Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

h1

Keith Otto (Ramble Interactive) interview

February 27, 2014

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.

Magnavox

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.

vic20

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.

Ultima1-3

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.

compaq

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/

Rogue_Unix_Screenshot_CAR

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.

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:

“Little Frog,
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.

Limbo ipad pic 1115

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)

revenge of toxic frog pic 2098

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!

Advertisements
h1

Jeff Minter interview

April 27, 2011

Jeff Minter has been kind enough to take part in an interview for Arcadelife. Jeff is the founder of Llamasoft and has created games such as Gridrunner (1982), Attack of the Mutant Camels (1983), Llamatron: 2112 (1991), Tempest 2000 (1994), Gridrunner Revolution (2009) and, most recently, the first couple of Minotaur Project games on iOS devices – Minotaur Rescue and Minotron: 2112. I particularly wanted to interview Jeff to find out about his gaming history, thoughts on iOS game development and his farm animals…

Without any further delay, here’s the interview!

How big is your farm? Do you have to use a quad to travel around the fields?

It’s not that big, what we’d call a “smallholding” rather than a full on farm, at around 7 acres split into three fields. You can easily walk round it all although I have thought it might be fun to set up a quad track in the top field :). We use the top field mainly for radio aerials and the bottom two for the beasties. The bottom field is the largest, full of lush grass and trees, and in summer I like to go and sit there with the sheep; it’s like having your own private park. And us being nerds there’s wifi coverage in all three fields :).

How many different animals live on your farm? How many of them have been given names?

Currently we have 7 sheep, two llamas, a pygmy goat and a donkey.  All of them have names, of course. The sheep are Jerry, Fuwafuwa, Shaun, Katamari, Shaggysheep, Butterbean and Teddy. The llamas are Iki and Maya. The goat is Alice, and the donkey is Leona. We also appear to be the centre of a large bunny population and fat, relaxed rabbits are often to be seen in the fields and on the front lawn.

Alice the goat

Are the farm animals kept as pets or livestock, or maybe both?

 They are all pets; we ask nothing more from them than that they have happy, relaxed, and hopefully long lives :).

A happy, glowing sheep

Have you always lived in the UK? Never been tempted to move somewhere warmer?

I lived in the US for three years but never really settled in there. I missed my cups of tea and curry houses too much ;). It may rain a bit here but that makes the countryside very green and lush, and when the sun does come out in the summer it’s one of the best places on earth, I swear. You can’t beat a lovely sunny day in the bottom field watching plump, happy, contented sheep bumbling about, maybe occasionally coming over for cuddles and skritchies. Bliss :).

I’ve been hooked on videogames for over 30 years – What was the first videogame that you played and can you remember exactly where it was (pub, arcade, cafe)?

First ever videogame was probably a Binatone Pong set that one of my brothers got and brought over to show us. First coinop was Breakout, in a smoky wine bar in Basingstoke in which I was underage drinking with some of my brothers and their friends. But the first one to really hook me in was Space Invaders which I played for the first time at a travelling fair that came to our village. I’d heard of some new game that was huge in Japan and wanted to see it for myself. I got 470 points on my first go IIRC.

I recently went back to the place where I first played Space Invaders, a pub in Herefordshire near the Welsh border. They’ve extended the old back room where there used to be a pool table, juke-box, dartboard and videogame cabinet and turned it into a restaurant. Progress, maybe, but I think I preferred it as it used to be. Long-winded intro to the question – do you think the world was a more interesting place when there were videogames in pubs, cafes, chip shops and little backstreet record shops?

Yes, absolutely, in fact just a couple of days ago I was chatting on irc and mentioned how my mental map of the area I lived in in the 80s is tagged with arcade machines – Missile Command in the newsagents, Super Earth Invasion down the Ship Inn, Amidar and Donkey Kong at the Fighting Cocks, The Pit and Stratovox at the Fox and Hounds, Asteroids Deluxe at the Wellington Arms, Galaxian and Pac-Man at the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment recreational society, Scorpion at the Hind’s Head… I served my Space Invaders apprenticeship at Harlequin Records in the new market square next to Basingstoke bus station. I do miss the old coinops being everywhere. I used to love the sit-down tables in pubs where you could sit down with a pint and a mate for a nice game of doubles. These days you only ever see coinop in seaside arcades (that are mostly pushers and fruitys anyway) and service stations and even then it’s only ever fighters, big driving cabs and gun games. I still think there’d be a place in pubs for a MAME cab where the game got changed every few weeks – I’d definitely play it, and I’m sure others would too, but there’s only ever fruities if there’s anything at all. I know we now all have awesome consoles at home, but it’s not about the tech, it’s being able to have a nice sociable game of something simple and fun… I do miss that.

