To wrap up the year, we're talking to the developers behind some of our favourite games of 2013.
Fireproof shot to Instant App Store stardom in 2012 when it released tactile puzzle game The Room
In this curious game, you poked and pawed at a gorgeous 3D box in an attempt to open it up and find out what was inside.
The answer? Not the chance to star in the next Peter Molyneux game, no.
Instead, we were left hanging until the very end of 2013 when Fireproof gave the world The Room 2
Since this sequel was one of our favourite games of the year, we chatted to Barry Meade - commercial director at the Guildford developer - about the development of both The Room
games, the success of The Room
, and why paid games can still work.Pocket Gamer: Everybody tells me that paid games are dead, and free-to-play is the only way to make a profit.
So, what do you think you're playing at releasing a game that costs money!?
Barry Meade: It's always a hard one, that. On the one hand, I know what the stats say and what the revenue models say. All the evidence, of course, suggests that free-to-play game devs are making all the money. And you can't really argue with that.
On the other hand, however, I can only really speak honestly about where we're coming from and what happened to us and the fact that the premium model has been good for us.
I would say that people need to think about how a structure on your game design is imposed on you via F2P simply because of the way players pay for the game.
And so you have to design a game where being interrupted by requesters or energy bars running out doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of the game - that's very difficult to do and it limits the kinds of games that you're actually able to make.
And while free-to-play is still going from strength to strength and the market is still growing, there are far too many game makers out there that are using that model and that makes all the games the same! Which makes it very difficult to stand out. Which makes it very difficult to make money.
Iif your team is particularly good at making games and that's what you think will give you some headroom, then why not consider paid? Because you're still going to stand or fall on the quality of of your software, but you're going to have much less competition.
It's not a compete answer, I know, but I'm not convinced at all by the other answer that 'there's only one model'. It doesn't make sense. Doesn't add up.I know that Fireproof does environments and assets for big console games. Surely that helps?
Oh, no, we used
to until The Room
. We don't do it any more.
While we were making The Room 2
, we were finishing off Killzone
- we were building the multiplayer maps on PS4 and also on Vita. So, a lot of our guys were tied up doing that while Mark and Rob were on The Room 2
for most of the year.
By the end of the summer, we got most of the team working on The Room 2
to get it finished in the last few months for Christmas.
So, doing assets and environments was definitely helpful; of course it was. While we were working on The Room
, our outsourcing effectively paid for it to be made. It was the same with The Room 2
. With the sequel, we had made enough money off the first game we could basically keep the company going for a year anyway.
By the time we had finished outsourcing at the end of this summer, we knew that we were alright and we didn't have to do it any more, so we stopped.With The Room 2, you made the decision to open it up to entire rooms, instead of just one box.
Was there any worry that players might get lost or overwhelmed by having so much to do?
Yeah, of course. We're complicating the gameplay, so it required a slightly different way of thinking about things. We had to think a lot more about the flow of the levels so the difficulty didn't spike too much. That would have made the game more difficult to play because you're effectively asking the player to spin more plates.
So, yes, that was absolutely a concern and we did a lot of playtesting internally. We were always playing the builds at work and at home in order to smooth all of that out, but a lot of this stuff is just good feeling. It's your best guess - there's no science to it, particularly.My colleague Harry thinks The Room 2 is easier than the original, but I think it was a little harder.
What were you going for?
I think we were a little bit more okay with making some bits difficult in a way we weren't the last time. That's because we assumed that most of our players will have played the first game.
There are certain parts of the game where you might get stuck, and maybe we didn't panic quite so much as we would have the first time around.
But you said it yourself there: puzzle games are a curious thing. Nobody has the same experience with a puzzle game, because so much depends on how the player's brain works and how her personality works. And there are some people out there who are just amazing at puzzle games.
It's a bit less objective, so what we really have to do is aim for the centre - that's really the only thing we can do. For every player who says the game is too easy, we get another saying it's too hard.We've done a walkthrough for the game, and we're delighted with the number of people using / reading it.
I wondered how you feel about having tens of thousands of your players just Googling for the answers.
It's up to them! When I buy a game, I own it, so I don't give a shit about the developer. Ir doesn't bother us at all, and everybody has her own way of playing.
I do it myself. I go to Google and I go to GameFAQs if I want to get through a game. I try not to, and I don't do it a lot, but I still do it and I certainly don't feel like I'm getting less value for money by doing it or whatever.
And it's nice for things to be difficult sometimes. There's nothing actually wrong with that. By pushing against those boundaries constantly, you're going to get areas that are too hard for somebody. It doesn't necessarily mean that you've done it wrong; you're just going to have a certain number of players who would get stuck in places you'd never imagine.
