April 7, 2012 3:00 AM | John Polson
Guildford, UK-based Hello Games came out of the blue in 2010 with the release of Joe Danger, an arcade-styled, side-scrolling motorbike stunt game for the PlayStation Network.
Since the game's initial success, Hello Games has made sure to slowly but carefully expand the horizons of the franchise, with a special edition of the game released for Xbox Live Arcade late last year, and a sequel on the way.
However, there is one platform that Hello Games co-founder Sean Murray has been secretly eyeing up -- iOS. Today, Gamasutra can reveal that Joe Danger is on its way to smartphones, although Murray tells us that in terms of controls, it's a very different game to the original.
An Android version is also in the works, but it is the iOS version that the team is showing off at the Pax East expo this weekend. Here, Murray discusses how the smartphone version has come about, and how he plans to translate the intricate control scheme of the console version over to a touch-screen.
What led to you wanting to port Joe Danger over to mobile devices?
I hate that word, "port". Simply porting a game is never something I could get excited about, it's soulless work. Joe Danger on iOS is a new game, and it's been written from the ground up for iPhone.
Like, when we brought Joe Danger to XBLA, we were excited because we could fix the problems with the original. We called it Special Edition and doubled the size of the game. That's the kind of thing that excites us, and I think -- I hope -- people appreciate that.
What are your feelings regarding development for iOS?
About 6 months back, I started playing about with my iPhone. Basically I had this killer device with me every day, so on weekends it became a hobby project to just see what it could do. I'm a programmer, and iOS is actually really fun and fast to develop for.
I built some enginey stuff and of course the only assets I had to hand was Joe Danger. It wasn't something I was taking seriously, I think it would have ended there if I hadn't hooked up with Stevie (Steven Burgess).
He's a friend who used to work at Frontier, and was the designer on the LostWinds series. He's one of these people who never went to University, but worked his way up into a design role, then taught himself to code, now he's training as an artist. He's super talented -- he's just the best fit for Hello Games in terms of personality.
Stevie is what I call an "Apple converter". You talk to him for 15 minutes, and you'll suddenly want to buy an Apple TV, or a new iPhone. We started playing about together on iPhone, and a few months later suddenly it's starting to look really great.
We need to figure out if other people like it too though, which is why we're about to show it off at PAX East (Currently taking place in Boston, Massachusetts). We're treating it just like any console game, and taking it to a big games show to get feedback from real gamers. For me I don't see a distinction anymore, between console and iOS. I don't think the generation of kids growing up now will either.
Hello Games is still a very small team, despite your success with Joe Danger. Why have you chosen to stay so small? How has this affected the simultaneous development of the mobile version and the sequel?
We run a kind of Bohemian development. I describe our office as the clubhouse, and we try to work with people who are nice and who live and breathe games. We got a new office after Joe Danger, it's basically a big shed and we've done up the insides as best we can. The team has got a little bigger, but it's not nearly as large as anyone else who has 3 or 4 projects on the go at once. We like that, we still see ourselves as the plucky underdog.
Stevie drops in maybe once a week, and we sit in a little room together. We code, draw diagrams and just play the game. We don't have a schedule, or even a plan yet really. As long as the game is getting better every week, then we're happy. I guess that kind of makes us sound really naive, but we're having the time of our lives. For me, being in a tiny room helps make sure I stay very much in touch with that teeny tiny team vibe. It keeps you hungry and scared.
You say that it plays very differently to the console version, while keeping the feel of the original. How exactly does it work controls-wise?
I said earlier that we hate porting, and that's really true. I have totally immersed myself in iOS over the last few months. I honestly spend more time gaming on that than any other console.
I think games that people love on the iPhone have something in common, their controls are made for the device. Swiping in Temple Run, slashing fruit in Fruit Ninja or pulling back a catapult in Angry Birds are controls that are best on a touchscreen. I hate the virtual d-Pad, it never feels right to me. It feels like something that only exists to make porting games easier.
Joe Danger is a game with a lot of depth to the controls. We want to make very much an arcade game on your mobile. You swipe the screen to make Joe wheelie, you nudge him in the air to affect his gravity, you can flick a barrier out of the way, or wrestle with the shark in the shark tank. You have such control that levels that would be impossible on console are much easier on the touchscreen.
How easy/difficult was it to translate the game over to mobile? Were there any notable stumbling points along the way?
Well we started from scratch, our challenge was to make an iOS game that looks as good as a console title but runs at 60 FPS even on lower spec devices. For me, that's the fun part I think, that challenge.
Stevie and I always talk about the learning process. Like, learning to do these things is actually more important than the doing itself. Our big question now that we have tackled those problems is, what next?
Do you plan to release a smartphone version of the next Joe Danger, Joe Danger The Movie, too?
We honestly have no plans right now, until a few weeks ago we still weren't sure if we were fully committed to the project. Now we'll just have to see how PAX goes!
I don't think there has ever been a big console download title with a matching iPhone release to support it, so that's something we'd love to do between this iOS version and Joe Danger The Movie. We're going to show it to people for the first time today, and we'll see how they react. Really we're just looking for feedback.
You've previously worked exclusively with Sony and Microsoft, first on the release of Joe Danger for PSN, and then the special edition of Joe Danger for XBLA. Do you think we'll see more of this kind of thing happening with other studios who had previously signed exclusive deals with console providers?
I hope us doing this opens some doors for other developers, that would be a nice thought. There are some fantastic games on XBLA and PSN that I'd love to see on iPhone.
We remain a fairly independent studio at every stage, and we don't put too much thought into these things. We enjoy making games, and the iPhone is an amazing device. Wild horses couldn't have stopped us from playing around with it!
[Mike Rose originally wrote this article on sister site Gamasutra.]