Getting To Know Your Developers: Chris Ulm and Paul O’Connor from Appy Entertainment [GTKYD]

by GamingBits on July 1, 2011

in General Gaming News Bits, Getting To Know Your Developers [GTKYD], iPhone, iPad, iPod touch Games



Before reading through this interview with the co-founders of Appy Entertainment, make sure to download their game, Trucks and Skulls NITRO (iPhone & iPod touch). Trucks and Skulls NITRO is available for free this weekend from the App Store in celebration of Independence Day. Read on and enjoy getting to know Chris Ulm and Paul O’Connor, along with some details about their future projects.

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

CHRIS: I’m Chris Ulm, co-founder and CEO of Appy Entertainment, Inc. Our team comes from the video game industry where we built High Moon Studios from the ground up. Appy is a scrappy start-up, so I wear several hats within the organization. In addition to setting overall direction for our band of merry men and women, I am also directing an as yet unannounced future title.

PAUL: I’m Paul O’Connor, another co-founder of this grand enterprise. I do a little of everything, but as Brand Manager it’s mostly my job to interact with our fans and follow Chris around to make sure he doesn’t wreck our company with some kind of crazy, loose-cannon fusillade of ill-timed remarks.

Appy was founded in 2008, where did you all come from? Console developers or other indie developers?

CHRIS: Our roots are in the console side: we came to Appy by a strange route that included Malibu Comics, Oddworld Inhabitants and High Moon Studios. Our past has been characterized by original IP and entrepreneurial companies that were eventually swept up by larger organizations like Marvel Comics and Activision-Blizzard.

PAUL: Yeah, kind of like how vanished peoples were swept up by the Mongols and left no trace of their existence.

I was wondering, where did the name Appy Entertainment come from?

CHRIS: Appy grew out of our desire to have a name that was a combination of “App” and “Happy” because this encapsulates our “Deadly Serious About Stupid Fun” ideal. Plus, our Appy Devil basically says it all: he’s militantly optimistic, consistently mischievous and has a big black eye.

PAUL: As I recall it was my suggestion to add that black eye, which was really an act of self-hate that we have since morphed into a positive marketing message.

TrucksTrucks and Skulls is a huge hit.  Can you describe its origins and the development cycle?

CHRIS: It was originally a game designed around Beavers and destroying dams. But then Paul O’Connor decided to kick over the table and demand that we appease his children. As the game director, I initially fought the new direction until I realized all of the cool and destructive things we could accomplish.

PAUL: We may still make that beaver game someday, but the concept got a tepid response from our focus group (my hyperactive sons, ages ten and thirteen at the time). With a hint of desperation, I said, “How would you guys like to play a game where you SMASH NITRO-BURNING MONSTER TRUCKS INTO PILES OF FLAMING SKULLS?????? And they said, “Fuck yes, Father!”

So I punished them for calling me “Father” (language, language!) and then made the pitch to the guys the next day. We thought it was just stupid enough to work, and the rest is history.

What was the biggest thing you learned in developing NITRO?

PAUL: I think our most critical learning is that a deep, universal story that speaks to eternal human truths is an indispensable element of any iPhone game.  With our story for Trucks & Skulls (“Trucks are Good. Skulls are Bad. Destroy Skulls!”) it’s clear that we’re cribbing from Tolstoy, but if you are going to steal, steal from the best.

CHRIS: Nitro is our 7th update for Trucks & Skulls and is by far, our most ambitious. In addition to adding a new world (“Iceopolis”) we’ve also built in the ability to modify your trucks to deepen the strategy while upping the entertainment value.  But even with such an ambitious update, the number of ideas for T&S keeps multiplying.  I literally had to really restrain myself in terms of what we added to NITRO and what we held back for future updates. Making those trade-offs is the hardest and most important part of my job.

I see you have included an in-App Store in NITRO, can you describe what is now available to players?  Also, will there be more updates in the future?

CHRIS: Adding virtual currency in a way that made the game deeper and more fun to play was very tricky and we expended a lot of skull sweat on how to give the best possible experience to our players without demanding that they spend more money. We made sure that all of the new ingredients added to the core fun instead of being required for progression. The store includes Level Cheats, Truck Mods (like Goth, Zombie, Hot Rod, Bling and Dragon), and a variety of collectible wallpapers.

