements to Trenches.¬† Once that list is complete, we’re confident that the loyal players of Trenches will have a new list for us.

We want to thank Michael for his time!

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Indie Interview: MiniSquadron

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Todd

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If you have not already played MiniSquadron, then you should stop reading and go get the game now! We recently had the privilege of interviewing Tak Fung.

Company: Studio FungFung
Games: MiniSquadron

Q: How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
I have been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch for the last 6 months. Prior to that I was a graphics coder for various big companies including Lionhead/Microsoft and Sony, and I also did a little bit of contracting in the Post Production companies in London.

Q: How long did it take you to develop MiniSquadron and how many people were involved?
MiniSquadron took 4 months to develop. I was the only full time person on the project ‚Äď but I had a very good part time artist called Dave Ferner who did all the art. I also made use of a couple of people for testing/balancing, including a few I met through TouchArcade.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for MiniSquadron?
MiniSquadron came out of an attempt to ‚Äúre-imagine‚ÄĚ an old Amiga Freeware game called BIPS in four weeks as a little ‚Äúmy first iPhone Game‚ÄĚ ‚Äď which snowballed into a giant 4 month project! There was, however, a very clear idea of what the game must be like, which was a fun and simple shooting game, with LOTS of planes, much like Pokemon has lots of critters which you have to collect. The game was developed with this in mind as the ‚ÄúMust Have‚ÄĚ feature distinguishing it from being simply a very fun shooting game (which in itself was a challenge to do).

Q: What inspired you for MiniSquadron from initial concept to formalized game?
For MiniSquadron I was particularly drawn to the idea of BIP/Jetstrike remade for the iPhone, the idea of addictive ‚Äúcollecting things‚ÄĚ
like Pokemon, and art-wise I was feeling towards lots of small iconic cute planes, much like the little characters prevalent in some of the famous ‚ÄúPixel Art‚ÄĚ pieces that were being done by various people such as eBoy, Paul Robertson and the guys at MechaFetus!

Q: What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
My inspiration comes from everywhere, they include games that I have played in the past, especially Amiga/SNES/Megadrive games (the 16-bit era you could say!). Music videos, random art, popular themes, adverts, addictive mechanics that I come across in random games on the internet be it Flash, Facebook or whatever. Experiences in life that feel good ‚Äď I am a visually motivated person so pretty things usually inspire me! Usually it is very different for all games ‚Äď one of the positives of working for yourself is that you get a lot more variety in what I can do instead of the same ideas for 5 or 6 years.

Q: What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
One of the things is advertising and PR, The world is a big place and no matter how good you think you are, that doesn’t magically make people know who you are or even if you exist. And unless you are literally making games for fun or for yourself, then you’re going to have to tell people about it ‚Äď and that’s quite hard for an indie to do since most indies are developers. That is, they are usually creators, and advertising is another thing they need to learn.

And from that, the second thing is hard cold money. I do not live in a vacuum, and I need to eat and stay sheltered. It is by far the hardest thing I’ve done, but it is also by far the fairest way I’ve made a living so far. There is no denying that I earned every penny that I got, even though it may not have been as much as I could have got working for a big company.

Q: Can you describe your development process?
Fast iteration and artist driven ‚Äď supported by technical excellence. What that means is ‚Äď the art dictates what the game looks like, and hence what technology is required, as opposed to the other way around. I obviously have a big say in the art direction as well (just because I code doesn’t mean I have no artistic talent! Don’t put me in a box etc). The game is then coded and iterated again and again until its fun or I run out of time and money! Technical excellence just makes all of the above a lot more painless.

Q: What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
An unholy mess. Anything goes, lots of blue sky thinking and mood boards and excited talk! Some pre-visualisation movies might be made and videos are watched. The funnest part of the game making process!

Q: Did you do any pre-marketing before MiniSquadron was released?
I released a YouTube video and used that as a linchpin to drive a pre-marketing ‚Äúcampaign‚ÄĚ. The video was sent to TouchArcade which was then picked up and from there, I just rode the wave and made most of it up as I went along!

Q: What are you working on now?
I am currently working on 3 things. Number one priority is my new game, which for now is named FvD. This is a big departure from MiniSquadron and is a totally different type of game. It is designed specifically for the iPhone audience and with a very distinctive art style – very excited to reveal this soon! I am also making “MiniSquadron Extended”, which is MiniSquadron with another whole load of levels and planes. It is another App, priced the same as MiniSquadron – and the reason I didn’t do DLC was that I did not have time to properly code the DLC part, and charging per level/per plane would be more expensive than just packaging the whole lot together for one price. Number 3 is secret. HA!