Asteroids cocktail cabinet - sadly missed pub furniture

Out of all the videogames that you have ever played, which ones would you say were the most fun and/or the most significant and influential for you personally?

Definitely Eugene Jarvis’ Williams coinops (Defender, Stargate, Robotron, Sinistar) which were and still are a huge influence on my own game design style. Also obviously Tempest, Star Wars, Asteroids, Missile Command, Centipede, all great classics… Star Raiders on the Atari 400/800 was also awesome, one of the best home games of the 8-bit era, astonishing to think it was written in the 1970s. Rescue on Fractalus was a stunning technical achievement on a 1MHz 8-bit machine and great fun to play.. Thrust, Oids and Virus I also loved, I always really enjoyed those games where you have to control a ship with delicate touches of vectored thrust.  I remember I didn’t much like platform games until a journo friend of mine came to visit bringing a NES and Super Mario with him. We played for 4 days straight :D.

Oids - I loved that one too!

I’d say, looking at your impressive catalogue of games, that you’re primarily a fan of shoot-em-ups. Do you have one favourite shooter from the early days of arcade games?

If I had to name one shooter as my fave it would be without doubt Robotron. It is the pure distilled essence of shooter awesomeness.

Robotron

What would you say is, or has been, your favourite device for writing and/or releasing games on, and why?

Probably the c64, not because it was the best hardware or anything, just because the times and the surrounding scene were just so great. You could bang out games in a month or two, there was a good market for them, you’d go to exhibitions several times a year and they were always great fun, you’d meet up with a lot of good people, play games, go out in the evenings and hang out in the arcades and pubs in London… just really good times.

Is there a non-mythical animal that you would like to put into one of your games but haven’t yet?

Oxen don’t get enough love in gaming. I guess I’m halfway there with the minotaur games. Maybe I should do a reverse bullfighting game where you’re the bull and you have to gore as many gaily-attired Spaniards as possible.

What music were you mostly listening to while working on the Minotaur Project games?

Probably Gary Numan and a bit of Underworld.

For touch-screen devices such as the iPhone and iPad, good controls are essential. For the Minotaur Project games, did you develop controls that you liked yourself or did you try out various control systems on a group of testers and go with the most popular?

For me part of a game’s design is the feel of the controls, the first thing I do is get the player character in there and controllable as soon as I start making the game, so as to be able to begin refining the controls at the earliest opportunity. They have to be efficient and to feel right, which is something that only comes with lots of testing and refinement. Simply plonking down an ugly onscreen joystick in a fixed position will NOT do. I thought I’d hate doing touch screen controls since I’d played plenty of games where the controls flat out sucked but in truth I found it challenging and enjoyable and satisfying when you get it right. For me that right feeling is a personal thing so I tend to develop the controls and then at the end put the game out to a few testers to make sure that they think the controls are good too.

Minotaur Rescue

Would you like to share any feelings that you may have regarding virtual joysticks in touch-screen games? I don’t understand why some developers seem to insist on trying to reproduce a physical controller on-screen when some of the best control methods are ones that have been designed specifically for the touch-screen and its limitations.

I’ve wondered myself why people do this and the conclusion i have come to is that onscreen joysticks make it easier for people to understand how to control a game, because they represent something familiar, but they are actually one of the worst ways to actually control something on a touch screen. Developers put them in because they make their games initially easy to understand, but in doing so they do gamers a disservice. There is no need to obscure part of the play area with drawings of a nonexistent joystick, nor to require directional control touches to fall on a specific target that it’s inevitable you’ll slip off of during the heat of gameplay. Directional controls should centre themselves wherever your touch falls, and there is no need to highlight their position by drawing anything – your control motions should show up in the behaviour of your onscreen character without the need to see anything extra where you touch the screen.  You should be able to shift your control position freely as the action moves around the screen. Unfortunately so many people have implemented sucky onscreen controls that people expect them a lot of the time now and can be initially confused when there’s no controls drawn onscreen. But almost inevitably once people get used to the idea that they don’t need onscreen joysticks then they find out that the game actually controls way better without them.  I’ve seen no end of comments on the minotaur games where people have said it took them a few minutes to “get” the controls but when they did, BEST CONTROLS EVER. As a designer, for god’s sake remember that the whole touchscreen is a versatile and sensitive control surface and use it as such.  As a player, take a few minutes to learn how to use games that do provide good controls and you’ll be rewarded with excellent control of your game rather than having yet another game that looks great but which you only ever play three times because the controls are just so broken and nasty. Onscreen joysticks – just say HELL NO :).

Do you think there’s any scope for a simultaneous two-player shooter such as something like Smash TV on the iPhone/iPad, either over bluetooth/wi-fi or, on the iPad, with 2 players on one device? Have you considered writing one?

