interview

Spilt Milk Studios

Who are you and what do you do in the video game industry?

I’m Andrew John Smith and I’m a Game Designer by trade. I founded Spilt Milk Studios about a year and a half ago, and we make games for whatever platform we think is a good fit. The only rule is that we make good games!

What are you working on currently or just released?

Our first game was a fun little (free) maths-based puzzler called Crunch – The Game, but more recently we launched Hard Lines on iOS to critical and commercial success. We’re about to launch it on Android too, and have some early plans to bring it to other platforms as well. We’ve got a couple more secret iOS projects on the bubble, plus a mega-secret PC project.

Hard Lines OST Hard Lines is super addicting and has an awesome soundtrack. Where did those ideas come from?

That’s very kind of you to say! The core of the idea came from myself and Nicoll Hunt wanting to make a better Tron game than was already out there. After getting a small build up and running, and knowing we could rock its socks off, we continued adding, tweaking, playtesting and improving it over several months. It has since grown out of all proportion and become something of a hit! The soundtrack was created by a couple of my friends, DJs in Glasgow, who I’ve known since university. They are both keen gamers, and I knew they’d get the vibe we wanted to hit. They nailed it! So much so that we’ve launched an album with extended and original tracks, and we’re working on a remix album too! See spiltmilkstudios.bandcamp.com.

How did you get into developing iOS games and previous projects that you have worked on?

Well we launched Crunch – The Game a while back as our first game (I say ‘our’ – but I work with different collaborators on each game the studio launches) and this was commissioned by a client. It was a fun game to work on and meant we had some proven success and a bit of money in the bank. We’ve also, as a means to an end, worked on a non-gaming app. But the reason I got into iOS development were the lack of barriers to entry. Under a hundred quid for the rights to develop on the platform, couple hundred for the equipment and you’re good to go. Keeping costs low is important for a startup!

That said the touch screen interface and marketplace allows you to really try out some neat, and new, ideas. Having a background in traditional console game development meant that the change up was refreshing and challenging to me.

We have been seeing a trend with more and more games being released for free and selling in-App purchases. What are your thoughts on this and will Spilt Milk Studios be doing anything of the sort?

Yeah it’s certainly a pretty sensible way to make money on these mobiles platforms. It’s not the only way, and it’s certainly got to be handled correctly and fairly, but it’s a cool model. We’re updating Hard Lines right this very minute with the latest update – and that includes in-app purchases. Whether we go free anytime is currently up for discussion, but I would not be surprised if we did. Moving forward with future projects it’s certainly something we’re taking into account from the first day of development – but with Hard Lines we didn’t design it with this from the start so we have to be extra careful.

Working from home does have its perks. Playing anything for fun/research?

I actually do work and sleep in a shed, which gives me freedom to do as I please (working in slippers is always nice!) but on the flipside it means I live a pretty lonely working day existence :D . Radio 6 Music and Twitter make up my ‘office hubbub’! That said I do get to play some cool games in my lunchbreaks, and I’m currently tearing through a giant backlog of games I own but haven’t played much, as well as games I’ve never played but should have. Like Deus Ex (the original) and Super Mario World (on the SNES!). Both have recently been completed and I’ll be moving on to some other classics soon.

Is Spilt Milk Studios a single man operation?

Yeah it’s just me! I’ve got plans to expand to a small team, but right now I outsource everything that I can’t do myself. The good thing is I see that as the future of the business anyway so it’s all good practice… but I would like to have some in-house talent working for me too!

Hard Lines (iOS)

Do you have a child-like obsession with all things Tron like myself?  Because I get that vibe from several of the modes in Hard Lines.

Haha yeah Tron is a classic (and I actually really had fun with the recent sequel too!) and when done right I think it’s a fresh vibe. The sound, style, art, tone of the universe is all pretty unqiue. You’ve got to be careful when referencing it, but I think we did a good job.

Are you working on anything right now? Wish to tease us with something?

I’ve got two iOS games in development, plus a PC project on the backburner. Not to mention the continuing support of Hard Lines. Things are going well, and hopefully sometime before Christmas we’ll have another game out. We can hope! I’m not going to tease anything more, because I don’t want to show off anything without, well, having something to show off – none of the projects are at a point where we can show screenshots off… so you’ll just have to keep an eye on our Twitter feed (SpiltMilkStudio) and facebook page (facebook.com/spiltmilkstudios)!

