Today we are spending some time with Leigh Harris (LH) the Lead Designer, and Rohan Harris (RH) the Lead Programmer of Flat Earth Games, the company behind TownCraft. I want to thank Leigh and Rohan for their time; always enjoy spending some time with developers. TownCraft is a neat game that we recently reviewed.
Q. Tell us a little about your company
RH: Well, we started two years ago when we had just come up with the idea for TownCraft and were beginning to co-develop it with Epiphany Games. Now that we’ve released it, the two of us work full-time here in a little corner beside some other indie devs, with other contractors coming in as needed depending on what we’re doing at the time.
LH: We had a set of fairly firm beliefs we used to guide us, and ended up writing a pledge we called ‘We the Developers…’ (http://www.flatearthgames.com.au/?p=73) shortly after we launched which detailed some of those beliefs. They included that we would only ever release a game which was based on a good idea first and all other considerations second, that we wanted to recapture a lot of the spirit of games from the 90s which we missed, and that I wouldn’t post videos of Rohan dancing after too much gin any more.
Q. How did you come up with the idea for TownCraft?
RH: That was me. I was writing an article about the concept of Minecraft spawning a whole new genre, and in the process I was brainstorming about the myriad of different games you could make that’d borrow some concepts from it. It was during this time that I began to think of how much I’d like an iPad-based isometric city-builder, but with the personal feeling of a game like Minecraft.
I gave it some thought, decided it was good enough idea to excise it from the article, and rang up a mate of mine who ran an indie game studio to pitch to him – not to seriously *make* it, mind you… I just wanted someone to sanity check my idea.
LH: From there we started drafting a design document and it became a much more collaborative work. The directions we took during development were at times quite far removed from the original document, or at least it felt that way, so we were actually pleasantly surprised when we came to the end of the development cycle, took a look back over the original document and realised that a lot of what we’d originally envisaged have actually come to fruition.
It’s a weird thing. You get so close to a project like this and when it finally comes out, all you can see are the things you wanted to include but didn’t get the time. I mean, we’re still constantly updating the game (and will continue to do so for as long as people keep buying it), so it’s got way more in there now than it did at launch, but still it can be tricky to step back and look at something objectively after years of working on it.
Q. Can you tell us a little about the challenges section in the game?
LH: These are a selection of maps I’ve been creating which change up the gameplay in one way or another. One covers the map in heaps of water, one places you on a desert island, one has no iron, no crops etc. Each one is designed to take the core mechanics of the game and force the player to think about them and execute them in a new way, usually with a time limit of 12 in-game days so they don’t have long to figure out how it all works.
RH: They partly came out of other game ideas I had (such as the Desert Island crafting game idea) which we felt weren’t quite enough to warrant a full game to themselves, but might make for a really interesting departure from the norm within TownCraft. It’s lots of fun thinking up new ones – often they have new terrain types, biomes, objects, resources and recipes for each map. In the newest one, there’s even a whole new employee type.
Q. Any updates in the works for TownCraft?
RH: Always! We promised ourselves we’d complete the six planned challenge maps no matter how our sales went. Then there are always updates coming out every month or so tweaking things, adding new features (some recommendations from fans) and fixing the inevitable bugs that get reported to us. With a game this size, there’s always some minor obscure balancing issue or big left to be found. (Pro-tip: sandbox games are TOUGH to debug when your Quality Assurance team is, uh… just yourself!)
LH : Our newest update will feature a map which is an almost barren desert, for example, taking players far away from the usual dense and lush medieval forest. There’s an oasis here or there, but it’s a pretty bleak landscape. The only silver lining is that the stream in the middle of the map can be panned for gold (a new feature, gold has traditionally been mined up until now).
Q. Ok, so we know about TownCraft, any neat new games coming out soon?
LH: We’re very close to announcing our second game. I can’t say too much just yet other than that it is nothing at all like TownCraft.
RH: And it’s become a personal challenge for me. Every time the systems designers get too good at the game, I have to go beef up the AI. It’s a competition, I say, and my electronic minions will not be defeated!
LH: …until I defeat them, that is. …again.
Q. So when you are not working on games, what mobile games do you guys like to play?
LH: I certainly play a bunch of games similar to TownCraft, classics like Transport Tycoon and SimCity mostly, but other than that I use mobile gaming to wake myself up with stuff like The Impossible Game, Unpossible, Piano Tiles and that sort of thing. Our inspiration for new games comes partly from contemporary stuff, but mostly from the games we grew up playing. 90s titles like Knight and Merchants and Stronghold were TownCraft’s genesis, and for our upcoming game the inspiration was things like the original Grand Theft Auto game. But I’d say I pay a lot of attention to business models in new games. Even though we haven’t embraced in-app purchasing and free-to-play at all, it’s still fascinating to me.
RH: I tend to prefer larger games. I played an awful lot of XCOM on iPad, for instance, and I’ve been working through Vice City and San Andreas on iOS now that I have a funky controller for it. I guess I tend to play more conventionally desktop/console-centric games, even when I’m playing on a platform that is often dominated by freemium or smaller puzzle/twitch games.
Q. Where do you see mobile gaming going in the next 2 years or so?
RH: Hopefully, coming more in line with consoles & desktop download services in terms of providing a wider variety of interesting premium games. Judging by the reaction we’ve had from people, who are almost universally pleased to see a game like TownCraft with no in-app purchases or micro-transactions, it does seem like it’s what people are wanting. (But then, maybe I’m just being hopeful)
LH: Well, I tend to not be very sensational when it comes to the future of games. I mean radio didn’t kill the newspaper. Television didn’t kill radio. The Internet didn’t kill television. Along similar lines, I don’t think mobile gaming will kill the home console market, and I don’t think freemium will kill the premium model. All that’s happening is a fragmentation of the market – gamers with distinct and unique tastes (and preferences for certain business models) are being catered to by different developers. Many niches covering many aspects of gaming are popping up and thriving. So I guess my ultimate prediction is that gaming will continue getting more diverse as it caters to more people at once. It’s a great thing, overall.
-thanks again guys and look forward to seeing what comes down the road from Flat Earth Games.