Headcase Games – Ron Alpert Talks With Jorge Murphy About One Eighty On Android, iOS And Beyond
Hello and welcome back my fellow Old School Junkies..! This morning I have a special treat for your weekend read. The head man in charge over at Headcase Games, Ron Alpert, was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to speak with me.
Most of the time we only see a game or a company logo when we purchase our games, but, here at Old School Junkie, we like to speak with the people that actually create those games. So sit back grab your cup of coffee, orange juice or what ever your beverage of choice is and enjoy the conversation Ron and I had exclusively for our retro and Indie community.
Jorge: Hi Ron, how are you today? Hope all is well.
Ron: Pretty good Jorge, thanks for asking! Thursday night, chilling out with a Guinness and preparing to do some work touching up my websites to promote my latest release, which is barely a couple of days old..
Jorge: I know from our talks, that you’ve needed some serious rest so I hope your energized enough to answer a few questions for our readers here on OldSchoolJunkie.com. They will appreciate it, I promise.
Ron: Not a problem! Actually, one of my favorite parts of this job is actually speaking to the press and especially the people who are fans of the games I make. I know it sounds a little trite, but when you spend so many hours pouring your heart and soul into all the little details, it really means a lot when you get to actually connect with the people who appreciate that.
It’s been a while since we last spoke, so I’m wondering how’s everything going with 180 on iOS?
Ron: It’s going alright! It’s been quite a roller coaster, some serious highs and lows for real. I’ll be straight with you – I’ve spent way more money making this game then I’ll ever see from it, probably, and it is a bummer in some ways. I’m obviously not in this “just to make money,” but I do want to be able to afford to keep doing it (and to make larger, more elaborate projects, of course). Dealing with “The Apple System” can be trying at times (so much of a tiny independent’s success depends on their whim) and of course there’s a thousand other things to deal with when trying to develop and promote small projects like this. Overall I am very happy that our game has resonated with so many people, received some wonderful press, and led to a bunch of very close “near-brushes with big-time success” so far. It makes me realize that I am doing the right thing, so long as I can manage to stay on the right track then good things will come in due time.
I’ve noticed a big push for the iOS version of 180 over the past year, how has the indie community as a whole responded to 180 now that it’s been out for quite a few months?
Ron: That’s a little tough to say. I’ve got quite a bit of respect from other independent developers, because I do really put myself out there and have a lot to say. I appreciate the community, we are all in this together and it’s much easier when you are sympathetic to one another rather than trying to close each other out – there’s so much to learn from and share with each other, and it seems more often than not we can only benefit from it. As for the indie fan community, it gets a little tough (when you don’t have a constant stream of products releasing, it becomes difficult to maintain visibility) but we’ve earned ourselves some die-hard fans in the couple of years this thing has been going. Again, it feels amazing to connect with people in that way and know that they are truly excited because of the work that you do.
Do you consider 180 for iOS a success from either a financial view, popularity view or both?
Ron: As mentioned, 180 has been a money-losing situation, and there’s a bit of politics to it which probably isn’t much of a shock. It’s low-tech, it’s a puzzle game, it released amidst a flurry of much higher-profile titles. The saving grace is that it is a very solid package, and it has some extremely tight old-school game play which really plays to the strength of the platform it’s on (multi-touch screen) in a way I still haven’t seen many other games of it’s type even come close to. I think people realize this, probably mostly subconsciously, but I get a lot of remarkable feedback from people who say “I just can’t stop playing it” even months after they’ve got this little game. In a lot of ways it is worth more to me than a big paycheck would be if I just ripped off something popular and re-skinned it..
Jorge: I thank you for “not” making another carbon copy game with a shiny new skin on it and going the original route with 180.
From my time with both the iOS and Android versions of 180, in my opinion, 180 is a game that’s a must for any iOS or Android mobile device owner. Let’s talk a bit more about the Android version.
Ron: Well, there is a lot to say on the matter. I will admit that for the longest time, I regularly received requests from people “port it, port it” (including my own girlfriend “there’s no good games on Android, port it”) and only when it did finally make sense to approach that, did I jump on it. In hindsight, I am glad we did because the new game looks AWESOME and it’s got me very excited about where we can go from here.
How was the learning curve transitioning from developing on iOS to the Android platform?
Did you have to learn JAVA or was that something you already had expertise in or from looking at the credits, did you bring someone in for coding?
Ron: Ummmm, I’m still in the middle of it! Development-wise, it was fairly easy. I worked with a different programmer who had released some apps on the platform already – in fact, at our first meeting when I was interviewing him, he showed up with an extremely rough (but already playable) mockup of the game running, so I knew this was the guy! Dealing with him has been excellent, he’s passionate and lightning-fast so a good chunk of the hardest elements of development was cake in that regard. As for my duties, well I had to rebuild all the assets and the interface, and since I had recently done it all, it was nice to be able to approach it as a “version 2.0” sort of thing. I didn’t want to stray from what worked by going to far out, so we just polished everything, dramatically improved the presentation, and worked hard to try and fix some of the biggest problems with the iOS game (UI/shell, tutorial stuff).
