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Game Dev Stories: Workhorse Bytes

This week, we're heading to Florida to meet Workhorse Bytes: Des Jackson and Simon Chen, the kung-fu duo behind brand-new 3D puzzler Fuzzy Cubes.

This week, we're heading to Florida to meet Workhorse Bytes: Des Jackson and Simon Chen, the kung-fu duo behind brand-new 3D puzzler Fuzzy Cubes.

(Credit: Workhorse Bytes)

Can you tell us a bit about the background of Workhorse Bytes? Who are you? What led you to mobile gaming?

Workhorse Bytes was born inside of a kung fu school in the heart of Gainesville, Florida. The instructor, DA Jackson (VFX, digital artist, writer, music) joined forces with one of his top students Simon Chen (programmer, digital artist, kung fu disciple) to create digital magic. Finding that we both had interests in game developing and capitalising on the synergy that resulted during our conversations, we decided to form a company. The idea was to combine DA's background in visual arts, animation and VFX with Simon's knowledge of programming and streamlining. The result was Fuzzy Cubes, and Workhorse Bytes was given wings.

And for your third question, what led us to mobile gaming? Well, we felt that the platform was unique from home consoles in that it was so accessible. I mean, most people carry these devices everywhere they go. Keeping that in mind, the potential for what can be accomplished in a gaming experience is unlimited, but still untapped for the most part. With games like Fuzzy Cubes, we wanted to redefine what mobile games felt like. We wanted an experience that was unlike anything players had found in any other medium. So, I guess the answer is we were drawn to the opportunity for innovation.

Can you explain a little bit about Fuzzy Cubes? How does the gameplay work? And why did you decide to make this particular game?

If you take Tetris, Rubik's Cube, cute fuzzy creatures and throw a bomb into the mix, and then wait a moment ... Ka-pow! You have Fuzzy Cubes. The game's story is about fuzzy creatures living in their own peaceful existence, when all of a sudden, their planet blows up! Now they have to use a precious power called Cubinium to create a Space-Bus Time Machine to travel back in time and save themselves!

(Credit: Workhorse Bytes)

The gameplay concept is somewhat similar to Tetris, in that you have falling blocks and you have to prevent them from stacking too high. What's crazy is that not only is it in 3D space, but it is also happening on multiple surfaces simultaneously! You have to match the colour of the block to the same colour side.

The interface is very intuitive. Touch and drag the blinking shadow to move the falling cube. Then tap the blinking shadow to make the cube fall and land. Fill up a side — without stacking high — to clear it, save the Fuzzies and get a bunch of points! Later on, there are bombs. To defuse a bomb, you have to do the exact opposite of what you've been doing — which is to drop a cube of a different colour on top of the bomb. This changes the dynamic of the game and keeps things interesting.

We decided to create this game because when the idea was crafted, we realised it does not exist yet. Not in any form. The closest execution to this kind of puzzle genre was the few 3D Tetris games that were already on the market, and even those games are not really like our game. It is completely new and original.

There's massive competition in the mobile gaming market. What do you think Fuzzy Cubes offers that other games do not?

When we first thought about creating a game, this was the first question that we realised we had to answer. The short answer: no other games of our kind exist right now.

(Credit: Workhorse Bytes)

The long answer: we realised that puzzle games are very popular, and everyone is familiar with the classic Tetris. There have been several 3D Tetris games released, but none of them that have been executed quite like this. What made them bland was that they were too formulaic — the exact game of Tetris with only an extra dimension. What sets us apart is that not only are we an extra dimension, but we're extra dimensions times six. Plus hilariously cute creatures, intuitive gameplay designed especially for the iPhone, and production value. There are actually numerous other things that make our game so much better than the existing 3D puzzle games out right now, like:

  • Story-driven motivation
  • Fully animated cinematics
  • Multiple scores of great music
  • Intuitive user interface
  • Easy to learn, difficult to master
  • Just plain fun

Once you get rolling and learn how to play, if you go back and try to play any other existing 3D Tetris games out there, you will find yourself shutting them down and opening ours right back up.

What was the biggest challenge in creating Fuzzy Cubes? How did you overcome it?

Once we had the concept down, the biggest challenge was finding out whether or not the user interface we imagined would be feasible. Basically, we knew that we could make this game look the way we wanted, but we weren't sure if we could make it play the way we wanted. We knew that iPhone games had to be fun, and so manipulating pieces and rotating them and moving them around had to be easy and swift. When we got to that point in development to tackle the heart of the gameplay, I — Simon, being the coder — did a bunch of research online on the maths that could make it happen. And I found it. After we knew that it was possible to make it play the way we wanted, the rest was just a matter of time.

What do you think is the essential ingredient in a truly awesome mobile game?

If I had to pick one ingredient, I would have to say smooth gameplay. A game can look amazing and have all the hype in the world, but if the gameplay is not there — as quickly as the player picked it up, he can just as quickly put it back down.

(Credit: Workhorse Bytes)

What is the best thing about working in mobile gaming development? What is the worst?

The best thing about working in mobile gaming development is that we can do exactly what we want to do — it is just wonderful. I had to make sacrifices and turn down numerous job offers to work on exactly what I wanted to work on. Also, being our own company (of two people), we answer to nobody but ourselves, and so we have a lot less pressure to make something within an x amount of time.

The worst thing, I would say, is the lack of financial stability. However, if you know what you are doing, it may not be a bad thing. Because a lack of stability doesn't necessarily mean possibility for failure, but a possibility for great success. That is one of the rays of light that motivates us to do what we love.

What advice would you offer aspiring devs looking to set up their own mobile game studio?

If you have an idea and your heart is in it, just do it. It can be done. There are so many resources with the existence of the internet that almost anything can be created. We created this game in our own apartments, without a stipend. We used our own computers and our own knowledge to make what we envisioned.

What's next for Workhorse Bytes?

We plan to release a Fuzzy Cubes Lite version as well as an HD version for the iPad. Also, we'll be coming out with an Android release in the near future.

After that ... we have a couple of ideas lined up that we want to try. Definitely more ideas in the cookie jar waiting to spring out!

Fuzzy Cubes for iPhone (AU$1.99)