100 people will line up and tell you that was ridiculously easy, and then you get an email from someone going, "I'm totally stuck in this bit." This happened all the time to us, but all our players experience our games individually and they think everyone has the same experience. Not so.I'm sure you came up with some interesting ideas to mix up the gameplay for the sequel. I was wondering if you could tell me about anything that was left on the cutting room floor because it didn't quite work.
There wasn't anything, actually. It pretty much played out as we wanted.
Our biggest concern was having to cut content to get the game finished for Christmas. You might have noticed that it's only out on iPad, and that will tell you how close we were to missing our Xmas objective. We had to drop the iPhone version, which was terrible. But we had to make sure that the iPad version was as good as it could be.
As far as the game content goes, though, it was more of a case of when we tried something and it didn't work particularly well, we just worked on it until we made it feel right.You told us before that the first Room game was inspired by the puzzle box in Hellraiser.
Were there any inspirations from films for the rooms in the sequel?
No. All of that stuff - the Lovecraft influence, the Victorian influence - is from the same research that we did a year ago for the first game. The new areas are just the stuff we like to do. The worlds we like to investigate.What about games? Were there any puzzle games that had an impact on the development of The Room?
When we originally did The Room
, or when we just had the idea for it, it was the marriage of physics and puzzles that made the idea seem interesting to us.
I remember that Mark really loved games like World of Goo
and I love Cut the Rope
. They both have some sort of weight or physics to them in the gameplay. This means they have a little bit of a twist, and are a bit more pleasant to play. It's as if the software is a bit more alive.
Hidden object games do really well. We didn't really look at any of those, or replicate them, but a lot of similar tropes are there, so a lot of people who like those games like our games and vice versa.
Broadly, there wasn't anything that directly influenced it, but Zen Bound
was always an influence back in the day, as that's a physics-based 3D puzzle game.There's more of a storyline in this one. How much of the narrative was known at the start of the project, and how much did you make up as you went along?
I think we certainly did that with the first game, because we're very much led by the gameplay. That dictates the shape of everything else: the interface, the audio, the mechanics. It all comes from the basic design of the puzzles and the storyline is another factor in that.
So, we're trying to create a mood and an atmosphere for the game world, and the story is there to add to that and give it a slight bit of meaning. I would never say that we're a story-driven game developer or we have a proper narrative. It's very much there for flavour.
We have somewhat of an idea about what to do with the world and what it means and where it's coming from and where's it's going. We know more than the player does and it hasn't been revealed yet, really.That sounds like you have plans to do more The Room games. I know this one has a definitive ending, but are there more on the way?
I'd say talk to us next year. I would certainly say that we're not done with The Room
universe yet. As to when we'll get back to it, well, that's a different thing.So, you want to do something different next?
We basically want to make another game next year, yes. And we're certainly going to investigate doing another The Room
As to whether or not we actually go into production with one, we'll have to wait and see.Most of the guys at Fireproof came from Criterion. What did you learn from smashing up cars at extremely high speeds that would go on to help you make The Room? If anything!
One lesson we always took from Burnout
was this: even when you failed, it was fun. Even if you crashed, you got some pay-off for sparking out in the middle of a race which would otherwise be completely tedious.
That was taken to its natural conclusion with Paradise
. There, you got scored on your crashing. Revenge
, meanwhile, had a gameplay element where you could steer the crash to cause more destruction.
That's a lesson in keeping the player interested and giving her good feedback all the time to let her know that she's not just wasting her time or spinning her wheels trying to battle through a game. Keep it consistently fun or interesting all the time.
Another thing would be just to focus on what you're trying to do with the game. What do you think the centre of the game is? Or what the most important part of it is? Concentrate on that almost to the detriment of all other parts of the game.
Try not to get distracted by other expectations or things that other developers are doing. Focus is essentially the key. And the ability to edit.How did The Room do in the end? How many billions of copies did you sell of it?
Billions! That would be nice. We have sold 2 and a half million copies of The Room
.Wow. I was just reading up on the sales figures and it was 1.4 million last time I checked.
Yeah. It's gone up. Up to about six and a half million downloads altogether if you include the free iPhone version.And how about iOS vs Android and working with those different systems and services and shops?
Which did you prefer?
Well, iOS is simpler. Everyone would tell you that just because there aren't as many devices and that's what it comes down to really. You have to do a lot more testing on Android. That's pretty laborious - you find yourself spending all kinds of time and money on trying to fix things.
It's not like Android devices are more difficult to test on or are more prone to crashes than Apple devices; it's just there are more of them. Which is why we end up doing the Android version later than the iOS one.
Some Android users get really disappointed by that, and think it's because of some sort of Apple fanboyism. Of course, though, it's an entirely practical decision, I'm afraid. It's just a business decision.The Room 2 will be out on Android and iPhone in early 2014.