It's been three years since Kim Swift left Valve, where she designed Portal, to become Airtight Games' project lead, overseeing the creation of Square Enix-published Quantum Conundrum. Now, the studio's just released Pixld, an iOS puzzler that marks Airtight's entry into the mobile space.
"It completely amazes me how quickly time has passed," Swift tells Gamasutra. "I really love it here at Airtight Games; my team is a fantastic group of people that I truly enjoy working with, and I think the atmosphere we have on the team isn't one that could be easily reproduced."
"Which is probably a good thing for the rest of the world because we're a fairly strange group," she adds.
Since she joined the studio, which previously developed Dark Void, Swift says she's taken on more responsibilities. "Because we're a small independent studio we always have to keep on our toes to balance creating the games we love while at the same time earning money so we can do things like, you know, eat and pay our rent or mortgage," she says.
"Pixld is our first foray into the mobile space to try it on for size and see if we have the knack for it," she says.
Making relatively small games means the studio can work on several titles at once, Swift says. Currently her team is divided across six projects, with one to four people on each one.
Pixld is a block-destroying match puzzle that relies on touching blocks to create color changes, and destroying certain kinds of blocks to increase the available time or raise one's score.
People made comparisons to Portal with Quantum Conundrum, at least when it comes to a certain sleekness in puzzle logic. Airtight also hopes to sell Pixld with the promise of pairing deep mechanics with a simple surface. But Swift herself isn't working on this one -- she says she's "actively doing work on one of our mobile games," though.
"The game's original idea actually stemmed from one of my teammates, Doug Magruder," she says. "When we decided to take a stab at learning Unity and creating some mobile games, Doug and another teammate Liz Ingram created Pixld."
"We decided as a team that we'd publish the game first and use it as our guinea pig and answer our big questions," Swift says. Through the release of Pixld Airtight hopes to learn about publishing costs, submission duration, audience taste and how to build a relationship with the mobile playing community.
Among the most important lessons from Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Steam-downloadable puzzle platformer Quantum Conundrum was actually the fine-tuning of the communication among the studio's teams.
"I think the most valuable thing we developed was our team's chemistry and perfecting the communication between our fellow coworkers and understanding how we all operate together," Swift reflects. "That definitely affects our day to day working relationships and gives us the ability to provide critical feedback to one another's mobile games."
Swift says one of the best things about being indie on the app store is the freedom to experiment with different game styles and genres that a publisher wouldn't necessarily buy. "And because the games are relatively small we can make them and publish them ourselves on our own dime," Swift says.
"On the flip side though, we also have to handle making our game visible and promoting it to a wide audience so that way we can return our investment and continue to make games."
The Pixld press release contains a bit of humor, an adorably oblique tone that jokes about Swift just now discovering the iOS market and being baffled by its potential but ready to make history.
"The core joke of the press release [was] that we were trailblazing, which is obviously silly." In fact, the volume of titles on the App Store is "staggering," making visibility and sales challenging.
"We were just trying to be sassy with our press release since they're usually so dry," says Swift. "I do find it pretty hilarious that there are some people that thought that we were being serious about thinking that the iOS market is new and unexplored territory. The mobile market is however, fairly foreign to us and we hope that we do well enough and make games that people can enjoy."