Ireland has a tremendous pool of talent and resources available to those who wish to succeed and while headlines in papers might harbour nothing but words of doom and gloom, this initiative aims to restore your faith in what we can achieve as individuals, what we can achieve collectively and we can achieve through perseverance. Welcome to The Gaming Liberty’s “We Are” initiative…
The final addition to our “We Are” initiative is Super Fun Play. With two titles already under the belt, we sat down with the team to talk everything from the birth of Super Fun Play, how they developed their indie hit “Bubble Dreams” and what, they think, prospective developers might need to land their ideal job.
The Gaming Liberty: Can you tell us about Super Fun Play, why it was set up, and what sets Superfunplay apart from the competition?
Super Fun Play: A bunch of us met while working for Popcap in Dublin – some time later we all found ourselves ‘between’ jobs and though it would be a good opportunity to strike out as an indie studio, especially with the barrier to entry set so low with the App Store. Over the next few months we spent some free time knocking up a prototype for an initial game, and when it looked promising took the plunge and formally set up a company. I’d say the primary aspect that sets us apart from the competition is our broad industry experience – between the three founder members we have about 40 years worth, ranging from way back on the early 16-bit consoles and computers all the way up to contemporary platforms.
While we only have one game out right now (and it is firmly in the casual end of the market) our roadmap for the future also involves more hard-core game types that are quite different from our current catalogue. We don’t want to focus on one type of game or one market exclusively – we want to pool our past experience and pour it into all sorts of projects.
TGL: According to your website, your team have worked with some very well-known studios like Bullfrog, Acclaim, Climax Studios and even PopCap. Can you tell us about some of the experience the team has built up from such projects? Do you guys have any fond memories from your time with them you’d like to share?
SFP: Each studio or publisher has their own philosophy of development, with some good and bad aspects. Working for such a wide spectrum of studios has definitely exposed us to the whole range of working methods, and this has allowed us to hone our own processes to try and avoid some of the pitfalls other studios make. I think one of the biggest lessons is to prototype as much as possible before committing to a schedule and asset/content creation, especially when working on original titles. In every studio we’ve worked at this has been the biggest problem, were a lot of resources are poured into code and art to only have the game evolve significantly during development, rendering much of the previous work redundant and wasted. Games end up taking twice as long to build and cost twice as much to create. It’s something that we even struggle with now – while prototyping there is always the urge to start getting in some nice looking art or start designing how the front end is going to look, and it’s tough to hold back and wait until the underlying game is more defined and locked down.
I’m not sure if there’s many memories we can recount without breaking some form of confidentiality agreement, or crossing the line as regards good taste! Our experiences have varied at the different studios, even changing over time as each studio itself has evolved. I’ve found that generally smaller studios are better to work at – fifty staff or less seems to be the threshold. Any more and the ratio of managers to workforce suddenly shoots up, and along with it cliques, office politics and a gradual distancing from decision making. You stop feeling like an important part of development, and more a replaceable cog in a cold machine. With that in mind, my best memories where at the smaller studios – Psygnosis Leeds (Sony), Muckyfoot, early Popcap. It’s telling that the best games we created were made there too.
TGL: Bubble Dreams was your first official release. What was the inspiration behind the game?
SFP: Oddly enough the game evolved from an initial prototype involving guiding ghosts to their respective graves, while avoiding an exorcising priest and catching a nervous cemetery visitor. The gameplay was something like Flight Control. Anyway, we looked at ways to simplify the interface even more. This led to reducing squiggly paths to simple straight lines, and tapping a ghost and it’s respective grave. But we found that this made the game too easy, as the graves were static. So this then led to the thought “what if the target location was moving too?”. Well this would shift us away from the graves and ghosts theme, but when prototyped we found the concept of matching up two moving objects by simply selecting them (while avoiding objects of the wrong colour) to be oddly compelling. Bubbles seemed to be a natural imagery to use, as they ‘float’ around the screen prior to selection and matching.
The eventual theme of dreaming children was added later as something that felt appropriate for the game play, and we hoped would also appeal to a casual market. Though on reflection I think we went too far, as many customers think the game is specifically aimed at children just because it features children as the main characters. We actually have a sequel in mind with a less juvenile theme, as well as refining the gameplay somewhat.
