Making a mobile game on a budget
Nowadays mobile gaming is big business, so how different a process is it when it comes to releasing games on the small screen? Chris Berrow spoke to Barry Meade who's the commercial director of Fireproof Games. They developed The Room series, and their latest release is The Room: Old Sins. So how does a game like The Room goes from first inception to the finished product?
Barry - Well The Room it's I mean the game would have developed over that time we were developing it if you know what I mean. We would have started with a much simpler idea. And so in the case of The Room we started with the idea of trying to recreate on an iPad screen what it feels like to play are to manipulate Chinese puzzle boxes. Are you aware what they are?
Chris - Absolutely. I've seen them yeah.
Barry - So they're basically like if you imagine a jewelry box but instead of just having a lock and a key you have maybe 50 or 100 different manipulations you have to do to open the box. It's a sort of a it's just a puzzle effectively. And we thought the touchscreen was very tactile so we wanted to make a very tactile game which was something we thought was being overlooked about the touch screen. So we we we basically decided we wanted to make a game that was very sympathetic to how people use their phones which is through the touch screen.
Chris - I suppose that was cutting edge when you know The Room 1 was first released was that there weren't so many games like that available on the market. I mean nowadays there are but you were kind of one of the first in my experience.
Barry - Yeah. I think we were one of the first to take the touch screen as a sort of central component of the game and take that very seriously. I mean I wouldn't say that we were definitely were the first to make a good touch touchscreen game. Far from it. And it was just something that we thought was missing really most video games on on mobile at the time were either sort of carry over Facebook free to play games which are just about clicking things or they were really bad parts from PlayStation or PC where you had terrible control systems and trying to be shoehorned into mobile games which we thought was kind of crazy. So we wanted to if we were making a pass for a game yeah we would try and make sure that that game sang on the piece for and we wanted to take the same approach to Mobile where we wanted to make something that was. By about and for mobile devices but yet wasn't a free to play highly monetized game like most mobile games were at the time.
Chris - It's a brilliant initial concept but I'm interested to know how that then goes on to develop because I guess when you first started you didn't know how long that was going to take from start to finish at all.
Barry - No I mean well we yes we did in one way and didn't in another. No we didn't know. No because we didn't actually know what the game was we were making. We just wanted to try to recreate that feeling. And so we started off with a very simple box and a very simple shapes on it and just sort of kept adding different ideas to it. So those boxes became more and more complicated I guess you'd say. And then the actual game The Room which if you played is quite a creepy sort of atmospheric game all of that was made up as we went along. Like we we just added that in as flavor. And so what ended up as the room was very much not what we started off with. We just you know we knew that our job was to turn it into a real game over the time you were developing us but we didn't know what that game was when we started this.
Chris - Well that's that's really interesting because I imagine that when you work as part of a team and I know that you do that it's hard to make sure that things aren't designed by committee and that actually you have that kind of overall vision. So does that mean you have to work with people who share your kind of point of view?
Barry - I think it really helps. I think we like Fireproof Studios we all met working for a different games company called Criterion Studios who were part of E.A. And so we had worked there for five years together. So we were a very well school team very used to how each other worked. And we Yeah I mean we left and formed our own company specifically because we all got on well and we all sort of wanted the same things and we had the same standards which I think is important and very similar tastes. But really we had the same standards. We wanted to make really great games you know and I think we've been helped no end over the years by that fact. I think it's much harder for people who don't know each other and have never worked together to start a company and because they have to go through so much learning about each other just to even get to the point where they can talk about creative aspects and what the business is for. And so I think yeah we really benefited from that completely. But I should say just to go back to your other point and the way we we didn't know how long the game was take was because we only had money to last us for nine months. So basically we were an outsourcing. We were making artists or freelance artwork for other games companies that was our business. We were making the room on the side with only two of our 10 staff on that game and then the other eight was was was you know paying the bills effectively. And so we had about a hundred I don't know between 80 and one hundred thousand pounds in the bank which would have laughs which would basically pay for those two people to work on that game for about eight or nine months and then we were done. We had no money left. So irrespective of anything we had to finish the game in in eight months eight to nine months. And so that's what we did. So we didn't know how long it would take. And the fact is you know the game was formed around those limitations right. The Room is shaped the way it is and looks the way it is. Because we had to make very practical decisions as we were developing us as to what we could achieve in nine months.
