Getting To Know Your Developers [GTKYD]

Who are you and what do you do in the gaming industry?
My name is Doug and I am a Creative Game Designer on Strife; I work on heroes, items, game systems, and more.
What are you working on currently or just released?
Right now I am working on new heroes, but I am also gathering feedback from new players.  It’s very important to us to reduce the burn points as much as possible when a new player comes into the game.

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Interview with MumboJumbo on casual and iOS games


by GamingBits on October 20, 2011

in General Gaming News Bits, Getting To Know Your Developers [GTKYD], iOS and Android games


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

Dawn McKenzie, Director of Marketing for MumboJumbo, LLC.  We’re a developer and publisher of casual games, producing hits that include our LUXOR franchise, the 7 Wonders series, and most-recently the Midnight Mysteries games.

What gaming platforms does MumboJumbo develop for? 

Our games are available on the Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, Sony PSP, PS2 and Xbox Live.

MumboJumbo is known as a “Premium Casual Games” developer and publisher. How would you say this distinguishes MumboJumbo’s games from other casual game developers?

We have a real focus on quality and making games that are fun.  Casual games are sometimes pigeon-holed as being quickly developed and thus low on quality artwork or level design.  What sets us apart is that you’ll find a lot of love and care goes into our game concepts, the artwork we create to set the tone for the story, and the meticulous level design that we create to set the pace for the game.  You can see this in all of our games, but our recent title Glowfish really embodies this commitment.  Glowfish has received really great user and critical praise for the artwork and level design, and it’s the perfect example of how a casual game can appeal to a broader audience.  We’ve had great success with the Steam audience since launching there last week with both the PC and Mac version of the game.


What kind of puzzle games does MumboJumbo offer, and who would you say is your audience?

We offer a lot of different types of games, from the classic match-3 to the arcade-style marble popper to the hidden object adventure games that have become so popular over the last three years.  We have a broad reach with our games, and the mass appeal is especially evident in our key franchises: LUXOR, 7 Wonders, and Midnight Mysteries.  We first launched LUXOR a little over six years ago, and we still hear from fans ranging in age from 4 to 84!  When we initially launched Midnight Mysteries for the PC, the game struck a chord with the more typical casual games audience, and a slightly more female demographic who enjoys hidden object games.  But, what we found with the second installment, Salem Witch Trials, was that we were able to broaden the audience.  This was really brought about in two ways: 1) We launched it for the iPad almost simultaneously, and 2) We incorporated some really innovative adventure and puzzle elements into the game play.  This not only broadened the appeal for the game to an audience beyond the PC/Mac, but we also were able to pull in fans of adventure style games.  Our audience continues to grow, and we really have seen that with Glowfish recently—we’re pulling in fans of hard core games who are looking for a few hours of Zen-like, quality gaming, and we’re able to satiate that with Glowfish.

MidnightIs there any platform that you see the greatest growth in gaming?

Obviously, we have seen massive growth of the iOS audience, and we are continuing to support the iPhone and iPad platforms with new titles.  We also have seen a big push to Android by some companies, and I think you’ll continue to see the social/mobile scene grow as the smart phone user base continues to expand.

Please tell us about some of your recent and upcoming releases.

Our most recent release is 7 Wonders: Magical Mystery Tour for the iPad.  The match-3 game took on some elements of resource management in this installment, and we were able to further the franchise and keep it fresh for fans with new wonders, polished gameplay, fun new power-ups, cool locations, and some new whistles like the power-up wheel and the mini games.  The game is going to launch for the PC at Target over the next couple of weeks, and it will come to the digital download space in the coming month.


Our dev team is hard at work on two games right now, one of which is the next installment in Midnight Mysteries.  We hope to announce a new game launch in November, and then we’ll unveil the new Midnight Mysteries shortly thereafter.  They both look fantastic, and our artists are, once again, hitting it out of the park on quality.  The game design team is really stepping it up on both of these—players will be the real winners when all of the design team’s hard work comes to fruition over the next few months.

What are some of MumboJumbo’s most popular game titles?

