As console developers continue to expand to social and mobile platforms, I had a chance to get with Bear Trickey, Jesse Venbrux and Zach Aikman of Q-Games who recently launched PixelJunk Monsters Online on Facebook in an interview where they shared their approach to developing for Facebook. More after the jump.
Q: What was the creative process like working on PixelJunk Monsters Online for Facebook? Was the development process any different than working on a console game?
Bear: The creative process has been a real pleasure. The project is 100% Q-Games developed and published, and we have a relatively lax schedule which has enabled us to really experiment with a lot of interesting ideas. Our core team is small, but each developer in it comes from a unique background and boasts a variety of skills. For example, Kou Bun Kin, the artist responsible for most of the beautiful graphics and animation in the game, has also helped tremendously with localization and community support for our Taiwanese fan base. Despite our small team size, the game will potentially reach more users than any other game I’ve made before.
Jesse: The development is still ongoing, and I haven’t done much work on console games, but I bet it’s very different. There are a lot of technical limitations to Flash, Facebook, servers and databases, which is all new to us and more complicated than I anticipated. Although limitations are good for the creative process, I think the technical barriers we are still facing are a hindrance to iterating the gameplay. The more our systems get in place the easier it becomes.
The Monsters Online development process is similar to the way Q-Games approaches console game development in that we still employ the cycle of adding new experimental features, testing them out, and then deciding from there if we want to keep them, refine them, or throw them out. The major difference is that the testing phase now involves thousands of people on the internet, and the development cycle itself will continue well after the game is “released”.
Zach: Perhaps the most notable difference between the two types of development has been the ease with which we can put a new version of the game in front of the players and receive nearly instantaneous input. Normally you have to wait weeks or even months for that kind of feedback from an audience of console gamers, and by then your product has already shipped. This allows us to be much more flexible in the way we prioritize bugs and develop new features based on feedback we receive from our alpha testers.
Q: In what ways has PixelJunk Monsters been adapted to Facebook which make it stand out from PixelJunk Monsters on the PlayStation Network? Were there any issues you encountered when switching platforms?
Bear: I think the competitive nature of PixelJunk Monsters has definitely been brought to the forefront in the social network context. The ranking system is much more emotional as you see your friends’ faces grinning back at you as they trample your hard earned gold crown. This is obviously different from the PSN version, which was more of a chill out on couch while playing it with your roommate/girlfriend type of game. That being said, we are still implementing new features that will add some collaborative/cooperative elements to the game.
The issues involved with the switch mostly center around the fact that it’s a web based game, which means tinkering with code to work with each OS, browser, Flash player version, etc. Despite that, the openness of putting it on the web enables us to update the game at will with no costly and time-consuming QA process involved with releasing via a console.
Jesse: The game has been remade and re-imagined from the ground up. Some of the main differences:
-New maps, weapons and enemies are introduced over time.
-How well you do against your friends affects your progress. (Player ranking affects your harvesting of resources).
-Ability to change the stage layout by planting your own trees.
-Use Sneak Peek feature to see how your friends got certain high scores.
Q: Do you have any developer pro-tips for the players out there competing for high scores and dominion over a map?
Bear: My advice for tackling Monsters’ stages is to not press the retry button too quickly when trying out a new stage. Even if you lost some chibi (the children you’re tasked with protecting), play through all the waves to see what the future waves look like. The next time around you’ll be ready for them!
Jesse: Use Sneak Peek to see what your friend did to get that high score!