One-man Melbourne studio SmallGreenHill's first game has arrived for the iPad. That one man, Lewis Mitchell, tells us about making his first mobile game and flying solo.
Can you tell us a bit about the background of SmallGreenHill? Who are you, and how did SmallGreenHill come to be? What led you to mobile gaming?
Hi, I'm Lewis Mitchell, the founder of SmallGreenHill. I've been working in video games for many years, most recently at BlueTongue in Melbourne before it closed down in October last year. After BlueTongue closed, I decided it was the perfect time to have a stab at "going indie", something I'd thought about doing for a while.
SmallGreenHill is pretty much a one-man operation. My training is as an artist, but I also code and do a bit of animation, so I mostly have the skill-set to produce a game entirely by myself — although I do occasionally collaborate with ex-colleagues when I need something a bit specialised or I don't have time to do it myself.
I decided to produce a mobile game because it seemed like a manageable proposition for a team of one. I also really like playing games on my iPad and think it has great potential for new and interesting game ideas.
Ball on a Wall is an interesting concept. Can you explain a little bit about it and how you came up with and decided to make this particular game?
I came up with Ball on a Wall while thinking about game concepts that would feel most at home on a tablet. I was trying to create a game that had a tactile feel to it, as if you were reaching into the game and directly interacting with it. I work with a game engine called Unity that allows really rapid prototyping, so I just started experimenting and Ball on a Wall was the result.
There's massive competition in the mobile gaming market. What do you think Ball on a Wall offers that other games do not?
It's an original concept, like you said, so I think that's one of its primary strengths. It was conceived as an iPad game, so it plays really well on the large touchscreen. Ball on a Wall has a nice "action-consequence-reward" feel to it — I sometimes think it's a bit like Tetris or other "casual" games in that way, it lulls you into a pleasing zone of concentration. There is also an "advanced" mode, which changes the rules of the game slightly to make a huge difference to the difficulty and will be a challenge for hard-core gamers.
What was the biggest challenge in creating Ball on a Wall? How did you overcome it?
Most of the main challenges were technical. Given the nature of the game, I really wanted to try and deliver the game running at 60 frames per second. I put a fair amount of work into optimising the way it was built, so it runs silky smooth even on an iPad 1.
What do you think is the essential ingredient in a truly awesome mobile game?
I'd find it hard to pick one thing that stands over all the others, because I think different games can work for different reasons. I'm always attracted to games that are unique, or that use touch controls in an interesting way, or have a polished presentation, and any number of other factors.
What is the best thing about working in mobile gaming development? What is the worst?
I really enjoy the challenge of coming up with ideas that work well on the medium. Touch devices like the iPad and iPhone have only been around for a relatively short time, so it really gives the developer an opportunity to come up with new ideas. I sometimes think how awesome it would have been to be a developer back in the early days of game creation — on the Atari or Commodore 64, when you had guys practically inventing game genres. While it's not nearly as dramatic, in some ways these touch devices are affording us with the same chance, to create new fun experiences no one has experienced before.
I'd say the worst thing is the amount of competition out there. It's hard to get noticed in such a crowded market.
What advice would you offer aspiring devs looking to set up their own mobile game studio?
If they didn't have a lot of experience producing games I'd suggest they try to stick to a style of game that they know, and maybe build a couple of fast prototypes before settling on one idea. Game development is really rewarding, but there are also lots of boring or repetitive tasks to do before a game is in a polished, releasable state. You need team members that can stay focused and dedicated.
What's next for SmallGreenHill?
I was lucky enough to secure some funding from FilmVic to produce a new game. It's early days so I don't want to say too much, but it's coming along nicely and should be ready for release later this year.
Ball on a Wall for iPad (Free)