We Ask Indies: Simon West, creator of one of the best puzzle games on Android/iOS

Simon West is the creator of 10, one of the best puzzle games on Android/iOS. In this Q&A he talks about games, marketing, favourite devs and starting a business in a fictional city!

Simon West runs iojoe, a small studio responsible for games like 10 or Gingerbread Circus (we are playing 10 since Aaron Steed told us about it and wow, it's surely one of our favourite puzzle game on Android/iOS). Now he answers our questions!

1. How long have you been making games?

I've been making games for almost 10 years, which is kind of apt. The earliest game that I've still got online is called Tree from 2005. It's decidedly unfriendly and not at all sophisticated, but I'm still a little fond of it.

2. Where do you find ideas for your games? Tell us something about your creative process.

I've never tried to come up with ideas for games, rather they just occur to me from time-to-time, out of the blue. I put them in a notebook and if a noted idea still appeals to me a few weeks later I'll make a prototype. If that appears to be working it becomes a pet project for the months ahead.

3. 10 is an awesome puzzle game. Where does its idea come from? Any favourite feedback you remember?

I had been working on a completely different puzzle game for several months and had begun to lose momentum on it. Then one day I had an idea for a math based action game, inspired by calculators, which would use the engine from Gingerbread Circus. I made a quick prototype of that, but it became clear that it wouldn't work out so well. The moment of luck came when I turned back to the puzzle game I had previously been working on, which also happened to be tile based. I wondered how math might work in that as a subset of the other pieces in the game. I spent an afternoon adapting it and I discovered the math pieces were far more interesting than anything else in it, and that was when 10 was born. I put the original puzzle game on indefinite hold and started 10 as a new project. I've had lots of great feedback on it. Perhaps my favourite has been from the 55-level version on Kongregate where many players started posting about the sound design and how they enjoyed making music in the game using the number tones. 10 musicians rock! :D

4. Concerning your pricing strategy for 10, you made 9 based on 10 mechanics and sell it for free. “9 is 10, less one, and it's all about making 9s”, you've said. That is pure genius: free/premium pricing model turned into two related games with the free one being less (literally) than the premium one. How did you come up with this idea? Did you need to make some balancing being 9 less than 10?

Originally I only launched the paid version of 10 on the App Store/Google Play, and whilst it got some great reviews and ratings it wasn't doing very well (and unfortunately still isn't!). So I decided to make a "lite" version, and played with ideas on how I could make it its own thing, at least in some way. I took a lot of inspiration from Matt Rix's Trainyard and the free version Trainyard Express which has entirely different levels to play. Approaching the task of making new simple levels for 10 the idea of 9 came together quite naturally.

5. Are you fan of puzzle games? Which ones are your favourites?

I'm not an especially big fan of puzzle games. Perhaps I've not found the best ones. I've tried quite a lot of the highly ranked mobile ones but I tend to find them either too simple or too difficult and my attention trails off. The big exception, and the only mobile puzzle game I've ever played end-to-end, was Trainyard which I liked a lot. I think the creative act of building the rail tracks drew me in more than most other puzzle mechanics. When making 10 I felt it was a good puzzle game for similar reasons - choosing where you make blocks meant in a way you were building the solution not just finding it. That all said, games like Portal, AntiChamber and The Stanley Parable are amongst my all time favourite games and they are at heart really amazing puzzle games (with the latter, the puzzle is you!), so perhaps I am a big fan after all.

6. You have made quite a good amount of flash games. Why flash? Do you play flash games? Where? Which ones are your favourites?

Flash was for me and many others a revolution. An accessible entry point into game development. I'm still working in Flash as AIR for mobile is working really well. I hope Adobe continue to build upon it, Windows Phone support would be a great addition. I've also been experimenting with Unity and hope to make something using that this year. I mostly play Flash games at Newgrounds or via links on Some of my favourites are REDDER, A Mother in Festerwood and Infectonator.

7. If you have to choose three and only three game developers to follow their work closely, which ones would you choose and why?

I'm a huge fan of Derek Yu's art and games, so I'd definitely want to see what come next from him. I've only recently got hold of the new Spelunky on Steam - it's truely an outstanding achievement in game design. And I'm still not good enough to beat it! 600+ deaths and counting... I've been lucky enough to meet Ed Key a few times and he's a really nice guy. More importantly Proteus is something quite wonderful, poetic and beautiful. Keeping up with Proteus and whatever he does next is a must. It's so hard choosing just three people, but I'll go for Davey Wreden as a third person to follow since the The Stanley Parable followed me.

8. Are you a heavy gamer? What games are you playing now?

I go through seasons, but right now I'm a fairly heavy gamer. I will occasionally put in 12-hour sessions when I could/should be doing something more productive. Having just burned out on GTA V (the Mt. Chiliad Mystery could possibly be the greatest easter-egg of all time, if it exists) I'm back to shorter gaming sessions playing Broken Age and Spelunky.

9. One last random question. If you could start a business in any fictional city of any video game ever published, what kind of business would it be and where?

Wow! That is a toughie, since most of the games I play are set in places that you may not want to live in. The two most realised worlds that instantly come to mind are those of Fallout 3 and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Both not the easiest places to live. This is probably not well thought through, but I'll opt for a shack in Megaton selling board games to the settlers (nuclear bomb still intact of course).


*We Ask Indies is an initiative by Beavl, an Argentinian independent game studio putting some teeth into videogames. You can check all the interviews here (caricatures are made by amazing artist Joaquín Aldeguer!).

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