I worked with another guy – a former Neversoft employee like myself actually, although we were there at different times and on different projects. Hey, it’s a small world, what can I say?
How’s your experience been developing for the Android OS?
Ron: It was fairly quick and clean because we learned so much from the release of the previous iPhone game, and there weren’t too many heady issues to tackle. That’s not to say it was “cake,” there’s always unknowns that pop up in every project, great and small. I knew there would be difficult things that would pop up unexpectedly (and now, just past release, we are certainly getting hit with a few of them!) But to be honest, working with Android, although kind of heartbreaking at times, is ultimately very exciting and I’d love to release more software for it very soon (hint, hint)
Was it an issue with making 180 for Android? Considering the fact that there are so many different versions of the Android OS out on the market?
Ron: Oh, boy, well there’s the number one roadblock as far as why many iPhone developers “really do not want to bother” with the Android platform. It’s a little staggering how many different phones there are out there that run this thing, and worse yet is the knowledge that your user base thinks “I have an Android phone, so I should be able to run everything with that label on it!” Well, this will be true, if you are making a text-based game, because otherwise… At any rate, we got hit hard on iPhone when we released 180 because the visuals, while solid, were not exactly inspiring when one viewed them in a screenshot – they really made it hard to sell the game, and we knew that was going to be one of the top priorities when we took this second chance. Going for high-resolution graphics immediately means you are cutting out all the people with the lower-end phones, and they will give you a tough time about it. Sorry guys – if I could make a low-resolution version of the game I would (if I get enough people requesting it, I will make it happen! It’s up to you guys, now)
Jorge: So there you have it, you heard it hear first. If you want to see a low resolution version of 180 for your older device, you better get on your social networks and gather your friends, download the current version now and make your voice be heard.
Is 180 for Android compatible with tablets running 3.0 Honeycomb?
Ron: Should be! I am ashamed to admit we didn’t get to test it on too many different devices, but enough to know that the higher-end and new devices should be cake. Anyway I haven’t heard otherwise yet (in fact, though I have yet to see it myself, I hear it looks amazing on tablets).
Jorge: I noticed something on my HTC running the latest Android 2.3.3 Gingerbread.
When I’m playing a game the top of the screen where the title is has blank space on the left and right side of the title. I know this is probably a small detail and it doesn’t effect the game or game play at all.
Is this supposed to look like this or is this something that your not aware of and can be patched?
Ron: Yeah, the top segment of the screen is treated differently than the rest of the display (it’s running a different resolution actually). This is because of the way the advertising integration works. I haven’t seen this particular issue before but I was expecting it – I’ll see if there’s something that could be done, but I won’t be surprised if it is not an easy fix based on what I have heard.
Jorge: Other than that, the visuals are very pleasant on the eyes. The music and sound effects are as I remember them on the iOS version, great job.
Ron: That’s great to hear! I spend a lot of time pouring over the graphics presentation, it’s really one of the most important selling points in a game like this (likewise, it must be designed properly to support the game play, otherwise the game won’t “feel” right and end up frustrating the player). Otherwise, I knew we needed to upgrade things (individual backgrounds for each character, better-looking shell). I wanted to redo the character art as well, we had a very tight memory budget in the first game but this time there was a lot more leeway. I brought in my buddy Paul who has worked for years in television animation (Family Guy, King of the Hill, lots of other shows) to handle that stuff and I think he did an excellent job!
Jorge: On the main options screen there’s a progression bar that seems to be filling up the more I play the game. It says “Play more to unlock content & remove ads!”
Can you elaborate some more on this feature?
Ron: Yeah, well, this is the big “gimmick” to this game! We released on iOS and had a hard time selling “another puzzle game,” although there were a lot of people interested to see what it was about. When we put it out for free temporarily, we’d get MASSIVE downloads – like, hundreds of thousands of units. It was great and awful at the same time, but I knew we were onto something there. I don’t want to get too far into the nuts and bolts of it, but I knew our game had to be free (the full version) and I knew it had to be monetized somehow. It was all over the news last fall that Angry Birds was making way more money through ad revenue alone than it ever could make buy straight-up selling. Of course it’s ridiculous for most any other game to even compete in those terms, but if someone could even get even a tiny percentage of that cut, than it would be a success.
Most importantly, I wanted to try something that hadn’t been done yet. Take a good game, which research showed “the average joe” would consider addictive – make it look good, fill it up with features, and then offer it for free, with one hitch. It had to exist as a paid version (to assign a value to it) and then the Free game had to unlock to that, so the customer would feel like they were “getting something of worth.” There’s plenty of good free games, but if you want this whole experience unfettered than you’d need to buy it right away. And if you just want the free one and don’t mind it being feature-stripped, then you’ll have generate me a little advertising revenue. People hate how those ads infringe on their game play experience, so guess what? Play my game for a “reasonable amount of time,” and I’ll give you all the milk for free without “buying the cow!”
This scheme actually doesn’t work if we don’t get some MASSIVE download numbers, and odds are we won’t, but I already tried the “traditional route” the first time around and was very unhappy with the results. It seems that people really are talking about what we are doing this time around. One thing’s for sure, this particular method might not make me rich, but it could definitely make someone quite rich..! If it does work out, I am happy to make all my future games this way, to be honest. That way the customer is happy and I am happy, everyone wins.
