Today my good buddy Simon and I chatted all things game building related. From how to create Apple Feature Games, to ideas and inspirations on how to get a publishing deal, Buildbox and tons tons more.
Full Show Notes
DeadCoolApps are a small indie team who create iPhone & iPad Apps, and games is their passion. Simon and his team have been Featured by Apple 11 Times in New Games We Love, woah!
Kevin: So it’s my absolute pleasure to be talking to my good buddy Simon of DeadCoolApps today. How’s it going man?
Simon: Yeah, it’s good, thanks for having me on here, I appreciate it.
Kevin: No, it’s a pleasure. Well I tell you what, for those who don’t know you, why don’t you just tell us a little about yourself, what you’ve been up to and your journey and all that good stuff.
Simon: Yeah, yeah sure. So I guess my trade is really Graphic Design, that’s where I used to be employed many moons ago, so that’s kinda where I started. Around 2007, I started to see that the Company I was working for didn’t seem to be doing so great and there were potential redundancies on the cards. So that was when I had my idea to do something entrepreneurial really, so I started to build out a website to do with teaching Magic Tricks, so that was my first real sort of side stepping of not working for the man so to speak.
So I built that in the background while I was still employed, and then late 2007 I was made redundant, I got another job as a Graphic Designer and a couple of years later was made redundant again! It was like two punches in the gut in the same amount of years.
Simon: It was really at that point then I just went and started working for myself, and luckily by a couple of years in, I’d built my Magic Website up so that it was generating some decent revenue, so that I could actually just carry on with that. So that was my early days of building websites.
Kevin: So that was the start of it all.
Simon: Yeah, so basically my first App came about from my website. Obviously apps and things were booming, and I think it was October 2010 when I actually took the content from my website and built a really simple App using a website called AppMaker. It basically just took all the feeds from your videos, your RSS feeds and stuff, and it basically made your app for you.
Kevin: Got it.
Simon: So I didn’t have to do any coding, I still don’t. So that got built and I uploaded it, this was 2010 and downloads were amazing, but I had no clue on how to monetise it at that point. I was doing about 2000-3000 downloads a day and didn’t know what I was doing really. It wasn’t until March 2011 that I actually put some banner ads in there.
Kevin: Wow, Blimey, that’s a bit of a kicker.
Simon: Yeah it was really, so that was kind of my first tester into making an app, it wasn’t until June 2012 that I built my own game, I say built it, I actually outsourced it to a developer in China or somewhere like that. I spent far too much money developing it, it cost me $3000 all in all with updates and stuff. That app made me no money whatsoever, because I hadn’t researched the theme, I just thought, well I’ll make it to do with Magic Tricks and then all my subscribers on my website are going to go and download it. Which of course they didn’t!
So yeah, that was kind of my first wake up call, where I’d spent all this money, released the game and it did nothing, it made literally pennies. At that point I knew obviously I needed a different approach really. So that was June 2012, and in October 2012 I actually released Shark Attacks.
Kevin: Ok, Yeah, I know the icon.
Simon: That was the first game I built with Trey Smiths’ game building software at the time, Project Zero, which I know you used in the past?
Kevin: Yes Indeed!
Simon: That game, when I released it, went on to make $10,000 in it’s lifetime, more than that now, but within a short few months. So I knew that this was the way to go for me, I now had more control, I didn’t have to keep going back and forth with coders, where maybe I just wanted one thing moved over to the right and you’d go backwards and forwards, it would seem to take them hours, even days to get back to you.
Kevin: Yeah, I so hear you there. It’s so funny, I mean I know we’ve got really similar stories and it always cracks me up because it all rings so true to me. It’s just like it almost feels like another lifetime ago and I can’t imagine even going anywhere near all that now.
Simon: No, it was so frustrating, I remember I just wanted a few tiny tweaks made to the game, it just wasn’t quite right. I was on holiday at the time, so I was trying to get internet connection to try and send some messages to my developer and it was just an absolute nightmare! With Project Zero I could do bits and pieces myself without having to code, that was just like an absolute life saver, and the work flow seemed to be much better too.