Anything else you wish to share with GamingBits readers?

Just to say thanks to anyone who reads all the way through this, and keep an eye out for our games. We’ll never release anything that’s not at the very least great fun (or at least that’s the plan) so hopefully we’re going to be fairly reliable!

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For more details and to download Hard Lines, visit the App Store here. Visit the Spilt Milk Studios website at www.spiltmilkstudios.com. Thanks to Andrew John Smith for making this interview possible!

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Warlords (PSN, XBLA) from Atari

Atari and developer Griptonite Games are preparing an all new release of Warlords, coming to the PlayStation Network and Xbox LIVE Arcade this summer. So what does Warlords beef up since the Atari 2600 days (and without a paddle controller)? Brian Kirkness, Producer at Griptonite Games,  answered questions from GamingBits to give you some insight on Warlords before its release. Read on below for some preview details on what were some of the challenges, special features, and what you can look forward to in this all-new take on Warlords!

GamingBits.com Q&A with Brian Kirkness:

It’s been years since the ’80s Atari 2600 release of Warlords. How would you describe the gameplay of this new take on Warlords for those that have never played it? Action tower defense? Breakout versus gameplay?

[Brian Kirkness] Warlords is a little bit of a few things, but to sum it up I would say Warlords is a fast paced arcade action game with subtle strategy elements.

Is the gameplay mechanic similar to what it was back in the day? Will players be able to hold a fireball and fling it toward an enemy fortification?

[Brian Kirkness] We tried to keep the core mechanics as true to the original as possible without letting it feel outdated. In “Classic” mode you can definitely catch and aim fireballs to inflict additional damage. In the updated modes a “Charged Shot” can be used in a couple of different tactics. Besides additional wall damage, the well aimed Charged Shot will also destroy opponents Snoots and tick off the Black Knight!

What are some of the new and unique gameplay elements in this edition of Warlords, such as the minions and dragons? Is that another game factor to consider – capture-the-flag type gameplay?

[Brian Kirkness] The three biggest additions to Warlords are the Snoots (troops), Black Knight and Control Points. The Snoots can be used in a variety of different ways including healing your walls, damaging enemy walls and  capturing Control Points, which award power-ups.

The Black Knight enters game play randomly and takes over all the Control Points. He then proceeds to mercilessly beat upon the various castles, growing stronger as each Control Point fills again. While you can use your shield to block his attack, the only way to remove him from the playing field is to win back the Control Points with your Snoots. With a well aimed, and usually ricocheted, Charged Shot the Black Knight can be used against your opponents.

Control Points are where you get your power-ups, but you have to be the last one to control it when the outer circle fills up.

Since we don’t have a paddle control on the PS3 or Xbox 360, how are some of the controls used in this new Warlords game?

[Brian Kirkness] This was definitely one of the hardest re-design aspects for us. The paddle controls are so integral to Warlords and we knew we couldn’t really mimic that with the hardware available. We did our best to make the Shield, Snoot, and Charge Shot controls as intuitive and accessible as possible by using both sticks and only a couple of other buttons.

What type of power-ups can players obtain?

[Brian Kirkness] The power-ups are all passive, they work automatically once you have acquired it. There are three types of power-ups; defensive, offensive, or a little bit of both.

Some examples of defensive power-ups: one will repair all your remaining walls for a certain time, another will extend your shield by 50%, and yet another will make it so that your Snoots are invincible to the Black Knight and his troops.

On the offensive side of  the power-ups you can acquire there is one that will instantly destroy a part of all your enemy’s walls, the auto-Charge Shot where every Fireball that hits your shield shoots off as a Charged Shot with no additional effort on the user’s side, or you can slow all your opponent’s shields for a brief period of time.

Only a couple of the power-ups can really benefit you on both offensive and defensive strategies. When all the Fireballs change to your color you score more points and don’t take any damage if they hit your walls. The other option is to increase your Snoot spawn rate which really tailors its usefulness to how you make use of Snoots in game.

