Keith Otto from Ramble Interactive kindly agreed to be interviewed for Arcadelife. Keith is responsible for two of Arcadelife’s favourite hop-em-ups: Toxic Frog and Revenge of Toxic Frog. A free version, RoTF Marathon has recently hopped onto the app store. Here’s Keith to tell us all about his gaming history, favourite games, design philosophies and much more…
Please give us a bit of information about the company, Ramble Interactive – where are you based, what do you do, that sort of thing.
Ramble Interactive is based in Southern California, a little outside of San Diego in a town called Escondido. The whole goal of the studio is to create incredibly unique and exciting games for mobile platforms. We are available for contracting, but our main focus has been producing our own games.
What is your gaming history? Do you go back as far as the golden arcade age?
I go back as far as the abacus. We used to play this game to see who could arrange the stones in a specific pattern the fastest and the loser was hit on the head with a small club made from deer antler. I probably shouldn’t go into my whole history, you know punch cards and vacuum tubes and so on, that could get a little boring.
I suppose my first real game console that people might be at least a little familiar with was the Magnavox Odyssey 2. Around the same time I had a Commodore VIC-20 with a cassette tape drive. Yes, a cassette tape drive that took 2 years to load anything.
Even so, the VIC-20 is what really got me into programming. I became more fascinated with what made a game work rather than playing them, so I started programming that little thing in Basic. As I was also learning music at the time, my first program was actually a very simple music synthesizer.
What was the first video game that you played, or that you (vaguely) remember playing?
That would have to be Alien Invaders-Plus on the Odyssey:
I played that game until the joystick fell apart. The Odyssey quickly took the back seat to the Vic-20 and the eventual Commodore 64. I fell in love with the Ultima games and could play those all night long no problem.
Eventually, my Dad bought a PC for his business. It was one of the first ‘portables’ from Compaq and it was like a suitcase. Literally. I quickly commandeered this machine to play even more games such as the Wizardry series.
However, my all time favourite to this day has to be Rogue. That pathetically addictive game made up of nothing but ASCII symbols and letters for monsters. Dungeon crawling at its finest! To this day I still get nervous around the letter ‘D’. I found an emulator online that I still play when I am feeling particularly nostalgic: http://www.hexatron.com/rogue/
Have you ever named a friend, pet or partner after a video game character?
It’s funny you should ask this question. Actually I have a game planned that is entirely based around a very special little dog in our life, a little Italian Greyhound named Frankie.
This one has a real story behind it, but I won’t reveal too much just yet! I’m a fan of things that have a little more to them than meets the eye. For instance, I digress a bit here, but the opening lines to the ‘Revenge of Toxic Frog’ trailer are actually a fully intended metaphor:
floating free on your Jungle Pond.
You only have one life to live,
where will you hop?”
Little Frog = That’s you.
Floating free on your Jungle Pond = Jungle Pond is the world, floating free means free to make choices, be who you want to be, choose your path.
You only have one life to live = You only have one life to live.
Where will you hop? = What will you choose?
I definitely don’t plan on doing this with all my games, but there’s even more things like that sprinkled throughout the original Toxic Frog on the opening of some levels (not that anyone would ever guess, I did it more for my own amusement). For instance:
Level 9 says:
‘Hop on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to hop toward perfection.’
The original quote is from Kahlil Gibran:
‘March on. Do not tarry. To go forward is to move toward perfection.’
Level 11 says:
‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of hopping, not absence of fear.’
The original is Mark Twain:
‘Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.’
Have you ever been to Las Vegas?
Ha yes! But not for a long long time, even though it is only half a day’s drive from here. My family used to pass through there almost every summer vacation when I was a kid. Usually we were headed to the Grand Canyon or some National Park. It always included a stop in Vegas. The kids would go to Circus Circus and play carnival games and the adults would gamble of course. I think I still have one of the stupid stuffed parrots I won some place around here :0)
That last question was a bit random, sorry. Of all the video games that you have ever played, which ones would you say were the most influential for your own game development?
Believe it or not this is a tough one because nothing in particular comes to mind. I suppose they are all in there in one form or another. It’s really just a love of games and technology in general that influences me, but even more so for creating something. With games, I get to do a little of everything I love, art, music, and coding. I get inspired by an idea and it just blossoms from there. I get excited about coming up with the characters and the plot so to speak. There is so much involved, the way I look at it I imagine it is very much like creating a movie. I’m not saying any of my current games are epic, but I put a lot of work into them just as does every game developer who has a true passion for what they are making.
What have been some of your favourite games on iOS in the last couple of years?
You might not guess it from looking at the content I make, but I absolutely love Limbo.
I never played it on the console but I was all over it when it came to the iPad, absolutely fantastic. Another total favorite is Stickman Downhill, 3 stars on every track wooohoooo! The retro in me was also heavily addicted to Luxor Evolved HD. The graphics reminded me a lot of Battle Tank and Tempest, two of my all time arcade game favorites.
