Oct 9, 2013
Over the coming weeks, Gaming IQ will be publishing a fortnightly column that spotlights the latest & greatest the indie gaming developer community has to offer. Stay tuned for highlights from the most exciting and innovative indie studios!
Frogmind Games are an indie studio based in Helsinki, Finland. Founded by Johannes Vuorinen and Juhana Myllys, the studio now consists of a small team of three, who are dedicated to creating quality gaming experiences.
Their first game, BADLAND, has been a major hit on iOS, receiving numerous awards, and having made it’s way onto Blackberry devices, is also set for an Android release. I had the opportunity to speak with Johannes, the lead programmer of the team, to explore the game and his experiences within the gaming industry.
Johannes Vuorinen: We wanted to create a game for touch devices, and because we are a small team of two developers, we decided that we should concentrate on one platform, to use our time as efficiently as possible. iOS was the most accessible, and generally has been the most successful, especially for indies with various success stories. We wanted to try to do the same, so we concentrated only on iPhones, iPads and iPods, making the game development itself much simpler.
gIQ: So what made you release BADLAND on Blackberry before Android?
JV: That’s a good question. We decided after the iOS success that we want to bring the game everywhere, as we have had lots of requests from fans that do not have an iOS device who want to play it. We want everyone to be able to play the game.
After the iOS launch we began to change the code architecture to a cross-platform architecture. The iOS version of the game is using the cocos2d-iPhone framework, so we changed that to the cross platform version of it (cocos2d-X). Cocos2d-x supports multiple platforms, including Blackberry and Android, so we started to develop both of those version simultaneously and the BlackBerry one happened to finish first. It of course helps that the are only few popular devices running the BB10 operating system compared to Android’s device base.
gIQ: Would you consider porting to major consoles, or perhaps micro-consoles like the Ouya? Or new Android consoles on the horizon?
JV: I can see the game on both of those, both micro and major consoles. We have tested the game on a TV by plugging a mobile device into a TV, and we can see that it looks gorgeous on larger screens too as the game’s graphics are in really high resolution. Of course the local multiplayer mode would be really fun too in front of a TV. I can see there’s definitely potential there. However, it’s too early to say yet as we are concentrating on mobile platforms.
gIQ: You said the multiplayer concept would be great on consoles, and there’s not really many games implement local multiplayer on mobile platforms. How important was it for you to implement multiplayer on mobile devices?
JV: When we started the project we didn’t have any idea the game was going to have a multiplayer mode. That kind of came out when we were developing. One day during the development we suddenly got the idea like “hey, we are only using one touch in one corner, what if we had multiple people touching the device in every corner in a multiplayer mode?”.
So we quickly developed a multiplayer mode out of the version we had at the time, and we added four characters to the game instead of one, with people controlling the characters from the corners of the screen. And it proved to be really fun! We are really happy we discovered the multiplayer mode, and we have heard that there are gamers that enjoy the multiplayer mode even more than the single player.
gIQ: What did you find to be the most challenging aspect within development itself?
JV: It was quite hard to estimate when the game is done, and ready to be launched. That was challenging, as when we started the project, we thought we’d release by Christmas 2012. But, during the fall we realised it was not going to happen! Then we thought it would be out for February, and by January, we realised it’s not going to be possible.
As developers, we want to reach perfection for every feature. On the other hand, we didn’t have financing so it was a bit stressful to postpone the launch date, but we knew that if we postpone the launch the game ends up being a greater game. So with that in mind, it was easy decision to postpone as we wanted the game to be perfect.
gIQ: That makes sense. I saw you were part of Trials: Evolution, which I played and thought it was a pretty cool game. What did you learn from that, which you implemented into this game?
JV: Both BADLAND and Trials are heavily physical based games, so during Trials, I learned a lot about physics engines and applying physics to a game. It was really useful on developing BADLAND. In addition, Trials is a very gameplay driven game with a really fine-tuned gameplay, which is a very important aspect also in BADLAND. We didn’t have the fancy graphics when we started, it was just triangles and rectangles. We fine-tuned the gameplay to perfection, and only then began to add graphics on top of the gameplay.
gIQ: Well you said about the graphics being important; how did you come up with the unique BADLAND style?
JV: We wanted to create a unique world that’s both interesting and beautiful. We decided we wanted the world to feel real, both in visuals and audio. We took nature as our main reference. For the gameplay layer, we tried multiple styles, yet in the end, we found that the black silhouettes looked phenomenal in front of the colourful backgrounds, also making the gameplay layer clear and distinctive.
gIQ: You’re just a three man team at the minute? Would you consider expanding further or keep it as a small, close knit team?
JV: We just hired our third man to help with marketing and business, but we are going to stay small. We want to keep the indie way, which requires a pretty small studio in order to do that. We may expand a bit, but probably slowly.
gIQ: So, regarding BADLAND or other projects, would you ever consider a freemium model?
JV: For BADLAND it was obvious it’s a premium game. We wanted the gameplay to be immersive, and if you start to show ads or in-app purchases, it would ruin that.
In general, about freemium… well, there are bad examples, but I can see why it is so popular. It’s great that you can try before you buy, but it still needs some new kind of mechanism to not inhibit the gameplay experience that much. I think there’s lots of possibilities to explore. Certainly, freemium is something we may consider in the future, in some elegant way.
gIQ: I agree with those points, not to restrict gameplay. What’s your favourite Indie game at the moment, and why?
JV: The last one I played a lot on mobile was the Kingdom Rush Frontiers, and I think it’s really high quality, very polished, and has a lot of content. I really admire those developers.
gIQ: I have had a quick play of that and it does seem pretty polished. So Gaming IQ have recently started a series of quality assurance and localisation focussed meetings within Europe and the US. How important to you as an indie developer is QA and localisation?
JV: QA is really important, especially for indies, as we don’t have the resources to test with every device. It doesn’t make sense to hire a bunch of testers. We used a QA company, which was really helpful.
For localisation, well… our game has very little text, so I don’t have much experience with that aside from the App Store descriptions. I think it’s the same deal however, as it’s very important for indies with outsourced localisation companies to help with the projects.
gIQ: If you were going to give one piece of advice to an aspiring indie developer, what would you say to them?
JV: If you don’t have lots of money to invest into marketing, like where we came from, your game has to be really unique and polished. It needs to look unique in screenshots and video. It needs to be interesting, as if you don’t have a marketing project, the product has to market itself as well as possible. Indies need to stand-out from the overall crowd!
gIQ: I agree, quality speaks for itself at the end of the day. Thanks for speaking to me, it was a great insight!