Earlier this week we talked to Nick Pavis - CEO and Co-Founder of game developer MunkyFun, and a man who was Director of Game Technology at LucasArts for 12 years - about MunkyFun's upcoming game Bounty Bots and all things iOS.
The interview was a lengthy one, so I have decided to split it into two articles. In this article -the first half of the interview - we chatted about all things iOS.
gamrReview: So, what is it like developing for the iDevice?
Nick: Very early on, when we were doing Archetype, we started developing on the iOS platform when the SDK was first released, and we didn’t regard it as a console level device. So when we first started looking into the possibilities of doing a game to rival Halo that was kind of a tall order, but we put our code together, got our engine working and we got some pretty interesting stuff up on screen. So we were like 'wow, these devices are a lot more powerful than you realise', so for Archetype, for us, that definitely heralded that this is a serious platform. Then you fast forward to today and we’ve just upgraded Bounty Bots to work on the new iPad with its full retina display and its absolutely fantastic. Just knowing that you can have these powerful devices in your hand and on your lap is really changing gaming, it really is. The fact that these are primarily networked devices means they’ve already got past that hurdle of whether you have a network on your game or not.
gamrReview: Yeah, it means everyone’s connected all the time.
Nick: Yeah it means everyone’s connected. So really it’s like a brand new platform and it’s definitely matured to the point that we can do the kind of shaders and graphics that we were developing when we were at LucasArts on the rendering team there. We can apply those same skills now to these games.
gamrReview: So, do you think that the iDevices have the potential to eventually overtake dedicated handhelds such as the Vita and the 3DS?
Nick: I do, I do, you know. It’s such an interesting time at the moment because this space is exploding and it’s growing. There are tons and tons of opinions out there about what’s going to happen and there are a lot of people talking about the days of Atari, and when you have a platform as open as iOS that you can attract too much and the quality can drop and that was the reason why Nintendo became Nintendo and Sony and Microsoft and Sega were able to rise back in those days because there was a high barrier to getting onto those consoles, but we’re going through a phase at the moment where there seems to be the new Wild West or the new frontier, so the direction it goes, you can look at past history and say well it’s going to be history repeating itself or something new might happen; the ability for those other consoles to do digital distribution seems to be a little bit dated at this time. I think it's the ubiquity of the cell phone that’s driving this industry.
gamrReview: Many gamers suggest that iOS games don’t cater towards the “hardcore”, but for me your previous game Archetype does cater towards the "hardcore."
Nick: Yeah, exactly, the biggest challenge I think wasn’t necessarily the power of the platform as much as it was the interface. We spent a tremendous amount of time working the controls out for Archetype, and it’s one of those things where there’s a million ways to do it wrong and only a few ways to do it right. So finally what actually ended up being presented to everybody was hopefully something that was very intuitive and they felt ‘hey this feels great, it feels good in my hand’, they don’t think about the amount of work that went into trying to do that.
gamrReview: As a reviewer I find that the most common flaw with iOS games tends to be the controls. From a development perspective, would you say that designing controls is the biggest challenge you face when creating a game for the iPod touch or iPad?
Nick: Yes I would, I would say that’s one of the biggest challenges. We are often offered opportunities to develop existing console games onto the iOS platform and our first thought is always how would this control? How would this work on a small screen? That kind of helps shape the casual experience by designing stuff that’s easy and accessible for people.
gamrReview: Would you say there are any unique benefits to developing on the iOS platform?
Nick: Well I think the touchscreen interface. Nintendo are good at innovating on the peripheral side of things and getting new ideas into people's hands, and new interfaces into people's hands. I think that the touchscreen itself is a very interesting interface. One of the first games that we published was Ivory Tiles and one of the goals of Ivory Tiles was not only to design an engaging puzzle game but to use this new technology at that time; one was the touch screen the other was the accelerometer so that you could detect the tilt, so Ivory Tiles was designed as this game that you could play in one hand and control the game by tilting. That was our first foray into ‘hey what else can you do with these devices’ but I think that things are slowly converging on some standard practices for how to control games.
gamrReview: There have been a lot of rumours about a controller coming out for the iDevice, how would you feel about that?
Nick: Personally, I don’t put a lot of stock in peripherals. Like I say, it seems that Nintendo tend to succeed with peripherals. In my experience peripherals have always been great and fun but it's the ubiquity of the device that’s allowing freemium style games where you have a multitude of people playing the game so you can afford to make it freemium. When you start introducing peripherals you are talking about making people go an extra step. When you’re in a world where clicking one more menu is an extra step for a lot of people, the idea of having a peripheral that they need to buy and set up and get used to, and probably doesn’t work with everything they want to, is a tough call if you ask me.
gamrReview: I’ve always wondered what it’s like trying to market a game on the App Store, because there are so many games coming out every day. What is it like trying to get yours noticed?
Nick: It’s a challenge right, how many Apps are there out there now?
gamrReview: It’s a ridiculous amount.
Nick: It is a ridiculous amount. It’s a really good question; how do you market a product like that? The answer is using community, social networks, and having a product and having a product that people want to talk about. Ultimately most people are only concerned about the top 200 games on the App Store. So you’ve really got to think about ‘what is it about the top 200 products that the community are interested in? What are you noticing that people want?’ this is just one way that we use our community to develop and understand what type of products to make, and what direction to go in with that product. It is about the product design and then it’s about the mechanisms in place within that product to help spread the word, so that if people like it they can post to their Facebook, they can show their friends if there’s something very cool and innovative about the product that’s going to get attention. It's an interesting time where a game will have to rely on the merit of its own quality.
gamrReview: Going forwards, if you could add one feature to the next generation of devices, what would you add?
Nick: Next generation, one feature...
gamrReview: Would you upgrade graphical capabilities maybe?
Nick: No, I think that the iPad 3, the new iPad with the retina display and its processing units is pretty awesome right now and allows us to create almost any experience. We’re not limited in that sense. So for me getting the screen any bigger is not something I would be interested in, it's the interface in some respects, it really is. Using an iPad as a content development tool, it lacks a keyboard. You can’t really do a lot of power work that you could do on a laptop because of the keyboard, but once you introduce a keyboard it’s nothing more than a notebook at that point. So, I don’t know. I think it is what it is, finally we have the processing power and the graphics to rival many of the consoles that we used to regard as cutting edge, and the connectivity is right there. At the moment I am happy with it and interested to see where it goes.
gamrReview: Looking again at the PS Vita and the 3DS, do you think those handhelds will be the last dedicated handhelds to hit the market?
Nick: I would agree with something like that. Like I say, what’s winning the day at the moment is the ubiquity of the device. The reason it’s so widespread is because it’s a cell phone and it’s very very difficult to compete as another company trying to design and create hardware and sell products at the price that they have to sell them.
gamrReview: Would you like to see Apple push the iDevice as a gaming system more than they are doing, and try and go head to head with the likes of Sony and Nintendo? Or do you think they even have to?
Nick: Yeah, I don’t think they even have too. With our game My Horse we have over 8 million users.
gamrReview: That’s insane!
Nick: We have way over 8 million and it is insane. I’m not sure what promoting this device as a gaming device would do. I think Apple have placed themselves as a platform developer, and it’s not something that I’d want to be, but I think it’s something they’re happy being. So I’m not sure they need to promote it as a gaming device, their primary focus is as a platform, as a workstation. Apple develop tools, I don’t think there is anything wrong with a setup of this type.
Well, that wraps up the first half of the interview. Kudos for reading through that massive amount of text, hopefully you found that it was a worthwhile venture. Keep checking back with us this week for the next half of the interview!