This is the round-up from the Flash Game Developer Chat session we had last weekend with Matt and Tony from Flipline Studios. If you’d like to see the full recording of the chat (including the public chatter), you can find it here.
Other transcrips from our Flash Game Developer Chat series:
- What did you do before developing games?
- What are your educational backgrounds? How’d you get into the industry?
- How many people are working on the game?
- How did you specialize, who does what?
- Do you plan on expanding to more employees eventually?
- Do you keep in your schedule some time to learn new stuff, techniques, read books ? If yes in what % ?
- What would you like to do in the future? Small Flash game small team or join big team for big multi-platform project?
- What made you decide to make games for a living?
- Do you guys live “cozy” because of your careers (meaning are you just doing well)
- Did you feel the economic crisis?
- Do you guys do any iPhone games?
- Do you guys do multiplayer games?
- How do they deal with players drop out mid game?
- When I start a project I never know where to start ;)..any advice?
- Do you ever get tempted to abandon your current project if a better idea comes along?
- In terms of microtrans, achievements, or saved games, do you think there will be an API/service that will emerge on top?
- What type of actions do you take to mitigate cheaters
- How do you choose the sound effects and music for the games?
- Have you ever had to optimize for speed?
- Why do you not like programming with movie clips, is it strictly because of performance or design?
- What is your development environment? framework? programs? libraries?
- What server are you using for multiplayer?
- Do you put your games in front of a panel of players to test them before release?
- For each of you, what does your development box look like? (OS, IDE, Desktop Background etc.)
- What is the pricing like for the multi server?
- Have you used other services like cpmstar or heyzap, if so what is your experience with them?
- Is FlashDevelop easy to get used to coming from strict Flash environment development?
- Are you guys excited about cs5?
- What is your take on haXe?
- Ever considered console development?
- How do you get your beta testers?
- Any advice to build good sprite animation – what should be the ratio between code dev and animation graphic art ?
- What’s your philosophy on user input controls?
- How about tutorials vs instructions?
- If they are developing Remnants of Skystone “with” Kongregate, how is it working with a portal to make a game?
- First Remnants blog messages are from February 2008. Have they really put this much time making it? Do they make the game full time, or do they have “day jobs”?
- How much does Kongregate give ideas etc. about what they should do / How much they have freedom to do what they want?
- What was the reason they decided to make a PC game in between the Pizza games and this new MMO game.
- Has making Remnants of Skystone been easier/harder than you originally expected.
- Without the backing from Kongregate, would you guys have embarked on such a huge project?
- Has Kong been strict with timescales or did they kind of leave you to get on with it.
- How do you respond to claims that RoS item prices are so high to “force” players to buy Kreds to get “luxury / special” items or have to spend long periods of time grinding (not that this is any different from other MMOs)
- What was the most difficult part of making an MMO in Flash?
- What are the success criteria for RoS ? some numbers pz ;)
- What are your plans after RoS? Would you want to spend this much time on a single project again, or would you prefer to make several smaller games?
- Having spent so much time on RoS, will you take the game to other platforms once it’s done? XBLA? WiiWare?
- What kind of conversion rates are you seeing from Skystone? Is the game monetizing well?
- Did you submit RoS to IGF? Why/why not?
- When’s the game coming out?
- What are their future plans regarding basic stuff like micro-transactions and social media
- How would you compare Flash and downloadable casual game business.
- HOW successful was the Papa’s Pizzeria (numbers) etc.?
- What do they think sells best in flash MMOs ?
- Are you actively involved in any online game/flash developer communities? If yes, which are the more rewarding ones?
- How do you think the Driod will affect the iPhone market? (Probably too off topic)
- How do you manage the launch of a new game with marketing?
- Do you have any luck making money off international play? how about Asia?
- If you had one “protip” for wannabe indie developers, what would it be?
- What genres do you feel are the most successful to work on?
Tony: Web Design and 3D/2D animation.
Matt: We both have BFAs from the Cleveland Institute of Art, and started doing some game development ourselves from there. There wasn’t really an industry for web games at the time, so we did some other work before coming back to games with Papa Louie.
Tony: Just the two of us.
Tony: Matt has the edge on programming, so he ends up programming all of the games. I’ll do some but it’s sloppy, I usually stick to the graphics. Matt does some of the animation and graphics when he’s not busy programming though.
Tony: That would be nice, but not quite yet!
Do you keep in your schedule some time to learn new stuff, techniques, read books ? If yes in what % ? <sushi>
Matt: Not much lately since we’ve been swamped with our Skystone schedule, but as we need new solutions in Skystone we make time to learn (AS2 to AS3, etc.)
What would you like to do in the future? Small Flash game small team or join big team for big multi-platform project? <sushi>
Matt: Probably after Skystone we’ll do some smaller and medium-sized games again, who knows what’s in store after that though! We’ll also likely stick with web games, though we’re looking at the iPhone a bit.
