Rodeo Games – Interview

March 9, 2011

Rodeo Games‘ debut for iOS devices, Hunters: Episode One, has been out for a couple of weeks; a recent update was released on March 5th that addressed some unfortunate crash-causing bugs in the initial release. Arcadelife has already posted a hands-on preview and a review of the full game, so now I thought it was time for an in-depth interview with Rodeo Games. It has taken some time to complete the interview, due to their full-on commitment to sorting out the bugs in Hunters as quickly as possible, but it has definitely been worth the wait. Read on to find out who they are, how they do what they do, and what the future may hold in store for this already very impressive game…

Who are the members of Rodeo Games and what are their roles?

Developing Hunters was a very collaborative project and we all had a great deal of input in all areas of the game design. But we had our own areas of expertise that we brought from our experience in the game industry.

Adam: I’m Adam. I programmed the majority of the ‘contract’ game amongst other things.
Ben: I’m Ben Murch, the sole Artist here at Rodeo Games. I’m in charge of the look and style of our games.
Laurent: I’m Laurent, I lead the game design and also run the business & marketing side of things.
Richard:  I’m Rich Brooks, I programmed the UI, menus and core graphics engine for Hunters.

Rodeo Games - Thank these 4 people for Hunters: Episode One

Was Rodeo Games formed specifically to produce Hunters?

Adam: Yes and no. The company was formed knowing that Hunters would be our first title, though I think it’s safe to say the we don’t intend for it to be our only title!
Ben: Yeah, there was so much to do in the beginning, like setting up the company and finding some cash! We all knew Hunters would be our first game, and didn’t really think any further than that.
Adam: And we’re still looking to find some cash haha

Adam - he's a programmer with a big gun.

Did you [the members of Rodeo Games] all come from the same previous company, or did you get together via other means?

Ben: Funny story, Laurent was my old next door neighbor. We first met when he’d locked himself out of his flat. Adam and Rich, I met at Codemasters.

What was the first videogame that you ever played, or your earliest gaming memory?

Laurent: My uncle worked at Phillips years ago and he got one of the very first Philips Videopac + G7400 and pretty much every title they released, I was only 6 years old then but I must have spent at least 5 years playing on that console, I loved it. Super Bee was the first game that I really remember getting hooked on.

Rich: My Dad worked at Texas Instruments when I was about 7 and he brought home their entertainment system. I think it was called the 99-4A. I played a game called Parsec, a spaceship shooter, like a primitive R-Type with a joystick that had one giant red button. Loved it.

Parsec - still looking (fairly) good after all these years

Adam: My earliest gaming memory was probably down to STOS on the Atari ST – I guess an equivalent today would be LittleBigPlanet.  It was a suite of tools that allowed you to create your own games, and it’s pretty much the reason I do what I do.

I remember this too, but I don't think I achieved much with it.

Ben: I had a C64 back in the day. Used to play all sorts of games on there, but also figured out you could create pictures on the startup screen by placing various coloured squares. I remember spending all morning creating a pixel art dolphin……..that’s cool…….right?

Was Hunters always going to be suffixed with ‘Episode One’, or was this something that you were obliged to add, due to the existence of a game called Hunters already on the app store?

Laurent: The working title was just ‘Hunters’ but I’d always imagined that we’d end up renaming it before release, but after a year of using that name it just felt right and so we decided to stick with it. Literally two weeks before submitting though someone got there before us, with a Duck Hunt style game so we had to change it. We settled on Hunters: Episode One.

An early concept version of Hunters

How long did it take you to make Hunters?

Laurent:  Ben and I started talking about the early concepts around March time last year, I think we even named the game on the first night we started discussing it. When we got together with Adam & Rich things really started to get going and we went full time in August, we submitted in February, so 6 months solid.

Is the game engine licensed or developed by Rodeo Games?

Adam: Everything in the game is either a native part of the iOS libraries or developed in-house.  Once we weighed up the cost of licensing an engine vs writing our own, there was really no decision to make.