PAUL: The Trucks Store is our first shot in our war to fix the way pay-to-play works in the mobile business. We think in-app payments should be deeply integrated with game rewards, so that players can “get rich slow” by earning in-app purchases through play, or “get rich fast” by making purchases. I hate it when I’m enjoying a game only to slam into a pay wall that points me to the exit if I don’t produce my wallet. With Trucks & Skulls NITRO we think we’ve created a game where players make in-app purchases because they WANT to, rather than because the HAVE to, and so far our players seem to agree.

Trucks and Skulls is also available on the Mac App Store. Can you talk about the changes you made, if any, from the iPhone or iPad versions?

CHRIS: The Macintosh version is a great game with all of the levels of the iPad and iPhone version. We’re waiting for OSX Lion in order to add the store front and still debating whether or not to include our iPad game editor on the Mac.

PAUL: Porting the editor to Mac is not a trivial task because the editor is so firmly wedded to a touch-based interface for things like object rotation and pinch/zoom. But Chris and I have been “Mac guys” for several centuries now — to the despair of our Android-obsessed  PR guy — so we will probably find a way to get all the latest goodies over to the Mac version of the game sooner or later.

Apple continues to innovate, creating more powerful hardware and new ways to play all the time. Where do you see Appy taking advantage of new hardware and software?

CHRIS: Apple is the leader in the App space for a reason and we have enormous respect for the teams behind iOS, Game Center and now iCloud. We are especially excited about turn-based gaming and Apple TV Airplay mirroring.

PAUL: We read the tech news compulsively and are always looking for a way to use new tech in our games. I also bow in the direction of Cupertino three times a day.

When can we expect the next update and how often are you planning them?

PAUL: We’d like to support the new Trucks Store with Even More Stuff — sales are brisk and we hadn’t planned an immediate update there but with the Customer Being King and all, we may need to revisit those plans. We’ve managed about one major update per month so far. Players should know that if the 200-plus levels already in Trucks & Skulls are insufficient for their skull smashing needs, they can join our Level of the Week club and get a free, new level emailed directly to them every Thursday. We’ve shipped more than thirty new levels this way since the start of the year and our email list keeps growing each week.

CHRIS: We’ll have at one more Trucks & Skulls content release in the next few months, then another massive update for Christmas. Stay tuned 🙂

Any plans on other releases coming soon?

CHRIS: Yes. But I’m not sure if Paul will let me talk about that here.

PAUL: Our next big release will be a thorough re-imagining of our best-selling FaceFighter franchise, which already has something like six million downloads. This is our fast-paced and funny first-person fighting game that is everything you’d expect from guys who thought “Trucks & Skulls” sounded like a good idea — it lets you take a picture of your boss and beat the shit out of him with a monkey wrench, for instance. Anything to make people feel closer to each other.

Looking further out, we’re working on an original game that will be truly rad (I dropped a hint on Twitter this week) and will figure out ways we can better support the Android ecosystem — where FaceFighter is already causing some mayhem!

Anything else you wish GamingBits readers to know about Appy Entertainment or Trucks and Skulls NITRO?

CHRIS: I like to think of T&S as the Summer Action Movie of Physics Launching games. If you like Demon Skulls, Monster Trucks, Lava, Trap Doors, Bonus Bombs, massive explosions, Volcanoes and over 200 levels, you really owe it to yourself to pick up the game! Especially now that it will be free during the July 4th Weekend.

PAUL: We’re deadly serious about stupid fun. And if you look up “stupid fun” in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of Trucks & Skulls NITRO. Huzzah!



For more details on Trucks & Skulls Nitro and Appy Entertainment, visit:

Trucks and Skulls NITRO – iPhone and iPod Touch

Trucks and Skulls NITRO HD – iPad

Appy Entertainment Official Site


Thanks to Chris Ulm and Paul O’Connor from Appy Entertainment along with Luis from Novy PR for making this interview possible.

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