The former art director of Alice: Madness Returns, Adelaide-based Kenneth Wong has broken out on his own with his very first iOS game. We talk cats, hacky sacks and going solo.
Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Why did you decide to move on from console dev and strike out on your own?
I've worked in games art in various roles for the past 10 years. I spent seven years working in Hong Kong and Shanghai, and right now, I'm back home in Australia. I'm mostly known as the art director of Alice: Madness Returns. I'm always looking for new challenges and new ways to express myself as a creator — and with various other bits of my life aligning, the past year felt like the right time to embark on a solo project.
Where did the idea for Hackycat come from?
Everyone knows that your first game should be super simple. What could be more simple than tapping moving targets on a screen? Turns out it still took me over a year to finish the project. I made the targets into cats, because, well... it's just funnier.
Tell us more about Hackycat. What is it about and how does the gameplay work?
Hackycat is about saving cats from exploding by kicking them. You tap on the falling cats to make the athlete bounce them back up with his or her feet, knees or head. More cats parachute in, increasing the difficulty, but collecting cheeseburgers charges up your "super kick", which launches cats into space. You try to score as many points as possible using combos and bonuses before any cat hits the ground.
There's massive competition in the mobile-gaming market — what does Hackycat offer that other games do not?
Hackycat is by far the most detailed and rewarding cat-kicking simulator on the mobile market. I have yet to find a competing title that offers a wolfman kicking around a cat dressed like a piece of cheese.
What has been the biggest challenge for you so far? How did you overcome it?
I think just the nature of working solo was a huge challenge. It's easy to get cabin fever, working alone at home. If you don't have anyone in the room to bounce ideas off of or to offer you alternative perspectives, it's easy to just get stuck in your own head. So I made sure to take breaks instead of forcing myself to work, and I play-tested the game with friends or strangers every week or two. That gave me the motivation to keep going and helped me find design weaknesses.
What do you think is the essential ingredient of a truly awesome mobile game?
What is the best thing about working in mobile-gaming development? What is the worst?
The best thing is that the mobile market is well suited to bite sized, visual-oriented, fresh experiences. That interests me far more than the larger scope, entrenched culture and publishing hurdles of the console and PC markets. The worst aspect is your average player's gaming experience is quite low, so you have to be really careful not to alienate or overwhelm them early with complex controls or mechanics.
How does it compare to other games you have worked on in the past?
My previous games featured a homeless guy saving Los Angeles from natural disasters, a stinky dwarf corrupting fairy tales and an insane girl fighting giant dolls with a pepper grinder. So it's business as usual, really.
Do you have any advice to offer aspiring mobile-game developers?
It seems simpler to make a game that you yourself enjoy and can be excited about, than to try to predict the tastes and behaviour of a certain demographic or market.
What do you have lined up next?
For my next adventure, I'll be joining a small games team at a design studio in London, and hopefully make some time in my life to do a bunch of fan art.
Hackycat for iOS (AU$0.99)