Categorized | Indie Interview

Indie Interview: reMovem

Posted on 22 March 2010 by Todd


Today we bring you an indie interview with Matt Martel, the creator of reMovem!

Company: Mundue LLC
App Store: reMovem $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?
My history prior to doing iPhone development is that of a long-time Mac and cross-platform developer. Absolutely nothing to do with games. Mostly desktop applications for video editing, workgroup collaboration, application development, that sort of thing. I was one of the few developers initially accepted into the program, when the pre-release 2.0 SDK was first made available. The company I worked for at the time decided to do an iPhone app in April of 2008. Thus my first iPhone app was a file uploader/feed reader for a social networking site.

How long did it take you to develop reMovem and how many people were involved?
After finishing the app for my day job I started to work on my own stuff. I completed the original version in less than a week. My wife and partner Trish did the testing. We’ve done about 20 updates to the free and paid versions in the last year and a half.

How did you come up with the idea for reMovem?
It’s based on games known variously as SameGame/Jawbreaker/ChainShot. I wrote a Mac version in 2005. I rewrote it a couple of times, but never released it to the public. I was experimenting with different cross-platform frameworks (such as Qt), but in July 2008 I realized that I should build the Cocoa version for the iPhone.

What inspired you for reMovem from initial concept to formalized game?
Once I realized the Mac to iPhone conversion would be relatively easy, I wanted to perfect the touch-based gameplay and release it as quickly as possible. I spent the most amount of time experimenting with different puzzle piece sizes. From the beginning I’ve tried to keep the game as simple as possible, which is a big part of its appeal.

What inspires you? And is it different for each game?
Definitely different for each game. I frequently get inspired by the feel of another game. For example, lately I’m interested in time-based games like Compression, in which the tension is palpable. Very much in the Frenzic vein. Hats off to our friends at Little White Bear Studios for perfecting that format.

What have you found most difficult about being an indie developer?
It’s awesome working for myself, but I do miss the constant interaction with my peers. The need to wear so many hats (developer, artist, marketer, spokesman, etc.) is challenging. Last summer I quit my day job (I was working on an iPhone app for a medical software company near Boston) and went full-time on Mundue LLC. Seems like I work just as much now with one job than I did before with two!

Can you describe your development process?
I’m always working on one or more projects, so my schedule is flexible. Occasionally there’s a deadline for a holiday release or something like that, but I work all hours of the day if I’m making good progress. I try to block off features and hand them over to Trish for testing when they’re ready. We each have our own lists of tasks to ensure the updates are ready in time.

What does the creative process look like during the initial stages?
Lots of sketching. I love using whiteboards, graph paper and the iPhone Sketchbook. I try to rough out a few screens on paper and figure out how to hook them together. Only then do I begin to place some elements in Interface Builder or try to write any code.

Did you do any pre-marketing before reMovem was released?

What are you working on now? Any plans for updates to reMovem?
I’m working on a major revision to reMovem, an iPad-only version, which will probably combine the free and paid versions, and all their variants, into a single model. After that I’ve got three more unannounced games in the preliminary (sketch) phase. In addition, I’ve been working on an informal basis to help promote other indie developer apps. During the Christmas holiday I ran some cross-promotional ads for about 20 other apps inside my reMovem free game. We’ve got a large installed base and I feel there’s a big opportunity here.

What have you found to be the most successful way to market reMovem?
We found having a hugely successful free app first helped when it came to selling the paid version. Things are different today, but early on developers routinely took popular free apps and ‘flipped’ them to paid in order to capitalize on the popularity. We never flipped, but came out with a paid version LATER, and it slowly and steadily caught on. Now we use in-app reminders for the free version to point folks toward the paid versions. This causes a consistent number of paid conversions.

How much does user feedback affect your planning of updates and also future projects?
When reMovem first came out we received many comments and suggestions. We updated frequently with many minor enhancements, always cognizant of the need to keep it simple. Then we updated with new language support, eventually reaching 13 different languages. That all began with a suggestion from a fan in the Netherlands. Thanks, Luc!

Do you write games for yourself or for others? And why?
Usually for myself. It’s nearly impossible to get it right if you don’t make it for yourself. When I wrote our Keno simulation game, iKeno, I was not so enthusiastic about it at first. We did a little research and concluded there was an opportunity for a Keno game on the iPhone, so I decided to do it. As soon as I saw the first screens come to life I was hooked. Once I got into it I made the changes that I thought it should have, and was very pleased with the result.

What was the development atmosphere like? What kind of music did you listen to?
For the early reMovem development it was all classical. Specifically Mozart. Don’t really know why, but the music without lyrics really helped me focus at that time. Now I’m back to a mix of alt/folk/prog/classic rock. Anything from Muse to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to Porcupine Tree. With a good dose of guitar blues as well.

What was a must have during the development process of reMovem?
In order to concentrate I turned off the TV. I honestly did not watch a single bit of the Beijing Olympics, sadly.

To what do you attribute to reMovem success? Did you expect this level of success?
Being first to the AppStore was a big help. Having a simple yet addictive game was crucial. We knew reMovem was fun but were totally unprepared for the response. It was in the top ten list of all free applications within 36 hours, and rose to first place on its fifth day!

How close was the end product to your initial conceptualization?
It was nearly identical to the Mac version, which was our goal.

Before the release of reMovem were there any huge last minute changes?

How did you keep yourself motivated?
If I’m stuck on a problem I usually take a break and go for a walk or hike in one of the many parks near where we live.

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?
There’s not much to reMovem except for the bubbles! Choosing the right colors was the hardest part, and in fact we needed to make changes to accommodate our colorblind users. That’s something I wish I had done right in the first place. I see it as an issue in so many other games now.

What tools of the trade are a must have for you when it comes to programming, art and music?
My main system is a MacBook Pro 17″ with SSD, a wireless keyboard, and a 24″ LCD Cinema display. Tried the Apple Magic Mouse and don’t like it so I’m sticking with my Logitech 6-button mouse. I use Xcode and Interface Builder for building things, Versions and Changes for source control, and Acorn for graphics. For audio I use Fission and Audio Hijack Pro. I have also used iShowU, Stomp, and Jing for grabbing screens. For music I have a nice pair of Sennheiser HD 280 headphones hooked up to iTunes.

If you were stuck on an island with a laptop and no internet access what apps would you have loaded?
I’ll be using Xcode to build things. And Chopper to blow them up.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Being an indie developer has allowed me the flexibility to work anywhere I wish. Having spent my entire life in New England, my wife and I recently decided to relocate to Colorado and the view is awesome! This is what keeps me going.

We want to thank Matt Martel for his time and for reMovem!

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