Category Archives: Interviews

Halfbot Interview: The Blocks Cometh creator drops crates of info

I admit, I have lately become just a little obsessed with The Blocks Cometh by Halfbot [$1.99]. The perfect blend of tone, presentation and addictive gameplay, The Blocks Cometh is a paradigm of modern retro game design, and represents iOS gaming at its best.

Like so many blocks from above, I recently had the opportunity to drop questions on Halfbot’s Derek Laufman.

NoDpad: To begin, could you tell us a little about your general role in Halfbot, and specifically in development of The Blocks Cometh?

Derek: I am the art half of Halfbot. I create all of the visuals and animations. We try to share game design duties when we can but generally art doesn’t take as long as code so I shoulder a bit more of the design end of things. For The Blocks Cometh in particular this was an idea I came up with when we were challenging ourselves to make a Flash game in a day. In 6 hours we went from concept to playable demo and in the end, the final Flash version took 5 days to complete.

How would you describe The Blocks Cometh to someone who has never played it?

The best way to describe the game is to imagine that your character has been trapped in a game of Tetris. Your goal is to avoid the falling blocks while trying to climb as high as you can before ultimately getting crushed. The game pushes you to beat your previous score or compete against your friends with the integration of Open Feint and Game Center. With the addition of achievements and unlockable characters, it’s quick pick up and play style lends itself to any gamer that has 5 minutes or 2 hours.

The Blocks Cometh seems a perfect fit for the iPhone, but was originally released as a browser-based Flash game. How did you find the process of porting the game to iOS? There are quite a lot of other Flash games I would love to see ported; why do you think so few Flash game developers bring their work to iOS, and what motivated your team to make that leap?

Back in October 2010 when we created the game for the Flash Market we had already been contemplating the idea of making the move to the iOS and other mobile platforms in the coming year. So when we developed the game I kept the screen ratio to that of the iPhone. We had also used the Flixel engine to create the Flash Game and when Adam Atomic released his Flixel iOS code for open source it made porting the game a lot easier. The iPhone is a harder platform to develop for then Flash. I would imagine that a lot of Flash devs are intimidated by the technical side of the platform. Luckily for us we have both been working in the games industry to over 5 years and had a lot of experience working with other platforms which made the transition for us a lot easier.

The App Store is a crowded place, over-saturated in nearly every genre of gaming, and for every ground-breaking title a slew of copycats quick on its heels. How do you feel The Blocks Cometh stands out from the crowd, both from similarly premised games like The Incident, as well as against games other action/reflex titles?

I’d like to think that we bring a good level of polish and quality to our games that allow us to stand out. We strive to make our games as good as they can be, whether that is through game play fixes or just adding more content. We will try and bring our fans that best game possible.

I think one aspect of The Blocks Cometh that keeps me coming back is the game’s nonstop action. The game is one narrow escape after another, with never a moment to catch your breath. While in some respects similar, The Incident favors a more lackadaisical pace and lacks that sense of imminent peril; I rarely find the incentive to play the game. Meanwhile, The Blocks Cometh is a game I can hardly put down. Was this notion of real and constant danger something that you actively pursued while developing the game, or is it something that evolved more as a side-effect to the game you were making?

From the start we wanted the gameplay to be fast and intense. It took a lot of adjusting to find that balance and we are really happy to hear that the players feel the same way.

The Blocks Cometh features fantastic art direction. The retro presentation and the atmosphere of science fiction in ruins calls to mind games such as Mega Man and Canabalt. Were these titles an influence on The Blocks Cometh, and what other inspirations did you draw upon when setting the game’s excellent tone?

Actually you really hit it on the head. Those two games were both in my head when I was trying to come up with the setting for the game. Canabalt is the ultimate distance game in my opinion and I’ve always loved the setting for that game. I’ve always been a huge fan of Mega Man. It was my first NES game as a kid. I had the DuckHunt/Gyromite package and since I didn’t have Super Mario Bros I bugged my parents for Mega Man immediately. So I’ve been a huge fan of that game from day one.

The Blocks Cometh is clearly not intended to be a work of great narrative force, but is there some backstory to the catastrophic destruction? Why are the blocks falling, where are they coming from, and what do our heroes hope to accomplish by climbing ever higher? Are these questions that might be explored in a future game?

We like the idea of having this ominous presence in the background. Is the world falling apart? Is someone dropping these blocks from the sky? We hint that people are trying to escape the planet and as you are playing you see ships taking off into the sky. In the trailer we imply that our “hero” has waited too long and is now trying to escape by physically climbing his way off the planet. I’m not sure if we’ll explore the narrative any further but we like the idea of letting the players draw their own conclusions.