The characters and environments were something that the original pixel Warlords couldn’t show. What types of characters and environments are in this new edition Warlords?

[Brian Kirkness] We really wanted to take advantage of the hardware and create some whimsically unique characters and worlds for Warlords. For the most part we based all the Warlords and their worlds on the elements. Fire, Nature, Ice…and Dark. Of course “Dark” isn’t really an element, but who doesn’t want to see more skulls? Each Warlord has their own world filled with lava, ice, water, space, and even a cemetery. A few of the maps even have a 2 player version.

Can players dynamically switch between a 3D view and a top-down view?

[Brian Kirkness] Yes, players can play from the classic top-down perspective or with the  camera behind their Warlord. The default camera can be changed in the Options Menu, but you can also switch them on the fly using the controller. However, for gameplay purposes only the top-down view is available in Local Multiplayer.

What game modes, including online and offline, will be available in Warlords?

[Brian Kirkness] Warlords is no longer just a free-for-all game. We have added Team Mode (2 vs 2) and 1 vs 1 maps. For the most part all the game modes can be played offline single-player, offline local multiplayer, or online multiplayer. In addition to the Free For All, Team Mode (2 vs 2), and 1 vs 1 setups there is an offline single-player campaign. The campaign story follows your quest to defeat the Black Knight and become the ultimate Warlord. Once a level is completed it opens up the “Time Challenge” for that stage of the campaign.

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Big thanks to Brian Kirkness, Griptonite Games, Atari and Maverick PR for making this interview possible! Keep a lookout for more details and previews on Warlords from E3 2011 next week, here on GamingBits.com.

For more on Warlords, visit the official website at www.atari.com/warlords.

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Two Worlds II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Two Worlds II is less than two weeks away from release in North America, set to arrive January 25, 2011. Are you ready for your adventure into Antaloor and ready for the beasts that await? To get you up to speed on the story of Two Worlds and some tips to set you off on your journey, Aubrey Norris from Southpeak Games shares some insight on the fantasy action role-playing game. Think you’ve heard or seen it all in an RPG? Read on…

For players unfamiliar with the original Two Worlds, can you catch us up with a brief (non-spoiler) introduction to Two Worlds II?

Two Worlds II is a hardcore action-RPG based in the medieval fantasy world of Antaloor. It’s based around the hero and his sister, Kyra, who are born of a family that carries a mystical connection to the war god Aziraal. This connection has cursed members of their family (and now, in this generation – Kyra) to be vessels of Aziraal and the sole containing force of his terrible power being unleashed upon the world. Emperor Gandohar, a tyrant thirsty for power and complete world domination, has taken both of you prisoner and attempts to use his 1337 mage abilities to unleash Aziraal’s forces from within Kyra, using your life force to sustain her. At the beginning of Two Worlds II, a group of orcs (some unlikely allies) break you out of Gandohar’s prison and your ultimate mission is to unite the resistance forces of Antaloor against Gandohar and save your sister and the world from his malevolent grasp!

What are some of the first things that come to mind on what players can only experience in Two Worlds II?

The very first things that jump out at me are the incredibly deep spell creation and crafting systems. Any item you pick up, whether weapon or armor, can be deconstructed into its basic raw materials (e.g. Steel, iron, wood, etc.) and then used to upgrade your existing equipment. This unlocks slots for magical crystals that give a huge range of benefits like elemental damage, skill bonuses, stat bonuses, etc. On top of that, for players who are big into the online multiplayer side of Two Worlds II and form their own guilds, equipment can be custom dyed with guild colors.

The spell system is based on cards and amulets. Each combination of a set elemental card (for example, Ice, Poison or Power) and a set action card (for example, Missile, Summon or Trap) within an amulet will produce a ridiculous range of spell possibilities. On top of those basic things, other aspects of each spell can be customized, such as adding a homing component, a ricochet component, adding a damage over time effect, etc. And, if you thought that wasn’t enough, some amulets allow you to build linked spells, so that you could, for example, set a frost trap which will do 2000 damage upon being triggered and then summon a gigantic hell warrior to smite enemies and induce bloodshed you and then cast an AOE lightning attack. :) I love the range of possibilities!