Kevin: It’s night and day isn’t it, especially because we’ve both got creative backgrounds, getting in there in the weeds so to speak and actually getting your hands on the project, it was never about, and correct me if I’m mistaken, but it’s never particularly been about outsourcing a product to someone else. It’s more to do with getting in there and enjoying building things yourself.
Simon: Yeah, definitely. I’ve always been very hands on and prefer to be, but outsourcing always felt like that was taken away from me and my creative side
Kevin: Yeah, I feel exactly the same, and although it can work and there is ways of doing it, but on the whole it’s like you’re sort of separated from it all.
Simon: Yeah, it kind of doesn’t feel like it’s yours in a way.
Kevin: That’s right, and just to jump ahead, that’s where Buildbox came in for both of us, we both jumped on it at the same time. It was almost like Project Zero on steroids wasn’t it, it was, this is it now, we can do something. So tell us a bit about your journey into Buildbox.
Simon: So it really began October 2012, I’d bought the App Empire Course a few months before, and as a bonus I got Project Zero by buying through Trey Smiths’ affiliate link. Basically he gave away Project Zero, so that was kind of the beginning and I kind of jumped on that. From that he could obviously see that it was a viable product, so he started to release additional software. So we had Project Zero, and then Project Mayhem.
Kevin: Ah yeah, that’s right.
Simon: I think there was another one after that, but then it eventually rolled into Buildbox, so I made a couple of demo games first and then I built what I thought was a half decent game. So I started to reach out to different Publisher guys and that’s kind of where it really took off, and for the past 2 or 3 years now, I’ve been working closely with Publishers, trying to create unique games and teaming up with them for release. It all seems to be working well so far.
Kevin: That’s awesome. So, what about the Publishers, there’s tons of ways you can get their attention, did you literally just sort of cold email them and say, “hey, look at this”. How did you go about doing that, was there any sort of tactics you’d use, or did you just jump on their website and put a decent email together?
Simon: A bit of everything really, there’s a few different ways, but some of them happen organically. I think I posted a game up on Touch Arcade and a publisher contacted me directly, well a couple did at the time, so that was a case of them coming to me. In another instance, I got emailed out of the blue because this guy had started to see my work around, they were local, in Edinburgh. So we met up and sparked off a relationship there. There’s been other times where I’ve seen a publisher popping up in the charts and contacted them either via their contact page, or just sent them an email, or just googled and found them that way.
So I’d say there’s definitely quite a few different avenues where you can find publishers, and I think once you start to build a relationship, you kind of build up a bit of a reputation and that can lead to other guys contacting you from there. It can snowball I think, but obviously, I’ve also had tons of rejections as well, but that’s all part and parcel. You don’t email a publisher and get a deal straight away, it can happen for sure. What I would say is that I don’t want to cover up the fact that you can end up sending tons and tons of emails to different guys, it may be you don’t get a reply, or you do get a reply and they say it’s just not for them, and that’s fair enough, you move on to someone else. It can definitely be a slog sometimes, but it’s worth it.
Kevin: Yeah, absolutely, and that’s solid gold there. I tell you what I really liked about that, is the fact that you posted your game out, you were really actively trying to find a publisher and by doing all those actions, it came to the point where you’re getting your name out there and they’re coming to you. That’s kind of what happened to us as well, we just sort of went for it. I think there’s a really good lesson there, just get yourself out there, don’t just send one email and wait behind your inbox for the next 3 days thinking, will they or won’t they. Just get it out there, take action and just keep going.
You will get rejections, we’ve had rejections too, to be honest, we got pushed back from Ketchapp initially, we got pushed back from Chillingo. We only went to 3 straight off the bat and then we hooked up with David from Appsolute and went from there. But the first 2, rightly so, were rejected, so you mustn’t take it personally, you’ve just got to keep going and often you’ll find it’s a really good lesson. We knew the game wasn’t ready, and when you get a rejection, for us it was, ok well instead of being all sad about it, let’s think about why was it rejected and what can we do to make it better.
You have to up your own game, it really comes down to looking at their port folio and seeing what sort of stuff they like. When we looked at our game, they were right, it probably wasn’t ever going to be published by them.
