As part of Games On Deck's "Road to the IGF Mobile" feature, we talk to KnowledgeWhere's John Carpenter about their IGF Mobile 2008 Innovation in Augmented Design Award (presented by Nvidia) finalist PhoneTag Elite, a location-tracking mobile game of "hide-and-seek".
Games On Deck: What kind of background do you have in the game industry or in making games?
John Carpenter: Initially we were involved in creating a privacy solution for GPS phones and four years ago that path led us to building mobile entertainment products. KnowledgeWhere has produced four mobile games and helped publish a fifth.
GOD: What motivated you to make your game?
JC: The idea for PhoneTag Elite came from LivePlanet, our partner out of Santa Monica, USA. They wanted to produce a massively multi-player, live action version of tag using mobile phones and came to KnowledgeWhere to conceptualize the idea and produce the game.
GOD: Where did you draw inspiration from in its design and implementation?
JC: Thankfully pop culture has been embracing the idea of spy-themed games, movies and TV shows lately so there was no shortage of inspiration for the design of our game. We wanted the users to experience play that was closer to a sport than that of a standard platform game.
GOD: What sort of development tools have you been using in the production of your game?
JC: We used the standard fare for J2ME game production: Eclipse, Wireless Toolkit and some other open source tools. In addition to that we have spent the last couple of years building and implementing a wide variety of tools and APIs for developing the games. These tools allow us to rapidly prototype different game versions for play testing and feedback.
GOD: What do you think the most interesting element of the game is?
JC: The game itself is unique in how the user becomes fully immersed by using the mobile device as an enabling tool for a real game of tag. The GPS within the phone tracks your opponents, and you use that information displayed on the screen to physically run to, and capture another player. In the past, mobile devices were limited in their platform capabilities, but the unique technology in PhoneTag Elite makes the gameplay exciting and your privacy secure.
The most compelling aspect of the game are the interactive abilities that allow for gameplay with people all over North America. The other aspects are the groundbreaking GPS technology integrated into the game, and the mobile marketing opportunities for major brands.
GOD: How long have you been developing your game, and what has the process been like?
JC: Two years. The game has been through a number of cycles in design and at least one major rebuild and redesign. Like most games, the original design had far more features than can be put into the final version.
GOD: If you had to rewind to the start of the project, is there anything that you'd do differently?
JC: In one of the design builds we included a unique gameplay mode that played very similar to a 'capture-the-flag' style game. We felt that it really drew the user into a community and allowed for a breadth of new strategies and play opportunities. Unfortunately this mode had to be removed to fit on the device and meet our delivery schedules. Perhaps one day we can revive that mode in a new version.
GOD: What are your thoughts on the state of independent game development in the mobile industry, and are any other independent mobile games out now that you admire?
JC: Independent game development is truly driving new product design and innovation for the mobile industry. The biggest driver enabling this is the cost of development being so low, allowing independent studios to compete on the same scale as the larger studios in their product development. As new technologies arrive in the mobile market independent studios are leveraging this into their games.
The downside is that once a product is completed it is nearly impossible to bring the game into the market. Larger studios have all but secured the carriers and have the leverage of placing their games higher on a carrier's deck. This, in turn, takes a larger portion of the available market. While some carriers are moving towards a more open system, which can allow independent studios to bring their games to market, they are moving slowly and it is difficult to operate in an essentially closed system.
YourWorld Games has produced a very ambitious game called The Shroud. The game is slick, interactive and very immersive. However, as an independent studio they suffer the same difficulty in bringing games to market as do many others.
GOD: You have 30 seconds left to live and you must tell the mobile game business something very important. What is it?
JC: Simplify the process to build and sell mobile games. Users don't want something complicated and until that is fixed the industry won't take off. Oh and, avenge my death.