At some point – probably when sitting in a pub or on a train, tapping away on our GALAXY Note II at whatever game currently has us in its seductive grip – we’ve all had the same thought: “Why didn’t I think of that?”
The best Android games – the likes of Angry Birds Star Wars (Rovio, Free), Temple Run 2 (Imangi, Free) or David Cameron’s favourite, Fruit Ninja (Halfbrick, 76p) have incredibly simple premises. We’ve all daydreamed about creating the next big smash-hit on Google Play Games, amassing fame and fortune in the process. But is that a realistic possibility?
Well, creating the next game to take the Android world by storm won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. But neither is it beyond the realms of possibility – as one man recently proved. Simon Read is the (solo) creative talent behind New Star Soccer (New Star Games, £1.99), the awesome football management/playing game that any connoisseurs of the beautiful game will surely have purchased.
Simon Read hit paydirt with the beautiful game that is New Star Soccer
And recently, his efforts were rewarded in the most prestigious way possible: New Star Soccer won the Best Sports/Fitness category at the BAFTA Games Awards, triumphing over the mega-budget likes of FIFA 13 and Nike+ Kinect Training.
So how long did it take him to make a successful mobile game, and did it involve a lot of dedication and single-mindedness?
“Yes, that’s the key thing. I started making my own football games back in about 2001. It was just a hobby, but it was something I loved to do – it was fun as much as anything. If you’re not having fun building games, then you’re probably not in the right business. Even when it became a full-time job, it still felt like a hobby. So I put in 12-hour days, just working on the game – that dedication is very important.”
Could you conceptualise, design and code the next big thing on mobile?
Read only recently brought New Star Soccer over to Android: earlier versions of the game were just on the PC: “I ported the code across using a language called Monkey, which is a simple gaming language, but it will build the app on whatever platform you want to put it on.
“Then I had to bring in the gameplay for the mobile version, because obviously it’s a touch-screen game opposed to one that you would use a gamepad or a keyboard for. That was relatively easy – I just wanted to play the highlights of the games.
New Star Soccer is a superb "bitesize" mobile snack of a game
“Because it’s a mobile game, you don’t want to spend ten minutes on a match; you want it to be easy to dip in and out of. I got the ball bouncing across the screen where you tap it to kick, and that seemed to work well; it all just seemed to come together quite naturally.
“The process of launching it on Android was dead easy: you can basically just sign up with Google and get it on Google Play and be up and running in a matter of days. I think the hardest thing, for me, was implementing in-app purchases, which I still haven’t done.
“I had a job up until 2006, working on an IT helpdesk. There were sometimes long hours during the night when I didn’t have much work to do, so I’d just get the laptop out and work away on New Star Soccer. Eventually, New Star Soccer 3 came out, and that made me enough money to quit my job and do this full-time.
“Over the last six or seven years, it has been tough at times. Some games didn’t do very well, but generally, I just scraped by. My wife is a nurse, and that helped – I wouldn’t have been able to survive without her support and her income.”
Jon Hare, CEO of Tower Studios, is a bona fide games industry legend; co-founder of Sensible Software, of Sensible Soccer fame.
He has spent recent years making mobile games – most recently, the Android version of Sensible Software’s Speedball 2. He has a wealth of dos and don’ts for those toying with the idea of making an Android game – many of which chime with Simon Read’s experience.
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Hare says that if you’ve got a lovely great touch-screen like that on the GALAXY Note II, you need to use it: “It’s most important for young designers to understand that you’re making a touch-screen game: there’s no joypad or buttons.
“Even virtual D-Pads are not a good thing to put in a game. D-Pads are a hangover from console games, and you should never design originally for them – it’s a bit like having a mouse emulator on a PlayStation. Also, you have to consider physicality: you don’t want to stay cramped up in front of it a small screen for long periods of time.
David Cameron's favourite mobile game is Fruit Ninja, so we are reliably informed
“So you have to design the game around snacking-type gameplay. The most successful games are where the concentrated input per move lasts one or two seconds. The ability to drop a game at any point – when you’re getting off the bus or going to the toilet – then resume from where you left off is essential for an Android game. You have to design around that.”
Those are lessons that the likes of Angry Birds, New Star Soccer, Cut The Rope and Bejewelled 2 all took to heart.
As Read’s experience shows, you can’t walk into the world of mobile games and expect to take it instantly by storm. Hare has this to say: “To go through the process of making a game, it is easier to do it with someone else, for two reasons.
There aren’t many people who have good art and programming skills. And it’s quite motivating to have another person to work with. Game development is a lot about momentum and caring, and feeding off people.
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“The other thing is to not expect anything first time. Take Rovio, for example. Angry Birds is the 52nd game they made. From the perspective of someone just starting: just get something out there that proves that you’re up to it. The big similarity between the old days and now is the ability to have a one, two or three-man team to make a game and get it out there. That wasn’t available for years and years of console development.”
Hare continues: “The majority of Android games are free-to-play. That alters some of the way you view progression and unlocking. The most successful games, number one, have a great game mechanic that people want to play and number two, things that are going to monetise them – for example, if it’s a shooting game, you can get so far but you know that if you have some extra ammo, you’ll be able to finish the job off properly.
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“The key is to make that uppermost in the player’s focus. It’s very much like a fruit machine – they say that you’ve got a two or three-second window. The purchases that work best in games are when you’ve got that feeling you have to perform instantly.”
Finally, Hare suggests that with your first game, at least, you should stick to 2D, rather than 3D graphics. Which, of course, brings to mind the early days of gaming.
You could do worse than seek inspiration from some of the classics from yesteryear. Such as PGZ Space Invaders (Adam Pigg, 65p), which takes one of the first, best-loved games but reinvents it for touch-screens and accelerometers. Atari’s Greatest Hits (Atari, Free), should also provide your game-design sensibilities with succour.
Then, when you’ve got something under your belt and out there, you can perhaps thinking about adding some sophistication. Like the unbelievably clever and addictive Minecraft – Pocket Edition (Mojang, £4.99) or the hilarious. Plants Vs Zombies (EA Swiss, 99p). So get programming and best of luck.