I think that’d be practical on the iPad, I’d imagine 2-player coop on a single screen would be a tad cramped on the iPhone even with 2 phones over BT. On the iPad to have 2 players on 1 device playing an arena shooter I think you’d have to have each of them using a method like Simplified in Minotron, where each player moves but aiming and firing is AI controlled – getting 4 touches onscreen andstill be able to see the playing area would be a bit tough. If I were doing it I’d have some kind of thing happening where you could affect firing style by where you positioned yourselves relative to each other – maybe by moving closer together you could have a more defensive shot pattern covering the two of you, whereas moving apart would give you each a more aggressive hunting style of shots. Maybe in boss rounds you could have larger, more powerful shots aimed along the vector formed by you both as endpoints of a line. I am sure you could have quite some fun with such a game design while still only requiring one directional touch per player on the screen.

Are there any iPhone/iPad games that you have played recently that you really enjoyed or that struck you as games that really made the best of the device they were written for? 

I liked Space Invaders Infinity Gene, nice shooter and thank god proper controls. Orbital is very nice looking and a perfect example of a nice game from minimal (one touch) controls. My favourite of the running games is Robot Unicorn Attack because hey, robot unicorns.  Just recently I got Bit.Trip Beat (HD… developers, by the way, shut up with separate versions for iphone and HD for ipad, I don’t want to buy two separate versions one for each device – make your apps Universal as God and nature intended) and that’s fun, almost Pong-meets-Rez which is an odd but rather effective mix for a bit of fun every now and again. Final Freeway is outruntastic and controls very nicely from accelerometer controls (a rarity indeed).

Robot Unicorn Attack

What do you think of the iTunes app store as a marketplace? Is it strange to be developing new games for relatively new devices, knowing that the games will be on sale for such small amounts of money?

It’s ok although there’s a real problem with visibility. You get some stuff that sticks in the top 10 and does awesomely, then other stuff that maybe pops into the top 100 for a fleeting bit and then goes away and unless you’re looking for it is never seen again, and then the Nether Void. And with everyone pretty much expecting games to be super cheap that means the only people who do well out of it are those who do serious volume, which is pretty much only the ones who break into that magic top 10. There’s not a lot of scope for a comfortable middle ground. I’d prefer it if it were possible to work comfortably somewhere in the middle ground, where you could be a bit more experimental and off-mainstream but still get some kind of reasonable return for it. As it is it’s a bit of a lottery and it seems the emphasis is more on publicity and self-promotion than it is about game design. I hate marketing and all the associated crap and just want to make games :).

Have you got any essential advice for someone thinking of writing a new game for the iPhone/iPad market?

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT USING FIXED POSITION ONSCREEN DIRECTIONAL CONTROLS>

What’s your favourite non-game iPad app? I’m guessing the Korg iMS-20, but that’s just because I’ve seen you mention it on Twitter.

Yeah, I’d definitely say the iMS-20. It is just fantastic fun for anyone with even a passing interest in synths and amazing that you can have a really great emulation of a classic analog synth for under a tenner. It’s a close enough emulation that I learned my way around it by watching some tutorial videos of a guy using a real MS-20 and I was able to follow along and replicate all his demo patches on the iPad. Brilliant fun and feels like more of a real instrument than some of the other music apps out there which are fun but a bit more toy-like.

On the UK app store, Minotron: 2112 and Minotaur Rescue have a lot of really positive review comments, many that are clearly from long-time fans of your games. What do you think it is about the games (and Jeff Minter himself!) that attracts dedicated fans like that and keeps them coming back for more of the same psychedelic ruminant shoot-em-up action for so many years?

I think that there are some people who obviously like the feel of the games and enjoy a bit of good old fashioned arcade-style action, and who know I can generally be relied on to deliver that. And they obviously don’t mind a bit of humour with the games too.

Minotron: 2112

Here are some quick, interview cliché questions (sorry!) …

Favourite book: – any of the Culture novels by Iain M. Banks.

Favourite film: – Blade Runner.

Favourite band: – Pink Floyd.

Favourite album: – Wish You Were Here.

Favourite colour: – Dark purple.

Favourite food: – Chicken Vindaloo

Favourite drink: – A nice cup of tea.

Where did you last go on holiday? What gadgets did you take with you? Did you buy any new gadgets on holiday?

Portugal, last year. Took my iPad, iPhone and the digital camera I’d bought the year before, also in Portugal, when I sat on my old one.

Would you like to give any clues or other information about further games in the Minotaur Project series?

The next one’s quite different.

Last question – How would you like to be remembered?