I’m especially a big fan of the inclusion of summoned monsters for mages. If you put enough points into summoning as a mage skill, I discovered that you can literally have a horde of monsters fighting for you while you fire off AOE attacks or missiles safely from the background. ;) There’s nothing like a massive swarm of bees or (my nickname, of course) death grasshoppers to keep you safe and sound!

Two Worlds II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

How big is the world of Antaloor and what environments should the player be prepared to endure?

Antaloor is made up of a system of gigantic islands (and when I say gigantic, I mean miles and miles- thank goodness for teleports! :) ). Parts of each island have their own individual flavor. The first island you begin questing on after the tutorial phase of the game has a very savannah/tropical African feel to it, complete with its own unique wildlife like Ostriches and Baboons that throw poo at you (seriously :P) (yes, the poo does damage to you :P). Other places in the game have Asian vibes, swamp-like environments, and so on.

How complex is item and quest management in the game?

Item management is similar to many other RPGs – players have an inventory system that separates their items into their various uses – magic cards, alchemy ingredients, weapons & armor, plot items etc. are all on different tabs. That comes in really handy, as Two Worlds II gives collectors the freedom to really go wild with the sheer variety of stuff they can gather through their travels – like crystals, different weapon types, different elementally-based mage equipment, books with amusing stories to read, items taken from corpses, bizarro alchemy ingredients like Undead Thyroids, creatable potions that offer a ridiculous variety of effects like invisibility, walking on water, etc. :) So – there’s a LOT to deal with, and the game separates everything into its appropriate category, which is really helpful.

Quests are managed on a rolling basis. The player’s quest log reads sort of like a diary. The hero will write down what he knows about the quest as soon as he takes it on, and individual quests can be highlighted at one time. When a quest is highlighted, a marker will show up on the game’s minimap along with an estimated distance to the marker in order to help keep players on track so they can get where they’re supposed to go. As new parts of each questline are completed, the hero will update his journal with new information about the quest or thoughts about what happened, so that if you stop playing the game and come back to it later you’ll be able to refresh your memory and not have as much trouble jumping back into the game, which as an RPG fan I’ve often found to be a difficulty with huge, immersive RPGs – sometimes if real life happens to make it so that you can’t play for a week or so, it’s really hard to jump back into the game and remember what you were doing before you left. Luckily, Two Worlds II constantly keeps track of where you are with each quest, so all you need to do is scan through the journal to refresh your memory.

Will players in Two Worlds II have unlimited inventory slots?

Inventory slots are not limited, but the amount of inventory carried is limited by weight, which is a function of each character’s strength. Players can also acquire residences in various cities and locations that they can leave things in they may not want to be carrying around all the time. :)

Are there any tips you can give players on character class selection or choice?

Well, luckily enough, there’s no class selection in Two Worlds II. It’s a completely design-your-own experience, where you put whatever points you want into whatever skills you want. In my first playthrough, I was so eager to do it all that I just could not decide, so I did a little bit of everything. Two Worlds II allows you to set three “quick-slotted” armor sets, so that you can switch from one to another with the push of one button. My strategy was to have a decent mage-type armor set, warrior-type armor set and rogue-type armor set and literally switch back and forth from them in the middle of a fight. I’d start off by taking out as many Varns, for example, as I could from a distance with my rogue and his bow and then once they got close enough switch to more of a warrior setup. But there are limitless possibilities on how you can strategically use that feature of Two Worlds II – you could have all three armor sets set as different elemental mage types – say, a fire mage, water mage and necromancer – for you to use depending on what situation you’re in. Or, if you want to concentrate on warrior, you can set up the quick slots with different types of damage in mind, like lances and their spinning attack for crowd-control type situations, dual-wield blugeoning weapons for when you’re fighting Necris and an Axe for creatures that are weaker to slashing damage. It all just depends on how you want to play.

Also, don’t underestimate the viability of a ranged emphasis in this game. I’ve seen in many other fantasy RPGs where bows and ranged weapons are in there sort of like a “HEY GUYS THERE ARE RANGED WEAPONS! LOOK!” but in practical use the bow cannot be used as a primary weapon. To me, there was nothing more exhilarating than sitting in my living room picking off an entire camp of enemies with my bow and Fire arrows and screaming for them to suck it. It was awesome!

