February 8, 2011 5:00 AM | Tim W.
[As part of a series of "Road to the IGF" interviews with 2011 IGF finalists, Gamasutra speaks with Lucas Pope of Ratloop about the Best Mobile Game nomination for Helsing's Fire.]
Ratloop is no stranger to the Independent Games Festival, having already seen two of its games in the running in previous years.
For the third consecutive year, Ratloop co-founder Lucas Pope is celebrating an IGF nomination -- this time for Best Mobile Game with light-based iOS puzzler Helsing's Fire, developed by himself and his wife.
As the app's description explains: "With intuitive touchscreen controls, use your torch and limited supply of powerful tonics to pierce the shadows and destroy Dracula's monsters. Torch placement is critical, and different tonics affect each creature differently."
We spoke with Pope about the history of Ratloop, his foray into the world of iPhone development and what we can expect from Ratloop next.
What is your background in making games?
I started as a small independent developer, worked at a big developer for a few years, and now I'm back where I belong.
A few friends and I started Ratloop 13 years ago when there was no indie scene and you needed the support of a large publisher to get your game into stores.
Unfortunately, back then that support didn't come easy; we could only hold on so long before going our separate ways. Now that digital distribution is nice and prevalent, we're back together trying to rock some games.
Our recent titles Mightier and Helsing's Fire were both two-person projects by my wife Keiko and I. Rocketbirds: Revolution was created by Tan Sian Yue and James Anderson as part of Ratloop Asia in Singapore.
How did you come up with the concept for Helsing's Fire?
In the Hollywood adaptation of my life story, you'll see a 200 foot tall robot made of pure energy hand me a 5TB USB stick containing the design documents for Helsing's Fire and nothing else. But that's just the script writer's embellishment. The boring truth is that I created a few prototypes to get familiar with the iPhone SDK and the light/shadow concept grew out of that.
What was originally supposed to be much more rogue-like and action-oriented eventually turned into a puzzler, then added a vampire theme, then converged on the Helsing and Raffton characters. Then it went nuclear.
What development tools were used?
We used some Macs, Photoshop, Garage Band, Xcode, and Audacity. Probably a bit of Illustrator, and maybe a dash of TextWrangler too. I wrote a simple level editor in Cocoa, but otherwise we didn't have as many custom tools on Helsing's Fire as our other games.
Your team also developed Rocketbirds: Revolution! and Mightier, both IGF finalists in previous years. What do you think it is about your games that make them so likeable?
I'm not entirely sure, but I hope we can keep it up. I think the novel mechanics in Mightier and Helsing's Fire make them interesting. We tried to keep the play experience nice and smooth by having short and long term goals for the player and by gradually adding new elements to the gameplay. Pretty standard stuff.
Also, our games don't take themselves too seriously. Sober games can be enjoyable, but we don't have any big message or thought-provoking concepts to convey, so we tend to keep our tone light-hearted.
Did you enjoy developing for iPhone, and will you continue to do so or go back to PC?
I really like working on iOS. The SDK is great, the hardware is great. The touchscreen sucks for traditional games, but it opens up a lot when you're trying something new.
At the moment we're actually working on a Rocketbirds game for PSN so things are a bit more traditional there. Beyond that, I'm not quite sure what the plan is. Part of me regrets not having a PC version of Helsing's Fire, so maybe our next game will be cross-platform for mobile and PC.
How long did you work on Helsing's Fire for?
The initial release took about 6 months of part time work by Keiko and I. After that we've worked on updates (and the HD version) off and on. Altogether, I estimate 50 years.
Were there any elements of the game that you experimented with that just flat out didn't work with your vision?
Early on, the game was much more action-y. The monsters moved around like a horde attacking a castle and you had to risk killing humans with friendly fire. Sounds kinda cool now, actually; reading my own words. But it wasn't until we tried the methodical puzzle mechanics that it became really fun.
Maybe it's because I suck at action games, but I had a much easier time designing the puzzle elements and everything just started to fall into place.
I also took a completely different tack on the visual style at the beginning. I wanted something vector-y and almost procedural to keep the art creation simple. This worked fine until I started showing some friends the game and they recommended adding "graphics".
At that point I started drawing the sprites by hand and including crazy things called "textures".
Have you played any of the other IGF finalists? Any games you've particularly enjoyed?
Desktop Dungeons is awesome. Probably spent the most time playing that one. I also had a lot of fun with Super Crate Box. Without playing it, I'm looking forward to Retro City Rampage since it looks, feels, and sounds like my childhood.
What do you think of the current state of the indie scene?
At Ratloop's beginnings in 1998, there were almost no commercial indies. When we submitted Mightier to the IGF 3 years ago, the indie scene was already substantial. Since then it's only gotten bigger and stronger.
With the mobile market these days, the small studios have the big hits. It's great to see independence become an asset instead of a burden and my guess is that in a few years, "indie" will be mainstream enough that the distinction won't be so meaningful.
[Previous 2011 'Road To The IGF' interviews have covered Markus Persson's Minecraft, The Copenhagen Game Collective's B.U.T.T.O.N., Alexander Bruce's Hazard: The Journey of Life, Nicolai Troshinsky's Loop Raccord, Chris Hecker's Spy Party, Frictional Games' Amnesia, Monobanda's Bohm, Gaijin Games' BIT.TRIP.RUNNER and SpikySnail Games' Confetti Carnival.]