With Apple’s announcement of hitting the quarter billion iOS unit sales mark at their recent keynote speech along with the iPhone 4S and new iPod touch coming out, it’s probably a great time to be an iOS game developer. We recently sat down with Audrey Leprince and Emeric Thoa from The Game Bakers studio to talk about their latest title Squids which was released to the iOS App Store on Tuesday 11th October.
In SQUIDS, players will command a small army of stretchy, springy sea creatures to protect an idyllic underwater kingdom from a sinister emerging threat. An infectious black ooze is spreading through the lush seascape, turning ordinary crustaceans into menacing monsters. Now a plucky team of Squids—each with unique personalities, skills, and ability-boosting attire—must defend their homeland and overturn the evil forces that jeopardize their aquatic utopia.
What comes through while speaking to Audrey and Emeric is their passion for iOS titles and listening to users/community in order to create a fulfilling gaming experience for everybody.
What are the main differences from making an AAA game to an iOS game?
Audrey: Smaller team, faster turn around and getting closer to the community of gamers. In one week we can ship an update, whereas on 360 and PS3 it’s much longer. We thought we’d try and bring our experience of working on big games to iOS development.
Emeric: In terms of design there are a lot of big differences, for example making mobile phone games like Squids, you have to be able to easily pick up and play, because the users didn’t buy a $70 game, it’s a game they just picked up for a dollar, and as they’re playing it, if they don’t have fun within the first 15 seconds they can just buy another one. So when you buy something like Assassin’s Creed, for an hour and half you’re doing tutorials before you have fun because you know you’re going to eventually have fun because you’ve paid for it. It’s a big difference, so it has to be very instinctive and fun from the beggining. It’s been a great experience after working on big games where production lasts for 4 years. It’s made like a console game, however in terms of team size we’re working in a team of 6, so very different from 250, we know the first names of our team! It’s also a big difference as a designer, if I push an idea to the team I can then play these changes a week later whereas it’s a lot longer when working on a console game.
Do you think iOS has the capacity to host AAA games in the future?
Emeric: That’s what we’re trying to do, trying to make games that are easy to pick up and play but still very fun and deep and draws you in.
Like the Nintendo philosophy in a way, they made games that were very easy and very simple. Very simple controls but a lot of depth and it’s usually the philosophy of design, you make simple controls but a lot of external items, level designs, enemies, interactions that give you a lot of depth. And it’s philosophy we didn’t really have that when we worked at ubisoft, it was more; we have 14 buttons on the pad, let’s use each of them and give each of them a unique ability. I remember I counted on Splinter Cell, we had 22 abilities and 14 buttons. On Super Mario on DS there was 3 buttons used (A,B,D-Pad), with 22 abilities. Very different approach, So I think iPhone/iPad will get their AAA’s very soon, in a matter of months.
Audrey: It’s there! It’s coming next week! (Ed: Squids has been launched on iOS as of Tuesday 11th October)
Emeric: It’s here, it’s a AAA 2D game, one of the most beautiful and deep games with good content. And for 3D games you’ve got Infinity Blade, Dead Space – lots of games that are big enough in terms of production value.
How does the development process differ from iOS to Android, and then from Mac to PC.
Audrey: For us it’s pretty much the same, we build the game for iOS and then we go and adapt the controls for the different platforms.
As soon as we have the PC version we’re going to try and get on Steam and OnLive
Where did you get the influence for Squids? It reminds us of a Pokémon game.
Emeric: Pokemon not so much – Pokemon is good because of the way you want to collect all the Pokemons, in a way it’s like that in terms of collecting the elements and the squids, but not so much.
The universe is more a feed between the controls, pulling tentacles and our love of squids, it’s as simple as that. In terms of gameplay the influence is more like final fantasy’s tactics or games like that which are turn-based RPG games.
Coming away from PAX and Gamescom, how much of the game was changed based on the feedback you got at those shows?
Audrey: We had a lot of beta testers playing the game and providing feedback, we did a lot of fixes from that, such as levels were too difficult. We’re always interested in feedback from the community.
Do you find it hard making yourselves heard in the crowded and competitive space that is the App Store?
Both: Yes, very hard.
Audrey: We’ll see next week, look at how many new apps are launched everyday…
Emeric: For Games it’s at least 10 good games a week.
How do you go about making yourselves heard in such a busy environment?
Audrey: We’re counting on journalists like yourselves and we’re hoping Apple might showcase us, there’s no real strategy, it’s more like “let’s hope they’re going to showcase us”. We can’t do much about it.
Emeric: The Strategy is to make a good game. Strategy is: big game, good game, beautiful game with wide scope and content. It’s not a game you play 5 minutes of.
Audrey: It’s a game that appeals to needs that we feel are not completely covered today for people who play on their iPhone. There are good very quick games to play and there are very complex games, in the middle there are the soft gamers, gamers who want to play a bit more than an Angry Bird and they want a story but they don’t want to invest themselves into a big RPG.
Emeric: It’s not a puzzle game, it’s not a scoring game. It has a story and level ups, these are things that you can’t really find on the App Store at the moment, it’s very difficult. You can find the hardcore RPG’s like Zenonia.
Audrey: This is how we want to be seen, to be different, it’s a unique universe with unique characters and unique gameplay so we hope it’s going to stand a little bit more out.
Emeric: It’s a little bit like Battleheart in terms of audience, we have more content, more levels, more abilities. It’s a different kind of strategy, it’s turn based and tactical.
With Android devices like the Sony Xperia Play having a fully built in controller, would you ever consider developing a title exclusively for that smartphone?
Audrey: Exclusive? I would be ashamed to make it exclusive, we’re currently looking at Squids on Xperia, with the designed controller but the idea is to bring the game on all platforms rather than making it exclusive.
To make a game exclusive to that platform, you would need something crazy for that platform, a control that’s never been done before or something really amazing, but at the moment with the simplicity of the touch control on those devices is so good, control is good but touch is good as well so we should really concentrate on both right now.
Are there any mobile gaming developers you look up to, or have high respect for?
Emeric: Respect, yeah, We like PopCap a lot, Plants Vs. Zommbies is very polished and very smart and a very good game.
Audrey: I like Firemint, I really like the controls on Spy Mouse.
Emeric: Tiny wings developer (Andreas Illiger), is very good, Tiny wings is a very rare example of a game made alone.
If you could sum up your title in one sentence, what would it be?
Emeric: Angry Birds meets Final Fantasy