Q: Any plans for updates to MiniSquadron?
No plans to update MiniSquadron in any major fashion, but look forward to MiniSquadron Extended!

Q: What was your most frustrating task while developing MiniSquadron?
Part time artist. Getting really good people is almost impossible and I was lucky enough that Dave Ferner agreed to help at all.

Q: What have you found to be the most successful way to market MiniSquadron?
I really don’t know to be honest. I would say making a Quality Product and using word of mouth – but looking at the Top 25 charts that is patently not true – so I don’t know.

Q: How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
A little – you can usually see many of the ideas yourself before the game is even released. It’s nice to take constructive feedback but one has be careful with user feedback – I invite you to look at any comments page on any YouTube video for a sample of what you’d have to expect :o)

Q: Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
I write games when I have a good idea for a game – and I don’t really think who its for unfortunately! Games are simply one way of getting my ideas out to the public – I don’t like to restrict myself to that but that is what I am best trained to do.

Q: What process do you go through to overcome coder’s block or even a creative block?
I don’t understand what coder’s block is – most problems in code are not new and the answer exists in the world (i.e. Google) somewhere so I never worry about that. If it doesn’t and it is a truly new problem (and I have been close to these problems when working on more complicated lighting for XBox360/PS3) then you really should think twice before tackling them! Overcoming creative blocks is harder – I tend to talk to friends, find interesting things to see and do in life. Ultimately – hunger overcomes all and it’s surprising how good one’s problem solving becomes once you realise you don’t have money to eat!

Q: Since its release what you do differently looking back?
MiniSquadron was a very well executed project. The only regret was not getting it done quicker.

Q: What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
I usually listen to BBC Radio One. I enjoy my Eminem now and then too. I’m a pop tart so I enjoy whatever silly tune happens to be in the charts for the moment!

Q: What was a must have during the development process of MiniSquadron?
Source Control. That’s very boring isn’t it? How about good sitting position? The internet? Friends you can talk to. Indie development is extremely lonely at times – be careful!

Q: What games influenced you in your decision to make MiniSquadron?
BIPS/Jetstrike for the Amiga. Pokemon.

Q: To what do you attribute to MiniSquadron success? Did you expect this level of success?
Quality, Polish, actually fun! Although these things *can* give you success, it is not the *only* thing to do so. The success was fairly surprising as I had no idea what to expect really!

Q: How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
It was not far off – with the exception of scope. The original scope was MUCH larger, but would have taken 2 years to make!

Q: Before the release of MiniSquadron were there any huge last minute changes?
Not that I can think of. We took out the Hitler Heads and the Obama Lasers.

Q: How did you keep yourself motivated? What tips do you have for people with AADD like me?
Look for inspring stories and examples of real people who have achieved what you have in mind. Work hard and improve on your own skills – and then believe in your own abilities. Be truthful about yourself and what you can do – and believe you can always get better. Michael Jackson said it best – it’s all about the Man In The Mirror! And then when you’re ready, quit your job, lose that pay check that pops through your door every month, imagine social security doesn’t exist and go hungry a bit. Once it becomes do or die, well, you do. Or you die (well, get a job again)!

Q: How much did the art drive the game? The vision of what it was to look like how much of that was the driving force?
I am most experienced as a graphics coder, so I am very visually driven anyway, with a good grasp of techniques and what looks pleasing (for me) at least. So in that respect – it was probably the easiest thing to get right with my artist as it is something I am used to getting great results in.

Q: What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
Programming: XCode for MacOSX. VisualStudio for Windows.
Art: Photoshop or GIMP for 2D. Maya/Max/SoftImage for 3D.
Music: A human being who knows music ;o)

Q: If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
My new game FvD!
Layers – for drawing.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Thanks for the support I’ve had so far! It’s been great and I hope to keep making great games! Woo!

We want to thank Tak for his time and of course for MiniSquadron!

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Indie Interview: Compression

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Todd

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Today we have an interview with Craig Kemper of Little White Bear Studios.

Company: Little White Bear Studios
Games: Compression

Q: How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
I, along with the help of my wife Lindi, have been working on iPhone games for about two years now.  Before that, I had been working as a programmer for an educational software company.

Q: How long did it take you to develop Compression and how many people were involved?
Compression took about 2-3 months to finish.  Lindi and I designed the game together, and I did all the coding, art, and animation.  Atomicon (www.atomicon.net) did all the music and sound.  My family tested/refined the game, with additional help coming from a few key beta testers.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Compression?
We were actually going to make an entirely different game.  We had mostly planned it out in a single weekend.  Unfortunately, the very next day, a preview came out for the game Unify, which was extremely close to the same concept we came up with.  So we trashed that idea, and started fresh.