Simon: Yeah, like you say, when you actually look at what they’ve done in the past as well, sometimes you can see certain games could be a fit and would sit well with their port folio. Other times maybe not but even so, I would still say take a crack at it, because sometimes a publisher has gone down a certain route, but they may want to take something different.
Kevin: Without a doubt, that’s an excellent point. Just because they haven’t published it, for all we know as game designers, developers and producers, we think they won’t want it because that’s not what they’d normally publish. But, they may be crying out and hoping that a new type of game is dropping in their in box.
I tell you what, have you ever had the lovely position of having 2 publishers saying yes and both wanting your game?
Simon: Yes, I have actually. It was a bit of a nightmare.
Kevin: Tell us a bit about that, it’s fascinating.
Simon: So like my plan before was a kind of spray and pray kind of approach, where I would literally send out to everybody, wait for replies and if someone said yes then that was brilliant. But I have had it in the past where a couple of people have come back and said yes, we want it, and to be honest that was a bit of a nightmare because I realised I could get a bit stuck here, and it doesn’t look that professional. So in the end, for that particular dilemma, I ended up making the guys another game.
Kevin: Ah, Ok.
Simon: Yeah, I actually just went and made another game straight off the bat and everyone was happy.
Kevin: That’s awesome.
Simon: But, I wouldn’t necessary say that was the best plan. So now I’ll sometimes make a game with a certain publisher in mind, or I’ll go to one publisher and if they turn me down I’ll maybe go on to the next.
Kevin: So how long would you wait for that, would you give it 3 or 4 days, a week or what, because obviously if we send the game, we want to know don’t we. I always panic that we send a game off to a publisher, and they’re on holiday or something! They don’t see your email and then you go with maybe a second choice, or maybe just self publish because you couldn’t get a sniff from anyone. You put it out there and they come back with “yeah, we’d love to”, that a real “Ah no!” moment.
Simon: I’ve had similar happen before, where I’ve sent it to someone, they haven’t replied, so I’ve given it to someone else, and then they have actually replied a little bit later and asked if I was still working on the game! However, in that particular instance it did actually work out, in that I never really heard after that, so it worked out ok in the end. At the end of the day, you can only do so much, theres not too much point in second guessing yourself, or you’ll just drive yourself crazy.
Kevin: That’s exactly right.
Simon: Yeah, you know, decisions been made, push on, work on the next game or whatever.
Kevin: Yeah, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s a bloody nice problem to have isn’t it.
Simon: It is a nice problem.
Kevin: That’s fascinating, great stuff man, I really appreciate that because like I said, we went on the self publishing but I always felt this, we had the same situation where ZPlay and Appsolute both wanted our game. We’d kind of been talking to them both and it got to the point where we were questioning what they were going to do for us, and I don’t know why I felt uncomfortable about it.
Simon: No, I’d be the same though I think.
Kevin: D’you know what, honestly? I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what was the best route and in the end, we went with David because he’s a good friend. It was almost a safe option for us. So yeah, it’s a really nice problem to have, but to just be mindful to not put yourself in that position, it’s certainly not recommended. Pitch someone, we always say to use BananaTag to track and you’ll have a good idea who’s opened it, then if you’ve not heard back, then move forward.
Simon: Yeah, but to go back to answering your question, I think with some publishers who you’ve got a good relationship with, so you’ll get to know whether they want the game within a couple of days, others, the bigger guys, can take longer, so maybe give it a week/10 days. Then if you don’t hear anything, move on, and at the end of the day that’s all you can do really I think.
Kevin: Yeah, that’s super solid advice man, that’s why we like to stay with Appsolute. We’d be talking every day and although it was obviously a business relationship, it certainly didn’t feel that way, we were just talking about crap in the end and nothing to do with games or the business at all!
Simon: But that’s what it’s all about, the relationship. It doesn’t feel like work, and that’s when yo do you’re best work half the time I think.
Kevin: I couldn’t agree more. So listen, I’ve got some questions here. We wrote some questions down believe it or not and none of that was in there.
Simon: We’d better do that then.
Kevin: Let’s have a go at one of them to start with. I got the questions over to you earlier, so I’m just going to pick the top one. This was something I thought could be quite interesting, certainly for everybody who is into games.
How would you describe Game Design to someone who doesn’t know what Game Design is?