Do you anticipate developing other titles within the same world as The Blocks Cometh, whether a direct sequel or any spin-off titles heading in new gameplay directions? I would love to see the Halfbot character appearing in a title of his own; he’s a fantastic character with loads of personality. The world itself seems like it could go in plenty of directions as well.

We’ve definitely discussed the ideas of expanding on the brand but for now there are no immediate plans to do so.

From your blog, I understand a large content update is in the works, containing new characters, game modes and achievements. What can you tell us about the coming additions? Will the new game modes provide any significant changes to gameplay?

We are currently working on a big feature update. First and foremost we are including an ability to play the game in Landscape mode. We received a lot of player requests for this feature and although it was technically challenging to integrate we were able to pull it off. So we are excited about that feature. Also, we will include a Casual mode for the gamers who want a more relaxed style of play and on the flip side of that we will offer an Extreme mode for the really hardcore players. We will also introduce 4 new characters and a bunch of new achievements.

Do you plan any further improvements to the existing game, such as control improvements, new leaderboards — perhaps to track scores for each character separately?

We have tweaked the controls a bit more since the first update and with the addition of the Landscape mode we hope the gameplay experience will appeal to everyone. As for new leader boards we will be adding additional leader boards for each mode but with the addition of characters, having individual boards would get too out of hand.

One design choice I find interesting is the decision to give each of the game’s characters an attack. The attacks are occasionally useful, but I have found the game can just as easy be played without them. What motivated this choice, and might we see future game modes or a scoring system placing more of an emphasis on combat and/or destruction?

The attack was originally put into the Flash game to allow the player to get out from being boxed in, rather than just wait until the screen crushes you. The attack basically evolved from that. Some players utilize the attack more than others but we like that the feature is there. We have definitely discussed the use for it in additional modes and if the game ends up performing better in the market place we’d love to explore the potential in future updates.

Your fiasco with Edison Games has been well-publicized. To summarize for our readers, while you were busy developing the game for iOS, The Blocks Cometh was ripped-off by developer Edison Games — title, gameplay, art assets and all — whose only change to the game was to replace the main protagonist with a character stolen from Ravenous Games’ League of Evil. Apple approved the game and even listed the game as one of its weekly featured titles. Upon discovering the theft, Halfbot launched a campaign to defend their intellectual property, resulting in the removal of the doppleganger title from the App Store.

Am I missing anything you would like to add?

That sums it up perfectly.

As I understand, the event precipitated some changes to Apple’s approval guidelines for apps. In short, what is the intent of these changes, what are your thoughts on them, and how effective do you think they will be in preventing such incidents in the future?

I think that any improvement that Apple makes to ensure that IP’s are protected and guilty developers are punished is going to be a step in the right direction. However, I’ve yet to see this policy in action. It’s been about a month since Apple posted the announcement about guideline changes and yet Edison Games is still alive and well in the app store with no recourse. It’s really disappointing to see that no action has been taken against them.

How damaging do you believe it has been to the reception and sales of The Blocks Cometh, having had the game released out from under you by another developer?

We feel it had a huge impact on the success of our game. We had a very strong launch day and even with an Apple feature the game struggled to gain any real staying power. It’s hard to imagine that The Blocks Cometh didn’t perform better than it did with all of the press coverage and positive reviews. All we can do is speculate but we honestly feel that the copycat game affected the overall sale of our title.

Not that I want to imply good in an evil act, but is there a silver lining? Have these incidents had any positive effect on your game? For example, we speculated in our review that had this never happened, you might not have had the opportunity to come together with Ravenous Games — The League of Evil / The Blocks Cometh crossover is quite possibly the best crossover in App Store history!

Despite the poor performance of the game we were able to form a good friendship with Ravenous Games and the out pouring of support from the community and press was amazing. This incident helped put Halfbot on the map and will only help us to be successful in the future. You have to look at the positive side of every situation and this is one of those times where we feel that we still came out ahead.

Do you plan any further crossover content with Ravenous Games? Do you think your teams might work together on projects in the future?

We have definitely discussed the potential of working together again and we would be honoured to team up with them on a future title.

Do you have any plans for an iOS release of your previous Flash game, I Don’t Come In Peace?

Not at this time. I Don’t Come in Peace was our first Flash title and although we enjoyed the game we feel at this stage we can offer a much stronger platforming experience. We are definitely not short on ideas so we are really excited to see what new games we can bring to iOS.

Apart from The Blocks Cometh, what are a few of your favorite games on iOS? And Flash-based, or on other systems?