Hopefully as someone who made some people happy making fun toys and who always had happy sheep.

Many thanks to Jeff for taking the time to provide an informative and quite fascinating interview.

The two Minotaur Project games can be found on the iTunes appstore here: Minotaur Rescue and Minotron: 2112.

h1

Quantum Sheep – Interview

March 20, 2011

For the second interview here at Arcadelife, we put the mind behind recent iPod/iPhone endless runner – Air Supply 1bit Run – into the spotlight. As we expected, this interview turns out to be very interesting…

Let’s start with an obvious question – why Quantum Sheep? Any deep significance in the name? 

Well, I’ve always been a huge fan of the TV show ‘Quantum Leap’ – I think Sam Beckett was a brilliant hero – a real role model. I miss that show 😦

We used to watch the show obsessively in my uni days and came up with ‘Quantum Sheep’ as a nickname for it (we liked our word play even then!). 

When deciding on a name for a company, and indeed a name for my online presence since about 1995, Quantum Sheep seemed the obvious choice! For me it conjures up some lovely memories, and just seems ‘friendly’. I hope it makes people smile when they read it! 😀 

Oh, and I love time travel. But I already told you that next week 😉 

How far back does your gaming history go?

 If you’re talking personally, I’ve been playing videogames for 33 of my 40 years on this planet at least!

 I had a documentary about opera singer Dame Kiri te Kanawa on the tv in the background one day, and one phrase she used really hit home. She said about her life “It’s really been a lifelong commitment to Opera”

Athough not a household name like the Dame, I feel the same about videogames. I’ve always played them, and I imagine I always will! I even had a Tetris cake made for my 40th birthday!

Professionally, I started out in the mid 90s managing a videogame shop. From there, I ended up a games journalist for the trade paper MCV, which was amazing fun! I then went on to companies like Microsoft (I helped launch the first Xbox and Xbox Live) and in between all these jobs I worked for myself as a freelance writer and also trying to create my own games! 

I ended up getting my first ‘official’ game designer job with Climax Handheld. I remember those days fondly, and still keep in touch with a  lot of the people I worked with there. Indeed, one of my (now) best friends, Jake, gave me that  first design job! 

We didn’t know each other back then, but became good friends very quickly! I’d never met anyone who loved games as much as I do, so we were bound to get along!  

Jake co-created Gravitrixx for the iPhone with me, and is working in his spare time on another game, ‘Red Mist’, that I hope we can publish soon! It’s very different, and lovingly put together with no thought as to how ‘marketable’ it is! It’s best described as ‘an arty, existential shooter’ – I’ll leave it at that! 😉 

After Climax, I went to Monumental games in Nottingham for three years, then came back home to London to work at Headstrong Games. After leaving Headstrong, I joined Asylum Entertainment as a freelancer, and once that job ended, and with a bit of money saved to live on, I decided to try and do this game creation thingy on my own full time! 😀 

What would you say were the earliest 3 videogames that made an impression on your life, maybe inspired you to start creating games yourself? 

I think influential games would have to be split between arcade games and home games. 

In the arcade, It would have to be Galaga, Star Wars and Outrun. They were wonderful games, and I still love them dearly!

Galaga - a classic, and also an Arcadelife favourite.

In the home, I’d have to say Tranz Am, Knight Lore and Elite. 

Tranz Am was awesome… my main memory of it was of fooling the enemy AI cars. You could brake sharply and they’d overshoot – and I just remember that at the time, that was the most awesome thing ever! 

Knight lore created a whole genre. The 3D arcade adventure. My jaw hit the floor when I saw what those lovely Ultimate people had created on a humble ZX Spectrum.

Elite… well, what can I say? I used to play it at friends houses, and at school during lunch breaks. I didn’t own a BBC Micro, so had to wait for the Spectrum version to come out to play it properly! Fortunately, the conversion was excellent. I’ve since become ‘Elite’ on multiple systems. LOVE that game because the universe felt incredibly real and authentic. It really sucked you in!

 

Tetris is my favourite game of all time though. It’s a game I’ve played consistently for two decades and I’m still not bored of it! A classic!

How many games have you released (had published)? What were they and on what platforms? 

Professionally, I’ve worked on: 

Meet the Robinsons (GBA)
Football Superstars (PC MMO)
The Sorceror’s Apprentice (Nintendo DS)
Horrid Henry (Nintendo DS) 

And a few others that got cancelled, including a couple of DS games, a PSP game and a Wii game 😦

As Quantum Sheep:

Oni (Wap phones)
Dragon Rage (Wap phones)
Combat (Wap phones)
CyberHunter (Wap phones) 

I also wrote a couple of interactive fiction games using a system called ‘Adrift’. I do love adventure games, especially the old text ones! 😀

I’ve made about 10 iOS games, but honestly, the only ones worth mentioning are Attack of the Kraken, Gravitrixx and Gravitrixx HD, and, of course, Air Supply.