Simon: So, that’s a really good question actually. I guess I would explain what the game does, what you do in the game. A lot of the time I don’t use the jargon like alot of guys do in the industry do. I’ll just say, “It’s a tap tap game” as in you just tap the screen to do whatever you need to do in the game, or I would say to someone you need to drag your finger across the screen to move things about. I think I explain the mechanics of it I guess, to explain what the game does. It’s a tricky question.
Kevin: It is, ok let’s go about it another way. If you were at a party and someone asks, what is it you do? you know, the classic party thing, what would you describe your job as?
Simon: I just generally say I make and play games all day, that sums it up and pretty much answers their question, then if there’s more questions, I just hand them my phone with one of the games that I’ve made and get them to play.
Kevin: That’s a good one. It’s so funny, we normally say “well, do you know Angry Birds?” and they say “yeah”, ” Well we don’t make that, but we make ones like that”, then they say “Oh, have I ever heard of one” and it’s just like “No”.
But yeah, that’s great man, it’s always a funny one I think, I just thought I’d throw that one in there. Still even now, people don’t really understand, it’s such a new industry really.
Simon: Yeah, I agree. Even my close family haven’t got a real handle on it, they know I make games, but they don’t really know how, or why.
Kevin: So, ok, let’s move on to the next one.
So how do you go about getting your ideas?
Kevin: We’ve laid out the way we do it and we’ll be diving deeper into this as we start recording our new stuff, but how do you get your ideas? You’ve got some really quirky games that are not the “norm” shall we say, which is absolutely awesome, so whats your process with bringing your ideas to life and stuff like that?
Simon: That’s a good question. We definitely do try to step outside the box a bit, I know that sounds cliche, but we do try to come up with something a little bit unique, or different that maybe hasn’t been done before, to try and create an edge. It doesn’t always work when were building out demo’s, some ideas can be too far out, but we always try to have a twist on certain game play where we can come up with something different.
To actually come up with the ideas, we’ll research the App Store to see what other games are out there, sometimes you’ll look at a game in the store and think it works a certain way, yet when you go to play it, it’s different and you kind of get your ideas from that. We’ll make sketches, like for the game Circulate, I literally just drew some circles, drew a little character at the bottom and a star at the top, the idea being you had to get from the bottom to the top. Really simple, and I think for that particular game, I just wanted to strip everything back and make it as simple as it could be, that was the thought process behind that game.
Also playing other peoples’ games to get some inspiration and ideas can work, but at the end of the day, the main thing for us is obviously the graphics and the look of it, but I think where we have a bit of an edge sometimes is having some sort of unique game play, something done a little bit different that you haven’t seen before.
Kevin: Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. So you say “we”, here theres me and Jilly, I think you have David that works with you on the games? So it’s both of you churning inside Buildbox, coming up with all this good stuff, is there anybody else in your team?
Simon: It’s just us for game ideas and level design, if I need to do certain things in coding, adding certain SDK’s or changing stuff here and there, we will out source that to other guys we’ve worked with for years, but they are specifically coders. Otherwise, yeah, it’s just me and David in Buildbox, and that’s another thing, playing about with Buildbox, alot of the time, will in itself come up with some weird ideas. Just jump in and try stuff, sometimes you’ll even come across a bug that turns out to be quite interesting. We didn’t mean for it to do that, but it looks kinda cool, now can we build on that to make a game?
Just try stuff, sometimes you’ll even come across a bug that turns out to be quite interesting
Now 9 times out of 10, no, you can’t, because maybe we’ve done something a little bit too crazy and it doesn’t feel right, or it’s clunky and it breaks something else. Sometimes we will find that, hang on a minute, this hasn’t been done before and it plays really solidly, that’s when we take that seed idea and build it out into a game.
Kevin: Yeah, they’re the exciting parts for me. They’re the “happy accidents”, where you’re just mucking about and then all of a sudden it’s like “what’s that?” and then it fires the brain off, and you know theres something to it, and you don’t know what it is, but you have to try, so you build out from there. I love stuff like that.