Without trying to sound biased the League of Evil is the best platformer on iOS in my opinion. I also recently became addicted to Game Dev Story for iOS, I highly recommend this game to any developer or fan of sim games. I love everything that Juicy Beast is putting out in the Flash market. Those guys are loaded with talent and I believe they have their first iOS game Gobtron coming out very soon. I’m definitely going to be checking that out.

And finally, are there any questions you wish I had asked that I didn’t?

I believe you covered it all! I just want to thank you for all the great questions and I really had a great time doing this interview!

Many thanks to Derek for contributing his time for this interview.

Halfbot is working hard to ready the big content update, and hopes to have it ready for submission in two weeks. In the meantime, for more on The Blocks Cometh check out our review and further impressions. And definitely do yourself the favor of swinging by the App Store to pick this one up. For serious: coffee money well-spent.



‘Carnivores: Ice Age’: An Interview with Tatem Games

Recently, we caught up with Tatem Games to talk about their new game Carnivores: Ice Age.  We loved Carnivores Dinosaur Hunter when it first came out, and while it’s “sequel” hasn’t given us that wow, it’s definitely worth a look given it’s cheap price and high amount of content.  Read on further to find out what Tatem Games has in store for us.

NoDpad: What is your favorite thing about the Ice Age/dinosaur age?

Tatem Games: What we like about the times is of course the variety of species which are now extinct along with the very thought of these mind-boggling creatures once wandering around the planet where now skyscrapers and highways are. Whenever we visit a museum of nature or hear about the discovery of new animal who once lived on the planet, we regret that we’ll most probably never see a Diatryma running in our backyard. And this is exactly why we are developing Carnivores series – iDevices deliver very realistic feelings, and playing Carnivores you can dive into this lost world. Of course, bringing animals to your trophy room is not the best way to learn more about them, and this is why we’re planning to introduce photo mode with the future updates.

ND: What are your thoughts on GameCenter?  Any suggestions to improve it?

TG: Game Center is a great tool as anything which makes gaming social. It was an experiment to integrate Plus+ to Dinosaur Hunter and Game Center to Ice Age. From early feedbacks we have noticed that the presence of Game Center in question can be a decisive factor for purchasing the game. However, what we like about Plus+ platform is that it enables saving user data on their server and the player is able to pause hunt on his iPhone and continue it on his iPad. It would be great if Game Center got a similar option in an update.

ND: Why did you price Carnivores: Ice Age the way you did?

TG: There is a market research each day happening in the studio. We feel like there already is a certain pattern for pricing on App Store, which is pretty just – puzzles range from $0.99 to $2.99 and more complicated console-quality games have prices from $2.99 to $6.99. And of course, Dinosaur Hunter already had the $2.99 price tag and putting the same price for the sequel was meant to hint the gamers of what kind of game they are getting. It was much more complicated to choose a price for our Mac app.

ND: What was the biggest obstacle in the development process?

TG: We’re far from newbies in game development so there weren’t any considerable obstacles. We would rather call the development process smooth and fun.

ND: How easy or difficult is it to implement universal support along with support the iPhone 4’s Retina display?

TG: We don’t fancy charging people for the same game twice if they want to play it on iPad and iPhone, so whether or not the app comes as universal was out of question. Carnivores is quite a picturesque game and the experience people get on iPad is almost incomparable to that of iPhone. We made Dinosaur Hunter universal in about a month after it was released for iPhones and were impressed by the number of downloads and feedback – mind you, iPad just appeared in July. So making it compatible with both devices was not a stand-alone goal – it was an indispensable part of development from the very beginning.

ND: Are you planning any eye-popping updates for Carnivores Ice Age that we should be getting excited about?

TG: There’s one very big thing coming for sure! Once the player gets to a certain level (1000 points), he will be able to choose Yeti as a prey. Yeti is the “T-Rex of Ice Age” and is the most complicated creature to hunt. And of course, we’ll be making animal’s AI better with each update. We also plan to add new content like maps or weapons but no certain date can be called yet.

ND: What are your thoughts on the iPad or the tablet space as a whole: necessary or just a fad?

TG: We are all technology early adopters and are excited about this trend predicted for 2011. There are many things popular in geek community and completely unheard of in the rest of the world – but tablets  are not such, and mostly thanks to Apple’s brave take on the market. Tablets go mainstream, iPads can be seen as business tools in banks, supermarkets, and governmental institutions, which signifies that this is the device people need and use. And of course tablets are perfect for gaming, especially casual and board gaming, or games with rich graphics. Getting the most out of iPads and tablets in general should be a pleasant challenge for any developer.

ND: What is coming in the future from Tatem Games?  Any closing thoughts?