The early games I made had some interesting ideas I feel, but I was a total newbie when it came to iOS development. As a consequence, they’re not very good! 

I used to have “Doom dreams” after playing into the early hours – Have you ever had that kind of experience with a game? 

I have no idea what you mean. Have you seen a doctor for that? 😛 

Funny you should mention this. I was privileged to meet the creator of Tetris, Alexey Pajitnov, a few years ago. Lovely man!  

I asked him if, while he was making Tetris, he would shut his eyes before he went to sleep and see blocks falling. I certainly used to, and I know a lot of my friends did too!

His reply?

“No.”

I guess we’re all just freaks, eh?

I do owe a special note of thanks to Tetris though, and to the GameBoy. After my Spectrum years, my friends had moved on to their Atari ST’s and Amigas. 

I actually stopped playing games at that point. Forgive me! I was a teenager, and had discovered girls and the guitar, so my affections lay elsewhere for a while!

But then I got a GameBoy. I can’t remember exactly how or why that happened. And I fell in love with it straight away.

Tetris was packed in with it. And what a game! That started my obsessive game playing while sitting on the toilet and the condition I like to call ‘numb knee syndrome’. 

It continues to this day thanks to the DS and the iphone! So Tetris kick started my obsession again! 

ZX Spectrum or C64? I get the feeling you were a Spectrum owner, but I could be wrong…

So I started with some some home pong systems, played a hell of a lot of arcade games (as a child, my parents always took us to seaside resorts – which were FULL of arcades of course!) and then fell totally in love with my ZX Spectrum!

I played all the other systems as well of course. Some of my friends were rich, so they had a BBC Micro, Atari, Intellivision, Vectrex, a Spectrum, a C64 etc etc 

I got to play them all (and I’ve since bought them all for my collection!) but my one true love has to be the Spectrum! I think that the games made back then were better despite the limitations of the hardware. People had to really think about how they were going to squeeze a game into just 48k!

There was a lot of originality in them as well, of course, and some very surreal british humour 🙂

Stand out titles were Manic Miner, of course, ALL the Ultimate games (I have a special place in my heart for Tranz Am – a game most people will never have heard of!), Tir Na Nog, and the Skool Daze games. Too many to mention, really! Wonderful days! 

In a lot of ways, iOS development is a mirror of those days. One or two people, in a room, making a game that potentially thousands or millions of people might play. It’s awesome! 😀

As an adult, I have to shake my head at the immaturity of the ‘console wars’. So much energy spent putting down the system you don’t own to justify your own purchase. Seems very silly to me.

Still, after nearly 30 years, if you ever badmouth the Spectrum, then you’re cruising for a bruising 😉

Moving up to now, and your current game for iPod/iPhone, Air Supply – 1bit Run. It’s an endless running game, obviously, but with a striking and unique style. Was it a conscious decision from the very start to make a game that, at least initially, is completely in black and white?

Firstly, I’m not an artist! I get graphics where I can, usually favours from very kind and talented friends!

iOS games in general have a very distinct look to them. They’re colourful and cartoonish for the most part. I do like this style, but I’ve also wanted to do something ‘different’ when it comes to the look (and sound!) of a game!

In that regard, I hope my games buck the trend, as it were. Sometimes successfully (as seen in Air Supply) sometimes not quite as successfully!

I think the idea is to engage the player. Sure, there are enough differences to other running games in the gameplay, but I wanted people to ‘feel’ a certain something when just looking at the game!

I showed the graphics to my colleagues at Headstrong last June. They haven’t changed since then! The people I showed it to have collectively sold millions of games around the world on Wii, GBA and DS – and all of them fell in love with the look of Air Supply.

I knew I was onto something then!

It was only about two weeks before the game was released that I had a ‘Eureka’ moment and thought about adding the colour options. Before that, it was going to be completely black and white! I think they add a lot to the game, and even change the feel significantly depending on the colour you’re playing with. 

People seem to like it! 

It’s such a simple but effective idea. And these ideas come thick and fast, right up to release, and sometimes beyond. There’s always that itch in the back of my mind that says ‘What MORE can I do to add something cool to the game?’

There’s not much to Spaceman Sam – two round eyes looking out of a space-suit, yet the character is instantly recognisable and he is undeniably cute. Did he always look like this or did his appearance change during the development of the game?

Spaceman Sam was made by my friend Mr Funkleberry one night over Skype. He was ‘bored’ and asked if I wanted any ‘doodles’ 🙂

I’d wanted to make a space game for a while with a cool main character. I sent him screenshots of the Spectrum game Nodes of Yesod (which he loved!) and said ‘yeah – something 8bit like that would be great!’.