Two Worlds II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

I know action-RPG lovers will find some familiar fantasy enemies in Two Worlds II, but are there any that particularly stand out?

Well, we talked about the baboons and their poo, so that’s a thing. :P The groms some may be familiar with from the original Two Worlds do make a reappearance, although they are not nearly as prevalent. I guess you single-handedly eliminated most of their species in the first game. ;) Even among your standard fare wildlife per region, there are some really awesome ones – like raptors. RAPTORS! (Actually, called Drakonai in Two Worlds II). And BEES! The best part about the bees is that eventually you can get cards to summon your OWN bees and then just have an absolute bee war going on with your bees fighting off the enemy bees. And, of course, I mentioned my precious “Death Grasshoppers” (that is totally my own name – in the actual game they are called Stingers and are pretty WTF looking). And then there’s another enemy called the Taedium that is like a giant goddamn walking, gaping maw with little goddamn walking, gaping maws around it and it definitely elicited a “WHAT THE F*CK IS THAT” response from me upon first sight. :P

I’ve seen some crazy and diverse spellcasting in Two Worlds II. What are some of your favorite spells?

As you can probably tell, I am a big summoning fan. ;) But, there are some other spells that are just filled with lollerskates. Like a spell you can cast that will literally dump a pile of junk, including barrels, boxes, anvils and so on, on top of an enemy’s head. Each of those pieces has physics to it, so it does damage to anything it falls on. What’s even better is when you have a warrior in your party (in multiplayer) who is using Blockbreaker, a massive melee attack that sends loose objects in the area flying into the air and you see anvils and barrels flying everywhere. I love it!

It’s also fun to cast an AOE tornado around yourself and pick up random objects/corpses and use them to do supplemental damage to your enemies as you’re beating them to a pulp. XD

What about the weapons? Any particularly deadly or shiny gear/loot adventurers should be looking out for?

Lances are my absolute favourite. The hero has this amazing spinning attack that you can only use with a lance equipped that can really clear out enemies when you’re being bombarded from all sides. ;) So definitely give those a shot! I am usually not a 2-handed weapon type of person but it’s so worth it here!

Two Worlds II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

Are there any other tips or advice you have for players in preparing for their Two Worlds II adventure?

DO ALL THE SIDEQUESTS. OMG you have no idea. The sidequests were my fav, I mean FAV part of Two Worlds II. Case in point: there’s one side quest where you have to deal with a woman’s cockblocking dead husband who inadvertently killed any dude she tried to get with. OR, there’s a quest where you have to convince a troll whose sole magical ability is to RANDOMLY SUMMON COWS AND CHICKENS to move out of the cave he’s occupying into a neighboring shack. WIN! Seriously- the sidequests are so entertaining, I loved them and I’m sure you will too. ;)

OH! And the oculus is also one of my fav things about Two Worlds II. The Oculus is literally the eyeball of a beastie that was ripped out and imbued with magical powers that allow you to use it as a free-floating scout/camera. You can send it into camps to check out where all the enemies are, around corners to see who’s lurking there in wait for you – it’s SO handy. Some oculi also have the ability to set traps or shoot fireballs. It’s pretty hilarious when a jackal guy is just standing there innocently guarding his camp, and you get all up in his business and shoot a fireball at his ass and he’s all like “WUT?!?!?!” Seriously. Just do it.

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Big thanks to the always animated Aubrey Norris from Southpeak Games for this interview and gameplay tips! Two Worlds II will be available on January 25, 2011 in North America for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. There is also still time to nab some bonus items before Two Worlds II hits the streets. For more on Two Worlds II, visit the official website at www.twoworldstwo.com.

Two Worlds II (PS3, Xbox 360, PC)

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Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do in the games industry.

My name is Matt Small, and I’m the Creative Director and Lead Artist at Vector Unit. I’ve worked in the industry for about 12 years, mostly as an Environment Art Lead.

How did you get your start in game development?

I snuck in through the back door. I started out doing desktop publishing and graphic design for things like Yellow Pages ads for local businesses. I totally bluffed my way into a gig as a 2D animator at Berkeley Systems, animating characters for screen savers like After Dark. After that I learned 3D and got a job at Stormfront Studios working on a PSOne/N64 game called Hot Wheels Turbo Racing. Since then it’s been console game development all the way.