TG: We have announced RoboSockets* which will hit the AppStore on February 22nd – it’s an easy and simple arcade-puzzle, which, as we hope, will bring a breath of fresh air to bejeweled-type games. Among other plans for 2011 are porting at least some of our games to Android platform, which we are also very impatient to try out, launching a big social game and of course continue treating our ever-growing fan base with new games on iOS and regular updates. People who have been with us in 2010 inspired us to move on and do it fast, which we are very thankful to them for.

*Please note that RoboSockets has already launched on the App Store.  You can find their game here.  Also, you can find our review on Carnivores: Ice Age here.

Archetype: Interview with Lead Producer Dane Baker

Archetype was released into the App Store and rose the rankings by a storm, providing some solid online play.  While I personally thought that more could have been added, after my talk with Dane Baker, it sounds like more is actually coming soon.  With that said, here’s our interview with lead producer Dane Baker.

NoDPad: What motivated you to create Archetype?
Dane Baker: We’re all huge fans of the FPS genre and we wanted to bring the best parts of that experience to the iPhone and iPod touch – things like in-game radar, team-based deathmatch, BuddyLists and more.

NoDPad: Do you feel comfortable with the competition in the App Store?
DB: We are entirely focused on Archetype. For us it’s not about looking over our shoulder but working very hard to make the game an even better experience for our customers. The rest takes care of itself.

NDP: What went into the development process of Archetype?
DB: About 4,384 two-liters of Diet Mountain Dew, 2,842 large pizzas… The short answer is about a year of extremely hard work. I’m extremely proud of this very dedicated group at Villain and MunkyFun, our development partner. Just goes to show you that with enough talent and dedication you can accomplish anything.

NDP: How did you create such smooth online multiplayer, with no lags and such?
DB: Pixie dust, mostly. One member of our team is a witch. Put the two together and you have FPS magic (plus some pretty nasty ice cream headaches).

NDP: What are your thoughts on the iPhone 4’s Retina Display?
DB: It was quite unexpected from Apple to go that route this generation but what a display-it’s a developer’s dream and we’re thrilled that Archetype takes full advantage of the high resolution. The game actually runs a separate engine just for iPhone 4.

NDP: What updates are you planning for Archetype?
DB: If I told you, I’d have to kill you. Okay not really. We’ve got some exciting things coming down the pipe but I don’t want to spill the beans too soon; suffice to say some very cool things are coming soon that we think our customers will really enjoy.

NDP: Any closing thoughts?
DB: On behalf of everybody that worked on Archetype, I’d like to thank our customers – you guys (and girls!) are the best group of fans in the world and we feel honored to be able to make cool stuff for you to enjoy. The initial response has been humbling and we can only say “stay tuned.” This is just the beginning.

Thanks for your time, Dane Baker!  For more information on Archetype, be sure to check out our full review.  We’re definitely excited to see what Villain has in store for us.

Exclusive: Kooistra developing Blue Defense sequel, Red Conquest episode 3, and a new Action RPG

In an exclusive email exchange with NoDpad.com, John Kooistra — developer behind hit titles Blue Defense, Blue Attack and Red Conquest — let slip details on several upcoming projects from his development group Cat In A Box Games.

First up, Kooistra is just about ready to make a publicity push for a new title, Fastar! He describes Fastar! as “a quirky action RPG that requires you to slay your way through reams of coloured squares.” The title, Fastar, is an acronym for Fight Angry Squares: The Action RPG! The game is due to be released “soon”, and Kooistra promises screens and video even sooner.

The second bit of news is that before releasing Red Conquest Episode 3, the team first plans to release a sequel to the acclaimed Blue Defense! As one of the app store’s better early releases, the game won me over instantly and has enjoyed a permanent place on my iPhone since. According to Kooistra, the release schedule remains undetermined. “It’s not done,” he says, “but development is pretty far along and it’s a substantial improvement in many respects on top of the rock-solid foundation of the original Blue Defense,” which he admits looks “pretty old” at this point.

Kooistra says even he has a hard time keeping his hands off of the development builds, and so good things seem to be afoot at Cat In A Box Games. As fans of Kooistra’s prior work, we’ll definitely do our utmost to keep up with new details on these titles as they emerge.

The original Blue Defense! Sequel coming soon.

Aralon: Interview with Creators Sam and Jason

Today, I caught up with Sam and Jason to talk about their upcoming Oblivion-like RPG Aralon, a game that takes place in an open world environment with 3D graphics and breathtaking views.  While the game still has a long ways to go before releasing, it’s one game that looks promising.

NoDPad: What prompted you to create an RPG on the iPhone?

