In the first of a series of Q&As with iPhone app developers, GGUK talks with Insurgent Games about where they are going, where they came from and what it takes to be an iPhone app developer.
Insurgent Games, consisting of Micah Lee and Crystal Mayer, are an independent iPhone game development studio and they are responsible for unleashing Teh Internets: When Memes Attack upon the world. They also have Skeleton Key and Alphabet Blocks under their belts. GGUK had the opportunity to ask Micah a few questions about what it means to be an iPhone game developer. Here’s what he said:
Please tell us a little about yourself and your background
In high school I played a lot of computer games and, like many, wanted
to make my own. I took some computer science classes and learned C++,
taught myself about game development, bought a bunch of game design
books, and made some crappy DOS games.
I also dabbled in Photoshop, HTML, PHP, and MySQL a lot in high
school, and started doing freelance web development. I went to Boston
University for a year (majoring in photojournalism) and paid for it
with web design money, before I decided that college was tedious and
expensive, and I didn’t like having to wake up for classes, so I
dropped out. And since then I’ve been doing mostly freelance web
development, until I got into making iPhone games.
What made you start developing for the iPhone?
The big thing that stopped me from doing game development after high
school was being overwhelmed with the quality of new games coming out.
As a single programmer, there’s no way I could compete with Starcraft
or Half-Life, or any of the console games. Video games were such a big
business that you need a publisher and a big team and lots of startup
money to make a single game.
But then I started hearing about iPhone game developers making lots of
money on little puzzle games they made in their spare time after work
and ended up quitting their day jobs because of it. With iPhone games,
a single person (or small team) could actually make popular games that
lots of people will play! So I bought a MacBook, an iPod Touch, and
the domain insurgentgames.com and got busy learning iPhone
Popular media seems to be filled with people who have become rich overnight from developing for the iPhone. How is it working out for you?
Well I definitely haven’t quit web development yet. Profits from
Alphabet Blocks, Skeleton Key, and teh internets alone aren’t quite
enough to afford a studio apartment in San Francisco.
And is it as easy as we are told?
Yes and no. It’s easy enough that one person can make a pretty sweet
game in a couple of weeks, but it also ends up being a lot more work
than I expected. For someone with no programming experience, no
graphics experience, and no money to pay people to do that stuff for
you, it’s won’t be easy.
What did you find the most difficult about bringing your first game to the app store?
I had never used a Mac before, for one. And I hadn’t even heard of
Objective-C, which is the language that the iPhone SDK uses. The
biggest hurdle was getting up to speed with the tools I had to use. I
had heard of cocos2d-iphone, which is an open source game programming
library, but at the time it didn’t have the best documentation and was
pretty intimidating (I used cocos2d for the next big game, teh
internets). I ended up buying a book called iPhone Game Development.
Using a heavily-modified version of the framework supplied in that
book, my girlfriend Crystal and I pushed out Skeleton Key in about a
My biggest surprise there was that it hadn’t occurred to either of us
that we had to do marketing. We just expected that we could make a
game and people would buy it in the App Store. We sure were wrong.
Your games have quite a unique style, what inspired this?
I like to think of game design sort of like directing a movie. I start
with the look and feel I’m aiming for and make the game based on that.
So Skeleton Key is rustic and piratey, but completely different than
teh internets, which I hope feels like the chaos of the internet.
Teh Internets is a hilarious poke at internet culture, where did that come from?
Originally it was going to be more of an internet history game where
you fly through all the eras of the internet, starting with BBS’s,
then AOL, then Geocities, and onwards to today’s YouTube and Twitter.
But through the course of designing the game, I ended up sticking with
internet memes that are (mostly) modern. I wanted to feature ASCII
art, the roflcopter in particular, and pay tribute to just how
ridiculous the internet actually is.
While there are various joke apps in the App Store that contain
elements of internet culture, teh internets is the only one that’s a
complete and polished game.
And how long did it take from the initial idea to the finished product?
It took about 2 months, working on it part-time.
What are your plans for the future? New games? Expansion? Other platforms?
I’m working on a couple of new iPhone games right now. One is a
steampunk jetpack game that’s in very early development stages. The
other is a NES Zelda-esque adventure game where you play as a princess
on a mission to overthrow the kingdom. And of course I plan on
updating teh internets as new and hilarious memes hit the web.
Also I’m getting into Android development, and hoping to port some
games to that platform soon. I’m still at the newbie hurdle that I was
at when I started programming for the iPhone though.
Finally, if you could give one bit of advice to a would be iPhone game developer, what would it be?
Don’t get too obsessed with making money, and instead just try to have
fun and make good games. You won’t be wildly successful unless you get
really lucky, so try to motivate yourself by the promise of bragging
rights and helping people have fun, rather than loads of profits.
teh Internets: When Memes Attack