TGL: Bubble dreams, likened to “Pixar at their most whimsical”, seems to feature a combination of rendered 3D backdrops with 2D action. Can you tell us some of the technical methods used to create the game, and what lessons, as a team, you might carry forward into later titles?
SFP: We used 3d software packages like Pixologic’s ZBrush. It’s great for creating 3d models and rendering them out to 2d images very quickly. The beauty of creating all your art assets in 3d is that you can repose the models and render new artwork as needed, at any scale. This can be very handy for creating marketing assets later on. 3d software has come so far along now, and is so easy to use, that it is much simpler to create models and animations in 3d than it is generate them in flat 2d. So from a technical point of view creating assets in 3d makes life a lot easier and saves time. Rendering game graphics from 3d models also affords a particular look to the art. We felt the market today had a very 2d look to it, lots of bright cartoony art. So we thought it might be nice to attempt a Pixar type of look to our graphics.
The primary lesson we’ve learnt is that great art uses up a lot of space, so one of the great challenges we found was squeezing the game down to under 20mb in size to fulfil Apple’s OTA policy. Our original release of Bubble Dreams was universal (worked on all iOS devices), but it weighed in at a hefty 70mb. To bring it down to 20mb we had to split it up into two seperate versions, and also spend a lot of time carefully optimising the art (and audio) to bring down the size without adversely affecting quality.
It has prompted us to perhaps look at using a 3D engine for our subsequent games (we currently use Cocos2D), which tends to be more space efficient when you have a lot of animated components in game.
TGL: The now popular free-to-play model seems to be a great way to not only gain the attention of the industry, but to show off a studio’s creative side. From a developers’ standpoint, what do you think are the pros and cons of such development?
SFP: The decision for us was mainly driven by the realities of the App Marketplace – unless you have a large marketing budget, a specifically targeted niche app, or one of the very few ‘must have’ apps that is simply head and shoulders above everything else, it can be difficult to get people to spend even a euro on what is essentially an unknown quantity.
However, remove that single barrier to entry (the price) and many more people are willing to take the risk and download the game. Once you’re on the user’s device then you can show them that the game is indeed worth some investment, and either through in-app purchase or in-game advertising get some kind of revenue. That’s the pro. As for cons, well then it just comes down to trying to judge which method would ultimately bring in more revenue. Free to play might not be the best choice for all app types, or bring in the best revenue.
As far as impact on engineering or art development goes, it makes little difference whether an app is paid or free to play. The design needs to adjust accordingly, as certain game types lend themselves more easily to one or the other. In this regard it’s wise to decide on this before starting prototyping or development, and build the game from the ground up with this in mind from the outset. Shoehorning in iAP at the last minute is never ideal.
TGL: What advice would you give to budding developers wishing to get into the gaming industry?
SFP: Think small and focus on getting a neat, polished game out there – it’s easy to let features creep in and expand the scope of a game, but this draws out the development time and won’t necessarily garner more sales or profit. If you can, prioritise elements, so you can push out an initial release and if the game gains interest you can add new features or improvements post release. The analogy about putting all your eggs into one basket would be appropriate – don’t pour everything into one title unless you are absolutely sure it’s going to be a huge success (and there are few, if any, people who can read the future like this). And don’t be afraid to approach publishers with your game (especially as it nears completion) – they generally have an established distribution network and marketing schemes, and can turn something that would otherwise wallow in obscurity to high profile success.
TGL: Can you tell us what’s next for Super Fun Play?
SFP: We have a bunch of projects on the backburner, but on the horizon is another casual game with beautiful visuals and lovely rural theme, a more hard core science fiction themed project that we are considering using crowdfunding to help develop, and perhaps a spiritual sequel to Bubble Dreams with some of the minor niggles ironed out and the theme generalised somewhat.
Oh, and one particularly silly and irreverent project that will be out imminently.
You can reach Super Fun Play through the following links:
- Super Fun Play official website
- Super Fun Play on facebook
- Super Fun Play on Twitter
- Super Fun Play on Youtube