Just like many of you, the Bubbobar team love playing casual games. One might even say that we could get a little addicted to them at times. And as the smartphones “invasion” and the popularity of self-publishing on various app stores are both on the rise, it is becoming increasingly challenging to hunt down good games to play amidst the stampede of choices out there. Likewise, many independent developers struggle to stand out.
We found this one game that is not only highly enjoyable, but also appears to have the ability to attract a high volume of downloads within a short time span. That game is Super Bomb Noms. (High five back if you have also played it before!) So what are the game’s secrets to success? We think that one key ingredient is, quite clearly, its creators.
The Bubbobar team had the opportunity to interview the creative and engineering minds behind Super Bomb Noms — the Super Cookie Games team. We even managed to get ahold of one team member from down under, who — that’s right — is embarking on his new chapter of life in faraway Australia.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Dan and James.
Q: James, Dan, how did the two of you meet each other?
James: We were introduced by a super cool recruiter (Barry @ RecWorks) about 5 years ago now. Dan had just done some artwork for Barry, and I think Barry also had managed to help Dan land a job. So he was aware of what Dan was capable of from an art perspective. Barry found me and managed to place me at the now defunct Playfish (Electronic Arts) and during that process he wanted to put us in touch as he knew we both liked making kinda old school style games.
Dan: Funnily enough we both had personal brand names for our previous games with the word cookie in it, so super cookie seemed like the perfect name for the new indie duo. :)
Editor’s note: That is a catchy name, indeed!
Q: What are your backgrounds, respectively?
James: I actually did an Electronics Engineering degree, although there was a fair bit of software involved, obviously nothing games based! As part of my final year project I learnt Java — I think one of the key reasons was that you were allocated a good chunk of points if you went out and learnt something that wasn’t on originally part of your course.
Well having finished that it was around the time J2ME was on the rise and I had just upgraded to a Sony Ericsson w800i. I noticed when launching some games they had the Java logo. I was like, “Hey! I know Java!” So I started out making little games on my phone. Nothing extensive and definitely nothing that was ever realised – app stores weren’t such a thing back then and the concept of downloading anything to your mobile phone was completely alien to pretty much everyone. Then as a hobby I just kept plugging away at it, trying different things, different techniques. I did actually release a game to Blackberry back in 2010, nothing special – it was a simple 6 level platformer. In fact it was the precursor to BetaMax – Sherbet Plains, the first game Dan and I did together.
In the last five years we have really just strived on learning new techniques and tools to help us deliver games.
Dan: I have a background in animation and design, and have been working in UI/UX design for many years now. I have also always been drawn to development, since my first computer when 5, a Spectrum ZX 128K +2, showing my age a bit there :). I have enjoyed pretty much all the old school gaming periods, from 8bits all the way up to the current generation. Therefore it only seemed natural that we started off making retro games, in my particular case a homage to Nintendo, which I will always love.
Q: I know James currently lives in Australia. Dan, what about you, where are you based?
Dan: I’m based in London, where I work for a digital agency as an Experience Designer as my full time job.
Q: How do you make your remote partnership work?
James: Funny fact here. Dan and I have only met up three times maybe? The last time was just before I left the UK. We went to a Google Play event to see what went on at these things. But in general it works quite well, as we will have discussions on Facebook chat – and FB Chat tells me we have had 77,000 messages between us! Dan might go away and draw some concept art whilst I am offline, and I will look at prototypes when he is. But it’s all pretty cool. I think we get about 9 hours of overlap anyway.
Dan: Yeah haha, Facebook Messenger works really well for the both of us. We both have quite tight schedules anyway with our main jobs and whatnot, so being remote hasn’t really disrupted our process. We always seem to manage to find some time to work on our games.
Q: Let’s trace back a little bit again. Why did you decide to get into indie games?
James: I would say it is mostly because we love playing games. We particularly love the 16 bit era — anyone old enough will remember the fun of the “Console Wars”, some might say it was back when games were games.