Laurent gets some "top-down" view inspiration...

Does Hunters run satisfactorily on older generation iPods and iPhones? As it’s turn-based, my assumption is that frame-rate isn’t quite as crucial as with games where input response and timing are important factors.

Rich: It requires at least iPhone 3GS and at least an iPod Touch 2nd generation. One of our focuses for Hunters was to make a good looking game, because we knew the iOS devices were capable of amazing things. But in order to do this we needed to push them to the limits of their capability.  Unfortunately, for the iPhone 3G and 1st generation iPod touches did not have the memory required to support high fidelity artwork.

While coding, or creating the artwork for Hunters, what music were you mostly listening to?  

Rich: We often have music playing in the background at Rodeo Games. Mostly Ben’s music, but I think Adam isn’t too keen on it because he’s usually got his headphones on listening to some crazy dance remixes.
Adam: …or the Glee soundtrack.
Ben: We also have a free-for-all “Friday Playlist” on spotify for the last afternoon of the week. People get to put whatever they like in there. Which is……….interesting.

The hidden, easter-egg, "Disco" level. Yes, I am making this stuff up as I go along...

There are plenty of obvious and more subtle references to genre movies, games and other inspirational material in Hunters. I spotted quotes and references to Robocop, Smash TV and X-Men within minutes of first playing the game. Obvious question, but you’re clearly big fans of the action/sci-fi genre, right?

Laurent: I’ll just say YES to this one before I bore you with all the stuff I love in the Sci-Fi world.
Ben: I don’t mind boring you! Aliens is up there in my top three films. When we started the project, I spent hours and hours viewing every detail in every frame. I think that comes through a lot in the Space Station levels. They started all dark and twinkley like Blade Runner, but the light blue distance fog from Aliens worked soooooo much better. Created this beautiful contrast from the dark metallic flooring.

The Hunters game screen is mostly clear of control buttons and stats panels, particularly when no specific Hunter or enemy is selected. Was it a conscious decision to avoid the often baffling array of on-screen commands and information that this type of game often contains?

Laurent: Yes, and I’m still hoping we can lose some of the few elements that are in the current release in a future update once we work out some more elegant solutions for them. We fought hard to keep as much of the mission game interface as clear and clutter free as possible….
Adam: I think it’s really important to keep the screen as free as possible in games, not just on touchscreen devices.  I get frustrated when games make me use my phone like it’s got dual-stick controls, because immediately I’m losing a quarter of the screen.

I’d like to find out some more about the 24 hour real-time refresh of missions and associated features. I’m sure this is something that a lot of people are unclear about and would like to fully understand.

Rich: Every day there are five contracts available to play and replay as much as you like. At midnight, those contracts get refreshed for five new contracts.  Each contract takes between 15-30 minutes to complete.  Once you have started the contract you can take as long as you like to complete it.

Ben: Something which excited us when we first started the project is the way the game is always with you. Think of it in terms of a TV show. Every day you tune in to see your characters, presenters, story, etc. We wanted to incorporate elements of that into our game. Imagine logging into Hunters every night at 9:00 to play the latest story episode, whilst still being able to go off and do your daily contracts. Sure, we could have given players all the contracts right out of the box, but we wanted to try something different. The game at the moment is a great platform for us to respond and provide people with the content they want.

Adam: For me, one of the great things about mobile gaming is that games are being designed for the platform.  By platform, I don’t mean the iOS/WP7/Android divide, but rather the difference between PC games, console games and mobile games – we have essentially taken the TBS genre and re-engineered it to fit with the expectations of mobile gaming.  Part of that means designing the game in a way that allows players to enjoy the full experience of the game without having to play for long periods at a time, and we felt that the limit contract mechanic delivered exactly that.

Is an internet connection required in order to get the daily mission updates or are all the missions already in the game, and automatically refreshed every 24 hours?