Midnight Mysteries has been a big win for us since we first launched the franchise in 2009.  We hit the market at exactly the right time—hidden object players were looking for a little more in terms of depth, and the casual players started really gravitating to dark and spooky themes.  The Edgar Allan Poe Conspiracy served both of those audiences well, and we were able to spark the success of a new franchise with the game play introduced in that title.

Of course, we still have amazing success with our cornerstone franchise, LUXOR.  There are still 20,000 LUXOR downloads each day, and we continue to find new ways to bring great content to them.

How does MumboJumbo bring attention to its games in the very busy and crowded iOS App Store? Any social and community networks, or other forms of advertising?

Usually we launch our titles on PC/Mac first, and we have great digital partners for those launches.  We’re able to have our games distributed through a number of really successful digital download sites, which is the start for us.  It gives us fantastic exposure to casual gamers ahead of our iPad and iPhone launches.  We also nurture a Twitter account, @MumboJumboGames, and two Facebook pages: MumboJumboGames and LUXORGame.  We regularly posted sneak peek content to these accounts and keep our fans in the loop on what’s going on behind the scenes.

On the App Store, we take care to put our best foot forward with compelling screenshots, a great icon, and informative game descriptions—we wrestle with what features to highlight, how to convey all that is cool in a game, and what the game’s icon should look like.

What are some of the challenges in releasing completely new game titles/franchises?

As you mentioned, there’s a lot of noise, but we are able to leverage the MumboJumbo fan base and use our catalog to build up new titles.  Having known, successful games really helps give us the opportunity to launch new titles.

ChainzWhat are some of the challenges in releasing a new title in an existing franchise?

Like with anything, you don’t want to break something that works, so we are very careful when we release a new title in a franchise to be sure it doesn’t degrade the brand.  We also want to be sure that we are keeping the franchise fresh.  We don’t want to make changes for change’s sake—we try to add value or improvement with new iterations.  And sequels are a great way for us to incorporate player feedback and explore ideas that we may not have had the opportunity to fully realize in a previous version.

Has MumboJumbo worked on any games that crossed over with an existing brand (for advertising)?

For our Midnight Mysteries series, we have been incorporating writers into our plot lines, which has been a fun way to reach a new audience.  For Devil on the Mississippi, we incorporated Mark Twain and William Shakespeare, both of whom have been prevalent in pop culture during the last year with various books and movies releasing that also touch on their lives.  Our game was a way for us to capitalize on that buzz while exploring two really intriguing characters for this installment.  We tried to stay consistent with the Twain “brand” by doing a lot of historical research and incorporating both well-known and lesser-known facts about him and his life into the fictionalized work that we produced.  It was a fun challenge, and the Twain-angle to the story definitely broadened appeal beyond just Midnight Mysteries fans.


Thanks to Dawn McKenzie and MumboJumbo for making this interview possible! For more details on MumboJumbo’s game lineup and availability, visit the official website at or the iOS App Store here.

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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 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

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 😀 . 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!


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 (!

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!


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

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

My name is Alex Bortoluzzi, and I’m the CEO of Xoobis. We’re an indie outfit focusing on iOS and Android games.

AlexHow did you get your start developing video games?

I owned a motion graphics company in Brazil for several years when, tired of making flying logos, I decided it made more sense to pursue my true passion – making games. I’ve met an art director online that liked my portfolio, got hired and moved to L.A. in 1997. Since then I’ve worked on more than 12 games, most of them big-budget, AAA franchises like Spider-Man, Call of Duty, GamingBits Bond and Transformers.

What are you currently working on or just released?

We are working on Zombie Wonderland 2: Outta Time!  a sequel to the original Zombie Wonderland on iOS. Both games are published by Chillingo.

Where did you come up with the idea for Zombie Wonderland?

I’ve played a ton of zombie games in my youth and as an adult and they mostly stick to the same script, relying on the same weapon types and zombies. Things like flamethrowers, rocket launchers, shotguns and the same zombies looking for their next fix. We decided to go in a different direction. A place where zombies are mostly a nuisance because they come to your place and dirty up the carpet. Chuck, our hero, is a mix between a loudmouth exterminator and the cleaner from Pulp Fiction – Harvey Keitel’s “The Wolf” — but with a heavy dose of OCD. Besides, I’ve always been intrigued by how people make a huge mess on zombie movies but nobody offers to clean it up!

