Interview with Chris Concepcion from Fraktalvoid on Speed Blazers

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Hi Chris, can you tell us what your role is at Fraktalvoid and what aspects of the game were you directly involved with for your new game, Speed Blazers?

Chris: I am the director and owner of Fraktalvoid. I was basically involved in most aspects in the development of Speed Blazers. I was the game designer, art director, 3D artist, concept artist, cinematics, producer, marketer and a bunch of other things to help realise Speed Blazers.

Fraktalvoid is generally more well known as a company that provides art outsourcing services. When and why did you decide to delve into the games development, and is this the new direction for Fraktalvoid?

Chris: Fraktalvoid was generally focused on art outsourcing at the start. We developed a number of art assets for a number of great companies. While we enjoyed making the art assets there was still a massive pressure of our Australian dollar rising and a number of companies cutting costs. There was also the mass competition from a number of art outsourcing companies from China and India offering cheap services.

Therefore searching for work was getting very hard to score. So as a team we decided to create Speed Blazers in 2010 and try taking on the mobile scene since it has become quite a popular platforms for start up companies. Fraktalvoid will continue to move forward to this direction because we now know it is a great and fun platform to develop on, with small teams and the freedom of creating our very own game for the public.

How big was the team for Speed Blazers, and how long did it take to develop?

Chris: There were 5 people in the initial team. We have a programmer, 3D artist, character concept artist, music and sound and including myself. We recently got a another talented level designer to finish off the next coming level updates.

Speed Blazers took a year of development. Half a year was spent on creating tools concepts and game play content that can easily be merged to the next games we are creating. We were basically experimenting with the mobile and the awesome engine we are using (UNITY3D) to see how much we can push the devices. Half the year was spent on building Speed Blazers and adding mechanics to it and also making it visually appealing.

What would you say were most challenging aspects in developing a title like Speed Blazers?

Chris: Speed Blazers was quite challenging especially seeing how far we can push the mobile devices. We did a lot of experiments and creating lots of tools that help the artists build the levels. Since we were also new to creating mobile content, we had a massive learning curve, training and experiencing the limitations on different devices. There was also dealing with unknown crashes that are hard to debug or no errors come up. "It just crashes without warnings or logs" this is so challenging because we had to strip every part to see what was crashing.

Was there anything you'd do differently a second time around? Any lessons learnt?

Chris: There were a lot of things that we would like done differently if we have a second chance at speed blazers.

It especially came down to planning and prioritizing the right tools needed early into the production, instead we built some a couple of months before the release.

Next to that is marketing. This is more than a full time job and very hard to manage since I was managing and creating assets for the game still. It was also fun at the same time experiencing feedback apart from our testers and knowing what the public really wants. I had help from a couple of people and one of them was Chris Wright from Surprise Attack who was an awesome help during his beta stage in launching his company and services. I would totally recommend him to market your game, whoever is new or experienced in the indie scene.

There was also articles that I missed with great advice such as the article from Binary Mill's director Ingmar Lak interview here in Tsumea, which showed the real hard side of the App Store and the marketing techniques and planning involved to get their games recognized. It is something that I will never forget because there will be a lot of points that new developers such us will miss and new ideas will sprout in marketing our games.

There are moments in Speed Blazers that gave me a great sense of the game Sonic - the speed, loops, and the clinking of the lines of coins as you collect them. What games inspire you the most and what would you say were the inspirations for Speed Blazers?

Chris: There were a lot of games, mainly platform games like the Super Mario series and a number of achievement based games that are out on the app store that we had used as an inspiration. Since Speed Blazers is highly based on collecting achievements and winning races. We thought that making use of achievements and leaderboards would be a nice touch to this racer game.

The track racing single lane platform idea came from the old Super Nintendo games like Excite Bike where you do tricks while jumping on ramps. Sonic was also part of the inspiration, but we did not implement the idea of moving super fast like sonic does.

