Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We at Joystiq believe no one deserves to starve, and many indie developers are entitled to a fridge full of tasty, fulfilling media coverage, right here. This week, Andrew from The Rampant Mango discusses the cuter side of indie mobile development with the free Android game Critter Rollers.
What's your game called and what's it about?
Our little bundle of love here is called Critter Rollers, and it's an action platformer out now for Android with a one-touch control system. It's not an endless runner or a hold-to-hover game; it's a full-on platform adventure filled with hazards, collectables and lots of cannons.
What's the coolest aspect of Critter Rollers?
You know what's not cool? Virtual D-pads. I even draw the line at tilt controls -- I can make enough of a fool out of myself in public, thank you. What we have here is a traditional platformer with the twist that it has just one simple control requirement -- tap the screen. Tap to jump and tap to fire out of a cannon. It's easy to pick up, causes much less frustration and gives power back to the player. The levels we create use some pretty cool geometry to give the player a rollercoaster feel as well as presenting them with some delightfully tricky challenges.
Is the music in the trailers standard for the game, and if so, how did you decide on the ska/rock sound?
The music came about because I am stubborn and bad with promises. I offered to do the trailer and John (the co-producer) asked quite politely that none of my "ska shit" to be put in; agreements were made and then ignored. I always remember reading some literature by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright saying how they loved the opportunity to force their musical taste on the public, and since I read it I wanted to do the same. Instantly New Riot jumped into my head. I think the trailer worked out very well. Unfortunately that style doesn't carry on to the game, blame it on memory requirements and John.
The sound for the new trailer was another favorite band. We came up with the idea to do a set of super-hard remixed versions of our classic levels and I couldn't think of a good name for them. I had just got The Human Project's new EP and the name of it, and the first song, was called "Trials." The track was awesome, and the name, the name was perfect. The name stuck and I got to use their track for the video -- their music label were really supportive of it, too, which was great.
Rampant Mango seems to be a collection of cool, laid-back developers -- how does this relaxed style impact your games?
Delays, and lots of them. It's just great working in an environment where we can pass ideas back and forward; we can try to implement an idea just to see if it works and if it doesn't there's no problem, no one gets reprimanded or disciplined. We like to keep it silly too, stops us from going mental and leaping from the 10th floor with our hands in our pockets. It's pretty cool to interact with fans, we love adding bits and bobs onto our Facebook and Twitter feed that people may find interesting.
What makes Critter Rollers different than other platform games?
Traditional platform games are largely one-dimensional, left to right. There are exceptions to this rule, of course, but we like to use a good bit of vertical space. Mobile platform games also have the curse of the virtual controller, which really throws any sort of enjoyment out of the window. You've either got a game that is overly simplified for the control pad, leading to boredom, or a game that is too difficult because it can't be controlled properly, and that's before you take the user's hands obscuring the screen into the equation. Our one-button system allows the user to enjoy the game without fighting with the input method, our level layouts keeps things interesting and the user can still see all of the action. No water levels though, or end-of-level bosses -- discussion of either of these things leads to stiff punishment.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
The industry seems to be its arse at the moment, studios closing left, right and center, and I don't really know who to blame. Part of me blames stagnating genres, tight deadlines and a lack of innovation and fun, but another part of me blames the general public for buying the stagnating genres and the lack of innovation.
When we created Critter Rollers we hit upon an idea we wanted to develop -- just an idea, no design documents, no specification and certainly no pitch. That idea evolved so quickly and so broadly we could hardly keep up; we added ideas and new gameplay features on the spot. You could never do that at a large studio. It would kill the game, or us. Eventually we had to draw the line under the game and put off features we wanted to add -- everyone has to at some point -- but we did it on our own terms and they'll be appearing at some point.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
The indie scene is such a strange term at the moment.... All we're really concerned about is making games that people can enjoy.
The indie scene is such a strange term at the moment. On one hand you've got the pretentious "game is art, high concept, meta-game" crowd and then you have the "let's bash out a cheap rip-off and hope nobody notices or cares" types, and to be honest I don't know which I despise more.
Of course you have the middle ground, real games for real people made with a proper budget, likeable souls who you want to see do well. Notch is the perfect example of the working-class hero and where I wouldn't dare compare us to him, he really shows what the indie scene can achieve without having to bang on about it.
All we're really concerned about is making games that people can enjoy. A message is nice -- games would be irrelevant if they couldn't convey that -- but the arcade aesthetic is what we wanted and in that particular scenario a story is the last thing you want. We're not a serious studio by any stretch of the imagination so it's odd to talk about it really.
What is your dream platform to develop for?
We are both avid video-game fans but the holy grail for us is anything by Nintendo. I know they've made some bonkers decisions in the past decade but everything they do just exerts charm and a real deep love for what they do. They are the true innovators as well -- everyone knows that -- so to develop on a Nintendo system would be magical. When we saw the Wii U we kept bouncing these crazy gameplay ideas off each other; I have no idea how they would even work in practice but to get a devkit would be the cock's knockers.
Sell Critter Rollers in one sentence:
A one-button action platformer where you jump, roll and blast yourself through strange new worlds!
As you'd expect we're going to be working on Critter Rollers for some time, adding new levels and features as well as porting it to iOS. After that, we're not sure really. We've thrown a few ideas around and I have a few ideas of my own that I would love to see come to life; it really depends on whether we want to work with the Critters again. They are a lovely bunch and there's so much we could do with them, but the last thing we want is them to outstay their welcome.
If you'd like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line "The Joystiq Indie Pitch." Still haven't had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.