Simon: It’s kinda like sifting through gold a little bit, because we’ll make a ton of demos’, and most of them probably wont go anywhere. Is this how you work?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah sure. We are so ridiculously similar, it’s really weird, but how do you ditch those ideas then and keep others?, what makes it a winner or not a winner, and what makes you take that prototype you’ve been working on and say “right this is going to be the next game”, talk me through that process.
Simon: Well, theres a few things, if we make something and it kind of looks like it’s been done before and it’s maybe not quite as unique as we initially thought would be. Sometimes you’ll do a sketch and think, yeah that looks pretty cool, and then we quickly make it in Buildbox, maybe spend about 20 minutes, and then we’ll look at it and think, actually that looks like X Y or Z, and that’s been done to death sort of thing. That would be a reason why we may ditch it, or it may be that we did something weird in Buildbox and it looks cool but it half broken you know? Perhaps it just doesn’t feel solid, the actual game play might be quite unique but a glitch will happen, where something pops up elsewhere, or you can’t get to the next level or it was a cool half idea that just didn’t go anywhere.
Then on the other hand, you’ll get a game that feels pretty unique and not too many people have done it before potentially, it’s solid, so you can keep playing, keep playing and nothing breaks, and yeah, basically it always comes down to that initial game mechanic. We don’t do any graphics at that base point level, it’s all about how does it feel and how does it play with any bog standard graphics just thrown in. The graphics always comes after we have a rock solid demo in place.
Kevin: Ok, talk me through that bit, so let’s say you’ve come up with your prototype, it’s feeling good, it’s nice to play and you’re feeling pretty confident about it. What happens next then?, how do you choose your graphics for that, talk me through that, what do you do?
Simon: It depends on the game. Sometimes the game mechanic will lend itself to a certain style, similar to you, we do a lot of minimal stuff, obviously it’s easier to do, but it’s popular, has been for a long time and it’s not graphic intensive. Alot of the time it depends what the game is, but it can lend itself to certain graphics or a certain style.
So what do you do for inspiration?
Kevin: So you’ve got your prototype, and yeah, I couldn’t agree more with your comments on some graphic styles, the minimal style is so easy, I totally buy into that, we’re both designers so knocking up some squares and a minimal look is easy, although it’s quite challenging to pull it off effectively. It’s has to be by far the fastest design to execute on once you’ve got the games building blocks in place, but is there anywhere you’d go to if you weren’t sure of say, what colour palette to use, things like that?
Simon: Yeah, I struggle sometimes with what different colour palettes, but I will tend to try a ton of different ones. Some might be a little bit far out, others too similar to another game.
Kevin: So how do you do that? do you just mock it in illustrator or photoshop? That’s what we tend to do, we take a screenshot of the game and re-draw it.
Simon: Yeah, we just take a screenshot of the demo in Buildbox, put that into adobe illustrator and re-draw the elements really quickly, then just start messing about with colour palettes. You can use websites like Coolors.co or colourlovers.com
Kevin: Adobe has a decent one now too, I can’t remember the name ( Adobe Colour Wheel ) but yeah, they’re quite handy these colour pickers.
Simon: Yeah, and Google image search aswell if you’re just looking for different colour palettes. But yeah, we just start playing around with stuff, we might come up up with 5 or 10 different colour variations, and then whittle it down, because you want a colour palette that’s kind of unisex aswell, you don’t want to go too much of one colour for boys and one for girls necessarily. You don’t want to alienate one or the other, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you will see alot of pinks and blues in some of our games, so we try and dedicate to both.
Kevin: Yeah, pinks especially to be honest.
Simon: I don’t know why pink seems to be a running theme with me at the moment.
Kevin: Yeah, there’s alot of pink that goes on.
Simon: I’m clearly in touch with my feminine side!
Kevin: Haha well clearly! I’d never really thought about it much actually, until you mentioned it. It doesn’t feel girly and there’s some really hot pinks you use too, I don’t know how you managed to pull it off, but it doesn’t feel girly at all.
Simon: Well that’s my hope anyway, there’s alot of oranges and greens. The new one we’ve done called Tumball, which is out next week, that’s a bit of a departure in colour, there’s no pink. So we’ll see. That’s a fun one, for me that’s a spiritual successor to Rotaball, where you tap the screen and objects rotate around the character, in Tumball you have a free falling ball, and you tap the screen to rotate the objects in a certain way to create a pathway to the bucket.