With the last 5-8 years it hasn’t been easier at any time in the history of games development – or software development – to make a game/product and have it instantly accessible worldwide so there is that appeal. Even saying that, I wouldn’t say it is something we could live off, without a breakout hit, and I like to think that is what we are building up to – breakout hit that is. If you look at our portfolio of games they are inspired by established game mechanics:
BetaMax – Sherbet Plains (iOS, Play, Amazon, Ouya)
Dashing Rainbows (iOS, Play)
Super Bomb Noms (Play, Amazon, Ouya)
Jiggle Jaggle (iOS, Play, Amazon, Ouya)
55 Shades (iOS, Play, Amazon)
OMG Dancer! (iOS, Play)
Bitty Flappy Bat (Amazon)
We do it that way as a way to learn. Learn which tools are the best, how each platform works and, more importantly, how to deliver.
One other thing we have recently discovered, is that sometimes people take the effort to make “Let’s Play” videos about our games. It’s a great experience to see and hear someone playing one of our games for the first time, seeing how they react – that is cool!
Dan: Yeah I would say the best part is to see people’s feedback. I loved it when some people were super engaged with our games and on our social media channels.
Q: Now that you are in this “for real”, how do you balance time between your day job, indie development, and having a life?
James: I believe that the day job and the indie development complement each other. You learn about cool things in your spare time that you can bring into the workplace and, in the opposite direction, you pick up tried and tested techniques on building software and delivering.
It isn’t necessarily just software development, that is just a small part of it. To compete you have to have the complete package, understanding the analytics, the marketing, etc. From my day job, I have the opportunity to get to grips with what a business really needs to know and understand, in order to figure if something was successful or not.
From a balance perspective it is all about the execution — every spare minute counts. I am not suggesting you shouldn’t spend time refining something, what I am getting at is you need to be realistic in what you want to achieve.
We appreciate we are only two people doing this in our spare time, so we know when we need to cut something or tone down a feature. As I mentioned before we chat a lot on Facebook, and so we plan out what our plan of attack is — what is achievable in the immediate available time frame — then do it, and then reflect. You could say we do 4-hour sprints!
Dan: I agree, a lot of the new stuff I apply in my day job I have learned from working on our games. Sometimes you have limitations when working in a big team. Being just the two of us, we are able to try outlandish stuff out that sometimes doesn’t quite work. The up side is that there are no risks involved, but these experiments let us learn important lessons that we can then apply to other projects back at work. Plus we both work in jobs that pretty much are our hobbies, so it usually doesn’t really feel like work in the first place.
I would say our main motto is, actually get something out of the door. It’s easy to be super perfectionist and refine ad nauseum, but it’s much more rewarding to set yourself a realistic goal, polish it enough that you are proud of it, and then push the boundaries a little bit further in the next project.
Tell us about your most popular game thus far – Super Bomb Noms
James: Super Bomb Noms (SBN) is an awesome little bomberman clone that you can play head-to-head with a friend, against someone from around the world or just against the AI. It has a tournament style approach, win three rounds and you win the tournament.
There are over 60 different Bomb Nom characters to collect, and you can either buy them in the shop or win them. The response when we launched was fantastic! We had people emailing us from all over the world, asking about the other characters in the Bomb Nom world and how they can unlock them. For example, we set it up so we could provide special edition characters you could only get at certain times of the year – Halloween, Christmas, etc. — or there were a few that you could only get by emailing us to have us send out a URL to launch the game from, which would award them the character. It was great watching the stats come in for that game — so for example, we know there has been nearly 200,000 rounds played, which is not bad when it is essentially an unknown game in the market.
Dan: Yeah, the most rewarding thing for me was seeing how people reacted to the new Bomb Noms we launched, and how eager they were to complete their collections.
Q: I know you’re both keen on learning something new from each game. Can you share with us what you’ve learned from creating SBN?