What games have you previously worked on?

After Hot Wheels I worked on Blood Wake, then Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and a little on Demonstone. Then I left Stormfront for EA Redwood Shores and worked on LotR: The Third Age, James Bond: From Russia With Love, the Godfather, a little on Deadspace, and then Spore.

What game have you been working on or just released?

Vector Unit just released our first game as a studio: Hydro Thunder Hurricane for Xbox LIVE Arcade.

The game is a part of this year’s Summer of Arcade promotion, can you explain that process and your reaction to it?

Well the selection process itself is a little bit of a mystery to us; it all happens behind closed doors, and I think it involves Ouija boards and chicken sacrifice. All I know is a lot of games want to get one of those coveted 5 slots, and we were extremely excited when we found out HTH had been selected. Jokes aside, I think it says a lot for the hard work and love that the team members put into the game.

Hydro Thunder is a license that was from developed at Midway, can you explain how it came to Vector Unit?

We pitched Microsoft on a speedboat racing game we’d been working on. We had a playable prototype, and they liked it – after talking with them about it, the idea came up of attaching the Hydro Thunder license. They acquired the distribution license from Midway, who promptly went out of business and sold the ownership rights to Warner Brothers – that’s why you see the WB logo in the game.

Hydro Thunder Hurricane screen

How was your experience developing for the Xbox 360?

We love the 360. Our prototype was actually on the PC. When we got our 360 dev kits, it took hardly any time to get the game up and running on the hardware. It’s extremely easy to develop for, very forgiving, and it can just push so much eye candy. Plus, we love the Xbox LIVE experience, the multiplayer matchmaking and party systems, all that stuff.

Are there any plans for downloadable content in the future, if so, can you explain its nature?

Can’t say too much specific, but yes there are plans. We’ll be announcing more about it soon.

The leaderboards are quite active and have some insane times, who has the best times at Vector Unit? Who has the worst?

Yeah we’ve been pretty impressed with some of the leaderboard times out there. It’s already gotten to the point where we can’t seriously compete in the top 20 or so. I’d love to say I’m the best at VU, but it would be a total lie. Ralf Knoesel, our technical director and lead programmer (and my co-founding partner in the company) is the guy to beat around here, at least on most tracks. As for the slowest…. Well, I won’t name names but his rhymes with “ill”. Then again, he was the artist who built the Storming Asgard track, which I love, so I forgive him his lack of boat skillz.

What was the toughest challenge you had during development?

That’s a tough question. I guess the hardest part was fitting everything we wanted into the tracks. We just kept piling more and more stuff in there – the giant Thor in Asgard, the UFOs in Area 51, the interactive fountains in Seoul Stream. The more we did the more ideas came to us for upping the intensity level of the tracks. Eventually we had to put our pencils down and finish it all up.

Anything else you want to tell GamingBits readers about Vector Unit or Hydro Thunder: Hurricane?

Yes! If you love this game, please tell everyone you know to buy it. Not just because we want to make money (which I admit we do), but also because we love working on this game, and the more people that buy it the more likely it is that we’ll be able to keep making new downloadable tracks and boats for the fans. We’re working on a DLC pack now, but we have so many more ideas that I would love to get out there. Lots of people have asked us for revamps of some of the original tracks – who knows? Anything is possible, right?

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Thanks to Matt Small and Vector Unit for making this interview possible!

Visit Vector Unit’s official website here.

Purchase Hydro Thunder: Hurricane or download the demo here.

Vector Unit logo

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For this Getting To Know Your Developers [GTKYD] interview feature, game developer Ron Albert, from Headcase Games, shares some insight on what it’s like being an indie developer on the iPhone and iPod touch platform. Take a moment to get some perspective from the other side of the game screen with Ron. He shares his experience from developing within big game studios to going indie on a relatively new gaming platform with touch controls.

Who are you and what do you do in the games industry?

Ron Alpert, independent game developer. Co-founder of Headcase Games, we’ve released two iPhone titles over the past year. Prior to that, I’ve worked as an artist on several big-name titles.

What else have you worked on in the past, anything we might recognize?

