Posted by Kamma Thordarson | 4 comments
Exclusive interview with Dexoris founder
Welcome to our first ever TechHaze interview, the first of many. Stay tuned, because we have much more coming up!
The 50 million of us lucky enough to have iPhones spend a good deal of time playing games on them, especially when two iPhoners meet where there is wireless internet. Whether or not we look silly is not a question worth answering, where these games come from, however, is. We interviewed a slightly geeky 22 year old Icelander named Jóhann Þorvaldur who recently joined the world of iPhone game creators and asked him about his creative process and what software was essential to it.
TH: So Jóhann, who are you and how did you get into making iPhone computer games?
JÞ: I am a man who discovered the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower out of metal and brawn. That’s the kind of man I am. I also have a B.Sc in Mathematics from The University of Iceland and felt so exhausted that I decided to try to do something ridiculously creative. So I founded the game development studio Dexoris, that currently focuses on iPhone and iPod touch games. We have released two titles to critical acclaim: the harrowing sheep herding adventure of Peter und Vlad and Audio Puzzle, the game that reinvents the jigsaw puzzle and allows you to rediscover your music collection through engaging game-play.
TH: How do you get your ideas?
JÞ: Before I started working on games I hadn’t realized that the easiest part of the whole game creation process is getting an idea. We were obviously looking for the next big thing, so I started writing down every idea I got; every dream that I remembered and every mundane thing that I felt might be interesting. My mantra was that every little thing was potentially important and as a result I got most of my ideas sitting in a bus on my way to work. There is an very interesting palette of people who accompany you for a short time every day and they just get my creative juices flowing.
This idea process quickly filled up a small notebook and I discovered that the really difficult thing about ideas is the part where you sift through the sprawling ideas and try to spot the great ones amongst the ordinary ones. I think that everyone gets a lot of interesting ideas but it takes a lot of skill and practice to recognize the good ones. My current rule of thumb is that if it is hard to explain your idea then you should probably think harder.
TH: How many people work together?
JÞ: When we were developing Peter und Vlad, we had a team of 5; two programmers, a graphic designer and two marketing experts that also served as game designers. In a small company like Dexoris, you quickly realize that it is necessary for everyone to be able to change roles, – we talk about wearing a lot of different hats – so while I am mostly in charge of game design and programming, I’m also responsible for the music and sound effects, script writing, the marketing material and even editing the promotional videos. I have therefore become quite the juggler as I juggle these different roles from day to day.
TH: What technology / software do you use?
JÞ: We decided to focus on the rapidly growing iPhone platform so we obviously had to use Apple computers and software. When we started out we shamelessly acknowledged the fact that although we had good experience in software engineering, marketing and design, we didn’t know anything about the creation of computer games. We therefore decided to start by choosing the right tools that would allow us to bypass most of the solved problems, such as how to draw an image on the screen or play a sound file, and allow us to focus on the things that made our game special. After a brief search we found Cocos2D, an excellent framework for creating 2D games for the iPhone and iPod touch, that served as a thin layer that encapsulated all the stuff that we didn’t need to learn yet.
Peter und Vlad took approximately 3 months to develop and market and we couldn’t have done it so quickly without the use of Cocos2D, as then I would have had to reinvent the wheel over and over again, and I simply like the wheel as I discovered it in the prehistoric era.
TH: Is making computer games difficult?
JÞ: Studying mathematics is really difficult so I thought that I was prepared for anything, but the process of creating games still took me by surprise as it is genuinely difficult! There are so many layers of expertise needed to succeed and the level of complexity grows very quickly. It is, however, a very giving and enjoyable process as it allows you to put to use much of the seemingly useless stuff you learned in college/university.
TH: Is there a major difference between your two games? What is new about your game?
JÞ: Although our games have some things in common, for example a high level of polish and instant playability, they are quite different beasts as they originate from two different design principles. In Peter und Vlad, we wanted to create a small, narrative heavy, arcade game that would allow us to get a feel for the whole process of creating games; from a simple idea to the complex implementation that involves the creation of an artificial intelligence, composition of music, level design and play testing.
With Audio Puzzle we had a more focused goal as we wanted to create a game that turned your music collection into game-play; i.e. allowed you to experience familiar music in a new and exciting way. So we created Audio Puzzle, the world’s first musical jigsaw puzzle! Instead of using boring panoramas to create the jigsaw puzzle, the game uses the tracks from your iPod library and therefore allows you to rediscover your music.
TH: Are you planning to make real videogames later?
JÞ: What is a real videogame? One that has a budget of millions of dollars? One that is created by a team of 60? There are approximately 50 million iPhone and iPod touch users in the world. This is a market of approximately the same size as the Nintendo Wii or Playstation 3 market but has the advantage of requiring no distribution costs and the user can immediately reach our product. I would say that a game developed for the iPhone is just as real as a game developed for the XBox or PC. This is just a question of scope and focus. We surely intend to grow and create more games, and as we grow and learn, we’ll be able to expand our scope and attempt to execute more ambitious ideas. Currently we are proud of creating small games that achieve their goal of providing short burst of entertainment to your phone.
A big thank you to Jóhann Þorvaldur for finding some time to answer these questions!
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