So today, on the release of one of the first games that really got us excited about the potential of the iPhone as a gaming device (yes, you can buy it right now if you want), we sit down again with Simon Oliver for an exclusive interview, this time to talk about the road he's traveled over the past few months, and how far both he and his game about little rolling "Rolandos" has come. He talked with us about the Ngmoco partnership and how it helped him as a developer, the viability of Rolando as a $9.99 game, and the future of both what he's working on and what the App Store needs as a gaming platform.
TUAW: It has been a long time since we last talked about this game. How has the game turned out, compared to your expectations since then?
Rolando creator Simon Oliver: It has certainly evolved a lot -- since we first spoke it's matured from a fun prototype to a much larger, story driven adventure. Initially there was primarily a focus on solving puzzles but the platforming aspect has been beefed up considerably and there's been a lot of refinement of the controls. The end result has really surpassed my expectations - I'm really happy with how it has turned out.
How did the deal with ngmoco come about? Did they come to you, and if so what did they offer? Were there changes you made to the game based on feedback given by them?
They got in contact when the first trailer went round in early July, suggesting that there could be a really good partnership between us. I flew out to San Francisco and met them, showed them Rolando, and there was immediately a really good feeling about us working together -- I really liked their plans for the iPhone as a gaming platform and their stated desire to be the spiritual first-party for this new device. They are really talented guys with a lot of experience, and it's been great to have their input and suggestions as the project has progressed -- if it had been just Mikko (Rolando's illustrator) and me, we wouldn't have been able to reach this level of quality and polish, and some key tweaks might not have made it into the game.
How has the partnership worked so far? What advice would you give to developers about going into the App Store solo or looking for help from a company like ngmoco?
I can't speak highly enough of them -- its been such a positive experience. As well as providing feedback and suggestions on the game itself, they've provided Rolando with a professional Q&A process, marketing, focus-group testing, localisation (including Japanese... I STILL can't get enough of those little Rolandos chatting with Japanese speech bubbles) and taken care of the entire music licensing process. Having Mr. Scruff's music filling Rolandoland is the icing on the cake for me!
I'd definitely recommend iPhone game developers to get in touch with them -- it hasn't taken away any creative freedom or compromised the game at all. I've only benefitted from it.
What were the biggest issues you came across trying to develop something like this for the iPhone?
The biggest thing for me was refining the interface -- we've prototyped a great deal with the mechanics, level objects and different Rolando types to explore what works and what doesn't work on the device. Obviously this is my first iPhone game, and when I started there was no App Store and nothing to compare mechanics with, so initially it was really a matter of making it up as I go along -- trying stuff out, discarding elements that don't work. When we got to the current balance of accelerometer and touch control, everything really fell into place.
And what are the biggest benefits of the platform over another mobile/gaming device or even a Mac/PC?
Convergence. As a developer it's got SO many features to play with (multitouch, accelerometer, camera, microphone, network connectivity). As Neil at ngmoco has mentioned before, it feels a lot like the Wii - there's a lot of potential for fun, new and interesting things to be created.
For the consumer, convergence is huge benefit - I love the fact that I don't have to carry round my phone, iPod and DS any more. Apple have really nailed it - it's the first convergent device that excels with each constituent part (as opposed to numerous fore-running gadgets that have felt more like several random bits of consumer electronics glued together). My perception of the device is shifting over time, especially since the launch of the App Store. Mentally its starting to feel more like a mini-laptop in terms of my workflow and the tasks/activities I perform on it.
Were there any features you would liked to have get in there, but didn't have the time to do so? Are you planning on updating the game in the future?
Some elements were cut earlier on in the process because they were cumbersome, or the mechanics [were] a little confusing. Some of these could definitely work with more refinement, and there's a load of ideas floating round for new elements to populate the world. I can't speak too much about future plans for Rolando just yet.
The game will come out at $9.99. Obviously there's been a lot of talk lately about pricing in the App Store, specifically that some developers are having trouble justifying the work on their games while consumers are asking for lower prices. Do you feel that selling it at $9.99 (minus the cuts to Apple and, I suppose, ngmoco) will make all the work you did worth it? Would you have liked to go higher?
I think $9.99 feels like the right price, and it's the price I'd planned since starting work on the project. Without going into financial detail, provided Rolando enjoys reasonable sales, that price is totally financially viable.
(At the time of this interview) I haven't played the game yet, but we've said many times that Rolando looks to be one of the more inventive games on the App Store. Have you seen anything else, either within ngmoco or the App Store at large, that interests you as a gamer or developer?
Absolutely -- there's some great titles on the App Store, it is especially encouraging to see such variety in scope already. At the smaller scale, it's a vibrant environment for small teams doing exciting, innovative things, and at the other end of the scale, recent announcements/releases of big-name franchises such as Katamari Damacy and Metal Gear Solid have really helped cement perception of the iPhone as a gaming device.
I still feel like the App Store is missing a really high quality, deep RPG -- are there any genres or ideas that you'd like to see represented but haven't yet?
And what's next for you and HandCircus -- do you have other ideas in the pipeline that you can share?
As well as future plans for Rolando, I've got two different ideas brewing. One's a smaller, toy-like project, while the other is much larger in scope. I'm trying to work out whether to take a break from big projects and do the smaller one first, but before that it's time for a bit of a rest!
Check back with TUAW for a full Rolando review and gallery later today.