This week Tag Games announced the development of Astro Ranch for the iPhone, Nintendo DS and N-Gage. The game looks like a fun mix of some Animal Crossing with some Harvest Moon in a nice 50′s sci-fi jacket, and Paul Farley from Tag Games took some time to tell us more about their first iPhone-game. We also found out more about Rock’n'Roll, the second iPhone-game of this European iPhone developer.
iPwnGames: Here’s our typical question again, do you like developing for the iPhone?
Paul Farley I’ve been working in mobile gaming for over seven years now and so the first thing that strikes me about the iPhone is that it’s great to be developing on one device and with one SDK again! Our forthcoming mobile title Car Jack City will have close to 2000 separate builds to take into account all the devices and languages required, when you are managing that amount of development being able to focus upon getting the best out of one device is a refreshing change. Thus far our technical team have found the iPhone a dream to work with; not only have Apple provided a decent development environment and tools but the 3D performance has yet to break and we keep throwing stuff at it!
iPwnGames: Did Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing inspire you to make Astro Ranch?
Paul Farley A number of the team are big fans of both Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing and they did provide some inspiration for the game, however the main inspiration came from our technical director Robert who has been obsessed with making a farming game from the very day we started Tag! We hope that Astro Ranch will build upon some of the best features of those kind of games and avoid some of the areas we felt didn’t work so well. It’s fair to say we will be adding a huge number of unique game play elements that take advantage of iPhone functionality and ensures that Astro Ranch is a gaming experience in its own right.
iPwnGames: Why did you pick the 50’s as the setting of Astro Ranch?
Paul Farley We felt that a 50’s sci-fi B-movie setting allowed us a huge creative canvas on which we could build an appealing art style, compelling back story and integrate a huge slice of humour into the game. The style is also one of our concept artist’s favourites, and as you can see she has a talent for bringing the Astro Ranch world to life through some crazy characters and appealing environment.
iPwnGames: Did Astro Ranch started as an iPhone-game, or did you first thought about it as a Nintendo DS or Nokia N-Gage game?
Paul Farley Originally we pitched it internally as a standard J2ME/BREW mobile game over a year ago. At the time we put it on the back burner because we didn’t feel we could do it justice on the platform and doubted how appealing the concept would be to potential publishers or phone operators. It’s very difficult to launch games on mobile right now without a large brand or license attached, so we agreed to return to the idea once either the market shifted or the technology improved. The iPhone addresses both of those issues with the technical performance of the device and the open nature of publishing direct to the appStore. This allows Tag to take an original game to customers direct and gives them, not the phone operators, the opportunity to make it a hit if they like it.
iPwnGames: Are you targetting a larger audience or the hardcore gamer with Astro Ranch?
Paul Farley At Tag we’ve always believed that we should make games that everyone can play. With this in mind Astro Ranch is being carefully designed to allow the player to choose how they wish to play the game. Primarily we expect that it will be played in 10 minute sessions (ten minutes is a whole day on the Astro Ranch) while on a bus or train by ‘casual’ players but we also want to ensure that if people like the game so much they want to sit and play for hours and hours they can. I think once players have built their ranch and collected most of the objects in the game they will return time and time again to enter competitions and make use of the connected elements. Ultimately we believe if the core game mechanics are fun it shouldn’t matter what level of involvement the player has with the game – everyone will be entertained and feel they are getting good value from the game.
iPwnGames: How important will connectivity be in Astro Ranch?
Right now the connectivity aspect of the game is the biggest technical hurdle for us to overcome. Not only do we want players with iPhone’s to be able to connect to each other but for the connected features to be device agnostic meaning it won’t matter if you have an iPhone, N-Gage, DS or even mobile version of the game the same functionality will be available across them all. We have previously completed a connected mobile game called Football Pro which is probably one of the only connected mobile titles in Europe that works well both technically and as a solid game experience, so we have some experience in this area. Primarily Astro Ranch will be a single player experience with the connectivity allowing the player to visit their friend’s ranches, send messages and presents, compete in competitions and trade items. We will ensure that some of the best objects in the game are only available to those that use the connected elements of the game and of course supply and demand on other planets will ensure that the player is always likely to get a better price for their crops and livestock by trading on an inter-galactic basis than locally.
iPwnGames: Will there be a demo version of Astro Ranch and Rock’n’Roll and what pricepoint do you currently have in mind for both games?
It’s too early to say how we will launch Astro Ranch at this stage; much will depend on Apple’s plans for the appStore over the next 6 months – for example if they launch subscription or micro transaction based payments we would certainly consider those structures. With Rock’n’Roll will we certainly be launching a free demo version for players to try ahead of the full launch. At Tag we passionately believe that our games have great game-play so we feel that a free demo will create an even larger demand for the paid game. Pricing for both titles will be competitive!
iPwnGames: What will the gameplay of Rock’n’Roll on the iPhone be like?
Paul Farley Rock’n’Roll is an existing mobile game that we launched earlier in the year. Its game-play is very simple in that you rotate a maze and the main character drops through it, collecting musical notes in an effort to rescue his kidnapped friend. The game is ideal for mobile because you only need to press left and right to control the whole game and we did some really good work with the game engine to ensure the experience is excellent right down to very low-end handsets. When we were completing development we realised that the game was ideally suited to motion control and we worked up a couple of proof of concepts – one using the built in motion sensor on a Samsung phone and the other using camera motion sensing. Both worked well but neither technology was wide spread and so we decided for commercial reasons not to release either version. It’s shaping up well on iPhone though and we’ll offer the option of either touch or motion control depending on the player’s preference. Expect much the same great game-play experience as on mobile but with far better visuals and audio.
iPwnGames: Let’s end with another typical question of ours, will the iPhone lift mobile gaming to the next level?
Paul Farley It already has! The iPhone not only shows massive potential for game players but has also provided the business model that all mobile game developers have yearned for. The structure is there to reward developers who try to create new and ambitious games rather than relying on tired old licensing to sell games- so let’s hope in the years to come we see that promise fulfilled and many millions of players discovering the unique and rewarding experience mobile gaming offers.