Interview with Force of Habit, Developer of Toast Time
GameWoof talked to Force of Habit’s Nick Dymond (@NEDymond) and Ashley Gwinnell (@ashleygwinnell), developer of Toast Time, to discuss their arcade game in detail. We got a chance to review their Android game recently where we rated it 4.5 Woofs. Hence, it made us want to know more about this indie developer based in the UK. We also had a chat on their decision to come over to the mobile platform, their favorite games, their thoughts on Android consoles, and their future plans.
GameWoof: Could you tell us a little bit about Force of Habit?
We’re a humble two man indie studio in Bristol, UK, who are desperately trying to stay afloat making things we love.
How did Toast Time come about?
We registered the company in a real hurry in order to enter the 2012 Gamify Your PhD game jam. We won, which meant we had to make a full version of that game. We managed to get another programmer friend of ours, Dan Twomey, to handle development on that which meant that Ash would be free to prototype and start work on another title.
So, at the end of that crazy week, starting the company and winning the game jam, we sat down in the garden of a coffee shop and had our first proper meeting. We already both had heads and notebooks full of ideas, so it was a question of going through them and deciding what we thought was most exciting. At one point Ash pulled his phone of his pocket and showed me the first prototype of Toast Time, which he qualified as being “broken and going nowhere”. It was amazing! So much of the final game was in that first simple demo, but Ash wasn’t sure how to extend the dynamics of the game. There were no platforms, jumpads, or any method of moving enemies around the screen in interesting ways. It took a lot of persuading for me to convince him that the game could work, but I got there in the end!
Toast Time is your first Android title. What made you decide to hop over to the mobile platform?
One of the primary reasons for that first prototype being made was that Ash had a new Android phone and was eager to experiment with it. He’d been working on a cross-platform C++ library for making games for a year or two so in terms of technology, the jump wasn’t huge. The game was designed for the touch control interface so it made sense to keep it that way.
Do you have any favorite games that you draw inspiration from?
I think there are some probably quite clear inspirations in there, for instance the weapon system is very reminiscent of Super Crate Box. Another game we should mention is Thunder Gun by our buddy Ted Lauterbach (available for free on Game Jolt). My personal influence was some of the old 80′s computer games I grew-up with, surreal children’s television, Terry Gilliam’s animations for Monty Python, lots and lots of things, many of which aren’t game related.
Toast Time has an average of 5.0 rating in the Play Store and we have a positive review as well (4.5 Woofs); did you expect to receive this kind of feedback?
I think we’re relieved as much as anything! We were scared that people wouldn’t get it and that some of the finer elements to the strategy and game design would be lost in the madness of the gameplay.
We’ve iterated the game a lot, and have had been doing tests with players (friends and strangers) since way back in November 2012. We’re really indebted to the people who had the time and enthusiasm to happily play the game whilst we watched and quietly took tons of notes.
It’s good to know the game is out there now and people seem to be enjoying it. It’s made-up for a lot of the personal and financial sacrifices the two of us have made to see the game realized.
What do you think it is about the game that people love?
Hopefully it’s a lot of things. I think we’ve managed to put together something that’s original in its conception and style, whilst drawing together a number of various familiar elements. There’s a lot of humour throughout the game and we tried to get this in as a vertical slice, so everywhere you turn there’s something to put a smile on your face. Hopefully it makes up for some of the frustration which whilst intentional to an extent, is always a double- edged sword in game design.
For new players the initial excitement of the game is the fluidity of the movement, that was certainly what keyed me into the first prototype that Ash showed me – seeing Terry suddenly launch himself and slide around the screen. It’s just a pleasant thing to control and watch.
Hopefully, part of the players experience is “Whoa, what am I looking at?!” that sense of curiosity and excitement. We embraced a dream logic to the game, where things might have individual meaning to us or the player, but collectively it’s a mishmash of nonsense. I sometimes wonder if any players have found any personal meaning to the game due to the open-endedness of the symbolism involved, though I suspect they are busier trying to finish the damn level!
Also, no IAPs.
You collaborated with various developers to make games for desktops. Now, your debut game on Android, Toast Time, is out. In which platform do you think is easier to build games?
As I mentioned previously, we use our own C++ library which was designed to be cross-platform. For instance, during development we could run the game on Windows, OSX or on device. So technology wise it’s not too much of an issue.