Lots of stuff! See my resume www.texturemonkey.com. Millions of gamers have got their hands on a few different things I have touched. Notable games include Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Heroes of Might & Magic, Alpha Protocol, Aliens RPG (cancelled).

What project are you working on or just released?

My latest project with Headcase Games is the recently-released action/puzzle game 180 for iPhone and iPod Touch.

180 seems like a perfect fix for the iPhone, fun, addictive and somewhat casual. Why choose the iPhone and iPod Touch, not Xbox LIVE Indie games or other online game distribution services?

There’s so many reasons why we decided to target the iPhone market at this time. The cost is low, a small crew can produce with little overhead, there is a blossoming scene which makes it (relatively) easy to get attention when a product is released, the infrastructure of iTunes makes it much smoother to actually deal with selling and promotion. Beyond all of that, it’s just very exciting to be part of something new and different. I love what mobile gaming represents; no longer being tethered to a console in your living room, anyone can be a gamer at any time. The technology is very novel and it really drives creativity, the touchscreen has its haters but I feel like it forces developers to go back 30 years and think fundamentally, experimenting with "how can we approach interface in a new and appealing way," rather than just trying to map buttons to sections of the surface. Working that way feels limiting and frustrating, and it’s so refreshing to have options and not just be bound to one methodology.

Do you miss working on the big budget games or have your found your new calling?

I love this industry because of how things are always changing; I get bored when it’s the same thing over and over. Right now I am absolutely digging doing the small-time development, rather than being a grunt and having to deal with all of the big studio politics; it is up to me to call all the shots and put myself out there. Instead of being one of thousands of guys who works for EA, Sega, ATVI, whatever, I am representing myself as a brand and at 35 years of age I feel like it is "do this now, or it’s never going to happen." You really become a "franchise" yourself, especially when people start to listen to you, talk about you. As for bigger budget games, ultimately I see myself heading back there in some capacity or other. I am still so fresh in this current position, and to be honest it’s not a very friendly climate for us little tiny devs to survive in this fashion. So I am fighting hard to be relevant and work on things I want to (large or small), rather than just take work because I need to pay the bills, if that makes sense. I will go where it makes sense to go, and I will keep trying to make my voice heard (and deliver the type of work that people will expect when they hear my name associated with a product).

With Headcase Games being a small team, how many of you are there and what are your roles?

Yep, pretty small! Here’s the breakdown – Ben Ma is my better half, he’s the programmer in this outfit and he was my design co-pilot. He wrote the guts of the doc for our first iPhone game, iFist, and he contributed a huge chunk to the docs for 180 off of my original mockups. Working with him has been the pinnacle of my career, creatively – he has an excellent design sense, and a strong desire to create an optimal experience for the end user, which I admire.

I did everything that Ben wasn’t doing – creative stuff (art & design) social networking and promotion, being the voice and connection to the outside world and everything that goes along with that (Twitter, Facebook, development blogs, building and maintaining al the various websites associated with all the brands). A lot of little things that add up. Also I have been the project producer, scheduling and managing everything and trying to keep tabs on every little bit (even smaller projects can get out of whack very easily). And of course overseeing the work of the other folks, who are:

Pauline Laciste is the music/sound FX department for Headcase Games. She’s new to the industry, but extremely talented and easy to work with. She’s got a great knack for matching sounds and music to fit the mood of gameplay perfectly, it was great meeting her and I can’t wait to work with her some more.

Some folks might recognize Ciji "StarSlay3r" Thornton from her stints on reality TV "WCG Ultimate Gamer" and "The Tester," we met up during production of 180 and decided to collaborate on promotion together. She’s a playable character in our game, too!

In the development process, what was your biggest challenge and what have you learned because of it?

There were so many issues, there always are during any kind of production. As the years go on, you learn to expect the unexpected. In this case, I’d never managed something this fully-fleshed out before and it was kind of a beast, even for as small a project as it was. To sum up, I will say that getting code and assets running properly was not difficult, but getting things wrapped up on time (regarding things that were outside of my control) became frustrating at times. The most important thing was to always have backup plans for everything, figure out what absolutely MUST be in the game to make it fun and marketable. Keep that list short and sweet, but sensible, and chart your course based off of that early on. Then brave for the rough waters ahead! Ultimately, the game released in both forms (Full version and Free Demo) and has been warmly received by the community, so it’s all been worthwhile.

