Late last year I wrote a short review on an addictive little flash game that was consuming large portions of my workday web-surfing regimen. Since then, Kingdom Rush has accelerated, building a following as one of the most enjoyable tower-defense experiences in a sea of mediocre iterations. For Ironhide Game Studio, the Uruguayan-based development team, it started out as a learning experience – and another step towards world conquest.
The Ironhide team is comprised of Co-Founders/Developers: Alvaro Azofra, Pablo Realini, Gonzalo Sande and the newest member, Developer Juan Andres Nin. We caught up with the minds behind Kingdom Rush to discuss their whirlwind year, their thoughts on the future and how they turned a passion into a profession.
Geeksweat: Last year was a pretty big year for you guys; first and foremost, congratulations are in order. With the release of Kingdom Rush your team has seen a lot of success in a very short time. How do you guys feel knowing that millions of people out there are enjoying a game that you created? What’s the biggest change for you from, say, this this time last year?
Alvaro Azofra: Thank you very much! Knowing that millions of people really enjoy and are having fun with our game is a great feeling and it is the biggest reward of making a it.
2011 was a year of many changes and it is hard to say what’s the biggest one because everything feels big. We started the year being almost unknown working from a very small room with a half made unnamed defense game and it ended with us moving to a new place, winning our national videogame contest, having the highest rated game on ArmorGames and Kongregate, 187,000 followers on Facebook and 35,000 on Twitter and among other things our very first game on iOS that’s receiving great reviews… so you see, everything was a big change for us. What didn’t change was the way we work, when we are focused working it still feels like being in the small room from where we started off, except with a nicer view.
Your biography page states you’re just three friends with a passion for gaming that decided to give it a shot; in addition to a nice Spaceballs reference – Yogurt would be proud! What did you guys do before forming Ironhide and what made you finally decide to take that leap?
Pablo and I worked in the web industry for several years, he is a programmer and I’m a web designer among other things, while Gonzalo is an artist that’s been drawing all his life and was the only one that had some experience working in a game company.
We took the leap because we always wanted to work on games and flash was a very accessible platform to start with so we decided to try and make one game to see how it goes; so we made Clash of the Olympians which did pretty well and with that Ironhide Game Studio was born.
To date you have developed three games: Clash of the Olympians, Soccer Challenge World Cup Edition 2010 and most recently, Kingdom Rush. It’s an interesting progression from the point-and-click style of Clash, followed by a trivia game in Soccer Challenge and then tower defense. Can you tell us a little bit about the evolution of your development and what made you decide to tackle a new genre with each new title?
I guess we took each genre by whim, we just wanted to do them at the time, and there are still lots of genres we want to try our hand on, i don’t know if we will be able to do them all but I’m confident we will try a few.
Clash of the Olympians was our first game, there we took a very simple concept and tried to improve upon it. The game came out well with some design flaws but for being the first game we are very proud of it and it was the game that allowed us to continue working on the other ones.
Soccer Challenge was made because of the World Cup, I guess the World Cup fever caught us and we also wanted to test how a Facebook game performed. So we decided to make a trivia game for soccer fans. It had a very short development time of a month and a half so we went for it. Sadly the game was finished a bit too close to the World Cup and we couldn’t sponsor it, but it still had a good reception on Facebook and it allowed us to test the social platform a bit.
Kingdom Rush was a bit of a crazy choice at the moment, we were looking at several options and someone said, how bout a defense game? A genre we all loved but were a bit afraid of, so we started some brainstorming, we had some pretty good ideas but the defining factor I guess was when Gonzalo came out with some concepts on how the game could look and we all fell in love with them immediately, so we just went ahead with it.
Talk to me a little bit about that – your art style. It’s a great mix of vibrant colors, whimsical personality and just a bit of absurdity, which makes it fun and really easy on the eyes. How did you come up with the style and were there any influences that helped it along?
Gonzalo Sande: The art style is very similar to the one used in our previous games, its cartoon like and simplistic with some comical elements. We wanted the player to feel they where defending real locations of the kingdom, that’s why we put so much effort in the little details like the sheep, houses and landscape elements that helped give personality to each stage. The real challenge was to capture all these things in a really small sized proportion, finding the way to make each enemy and soldier feel unique with their own attitude and style was crucial.
As for the inspiration, a lot of indie games use a similar art style, I believe the most recognizable of all would be Castle Crashers, but many great studios like Mika Mobile, Juicy Beast, Berzerk Studio, etc, tend to use similar vector graphics.
You announced the sequel to Kingdom Rush less than a month after the game was officially released. When did you realize that you had a hit on your hands and that hit games need hit sequels?
Alvaro Azofra: Right after open beta we noticed people were liking the game a lot since all the comments were very favorable, we included a form for beta testers to give us feedback and almost everyone rated it 9 or 10 out of 10 in several areas. After release the game quickly became the best rated game at AG [ArmorGames] and everyone was asking for more levels. We planned for a level pack but instead thought that making a stand alone game would be much better and would give us the room to add all the stuff that we left out of Kingdom Rush.
