Blobster developer explains how to create an iOS game with mainstream appeal

Jul 22, 2011

For my money, the best iOS games are simple, accessible, and to be played within a minute or two of download. This is the genius of the new Chillingo hit Blobster, which is available for 99 cents on the iPhone and $1.99 on the iPad. As Appolicious Advisor Andrew Koziara explains in his video review, […]

For my money, the best iOS games are simple, accessible, and to be played within a minute or two of download. This is the genius of the new Chillingo hit Blobster, which is available for 99 cents on the iPhone and $1.99 on the iPad.

As Appolicious Advisor Andrew Koziara explains in his video review, “The animation of your character is great. Most levels take anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to complete, unless you keep dying like I do when I go for 100% completion. The bonus stages are tons of fun though.”

In this week’s Game Theory, we learn how Blobster developer Divine Robot goes about developing mainstream games of the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

“We knew we were on to something good,” explains Divine Robot Creative Director Henrik Johnson, “when my friend’s 4-year old boy, 15-year old daughter and my mother simultaneously all sat immersed in the game at the dinner table.”

Johnson also discusses the Blobster Remote feature in the HD version, his hope and believe independent developers will always have a place in the app economy, and the steps his company takes to “avoid creating a generation of gamers with repetitive strain injuries.”

Appolicious: How is Blobster different than any other platformer available for iOS devices?

Henrik Johnson: The most obvious difference is in my opinion the control system. With the slingshot mechanic we feel we have managed to create an intuitive interface for the main character that is native to the touch experience. As retro-cool as it would be to hook up an old TAC-II to the iPhone, trying to emulate a stick or D-pad control with onscreen controls is kind of like tying reins to the steering-wheel of a fancy new car!

On a second note, and this is highly subjective of course, I think we have managed to impart some of that innocent retro-platformer feeling from our youthful days with classic Commodore titles as a big inspiration. Partly this might be due to the fact that old platform games – I’m talking real old-school here – like Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner, had me wanting to create a game of my own for the last 25 years. Finally it happened and we are delighted with the reception in the gaming community so far!

APPO: Who is your target audience?

HJ: My personal taste in games has me longing for universal appeal – not just for marketing reasons – but because I think great games should instantly communicate and resonate with anyone that picks them up.

I am too old and lazy to get into a game where the control system and game mechanics require days of study and practice. That is too much like work for me! That being said, it is very impressive to watch real hardcore gamers do their thing. I have a couple of friends who are deeply into strategy games – it is fantastic to watch them play, even though I would never want to do their thing myself! As for Blobster, we knew we were on to something good when my friend’s 4-year old boy, 15-year old daughter and my mother simultaneously all sat immersed in the game at the dinner table.

APPO: What are the distinctions between the iPhone/iPod touch and iPad versions of the game?

HJ: Aside from the graphics all being native to each device, the main difference on the iPad is the “Blobster remote”.

During beta testing we were noticing many players wanting to hold the iPad with both hands, like a steering-wheel. This makes it strenuous for those with smaller hands to reach in with their finger to stretch Blobster.

Since we want no part in creating a generation of gamers with repetitive strain injuries we put a stretchable controller at the edge of the screen which can be placed left or right depending on what hand you prefer to use! Of course players can still stretch Blobster directly, just like on the iPhone, but now there is an extra convenience-layer of control in there too. This is again part of the philosophy to make each control system native to the device it is running on.

APPO: Are there any plans to bring the title to Android devices? If so, when? If not, why not?

HJ: Quite a few people have been asking for an Android-Blobster, and although I cannot confirm anything at the present moment, it is something we are looking into. From my personal perspective, I would love to see Blobster on Android!

APPO: Less than two weeks into launch, what marketing channels are you seeing as the biggest driver of downloads of the game?

HJ: First of all, with the ever-growing number of available titles in the App Store, I still think the most crucial thing is to have a great game that people love to play.

Secondly, Chillingo is expertly helping us get the word out about Blobster. They have done a fantastic job, and my personal impression, the major influence for getting downloads is exposure in the App Store itself. If you have only one of these two you might fail completely – there are many examples of great games that get buried, and equally there are quite a few heavily marketed subpar titles that never yield a decent return on investment either.

APPO: How do you anticipate driving downloads over time?

HJ: I think it is important to keep expanding your offering through frequent updates and by adding new and exciting content. We are a small indie studio, and this helps us keep an ear to the ground. We are actively listening to our user base, and we are already in production with several great new features and expansions for Blobster. We try to view our games as services rather than products. A service suggests an ongoing process that we are offering people, rather than the static finality of producthood: “Signed, sealed, delivered. It’s yours” to paraphrase Stevie Wonder.

APPO: In your opinion, what are the most important attributes that drive a hit game?

HJ: That is the big question, isn’t it? I think there are many different driving attributes for different kinds of hit games. The driving attributes for a FPS will be very different than the ones driving a Facebook-game!

Some of the things we think are important pertaining to the niche we are in with Blobster is universal appeal, accessibility, easy-to-understand-but-hard-to-master mechanics. Slick gameplay, smooth scrolling and a control system that becomes so natural to use that it feels transparent. A strong character-driven environment that allows people to fall in love with the character is another big thing for us.

I will leave it to others to judge how well we have managed to do any of those things, but we gave it all we had and people seem to be responding well to it!

APPO: What are the three biggest aspects of the mobile gaming space today that are keeping you up at night?

HJ: The main things keeping me up at night are my two baby girls who were born just before the launch of Blobster! They are an excellent anti-dote to worrying about mobile gaming.

If there is anything that keeps me up concerning the mobile gaming space, it is thinking about new ideas for games, that is a favorite pastime of mine!

On a more serious note, it is my keen hope that as the app market matures, the horizontal and democratic structure of the current situation will be maintained. It would be sad to see the indies pushed into the periphery in favor of the big brands like in the 1990’s. I am an optimist at heart though, and I think things are looking tremendously fun and exciting for the future. I can’t wait to see what awesome ideas the gaming-community will come up with next!

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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