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Road To IGF Mobile: Spider's Randy Smith

In the next in a series of Road to the IGF Mobile interviews with 2010 IGF Mobile finalists, FingerGaming speaks to Randy Smith of Spider developer Tiger Style, whose gam

Jonathan Glover, Blogger

March 10, 2010

6 Min Read

[In the next in a series of Road to the IGF Mobile interviews with 2010 Independent Games Festival Mobile finalists, FingerGaming speaks to Randy Smith of Spider developer Tiger Style, whose game is currently competing in the Best Mobile Game category, having won the IGF Mobile award for Best iPhone Game.] As pastoral as it is eerie, Tiger Style’s elegant Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor ended 2009 heralded as not only one of the year’s best iPhone games, but one of the best on any platform. Having recently won the IGF Mobile Best iPhone game award, FingerGaming spoke to industry veteran and Tiger Style head Randy Smith about the studio’s stunning debut heading into the IGF. What is your background in game development? I’ve in the games industry for 12 years, primarily as a designer / director. I worked on the Thief series with Looking Glass and ION Storm, and consulted with Arkane Studios, Ubisoft, and others. My most recent gig before starting Tiger Style was a creative director at EA on one of the projects with Steven Spielberg. Can you tell us what development tools you used to create Spider? The iPhone SDK, xCode, Photoshop, and various other visual/audio/music creators and editors. How long was the game in development? 8 months. How did the initial concept come about? We solicited the team for short, 1-2 sentence game concepts. Of those, we selected a small handful and did treatments of them – about 20 pages of PowerPoint that got into more depth of what the game would be about and how it would work. Spider’s treatment attracted the most attention within the team. Originally we envisioned it as more of a slow-paced spider simulator, but during the pre-production and prototyping phases we refined our movement controls and web-building mechanic which in turn pushed the game into the form you see today. Detractors of the platform always bemoan the lack of “real” games on the iPhone, citing examples like Rolando and Spider as something more substantial. Do you think there’s more that can be done to bring more traditional, progression-based games to the iPhone? The iPhone is very capable gaming platform. We’ve been enjoying deep, high quality games on similar platforms such as the DS for many years (think Zelda, Metroid, Mario Kart), and there is no technical reason that iDevices can’t offer similar experiences. In fact, Tiger Style was originally drawn to the iPhone because of its unique hardware — the high degree of connectivity, the GPS, touchscreen and accelerometer, less traditional inputs such as camera and mic, its omnipresence, etc. — lots of cool stuff to experiment with. This could be a revolutionary gaming platform, and we also believe the demographic is very open-minded and willing to try new things. We want to see the iPhone realize its potential for the better of gaming in general. Market pressure is the major reason we don’t see more of this kind of experimentation and deeper, higher production quality games. The App Store is flooded with very cheap games. It’s hard for a consumer to know why one game is worth 5-10x more than another, and it’s hard for a developer to prove that their game is worth more than the rest. This creates enormous risk, and the best way around that risk is to join the crowd who is aiming low and selling cheap. This doesn’t leave much margin for high quality development. How important was the ambient narrative you employed in defining Spider? You had a lot of feedback as to what players wanted, or expected, that narrative to be heading into your work on the “Director’s Cut”. Spider tells the story of an abandoned mansion and the fate of the people who used to live there, but our first emphasis was on the “action drawing” gameplay, getting that right. The narrative came into existence as we more carefully considered and built out the locations in which this gameplay would occur. Once we realized an abandoned house was our ideal set for the game, we crafted a means of being involved with that story that made it important that you were a spider, you saw the story in a way that only a spider would see it. By design, the story was ambiguous and left a lot to the imagination, but in some ways it left players wanting more than we intended. So we polled our fans for their interpretation of the story and which levels they liked best, to get a sense of what had worked and what had not worked. Going into the design of Director’s Cut, we gave the players more glimpses of the underlying story to help them patch the holes in their understanding. Do you think the “Director’s Cut” and the release of the Hornet Smash mini-game were successful endeavors? We think they were very successful. Our plan had been to reinforce Spider’s presence as an important iPhone game and give something back to our fans while also trying out a new way to release a “Lite” version of a game – Hornet Smash is an entire free game based around Spider’s popular hornet-tackling gameplay that also happens to contain a Lite version of Spider. This three-pronged approach gave Spider more attention just in time for the end of the year Best Of lists, in which we did outstandingly well, beyond our expectations. The holiday season was fabulous for us financially, and we’re humbled and pleased by all the praise. This gives us extra time and motivation to do our best with the development of our next games. If you could reset and start fresh on development of Spider, what would you do differently? Honestly, probably nothing. There were ups and downs, but it’s hard to argue with this kind of success – we made something we love, it sold reasonably well and was well-recognized, and we had a great time doing it. Hopefully, we took away some important lessons that will help it be less of a death march next time around. Have you played and enjoyed any of the other IGF Mobile finalists? Yes, lots of them, especially in the iPhone category, and I look forward to checking out the ones I didn’t know about yet. What do you think of the current state of the indie scene, particularly in relation to the mobile space? I think the most obvious comment here is that the App Store has been a huge, huge boost to the indie game development scene, one which we are just now seeing the beginning of. The App Store (and its future clones) has centralized indie gaming and given it more legitimacy. Before, if you wanted to release an indie game there was no single, obvious venue, and similarly the audience had no “go-to” spot to find new indie games. This centralizing has made it far more possible to reach a ready audience with an indie game, and the terms of the arrangement are very fair and the SDK is easy to use. The explosion of Apps is evidence that this model is attracting attention, and in the future, I expect we’ll see ways to sort them out by quality, such as labels much like we see in indie music or indie film. This is an exciting development, because having a robust indie scene, both in terms of finance and creativity, is going to provide the counter-balance to the juggernaut of risk-averse mainstream gaming that we’ve been needing for a very long time.

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