Categorized | Indie Interview

Indie Interview: FaceFighter

Posted on 16 April 2010 by Todd


Today we bring you an indie interview with Paul O’ Connor from the team that brought us FaceFighter.

Company: Appy Entertainment, Inc.
App Store: FaceFighter $1.99 | Lite

How long have you been developing for the iPhone/iPod touch? What did you do before you started developing for the iPhone/iPod touch?
Appy Entertainment was born on Halloween 2008 to develop games for iPhone and iPod/touch. Prior to founding Appy, we were mostly VP-level guys at High Moon Studios, a developer we helped to found and guide through acquisition with Vivendi. While at High Moon we developed next gen console games like Darkwarch and The Bourne Conspiracy.

How long did it take you to develop FaceFighter and how many people were involved?
The FaceFighter core team was our CTO Marc-Antoine Argenton and Project Director Emmanuel Valdez, with Farzad Varahramyan, our Creative Visual Director, also devoting significant time to the project. Steve Sargent was Executive Producer.  At various times about a half-dozen other folks were on the project in full or part time capacities. Total development time was in the neighborhood of five months.

How did you come up with the idea for FaceFighter?
Em had a background in fighting games, and we wanted to do something game-based with our face and photo tech from our first app (Appy Newz), so FaceFighter was a natural choice.

What inspired you for FaceFighter from initial concept to formalized game?
We knew FaceFighter would be funny, that it would make people laugh, that it would compel them to share the game with each other — we knew if we made a game that created a picture of your friend all beaten up that it would have a viral component to inspire word-of-mouth, which is critical to continues sales of any app.

What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
All of our games come from the same place — our games need to be something that will use the unique elements of the iPhone, whether that’s Multitouch, or the camera, or connectivity. Games also need to be strong in key areas — they need to have a social dimension, they need someplace to grow through continuing sales and updates, they need to create something players will feel compelled to share with each other. Not every game hits every one of these elements to the same degree but they’re all viewed and evaluated through this lens.

What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
Fear of the unknown. Everything we do is entirely on our own dime, without any kind of publisher-level access to Apple, so margins for error are slimmer and capacity for disaster is greater than if we were doing projects for an established publisher. At the same time, we have greater freedom and the upside is considerably greater. Being an Indie is like being on a pirate ship, while a publisher gig is more like an ocean liner. Both are ships, both do essentially the same thing, but they get there different ways and with different attitudes. One isn’t better than the other — it’s really more a matter of deciding where your individual temperament will give you the greatest happiness and satisfaction.

Can you describe your development process?
We’ve got seven full-time guys inside Appy, we all suggest ideas and kick things around. Some of us do it more than others, but we’re all part of the process. Once every several weeks we have a day where we head up to the loft and cull our idea file (thirty or forty pages long by now) and get a few of the most promising ideas onto the whiteboard. Then we fight with each other a bit about what idea has the most merit.

What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
Coming out of the whiteboard session an idea will be “green lit” for further development. At this point we’ll document the design a bit and try to get a clearer idea of what tools and code will be required to bring the idea to market. We’ll trim scope at this point and try to get a schedule. Then we work toward first prototype, which is proof-of-concept, and that’s kind of the time we need to put our hands on a rock and decide we’re really going to make this idea work. Not every game survives this step and we have spiked games that got to prototype when we decided that the game just wasn’t going to prove viable.

Did you do any pre-marketing before FaceFighter was released?
No … we kept everything dark right up until the game came out. We didn’t have a big customer base for promotion at that point, and there didn’t seem any point in promoting the game through the press until the game was actually available for download.

What are you working on now?
Continuing development of FaceFighter is our first priority — we have 3 million downloads of the game out there in all of its forms and the game continues to sell well. We just released FaceFighter Face2Face for iPad, and we have iPad versions of Tune Runner and Zombie Pizza on the way. We’re doing new fighters, weapons, and finishing moves as downloadable content for FaceFighter on iPhone and iPod touch. We have continuing plans for FaceFighter that we’re not ready to reveal right now. We have two new original projects in development for release later this year, and we’re looking at a couple licensed properties in entirely new areas for us. We’re also continually tweaking our existing games, adding new content (we just added email, Facebook, and Twitter connectivity to our free FaceFighter Lite), improving our ad networks, adding OpenFeint, that kind of stuff … it’s largely invisible to our fans but these adjustments are important to the long-term success of our apps and they cost real money and schedule time.

Any plans for updates to FaceFighter?
Yep — two or three new weapon/foe/finishing packs should be out by mid-year.

What was your most frustrating task while developing FaceFighter?
There were a whole host of things, but connecting to Facebook and dealing with that system was probably the most frustrating.

What have you found to be the most successful way to market FaceFighter?
Word-of-mouth … nothing counts more than getting the game into someone’s hands. They always laugh and they always show the game to their friends. So getting the game into the hands of people who will write about it and show it around has been critical. That’s why our game really took off after we were free for a week — we shipped a million free copies of FaceFighter in six days and we’re still riding the wave of sales from that event thanks to customer referrals.

How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
We take it seriously. We answer all of our email. We keep an eye on App Store reviews. We try to figure what will get us another star or half star on the App Store.

Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
We’ve concentrated entirely on original and wholly-owned projects at Appy but would consider outside development if the deal made sense for everyone.

What process do you go through to overcome creative block?
We look at our bank balance.

Since its release what you do differently looking back?
I think we’ve ended up updating and tweaking stuff in smaller chunks than we anticipated. We’re more likely to do two small updates in six weeks than one big update in four.

What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
We’re above a pub so there is plenty of noise and music and drunkenness down in the parking lot. Inside the office we watch a lot of Team America: World Police.

What was a must have during the development process of FaceFighter?
Time. Time time time. A lot of lost weekends and nights on that project.

What games influenced you in your decision to make FaceFighter?
The greatest influence was probably Ready 2 Rumble Boxing, which was also created by Em … that game was kind of the touchstone for our FaceFighter mechanics, in as much as we compared everything to that game in terms of execution and difficulty levels.

How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
The game took a casual turn during development. It started off as a more serious and “gamerly” game but we realized that FaceFighter would enjoy greater success if we guided it more toward a pick-up-and-play audience.

Before the release of FaceFighter were there any huge last minute changes?
The “Immortal Judgment” finishing move — at first just dropping a rock on your enemy, but later a whole range of goofy finishes — that went in very late. Basically, Em just announced that he’d come up with the idea and was putting it in, I think he came up with it entirely on his own and basically sprung it on the rest of us. And he was right — the game needed a comical climax and that’s exactly what the Judgments provide. But it was a pretty major addition for the home stretch of the project.

How did you keep yourself motivated?
We’ve burned our boats. There is no sailing back to where we came from. We make this work, or we fail. That’s all the motivation we require.

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?
Art is one of the strong suits of Appy Entertainment — we have monstrously-talented artists in-house to drive our animation, production design, and look and feel of our games. If we can’t make it look great, we don’t do it.

What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
Heavy use of green screen for our animation and image capture. Other than that, the usual stuff.

If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
No apps. We’d unplug, watch the waves, get some sleep.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Thanks for thinking of us. Go buy our games so we can keep doing this!

We want to thank Paul for his time!

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