Jason: While there are literally thousands of casual style games on the AppStore, we really felt the absence of large scale games with immersive game play. We have always big huge fans of the RPG genre and it felt like there was an opportunity to create a quality, in-depth RPG experience on the iDevice.

Sam: We have both always loved playing RPG’s. Personally, I have played so many I don’t think I could remember even half of them. We wanted to try to create an RPG experience that was much more portable and compact. We wanted anyone riding the subway, bored at a Dr Appointment or with just a short amount of time to be able to fire up a game and have some good old RPG fun. We didn’t want to make the 80th version of Sudoku 😛

NDP: Which games have inspired the creation of Aralon?

Jason: The core inspiration for Aralon came from the Elder Scrolls RPG’s: Morrowind and Oblivion. Some of the game mechanics also draw a lot from World of Warcraft and Dragon Age.

Sam: Jason definitely listed some of the main ones, but we I am sure there is inspiration from so many more games that we subconsciously worked into the game. When you grow up playing and loving these types of games elements from so many games work their way into everything you create.

NDP: What are your thoughts on the demographics of the App Store?

Jason: It seems more and more people are turning to their iDevice as their primary gaming machine. Clearly the App Store is a haven for the casual gamer, but there’s plenty of room for an in-depth gaming experiences too.

Sam: I love the App store and think it is a fantastic idea that every portable device should have. However, I do wish the store was a little easier to search, and perhaps the organization could be a little more user friendly, but I am certain Apple is working on making the store’s interface a little cleaner and easier to use. Sometimes the really good apps get buried by a mount of derivative stuff, and that is definitely regrettable. But word of mouth is a powerful force and I am certain that most of the titles that have a solid foundation eventually get the recognition they deserve.

NDP: What hurdles have you gone through to develop Aralon?

Jason: A well-crafted RPG takes a lot of time to create. We chose to build on the Unity3D engine for creating the game and that has been a great tool for us throughout development. Some of the biggest challenges have been creating the different classes, abilities, and game mechanics and making them balanced but also unique. And of course the process of creating a vast, interactive world with literally hundreds of Npc’s and interesting locations.

Sam: Jason has addressed the technical aspects of creating Aralon. I want to talk a little more on a personal level. We are just two regular guys with ‘real’ jobs and families. We both have wives and kids and have to make sure we get done what we need to do to so that we can support and provide for our families. It has always been our dream to make games, and hopefully this is a stepping stone towards that goal. For now, we are juggling work, school and life on top of trying to create an amazing iDevice gaming experience. Let’s hope we pull it off.

NDP: Why have you chosen Crescent Moon Games to publish your game?

Jason: We wanted Aralon to really shine in every way possible as an iPhone/iPad game. By partnering with Crescent Moon Games, we felt we had the chance to really take the game to the next level of artistic quality and game play polish. They have a lot of experience with the AppStore market and they have been great to work with on improving the visuals of Aralon and making it the best game it can be.

Sam: We both talked to the guys from Crescent Moon games and we really clicked with them. They are super cool guys who just want to have fun and make great games, for us that is enough. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they are an incredibly talented team with the ability to create drop dead gorgeous art.

NDP: Do you feel there is a lot of competition for Aralon?

Jason: There is always competition for the attention of gamers, but we feel that Aralon will offer an RPG experience that hasn’t existed on the AppStore before. We have packed so many features into this game: vast outdoor areas and dungeons to explore, character customization, questing, swimming, climbing, horse-riding, crafting, etc. And it all takes place in a handcrafted, open 3D world. There really is no other game quite like it on the iDevice.

Sam: I am a big Milton Friedman fan (nerd alert) and I truly believe that competition makes one better. A lack of competition leads to a lack of innovation and complacency. Hopefully everyone is smart enough to realize that more great products simply expand the gaming landscape for everyone. And it’s the same for Jason and me, more great games just leads to more gamers.

NDP: When do you plan on releasing the game?

Jason and Sam: Right now we are estimating sometime in September.

NDP: Any closing thoughts?

Jason: We just sincerely hope that people enjoy playing Aralon as much as we have enjoyed creating it. We hope to be making games like this for a long time to come 🙂

Sam: Play Aralon, we are pretty certain you will love it because it was created with love. We didn’t set out to create a franchise or a cash cow. When we started this whole thing in my TV room we just wanted to have fun and maybe create a game that 100 or 1000 people would play. We wanted to create something we could call our own, and be proud of it. Over a year later, Aralon is a little bigger than we had planned but our goal is still the same. Make a fun game people will love to play.

Many thanks to Sam and Jason for the interview!  Be sure to check out Aralon on the App Store some time in September!