Kevin: Oh cool, tell me about that then, so you’ve built Tumball, and you’ve got your colour palette in, how do you know how many levels to put in? Do you have your internal deadlines and say right we have to ship this out at X day, or do you say, it’s going to have 50 levels. How do you come to that decision?
Simon: It’s just always been 50, it seems about right for most of our stuff, we’d love to do 100 obviously on every single game, but that’s double the work, so we tend to stick at 50, or 75 depending. The idea is that if the game takes off, we can always add more.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s funny, I hadn’t even thought about what I was going to ask you and then when I said it, I thought, well yeah, you do the MVP type thing and if it does hit a chord with the market, you can definitely add after.
Simon: Yeah, it depends how long the levels take to build as well, if it’s fairly simple then you can dupilcate and adjust quite quickly, so you could potentially build out a ton more levels. But generally 50 to 75 levels is what we aim for ideally, and then with a view to building out more as and when.
Kevin: Do you ever do updates to your games? It’s something we’re looking at this year. We’ve got a ton of successful games, but we kind of build, and then forget, which is pretty poor strategy I worked out last year. We’ve got alot of updates we could do on our games which we could try and either get a re-feature on, or try and bring them back to life a bit.
So do you have an update strategy in place, do you do updates and stuff?
Simon: We have done on a few games, similar to you, we kind of build and then move on to the next one, or we will come up with a sequel. If there’s bugs, then we will obviously fix those up, with the stickier games we have gone and revisited them, for instance with Circulate, we initially built out 50 levels. The game was doing well, the only criticism mainly was, “I’ve completed it, can we have more levels” so on that particular game, we jumped back in and build out a ton more. So it really does depend on how well a game goes down, if it’s sticky, you know, staying around the charts after the feature has gone away and earning decent revenue, then yeah, that would be a game we would revisit.
Kevin: Yeah, it makes sense.
Simon: If people aren’t playing, or don’t tend to stick around, it doesn’t really make much sense to flog a dead horse so to speak.
Kevin: Yeah, I know what you mean. What’s interesting is what you said there about the sequel, so what’s your strategy with that then? I mentioned about updates, now we’ve got one of our games Color Maze which keeps getting re-featured, it been abandoned now, so we kind of dropped the ball a bit there because, we should’ve just kept that one alive. We actually built another world to go into that game, so I’m thinking maybe we should do number 2, or give it a different name and release it, essentially rather then do an actual update. You said you’d do a sequel, what’s your strategy there?
Simon: I would put that into a new game personally, if I was you. Or you could almost do both, in a way.
Kevin: That’s a good point.
Simon: You could do you update aswell as build it out into a separate entity. I would more often then not put that into a sequel, to get another crack at it. You can take on certain elements, if it’s had certain stickiness, colour scheme etc and re-use that for the next one and potentially put in some extra bits and bobs that you didn’t put in the original.
Kevin: Yeah, I think that’s what we’ll probably do, I might even try going for a paid one. It always makes me so nervous doing paid though, because it’s historically hard to get paid downloads. Certainly if you don’t get any free publicity from Apple, you’re pretty much struggling with that, although I suppose we could try and run some Facebook Ads to it, I don’t know exactly how effective that would be for a casual game.
Simon: I think puzzle apps can do particularly well, I’ve seen alot of paid puzzle games, I think people who like doing puzzles, don’t mind paying, but for a casual type game I think it’s trickier.
Kevin: Yeah, it’s a tough gig.
Simon: But if you came up with some kind of puzzle game, potentially maybe.
Kevin: Maybe, it’s interesting because we haven’t decided what we’re going to do yet. We’ll literally just turn on the microphone and beat out an idea between me and Jilly, and try and get something together, so it’s kind of at the top of my mind at the moment. There’s so many options to do and I’m excited to get started.
But super interesting, all that mate, I really appreciate that.
Simon: We’ve had a bit of a brain dump.
Kevin: No, this is super insightful stuff, this is what it’s all about, there’s no hard and fast rules, it’s just you’ve got to get in there and attack something and just start off right?
Simon: That’s it, just keep pushing.
