One Man Left found success in the App Store with their hit Tilt to Live. After a few updates, the two man team retired into their development cave to work on a turn-based-strategy game called Outwitters. Outwitters was submitted to Apple for approval so you should be able to have your mits on the game shortly. In the mean time, here’s an interview with Alexander Okafor, the programmer behind Outwitters.
PG: Tilt to Live was one of the first “true iOS” games as far as I’m concerned. In a time when games were flooding the App Store with on-screen buttons, you seemed to figure out a practical approach to controls. Was that something you wrestled with for a long time? And did you ever want to implement a touch aspect at all?
Alexander Okafor: Actually, the controls themselves weren’t difficult to implement. Trying to come up with a UI that guided the player in calibrating the controls correctly and accurately was the difficult part. We thought up several ideas and tried different things when we finally came up with the 3 or 4 common positions and presented those settings as defaults. As for a touch aspect to the game, we never really entertained the idea. We set out to make a completely touch-free gameplay experience. Adding in touch provided a lot of ‘easy’ answers to some design problems we came across when coming up with new modes and weapons, but we opted to keep iterating to find something fun that didn’t involve blocking the screen with your hands.
PG: One more question about Tilt to Live – When it first shipped I was pretty impressed with the content. Yet, you continued to add more modes that leveraged the mechanics already built into the game. Frostbite and Viva la Turrett seemed to come out of nowhere. Were those modes you planned from the beginning? And do you think you’ll revisit Tilt to Live again?
Alexander Okafor: We didn’t really plan either mode from the beginning. We just knew we wanted to add more modes and had some ideas we still wanted to explore. As of now, we have no plans set for revisiting Tilt to Live as we’re squarely focused on Outwitters for the moment, but never say never.
PG: Outwitters! From what I’ve read this seems like another “built for iOS” game. When you begin to design a game do you look at the functions the device offers and design around that? Or do you create an idea and see how you can get it to work on iOS?
Alexander Okafor: Either method seems viable. For me personally and particularly for iOS, I tend to look at the hardware and try to come up with interesting interactions with it and build a game from there. Adam comes from a different angle usually coming in with themes, mechanics, and character ideas and applying them in a way that works on mobile.
PG: What about turn-based-strategy inspired Outwitters? And how do you go from an action focused game such as Tilt to Live to Outwitters?
Alexander Okafor: Outwitters was Adam’s brain child initially with him wanting to do a boiled down, to-the-essence strategy game. From there we both just collaborated on the design until we had something we were both excited about. Going from an action focused game to Outwitters wasn’t especially hard. We’re both gamers and we tend to play all kinds of games and we didn’t want to be typecast as a dev studio that simply makes mobile action games. Granted, it may be a bad move for those that love Tilt to Live and aren’t fond of strategy games, but we hope to offer more action titles in the future.
PG: How do you go about balancing a game like this? Or is it more of a”shoot first, let the users complain, and fix it later” approach?
Alexander Okafor: Balancing starts on paper initially. Then some ‘theorycrafting’ where we mentally try to go through the possibilities of certain scenarios to see if the game would progress in a way we intend. Once we’re happy with where we *think* it’ll end up, we start play testing a boatload of games between us and among other players who are helping balance the game. We generally tweak from there based on the data and feedback we get. If something is horribly wrong, or the games are going in a direction we don’t want we’ll overhaul a unit or mechanic to try to get it back on track. It’s a long and tedious process regardless, but very rewarding when things start to come together.
PG: When you go to design a game like Outwitters, where do you even start? And what powers design choices? I have to imagine striking a balance between strategy and fun can’t be easy.
Alexander Okafor: Haha, sounds like you’re implying strategy and fun are mutually exclusive? Although there is some shred of truth to that statement. We wanted to create an approachable strategy game for mobile. We didn’t want players laboring over a turn for minutes or hours or simply looking at the gameboard and deciding “I’ll play this turn later.” So overwhelming the user with choices to make is not something you want to do. Naturally, as a player gets better they’ll want to consider more choices and such, so the big design problem was trying to add depth to a game without adding needlessly complex mechanics and rules for just the sake of complexity. It certainly wasn’t easy and there was a lot to learn during that process. But our guiding principle was to try to remove as much complexity as possible, and only add in things if we genuinely felt it added to the core of the game rather than just adding a layer of complexity to it.
PG: How has in-app purchases and being able to easily update games with new teams and features changed the way you approach game design?
Alexander Okafor: It hasn’t had any fundamental changes to our approach as you can see from the long development time (over a year and a half) of Outwitters. If it does effect any choices it’s usually for the better. Before the days of easy updates and in-app purchases a feature or idea would be considered and if there wasn’t any time for it, it would just be cut from the game, forever. If we as devs were lucky it could re-appear in a sequel some several months or years later. Now we can focus on the core design of a game, get it out the door, and that idea that we didn’t have time to budget for now has a chance of coming into the game either through an update or in-app purchase.
PG: What do you want the users experience with Outwitters to be like? What’s the take away?
Alexander Okafor: We want it to be a game you can play casually with a group of friends with our 2-on-2 system, or a game where you can compete against others in the world for rank and status either solo or with a buddy. We wanted to create a social game similar to how boardgames play out these days. The dilemma with boardgames is trying to get a group of people together these days is a little difficult, so being able to have that board game experience on the go with your friends regardless of where they are in the world we think is valuable.
PG: Do you feel any pressure to exceed the success of Tilt to Live with Outwitters?
Alexander Okafor: Any developer who works on a project for a very long time would be lying if they didn’t feel some pressure for their project to succeed. As to whether it’ll be more or less successful than Tilt to Live, I personally haven’t set any expectations in relation to that. I just want the game to succeed on some level so that we can continue doing what we’re doing.
PG: The App Store is over run with droves of terrible games. Tons of shovelware. How do you hope to contend with that and stand apart?
Alexander Okafor: The easy answer is simply sticking to our guns and making sure we release something worthwhile. You definitely need a lot of marketing effort to rise to the top, but no amount of marketing will cover up a terrible game. Despite all the hoopla on how hard it is to be successful on the app store, I generally see that the successful games tend to be great games in their own right. The general trend is the ‘good stuff’ tends to rise to the top, and hopefully we’ll be right up there with Outwitters.