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Game Dev Stories: Barrel of Donkeys

Toybox is a wonderful multitasking game concept, the likes of which has not ever crossed our paths before. Expat New Zealand developers Sam Baird and Julian Frost tell us about how they got it done.

Toybox is a wonderful multitasking game concept, the likes of which has not ever crossed our paths before. Expat New Zealand developers Sam Baird and Julian Frost tell us about how they got it done.

(Credit: Barrel of Donkeys)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Who is Barrel of Donkeys, and how did you get into mobile-gaming development?

Barrel of Donkeys: Sam Baird (left) and Julian Frost (right).(Credit: Barrel of Donkeys)

Julian: Barrel of Donkeys is Sam and me. We met in the A-F section of the school library in 1991, and we've been best friends ever since.

Sam: We started making games together when we were 15. Julian was forced to draw sprites in crappy sprite editors created by me. That was way back in Christchurch, New Zealand — we're both living in Melbourne now and, thankfully, things have moved on slightly. Julian's now an animator and I'm still programming. And we both love talking and arguing (mostly arguing) about game design.

Tell us more about Toybox. What is it about and how does the gameplay work?

Sam: Toybox is a game about doing two things at once. It's a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. You play a simple spacies-style shoot-em-up with your left thumb, and a simple block matching game with your right thumb.

(Credit: Barrel of Donkeys)

Julian: The fun part is how the two games are woven into one — whatever you do on one side, affects the other. Like with patting your head and rubbing your tummy, you end up learning a weird new skill.

There's massive competition in the mobile-gaming market — what does Toybox offer that other games do not?

Sam: The chance to use a toy spaceship to destroy toy robots, UFOs and planes, while simultaneously matching wooden blocks of course! Our research indicates this is an under-served area of the market.

Doing two things at once is definitely our hook, but we'd like to think that, once you get past the initial fun and chaos of handling that, there's some depth and strategy that unfolds for the player.

We've also got a nice feature where the patterns in the game remain the same for a week, allowing you to learn them and improve. Then, each week the patterns change and the leader board starts over again, giving you another chance to challenge the top scores. The top players earn bragging rights for the following week. This keeps the game fresh, and there's always a reason to check in again next week.

(Credit: Barrel of Donkeys)

What has been the biggest challenge for you so far? How did you overcome it?

Julian: I was in the UK the entire time we were making Toybox. Did Sam mention we like arguing about things? Well, that takes ages via email with a nine-hour time difference. We were only able to overcome this challenge by learning to be mature and reasonable, which I personally regard as a failure.

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

Sam: Ease of play. I don't mean the game should be easy, so much as have good touch controls and clear feedback, so it's as easy as possible to experience whatever the fun part of the game is.

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

Sam: Mobile devices are great for creating focused, unique and well-executed games. The toughest thing might be getting noticed in the flood of apps available.

(Credit: Barrel of Donkeys)

Do you have any advice to offer aspiring mobile-game developers?

Sam: Start making games. Start very small, using Flash or Unity or Game Salad, or any tool that suits you, and finish something.

Julian: My advice is: don't skip the dentist for five years in your early 20s. Yeah. I had three root canals after that.

What's next for Barrel of Donkeys ?

Julian: Noodle Hubris. You heard it here first. I decided that's the name of our next project, though it's all I've got so far.

Sam: We've been holding off brainstorming to focus on getting Toybox finished, but soon the floodgates will be open and we will be dreaming up our businessmen-doing-yoga-real-time-strategy-giraffe-fighting rhythm game.

Julian: Involving noodles.

Toybox for iOS (AU$0.99)