Big Blue Bubble Explores the iPhone with Pop-A-Tronic
by Deborah M. Fike · 04/28/2009 (6:02 pm) · 6 comments
Canadian-based Big Blue Bubble is no stranger to game development. Founded in 2004 by industry veterans, the company saw the potential of the upcoming mobile games market. Its first game, Bubble Trouble, quickly sold over 120,000 copies worldwide and was used in marketing campaigns by Nokia. Now, with a variety of mobile, casual, and console games under its belt, Big Blue Bubble saw another big opportunity with the iPhone market, and decided to port over one of their biggest hits, Pop-A-Tronic.
Pop-A-Tronic is a mix between a classic match-3 game and fast paced action game. The game was designed as real-time strategy, where players complete a variety of explosive challenges, power ups, game modes and cool tunes. As always, a video is worth a thousand pictures:
Big Blue Bubble CEO Damir Slogar took time out of his busy schedule to talk to me about taking a non-Torque game and porting it to the iPhone using iTGB. Enjoy!
Why choose Pop-A-Tronic as your first iPhone game?Our Technical Director was evaluating iTGB, and we decided to make the iPhone version of our PC hit Pop-A-Tronic more as a showcase. It turned out that the game was quite fun to play, so we decided to release it and continue working on new features and improvements.
What was your development process like for the port?It took one programmer about three weeks to finish the game. We conduct QA for our iPhone and casual games internally, unlike for console games, which we contract out to 3rd parties.
What tools did you use to create Pop-A-Tronic?For Pop-A-Tronic we didn’t use anything except Torque and Photoshop. The original PC version game was done with the PopCap framework and later on we ported the framework to Mac.
It took one developer only three weeks to port the PC version of Pop-A-Tronic over to the iPhone.
Why choose Torque?If you check our website, you will notice that we are primarily focused on console and PC casual game development. For every platform we commit to, we developed our own technology. The decision to move to iPhone was made recently and we are still not 100% sure how much resources we will commit to it. Rather than building the technology from scratch, we decided to release our first few games with Torque. Most of the titles we are about to release this year are iPhone versions of our existing casual games. iTGB allows us to rapidly develop games, considering that the design and majority of art assets already exist.
Describe some of your development challenges.Basically all technical hurdles we resolved by tweaking the game design and features of the game. Loading times is the tough one. We improved it in the new build, but we are still not happy with the result and we are waiting for iTGB 1.2 to fix that. Generally, the basic idea was to spread the loading of the resources. Instead of loading everything at the beginning, we are loading part of it right away, part after each title screen, and part after the user select option from the menu. It doesn’t really reduce overall loading time, but there is no single screen where you have to wait for 15-20 seconds, and the overall experience is much better.
As for overall speed, we didn’t have any major issues except for the fact that different devices (iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G, iPod...) work at different speeds, so we included the option to turn particle effects on/off in the setup menu.
Big Blue Bubble chose iTGB since it allowed them to rapidly prototype their already existing games on a new device.
What was it like publishing a game on the iTunes App Store?Simple. We have developed and published games on more than ten platforms over the last five years, and iTunes is the simplest one by far.
Any advice you would give a small studio on how to become successful in the casual games space?The way I see it, there are two main ways to became successful in casual games, both equally risky and challenging. The first one is to focus on portal-friendly games. The amount of innovation doesn’t have to be big, but the production values (graphic, sound, gameplay) need to be near perfect. Your game MUST end up on the Top 10 chart of at least one of top three players (Big Fish Games, Real Arcade or Oberon). Forget about marketing, trying to set up your own web site , etc. Focus on making the best games possible and let the portals handle the rest.
The second approach is quite different. Try to find a niche market and make the game you are really passionate about. Focus on selling the game on your own and start building your ‘fan base.’ You will probably end up spending more time marketing and promoting the game than actually coding, but this is the key to getting noticed. Once you reach critical mass, things will turn over quickly.
Of course, there are dozens of other ways to succeed, and that is the beauty of this industry.
"There are two main ways to became successful in casual games space. The first one is to focus on portal-friendly games. The second is find a niche market and make the game you are really passionate about. Both are equally risky and challenging." - Damir Slogar, Big Blue Bubble CEO
Thanks, Damir, for your time. I look forward to your upcoming iPhone ports and many other console and casual projects this year!
For more stories like this, check out GarageGames' Developer Interview series.