[Our new series of ‘Road to the IGF’ interviews profiles the nine recently announced winners of the IGF Showcase at Austin GDC - with the local Southern U.S. indie developers to be showcased at the Texas game development show this month.]
In this instalment of 'Road To The Austin IGF', we talk to Pangea Software
's Brian Greenstone about the hit iPod Touch and iPhone physics puzzle title Enigmo
, another IGF Showcase honoree for the upcoming Austin GDC show.
The game was initially released back in 2003 for Mac OS X. Greenstone ported Enigmo
to the Touch and iPhone, taking advantage of the units' accelerometer functionalities. He describes the title as a “3D physics based puzzle game where the goal is to get the falling water droplets into their containers by using various bumpers, slides, sponges, etc.”
What is your background with video games?
Well, I was one of those '70s kids who was always at the arcade pumping my 20 tokens for a $1 into Asteroids
. Then, in High School, I started to learn how to program and write some simple games, but in college I became friends with a programmer at Origin who showed me the ropes.
The next thing I knew I was making Super Nintendo Games and it all went uphill from there!
When was Pangea formed?
Christmas break in 1987. I had just broken up with my girlfriend, so I had nothing to do, and I decided to write a big game: Xenocide
. I went to the courthouse and filed the name "Pangea Software".
On the way down there I realized that I couldn't remember how to spell Pangea, so I took my best guess and when I got home I realized that the proper spelling is actually "Pangaea". Oh well.
What inspired Enigmo, and why did you decide to develop it?
I had written some physics collision code for another game and realized that I could do so much more with that code.
My grandparents had this unusual contraption at their house back in the mid '70s where a motor would drive a spiral that carried a ball bearing up a tube. Once at the top the ball bearing would be released and bounce off of drums at the bottom. It would go into a bin and then make it's way back up the spiral.
For years I had though of doing a video game based on that thing, so that was the inspiration for Enigmo
What were your expectations from your game, and do you feel the end product lives up to those expectations?
Oh, I didn't really expect much. Enigmo
was one of the smallest and shortest games I had ever done. Most of the games I was doing at that point were big adventure games that took a year to do, but the original Mac version of Enigmo
only took about two months to write.
It was just something I wanted to do for fun, but never expected to see a mobile version some years later that would be such a hit.
What do you think the most interesting thing about your game is?
It's the physics engine. Nothing in there is faked. All of the droplets bounce around every polygon in the scene doing what they should do, so the user can really play around with it. It's just plain cool!
How long did development take, and what was the process like?
The iPhone version took only a few days to get up and running, but we spent a few weeks optimizing the 3D models and tweaking the engine to run better on the iPhone.
In all, we spent maybe a month total just tweaking and testing, but the bulk of the work took place in the first week. The beauty of doing iPhone development is that it's basically running Mac OS X, so it's pretty easy to get a Mac game like Enigmo
running on the device.
Was it a pretty easy decision to translate the game to the Touch and iPhone?
Yes, very. The touch interface is really the more natural way to play the game, so I think the iPhone version is better than the original Mac version. Everything just worked - that doesn't happen often!
Any plans to redo its sequel?
Hehe, I get asked that a lot. Enigmo 2
requires about 3x the horsepower as Enigmo
, and the iPhone just doesn't have the power to do it.
Also, Enigmo 2
had 3D puzzles, whereas Enigmo
was a 3D game but the puzzles were on a 2D layout. The 3D aspect was hard enough to control on the Mac, so I can't imagine how I'd do it on an iPhone. Besides, Enigmo
is selling well, so no need to cannibalize the sales with a sequel.
How easy has it been to work with Apple in regards to Touch and iPhone software, and is this different to your previous experiences developing for their hardware?
It's been great! Kinda like how it was to work with Apple 15 years ago when they were really into games. Over the years Apple lost all interest in games, but now it has been revitalized with the iPhone, so they're giving us all the help we need.
Obviously, they're much more secretive than they were 15 years ago, but that's okay.
What's the scene in Austin like?
I suppose that depends on which scene you look at. Austin is a great place, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. This summer has been incredibly hot, but that's why we have lakes and rivers!
Is there a feeling of community?
Among people in general, yes, definitely. Even tho we have a lot of "outsider" transplants here, the Texan attitude still shines through and everyone is nice to everyone, and men still open doors for women, and we wave to each other as we pass on the rural highways.
What do you think of the state of independent development, and how do you think independent games fit into the industry?
I think it's weird that the term "independent developer" even came up. I've been doing this for 25-plus years, and I don't consider myself to be an independent anything. I'm just another small game developer.
I mean, this industry was founded on what we now call independent developers - nerds in their bedrooms hacking out code, so I still consider us to be the normal ones. It's the big guys like EA, et al, who deserve the funky names.
How about we call them the "corporate developers" and then just call ourselves "video game developers"?
Where do you see your game going from here?
Well, if I'm lucky it won't go anywhere - it'll just stay on the iTunes App Store Top 20 list forever so I'll keep selling millions of copies!
But realistically, it's likely to fall in the list as newer games come out and take its place. That's ok with me because I'm ready to move onto new projects, and I'm already working on several right now.
What kind of feedback have you received so far?
It has all been excellent! Enigmo
has a 4 1/2 star average rating in iTunes, and there are very few games with ratings that high. I'm thrilled!
Have you checked out any of the other Austin IGF games?
Nope, I haven't even had time to eat or sleep for the last few months. This iPhone stuff is keeping me busy 24/7!