David Kalina and Randy Smith both had extensive experience working in the triple-A console game space before they formed their own company, Tiger Style, and decided to take the plunge into the iPhone App Store.
Kalina and Smith originally met at Ion Storm, collaborating on Thief: Deadly Shadows -- the franchise with which Smith had also been involved at Looking Glass Studios -- before their divergent careers took them to Midway Austin and EALA, respectively.
When both of those studios had layoffs, Smith -- who had reportedly been collaborating with Steven Spielberg on his unreleased Electronic Arts project -- and Kalina found themselves without work. Though they both considered it, they ultimately decided against diving back into the world of console games.
The good news for Tiger Style: its first game, Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor, was a critical and a reasonable commercial success -- up at the top of the sales charts, and winner of awards and high scores from the press.
Now, as the team moves forward onto its next project, the two co-owners of the company reflect on the state of the fast-moving App Store, what it means to be a studio developer in a world of high-pressure, low-overhead game development, and what a "classic" means on a platform that's reached 100,000 applications in just over a year.
You both have backgrounds in high-profile games at major console developers -- I wonder how many people with your background would have jumped into the indie scene. What drove your decision?
Randy Smith: In my case, it was definitely the indie allure. The fact that the iPhone made it possible to be an indie developer and imagine yourself making a living that you could sustain and possibly even grow a business -- that makes indie a viable place to be if you're an experienced developer.
I think the jobs were a little tight around then, but for folks like David and I who have kind of specific expertise backgrounds and 12 years experience or more, it's actually not that hard to line up your next job if that's your primary goal.
David Kalina: Yeah, I spent a lot of time soul-searching, and I did a round of interviewing at various places. I kind of wanted to stay in Austin. I was looking at contract opportunities for the first time. This particular opportunity was just by leaps and bounds more exciting than anything else, the opportunity to really create our own thing and build something from the ground up. And the iPhone is like a really tremendous space for that.
Is the feeling of owning your own IP the primary allure, or the sense of freedom you get when you're not part of a larger studio?
RS: Well, those two appeals go very much hand-in-hand. For one thing, you are allowed to go in a direction that appeals to you, that you believe in, and follow your creative dreams. And when you're done with that, it's also yours. It's like the idea that you put it together, now you own it. You know, it's very rare that you can work on your own idea.
I mean, it's possible to give the IP to a company... like LittleBigPlanet. Like maybe somebody envisioned that, and now Sony owns the IP. I guess that happens sometimes. That hasn't happened in my career. It feels like they go together.
Did you work on established IP?
RS: Well, I worked on the Thief franchise. I came in, and I contributed a ton to that IP, but I came in late enough that the core direction was already pretty well locked, so I'm just like fleshing out a direction for an IP as opposed to... Spider was something we dreamed up soup to nuts. So it just feels like it should naturally go together for me, but it's rare that you get that opportunity.
Well, it's rare because directing the IP requires a certain power position, and also because large studio development is so collaborative by nature. It feels a bit different doing your own thing, doesn't it?
RS: Yeah. I guess the thing I would say to that is that ideas evolve, and it's wonderful to have a large pool of collaborators developing your idea with you. There are tons of way to give them credit and reward, but fundamentally still, like our IP, Spider is something we own.
DK: Well, you know, one thing that was very attractive to me about kind of doing our own thing was being able to control the scope of the project. I came from a project at Midway where I was there from day one, and I was involved in helping shape the direction of what was a new IP.
But over three and a half years, it just changes form so many times, you lose ownership even if you're there for the lifetime of the project. So, it was really exciting to be in a place where I can align myself with people who also wanted to something much smaller, but still had ambition and still wanted to be interesting.
RS: Yeah. I guess to get to the heart of your question, I actually really like working on other people's IP or licenses, and just trying to like flesh out a game design for that. I think that's really cool, but it's really awesome to be able to make your own game of your own design.
That's something that appealed the most to me, but hand-in-hand with that, in the end, you really feel like you deserve to own it afterwards. Kind of the only way to get yourself in that position is to invest in yourself, to be your whole owner.
And the iPhone is also unique. That makes things a lot more possible. We talked a lot in our presentation about how low overhead we were, and this is kind of the first time that I know of in history that it's been possible to do things with that low overhead in the gaming space except for maybe all the way back in like the '70s and '80s when people had literally...
DK: The shareware days or something.
RS: Like Richard Garriott who made Akalabeth and put it in Ziploc bags, then sold that to local stores. It's been then since then that you could really do what we're doing.