Tony: When we found we could make a living from them! We made a few while in college prior to graduation in 2004, but at the time nothing like Mochi existed, and there weren’t many ways to bring in money from games at the time.
Do you guys live “cozy” because of your careers (meaning are you just doing well) <DigitalVizions_JG>
Tony: We are comfortable, of course we live in Cleveland.
Matt: Luckily we’ve been in the middle of Skystone production during everything, so we still had income. Ad revenue from our other games did take a dip though.
Tony: Not yet, although we are excited about the potential of compiling from Flash in the the upcoming version.
Tony: Skystone will be our first big multiplayer game.
With our Co-op missions, if a teammate drops out mid-game, the other player is notified and taken out as well. This is normally from connection problems and what-not. We try to pack in a bunch of incentives for finishing a mission though.
Tony: For us, sometimes we start with story and see what type of gameplay emerges. Sometimes we are dead set on a mechanic, and try to wrap a story around it.
Tony: We have a ton of game demos and prototypes that are sitting on the shelf, but not fully abandoned.
Do you plan on releasing the unfinished demos lying around? if not can you make them open source? <mike>
Matt: Once we have some free time again we’ll take a look at them and see what we should rework or release.
In terms of microtrans, achievements, or saved games, do you think there will be an API/service that will emerge on top? <onefifth>
Tony: Not sure, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Mochi though.
Tony: In past games, we knew what scores were impossible and tried to manage the highscore boards, but that’s a lot of work. In Skystone, we will have some moderator controls in the game soon, along with ways for us to internally moderate things.
Do you enjoy playing other games? <mike>
Tony: I used to ;) Haven’t had time lately. But I’m looking forward to Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks.
Matt: I’ve been enjoying Trine and Mario & Luigi 3 lately. I sadly haven’t been keeping up with Flash games as much lately, but I’m always up for some Fancy Pants, Space Game, Cyclomaniacs and Dolphin Olympics 2.
Tony: For Papa Louie and Papa’s Pizzeria, the sound was all developed by Matt. We have started to outsource/license sound and music for RoS though.
Tony: All the time. With RoS we do almost everything via a blitting engine. We stay away from movie clips and on-the-fly bitmap rotations and scaling to avoid speed issues.
Why do you not like programming with movie clips, is it strictly because of performance or design? <DigitalVizions_JG>
Tony: Performance. If we made a game like Papa’s Pizzeria again, we would probably feel comfortable with movie clips since there isn’t tons of action going on at once.
Matt: We use FlashDevelop for coding and Flash IDE mainly just to hold everything in the library. All of the engine work is made from scratch, aside from the SmartFox and Kongregate APIs.
Matt: We use Smartfox for multiplayer, and Java server-side.
Matt: We have a group of 4000 or so beta testers that have been playing and giving feedback, and I think we have another 4000 waiting in the wings which we’ll be letting in soon.
For each of you, what does your development box look like? (OS, IDE, Desktop Background etc.) <onefifth>
Tony: Windows Vista, Flash, Photoshop, Maya
Matt: Same here, plus FlashDevelop for coding. Dual-screen setups for both of us.
Matt: For the server itself they have prices on smartfoxserver.com, we’ve got Pro running on the servers but they have cheaper or free versions too.
Have you used other services like cpmstar or heyzap, if so what is your experience with them? <DigitalVizions_JG>
Tony: We haven’t used any ad services other than Mochi. For microtransactions we are currently working with Kreds on Kongregate, which is nice, but I’d like to see more payment options.
Is FlashDevelop easy to get used to coming from strict Flash environment development? <DigitalVizions_JG>
Matt: It’s great for coding, I’ve never tried publishing through it though (we still go back to Flash IDE for that). It’s worth it for formatting and code-completion and code-hinting though.
What is your average development time per game <DigitalVizions_JG>
Tony: Papa’s Pizzeria took 1.5 months to make, Skystone is taking about 24 months. So we have a pretty screwed average ;)
Matt: Definitely excited to see how the publish-to-iPhone pans out, hopefully the performance will be there in the final release. We skipped over CS4 so we’ll be looking forward to IKs and semi-3D at least when we upgrade :)
Matt: I haven’t really looked into it much, we’ve been getting by just fine with AS3 so haven’t really thought about it.
Tony: Always thought it would be cool to make a Wii or DS game, although we would have a lot of learning to do to pull that off.
You can sign up for beta testing on the Kongregate forums, you’ll just need a Kong account and reply on this thread:
We haven’t let any new testers in for a while, but we’ll let in more soon when we update the beta.
Any advice to build good sprite animation – what should be the ratio between code dev and animation graphic art ? <sushi>
Matt: Hmm, for us we animate the characters by hand, then export a sprite sheet of their final animation to use for the game. That’s maybe 70% of it for us, and the rest is code for walking/flight/gravity etc. We do have some larger multi-sprite enemies in RoS which are technically more code, though we have an animation editor for that so it’s a little of both I guess :)
Tony: Whatever works the best for the situation. We’ve done mouse-driven games and keyboard-driven games. Mouse is nice and immediate, keyboard gives you more options but involves teaching the controls a bit more.