Of course, distribution varies between them but I’m too wet behind the ears to give much insight into that. Plus, it’s boring
What’s the difference in working with mobile games as opposed to PC games?
I think it’s huge. You’ve got the obvious differences between control schemes, but then there’s a whole bunch of other factors. The variance in screen sizes and how it affects the resolution of the control input. Peoples hands getting in the way all the time! The environment people are playing the game. The session length. Even things like what time of day will someone play this game? Is this something they will do whilst waiting for pasta to boil or do they want to sit down after dinner with a few grands worth of gaming PC and the lights out and be transported rather than just distracted? Even when it comes to sound design you need to remember that you’ll probably be working with a single speaker with a frequency response designed for hearing a person’s voice through it, not recreating an orchestra.
Having said that, it’s not so much a question of which is better than the other, it’s just that you’ve got to make considerations for the differences. If someone’s had a bad day at work and playing Toast Time on the bus home puts them in a better mood when they get in then that’s me happy. This is something I might not be able to achieve with a desktop game (until after they’ve had dinner and already whined about work to everyone in earshot).
Android consoles are popping everywhere. Will you develop games for OUYA and the likes?
We’re keeping a keen eye on it. We’ve been tempted to maybe buff-up and release some of our game jam pieces for it, but for now we’re full time on Toast Time ‘stuff’.
I’d love to see one of these smaller consoles take hold, but I think they’ll have their work cut-out against the big boys, who are now all trying to coax indie developers over to them for the next gen.
What are the pros and cons of developing games on Android?
Firstly, there’s obviously there’s a ton of Android devices in world, so potentially a lot of players. They’re also less heavily curated and a more open platform, so getting games through submission is that much easier, though you could argue this makes it that tougher to get your game noticed.
Perhaps the most useful thing working on Android was the ability to get builds to testers and journalists really easily, it was just a question of sending them APKs. Of course, this is exactly why piracy is so prevalent. So, it’s give and take I suppose.
One problem we have had is that a lot of major games sites and journalists don’t seem to cover Android hardly at all, which strikes me as rather odd given the size of the user base.
Toast Time costs $1.49 on its launch week on Google Play. Its regular price will be $2.99 thereafter. How did you come up with the price? Did you think a free-to-play game with ads or in-app purchases hamper gameplay experience?
First, I should probably mention that after putting the game back up to full price our sales plummeted, so for a little while we’re going to shift the pricing around a bit to try and find the spot where people seem happy with it. If anyone reading this paid full whack for it, we’re really sorry, we were expecting a bit of a hit in sales, but nothing quite as drastic as we got. Incidentally, to anyone who’s bought the game at any price, you’re awesome
Any argument against F2P is probably one I’d agree with. However, one factor that I don’t see discussed enough is the effect it has on people’s ability to judge the value of a piece of work. The drive to free is reducing people’s expectations to literally nothing and we all end-up stuck in a race to the bottom. Suddenly, even paying relatively small amounts of money for a game seems preposterous to many, regardless of the quality of the work or the huge investment of time by the people who made it. So we’re increasingly finding ourselves in a situation where F2P is the only viable option and we risk a market weighted purely towards games in which the model works most effectively, that is to say, the ones that are most efficient at taking money out of your back pocket for as long as possible.
Going back to something I mentioned earlier, when people say how polished Toast Time is, I think it’s a result of this process of diminishing returns. To me the game is the minimum viable product and I wouldn’t be happy putting out something less finished. However, to others it’s rare to see because we spent so much time on it. In a market that is so hard to succeed in, it’s of no surprise that few people spend a year working on a game like we have. We’re certainly at the foolish end of ideological!
What can we expect from Force of Habit in the near future? Any plans to update Toast Time with more levels?
We’ve got a minor update for the Android release coming-up – just some fixes and Google+ integration. Once that’s out we’ll be focusing for a bit on the iOS release.
We’re also involved in the Indie Statik kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/877458309/indie-statik) and will be making an exclusive game for that should it get the funding.
In terms of additional Toast Time levels, it’s something we’ve thought about as there are still elements of the mechanics which I think can be further explored in the level design, but we’ll have to see how things shake out really, so we can’t promise anything at the moment.
Is there something you would like to tell our readers?