I see on your website, you post a "Retro Game of the Day," why and how long have you being writing them?

Retro Game of the Day is coming up on the one-year anniversary, almost to the week! It’s been a long and thankless journey! That’s a lie, I feel like it’s done a lot for us in some ways, and it’s given us a product to show off while our actual games have still been in production. It’s so important to have something unique to put out there with your name on it, and to follow through with it to the best of your ability. We should get more hits from the site, but for what it’s worth that has been very successful and I’d like to grow it more. I just try to keep it steady and interesting… consistent. The feedback I get is all very good, and I am very grateful for my readers.

Are you playing anything on your own right now?

Sadly, I have almost zero time to game anymore. I am not joking when I say that months pass between sessions of touching my 360 or PS3. It’s a little ludicrous – but this is the reality, when you are trying to do this stuff it really does eat up all of your time. I do my best to keep abreast of the news and know what is going on, what games are popular and why, and honestly – there’s so much redundancy in the mainstream right now that I don’t feel like I am really too sad about it. As for mobile gaming, I spend a bit more time in that circle as it is absolutely a necessity, so I force myself to make time and check out the latest and greatest of the scene. Again, nothing really grabbing me at the moment, but I do have a couple games which suck me in now and again (still hopelessly addicted to Drop7).

Anything else you wish to tell the readers of GamingBits about Headcase Games or your newest game?

As for 180, I hope your readers will give a look to our little game and see what it is all about. This is the proudest I have been of any game I have ever worked on, and I say that because I feel we’ve really nailed what is elegant and gratifying in many ways about this type of a game. The feeling you got when you first understood why a game like Tetris was fun, even something like Street Fighter… those classic games relied on the player developing their own style of play, while providing them with a very simplified toolset with which to operate. I feel that that is so wonderful about this new mobile/causal arena, where we can revisit these basic notions of how to design gameplay and mine them a little more (rather than just riff off of what works infinitely – we’ve barely scratched the surface!) Our game looks simple, it plays.. well, stupid in a way when you first get your hands on it. But play with it for a few minutes and you’ll start to see the depth in there. Don’t take my word for it, look at the reviews, they all seem to get what we were going for.

I should take an aside and stress that even asking this is a bit much these days, as gamers are getting completely overwhelmed with options. New games, between big-budget noisemakers and low-level sleepers and everything in-between, are just coming in wave after wave after wave – so it is very risky for us to try to make something new that requires a player to take that leap and give us the benefit of the doubt that what we’ve crafted is worth spending their time to unlock. I feel that people complain so often that they are tired of "the same old thing," well here’s something new in a Trojan Horse of Familiarity. I guess we will see if this experiment works!

As for Headcase Games, down the road.. well, this is the kicker really, and all I have said in this interview really leads up to this. HcG, and other little devs like us, were borne out of being sick and tired of churning out the same thing over and over – we finally have a space, and a delivery method, to change the world a bit and make our mark on the culture, make some crazy different games which can make you think in a different way, challenge your conceptions of "what is a game, what is fun". If anyone out there reading this finds that what we say is resonating with you, then I am asking you for help. Little devs can only do so much, it’s up to you guys out there to help on your end too. It’s my goal to make fresh, novel, real and fulfilling experiences for you guys, and the only way I can do this is with your support. Download my demo, if you like it spend the $2 to buy it, if you love THAT then start nagging your friends to do the same (check out our stuff and get involved). Get on the message boards, get on TouchArcade, get on gaf and whatever and help to root for our cause, make some noise. If you are a reviewer at a bigger site, if you have media connections, and so forth, get us some airtime! At this point, that is everything to us. Support us, we can start assembling some actual budget for these things. We are here to make you guys happy – Thanks for your time!

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Many thanks to Ron Alpert and Headcase Games for making this interview possible. Find out more about Headcase Games at their official website (and check out the Retro Game of the Day feature here!). 180 is available as a demo here on the App Store and the full game is available for only $1.99 here on the App Store. See more on 180 here.

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