Chuck seems like a cool dude, but where did his obsession with cleanliness come from?

Well, we always put a bit of ourselves in the game. I’m a bit of a neat freak, I like my stuff and my house organized and clean. Nothing too crazy, just enough. Like making sure the toilet paper roll always unrolls forward and not backwards. Ah, and that the glasses make neat rows in the cupboard. Organized by type and size – of course! And the shirts are organized by color in the closet. Ok, better stop now 🙂

I see that Zombie Wonderland is being published by Chillingo (a division of Electronic Arts), how has that process been and is there anything you would change?

Working with Chillingo has been great. They really get mobile games; they have years of experience in mobile now, and their lineup speaks for itself. We are very happy to partner with Chillingo for the upcoming iOS version of Zombie Wonderland 2, as they really helped us make Zombie Wonderland a superior gaming experience.

How has the move from an established development studio to independent developer been? What has been the biggest challenge? 

I come from a world where 130+ people teams are trivial, including multimillion dollar budgets, high-profile licenses and a lot of different people working on specific systems. Scaling down to a single person team for Zombie Wonderland, working exclusively with external developers and contractors, it really gave me a good understanding of the big picture. Now that Xoobis has five people working on site, plus three coders as external contractors for Zombie Wonderland 2, the experience of going full indie has rewarded us with a lot of knowledge and insight on what it takes to build a team. We cherish the opportunity of working on our own IPs, and all the joys and headaches that it brings too. At the end of the day, no matter how crazy it is, we are the ones choosing colors for the eyes of the zombies, and that is awesome.

I see you have a lite version of Zombie Wonderland, would you say that has help or hurt your game and why?

Our Lite version came out a bit too late for its own good. We are busy pushing Zombie Wonderland 2 to be a proper sequel (unlike some of the “fake” sequels common in mobile gaming), so we couldn’t spend too much time on the Lite version. We are proud of it, though: it includes a full level with all of the unique game mechanics of Zombie Wonderland intact.


Xoobis is definitely a unique company name, what does it mean and where did it come from?

We get asked that a lot, actually. Back when we were starting the company, we spent a couple days trying to find a name and domain — it was really hard to find something that was not already taken. So we made it up. It’s actually an anglicized version of a pet name my wife gave me. She created it, and it looked great as a URL too, so we went for it.

In the credits to Zombie Wonderland, there are quite a few names.  How many devs are on the team and how have you grown as a company?

The long list of names in the credits is to honor the many people that came forward to help us finish it. So many talented and loyal friends, and even complete strangers, from all walks of life, gave us so much, helped us in so many ways that was impossible not to recognize them in the credits.

The game was mostly done by me, and a coder in Canada, Matt Jewkes from Twisted Oak Games. I had a fantastic animator friend, Jim Zachary, donate his precious time during the holidays to create the animations. A couple good friends modeled or texture some of the assets. Another friend, Phil Donahue, did Chuck’s voice. Another one did the movie, and some others helped us with legal paperwork and documentation. All the rest was pretty much me and my wife. It was a grueling four months to get it all done, but we did it and we are very proud of it. It’s our baby 🙂

What are you working on currently, anything to share or will you tease us with something?

CastleZombie Wonderland 2: Outta Time!  is our new game, coming out before Halloween. It’s a big follow-up to the original game, with 10 levels, 25 zombies and even time travel! Instead of the two different weapons we had in the first one, now we can choose between super cool turret weapons, area weapons and special bullets for Betsy, Chuck’s beloved shotgun. And the weapons are crazy, wacky stuff. No flamethrowers and chainsaws in Chuck’s arsenal. We will have a giant zombie-eating carnivore plant, a wind-up explosive brain toy, and even a baby Death Worm borrowed from the famous iOS game. It’s going to be epic!

Anything else you wish to share with the readers of GamingBits?

Join Chuck this October and travel in time to ancient Egypt, medieval Japan, a haunted castle and even a Viking village (!), along with frantic action in lovely Niceville, shooting cute zombies along the way for fun and profit. Because there is nothing more annoying than cute zombies!


Thanks to Luis from Novy PR and Alex Bortoluzzi, CEO of Xoobis for making this interview possible!

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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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