Speaking of Kingdom Rush, it hasn’t all been fun and games. While you were working on the iPad version, a developer by the name of “my Yayi” created a knock off port for the iOS platform. Unfortunately it’s a common practice, but what was that experience like and how did your fiercely loyal fan base take the news?
That wasn’t the first time someone stole our assets. Clash of the Olympians was also a victim of theft so there was our first encounter with the dark side of mobile gaming. It is a very frustrating thing to happen to a small dev, specially since you feel defenseless against that.
At first we weren’t sure what to do, we contacted the guys at Half-bot who had their game stolen too and gave us great advice on how to proceed, we emailed apple, filed copyright infringement notices and went public immediately. The community really supported us then, the author from the game music (Shannon Mason’s husband) really helped expose the situation and even got us coverage at Kotaku. Apple after a while removed the app and all was good again.
The second time we didn’t want to go public, we thought we could resolve it by emailing apple through the right channels and file copyright infringement notices very early, we caught the stolen version just a day after its release so we thought our timing was awesome. Sadly these guys really know how to work the system and delayed the process (I think) so we went public again. The community was fierce about it, Toucharcade made an article almost instantly (they are awesome), we even set up a template email for users to send to Apple. So on the first day of going public we got an answer from Apple saying they are looking into it and a few days later the game was removed. We removed the template but it is funny now once in a while we get a copy of someone sending that email to Apple.
In conclusion Apple really responds to copyright infringement, but it is always a good idea to go public with it, even if some people will go and buy the stolen product most will wait for the legit version and review sites will refrain from covering a game that’s made on stolen assets.
Your version, the real version, of Kingdom Rush was released on the iPad just before Christmas last year to thousands of five-star reviews. Did you always know that this was a title you wanted to bring to other platforms? Is mobile development something you’ve wanted to do or was it just the right venue for a game like Kingdom Rush?
Yes, when creating Kingdom Rush we always had the iPad in mind, we made all the interface very friendly for touch devices so we wouldn’t run into any big problems when taking it to the other platform.
We always wanted to get into mobile as we do want to get into other platforms like Xbox arcade or Steam, but started with flash because it was the tool we knew how to use, I hope in the future we can create games for all these other platforms.
Since you announced the sequel to Kingdom Rush you’ve developed several additional premium content packages including new levels, challenges, cosmetics and characters. Do you plan to continue supporting the original with content?
We plan to support the original for a while, in fact we are now working a new stage with a few more extras that we hope people will really love.
Speaking of the sequel – I know you get bombarded on your forums every day for information. What can you tell us about it?
At this point i can tell you it will be a new game with 3 new terrains , all new enemies , 4 new specialist towers , boss fights , new story and it will improve on the original while maintaining the classic aspects of the game. The story will pick up a few years later from the events on Kingdom Rush , and the game will take place south of the Kingdom in the frontier with the Azsare Desert.
Have you targeted a time frame for release or is it more of an “it’s ready when it’s ready” process?
We have no time frame yet, things have been crazy the last few months so for the moment “it will be ready when its ready”.
A lot of independent developers have good ideas that just don’t necessarily translate into great games. Was there ever a time when you guys thought that you might not make it? That you might have to close up shop and go back to the grind?
Not really, I mean, we never thought of closing shop in fact we were prepared for the possibility that Kingdom Rush do badly, if that were the case we would just keep trying and learn from our mistakes, but wouldn’t close up shop just yet.
So after “Kingdom Rush 2” is wrapped up – what’s next for Ironhide? Native mobile development, maybe a few more team members and a bigger office? World conquest?
World conquest is our long term aim, but right now it is very hard to know what will happen after the sequel. We have a few ideas of games we want to make and we also would like to get into more platforms but only time will tell which direction we will go.
Any advice for those interested in developing their ideas into games?
Yes a few we learned: Stay focused and trust in your work and your ideas but do not be afraid to make mistakes, if you are making something that feels fun it probably is and if it doesn’t chances are it isn’t, so go and change it. Friends never tell you your game sucks. Make sure the game is easy to learn and if its complex make a smooth learning curve. Be aware of the details, an easy to use interface, good sound fx, easter eggs, etc. They really add to the user experience.
Well thanks for taking the time to talk; I’m really excited to check out what’s in store for us from Ironhide Game Studio. Any parting words for your fans?
Thank you for interviewing us, we are also very exited to see how some of the stuff we have in mind comes out and if the players will like them. We really love when fans give us feedback and tell us how much they like our game, it really fuels us to try and be better and bring more fun stuff into our games, as I said on the first answer it is the best reward of all.
If you haven’t already, check out Ironhide Game Studio to learn more about them.