Speed Blazers has just been released for the iPhone and iPad. What sales observations, feedback, and responses have you seen and received so far?

Chris: Speed Blazers has had great release sales and great feedback from most top reviewers and the public in the last couple of days. Sales will continue to build up in the next few weeks with next phase of marketing taking place. Since we are new to marketing it is a great way to see, experiment and implement what we have learnt from research and help from people. There will be times we know that sales will be weak, but knowing where that weakness is a great experience.

We also had great feedback from the people that got the game early and took their time to comment on what they love and problems with the release. Therefore we already know the problems early and able to fix it with a new updates from their response. Obviously we will continue updating, fixing bugs and optimizing the game and support the people that are having problems with it.

Do you have plans to release it for Android systems, or any further plans for updates?

Chris: We do plan to release Speed Blazers on Android platforms in the next coming weeks.

There will be a total of 4 updates of new levels, characters to come with it for FREE for our fans. There is also additional bug updates and fixes that cause a lot of problems for users.

The art style is great and the gameplay is solid and very fun. The overall polish on this title is really well worth mentioning too. What aspect of Speed Blazers did you put of most importance to, development wise?

Chris: The most important aspect we focused on is programming, second is gameplay and third is art.

Programming is complicated and produced a lot of bugs and problems even till now. Not all apps are perfect even if it has passed the hard testing phase. Since the game is completely evolving with new game elements and game play being introduced, a lot was breaking and crashing. We are very lucky we have a good programmer (Andrew) who was able to put up with the amount of changes and his fast fixes into problems and awesome solutions in creating tools for the artists.

Gameplay was very hard to comprehend. We did a lot of experiments, especially with controls and interacting with obstacles. Not knowing whether the game is easy or hard is the most challenging bit in the design. Next thing is limiting the gameplay. We had lots of ideas we would have loved put in there, but in reality we could not pack all that in a lot at once. Therefore we decided to put a bit of variety in gameplay on the next updates to see peoples responses and see how challenging it is.

Art was a very important part of this game. It is what blew everyone away. The reason this is third to being most important apart from programming and gameplay is because the art team is ridiculously talented. We got Clayton who is a super talented 2D and 3D character artist and Scyfon who was responsible for the awesome character designs and images for Speed Blazers. There is also Kristian who was responsible for some of the awesome level design.

Without these guys Speed Blazers would be very hard to realize and would have taken a long time to put together. Obviously there where the testers who are the past and present Victoria University students and friends that helped us create this awesome game.

You've mentioned that you have some big plans to expand Fraktalvoid to Japan as well as moving the studio to Brisbane. Why are you moving the company interstate, and why have you chosen Japan as a place for future expansion?

Chris: It has always been my future plan to be based back in Tokyo where I used to work. Japan is a great country with super talented people, hard working and dedicated.

It will take a while to expand there but we are determined for it to happen. We plan to move to Brisbane because it offers a good relaxed environment. There is a lot of great talent, active gaming community and a number of great developers such as the great Half Brick and my awesome old work place SEGA.

What advice do you have for others beginning out on their own first independently developed game?

Chris: Some advice I can give is be determined and work hard. Do lots of research and get help and talk from people that have been in the same situation. There is a lot of great people and indie developers that are out there, active and willing to talk.

Last thing is do not be afraid to show your game to people even to try out a demo. From their feedback you will know what to fix and improve in your game and learn to put up with very harsh feedbacks.

Finally, congratulations on the release of Speed Blazers. What's next for Fraktalvoid?

Chris: Fraktalvoid is currently still finishing off Speed Blazers adding new tracks and characters for our fans. We have also started developing 2 unannounced mobile and browser platform titles. These 2 titles are visually stunning to look at and hopefully game play will be a lot of fun as well.

We are a young studio and have a lot to look forward to and learn a lot of things. We are surely looking forward to see the next products we will create and how much we can improve and learn from the community.

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Thanks to Chris for the interview. Grab Speed Blazers now at the iTunes store here for your iPhone and iPad!!