He came up with the following in a matter of minutes:

I really liked it, and we left it a few days, after which he sent me a link to a flash animation with the graphics you essentially see in Air Supply today.

I think he said at the time ‘Trust an artist to come up with something completely different to what you asked for!”

I’m glad he did! The guy is supremely talented, and really has a passion for this kind of thing! Unfortunately, he’s really busy all the time, otherwise I’d use him more! You’ll be glad to know he’s working with me on the spin-off to Air Supply (tentatively titled Air Supply – SOS) while the other awesome artist who worked on the original Air Supply, Basil, will be working on the official sequel!

SO MUCH TO DO!!!

Are any specific aspects of the game inspired by (I won’t say copied from!) other endless runners? 

Well, I love running games in general. Canabalt blew me away. I remember playing it when it first came out and saying to Jake ‘I wish I’d made this game!’

So, I’d already played a lot of running games prior to making Air Supply. I went through all of them again though, and tried to work out what I liked or disliked about them. What I thought ‘worked’, or didn’t work, essentially. 

But it needed something else. Thankfully, the name was decided a long time ago, and the dwindling air supply mechanic was included from the start. This gives the game, I hope, a sense of urgency as well as justifying its existence!

The unlock system was ‘borrowed’ from Rogue Runner, which is an ace 8bit runner for the iPhone!

What I liked about that game was that, even though the unlocks were all just re-skins, it gave the game a different feel. I found I was playing that more than other runners because there was a reason to play it – to unlock new stuff.

Copying Rogue Runner wasn’t enough though. In that game, money you pickup goes towards unlocking characters and backgrounds.

We expanded this by letting you unlock music and colours as well. And we also expanded on it by giving each unlock a different currency – Stars unlock characters, distance unlocks levels, air unlocks music and kills unlock your rank/colours.

Getting the unlocks right is one thing though. I spent a LOT of time getting the feel right for the actual gameplay. How fast should the air go down? How often should pickups appear? When should enemies appear? How should they behave? How do you jump? etc etc

So yes, Air Supply is, in essence, ‘just another runner’. And a lot of people will dismiss it because of that and ignore it because they’ve had their fill of this kind of game. 

But those that have played it have, largely, loved it. And that is a real gift. I was astonished by the response from people on the Touch Arcade forums, for example. They can sometimes be a very scary lot! But the enthusiasm for ‘just another running game’ was incredible. People have been very kind, and it’s greatly appreciated!

It does put the pressure on for the next games though! I don’t want to ever disappoint people! The idea is that you want to spread some fun around the world! 

Air Supply is full of movie quotes and other references; what are your top 3 favourite films for quotes and should we be expecting to see more of this in future Quantum Sheep games?

It’s a strange thing, but within my close circle of friends, who’ve grown up together watching the same films, listening to the same music… well, there’s a ‘code’ if you will. 

Our humour is largely based on these shared experiences. When someone says ‘Game over, man, game over’ in a real-life situation, it’s funny because we all know where it comes from, and it fits the situation we’re in.

Some people don’t get that.

So this is the kind of person I am. And being my game, I try and put as much of my personality into the game as I can. Little nods to stuff that only a tiny percentage of people might pick up on. 

Now, it doesn’t detract from someone’s enjoyment of a game if they don’t get the quotes. But for those that *do* get the quotes, it really adds something special I think. 

It shows the game was made by a person, not by committee… and if you ‘get it’, there’s a connect there to another human being, not a faceless corporation!

As to movie quotes… well, Star Wars, Predator and Aliens are the kings of that along with every other sci-fi film ever made! Aliens especially, though. I’ve said it many a time, *everything* comes back to Aliens. It’s a fantastic film that I’ve watched over 1000 times, I’m sure. And I can *still* happily sit down and watch it and its influence is *still* felt to this very day!

At one company, we had some local interns working for us. They were very young – I was old enough to be their dad! 

One of them said he’d never seen Aliens.

I was shocked. And outraged. But mainly shocked.

After ranting at him for a bit, I walked out the office, went to the local DVD store and bought him a copy of Alien and Aliens. Plonking them on his desk, I muttered “That’s your homework for tonight”

I don’t think I over-reacted. I mean, *really!* How can you work in game development and have never seen Aliens???? 

I say we sit down and watch the entire film from the sofa. It's the only way to be sure.

 Do you listen to music while you work on game development? If so, any favourite artists who particularly inspire or help the creative process?

It’s difficult to listen to music while making a game for me, mainly because the music itself is such a big part of the game!

