Siti Syameen Md Khalili talks to two friends behind the first Malaysian-created apps game to receive Apple endorsement
ARE you familiar with the Flatfish? The creature lays perfectly still at the bottom of a body of water, camouflaged by its surroundings. When smaller, unsuspecting fish swim by, the Flatfish strikes, devouring them in a flash.
Gamers would find a similar character in Lightopus, the two-tentacled creature in a new casual arcade game of the same name. It is the first Malaysian title to receive Apple endorsement.
Lightopus developers Adam Ham and Desmond Lee helm local creative house Appxplore.
Tailored to suit touchscreen iOS devices such as Apple iPad and iPhone, Lightopus invites gamers to take on the role of the last Lightopus under the sea, who must save its young ones, the Bulbies, from the evil Monsters.
Set deep under the sea, the two-tentacled Lightopus moves around according to a gamer’s finger movement. Its movement is fluid and the environments it swims in vividly colourful. There are stages to complete and score points in, and at the end, players get to destroy the Monster’s hive.
Gamers’ high scores are also automatically uploaded online for others to view and beat.
HOW IT ALL STARTED
Lightopus is Appxplore’s first game and took nearly six months to develop.
“We have on our team a talent whose specialty is artificial intelligence. When you play Lightopus, you can see that its movement is smooth, and each of the rescued Bulbies that follows the Lightopus moves just as easily. Programming the movement of the Lightopus and Bulbies is a lot of work, but our artists and programmers manage this task very well,” says Lee.
For both men, the journey into the exciting apps development world started when they met at the Saladin animation project helmed by Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC) in 2005.
“I was attached to MDeC for 10 years, and during my time, there I learnt a lot about the content industry and the process of content creation. I met Lee when he was engaged by MDeC as a consultant for Saladin, the animation series that is now on TV. We became friends and have worked together through the years,” says Ham.
Their experience in MDeC gave them insight into the future trends of content creation.
“While animation is big, we knew we had to have a product with global appeal to enable worldwide reach. That is why we chose to develop casual games and create our own intellectual property as our core activity,” adds Ham.
“When I left MDeC last year to start Appxplore with Desmond, we knew we couldn’t do everything on our own. I was lucky to have a database of contacts, talents and friends to tap into.”
Lee points out, “While we were set on the direction, we needed a strong core team to develop products — not just our first but also others in the future. We took two to three months to scout for talents.”
“While I know a lot of great talents, we do not want to poach them. We discovered then that the industry is small, so we widened our search and even talked to talents outside games development, such as those in animation, web and more,” says Ham, who says that all team members are Malaysians.
“We invested over RM400,000 to start the company, buy equipment, hire talents and cover content development,” says Lee.
The end result is Lightopus, probably the first local iOS game to be signed up by any major game publisher.
“We are happy to complete the game according to the deadline we have set for ourselves. The iOS platform is very competitive, there are over 550,000 games and apps available, so if we took longer, we have to compete with more apps.”
THE NEXT STEP
Having completed Lightopus, team AppXplore began the next phase of its journey — searching for a games publisher. Ham says, “Of course you can go ahead and sell your own game but releasing our game with the help of an established games publisher helps widen our reach.”
So the link to Lightopus began making its way into the inbox of over 20 established games publishers and soon replies started coming in.
“When we first started, we set a target of four months for the game development and we met it. While the first version attracted games publishers’ attention, it was not accepted as a good-to-go title. We received feedback and constructive criticisms from game publishers as well as gamers who tested the beta version on our site. We took about a month to tweak the version,” says Ham.
Getting the game published also posed a set of challenges.
Lee says: “ A publisher complimented our game but had to decline it because it did not suit its audience. A few big names asked us to change the game to suit their style.
“While we do want to get the game published by an established name, we would also like to keep our identity in our own property. That is why in the end we found the right publisher partner in Bulky Pix,” adds Ham.
Bulky Pix has presence in San Francisco and Paris.
“Working with Bulky Pix was a comfortable experience. Of course it too, like the other publishers, suggested that we make some changes to Lightopus, but the changes made sense. For example, with the majority of its audience being in US and Europe, it asked us to include more languages apart from English. Now the game is available in French, German, Spanish, Italian and, we’ve just added Japanese.
“We see this as an advantage as people in US and Europe are more willing to pay for good content than Asians. That is why we aimed for the US and European markets first,” says Ham.
Lightopus gained important milestones shortly after its debut last month. “Apple has endorsed the game, and together with Bulky Pix, will be marketing it. Lightopus has also been selected by games site Touch
Arcade (www.toucharcade.com) to be promoted, and several sites have ranked Lightopus as among the top 10 games of the year.”
On May 22, Appxplore will be making its way to the international games industry event, Casual Connect 2012. Lightopus had been selected as one of the 12 games to make up the Innovation Showcase at Casual Connect. “We will be releasing the Android version of Lightopus at the event,” says Lee.
INTO THE FUTURE
Both Ham and Lee have high hopes for Lightopus. “Hopefully it will be as big as Angry Birds, and we would like spin-offs such as merchandising, animation series and comics for Lightopus,” says Ham, who admits that the game’s characters were developed with not only the game in mind but also spin-off items.
What’s in Appxplore’s future portfolio? Lee says the team is working on a title to complement a Hollywood-based animation film set for release by the end of the year. “Another project is with a Japanese animation studio which asked us to develop a game based on an animation series.”
Ham adds that AppXplore will also continue to churn out its own intellectual properties.
“Our next game title is a puzzle targeted at gamers who love classic games. It is something that has never been done before, so watch this space.”
Advice for other budding games developers? Lee and Ham caution that they best learn as much as they can about the industry before embarking on their venture. “The key word is quality. You must produce quality games to attract your audience,” says Lee.
Ham adds: “You must have a strong team that can work well together and it is important to clearly delegate work to complement each other. You can’t do it alone. The moment you think you are He-Man or Superman who can do everything, you’re bound to fail.”