Dear readers, I’m happy to bring you our second of many Developer Spotlights. If you missed the first one, written by my lovely colleague Say, make sure you check that out too!
After becoming mildly obsessed with his excellent physics game AtomWorks (which I discussed here before), I had the privilege of exchanging pleasantries with the exceptionally talented and friendly Senad, founder of the (tentatively named) studio Martian Made Games. A graphic designer/animator/math wizard turned game developer, he is basically a modern day Renaissance man. I was able to ask him a few questions about his work and received some really excellent responses, and even some sneak peeks at the future of AtomWorks. Take a look!
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Senad, 30 years old, living in Zagreb, Croatia. Working as a graphic designer by day. At night I put on my cape and pretend I’m a game developer.
You mention on your blog that game development is something you’ve “always wanted to do.” What draws you to game design?
I’ve been doing game development for about two years and it’s been rejuvenating. It’s like everything I did professionally before was some kind of a training for a game development career. Very wax on / wax off situation.
My early education was very math focused but then I went to college where math isn’t important. I did some 3D modeling and animations but I didn’t specialize for anything. After that I got interested in motion design. I was good at it but then I started working full time, mostly doing technical vector drawings. All these skills turned up quite handy when I karate chopped my way into game development.
Great thing about game development is that I can do it all by myself. From the business side of things I can design a product, create it, market it and release it. It’s amazing how you can release a product to such a large audience with nothing but a cost of few software licenses. On the other side, no wonder it’s such a crowded market. If I can do it, then everybody is doing it. Good thing it’s a 80 billion dollar market.
I’m a big fan of the Deus Ex franchise, it does sci-fi really good. The first one was a masterpiece, very immersive, great story with rich setting. I really got into electronic music after playing it. The reboot was a pleasant surprise. It had some flaws with balancing and it clearly took a turn to mainstream but overall it was a good game.
Which games influenced you, and specifically AtomWorks?
AtomWorks is heavily influenced by a game I was developing before. It’s this epic sci-fi shoot’em up codenamed Landing of Colossi. Alien invasion themed, heavy on the story and narrative, a lot of motion cut scenes, three chapters of story with different gameplay style. Of course I didn’t finish the game, the amount of work was overwhelming.
AtomWorks was influenced by it in terms in needed to be exactly opposite of my previous attempt. It needed to be small game with minimal assets but high polish. Using skills I already have, overall very small but manageable for a one man team.
For visual inspiration I went back to my previous work, a short animation I did. It was the only work I’ve completed from my 3D graphics days. It was a simple animation but highly stylised. I’ve used that success to build the visual style of AtomWorks.
Colossal Grey Sunshine
It was crazy. I saw a popular post on Reddit asking about a good web game and I posted a short comment introducing AtomWorks and myself as the developer. Two hours later I was at a cinema with my girlfriend waiting for a film to start and proudly talking about my 500+ plays from Reddit. When the film started I didn’t want to be rude and check my phone every two minutes, but still I couldn’t get my mind off it. After two hours I got around 8000 plays and a Belgian movie that I still need to rewatch. That’s like 1000 times more than I’ve ever gotten (in the next few days it was more than 32k).
AtomWorks has a very distinctive atmosphere to it. How did you achieve the ambiance you did?
I guess it’s not how many effects you can put into a game, it’s about creating a good setting. In a game with a minimal number of assets, there is no noise and everything resonates more. Like the music – almost nobody notices that there are no sound effects in the game and the music really has space to develop and comes on really strong.Props to the author of course. It’s a licensed song from David Hughes (Ion – Future forever album). I get a lot of questions about it, I should probably put some credits in the game.
The game plays kind of like mini-golf with fireworks. What gave you the idea for such unique gameplay?
By setting a lot of restrictions. I wanted a game that plays well on the mobile. A game that I can play comfortably on my bus ride from work, with one hand, in portrait mode. To meet this restriction all the input had to be be at the bottom of the screen where it’s easy to reach.
Button functions had to be digital, only 1 and 0 and nothing in between so there is no chance for input errors. I also set the fixed button layout, player can’t choose from where to shoot, there are only six positions. So game was reverse engineered I guess – from thinking about how the game should be played first, basic gameplay was developed.
On your Facebook page, you posted some very cool concept art for a new AtomWorks mode. What can you tell us about Reactor?
Reactor is a big kinetic puzzle, loosely based on the old atom models with electrons orbiting the nucleus.
The goal is to direct one free electron and charge the ones that are orbiting. The player won’t have a direct control over the free electron, they have to guide it by placing various obstacles (blocks).
The Reactor also serves as a reward system for the existing levels. The better the player does in normal AtomWorks levels, the more blocks he gets to complete the Reactor mode. I wanted to give players something more than a Angry Birds-like 3-star rating system.
From the development part of it it really represents an interesting user interface challenge. The transition from one mode to another needs to be frictionless but on the other hand I don’t want to impose the Reactor mode on the players who don’t want to play it.
When you release the game for mobile, will you put it on both the App Store and the Google Play store? (Pleeeeease?)
Definitely. It’s coming to Android, iOS and Windows Phone. AtomWorks was designed for mobile from the start. I also don’t want to let down the web players so I’ll be keeping both versions updated. The plan is to release on mobile by Autumn 2014. But as I always extend my deadline I’ve set up an email sign-up for players who want to be notified by email for the mobile release.
I’m currently experimenting with some animations for the AtomWorks Reactor mode. I don’t have any fancy 3D skills so I’m compensating with a large number of simple geometric transformations. I think it shows in all my work.
I’m very open. I invite everyone who’s interested to contact me through twitter. It would be interesting to work with someone on a game project. I think I need more responsibility so I can follow my deadlines. This way I can only disappoint my mother and myself. I think a very small team of 3-5 people is perfect. Guys at Vlambeer seem to got it right – it’s a two man team with extra people on the side, doing very creative stuff.
Bonus: What is your favourite food?
There’s nothing more I enjoy than a Doner Kebab sandwich on a late Saturday night. I think it’s a perfect hangover food. Sometimes I go out for drinks just so I can have a Kebab later.
I like my toppings just as my game assets. Minimal.