James: We started out SBN with the idea that we wanted to utilise every feature of Google Play Games Services that they offered, so this meant finding a way to fit in:
Real Time Multiplayer
I can’t remember how we decided on Bomberman as inspiration, but we felt we could draw on all those features if we did. In fact the only one not to make into the game was Gifting – we went with Facebook on that one.
So, really it was all about the integration and making all the features work.
Dan: In terms of artwork, it was good to try and find a way to leverage all the work to create all the animations for all the Bomb Noms (there are over 80 to collect), and find a quick way to add new ones. I’m the only one drawing these out, so it is a massive amount of work, but I managed to find a way to get many characters out of the door without prohibitive timelines — based on the fact that they all follow a similar template in terms of body shape and proportions. This not only makes it feel more cohesive, but it also allows me to quickly draw out all the keyframes needed for the animations, and to create new ones.
Q: Many SBN fans (us included!) have wondered, is the game also available on iOS?
James: Yes it is available for iOS, but it wasn’t when we started the project – that should be another thing to point, we aim to achieve at least iOS and Android compatibility with every game. That means building with that support in from the beginning.
Q: Speaking of beginning, I hear you have a new game coming out! What is it?
James: We have just released OMG Dancer! on iOS and Android.
OMG Dancer! is a fun finger tapping game where you have to make your character dance in time with the music. This music could be tracks built in or from your own music collection. Again this is the learning something new creeping in – we wanted people to play with their own music. You can also take a selfie and have that as your character’s face as they dance. If you build up enough “Perfect” hits you will trigger a freestyle mode, where you can rack up your score by tapping as much as possible.
Dan: We always seem to both have new ideas for new games, so probably another one will be out soon. We always seem to have something in the pipeline, and so far we have been pretty good at finishing off projects and not leaving them incomplete. We do have some little experiments that never quite got anywhere, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up finishing them off someday in the future and building actual games out of them. :)
Editor’s note: We can’t wait!
Q: What else have you learned from making OMG Dancer!?
James: The main learning point from this was from an art perspective. Dan wanted to get to grips with an animation framework called Spine and a screen design tool called Zeplin. So once I had core dancing mechanic working, Dan could just drop in the new dancers and off it go. Also, using Zeplin for the screens made things go soooo much quicker. Dan could design the screen and then I could implement it, as it had all the assets and coordinates of where buttons and such should go.
From a technical aspect we integrated with Everyplay, so your dance is recorded and you can upload and share your recordings with other dancers! We also has camera access for the selfies and the music library access to provide the player the ability to dance with their own music. Quite pretty feat. when you consider this had to be done cross platform.
Dan: This was also the first project I used Sketch to create the interface, combined with Illustrator. It has definitely been a major asset for our process, and I can’t see myself going back to Photoshop, apart from the usual little bits and bobs that I need to do sometimes there. Sketch isn’t the perfect tool, and it’s quite buggy, but it is definitely good enough for teams to add to their workflow. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it, especially because, being still quite small teams, you do actually have the chance to get in touch with them and they do listen and fix bugs. This also applies to Zeplin, which were awesome enough to add features I enquired about. How cool is that?!
Q: What platforms can we play OMG on? Where can we get it from?
Well, we are definitely headed to the app stores next!
In essence, we find this chat to be both entertaining and informative at the same time. We hope you are taking away and learning as much from these guys as we are.
Additionally, we are thoroughly impressed by SCG’s achievements thus far, particularly given how they managed everything under other life commitments. If we didn’t know any better, we would have thought that their games were developed by much bigger-scale startups — that’s how high quality their products are.
On their developer’s website, the SCG duo somehow call themselves “crazy guys”. In our humble opinion, if there’s anything marginally crazy about them, it’s their undeterred focus and determination to get things done efficiently! We know it won’t be long before the powerhouse’s next game comes out, and we sure are eager for the arrival of that very day.