Lately I've managed to catch up with the developers of the ever-famous Hockey title - The Hockey Experiment. It's one of the very few full hockey titles on the AppStore where NinthDimensionStudios have taken a slightly cartoon-style route. It's raked in quite a lot of high ratings but has yet to accede in the charts. I've asked them a few question which they've gratefully answered in quite some depth. Check out the full interview below:
What made you think of getting into the iPhone gaming business?
• Well, both of us, Jonathan Sabella and Brian Kritzberg [Founders of Ninth Dimension Studios, LLC], have been avid video gamers since childhood and thought it would be exciting to transition our hobby into a business. Between the two of us we have owned virtually every game console that has been produced in the last twenty years and Brian still owns a library of approximately 60-70 NES game titles, including a genuine NES Power-Glove! The single coolest piece of gaming memorabilia, in our opinion...even though it works like absolute garbage.
• Jonathan studied art from a young age and graduated in 2009 from Northern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree focusing on 3d modeling and animation and has always had a deep passion for digital art, so the move into the iPhone gaming business was a no brainer for him. However, for Brian the jump into the iPhone gaming business was a little more unexpected. Originally Brian had intended on obtaining a PhD in Chemistry and had completed a year of graduate schooling at University of Illinois, but had a revelation that this was not career path he wanted to take. Brian went on to complete a Masters in Chemistry and followed that up with a Masters in Business, graduating with deep interest finance, marketing, and becoming an entrepreneur. When Brian and Jon realized that trying to land a career in this poor job market was going to be more difficult than they had thought they decided to join forces and created Ninth Dimension Studios, LLC in October of 2009.
Who in your team develops what?
• Ninth Dimension Studios is a small studio comprised of two founding members thus far, so developing this game was quite a challenge considering it was our first title and that we developed it in only 4 months.
• Jonathan Sabella, Lead Artist and Creative Director, was responsible for all visual aspects of The Hockey Experiment, including all environment assets, characters, menus, etc. Jonathan was also responsible for all the animation work, modeling, rigging and texturing. He spent a great deal of time on designing the look of the game and characters based off of a mix of Vinyl Toy dolls and NES sprites. Jonathan is also responsible for our logo, ad and website design as well as the animated cinematics contained within the game.
• Brian Kritzberg, Producer and Audio Engineer, created the sound effects and 8-bit style music tracks found in The Hockey Experiment. We had originally planned on outsourcing the audio work to local composer, but due to budget constraints we ended up moving this task in-house, which was another challenge considering neither of us had any experience creating sound effects or composing music; however we are quite pleased with the outcome given the circumstances. Brian also heads up all the general business and Producer responsibilities for Ninth Dimension Studios.
• We also did all of the Motion Capture work in-house, which allowed us to achieve very smooth and realistic animations in The Hockey Experiment. Brian was our Motion Capture actor and Jonathan recorded, adjusted, and blended them with many hand keyed animations to prepare them for use in the game.
• For programming duties we outsourced that task to Ray Graham of Bitwise Design, Inc. Ray is a top-tier programmer with a great deal of experience working with the Unity Engine, which is what we used to build The Hockey Experiment. We choose to use Unity because it has allowed us to easily build the game for both the iPhone and PC platforms. Ray is also the creator and programmer of other well-know iPhone titles including Karnival and Hospital Havoc.
What made you think of taking a more ‘cartoon-style' route rather than a more realistic Hockey game?
• There are actually several reasons why we decided to go with a more "cartoon-style" for The Hockey Experiment. First off, we are huge fans of games like Ice Hockey and Blades of Steel for NES, which have more of a cartoon style, and which we still enjoy playing to this day. We love the style and fun-factor of this game; it was a big inspiration for us. We also wanted to have more creative freedom with the character designs and the game content, which is fairly limited if you take a "realistic hockey" approach. We wanted to infuse a sense of light heartedness, humor, and universal appeal into our game, which I think we achieved with the game's characters; the "Mischievous Muckety Mucks". If you pay attention to the details in the game you will start to notice the little wacky touches. For example, one of the teams you can choose is the "Brothzillas", whose team mascot is a dinosaur that pukes up soup. The concept for this team actually stemmed from an inside joke in that our Lead Artist, Jonathan, is obsessed with soup and had created this dinosaur character months before we even started work on the game. When it came to team names and design we had no rules and just tried to think of the strangest ideas that we could come up with. Additionally, if you look at the artwork and titles for the various in-game trophies that can be earned you will again see very goofy names and artwork, such as "Mmm, Generic CheesePuffs", which is our tribute to the stereotypical gamer who is known to just sit in his or her basement eating Cheese Puffs and playing video games all day long. Finally, anyone can make a "realistic" Hockey game, and we figure it is only a matter of time before someone like EA would make a Hockey game for the iPhone, in which case we'd be sunk.
Do you have any updates planned for the future?
• Yes, we are currently working on an update which includes improved AI, strengthened goal-tending on Novice Mode, improved animations, updated OpenFeint features, tweaked fighting mechanisms, and which will also clear up any iOS4 compatibility issues. The update will have a few minor visual changes as well, but the look of the game will remain 99% unchanged. This update should be out early August at the latest. We are also working on improving the feel of the joy-stick allowing for more precise control over your player, however being a slightly larger task this update may not be ready until later this summer.
Are there any upcoming titles in the pipeline?
• At the moment we have a few concepts for future games, but for now we are focusing our attention on The Hockey Experiment with all our efforts going to promote and market the game. We are also busy gathering user feedback and are working to continuously improve the title as we move into the future.
Why did you choose the iPhone as a gaming platform over the Nintendo DS or other handheld consoles?
We decided to go with the iPhone platform because it has clearly become the hottest gaming platform, especially for mobile gaming. It is stealing market share each day from the likes of Nintendo and Sony. Apple provides small developers a chance to easily get their games into the hands of the public without the need for a big time publisher to help with distribution. Additionally, the developer kits for platforms like Nintendo and Sony Playstation cost thousands of dollars, which just give the developer the rights build a game for them, nothing more. Lastly, we wanted to get the most bang for our buck and by using the Unity Engine to build the game we were able to port it out to the iPhone and PC without much trouble. In fact we were just informed that "The Hockey Experiment" was selected by
IndieDB.com as one of the "Top 10 Finalists" for their recent Unity Powered Games Contest. Apparently there were over 50 entries and now we are up against some very stiff competition within the top ten, but it is a nice recognition nonetheless.
How do you feel/What do you think about the iPhone 4′s new features and how they can affect the future of AppStore gaming?
Most definitely the new features of the iPhone 4 will continue to add new dimension to gaming on the platform. Particularly the addition of the multi-axis gyroscope we feel will lend a lot of new possibilities and control that can end up pushing developers to create even more innovative applications. Additionally the inclusion of the user-facing camera will likely leading to facial motion capture and control within new games. Each time Apple adds new capabilities to it's iPhone it inevitably affects the end user products greatly.