Interview with Lucas and Keiko Pope, Developer of Mightier and Helsing’s Fire

Interview with Lucas and Keiko Pope, Developer of Mightier and Helsing’s Fire

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1. Tell us briefly about your game, Helsing’s Fire.

Helsing’s Fire is a casual puzzle game for iOS. In it, you control Dr. Helsing and his assistant Raffton as they battle against Dracula’s evil horde. It’s got a fairly novel mechanic of manipulating light and shadow by dragging a torch around the screen. This torch casts detailed shadows in the environment and as it illuminates the monsters, a magical tonic can be used to attack. There are different monsters and different tonics, so you have to be careful and clever with your light and tonic usage to clear each puzzle.

2. Can you introduce your team? And what is your background in making games?

Helsing’s Fire was created by my wife Keiko and I. Ratloop itself includes a few more members and was established way back in 1998 in the US. We had some limited success at first with a PC game called “Gearhead Garage”, but eventually ended up going our separate ways until until a few years ago, when we regrouped to create a drawing game called “Mightier” for PC. Aside from Ratloop, Keiko and I have also worked at various larger game developers where bills were paid and experience was gained.

3. How did you come up with the concept for the game?

For Helsing’s Fire, there wasn’t really any “AH HAH!” moment when the concept materialized. I had been playing around with the iPhone SDK, making a few prototypes, and worked out a simple way to do the shadow casting. From there, I tried some different ways to use this in an interesting way before eventually settling on the current puzzle mechanics. This is actually similar to how “Mightier” came about. For that game, we started with the drawing tech, then spent a few weeks brainstorming ideas of how to turn it into an actual game. I guess I like when the parameters are established (the tech), and we just have to figure out a fun way to exploit it.

4. What development tools did you use?

We used the typical tools for an iOS game: Macs and XCode. Most of the art was created in Photoshop, and I wrote the music in GarageBand. Typically for our games, we write a bunch of custom tools from scratch (usually in C#), but because the iOS tools are so good, we didn’t need much of that for Helsing’s Fire. The only custom tool was a very simple level editor written in Cocoa.

5. Are you doing game development full-time?

Yup. Both Mightier and Helsing’s Fire were created as part-time projects while we worked day jobs as game developers. Those pesky day jobs are gone now, and at the moment we’re hard at work with the rest of the Ratloop Asia team on a Rocketbirds game for PSN.

6. How long did it take for you to develop the game?

It look a little longer than we expected, mainly because it was a part-time project. From the first line of code until the initial release was about 6 months. Since then, we’ve put in several months worth of work on updates and enhancements.

7. What are some the challenges that you face in developing games in Asia?

We haven’t run into too many issues so far. One thing that makes it a little tricky is the target market. Most of what we produce is designed for the western market, because that’s what we understand best. So it’s important to stay connected and aware of what’s going on in the US or Europe.

8. If you could start the project over again, what would you do differently?

Hmmm. Tough question. We’re usually pretty fast and loose with game development; Plan big, and cut a lot. As far as Helsing’s Fire goes, I think it turned out well, but a part of me wishes we could easily release it for other platforms. Developing with the iOS SDK made things really easy for Apple devices, but porting is non-trivial. In the future, I think we’ll try to stick to generic C++/OpenGL so that getting on the various mobile and PC platforms is easier.

9. Any advice for other indie game developers out there?

Ok, another tough question. Speaking for both Keiko and I, our time at large, established game developers really improved our ability to finish a game on time with a good amount of polish. We learned a lot about how to focus on the player, simplify the design, and test the hell out of it. I think the best way to get this experience as an indie is to start and finish games on a consistent schedule. It can be really tempting to add features and improve a game forever, but the real challenge is to say “It’s done” and ship it. With each game completed, you learn more and more about each step of the process and it becomes easier and faster to go from an idea to a finished product.

Follow Ratloop, Lucas and Keiko Pope on their website {link}


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