Chris - Can I ask you then about the subsequent games because you obviously with the success of the first one you might have a bit more time a bit more money to spend on the sequels that there are available now. Did you have more time and more money.
Barry - It was infinitely different. Yes it was infinitely different. I mean The Room was such a hit that we we very much listened to what people had said about the first one. We made a very short simple game with The Room. So the first thing that we did when we finished it was we created a DLC pack which people could download for free which basically expanded the game by about 30 percent in length and added in a lot more content. And then and then we made that free for everybody and then we went on to The Room 2 after that and the room to give an example probably cost about 10 to 15 times more to make than one.
Chris - But then I say you can invest that into The Room 2 because people know what they're gonna get but they want bigger and better I suppose is always the case with the sequel.
Barry - That's true. Yes that's all true. I mean but it was also ourselves we wanted to do much better right. We we had so many limitations when we made the room one we had so many ideas we couldn't put in. So with the room to you know it was also ourselves we wanted to completely ace it and just make something that was on every level better than your previous game. I mean one one thing you're not really aware of unnecessary in the games industry is if you have a hit if you make a first game in it and it hits it's incredibly hard to recreate that in the second game doesn't matter how big you make it or how swanky or have evolved it is or how much better the graphics are. What you're missing is the surprise of something novel. Right. So that's gone and that novelty is what really people love about a game when when they when it first arrives and it's not like anything else. So you're you're on a losing battle by creating a sequel. And we knew that we you know we've been in games long enough to know that it's incredibly hard to keep that same level of interest. So we had to knock at the park right. We had to do everything and bigger and better basically and just just. And that's only to keep the same level of interest. We never expected The Room 2 to be bigger than the Room is. And we just wanted to get back to where we were effectively. But we knew that we had to try five 10 times harder in order to get that back. So.
Chris - So when you bring it on to The Room 3 which is also out and then The Room: Old Sins as well you you creating a rod for your own back here!
Barry - We are indeed yes. But that's what it's like. You know if you get success you want you don't want to go backwards. Right? You just it seems pointless to go backwards so he always wants to do better always with each one.
Chris - Is there a kind of crunch time because you've probably heard in the games industry big kind of blockbuster Triple A releases like Red Dead Redemption. There was talk of you know you've got to get it out by the deadline. It doesn't really matter just at all hands to the pump. I imagine that with the kind of game that you're making in a smaller team it might not be quite the same but just give me some insight into kind of those those final months and weeks what's it like when it gets towards release.
Barry - Yeah I mean you would be busier for sure and a bit more nerve racking. I mean we're not the company that crunches. We don't believe in it we've had to do it so much in our own previous professional careers. We basically we just don't do it at all in our in our company and if our game takes longer and we have to pay more money then that's what we do. But not everyone can do that right. Not everyone can afford to be in that position. I mean there are small teams of one or two or three people who have no money to begin with and who are still trying to make a game and they have to work their asses off to get it done. Do you know. And so it's not just big companies it's it's kind of everywhere. I guess just big companies historically have used crunch as a crutch right for being cheap or being bad at management and that's usually you know that's very often what happens people can get to use torture and it just becomes power part of the you know the fabric of working in a games company and that's what you have to reject right just as a sort of. You have to reject that from your culture overtly like. It's hard to but you say look we're just not going to have this. So it's it's a choice for every company I guess. But yeah I'd say it's. I'd say it was a lot worse ten years ago. I think it's much reduced now.