When you’re testing the game, you want to hear the music. You want to ‘live’ the experience as a player would. So you can’t ever turn the music off, really!

However, in the bits between testing and ‘feeling’ the game, I tend to listen to soundtracks from films. Mainly because there’s no singing to distract your train of thought!

So, during Air Supply’s development I listened to:

Inception soundtrack
Tron Legacy soundtrack
Battlestar Galactica soundtracks
Lots of Spectrum music! (mainly by Mister Beep!)

Who would you prefer to see Spaceman Sam compared to as a device icon – Mario or Sonic?

I think Mario. After getting a GameBoy, I’d essentially become a Nintendo fanboy 🙂

I got a SNES after graduating from University, and loved it. It’s still one of my favourite consoles ever made! The controller was just perfect! And so many wonderful games!

Sonic and I never really got on. I found he was all flash and no substance! Don’t hate me for that! 

Oh, and he always ate all the sausages at parties. 

I spotted a similarity in style between Air Supply and Nodes of Yesod. So, in addition to looking at current iOS endless runners, did you draw a lot of inspiration from older games?

I’m old. Very old 😦

The one advantage being old gives you, is that I’ve played a LOT of games. I mean thousands of them. A lot of them a great many of today’s gamesplayers will never have heard of, or not experienced fully.

And they’re still in my memory. Games I enjoyed will always be there because they hit those part of the brain that trigger ‘joy’. 😀

So yes – inspiration should come from everything and anything really. Music, the news, games, films, books… everything!

Who is Mister Beep? Are you allowed to say?

Mister Beep is a genius. Over a year ago now, I wanted to see what Spectrum related games were on the market for the iphone. I found depressingly little at the time (though now Elite has released a bunch of games from that era – thanks, Elite! :D)

So I was thinking (and still am!) – I’d love to do an original, modern game with Spectrum graphics. 

Which led onto: “What kind of music can I put in such a game?”

That’s when I discovered the Spectrum music scene – a bunch of very talented, very enthusiastic musicians around the world making music on hardware over 25 years old!

Mister Beep is just one of those talented musicians! He’s probably as hardcore as it gets. The music he’s making at the moment, and which will be in Air Supply 2, is made using nine channels of sound – all from a ZX Spectrum beeper that previously could only handle 3 channels at most.

To say it’s utterly amazing is an understatement!

I’m thinking though, for the spin-off, Air Supply – SOS – to use Yerzmyey, another fantastic spectrum musician. He supplied the track ‘Baroque’ for Gravitrixx – it gives the game a very ‘Tetris’ kind of sound/feel 🙂

I’ve become a massive fan of the Spectrum scene – of people like the AY Riders, Yerzmyey and Mister Beep. As Metal Casket, from the Touch Arcade forums, told me: “The music makes me feel like a child again.”

I couldn’t agree with him more! 🙂

Having such great music in my games is truly an honour. Not enough iOS games use music to the full I feel. 

It also piles on the pressure to make a ‘good’ game. It’s not just *my* name on the line! And I want to work with these wonderful people on future projects. Making rubbish games won’t exactly help my cause in that regard!

I’m still missing 5 achievements even after unlocking everything, gaining Elite status and clicking every icon on the menu… how hidden or hard are some of the achievements, without giving too much away..?

They last ones are more endurance based. I’ll leave it at that I think. And the very last one is for unlocking everything else. I hope people get a kick out of that one 😉

Do you have any plans for Spaceman Sam? He looks like a great candidate for a franchise. Is there a sequel in the works, maybe?

Well, there’s the spin-off – SOS – that I’ve already mentioned, as well as a full on sequel.

The sequel will be a platform game. But again, there’s plenty of those out there already! The trick is working out how to make it different to what’s already been released, other than the graphics and music. 

Graphics and music help a hell of a lot, of course. But you need to get the ‘feel’ right for the core gameplay! And it can’t be another running game, but it has to include elements from that so that it feels like a continuation of the series…

The unlock system for that is going to be a little more complex. And that takes a LONG time! 

So in the meantime, I’ll be working on Air Supply – SOS. The target is iPad only (but if there’s demand, an iphone/ipod version may surface). It’s based on an old Spectrum game I used to love. I haven’t seen it done on iOS yet, and I still believe the gameplay is classic. 

Your Air Supply may still be running out. But it’s not just *your* air supply you  have to worry about this time. You have to rescue lots of Quantum Sheep. And *their* air supply is running out too!

Here’s a sneak peek at a sheepy in peril!:

 

Do you get a chance to play many other iOS games? Do you have any favourites or any that stand out as classics in your opinion?

At the end of the day, I’m a gamesplayer, just like you, just like everyone else out there reading this. I want to be entertained. I want to have fun.