Tony: As simple as humanly possible. Our ideal is as little text as possible.
If they are developing Remnants of Skystone “with” Kongregate, how is it working with a portal to make a game? <coollavagames>
Tony: It’s been great developing the game with Kongregate. They help by funding the project, and have worked alongside us to make sure that they have all the necessary backend APIs for us to work with.
First Remnants blog messages are from February 2008. Have they really put this much time making it? Do they make the game full time, or do they have “day jobs”? <coollavagames>
Matt: We actually started in October 2007, but we were busy working on preproduction and design docs for a while so we didn’t have anything blog-worthy until February. We’ve been working on Skystone full-time since then!
How much does Kongregate give ideas etc. about what they should do / How much they have freedom to do what they want? <coollavagames>
Tony: Kongregate gives us complete creative control over the project. We came up with Remnants of Skystone, pitched it to them, and they approved. Throughout development, they would test drive the game and give feedback, letting us know what was working and what wasn’t so clear, and give us ideas for improvements.
What was the reason they decided to make a PC game in between the Pizza games and this new MMO game. <Coollavagames>
Matt: We wanted to try something different, and test the water with casual download games. It’s a really hit-driven market, so you’re off the radar pretty fast, and it wasn’t very successful for us. So we’re back to web games :)
Tony: We never did a full-fledged MMO before, so it definitely was more challenging than we initially thought.
Tony: Without any type of backing, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to make a game as large as Remnants of Skystone.
Matt: They’ve been pretty open with timescales (we’re over a year past initial deadline after all!) — we have milestones scheduled, but it’s not a huge deal if we take longer, it’s more important to get the game feeling right.
How do you respond to claims that RoS item prices are so high to “force” players to buy Kreds to get “luxury / special” items or have to spend long periods of time grinding (not that this is any different from other MMOs) <nutter666>
Matt: For luxury items we do have the prices a bit higher, players were getting all of the goodies faster than we had planned :) for necessary gameplay items though (food, etc.) we try to keep them more accessible. We’ll also have some game updates to address food/HP issues too.
Matt: The sheer scale of the game was probably the most challenging part. Not only with the thousands of assets we needed to create for the game, but also making a big enough world to play in – and trying to deliver all of that through a browser and not rely on a hefty download.
Matt: I’d say if the income can cover our salaries so that we can keep working on Skystone, that’d be a good target at least.
What are your plans after RoS? Would you want to spend this much time on a single project again, or would you prefer to make several smaller games? <Marcus>
Tony: Right now we are definitely in the mood to make a few smaller games before tackling something of this scale again.
Having spent so much time on RoS, will you take the game to other platforms once it’s done? XBLA? WiiWare? <interrogative>
Tony: Beyond the browser would take quite a bit of reworking, so that isn’t anything we are looking forward to yet.
What kind of conversion rates are you seeing from Skystone? Is the game monetizing well? <Jellybean>
Matt: We don’t really have any figures to share, but we’re hoping to boost the conversion with some new features we’ll be rolling out soon.
Tony: We did last year, but it was in its early alpha state and didn’t get much notice. Only about 50% of the game was finished at that point, so it was a bit premature.
Matt: We’re shooting for sometime before the end of the year ;)
What are their future plans regarding basic stuff like micro-transactions and social media <coollavagames>
Matt: We’ll have microtransactions in Skystone, but as we’ve been working on the game we’ve also had ideas for other games with microtrans that we’d like to make, so it’s definitely something we’d like to continue. We’re also looking at social media gaming, but with things a little shaky with all of the Facebook changes we’ll be sitting back and waiting to see what happens :)
Matt: At least from our little experience, the casual download business is really hit-driven, and if you’re not at the top of the list your game gets passed over pretty quickly. With Flash games on the web, it seems games can have longer legs and get more exposure.
Tony: Papa’s Pizzeria did very well for us, and has had over 94 million ad impressions so far.
Tony: I think it depends on the player and how they enjoy the game. If it’s purely a social game, vanity items could do the best. If it’s an RPG, status-affecting items and what-not might do better.
Are you actively involved in any online game/flash developer communities? If yes, which are the more rewarding ones? <onefifth>
Tony: We are a bit lacking in that arena, although we try to stay active in Kongregate’s since we are in development with a game for that community.
Tony: We haven’t really touched the mobile market, but competition is good for both parties.
Matt: With Papa Louie and Papa’s Pizzeria we did some press releases and spread the word to a bunch of sites, with Skystone it’ll be a little different story since we’re not looking at wide distribution. We’ll definitely be doing a press release at least, not sure what else is in store yet.
Tony: Not so much Asia, but Mexico and South America enjoy the Pizza games.
Matt: Lots of fans in South America!
Matt: That’s a tough one.. Keeping ownership of your intellectual property is a big one for sure!
Tony: Hard to say. If I had my way it would be Action/Adventure, but Pizza Sims seem to blow those out of the water ;)