We had a chance to speak to one man Android developer, Ernest Woo, about what he thinks of Android development before moving on to the specifics of his own games. So far, Woo Games has released two titles – the first was FRG, a pretty successful arcade shooter. The second has only literally come out on the Android Marketplace but has been looking fantastic for a while, ErnCon is a multiplayer-enabled shmup in which you attempt to take over the galaxy.
Who are you and what do you do in the games industry?
My name is Ernest Woo and I’m the founder of Woo Games, a small indie studio based in Boston, MA. Our goal is to create great real-time mobile multiplayer games that appeal to hardcore and casual players alike.
I’ve been working on games since I was 8 – when I got my hands on a Commodore 64, actually J Almost all of my game development experience is driven by independent projects including an old shareware game I wrote called Orb Rush, FRG for Android, and now ErnCon.
I’ve also been involved with other players in the industry – I wrote the Java Applet version of TipTop (published by PopCap) and I’m part of the 1st party mobile browser games team at MocoSpace.
Why Android instead of iOS? Any thoughts on Windows Phone 7?
The jump to Android was very easy given the Java connection; after all, my career has been dominated by Java for web applications and enterprise development. Android’s decision to use the Java language convinced me to develop Android games right off the bat.
Interestingly, my first Android game (FRG) was a Pascal project originally intended for the desktop. When Android Developer Challenge 2 was announced, I thought “Hey I got three months to port this to Android.”
Windows Phone 7 will probably continue to be a 3rd or 4th tier platform for a long time coming. WP7 doesn’t have enough market penetration for an indie developer like Woo Games to even consider diverting resources. It’s already hard enough to make money on Android and iOS!
Do you like where the Android platform is going with Ice Cream Sandwich?
I’m ambivalent on ICS right now. I’ve been happy with what Android has provided for game development since Android 1.5 and the only OS-level feature I’ve really cared about was JIT (just-in-time compiling), introduced in Android 2.2.
Mobile browser gaming is a segment I want to dig a little deeper. It turns out Facebook’s Android app links only to browser-based apps and games, making such games an untapped segment. The ICS Browser has regressed in CSS and Canvas performance (compared to Gingerbread); I’m unsure how feasible Android browser game development will be in the short-term.
How do you like being a one man studio? Do you prefer it?
I love being a one-man studio! I get to win almost all of the technical and game design arguments
I do hire contractors to complement my abilities (I can’t draw or compose music — I don’t know anything about PR/marketing either) but I still get to set the pace of development to something that suits me best. When I’m ready to take Woo Games to the next level I’ll find a partner to work with. For now, Woo Games is a one-man operation and I’m having way too much fun to think about hiring a Number 2.
Where did the idea for ErnCon come from? Any other influences?
ErnCon has existed in some form or other since 1995 when I learned Pascal in high-school. After finishing my first summer programming course, my computer teacher started me on a game project to keep me engaged (not that I really needed the help). Star Control was still fresh in my mind at the time so my teacher and I thought up of a one-on-one space combat game. The DOS executable for Star Control was “starcon” so he suggested “ErnCon” as the name of this project.
ErnCon went through some variations over my high-school years – at one point it was an RTS because I was playing lots of Command & Conquer. The last Pascal incarnation of ErnCon allowed 8-person multiplayer over an IPX LAN influenced by playing lots of multiplayer Doom and Descent. I made a lot of my high-school peers happy by circumventing the “no commercial games” rule for the computer lab!
What have you learned from releasing FRG that you have used in designing and programming ErnCon?
ErnCon is actually using an improved version of the FRG graphics and networking engines. The FRG engine was designed to run on 1st generation Android phones like the G1 so I was quite confident it could keep up with the design demands of ErnCon when running on modern Android devices. Using an engine I am intimately familiar with has resulted in me being able to concentrate on actually creating a fun game as opposed to getting caught up in technical minutiae.
There are a number of things I learned from releasing FRG that no longer apply to today’s users and phone technology. For example, a 5MB game was considered huge for a G1 and FRG received negative reviews because of that! FRG was also lovingly tuned to minimize object allocations and garbage collection pauses as a result. Given improvements in Android’s garbage collector and phone processing power, I haven’t had to worry as much about errant garbage collections that would lead ErnCon to pause.
How do you design one app for a phone and tablet? That seems like quite a challenge.
While developing FRG, I forced myself to learn Android’s way of doing user-interfaces with nine-patches, layouts, device-independent-pixels, and handling orientation-switches. Using Android’s built-in UI framework rather than rolling your own UI in an OpenGL surface allows you to easily handle the screen-size fragmentation issue. If you have the proper resolution graphics, porting your UI to the tablet becomes a couple nights worth of work.
ErnCon is now is beta, how do you plan on monetizing the game? Do you have a post launch plan yet?
ErnCon will always be free-to-play. For players who feel ErnCon is worth spending money on, I’ve designed a Premium Currency to be used for special weapons and custom colored robots and fighters. This Premium Currency can be purchased with real-world dollars through Android Market In-App-Purchases or Swarm Connect’s Paypal API.
The post-launch plan involves designing new robots, fighters, and weapons at all price points (including free DLC) to keep players engaged. ErnCon will also slowly roll out to other countries outside of North America and Europe as demand increases. If commercial acceptance of ErnCon goes well, I will start working on the iOS version of the game.
How has the beta gone? I can imagine there is a huge influx of feedback, what are the biggest things you are seeing?
The beta has gone great so far! With over 3,500 players, I’ve received lots of feedback and awesome bug reports. One thing I love about the beta is when I see games with 4 or 5 players. Epic space battles are happening as we speak, which makes me incredibly happy.
Anything else you want the Indie Game Mag readers to know about Woo Games or your upcoming ErnCon release?
If anyone has an interesting story to share about their time with ErnCon, please drop me a line! I love hearing from users that they enjoy playing one of my games. I’m always open to feedback and bug reports as well – so keep me up to date on your ErnCon experience.
You can find out more information on Woo Games over on the official website.