We knew we wanted to create a game that had the same addiction level as Tetris, yet not be Tetris.  So we analyzed what made Tetris so appealing, and slowly started molding a game that could compete.  Some people have assumed we based the game on Dr. Mario, due to the common goal of removing pre-existing pieces on the screen.  But in reality, we started from the other side of the block dropping genre.

Q: What inspired you for Compression from initial concept to formalized game?
Well, Tetris was an obvious inspiration. ¬†But also, the music of Nine Inch Nails played a huge part in designing the look and feel of the game. ¬†We didn’t want to create yet another bright and shiny block dropping game. ¬†There were a ton of those already. ¬†We wanted something that felt, dark, moody, and dangerous. ¬†NIN fit that mood nicely, and one of their songs was actually the temp track in the game for a very long time.

Q: What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
It is different for each game, but we do like to try and pick a mood for the game as quickly as possible.  If you have an emotional direction to go in, your design molds itself to fit.  So yeah, the mood, over anything else, inspires us.

Q: What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
Wearing all the hats is very time consuming, which is why even the simplest game can take months for a small team. ¬†There’s planning, design, coding, art, coordinating with outside resources, tech support, testing, and marketing. ¬†Marketing is the most difficult one of all, as this is a fairly young, but fast moving, market. ¬†What worked a month ago, may not work today.

Q: Can you describe your development process?
Generally, we start any project by brainstorming ideas. ¬†Ideas can come from anywhere, and they don’t have to even be related to video games. ¬†Sometimes we just start with a mood, or a theme, and design a game around it.¬† The emotional connection that the player has to a game is very important to us, so it tends to be the driving force behind most of our decisions.

Once we pick a concept, we start focussing on what would make it a fun, yet challenging, game.  We use a lot of paper, writing lists, goals, and designing prototype layouts of our ideas.  The end result usually winds up as a loose design document to guide us during development.

I then start thinking about the design in terms of code, to see if it’s something that can be created in a modular way, which can save a lot of time when you’re having to iterate over various portions of the game. ¬†Next, I start coding the framework of the game, making things very general, so certain things can be pulled and replaced easily. ¬†This may be a little different than what other developers do, but I like to have a basic sandbox to play in first, instead of making a prototype, throwing it all away, and then making another one. ¬†I spend a little more time up front, so we can play multiple prototypes per day, by just mixing and matching modular bits of code. ¬†This also allows us to use the same framework for future games. ¬†Our most popular games, TanZen and Zentomino, are based on the same code framework. ¬†And Compression’s framework can also be used in another game.

Once we have a prototype we’re happy with, we test it completely, and I fix any bugs. ¬†Then we take one of two paths. ¬†If Lindi is doing the art, she begins making art samples, while I flesh out various portions of the game. ¬†If I’m doing the art, I place very ugly temporary art in the game, so I’m motivated to finish the coding, and move on to creating the art. ¬†The art process is also very fluid, and we generally spend an equal amount of time iterating over artwork, as we do for actual gameplay.

With the gameplay complete, and with enough art in it to convey the general mood, we give it to a few people to play, to get some feedback.  We make adjustments, and eventually we come to a game everyone seems to like.  During this, we also send a build to our sound/music guy at Atomicon, so he can play the game, get a feel for the mood, and work it into his schedule.

While the music is being made, we’re putting final fit and finish on the game, and looking for last minute bugs. ¬†Once the music is complete, we submit the game to Apple.

Q: What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
It’s a lot of talking, drawing, and hand waving. ¬†Very rarely does it ever involve a computer.

Q: Did you do any pre-marketing before Compression was released?
Well, we intended to have a 15 day pre-launch blitz, where we’d give away preview copies of the game, and really talk it up to players and review sites. ¬†Unfortunately, Apple had other plans. ¬†We submitted the game the day before the developer portion of the App Store was to close for a week for Christmas break. ¬†Normally, submissions take about 15 days to approve. ¬†We submitted right before the break, thinking that we’d be near the front of the line when they opened up again a week later. ¬†However, Apple approved Compression in about a day, along with tons of other apps. ¬†Unfortunately, everyone that got approved before the break did not appear on the New Release lists until a week later, which meant very little initial sales, and trashed most of our marketing plans. ¬†So live and learn. ¬†Never submit right before Christmas!

Q: What are you working on now?
We just started working on a new game. ¬†We started with mood on this one. ¬†We’re thinking it might be a comedy. ¬†We have an initial design worked out, but we’re still working out the details before I start working on the framework.