Rich: No. All of the contracts are contained within the app.

Does every player in the world get the same 5 missions when the list is refreshed?

Rich: Yes. This was one of the reasons why we liked the five contracts a day design.  We thought it would be very cool if people could talk about their contracts with friends.  “Hey, did you do the ‘Destroy The Reactors’ contract today? I managed it with shotguns and three SMGs.  I went in around the side.”
Ben: We also have some crazy ideas that would allow people to “compete” during the daily contracts. For example, the player whose Hunters take the least damage gets a gift.

Apart from gaining credits, gear and XP, there doesn’t appear to be a permanent record of the number of missions (objectives & secondary objectives) that a player has completed. Is this something that you are thinking of adding, maybe via Game Center if not as an integrated part of the game itself?

Rich: Yes we fully intend to integrate with Game Center in our first update. We have some really cool achievements to do with mission tracking. Also, for example, inflicting damage on 5 enemies in one shot, causing more than 25,000 points of damage in one shot, etc.

Will there be a multi-contract campaign added that is not subject to the 24 hour refresh, meaning a permanent set of story missions that most people would be more familiar with?

Adam: Yeah, we love the idea of having multi-contract campaigns.  Because of the platform we’re on, there’s a lot of fun that can be had with campaign progression – there’s no reason that missions can’t be offered based on location or time of day, for example.
Rich: Yes, we’re very keen on adding story contracts as well. We fully intend to continue to grow and expand Hunters after launch.
Ben: In fact, I’m starting to work on the environments for our first Story Pack.

Will the standard “Daily 5” missions always be free, not IAPs?

Adam: Yes, absolutely.  Whilst we intend to offer additional content through IAP in the future, there will always be 5 missions to play each day.
Ben: Yes, think of them as the “base”. We’ll always be updating them with new maps and contracts. Some of these will be IAPs, and some of them won’t. I guess it really depends on how our company is doing!

Rich - Hopefully there's going to be more to eat than just those tiny bread rolls!

The option to rename your squad and individual Hunters, plus change their uniform colour, really appeals to me. Was this feature in from the start or added relatively late on? Anyone want to take the credit for coming up with the idea?

Rich: We planned for it from the start.  Before we had AI in the game we played against each other and we always liked to name our Hunters because it gave us more satisfaction when we took someone down.
Ben: Yes, it’s really important to put your own touch on Hunters, so your team actually feel like YOUR team. We plan on putting more customisation options into the game.

You’re active on the Toucharcade forum, as are the developers of many other games. Do you enjoy this level of interaction with fans and players, possibly also with critics, and do you think you get useful feedback and suggestions by joining forums such as that one?

Ben: It’s a funny thing, I quite enjoy going on the forums, listening to people’s ideas and in return sharing info about us and the game. However, you need the thickest skin. You need to be able to walk through it all, extracting the useful comments as you go without getting upset about the negative ones. We had a great build up to launch, then took a massive kicking during our first week due to a very unfortunate bug. It’s getting back to normal now.
Laurent: I really enjoy it, you tend to get very different feedback from forums that you do from direct feedback emails. The fact that people are taking the time to discuss our game be it positive or negative posts is great, it shows that the game is striking a chord with TBS fans out there and that’s exciting. We’ve also had a few brilliant ideas come our way that we’re adding to the first major patch that were suggested via forum posts.

What iPod and iPad games have you enjoyed playing recently, assuming you’ve had time to play anyone else’s games while working on Hunters?

Laurent: Words with Friends, Mini Squadron, Uniwar, Strategery, Sword & Poker, Flight Control are the stand out iOS titles for me. I like what Galaxy on Fire are doing too but I haven’t had much time since they released the new version to really get into it yet.
Rich: Galaxy on Fire 2, Infinity Blade and World of Goo.
Adam: Boggle, Tiny Wings, Infinity Blade and Labyrinth.
Ben: Words with Friends, Sword and Poker, God Finger, Game Dev Story and Cat Physics have all eaten into my gaming hours!

