Interview with Tom Frencel, CEO of Little Guy Games

The iPhone App Review recently spoke with Tom Frencel, Chief Executive Officer of Toronto based development studio Little Guy Games. He shares his experiences developing the new game Battle Blasters for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

1) How long have Little Guy Games been designing apps for the iPhone?

We started the company in April 2009 with the focus of developing for the iPhone/iPod Touch platforms and we’ve been developing for the iPhone since then.

2) Where did the idea for Battle Blasters come from?

The idea of developing a 1-on-1 fighting game was brewing in our heads for a while, since we are big fans of the genre.  The touch screen presents a unique gaming interface that we felt should be embraced rather than circumvented with the imposition of a D-Pad on top of it. Hence, we knew that the traditional side view Street-Fighter-like fighting mechanic was not going to be ideal for the type of game we wanted to make.

One day we thought about the simplicity of Pong, and decided to play around with that mechanic, except “reverse it”.  That is how Battle Blasters was born.  We started prototyping it and were increasingly happy with what was emerging from the many prototypes that we did.

3) How did you go about bringing this idea to the iPhone?

Well, like in any game that’s trying to do something new, we needed to discover the fun.  The discovery phase can be very frustrating, but it’s also one of the most rewarding aspects of game development. After many, many prototypes and trying out various approaches, we finally started converging on a system that felt compelling to us. Once we found a solid base, we started building on top of it.  We wanted to keep the game simple and clean and hence took a minimalist design approach.

In terms of the business side of actually funding the development of the game, the Ontario Media Development Corporation (OMDC) and Telefilm have both been instrumental to the development and productionof Battle Blasters.  We could not have made this game without their support.

4) Being a new game, how are you going about promoting Battle Blaster to iPhone gamers?

We are staying active on the Touch Arcade forums, listening to what the players are saying about the game.  Their feedback is essential in making the game better via updates.

In addition, we are trying to get the game reviewed.  Some review exposure should help us in getting the word out about our game.

Finally, we will continue to support the game with more features and more content.  This is a long-term investment for us and we want Battle Blasters to become a competitive game where players can have fun, online battles against each other.

5) What do you believe it takes to succeed in the App Store?

Gameplay is key.  High quality and production value won’t hurt either. Leveraging trendy play mechanics and packaging them in a compelling visual style seem to have worked very well for many developers. Others have proven that total innovation in game design or visual direction can also be very successful. I don’t think there is one clear path to success.  If there was a known formula, everyone would surely be exploiting it;)

6) Do you have any advice for developers new to the iPhone market?

I would say study the App Store as well as the Flash gaming market. There are definitely some visible congruencies between the two. Experiment with new gameplay mechanics and find something that you can get behind, because your motivation will be important in what sometimes can seem like a lengthy development process.  Leverage the iPhone gaming community to help make your game better via focus testing, Beta testing, etc.  And most of all, have fun with it!

7) Where do you see the app market in 12 months?

That’s a tough question.  I think it will definitely continue to grow. I think the social gaming element will begin playing a larger role in the market.  We are already seeing big evidence of that. Faster Carrier networks will also enable better connected experiences. Think XBLA/PSN type of connected gameplay on your iPhone.  It’s already here, but it will become much more mainstream. And, of course, there will be more hit games made!

8) Are there any new titles from Little Guy Games in the works?

There are a couple of titles that Little Guy Games is prototyping at the moment, but we are also working hard on continuing to support Battle Blasters with new features, new multiplayer modes, and new content.

Battle Blasters is available for download on iTunes.

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