Q: Any plans for updates to Compression?
Compression had its first update recently, where we added a few informative stats in various places in the game, as well as the newest version of OpenFeint.  Future updates will really depend on how successful Compression is.

Q: What was your most frustrating task while developing Compression?
The art was very difficult. ¬†I am not an artist, but I do dabble in Photoshop a lot. ¬†I had to learn quite a few new techniques to create Compression. ¬†The art took longer to create than the actual game. ¬†But, I now have skills I didn’t have before, which will help on future games, so the time was well spent.

Q: What have you found to be the most successful way to market Compression?
Word of mouth, mostly.  Twitter, gaming forums, etc. are all good places to get people interested.  If gamers are talking about it, reviewers will notice, and possibly Apple as well.  Another good method is to advertize inside your other games.  Anything that will let your fanbase know you have something new helps a lot.

Q: How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
Quite a bit. ¬†There’s always going to be various requests, some good, some bad. ¬†Some are really good, but much too expensive to implement. ¬†We look at the volume of the requests, and mix it with how feasible it is to do from a business standpoint. ¬†But obviously, if there are bugs, we like to get those fixed quickly.

Q: Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
We write games we want to play. ¬†If we don’t, it’s not very much fun at all, and becomes more of a chore. ¬†If we don’t believe in the game, why should anyone else?

Q: What process do you go through to overcome coder’s block or even a creative block?
For code, I try to come at the problem from a different direction.  A lot of times that involves writing down the problem in words, instead of code.  If I can solve the solution with words, I usually discover a very simple way to do it in code.  For creative blocks, we generally move on to a different portion of the game, and eventually the solution comes to us as a natural offshoot from the other thing we were working on.  Sometimes the answer to a problem comes from defining everything around it.

Q: Since its release what you do differently looking back?
We would have waited until after the Christmas break to submit the game. ¬†We also probably would’ve started the buzz when the art was complete, rather than when the audio was complete.

Q: What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
Nine Inch Nails was pumping through my headphones for the latter half of it.  We develop in our house, with three kids, and a very large dog.  I would have to say the development atmosphere was noisy and chaotic!

Q: What was a must have during the development process of Compression?
Lots of NIN. ¬†And lemonade. ūüôā

Q: What games influenced you in your decision to make Compression?
Tetris was a big influence. ¬†And also Unify. ¬†If Unify hadn’t existed, we would’ve made that game.

Q: To what do you attribute to Compression success? Did you expect this level of success?
Well, Compression has gotten a few nice pro reviews and comments from players and fellow developers. ¬†For many players, it has become fairly addictive. ¬†I wouldn’t say Compression has been a huge success yet, compared to our other games, but we have faith it will eventually find its audience.

Q: How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
Compression was more an evolution of ideas, so I can’t really define the initial concept for the gameplay. ¬†We wanted something fast, dangerous, and addictive. ¬†I think we accomplished that. ¬†The mood of the game was something I’d wanted to do in a game for a long time, and it turned out better than I’d ever hoped it could.

Q: Before the release of Compression were there any huge last minute changes?
Nope, nothing huge.  The last few weeks of the project were mostly spent doing art tweaks, performance improvements, and defining the look of the pieces.

Q: How did you keep yourself motivated? What tips do you have for people with AADD like me?
Don’t make the scope of your project too big. ¬†Try to define a game you can complete in two months. ¬†You’ll probably spill over into three months, but design it for two. ¬†If you’ve never made a game before, keep it very very simple, or you’re going to give up. ¬†Our first, and still most successful game, is mainly just moving seven shapes around on the screen. ¬†Take a simple concept, and execute it well.

Q: How much did the art drive the game? The vision of what it was to look like how much of that was the driving force?
The art for this game mostly came after the game was complete.  Part way through the coding we decided to go in a dark direction with the art.  I had wanted to do a steampunk/industrial theme in a game for awhile, and with all of the moving parts, Compression seemed like a good candidate for it.

Q: What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
We use Xcode and Photoshop.  Some of our games use hand painted artwork, so a decent scanner is always helpful.  Sometimes we use Audacity to tweak sound effects, to help communicate our ideas with Atomicon.  Pencil and paper are very useful at the beginning.

Q: If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
Oooh, that’s tough. ¬†Most everything on my computer uses the internet. ¬†I’d probably have to say some sort of game like Civilization, where I could spend days playing it at a time, yet never get the same game twice. ¬†Second app would be some sort of survial guide. ¬†And I’d need a photo viewing app so I could view pictures of my family.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Being an indie developer is the best job in the world.  You control your destiny.  It can be very stressful, but incredibly rewarding!

We want to thank Craig for his time and can’t wait to see what comes next from Little White Bear Studios!

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