Kevin: Ok, so listen, I know we’ve been banging on and I don’t know how long we’ve been talking, but I’ve got a couple of round up questions I do want to ask. It comes back to game design in a way, but I thought it would be quite good fun to find out what was like a defining moment for you, when you first starting playing games, before you got into the profession of building them. What was one of the things that you can remember, like a moment within a video game where you thought that it was the bees knees?
What was one of the most defining moments you remember that drew you into making games?
Simon: I gave this some thought, and this is the only one that has really stayed with me, it’s the original Super Mario Bro’s on the Nintendo NES system, just because it’s a master class of game design. Yes it’s old, it’s what 30 years old, but it still holds up to this day with the actual feel of it.
There’s a youtube video, where the actual creator goes into all the design mechanics behind it, and it all looks so simple, the idea starts as just a guy and some bricks, but it’s what goes into the mechanics, how high the platforms are, how high the plants come out of the pipes. So if you’re doing speed running, you can run and you can actually make that jump over the plant heads even when they are fully extended. Little things like the way the bricks are and which way the little mushroom goes. Considering this goes back to the 1980’s, for them to actually come up with that game back then, and all in a size of 32kbs! the whole game!
Kevin: That’s insane isn’t it.
Simon: I remember when I got the Nintendo, that was one of the very first games I ever played. Going back a few years earlier I remember playing Donkey Kong in an arcade, the game play and idea was obviously fantastic, but it always felt a little clunky to me.
Kevin: Yeah, it was a little bit awkward wasn’t it.
Simon: But with the first Mario, they just nailed everything, it’s always stuck with me. I must admit I got the new Nintendo NES Classic Mini for christmas, to play all the old games on.
Kevin: Yeah, cool. It’s interesting what you just said about the thought process behind Mario being able to jump and keep running, even when that plant is fully extended. It’s just the little touches that you kind of take for granted when you’re playing, and yet some dude has thought about that. It would be a really different scenario if you died every time you clicked to jump and it killed you, it would be very annoying. As a game designer, it’s really important stuff isn’t it?
Simon: Exactly yeah, and like you say, it’s the simple things that tend to look simple but have had a lot of thought put into them. That is the clever thing I suppose, taking all the complexity of design and putting it into something so simple.
Kevin: For sure, it’s funny you mention Donkey Kong. I was just trying to think if there is like a mobile version of Donkey Kong, I can’t actually think of anything off the top of my head.
Simon: Nowadays you mean?
Simon: In the olden days you had the Gaming Watch and the old monochrome screen.
Kevin: It’s just I don’t recall there ever being a port of Donkey Kong.
Simon: Yeah well, that’s Nintendo isn’t it and they’ve only really just started to bring out their games like Super Mario.
Kevin: Yeah sure, but I mean like in that sort of game play, I mean that’s easy to replicate isn’t it. Sorry, I was wandering off, thinking that’s not a bad idea, if you can figure that out, that’s a proven game play style that I don’t think has been replicated, that i can think of. Anyway I digress completely!
Ok the last one I’ve got, and this is a bit of an open question, but saying that if money, deadlines and technology were not in the frame.
What would be the game you’d love to build, be a part of and work on?
Simon: That’s a good question and I’ve given that a lot of thought as well. Console games, obviously I like mobile games, but when I have spare time, which isn’t very often, a console game that I would play would be something like Resident Evil, or The Last of Us, that type of survival horror.
Kevin: Ooh The Last of Us, yep.
Simon: Or, Metal Gear Solid, you know, the sneaking around stealth game play. So their the 2 real main ones, I don’t play many other games if I’m honest. So for me, if I had unlimited budget and technology, it would probably be either a VR survival horror game, where you’re actually in the thick of it with all the zombies and stuff.
Kevin: Holy Crap! that sounds scary.
Simon: Yeah, you know, where it’s all dark and around the corner the zombie comes out and you’ve got to shoot it and stuff. But with the idea of mixing that with something like Second Life, so you’ve actually staying there, so you’ve got to sleep somewhere in a room, guys could burst in at any point, bit mind crafty I suppose, but within a survival horror type game. I think that would be fun to work on.