So yes, I do spend a stupid amount of time playing iOS games. I’m influenced by some, and I like to dissect them as well. See what works. See *why* I like a particular game mechanic or visual style.

Some classics for me, for various reasons, include:

Gravonaut
Bit Pilot
Minotaur Rescue
Game Dev Story
Canabalt
Bit Trip Beat
Space Invaders: Infinity Gene
Carcassonne
Poodle Invasion
Words with Friends

One thing they all have in common is that they make me smile. And that’s got to be a good thing, right? 

One thing that really stands out for me after playing Air Supply a lot – I never got angry playing it, never felt any frustration. It’s incredibly subtle, but that kind of gaming experience doesn’t come about by luck. 

It’s all by design, that’s why! 😀

A lot of people, when telling me what they’ve unlocked, start with ‘I’ve got all the music of course’.

Of course you have! The game’s designed like that, so that the thing you pick up most, air, unlocks the music first.

It was a conscious decision – the music really adds to the game I feel. And there’s so much of it, I didn’t want people to *Not* unlock any of it! 

Other gameplay elements… how long it takes for each unit of air to go down… how long the shields last for… how often you unlock new stuff… how often air shows up… how often other pickups show up… the enemies… well, this is where the majority of game development time went, tweaking it all so that the game played as I wanted it to – fairly!

Anyone can make a game where your little guy jumps up and avoids holes in the ground. Seriously, it’s not difficult! 

The tricky part is making it fun… making it fair… and making it something that people want to play over and over again!

The double jump is a good example. A lot of running games don’t have it. Instead, they have a ‘hold down for a bigger jump’ mechanic.

For the most part, this works ok. But you’re never sure how high you’re going to jump! 

The double jump in Air Supply basically lets you jump a set height upwards. Twice! It can get you out of trouble if you make a mistake! It can also get you *into* trouble if you mis-use it!

That people feel it’s a very fair game is so, so brilliant! That was the intention from the start, after having played countless other running games. The idea was ‘reward often, never punish unfairly’.

Even when you die, you should never feel it was the game’s fault! And while the game isn’t perfect, I like to think that some people have got some joy and fun out of it!

What’s the process like, making a game?

I’m sure it’s very different for everyone really. Mainly it starts as images in my head. They swim about a bit. I see them everywhere. And eventually, my head gets so full of these images, and the ideas they represent, that they need an out!

Making games is the outlet for those ideas!

So you start putting something simple together. Maybe listen to some music you think might work with the game. 

Indeed, the music selection sometimes dictates the tempo of a game!

And you draw on a lot of influences. Attack of the Kraken is inspired by the book ‘The Kraken Wakes’ by John Wyndham, as well as Jeff Minters ‘Attack of the Mutant Camels’. Those two influences had been in my head since the 80s!

Then you start replacing your rubbish graphics with early stuff from an artist. You think of a ‘feeling’ for the game. “What do I want to get across to the player??

In Kraken, I was trying to inspire a ‘David vs. Goliath’ feeling of hope within helplessness. That’s why the enemies are so large and your rocket ship so small – the scale should fill you with awe and dread but still instil some hope in you!

Gravitrixx was all about ‘flow’. Not just the flow of your player due to gravity changes, but in how the player progresses through the game. We didn’t want you to feel ‘stuck’ particularly. You could, for example, skip whole levels and *still* progress! Thus, progress ‘flows’.

Air Supply was all about tension. The air running out instills this, as does the constant ramping up of speed. And I never wanted the player to be ‘bored’. So, ‘tension’ and ‘excitement’ 🙂

The whole process can be helped by showing the game off to people as it’s being developed. It’s always good to get a second opinion on things, and conversations with people playing the game can inspire new additions or tweaks, both before and after the game’s completed!

Have you made much money doing this?

Well, if I did it for the money, I’d have given up a long time ago I think!

I think I’ve always wanted to create stuff. There’s a kind of nervous energy some people have that makes them always want to make things.

Any money is a bonus. It means I don’t have to get a ‘real’ job, and can do this for a bit longer. 

But even ‘with’ a real job, I was still making my own games. I think sometimes it’s just something you really want to do, and that drives you on!

Additionally, the response to Air Supply from complete strangers all around the world has been awesome. I really want to thank those that have played it! I hope you liked it! 

I think a lot of people get into making games, iPhone games in particular, for all the wrong reasons. Their very first question is “Have you made any money doing this?”.

Really, it should be “Is it any fun?”

And yes, it’s a LOT of fun! 😀

Thanks very much to Quantum Sheep for taking part in this interview. Good luck with the continuing updates for Air Supply and all your future projects.  

Air Supply 1bit Run – iTunes link
h1

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