Categorized | Indie Interview

Indie Interview: MiniSquadron

Posted on 01 February 2010 by Todd


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 – 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 “re-imagine” an old Amiga Freeware game called BIPS in four weeks as a little “my first iPhone Game” – 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 “Must Have” 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 “collecting things”
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 “Pixel Art” 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 – I am a visually motivated person so pretty things usually inspire me! Usually it is very different for all games – 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 – 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 – supported by technical excellence. What that means is – 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 “campaign”. 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!

Leave a Reply