Kevin: Would’t it just! Sounds freakin awesome! What do you think of all the VR stuff? Do you think it’s going to kick off as everyone predicts? I think it’s about 5 years out still.
Simon: I think it’s still early, I mean we were talking about VR in the mid 90’s. I remember Lawnmower Man came out, and everyone at that point thought it was going to be big, but it sort of fizzled away. Now it’s come back again like you say.
Kevin: Yeah, to be fair, Zucks ( Mark Zuckerberg ) has got it now, so.
Simon: Yeah, that’s it, but I still think it’s going to be big. I think like you say it’s s bit far off at the minute, but it’s got the potential to be huge obviously, and I think it will go that way. There’s a Nintendo Switch as well, if you’ve noticed.
Kevin: That’s just come out over here hasn’t it?
Simon: Is it actually out yet?
Kevin: I was reading something, it’s definitely out in the States.
Simon: March or something?
Kevin: I can’t remember, I think you’re right. I get confused, I read so much stuff.
Simon: They’re covering their bases with that, because if you notice, the middle section can be pulled out and that leaves the 2 controllers either side, almost like a VR type of thing. So they’ve got that open ended, so if that does take off in the next few years, maybe they can do something with their little handheld and controllers.
Kevin: Yeah, that makes sense and they’ve really go belts and braces on the tech side.
Simon: That’s right, and if not, they’ve still got that core functionality, I think a pretty smart move.
Kevin: It doesn’t interest me as much as I thought it would the VR stuff, I don’t know why. We’ve a got headset, a crappy one, but I get motion sickness 😛
Simon: To be fair, a lot of people can’t stomach it for very long, if you play a mobile game or a console game, you can get sucked in and play for hours potentially, but as you say, if you play a VR game for a little while and then feel sick you’re not going to carry on playing.
Kevin: I’m sure it could be different if I was to get on proper Oculus or one of the other decent ones, but right now, the mobile versions out there are a little naff, but hey, it’s still early days. Anyways, listen, this has been absolutely stunning and you’ve dropped value bombs galore, what’s coming up for you and what are your plans over the next weeks or however far you plan in advance?
Simon: We don’t really plan that far in advance to be fair as the mobile landscape changes so quickly, and we’re always ready to adapt, flip or do something else, but we’re constantly working on new stuff, we’ve got the new game coming out next week, and we’re working on 6 other games, in various stages at the moment…
Kevin: Wow, now I have to stop you there, you have 6 games on the go?
Simon: We have 6 games on the boil…
Kevin: Are they like viable products that you are chipping away at? How does that work? I do one at a time because my brain can’t handle it, and you have 6 on the go
Simon: Yeah, I like to have lots on the go because I can jump in and out of different ones. Polishing and polishing can drive you insane as you well know, so if I’m sick and tired of the game, it still might not be finished, I can’t face going back to it so I’ll hop into something else for a little bit, churn that one out and once I had that little bit of a break, I’ll go back to it. So that’s how it works well for us, so you don’t burn yourself out on a game. So yeah, I’d say we have about 3 at the moment that are are pretty much finished, just a few things here and there, and the other 3 that need work.
Kevin: That’s Awesome! How exciting, I don’t know how you juggle that, honestly, and I think it’s more of a personal thing for me, but kinda go all in and finish it. Obviously we have prototypes that are kicking around that we’ve got to a point where we’re fed up with them, or hit a roadblock and I need to think about these a bit more. Maybe something will spark an idea and we’ll jump back in try something different, but yeah, sorry about that, I completely interrupted you, you blew me away when you said you had six games on the go! So, 6 games on the go…
Simon: Yeah with 3 potentially, kinda complete probably, maybe a few bits here and there, but it does take some time to see who you’re gonna pitch it to and who you think it’s going to be a right fit and things like that. So at the minute, the focus is on the new game coming out next week ( UPDATE: “Tumble” Was Featured by Apple in New Games We Love! ) but we always like to have a few in the pipeline and be constantly pushing, so yeah all good 🙂
Kevin: Epic Stuff mate! So thank you so much for coming on and sharing all your massive value bombs with us today, I’m sure everyone will get tons of stuff out of it all, I know I have, so we’ll catch up soon and take good care buddy.
Simon: Been a pleasure and thanks for having me.