Jorge: The concept seems to be a sound idea, I hope it turns out to be a good option for you. So far it hasn’t effected my game play “at all” and now, I have something to work towards within the game. All while we support you and your advertisers. It’s a win, win, win situation..!
Those who game on iOS are used to seeing Open Feint for stats, buddy lists and achievements as the norm, I’ve only just started to see a handful of games offer this client integration on some Android games.
Do you like using Open Feint as your definitive social overlay program?
Ron: It certainly adds a lot to the experience. I am very thankful for what partnering with them gets us, and while there are some issues to address (as with anything in this business), I think they are doing an excellent job and was pleased when I heard they were available on Android. I see big things for them down the road and look forward to working with them again!
Jorge: Now that your awesome game is out on both iOS and Android.
Do you have any future plans on porting 180 to any other platforms?
PSN Minis, XBLA Indie Games or the Wii’s WiiWare titles?
I think those platforms would be so perfect for 180 and I don’t think it’s 100% necessary to be a touch screen only game. There aren’t that many high quality puzzle games that can be both casual and challenging. But, I’m not a programmer and am only speaking from a gamer side of things.
Ron: When I get asked a question like this, my knee-jerk response is “uh-uh, no way buddy” but to be honest, with the future plans I have for this game, it could work. I’ll just say that we have a casual mode on the boards for a potential future update to 180 – while the existing modes would be quite complex to bring over to a different platform, I think a casual version (as I envision it) would work fairly perfectly on those platforms.
Ron Alpert: I think I have you to thank for giving me that idea!
Jorge: Really..!? I’m honored. I could easily see myself sitting back on the couch and playing an addictive game like 180.
On closing, would you like to tell our readers anything else about 180 for Android or future projects coming from Headcase Games?
Ron: Yeah, there’s definitely a lot more to this story, but I will be keeping it on the DL for now. I am still loving every minute of working on this game and if there’s success with the Android version, you can look forward to some awesome updates. Not just aesthetic tacked-on stuff, but enough to merit a whole new game. I am sitting on a lot of stuff which, as a gamer and designer, are very exciting to consider and I will be very disappointed if we don’t go forward with them. Like I said before, it’s up to you guys to make this happen. Get us up on the charts, make 180 a classic and there’s a lot of fun to be had with this property yet.
As for iOS, well we now have a whole new bundle of assets just sitting here, and I am thinking it would be great to bring that version of the game up to speed with the Android. The programmer and I have talked about it, and though we are both lukewarm on the idea for many reasons (could be a money-losing proposition), I would be surprised if it didn’t surface sooner or later. If Android does well then it’s a no-brainer. If Apple decides to give us some love then the same. In the meantime, I have to concentrate on what’s next…
and that is..
Jorge: Yes..? Yes..?
Jorge: ugh…! your killing me..lol
Ron: Well, longtime readers of my blog get little hints here and there about what is stewing, sometimes mentioned by name. For the short term, I am beginning another Android project (brand-new) which, while actually smaller in scope and simpler than 180, is still interesting and will be a pretty fun arcade game which makes good use of the interface. That project is really the lead-in for the next “bigger” game I have in mind, something which I know will be a big hit really; it will look awesome, it will be very easy to sell, and it will finally get Headcase Games in to the big time, if I can pull it off. One thing at a time.. anyway, I’m excited.
Jorge: On closing, I’d like to personally thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and really appreciate the continued support. You’ve continued be a good friend to me and Old School Junkie. I can’t wait to see what else you have in mind for the mobile markets and wish you continued success.
Ron: It’s always great to talk to you, Jorge, and it means a lot to me when journalists and websites “get” what I am trying to do and want to do their part to help me along. I regret that I don’t spend more time being one-on-one with the other side other than the occasional twitter shout-out, but it’s just because I am realllllly busy! As I mentioned, I am fairly transparent about what is going on with Headcase over in our somewhat-regularly-updated blog, so if you haven’t heard a peep outta me in some time then head over there for some juicy goodness. There’s a rumor going around that I may be starting up a podcast soon, as well.
Jorge: I look forward to the future of Headcase Games, you’ve been there for me when I started OldSchoolJunkie.com just over a year ago and you still continue to show your support to our growing community or retro and indie fans across the globe. For that I thank you.
As independent developers are concerned, Ron is a really down to earth game creator. As a gamer he’s passionate. I will definitely keep my eye on Ron and Headcase Games and watch this Indie Developer as it grows into a well known name for producing ultra high quality games for just pennies on the dollar. We owe not only the independent developers our support for putting blood sweat and tears into creating these incredible games, but, also for the fact that we can get them for cheap or even free. I tip my hat with respect to Ron Alpert/Headcase Games and all Indie Developers for all of their hard work. It’s greatly appreciated here at OldSchoolJunkie.com.
For information on Headcase Games and Ron Alpert’s current and future projects follow the links below. Tell’em Social Gamer sent you….
Website – Facebook – Twitter – Blog
Stay right here for the upcoming mini review with some 180 for Android game play coming this week…!