Ben - An active social life is still possible, even for Game Dev Story fans!

In Hunters, are non-human enemies likely to put in an appearance in future updates? I’m not going to mention Aliens specifically, but a campaign waged against Xenomorph style enemies would obviously be hugely entertaining.

Laurent: Absolutely, we’ll be working on this very soon.
Rich: Yeah, it’s something we all really wanted. It’ll definitely be cool to add some different races in the game.
Ben: It’s actually my fault. What with doing everything else in the game, I simply didn’t have time to do all the required artwork to make an original and convincing alien race. Definitely for a future update.

Do you intend to add Game Center leaderboards and achievements to Hunters?

Adam: Leaderboards are something that we’d love to do, but we’re against doing them just to be able to tick that box.  We’ve some ideas for game modes that would work really well with scores, so hopefully we’ll get to bring those in to the mix in an update.
Ben: We have the achievements nearly ready to go. They’ll be featuring in an upcoming update.

Are there any plans for multiplayer? The game screen already looks like a one-on-one multiplayer game; I would have thought adding that kind of online ‘versus’ mode would be fairly straightforward.

Laurent: We’ve had a ‘pass and play’ multiplayer version working since about late September. It needs a bit of polish still, but it is coming soon, maybe 1.2 or 1.3. Network multiplayer is a bit more work, and although it’s on the road map, it’s not something we’ve started to build yet.
Ben: When Laurent and I first started talking about Hunters, it was a primarily multiplayer game. We soon realised that the Single Player was a better way to get people acquainted with the series.

Quite a lot has changed since the early versions of Hunters

I picked up most of my early strategies by watching the AI characters’ behaviour. They have quite a few tricks up their sleeves! Was it a high priority to give players a realistic AI opponent that wasn’t completely dominant but also not a total walk-over?

Rich: Yes, balancing the AI is key to the enjoyment of the game.  The first AI that Adam produced was so intensely brutal that we’d all struggle to make it through the first room.
Ben: Haha, I remember that. Adam’s first AI pass was so hard it made me want to cry.

There’s an option to buy in-game credits via IAP, also ad support via the unobtrusive “free gift” menu selections. As a financial model, it looks as though Hunters is going in with most of its options open. Personally, I don’t have a problem with this as it’s all completely optional and there is no nagging to participate while you’re playing the game. Other potential players may be put off just by knowing the game features IAPs and advertising; what can you say to convince them that it’s really ok and that they shouldn’t worry about it?

Rich: We understand that people have issues with in your face in-app purchases and adverts and there are some apps out there that have really abused them.  We have purposefully made the IAPs and adverts as unobtrusive as possible.  There is no push message “nagging” and no in your face reminders in the game. If you don’t want to see an advert/IAP, you don’t have to.

Adam: The game is designed and balanced to be played without IAP or viewing advertising.  That said, some people will happily view an advert or pay real money to advance their progression quicker, so we’ve included those features.

Ben: It’s a shame that people have been abused so much by IAP recently that they see it in a game and automatically think bad thoughts. As developers in this market, we need to explore the pricing structures work out the best way to fund the continued development. 

Laurent & Ben re-enacting the "locked out of his flat" scene.

As far as I can tell, Hunters is being exclusively released on iPod/iPhone & iPad. Is it likely to one day appear as a PC game, as I would assume there is a fairly large audience for this kind of turn-based sci-fi combat game in the PC market.

Rich: I would love to do a PC version of Hunters. But there are no current plans to do so at the minute. We will focused on building upon and improving our current iOS version of Hunters.
Adam: I honestly don’t think that a straight port to PC would work. One of the main reasons the game feels so natural to play is that the interface behaves in the way that you expect it to – without rewriting the user interface, we’d immediately lose that feeling.