You have recently released a sequel to your first iOS game, Toxic Frog. Why frogs? Did the hopping gameplay come first or did you always want to write games involving frogs?
The hopping gameplay was totally first, I do not have any type of frog addiction at least that I am aware of. The first one started out as a rather simple idea and a prototype in Flash (although the game is not written in Flash). I thought it would be a rather cool tapping game and and it grew quickly from there. It became more than the frog at least to me, although I love the frog. I kind of got sucked in creating the little jungle world, the characters, setting the mood down to the tiki on the settings screen with the settings gear tattoos. As far as the gameplay is concerned the idea is still rather simple and people always comment that it is more challenging than it appears. In the same way, ‘Revenge of Toxic Frog’ was born, I just liked the idea of the gameplay. God knows I did not do a sequel because the first one was a massive hit or anything :0)
One thing I always thought was daringly different about TF and now the sequel, the game is named after one of the many hazards, not the protagonist character. The Toxic Frog doesn’t even feature in every level. I’m guessing you loved the title Toxic Frog when you thought of it, and stuck with it. Am I right?
You are absolutely right! I liked the name a lot. In fact, technically speaking there is no such creature as the ‘Toxic Frog’, the little guys are actually called Poison Dart Frogs. Then with RoTF there is no real element of revenge of course, I was just spoofing B-grade horror movies and it made me laugh.
How do you gauge whether a game’s difficulty is just right, or do you not even believe that is possible? I don’t actually think there’s a “right answer” to that question, but I’d be interested in hearing your views.
I think this is one of the most difficult things in game development, forget the programming and the art. I don’t think you can come up with a standard that is suitable across the board. Some people are intense gamers and score over a million points on silly little frog games, and some people don’t make it past a thousand. The best thing a developer can do is to have a large test audience and get some feedback. Even then it won’t be 100% unless your test audience is the entire world. Of course everyone knows that in both games with levels and endless runners you can always start out ridiculously easy and then ramp up the dangers as the player progresses. Of course the question remains, how quickly and to what degree do you ramp up the dangers 😉
I’m hooked on high-scoring in Revenge of Toxic Frog. Did you anticipate the scoring to be such a big part of the game (for me anyway) or was the progressive difficulty of the levels, plus the addition of the Marathon modes more the whole point of the sequel for you?
I never in my life imagined the scoring could be such a big part, but I was very pleasantly surprised! You very well opened my eyes to that one and now I am addicted to going for killer combos as well. The first Toxic Frog had combos too, but you really couldn’t do much more than 3 unless you were extremely lucky. So with RoTF, I just threw the combos in there, not giving any thought to the fact that you can really rack them up and it is really fun! The real motive behind the sequel was the game play itself, the physics based interaction of the lily pads was what got me going. It actually started out as an endless runner (endless hopper) which is what the Marathon modes are, but then I got the idea for the progressive level of difficulty and collecting the masks.
What music do you like? Do you listen to music while you’re coding?
I am literally all over the place with music. When I am coding I tend to listen to electronica with the likes of Amon Tobin and DJ Krush, or sometimes I listen to film score music from movies such as Coraline, The Corpse Bride, How to Train your Dragon, etc. Then some days I am listening to Limp Bizkit. I started out playing music at young age and was classically trained on flute, so for awhile I got into old traditional music. In fact, during the one trip I took to the UK I spent a lot of time hunting out pubs where they had open sessions and I would go and sit in to play old English and Irish folk tunes. That was a blast, just sitting around the table playing these old tunes with all these nice people, and everyone buying you drinks! From flute, I went into playing piano and keyboards and was in all kinds of bands growing up. I think it helps to have varied musical tastes when you are writing the music for your own games. That way you can sink yourself into the musical style that has the write feel for the atmosphere of the game. When I wrote the music for the first Toxic Frog, I was listening to Ali Farka Toure, AfroCubism and a bunch of World Beat music to get the right feel for what the Toxic Frog music should sound like. As for me though, I listen to a little bit of everything as long as I like it and there is definite talent or artistry there. Some days call for Loreena McKennitt, and some days call for Korn. In fact, here is a little video I caught recently of my wife, ‘Grumpy Bear Listens to Korn’ (she is going to kill me for this):
How about films? Could you give me your top 3 favourites, or top 5 if you feel like it.
I am a huge Lord of the Rings fan. I was always a fan of the books, I read them all the time, but then the three films in that trilogy were just excellent. If you take those out of the picture, I really enjoy the stuff that comes out of Laika House including Paranorman and Coraline.
If you had to have a tattoo of a video game character, which character would it be and where on your body would you have the tattoo? I’m assuming that you don’t already have one…!
Well it would definitely have to be the Toxic Frog of course, and I think upper right shoulder :0)
Thanks very much to Keith from Ramble Interactive for taking part in this interview for Arcadelife.
Thank you so much, it was really my pleasure!