After playing several missions, two things seem essential for victory – the effective use of cover, and very careful management of distance between your guys and the bad guys. Do you have any useful hints and tips for new players, so they don’t get completely annihilated in their first couple of missions?

Rich: In the early contracts take in a balanced team.  Equip a couple of your Hunters with short range weapons and a couple with long range weapons.  Remember to upgrade your weapons and armour in the shop. Oh and try not to leave your Hunters standing in the open for the AI turn.

Ben: When you’re stepping into a new room, take it one square at a time. Don’t rush in and realise you have no Action Points to get out again!

Adam: As you level up you team and they get more powerful, don’t forget that under all that armour your Hunters are still extremely vulnerable.  Also, that Hail Mary light-armor-sprinting ninja move to grab the artifact without anyone noticing isn’t likely to work!

The weapons are all great but the Sledgehammer really stands out, even more than the flamethrower, as the iconic weapon of Hunters. Any particular reason for a Sledgehammer rather than a club or power-fist?

Ben: Haha, awesome! I remember the conversations we had on melee weapons. We’d nearly decided to leave them out, but Adam threw in some “Chain Whips” and we were insta-sold! Then someone mentioned sledgehammers, and the legend was born!

Rich: However, when we hit Beta testing, a lot of our testers didn’t rate the hammer. I love it personally. It’s my second favourite weapon. (My favourite is the rocket launcher). In my opinion, one of the best things about Hunters is that there are several valid ways to build your team. You can have a team of light, agile snipers. Or a team of tanked up heavy shotgunners and melee attackers. However, a close range team will struggle in the open maps, and conversely a long range sniper team will struggle in close quarters maps.  And some maps have both open and close-quarters elements, so you’ll need a balanced team for those ones.

I’ve only played the iPad version of Hunters; are there any fundamental differences between the HD version and the iPod/iPhone version, or is everything the same in both?

Rich: The game itself is identical for iPhone and iPad.  The artwork and screen layouts have been tailored for the individual devices for a better look and clarity.

Ben: Yeah, double the work for me and Rich!

The app store is an interesting marketplace. A lot of the games are fairly disposable in nature, many are also not very good quality. Hunters stands out quite clearly as a proper game, professionally developed with high quality artwork and an overall look and feel of a polished product. Does it sometimes seem a bit daunting to be putting something of this quality alongside a couple of thousand angry doodle zombie games where any new game can be mercilessly slaughtered by 1-star iTunes reviews just because people don’t read the game description before downloading?

Ben: Daunting isn’t really the word. Extreme terror covers it a bit better. I mean, we’ve basically gambled our lives, money and professional reputations on an idea we came up with in the pub! Part of our plan was that we needed to stand out from the crowd, hopefully the title will appeal to enough gamers and TBS fans that they’ll dwarf the haters.

Do you have any other games in development that you would like to mention, or are you fully occupied with updates and additional content for Hunters?

Laurent: We’re going to continue to improve all aspects of Hunters, we probably have at least a year’s worth of development ideas that we’ve been looking at, and I’m sure we’ll get lots of new ideas and feedback from players aswell.

Ben: We’ve all got games we’d like to make. However, we want to turn Hunters into something really special, and that’s going to take all our time and focus for the foreseeable future.

For anyone who is still unsure, what one thing can you say about Hunters that will convince them to play it?

Adam: It’s great fun and you can go and play it right now for free – why would you not?

Rich: It’s free to download. You’ve got nothing to lose. Give it a go!

Ben: Hunters is a title created by gamers for gamers. We love it, hopefully you will too.

Laurent: If you want a more involved experience and something you can really get into, then this could be the title that really gets you playing games on your iPhone.

Thanks to Rodeo games for their participation in this interview. Good luck with Hunters and your future projects.

Hunters: Episode One (iPod/iPhone)
Hunters: Episode One HD (iPad)
Rodeo Games website

One comment

  1. Great interview, would be great to see more of these. I must have another go at Hunters now the update is out.

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